“With enough butter, anything is good.” Julia Child
Updated: May 15
Elevating Your Cooking III
My sister Gail has an aversion to butter and would argue that statement but I couldn't agree more with Ms. Child. I like butter on my butter, so of course my favorite style of cooking is French. Years ago my husband gave me a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child. Always close at hand, many of the pages have become stained (with butter) and tattered with wear. Despite my appreciation for her carefully written instruction and recipes, I did not know the back story of the book or much about Julia herself.
A few weeks ago I was delighted to learn the selection for my book club discussion would be My Life in France, the autobiography Julia Child wrote with her great-nephew Alex Prud’homme. It was also decided we would each attempt one of Julia's recipes and post a picture on our group chat. How fun is that!?!
As I dove into the memoir, Julia came to life and I became an enthusiastic observer of her time in France. Her frankness resonated with me, “Learn how to cook—try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun. The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking, you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” Julia was an unexpected delight!
I have had many gastronomic failures and like Julia, I think it is important to have a good attitude and use failure as a motivator.
The more I learn the less I know but through this process I have a few techniques I have found to be helpful.
Creating Depth of Flavor :
*Before adding nuts to recipes toast them in a skillet or oven.
*When using butter, take a portion of the measurement and brown it in a skillet. Incorporate it with the remaining butter after it has cooled.
*Substitute shallots for some of the onions in a recipe.
*Caramelizing onions will result in rich, sweet, onions that melt in your mouth.
To accomplish this, sauté thinly sliced onions with butter on very, very, low heat for an hour or until golden brown.
*When a recipe requires mincing garlic or onions, grate them with a micro planer or box grater.
* Secret ingredient...Bouillon paste.
*When preparing water for dried pasta, add salt until it tastes like the ocean.
*Always get the water to a rolling boil before dropping in your pasta and use a bit of olive oil or butter to prevent sticking.
*To prepare pasta ahead of time, boil until it is slightly undercooked. Drain and toss with a little oil then cover and store in the refrigerator for up to three days. When ready to serve, reheat in boiling water for two to three minutes.
*To keep cooked pasta warm, place your prepared pasta in a covered bowl over a pan of hot water until ready to serve.
*Allow meat to reach room temperature before cooking.
*Get your pan nice and hot to sear in the juices.
*Use an instant-read meat thermometer
*Remove meat from the heat source a few minutes before it’s done. Allow it to rest so the residual heat will finish cooking to your liking.
*Slicing meat against the grain will give a more tender chew.
*Vegetables will continue to cook after they are removed from heat. To assure crisp colorful vegetables, take them off the heat before they are done and serve them before they are completely cooled. If you are not broiling or grilling them, the French method is to cook them in a large pot of water until done to your liking then immerse them in ice water to stop the cooking. Dry the vegetables-butter and flavorings will adhere better to dry vegetables- then reheat in a pan with butter and seasoning when ready to serve.
* When a recipe calls for creaming butter and sugar most people under beat the mixture. Beat until the mixture is light and fluffy, has almost doubled in size, and the color has paled. Your baked goods will thank you by becoming lighter in texture.
*Fold in flour until it is just incorporated. Over-mixing brings out the glutton and creates a heavy, tough texture.
*Not sure what to cook? Get some basic French reduction recipes under your belt and you’ll always have a delicious finishing sauce for any meat or fish.
Wondering what I made for my book club assignment?
I started with Julia's mayonnaise recipe then used it as a base for Green Goddess Dressing and a Lemon Caper sauce served with crab cakes. I will admit that in my first attempt, I could not get the oil to incorporate.
My arm aching from vigorous whisking, I tossed the first batch in the trash and switched to my immersion blender. Très dèlicieux!
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