Monday, 13 July 2009

Cookbook Review - Julia's Kitchen Wisdom

Long before there was a food network, there was Julia Child. A dynamic force of a woman, Julia Child trained at the Cordon Bleu in Paris and co-wrote Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volumes 1 and 2. In the 60's Julia's television cooking show, The French Chef, made her a celebrity. This year a movie is coming out called Julie and Julia, about Julia Child and a food blogger, Julie, who devotes a year of her life to cooking Julia's recipes and writing about the experience. A new generation of home cooks is set to learn about Julia Child.

I have to admit, I have never read Mastering the Art of French Cooking, either volume. And, while I may not be young, I wasn't cooking in the 60's either. I was happy to review this book to learn more about her classic techniques. Julia's Kitchen Wisdom is a thin volume, subtitled Essential Techniques and Recipes from a Lifetime of Cooking.

This is no regular cookbook. It is a compilation of cooking notes on the techniques that Julia Child found to be the most important and effective in the kitchen. The recipes are not spelled out, a certain amount of kitchen savvy is required. But if you are like me, comfortable in the kitchen but looking to fill in the gaps of your culinary knowledge, this is a wonderful text.

There are no big, glossy pictures of finished dishes, it is more like a lovingly handed down notebook from a grandmother, mother, auntie or treasured neighbour. I have had many conversations with friends who lament that they were not taught cooking at home, or feel that their self-taught home cooking education is incomplete. Julia's Kitchen Wisdom is a comforting and familial book that serves to coach or remind you; how best to poach a fish, blanch vegetables, bake, broil, braise or steam, and many more methods both basic and gourmet.

When I began testing the recipes, I started with Julia's Salade Nicoise, simply because I have always wanted to make one. The flavours were out of this world. We ate the salad for dinner and it was easily the best main course salad we have ever had. I will definitely make it again and again.
Julia offers advice on each element of the dish, referring to where boiling and peeling eggs are in another chapter, blanching green beans, and the importance of the freshness of anchovies.

We had her Baked Eggs Aux Fines Herbes next, delightfully creamy and buttery and so savoury with the tarragon, chervil, chives and thyme.

Tonight we enjoyed Julia's Fish Fillets Poached in White Wine. The pan sauce made from the boiled down poaching liquids, lemon, parsley and butter was out of this world. There may or may not have been plate licking involved. I'll never tell.

And, of course, I had to try my hand at Julia Child's famous French Bread. Now, I have heard it through the grapevine that her original instructions for this bread were over 12 pages long. That's the beauty of Julia's Kitchen Wisdom, the information is distilled to the essentials. Everything that I tried from the book was a success. It is softcover and inexpensive. I put it on the must-buy list.