OK. This is it. My absolutely favorite #1 of all time cookbook. Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1 by Simone Beck, Louisette Bertholle and Julia Child. This was the cookbook that I cut my teeth on and used to teach myself how to cook ‘real’ food. Classic French cooking is where I began. When I cook, I instinctively reach for butter, cream, fresh herbs and I can sauté, deglaze and flambée with one hand tied behind my back.
The first edition was published in 1961 and the authors aimed to produce “a cookbook for the servantless American cook who can be unconcerned on occasion with budgets, waistlines, time schedules, children’s meals, or anything else which might interfere with the enjoyment of producing something wonderful to eat. . . . No out-of-the-ordinary ingredients are called for. In fact the book could well be titled French Cooking from the American Supermarket. . . . Anyone can cook in the French manner anywhere, with the right instruction. Our hope is that this book will be helpful in giving that instruction”.
Some classic French baking is also included, but baking got a much more thorough treatment in Volume 2, which was published in 1970. Taken together, the two volumes are considered one of the most influential works in American cookbook history, and Child in particular has long been accorded near-universal respect in the cooking world, in part due to these books’ influence.
We had a copy when I was growing up and my parents used to dabble in gourmet cooking from time to time. Both of my parents cooked, but it was mainly Southern food (Dad) or ‘healthy’ food a la Diet for a Small Planet and Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit (Mom). I never got into making what I consider ‘real’ food until my mid 20’s when I started co-habiting in my first serious relationship. My neighbors moved to Florida and gave me their copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and the following is the first ‘real’ food recipe I cooked, using my $69.99 nine-piece set (lids included) of non-stick Farberware cookware.
I stupidly gave the book away several years ago during an over-enthusiastic cull, but managed to get a copy from The Strand Bookstore in New York City when I was there in 2005.
In the past couple of months, Inspiraculum has gotten quite a few hits a day from the search term ‘mastering the art of french cooking’ as I cook so many of her recipes. I’m not the only one eagerly awaiting the release of Julie & Julia, a film about the cook Julia Child and a New York based blogger, Julie Powell whose lives intertwine although they are separated by time and space.
To ease the wait (6 more days) I made Bifteck Haché for dinner tonight. AND I used the newest addition to our cook’s studio, an ad hoc work surface from IKEA. Originally meant as a fold-away table for a very tiny kitchen, Steve and I attached it to our kitchen shelf unit for a baking station and just extra counter space whenever we need it.
Bifteck Haché À La Lyonnaise
[Ground beef with Onions and Herbs]
Shock is the reaction of some Americans we have encountered who learn that real French people living in France eat hamburgers. They do eat them, and when sauced with any of the suggestions in the following recipes, the French hamburger is an excellent and relatively economical main course for an informal party. Serve them with the same types of red wines and vegetables listed for steaks.
I sauteed and set aside some sliced mushrooms at the beginning which I added to the sauce at the end.
For 6 hamburgers
- ¾ cup finely minced yellow onions
- 2 tbs butter
Cook the onions slowly in the butter for about 10 minutes until very tender but not browned. place in a mixing bowl.
- 1 ½ lbs. lean ground beef
- 2 tbs softened butter
- 1 ½ tsp salt
- 1/8 tsp pepper
- ½ tsp fresh thyme
- 1 egg
Add the above ingredients to the onions in the bowl and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon to blend thoroughly. Correct seasoning. Form into patties.
- ½ cup flour spread on a plate
- 1 tb butter and 1 tb olive oil, or sufficient to film the bottom of a skillet
Just before sautéing, coat the patties lightly in the flour. Shake off any excess. Place the butter and oil in the skillet and place over moderately high heat. When you see the butter foam begin to subside, indicating it is hot enough to sear the meat, sauté the patties for 2 to 3 minutes each side, depending on whether you like your hamburgers rare, medium or well done. Arrange the hamburgers on a serving platter and keep warm for a moment while finishing the sauce.
- ½ cup beef stock, canned beef boullion, dry white wine or vermouth, red wine or ¼ water.
- 2 to 3 tbs softened butter
Pour the fat out of the skillet. Add the liquid and boil down rapidly, scraping up the coagulated pan juices, unitl it has reduced almost to a syrup. Off heat, swirl the butter by half-tablespoons into the sauce until it is absorbed. Pour the sauce over the hamburgers and serve.
Steve made these –
Rosemary Sautéed Potatoes
- 7-8 potatoes
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
- Salt to taste
- Olive oil
Heat the butter and oil in a wide frying pan. Slice the potatoes about 1/8 thick. Arrange in a single layer and sprinkle with salt and the rosemary. When golden brown, turn and season and cook them on the other side. Drain on paper towels before serving.
Steve and I bought a mixed case (6 reds and 6 whites) of ‘New World’ wines from Best Cellars, an online wine merchant based in Devon. There are four bottles of wine each from Chile, South Africa and New Zealand. It’s a really good way to try something new and have a good selection to pair with whatever’s on the menu. Since they’re nearby, we’ve been to their shops in Ashburton and Chagford and they really know their stuff. We just tell them what we’re planning to cook and how much we want to pay and they make a couple of recommendations. Tonight we had a bottle of Pinot Noir from the Tabali Encantado winery in Chile. A great taste of red fruits softened by oak, but not as heavy as a Cab or Merlot.