Friday, August 7, 2009

Today - On the French Chef!

Do you remember when Julia Child would warble the introduction to her TV show?

The movie, Julie and Julia is being released today and I'm looking forward to seeing it with a friend one night next week. The guys have declared this a chick flick and we'll leave them home and enjoy the movie and an evening away from our own kitchens.

When I was a kid my mom would cook and we would eat. That was it. With four kids and a lack of modern appliances my mother had her hands full, teaching kids how to cook was not a possibility. That meant that I launched myself into first-marriage-hood with the title of "Clueless in the Kitchen". We're talking seriously clueless.

I can remember that about 6 months into the marriage I was getting really, really hungry. What passed for a meal in that household was very sad. It consisted mostly of things that came out of a box including a terrible thing called Chef Boy-R-Dee Pizza in a box. I attempted to move up to real meals but somehow I'd gotten the idea that I hated onions. Pair that with the fact that I didn't own a single spice and you've got the culinary equivalent of wet cardboard.

Enter Annie and Julia. They were a powerful pair, the one-two punch of information and chutzpah that launched me into the world of cooking and entertaining.

Annie was the mother of a good friend of mine. She was a terrific hostess who was kind enough to mentor me. I learned some very important lessons from her. First and foremost she believed that there was no secret to successfully entertaining, there was only preparation. If you were prepared, you couldn't help but be successful. Once she told me that they may not remember the meal but they'll never forget how you made them feel. Put together a menu, cook with the best ingredients you can afford and set a beautiful table.

Around time that Annie was influencing me an unlikely star appeared on the TV screen each week, Julia Child! She had the audacity to suggest that French cooking was no mystery, that if she could learn, anyone could. And she set about to teach us!

She, too, assured me that I could step outside my limited comfort zone and try something new and different and she made it seem like such fun. I applaud her insistence that the show, although taped, be shown without editing out mistakes or flubs. She believed that the only way that someone learns to cook is by making mistakes. And, she knew how to cook by the seat of her pants (no recipes).

What I learned from her is to think on your feet and to not allow yourself to get rattled. She taught us how to revive a not-so-perfect sauce and cover a sad looking bread pudding with some Creme Anglaise. (One of my more recent triumphs).

With her example I've done some crazy things, like serving my dinner party guests a dish that I made for the very first time. It was wonderful but another time the File Gumbo that I'd prepared a hundred times was a potential disaster. I'd started the gumbo early in the morning, intending to let it simmer for hours. I decided at the last minute to use chicken broth instead of plain hot water in a misguided attempt to add richness to the final product.

I put everything together and did a tasting. GACCCKKKK!! It was so salty you could float a battleship on it. There was no time to run to the store for more sausage and chicken. I thought to myself, "What would Julia do?"

Julia would strain all the liquid, saving the meat and vegetables, start a new roux and give if a second try. And that's what I did.

Julia Child's influence cannot be understated. I applaud her work and her zest for living.

How about you? Did Julia change the way you thought about cooking? What's the most adventurous or riskiest cooking/entertaining adventure?

I'd love to hear about it.

Please join me tomorrow when we're going to cook Julia Child's Baked Potato Pancake (Pommes de terre Byron). There's a terrific story behind it.

Here's Julia's Omelette show. A last minute dinner party for 300? That sounds crazy but she makes you believe you could pull it off! Classic Julia. Watch her toss a pan on the floor and notice she's cooking on a clunky old electric range!


chocolatechic said...

Growing up, I didn't watch much of Julia Child, but I sure wish I had.

Jenni said...

I remember Julia Child being on TV, but I guess I was too young to care much. To me she was the lady with the crazy voice--ranging from very high to very deep with that odd accent thrown in and the volume always up. I think I'd appreciate her more now. That method of making an omelette is new to me--I think I make the puffy kind she mentioned--so I'll have to give it a try.

I started cooking when I was pretty young. My mom worked and was often tired when she got home. I often made dinner or baked a little treat to surprise her. When I was in high school, I had an after school job in the same commercial kitchen where my mom worked full time. That's where I first fell in love with Hobart mixers, huge stainless steel sinks with sprayers, and giant commercial dishwashers for pushing racks of dishes through.

Most adventurous cooking? I don't know. I like making new and very different things. Thanksgiving dinner always seems like the most work, though. Even if I'm not the one making the turkey, we always have such a lot of people over and there is so much cooking, baking, cleaning, and decorating. Other than Thanksgiving and the occasional graduation or milestone anniversary, we don't have large dinner parties.

My girls have been getting into cooking lately. Before they were only interested in baking. My 15yo son is the one who really loves to cook, though. He loves trying new things. He and I like to watch Good Eats together sometimes.

Leslie T. said...

I LOVED Julia Child. I discovered her when I was in fourth grade and she was on Channel 28 on Saturday nights. I think it was sometime in1966 that I found her. Everyone thought that I was crazy for watching this asthmatic woman cooking up all sorts of things that they had never heard of, but I adored her and I tuned in every week and watched with fascination. I have loved cooking shows ever since!

Jody Blue said...

I did not learn of her until I was an adult, our 1 channel didn't carry her show. I learned to cook from my Dad and Grma(she let us have our hands in it all, if we wanted to eat we had to help) Then when I got married my husband filled in the blanks, expanding my cooking horizon from meat and potatoes to man other things. I'm still learning so thanks for sharing!

BittersweetPunkin said...

Hi Suzanne....Kailei wants to see that movie looks like a good one...maybe we can take my MIL to the theater while she's here visiting.

Have a great Weekend,

Rue said...

I can't wait to see this movie! Julia was amazing. Thank you for the step back in time Suzanne :)


Karen Deborah said...

I just learned something. She needs re runs. I am an adventurous cook. I really don't think anything of trying out new ideas on anybody. Good food is basically good fresh ingredients combined in ways that you know work. I love to have an impromptu dinner or a planned one. I can throw together something that will please everybody and the main thing is the mood, the table setting, and the relaxed pleasure of friendly conversation around the breaking of bread.

Once I even had invited our pastor and his wife over from a very large church and I served home made bread, a potato corn chowder, and a salad. They commented about how lovely the meal was and unpretentious. They had never been served simple fare without meat. I was a bit taken aback at first thinking I had blundered badly until I realized that it was a compliment and they talked about the meal for a long time after that.
Good food and good living is simple we mess it up, worrying about making it fine.

You can add raw potatoes to soak up excess salt. I tried that on my salty salsa and it didn't work, because that was too horribly salty. However the salty salsa has proven to be a good base for other dishes. It was awesome on a roasted pork and also good in a pasta red sauce.

You know what they say, hunger makes a good cook.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely LOVE Julia Child and credit her, my mother and grandmother for my culinary abilities. In a box of books I packed up from my grandmother's house I reently found her first book Mastering the Art of French Cooking that was given to my grandmother by my mother for Christmas in 1966. What a treat this book is!!

As I type, I am preparing Julia's Ratatouille recipe for a dinner party tomorrow night. My husband and I are part of a cooking club that meets once per month and this month it happens to be our turn to cook. Each dinner party has to be themed in some way-- our theme is a tribute to Julia Child (Her birthday is next week). All of our menu is from the book except for the green beans-- I figured something has to be low calorie!!

Our menu is:
Mustard Leg of lamb
Gratin Dauphinois
Stuffed Tomatoes and herbs
Green Beans
And Chocolate Mousse

And a note for anyone that wants to make her ratatouille...I've been cooking for 1 hour and 45 minutes and have not yet begun to put the casserole together. This is a time consuming dish. I'm glad I started today!


Susan Z
Acworth, GA

Clayvessel said...

That was awesome! The miracle of You Tube.

I enjoyed this post.

I, too, am looking forward to the movie (I read the book but didn't think much of it). I hope to see it with my catering/cooking friends also.

I posted this week about an article that Michael Pollan wrote about American's current relationship with food and cooking. It was in the NYT Sunday magazine and was really thought-provoking.

Kim said...

Insomnia has me up way too early and blog hopping this fine Saturday morning :-) And for once I'm glad for a little insomnia because I found your blog! I've read back through mid July and thoroughly enjoyed it. You cook like I cook :-) My family loves my biscuits and gravy and my German apple pancake (although I dust with powdered sugar instead of sugar and cinnamon, but I'm going to try your way next time!)... Oh, and I was an inept cook as a young bride too :-) Years ago I gave my hubby an apron on which I'd stenciled my motto from those early years: "Dinner by candlelight so he can't see what he's eating" LOL

Your post a few days ago touched a nerve. I spent half my growing up years in the south where I was born and half "up north" in the fair state of Michigan. The Michigan time was sandwiched in the middle and means I don't have a southern accent. But I am southern to the core!

I would so like to be going along with you to see Julie and Julia. I read the book a few years ago and think the movie sounds like a lot of fun! Alas I'll have to wait until it comes out of DVD and have someone send me a copy. While there's a possibility (albeit slim in my opinion) that it will come out in Spanish and show up on the shelves here, I'll wait for a copy in English. I'm definitely not proficient enough with the language to attempt wrestling through an entire movie in it!

Anyway, it was nice "meeting" you and I'll be back!

P.S. Totally agree with your decision to remain eclectic on your blog!

Anonymous said...

Just saw Julie and Julia last night with our best friends -- and wow, I think you'll love it! Meryl Streep is fabulous, and the way Nora Ephron wove the two stories together is clever and good. And what a lift to see a food movie in these tumultuous times! It was truly nourishing.

That said, to answer your question, "Joy of Cooking" was the book that really made a difference in my culinary life, along with Laurie Colwin's book of food essays, "Home Cooking"... I wrote an essay on "The Joy of Cooking" (it's in my book) and will repost it soon on my blog, since people seem more interested in this topic now.

and -- please let us know what you think of the the movie!