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I'm a guy who likes to cook, eat, and drink, but not necessarily in that order. This blog is nothing fancy; just my random thoughts about anything that can be baked, roasted, or fried. Enjoy!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Mastering the Art of French Cooking

For dinner tonight, I’ve decided to make Coq au Vin from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I’ve never made it but always wanted to. Of course, when it comes to classic French dishes, like coq au vin, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, is the place to start.

For a while, Child was seen as old-fashioned—the prophet of a fussy cookery thrown to the side for the sake of foams and gels and other modern concoctions. Over the years, Julia has been parodied rather than praised. Who can forget Dan Aykroyd’s famous SNL skit. Recently, however, Julia Child’s stock has risen, partly due to the popular book and movie, Julie and Julia. But one good movie doesn’t a comeback make.

Perhaps, the recession has caused many folks to long for more traditional, comforting flavors. Don’t forget that all great cuisines like those of the French, Italians, or Chinese are agrestic, building upon simple dishes best enjoyed by a warm hearth with family and friends. After all, there’s a reason for the eponymous dish in the movie Ratatouille. The best scene in that movie is when the imperious food critic, Anton Ego, tastes Remy’s ratatouille and is transported back to his simple childhood and his mother’s love. It is the movie's “Rosebud” moment.  Good food and cooking are meant to be enjoyed and enjoyable. No one did so better than Julia.

Now back to Julia’s cookbook. This is truly a great cookbook, though I believe its title scares off a good many people. It shouldn’t. I’ve made several great dishes from it over the years—onion soup, potato leek soup, and beef burgundy—and they all came out perfect every time. One reason for this is the way in which Child organizes the recipes in her cookbook. So far, I’ve never seen another cookbook organized this way. 

Most cookbooks start with a list of ingredients followed by instructions. Not so with Master the Art of French Cooking. Ingredients and preparation are displayed on the page in logical concinnity. There is no separate list of ingredients, divorced their preparation. Rather, the ingredients for each step are set out in the margin next to the step, so one doesn’t need to jump up and down the page. I think this arrangement is indicative of Child herself. Cooking is not linear. It is organic, with bumps and scrapes. And that is another reason, The Art of French Cooking is such a great cookbook. With such rich, warm flavors, there is a lot of room for error. 

So, I’m off to the store with my list that, with a little bit of wine and luck and Julia’s help, will be a great meal. If not, then I probably will not know it, nor will those who eat the meal with me. But then again, that’s the whole point.

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