PBC: “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”

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Another third Wednesday rolls around and catches me completely off-guard. Yes, it’s time for the Progressive Book Club, and this month I haven’t completed an entire book cover-to-cover, but instead have four works of fiction underway and a couple of reference books tapped. Such is the life of a busy reader/writer with a couple of acres—many demands in the non-writerly world are pulling at once, and I’m all-consumed with keeping on top of them. Spring has definitely sprung here in Florida.

My post, however, is a perfect example of the looseness of the PBC this year—any book will suffice—and this month’s, although not read in its entirety, is Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Remember how I told you one of my interests is FOOD? Well, I didn’t mean the culinary delights of McDonald’s or Burger King; I was referring to meals fit for a king and served in five-star restaurants. Unfortunately, my wallet is that of a pauper. I remember a time when I frequented some of the best eateries in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago—and once you’ve experienced nirvana, it’s hard to digest the greasy soy that is fast food—but alas, that day has come and gone. On top of that, my mom was an excellent cook, so I was spoiled on the good stuff early in life.

Therefore, in order to eat well, I had to learn to cook well, and if you know the basics—how food should look and taste and smell at different stages of the cooking process, as well as how to follow a recipe—then that’s most of the battle. But fret not if you aren’t overly adept at these practices; Mastering the Art of French Cooking covers all these things.

Julia (and I’ll mainly refer to the authorship as Julia Child, although written in conjunction with Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck) is wise to begin the book with an orientation to kitchen terms the reader needs to understand. She lists no recipe until after the first thirty-six pages, which cover everything from Kitchen Equipment (or Batterie de Cuisine) to Wines, with chapters devoted to Definitions, Measurements—including the size of an appropriate celery stalk—and all the various ways of Cutting.

Goodness! Chop, slice, dice, mince, julienne; gripping the knife, slicing round objects, dicing solid vegetables…who knew? And there is such a variety of ways to cut mushrooms, it has its own illustrated cross-reference on page 509. When a recipe involves a specialty cut, such as an artichoke, it thoroughly explains the procedure in the recipe itself, and once explained, if used again, refers back to that page. This single volume is a veritable encyclopedia of French cooking. Nothing is left to chance, and Julia cautions the cook in the Foreword:

Pay close attention to what you are doing while you work, for precision in small details can make the difference between passable cooking and fine food. If a recipe says, “cover casserole and regulate heat so liquid simmers very slowly,” “heat the butter until its foam begins to subside,” or “beat the hot sauce into the egg yolks by driblets,” follow it. You may be slow and clumsy at first, but with practice you will pick up speed and style.

Hmm…that’s certainly food for thought in other aspects of my life, such as writing. What say ye?

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Okay, I’ll admit it. I bought this book after watching Julie & Julia specifically for the Boeuf Bourguignon dish, which I’ve made several times, even creating a crock pot adaptation. French cooking takes a LONG time!

Whenever I buy a classic book like this (and yes, this is a classic in its own right), I try to get as close to first edition as possible at a reasonable cost. This one is the sixteenth printing, 1967. While it arrived in pristine condition, sans a dust jacket, I’ve already “compromised” many pages with grease and wine spots. But that comes with actual use—I make no apologies!

I’ve also made other dishes featured in the movie, such as the braised cucumbers, which were surprisingly good. I’m not big on mint, which the recipe calls for—I only like it in gum, toothpaste, and creme de—and will probably use a smidgen less next time I make it. While it definitely complements the cukes, use it to taste. Her recipes for artichokes, mushrooms, and oignons glacés à brun (brown-braised onions—delish!) make other tasty sides. For now, I’m holding off on deboning a duck.

Of course this is Julia Child, and Mastering the Art of French Cooking, a masterpiece in the Culinary World, so naturally I give it five stars, however, the recipes are a bit involved, and some rather expensive. Julia recognized this in the opening statement:

This is a book for the servantless American cook who can be unconcerned on occasion with budgets, waistlines, time schedules…or anything else which might interfere with the enjoyment of producing something wonderful to eat….This makes them a bit longer than usual, and some of the recipes are quite long indeed.

And that, my friends, is the gospel. When I come up for breath and have a bit more time…ha!…I’ll dip further into the entrées. I do recommend this book, though. If you have enough advance notice to grab a few essential ingredients (most are standard staples, others, not so), want something different than the usual fare, and can allot a day to create a royal feast, it’s just what you need.

For me, this also brought to mind the whole creative process—no matter your medium. Each skillet is a blank canvas wherein the chef (artist, writer) sears the meat, adds the veggies, sautés, simmers, mixes and stirs until the end product is a unique rendering of his experience, and no two—not even the same recipe—are ever alike. You can make Coq au Vin or Chicken McNuggets, the choice is yours.

That’s certainly something to chew on.

For a variety of other reviews and thoughts from our members, click the frog’s head below for the link list. The selections are as diverse and exciting as their readers! And as always, we are open every month to new participants. For more information, go to the Progressive Book Club Guidelines in the tabs at the top of the page.

Peace,

ML Swift

PBC 3DThe Progressive Book Club meets the third Wednesday of each month. If you’d like to know more, click on the badge to link to the guidelines. Any book is welcome, and we’d love to have you—the more participants and titles, the greater the likelihood one will resonate with our readers. Hope to see you next month!

MikeBeachML Swift is a writer of Middle Grade, Young Adult, and Adult fiction, although he dabbles in many genres.

An Alzheimer’s caregiver for the past ten years, he has published several articles on The Alzheimer’s Reading Room, the largest online website catering to that community, and plans to write a novel about his experience in caregiving.

He resides in Florida with his dogs, Rameses and Buster, attempting to reclaim his side of the bed.

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20 thoughts on “PBC: “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”

  1. Set me a place. I’m eating at *your* house. LOL

    Great review. Mike. Love the variety on your blog. 🙂

  2. I completely agree– cooking and baking can be a soothing, creative endeavor. Her recipes are a bit too complicated for me, but I love them in theory, if not in practice. Bon Appétit!

    1. The recipes do get rather involved…more time-consuming than complicated, but I know what you mean. I have to set aside a full day if I want to make something, and I don’t have many “full” days free.

  3. Love it! Makes me want to try. . . And I’m the original lazy cook. It also makes me want to buy it for the instructions on cutting and so forth, as I, trying to teach my sons and it’s not working so well. Maybe they’d listen to Julia.

    1. There are instructions like that throughout the book, too. Whenever a recipe calls for a new technique, she explains it thoroughly. I’m so glad you’re teaching your sons how to cook. Moms don’t really do that anymore, which is a shame. My mom put all four of us to work in the kitchen and we picked up the basics over the years. It really came in handy when I was out on my own…Ramen gets old after awhile! Thanks for being such an active participant in PBC, Rebecca…I’ll be over today…I can’t tell you how hectic things have been here lately.

  4. Oh Mike, I’m so with you. I love food, am a total foodie, and have been so spoiled by great meals at lovely local places that I now am a total snob. And so of course I was nodding and nodding at everything you said here! Alas for time, or I WOULD make some of these dishes, too. Bless Julia. And bless you for bringing this into PBC!!

    I hope you’re not terribly disappointed in me for still not managing to create a PBC post?? I plead mostly lack of time, which I know you understand. I AM sorry, and will continue supporting you no matter what! And someday, I really will join in!

    1. Oh Liz, Liz, Liz…don’t worry your pretty little head one bit. As you can see, I’m swamped myself, not even able to complete a book in a month, either—and I have some excellent ones in process. I can’t wait to get back to them, but the free time! Who has it? Since I’ve referred to this one countless times while cooking, I thought, “What the heck? It’s good and it’s a different kind of book—exactly the variety I’m looking for with the PBC.” If you’re ever in a situation like that, feel free to do the same. Last month’s book was only a 67 page mini-book!

      Thing is, I read a lot, but many don’t grab me and I end up not finishing them. You are welcome with open arms whenever you can make it. Don’t let it bother you. Right now I’m all twisted up finding time to visit anybody…I barely have time to write a blog and comment to people. I feel like such a bad blogger. Gotta make my rounds, but you know what? Today I have to take a mental health day and head to the beach. That’s all there is to it. Sometimes you gotta say “What the…heck.

    2. Mike, enjoy the beach! I was reading through your response to Liz and thinking that if you are feeling like a bad blogger, you need to step away from blogging and take some time to catch up with the rest of your life, including rest. You seem to have figured that out, though!

      1. Thanks Rebecca! I’m answering these comments and heading out right after that. Oh, a day on the Gulf is calling my name…definitely an E ticket.

  5. PBC! I’d forgotten all about it (I also forgot to get dressed today, so it’s no big surprise)

    I’ll try and get a post up today about… I’ll think of something 🙂

    I like the idea of not being concerned with tiresome things like budget, waistline and time when it comes to food. Lobster one night, baked beans for the rest of the week.

    1. Charmaine, you’ve been a busy little girl lately, and I appreciate you finding the time to visit, much less consider doing a PBC post. I’m thrilled for you about Undead Kev!

      Yeah…those bothersome budgets, waistlines, and time…as for me, I get the lobbster with two “b’s” and krab with a “k” so I can afford those beans the rest of the week. 😉

      Thanks for coming by!

  6. For the longest time, I had a love/hate relationship with food. It wasn’t until I got to taste some of the best cuisines in my life (and learn to eat in moderation) that I finally began to appreciate my sense of taste. I finally understood why the French have a love for food in the way that I had never appreciated. I’m all for long lunches and dinners with the perfect wine! I’m still working on the cooking part…More lessons and practice needed. 🙂

    1. I’ve traveled with my jobs and, combined with having grown up a military brat (and all the moves associated with that), have tasted a variety of ethnic cuisines. French food is out of this world! We had a very nice (and pricey) local French restaurant, but it has closed. I need—NEED—my escargot fix. And as with anything else, cooking abilities come with practice and experience.

    1. You can do wonders with Ramen. 😉 Seriously…place the chunk of noodles in a microwave safe bowl, add water to barely cover, throw in a few diced onions, some cooked ham, whatever’s in the fridge, cook on high for three to four minutes, stir to break up the noodles (it will be hot), cover for three minutes (for al dente), drain the water, leaving just a little bit. Sprinkle the seasoning packet over the noodles, stir, and voila! You’re done and it’s a pretty decent snack/light lunch.

      And thanks, Elizabeth, for coming over.

  7. My fiancee is getting to be quite the chef himself. He’s at the point now where he’ll read a recipe and fly by the seat of his pants only using it as a guide. He’s always liked to cook, but now that he’s getting better….. OMG. It’s doing “wonders” for my waistline.

  8. I wish I was a better cook. But alas, when my daughter only wants hot dogs and I’m juggling to feed my son cereal, I do what I can to throw things in a pot and not burn it all. 🙂 Some day, though, I’ll be able to have a book and follow instructions to better my understanding of enhancing flavor. When it comes to that time, maybe I’ll pick up this one.

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