Julia Welcome In My Kitchen Anytime
Julia and Jacques Cooking At Home by Julia Child
Browsing through this cookbook is like sitting at your own kitchen table with two old and very dear friends as they banter back and forth, trading recipes, techniques, and accumulated wisdom. Written as a companion cookbook for the PBS series, culinary icons Julia Child and Jacques Pepin offer a comprehensive collection of recipes that combine both theory and practice. Both master chefs are able to break down complicated concepts into a step-by-step approach firmly founded in French classic theory.
Although many chefs have collaborated to write cookbooks, there are several very nice touches that lift this collection of recipes to a higher level than most. While both chefs are passionately committed to excellent cooking, they have developed different means to the same end. To accommodate both viewpoints, the layout of the cookbook offers the principal recipe in the inside middle section of each pair of pages. Then, Julia adds her comments and techniques in a blue sidebar on the left side of even numbered pages. Jacques has his own territory; a buff sidebar on the right side of the opposite page. For example, the recipe for Scrambled Eggs, Two Ways (p. 76) contains identical ingredients, but the cooking techniques result in two very different presentations. Julia gently moves her eggs in the pan with a spatula to loose them from the pan, ending with a dish that resembles a "soft broken custard". Jacques prefers small curds and whisks vigorously throughout the cooking process. In the interest of research, I tried both techniques; I preferred Julia's method and my son chose Jacques' version.
The book is divided into ten categories ranging from appetizers to dessert. Although all dishes presented in the PBS series are included in the cookbook, I was pleased to find a few bonus recipes not found on my videotapes. In a few instances, the text differs slightly from the video and the revision serves to clarify or improve a procedure for use in the home kitchen.
AppetizersThis section was heavy on seafood, with tips for selecting, cleaning, preparing and serving shrimp (Julia deveins, Jacques doesn't bother), oysters (Jacques uses an oyster knife, Julia uses a beer-can opener), salmon (Julia serves her traditional or quick gravlax with creamed potatoes and scrambled eggs; Jacques offers his instant version with "lots of garnishes". Since I live near the Oregon coast, I look forward to the first clam tide next summer when I will gather mussels (along with my limit of butter clams) to prepare Moules Mariniere. The only non-seafood recipe is one for county pate in a brioche crust and this is on my list of to-do's for Father's Day.
SoupsStarting with directions for making various poultry, meat, and fish stock, Julia and Jacques offer a number of recipes for both every day and special occasion soups. My son's favorite soup is chicken noodle and the simple version provided by Jacques would appeal to him more than my usual recipe (filled with a variety of vegies). As I write this, I have a pot of Beef Barley soup simmering on my stove. Although Jacques' recipe specifies lamb, I like beef better and the authors encourage improvisation throughout the book.
EggsThis section is a primer on egg cookery, ranging from omelets to poached to souffles. Again, the two chefs vary in technique (Julia whips her egg whites with an electric mixer, Jacques uses a whisk and copper bowl), but the results merge into excellence.
Salads and SandwichesI loved Jacques suggestion to add wine and vinegar to an almost-empty mustard jar with salt & pepper, then shaking to create an easy vinaigrette dressing. The sandwich ideas include grilled (Julia likes an electric sandwich cooker) and baked (Jacques fills a hollowed loaf of bread with a savory filling).
Potatoes and other accompanimentsStarch is a staple to be found in all cuisines and this section offers detailed explanations of how to achieve perfect baked, boiled, fried, and scalloped potatoes. I was very pleased to find Julia's spirited defense of adding marshmallows (albeit homemade) to sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving dinner. As she admits, most standard cookbooks disdain this recipe but her family and mine both love it.
VegetablesJulia's techniques dominate this chapter and while some of them seem a bit impractical to me (immersing a red-hot poker in a pot of green beans to hasten the cooking process), it is a solid foundation for vegetable cookery. The illustrated directions for peeling and chopping both garlic (Jacques) and tomatoes (Julia) provided me with some tips that will come in handy.
FishSince the men in my family are all avid fishermen, this section was especially interesting to me. There are several wonderful recipes for salmon and snapper; these are often found in my refrigerator when my brother drops by after a diving trip on the Oregon Coast. I wish I had seen the illustrated instructions the first time I filleted a whole fish . . . the process would have been much easier and the presentation would have been more attractive. The recipes for flavored butters will be very useful.
PoultryThe flock of recipes for fowl include two turkey and duck, and seven chicken. The illustrations will be especially helpful for inexperienced cooks who have limited experience in preparing or carving whole fowl. I admit that I usually buy boneless skinless pieces since I am time-sensitive, but I have fond childhood memories of roast chicken dinners on Sunday afternoons. I'll try Julia's Roast Chicken with Lemon and Herbs sometime soon. Hmmm . . . I wonder how my family would feel about facing a boneless turkey next Thanksgiving? The technique looks fairly simple and the result is extremely elegant.
MeatsJulia is an avowed carnivore and isn't afraid to trade a few fat grams for a flavorful piece of beef. Jacques has found some fairly simple techniques for turning cheap pieces of meat into wonderful meals, either by removing sinew and fat, or by long braising. They both love hamburgers and I've tried both techniques, ending up with a slight preference for Julia's rendition.
DessertsSaving the best for last, Julia and Jacques begin with a series of custards and custard based sauces. I've made cream puffs for years, but had never considered using a food processor to help incorporate egg into dough and I found this to be an incredibly helpful tip. I've always enjoyed making free-form apple tarts, but adding dried apricots to the filling raises this dessert to a new level. Finally, Jacques' chocolate roulade is worth the price of the book. Using a rich ganache as a base for the batter, I completed the cake roll, start to finish, in less than 30 minutes. Next time, I'll try Jacques' suggestion of baking the batter in small molds to be served as individual chocolate souffles.
This cookbook is a new addition to my collection, but will be one that I refer to frequently. I'll take down-to-earth sensibility over stylized impracticality any day The individual personality of each cook is carefully maintained, even as their mutual pleasure found in the kitchen comes through loud and clear. It is just plain fun to read and would be useful for a wide range of skills, from kitchen novice to accomplished home cook.