Some time ago I saw the movie Julie & Julia and I thoroughly enjoyed it. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend that you do. The blogger’s chronicles of her trip through Julia Child’s life and cookbook brought her some amount of fame. Through her efforts she learned a massive amount about Julia Child, a ton about herself, and she also learned how to cook.
The movie about it was so well done that it had me alternately crying and laughing. There were times during the movie that I wasn’t sure I had completely stopped the one before I began the other.
It prompted me to buy my very own edition of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which really has a much longer name than I can remember without trekking down to the dining room to look at it for you. Something about American housewives is included in the title. But it makes no difference to this story.
I did not chronicle my daily efforts as I worked my way through the voluminous cookbook. I did, however, read it. I was amazed at how much I learned just in the several pages that preface the actual recipes. Some of the things I’d learned from my grandmother, who was the master chef of my childhood home. Others I’d seen her do, but I’m not certain she knew why she did them that way. The rest was as foreign to me as some of the French words in it that I’d never be able to pronounce anyway.
In reading through the cookbook, I earmarked a few recipes that I wanted to try. And I wanted to do it the Julia Child way. Since she gave very explicit instructions, I figured I could do it just as easily as anybody else.
My first endeavor was Boeuf Bourguignon. As per the recipe, along with some ad lib cooking techniques, I spent about six hours in my kitchen on this dish. I boiled whole bacon, cut it up in little pieces, and fried it to a crisp. I cut up a huge chunk of beef into bite size pieces and seared each piece on all sides, making sure to dry it first. Otherwise, according to Mrs. Child, it just won’t brown properly. I cut up and fried onions in the bacon fat. I used wine, something I had never before tried in any of my home cooked meals. I slow cooked it in a dutch oven and rotated the dutch oven between stove top and the enclosed oven several times for different parts of the recipe. I grilled mushrooms for a final addition. The recipe called for only two spices besides salt. One of them was a crumbled bay leaf.
When I tasted it, I had the exact same reaction as the two people in the movie who tested this recipe. A near faint with an audible, almost orgasmic, “Mmmmm”. The results of six hours in my kitchen had proven that my efforts had paid off well. This stuff was good. Not just good; it was Holy good.
Julia Child recommended in her recipe that this dish be served with potatoes instead of having potatoes included in it. So I had also roasted some potatoes with herbs and butter as a side dish.
My husband works nights, and had fallen asleep on the couch while I was making this dish. He kept waking up asking what smelled so good. I’d tell him, “Not yet; go back to sleep.” Finally the hour came when I was able to tell him that it was done.
He came into the kitchen and with some excitement he lifted the cast iron lid to my Dutch oven, using a dish towel so as not to burn his hands. I could hardly contain my excitement.
“Oh, you made beef stew.”
Beef stew? Are you kidding me? I was quick to point out that what I’d made was NOT beef stew, but rather Boeuf Bourguignon!
He quickly tasted it and then delightfully moaned throughout two full bowls, disregarding the potatoes almost entirely.
We were about done with our meal when our oldest came through the front door and headed straight for the kitchen saying, “Oh, something smells good!” She lifted the lid before I could say anything, and with disappointment she said, rather flatly, “Oh, you made beef stew.”
My heart broke. All this care and attention, time and preparation, to a meal that had been reduced to merely beef stew. I vowed that the next time I made it, I’d make them both watch so they’d understand that this, this, was more than mere beef stew.
This dish has since become a staple on my home cooked menu. It has its proper rotation with other favorites like spaghetti, lasagna, chicken parmesan, bean soup, and tacos. And every time I make it, I make it the Julia Child way because it’s worth every second it takes.
The last time I made it, our oldest took a portion in a sealed container to her boyfriend. She told me later that he loved it. She also told him it was beef stew. He wanted to know why there were no potatoes in it.
We saw him yesterday. He asked when I was going to make that stew again because he really liked it.
With slumped shoulders and a sagging spirit, I said, “Soon, Son. I’ll make it soon.”