Mastering the Art of French Cooking: My First Recipe

ImageI was never really a Julia Child fan.  I didn’t grow up watching her cooking shows or reading her books.  I actually think that I saw Dan Ackroyd playing her on SNL before ever seeing her in real life.  Even know, I have a clearer picture of him in my mind than I do her.  My appreciation for her and her life and work came out of the movie Julie and Julia, a fact that I’m a little saddened by.

I’m sure I would have come to know and love Julia Child on my own without the help of the movie (and the book), but I saw the movie for the first time right when I was starting to cook and wanted to learn about cooking.  The movie, in case you missed 2009, details Julia Powell’s year long quest to cook every recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  Interspersed through her story, we get to see Julia Child learning to cook and writing the book in France.  I absolutely loved the movie the first time I saw it, and I read Julie Powell’s book and I loved that too.  I wanted to own Mastering the Art of French Cooking and make some of those iconic recipes.  I had in my head, though, that the book needed to be passed to me.  Julie had taken her’s from her mom’s house one Christmas.  I didn’t think it would be enough to go to Barnes and Noble and buy it myself.  I wanted one that had been owned by someone I knew, someone who had used it.  My mom didn’t have it and I never saw it at my grandmother’s house.

After my great aunt passed away I asked my cousin if I could have her copies of Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume I and II that I had seen in her kitchen.  She said yes and last week I got them.  They are worn out and Volume I doesn’t even have a cover any more.  Their spines are breaking and I feel like they have been loved.  Volume II is actually a first edition.  I feel like I have been handed a piece of culinary history, not just from Julia Child but from my family as well.

As for Julie and Julia, I still love the movie and will watch it every time it is on E! (and I own the DVD…), but I wish I didn’t.  One of my favorite parts of the story is the relationship between Julie and her super-supportive husband.  They seem like such a perfect couple, the way that she write about them.  Then her second book is about how she was CHEATING ON HER HUSBAND pretty much the whole time she was doing her Julia Child experiment and writing the book.  I feel completely betrayed by that knowledge (as I imagine her husband does as well!).  I feel lied to and deceived and I want to boycott her story, but Amy Adams is adorable and Meryl Streep is so good and her Pate de Canard en Croute (boned stuffed duck baked in a pastry crust) at the end looks absolutely to die for.   

So, fine, Julie Powell, you win.  I’ll watch your movie and probably read your book again (though that’s harder) and I will say thank you for introducing me to Julia Child.  If you need me, I’ll be in the corner trying to get over my intimidation by all these amazing recipes.

French Onion Soup

I started simple for my first Julia Child recipe, with Smitten Kitchen holding my hand.  I had made Deb’s French Onion Soup before not realizing that it was actually Julia’s.  This time I went to the source and followed Julia’s directions.  I expected to feel lost and scared reading Julia’s words, but I ended up being okay.  I was building it up a little bit too much in my head.


Next stop: Pate de Carnard en Croute (or maybe Potato Leek Soup.  Not sure I’m ready to bone a duck…)

1 1/2 pounds (680 grams or 24 ounces or about 5 cups) thinly sliced yellow onions
3 tablespoons (42 grams or 1 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon (15 ml) olive oil
1 teaspoon (5 grams) table salt, plus additional to taste
1/4 teaspoon (1 gram) granulated sugar (helps the onions to brown)
3 tablespoons (24 grams or 7/8 ounce) all-purpose flour
2 quarts (8 cups or 1.9 liters) beef or other brown stock*
1/2 cup (118 ml) dry white wine or dry white vermouth
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons (45 ml) cognac or brandy (optional)

To finish [Gratinée] (Optional)
1 tablespoon grated raw onion
1 to 2 cups (to taste) grated Swiss (I often use Gruyere) or a mixture of Swiss and Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon butter, melted
12 to 16 1-inch thick rounds French bread, toasted until hard

Melt the butter and oil together in the bottom of a 4- to 5-quart saucepan or Dutch oven over moderately low heat (I definitely recommend stainless steel or cast iron for the onions, if you use non-stick it will take FOREVER!). Add the onions, toss to coat them in oil and cover the pot. Reduce the heat to real low and let them slowly steep for 15 minutes. They don’t need your attention; you can even go check your email.

After 15 minutes, uncover the pot, raise the heat slightly and stir in the salt and sugar. Cook onions, stirring frequently, for 30 to 40 minutes until they have turned an even, deep golden brown. Don’t skimp on this step, as it will build the complex and intense flavor base that will carry the rest of the soup. Plus, from here on out, it will be a cinch.

After the onions are fully caramelized, sprinkle them with flour and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Add the wine in full, then stock, a little at a time, stirring between additions. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and simmer partially covered for 30 to 40 more minutes, skimming if needed. Correct seasonings if needed but go easy on the salt as the cheese will add a bit more saltiness and I often accidentally overdo it. Stir in the cognac, if using. I think you should.

Set aside until needed. I find that homemade onion soup is so deeply fragrant and flavor-rich that it can stand alone, but that doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy the graitinéed top once in a while. Here’s how to pull it off:

Preheat oven to 325. Arrange six ovenproof soup bowls or crocks on a large, foil-lined baking sheet. Bring the soup back to a boil and divide among six bowls. To each bowl, add 1/2 teaspoon grated raw onion and a tablespoon of grated cheese. Stir to combine. Dab your croutons with a tiny bit of butter and float a few on top of your soup bowls, attempting to cover it. Mound grated cheese on top of it; how much you use will be up to you. [Julia Child, in another era, felt that 1/2 cup of grated cheese could be divided among 6 bowls. I can assure you that if you’d like your gooey bubbling cheese lid to be anything like what you get at your local French restaurant, you are looking to use more, such as a generous 1/4 cup.]

Bake soups on tray for 20 minutes, then preheat broiler. Finish for a minute or two under the broiler to brown the top lightly. Grab pot holders, and serve immediately.




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