Those of you who have been reading my blog for the last week know that I am cooking with Julia these days and that all of my posts will be focused on recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking–at least until the release of the long-anticipated movie Julie & Julia.
Now I have a confession to make. Despite the fact that I own more cookbooks than I would want to count, have stacks and stacks of back issues of cooking magazines like Gourmet and Bon Appetit, and binders overflowing with recipes that I have printed off the Internet, MTAOFC was not a part of my library until a couple of months ago. I have other cookbooks by Julia, other books on French cooking. So why was I missing a classic that started a revolution in home cooking when it first came out in 1961?
I have no real answer except that it was always a book that seemed intimidating to me. Until my first trip to Paris, I had focused on Italian cooking, not French. I am also most attracted to cookbooks with glossy, mouth-watering pictures; Julia’s book with its illustrations and strange recipe layout would just make things more complicated than they needed to be, I reasoned. And wasn’t French cooking already too complicated? Who has the time to spent the whole day making puff pastry and wrapping it around a duck?
Which brings me back to Julie & Julia. Before it became a movie, it was a book; a memoir written by Julie Powell, who cooked her way through all 524 recipes in MTAOFC within the space of a year. There has been widespread criticism of Julie Powell in foodie circles for some of her opinions, her writing style and penchant for cursing, which is really too bad. Because when you come right down to it, what she did was an astonishing feat.
Many of the recipes in MTAOFC are complicated. They do take time. Very few people have the time or inclination to cook this way anymore. Putting together a dinner party from this cookbook can take a good couple of days from your life. Julie Powell did this on a daily basis–after coming home from a dead-end secretarial job.
Now this is not to say that every recipe is difficult. Once I started cooking from this book, I realized how accessible a lot of the recipes are. Julia Child walks you through everything in such detail that you cannot fail as long as you follow her instructions. Although I have not yet attempted an aspic or a Canard en Croûte, there are many recipes that don’t take a lot of time. In fact, I put a little dinner together for myself the other night that took no more than half an hour to make: Steak au Poivre, mushrooms in Medeira sauce, and Tomates à la Provençale. It was all so delicious that I wondered why I had waited so long to get this culinary masterpiece.
Julia Child’s Steak au Poivre
Pepper Steak with Brandy Sauce
Serves 4-6 people
2 tablespons mixed or white peppercorns
2 to 2 1/2 lbs. steak
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons shallots or green onions
1/2 cup stock
1/3 cup cognac
3-4 tablespoons softened butter
1) Place the peppercorms in a mixing bowl and crush them roughly with a pestle or the bottom of a bottle.
2) Dry the steaks on paper towels. Rub and press the crushed peppercorns into both sides of the meat. Cover with waxed paper. Let stand for at least half an hour; 2 or 3 hours are even better, so the flavor of the pepper will penetrate the meat.
3) Sauté the steak in hot oil and butter 3-4 minutes on each side. Remove to a hot platter and season with salt.
4) For the sauce: pour the fat out of the skillet. Add the butter and shallots and cook slowly for a minute. Pour in the stock and boil down rapidly over high heat while scraping up the coagulated cooking juices. Then add the cognac and boil rapidly for a minute or two to evaporate its alcohol. Off heat, swirl in the butter a half-tablespoon at a time.