Monday, July 12, 2010

Lunch with Julia Child

I love cooking and there is a wonderful sense of accomplishment having prepared an elaborate meal for people that you love and having them devour every last morsel. This year my husband thought it appropriate to challenge my culinary skills and gave me Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Volume I) for my birthday; the agreement being that once a month I will cook a new recipe from this Food Bible. Anyone who has ever attempted a Julia Child’s recipe will tell you it can be quite daunting as I discovered this weekend.
Mastering the Art of French Cooking is the Kamasutra of Food Porn. It’s more like an instruction manual than a cookbook and is almost 700 pages thick. Just looking at it makes me nervous. So when the time came to actually attempt one of the recipes, I did so with great caution. You see most of the recipes runs over multiple pages and involve multiple steps which if done incorrectly will lead to certain disaster resulting in Julia Child’s soul becoming unsettled and her coming back and haunting your kitchen or beating you with a meat tenderizer. So there is definite pressure to get it right the first time!Julia Child once famously said “If you can read you can cook”, however she failed to mention in order to be able to cook other essential skills must also be acquired – the ability to multitask, perfect time management and being able to stay calm under pressure. As I thumbed my way through the Julia Instruction Manual of Food I was searching for a recipe that I thought would be relatively simple, maybe a little bit challenging and would leave me sane once the cooking was finished. After much deliberation and 2 hours later I finally committed to attempting her Boeuf À la Monde (Beef Braised in Red Wine) pages 309 to 312.
After carefully studying the recipe and making sure I understood exactly what was needed, hubby and I headed to the supermarket as some crucial ingredients was absent from our pantry – mainly copious amounts of alcohol! You see almost all of Julia’s recipes contains alcohol, if it’s not wine, it’s brandy, port or whiskey or all of the aforementioned. For this recipe I needed to buy 2 bottles of red wine (1 for cooking and 1 for drinking) and a bottle of brandy (for cooking, maybe drinking if I screw things up). An ingredient I have never used before and that was essential was allspice berries – not something readily available in South African supermarkets, but I finally track some down in a Chinese mini-supermarket. With a prime cut of pot-roast rump, wine, brandy, allspice berries, vegetables and a new casserole dish we headed home.
As I started arranging all 13 ingredients of the recipe on my kitchen counter I had a mini panic attack. This was not going to be a breeze and it was going to be labour intensive and I was feeling overwhelmed! After several deep breaths and a small prayer I got stuck in. The beef had to marinade for 12 to 24 hours (refrigerated) and if we had any change of eating by 1pm on Sunday I had to get the rump into its boozy marinade within the next 30 minutes. Frantic chopping started, exact measurements made and 45 minutes later the tied-up piece of beef (yes Julia provides meat bondage instruction to) was submerged in its marinade to slowly get inebriated. With the meat safely tucked away in the fridge I successfully completed Phase I of the four phase cooking process, and I was chuffed with myself and celebrated with a glass of red wine.
The next morning at exactly 10am Phase II needed to start – browning the meat. Julia is very particular about this. The meat had to be placed on a drip tray at exactly 9:30am and then towel dried. Once just the right amount of oil (or lard) starts to smoke in your pan the rump must be browned on all sides. This was the first time I actually managed to brown any piece of meat so perfectly, I guess the towel drying did the trick. Then the marinade had to be boiled to reduce it by half and soon Phase II was completed and neither I nor my kitchen was set on fire. Now Phase III could start – cooking. Running 30 minutes behind schedule the meat finally made it to the oven. It had to cook for 3 hours with the meat being turned every 30 minutes. During the 3 hours I paid 14 visits to the oven, 6 to turn the meat and 8 just to stare at the casserole dish and smell the divine smells that were slowly permeating the kitchen.
After an exhausting 3 hours the meat was finally cooked and it shrunk exactly as much as Julia said it would. With the meat cooked I was ready for the fourth and final phase of the recipe – making the gravy (I love gravy, hence my cholesterol problem!) Again I needed more wine to mix the flower with which to thicken the sauce. The gravy took me 35 minutes and it came out lightly thickened as per Julia’s instructions. The gravy also tasted perfect and didn’t require any additional seasoning. At 2:25pm (an hour and twenty five minutes behind schedule) I was ready to serve lunch.
As I took out my best French serving plate and arranged the meat and parsley and garlic potatoes (which I cooked while preparing the gravy) I admired my culinary accomplishment. However, I couldn’t help but think I forgot something. Hmmm, Julia... what is missing? Utterly horrified I realized I completely forgot to cook the braised onions and carrots that were supposed to be the side dish. It being too late to cook it the only thing I could do was quietly apologized to Julia, begged for her forgiveness and serve the braised beef and potatoes on its own and pretend this is how it was meant to be served. As hubby and I took our first bites it was unanimous – we both thought it was freaking divine, like an orgasm on a plate!!! It took me two days to make, but at the end was well worth the effort and stress. I did exactly what Julia told me and the Boeuf À la Monde came out perfectly, minus the forgotten side dish.
I love cooking almost as much as I love eating good food. From now on, once a month Julia Child will pay my kitchen a visit and the aromas and tastes of France will fill my house on a Sunday. As I make my way through Julia’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I know there will be many mini-breakdowns, some crying and loads of dirty dishes but most importantly good food made with love and shared with good friends – all under the critical supervision of Julia Child of course.
Till next time.

David Letterman - Julia Child


Roshni Mitra Chintalapati said...

you're too funny!! I love that this had a happy ending! If I had to cook one dish for two days, my husband would probably divorce me on grounds of excessive violence used!!
Looking forward to more on this series....gosh! you are brave!

Pierre said...

Roshni Mitra Chintalapati, this was one of Julia's easier recipes. Just wait until I get to the really difficult ones - I am seeing myself crying on the kitchen floor if one of those recipes flops.

The Suburbinate Housewife said...

This is just too coincidental! LOL!
Just a few days ago, I watched "Julie and Julia". The movie entails a lady who cooks her way through Julia Child's cookbook in a year's time and has a blog about it.
She, however; is insanely mad as she cooks a new recipe each night!!
Good for you on taking on the master chef!
I await all the stories to come.

Pierre said...

The Suburbinate Housewife, LOL. I also watched "Julie & Julia" a couple of months ago and thought it was hilarious at times. I however am not as brave as Julie because if I had to cook a recipe a day I would go mad! Once a month will have to do.

Clueless said...

I absolutely loved growing up watching Julia Child. She had such a personality even if the recipe were too complicated, she made it sound easy. I love how she responded to mistakes. Her cooking is daunting to do myself. However, I have baked some of her recipes. I too have her cookbooks...what a great gift!!! Happy cooking. If I lived closer, I'd invite myself for dinner!!!

Pierre said...

Clueless, Julia Child was one special woman and she left a great legacy behind with her books. I wish I could invite all my readers from across the globe over for a special Julia dinner. Imagine the interesting conversation we could have over a magnificent meal!

Fatherspirit said...

You are the greatest Pierre - continue on! :)

Pierre said...

Thanks Fatherspirit, the compliment is much appreciated.

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