If you haven’t seen the film Julie and Julia yet you must.By now you probably know that it is based on two books, My Life in France (which I have read) by Julia Child and her nephew, and Julie/Julia (which I have not), by Julie Powell that grew out of a blog by Powell in 2002, in which she attempted to cook every recipe in Child’s iconic Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year.Both books are getting a bump from the movie and are on the NYTimes best seller list.
The film interweaves the two stories, and although some critics have a point that the Childs’ sections overshadow the Powell sections, the result is engaging and lots of fun.The incomparable Meryll Streep once again demonstrates her powers as a conjurer by becoming Julia Child, the lilting voice, the stoop ofa too-tall woman, the goofy charm, it’s all there and it is something to behold.Stanley Tucci is wonderful as her husband Paul, and the chemistry between these two is terrific to watch.Would that any of us could have that much fun together
Of course, the real star of this movie is the food, as you see Julia and Paul eat their way through France, and Julie (played capably by charming Amy Adams), cooking her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking in her upstairs apartment over a pizza parlor. The movie gets a little overly mystical for my tastes about Julie’s imagined bond with Julia, but after a year of cooking her recipes Julie is entitled to be a little off balanced.
So this one goes on my list of other favorite foodie movies with Eat, Drink, Man, Woman; Like Water for Chocolate; Babette’s Feast; and Tampopo. Foodie friends tell me I must see Big Night and it’s on my list.
Yesterday I pulled my copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking off the cookbook bookcase and noticed it is a first edition. It was given to me by my late Aunt Tia (Grace Louise Forster, aka Brownie Boghosian). It is a Book Club edition, so I am pretty sure she got it from The Book of the Month Club.I have both volumes with their dust jackets and they are in pretty good shape, since Tia didn’t cook very much and was pretty neat when she did (like my mom she was a librarian.) I, on the other hand, who also take good care of my books but give cookbooks a big exemption, have left pinot noir stains on both the Boeuf Bourguignon and the Coq au Vin (photo below) pages.
In addition to these two provincial classics, I have made Julia’s Cassoulet, and all three of these dishes are delicious, labor intensive, time consuming, and laden with butter. The Cassoulet takes several days to digest,
Julia’s later book, The Way to Cook, has simplified recipes, but loses some of the joi de vivre (along with the butter) of the original.I have made her “Zinfandel of Beef,” an updated and simplified Boeuf Bourguignon, and it is delicious, but not nearly as sumptious as the original, in which you braise onions and mushrooms separately and add them to the final dish at the end.
In today’s NYTimes Book Review Mastering the Art of French Cooking is now number one on the Hardcover Advice and How-To List, which means it will be taking up space on many a kitchen bookshelf for years to come.For those who actually open it and try to cook from it be warned. It is a great cookbook and deserves its reputation, but Julia was not fooling around.
The movie makes Julie’s attempt to cook all the recipes seem pretty grueling, but I suspect the reality was even more daunting.These recipes take time, thought, care, attention, good ingredients and love.There are no shortcuts.They yield wonderful results.
And in many ways Mastering is an artifact from another age.It is not only French cooking made accessible for Americans, it is French cooking from 1960. A lot has changed since then, and even the French don’t cook this way much anymore.
But it is still wonderful, so hats off to Julia for being Julia, and also to Julie for sparking a new interest for another generation in this great cuisine and the oversized personality that brought it to America.
(all photos: R.L. Floyd)
These are a family favorite, but they have no claim to any regional authenticity. For one thing, I use flour rather than corn tortillas, and for another I load them with sauce, and to add further insult, they are also much bigger than usual since I use burrito-size tortillas.
For shortcuts you can use leftover chicken (or turkey) or buy a rotisserie chicken and chop it up. For the salsa you could use good jarred salsa. I use 2-cup packages of Mexican-blend grated cheese, but you can grate Cheddar (not sharp) or Monterey Jack. Be alerted that you will need a really big baking pan to get these big boys all in. I use my roasting pan. You could do it in two pans if you need to. Feeds eight normal people (or four Floyds)
For the filling:
8 Burrito-size flour tortillas
2 cups chopped cooked chicken
1 large chopped white onion
12 oz homemade or jarred salsa
1 cup of grated cheese (Mexican blend, cheddar, or Monterey jack)
Salt and pepper to taste
For the sauce:
4 Tbsp vegetable oil
4 cups chicken broth
3 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp ground cumin (cominos)
1Tbsp chopped canned chipotle peppers in adobo (optional, makes it pretty hot)
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with their juice
2 garlic gloves chopped
2 tsp dried oregano
1 cup grated cheese
chopped fresh cilantro for garnish
chopped Romaine or Iceberg lettuce
To make the sauce:Make the sauce first, because it needs to cook down a bit.In a two-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat and stir in the garlic and oregano for a few seconds being careful not to burn it.Add the chili powder and cumin and stir constantly for about a minute until you get a thick paste.Then slowly drizzle in the stock while stirring.You want to incorporate the other-ingredients into the stock.Stir in the tomatoes and the chipotles and bring the pot to a boil, then turn your heat down to get a good simmer.Let the sauce simmer and cook down while you assemble the enchiladas.It will not thicken too much, but don’t worry since it will spend another half hour in the oven.
To assemble the enchiladas:In a large mixing bowl mix chicken, onion, salsa, and 1 cup cheese. Salt and pepper to taste. Pour 1 cup of the sauce into the bottom of a large baking pan. Put a tortilla on a plate and fill with one-eighth of the filling, rolling each of them one at a time, and placing each of them into the baking pan with the seam side down to hold them together.
To cook.Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Pour the remaining sauce on top of the enchiladas so that it moistens the tops of all the tortillas.Sprinkle 1 cup grated cheese over the top of the enchiladas, and put the pan uncovered into the oven for 30 minutes.Remove the enchiladas from the oven and let them sit for 5 minutes.With a spatula put an enchilada on each plate, put chopped lettuce on either side of it, and sprinkle with fresh chopped cilantro.
(Photos: R.L. Floyd)
Mom and Dad both cooked. It wasn’t haut cuisine, but it was pretty healthy and had variety. I was born in 1949 so my earliest days in memory are in the fifties, not a heyday for American cookery. We had our share of frozen potpies and TV dinners and Mrs. Paul’s fish-sticks, but more often it was a home-cooked meal. My mother was a Midwesterner, so it was pretty simple with not a lot of seasoning. But she did have a well-worn copy of M.F.K. Fisher’s “How to Cook a Wolf” on her shelf, which was pretty avant-garde in those days. Fisher, Elizabeth David, and, of course, the incomparable Julia Child, were bringing back dispatches from the front about such exotica as olive oil and fresh garlic.
My favorite food was my mother’s friend chicken, which was a company dish. I remember fat pork roasts you couldn’t buy today for love nor money, with an inch of fat on the outside, and cooked ‘til it was gray for fear of trichinosis. The Sunday roast appeared mysteriously throughout the week in various guises and disguises. My Mom’s pork roast would supply the main ingredient for my Dad’s Pork Chop Suey or Chow Mein. That was exotica in the days before Szechuan and Hunan restaurants, when all American Chinese food was faux Cantonese. We had mac and cheese and ham steaks and haddock (frozen) that Mom would roll in corn meal and fry.
When Martha and I were married our friends the Handspicker’s gave us a copy of Fannie Farmer’s Cook Book as a wedding present. That was my first cookbook, and I made my way through it and added more dishes to my repertoire: sauerbraten, shish kabob, and variety of soups, chowders, and stews. Martha gave me Joy of Cooking in our early days and I added still more. We moved to Bangor in 1979 and they didn’t have a decent Chinese rerstaurant, so I went to the Bangor Public Library and found Joyce Chen’s Cookbook and taught myself rudimentary Chinese cooking. There was a little Vietnamese place with a small market, and I found tree ears and tiger lily blossoms to make hot and sour soup.
On a plane ride back in the days of airline food the flight attendant asked the woman next to my son Andrew, then about age five, which entrée she would like, one of the choices being coq au vin. “What is that?” she asked. “It’s chicken, Mam,” my little guy answered. When my daughter returned from Oxford she started in kindergarten again here in the states, and early in the year the children were all asked to name their favorite food. There was lots of pizza, pasta, and hamburgers represented, but the teacher got a big charge out of Rebecca’s choice: tandoori chicken.
This little culinary autobiography was prompted by Michael Pollan’s piece in the New York Times Magazine last week about food, where he writes about how we are becoming spectators of food rather than makers of it.
I still make food. Every day. I don’t do it to be virtuous, but because I enjoy it. I enjoy making it for others and sharing it with them. As a pastor for thirty years I know the joy of celebrating the sacraments with a community. There is a near-sacramental quality about a meal well-prepared and presented and enjoyed with family and friends. I often take pictures of the foods I make for a “cookbook” that maybe someday will be Christmas presents for my family (the pictures in this blog are all of things I have made).