Before you let the title sway you to conclude I am doing my own rendition of the movie Julie & Julia, let me make it clear right away. I have no intentions of EVER attempting to make 524 French recipes in just one year (or even over the course of a lifetime). No. No. No. And to justify, I’ll list just a few of the most basic of reasons. First: our grocery budget would never allow for the purchase of all the fancy (and odd) ingredients. Secondly: my time is limited already with other daily responsibilities I have (so I can not really justify extra hours in the kitchen making crêpes, tarts, and soufflés). And thirdly: (if you saw the movie, you would know) there are those repulsive sounding (and looking) aspic recipes that involve cold meat molded in jelly, which I would never make – gross!! But mainly, the key reason why I would never attempt such a challenge is this. My most important priorities and passions in this life lie outside the kitchen and I would eventually lose motivation and burn out if I set off to endeavor something I was not whole heartedly excited about. However, because I was witness to the cooking taking place in a couple of Hollywood kitchens, a few ambitions of my own have since been stirred up that I will be in pursuit of. And it all started with a gift…
This year for Christmas, Rob’s mom had a very clever present idea that she gave to each of her daughters and to me. She wrapped up the book, ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’ and included along with it the movie, ‘Julie & Julia.’ I thought it was a rather ingenious way to pique my interest in venturing out into some new cooking methods and recipes. Because honestly, had she given me only the book itself, it would most likely sit untouched on a shelf in my pantry. And had she given me only the DVD, I would never had a notion to try and concoct for myself any of the fancy cuisines made mention of in the movie. But paired together (like cheese and wine – hee, hee), my taste buds were aroused and I was inspired.
The first recipe that intrigued me enough to go search for it in the book was for (and this will sound odd…) mayonnaise. Making our own mayo is something I have recently been thinking about, off and on, because I can’t find any store bought jars that are made with ingredients I really want to be feeding to my family. And then to my unexpected surprise, there was this brief scene in the movie where Julia mentions the trick of getting your mayonnaise just right, each and every time you make it. Because of that, I just had to check out the recipe for myself and actually see it in writing. And so with that initial opening of the book and flipping through the pages, I was able to see how readable the book was and I started to consider trying out a dinner recipe.
The one that seemed to get the most raves in the movie (and therefore got my vote for a first attempt) was the Boeuf Bourguignon [you pronounce it bœf boor-gee-nyawn and it translates to beef stew in red wine, with bacon, onions, and mushrooms]. I knew this would be somewhat doable because I had received a cast-iron, enameled, dutch oven for Christmas (thanks again to Rob’s mom) and I knew we already had some sort of meat suitable for roasting stored out in our deep freezer (remember, we bought half a cow! ). My one hang up was that the recipe called for a 6-ounce chunk of bacon, to remove the rind and then to cut it into lardons (sticks, 1/4 inch thick and 1 1/2 inches long). Well that whole bit just sounded costly and a bit elaborate, so I instead requested that Rob buy a box of bacon end pieces while he was at WalMart; as that seemed a fairly decent and frugal substitute for creating those ‘lardons’ needed in the stew.
With all the things I needed for my Beef Bla bla bla…, I was ready to get started. But let me first make one more note of yet another reason why I would never be a good candidate to cook my way through all the recipes in ‘the art of french cooking’. If you will take your glance down below, you will see there are several ingredients the book calls for that I did not have. Next to it, you will see my runner-up list of alternates. If in the movie we saw, even by remaining true to the recipes, Julie’s cooking project did not earn the favor of a master chef; how could I (one who substitutes tomato paste with ketchup) bring honor to Julia Child? I am most certainly not the one who could receive or achieve any sort of recognition for my feeble attempts at recreating her masterpieces.
But recognition was not my goal here, I just wanted something my family would enjoy eating. And I might never know what sticking to the original recipe would have tasted like, but I know that all who experienced this version of mine were mighty pleased! It was a cooking success and will be repeated. And to get a plug in for the book, and to refute the myth that all her recipes are fattened and flavored with butter. It is not so. Bacon grease is also a way you can achieve a rich, indulgent, and scrumptious flavor.
It was quite fortunate for our neighbors that they could join us for dinner. Some might call it coincidence that they had just “happened” to show up in our driveway to chat with Rob, while he was working in the garage, at the same time dinner was about to be served. But I think facebook was a key player in it all because I had posted earlier that day my dinner plans for the evening. (Cody and Whit, oh the cleverness of you! You guys are welcome anytime!!!)