WND – Mastering the Art of French Cooking, sort of

August 28, 2009


I have a confession to make.  I don’t own a copy of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”.  Neither does my mother.  In fact, outside of a movie I’m not sure I’ve ever actually even seen a copy of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”.  Does this make me a bad person?

My roommate and I took ourselves off to see Julie and Julia one stiflingly hot Sunday a couple of weeks ago.  I’ve read both the books that it was based on – “Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously” and Julia Child’s memoir, “My Life in France” (completed/edited by Alex Prud’homme) – and enjoyed both of them.  In the movie the story of Julie in modern New York cooking her way through “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” is an interesting framing device, but the dual romances between Julia and Paul Child and between Julia and food steal the show.  This is partly because it’s a more unusual and therefore more interesting story, and partly because it’s Meryl Streep and it’s hard to outshine Meryl Streep.

We were a “Joy of Cooking” family not a “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” family, but Julia Child and the impact she had on how people think about food is so much a part of our cultural heritage at this point that it doesn’t really matter whether you’ve ever personally used “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” or not because it has informed almost every cookbook that came after it.  It’s impossible to imagine the Food Network without remembering Julia Child towering awkwardly over a countertop while insouciantly instructing viewers in the art of flipping omelets in her unmistakable voice.  The voice is, incidentally, what nails Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Julia Child.  She may not look precisely like her, but she sounds like her and that voice is iconic.

I don’t think the Food Network would be possible without Julia Child.  She wasn’t quite the first chef to cook on TV, but she was the first to make a series out of it, and she was the first to master the act of making the exotic look accessible.  She made what she was doing seem ordinary and like something anyone could do.  Her famous comment, “never apologize, never explain” is probably as emblematic of what she was trying to do as anything else.  Not everything turned out perfectly when she cooked, and her enduring legacy was to show that it wasn’t the end of the world when that happened because it would still taste good and what nobody knew wouldn’t hurt them.

50 years later and the Food Network has made it mark by simultaneously taking the lesson she taught – making something that seems complicated look approachable – and by building on it and making it look glamorous as well.  The appeal of watching Giada de Laurentis make macaroni and cheese and Ina Garten make chicken salad is as much about their style and élan as it is about the actual recipe.
Interestingly, while Julia Child and “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” are widely credited with changing the way America cooks and thinks about food, and inspiring the beginning of the foodie movement, the book itself was never a best seller.  However, as a result of the movie and the attendant marketing insanity that accompanies a big movie release, Mastering the Art of French Cooking is now flying off the shelves (After 48 Years, Julia Child Has a Big Best Seller, Butter and All).

Coconut Rice
Chicken Tikka
Peach Chutney
Pattypan Squash

Coconut Rice
(serves 4-6)
This recipe is courtesy of an oddly terrible recipe from the America’s Test Kitchen Best Skillet Recipes cookbook.  In the original recipe you also brown a chicken breast in the pan before you sauté the onion, and then you finish cooking it with the rice.  In theory this sounds interesting, and in practice it tastes like boiled chicken.  The rice, however, has an amazing creamy risotto like texture.


1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped fine
1 ½ tsp garam masala
½ tsp salt
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ cups rice
2 ¾ cup chicken stock
15 oz (light) coconut milk (1 can)
1 cup frozen peas
½ cup pistachios, chopped (optional)

Sauté the onion in the vegetable oil until soft (about 5-8 minutes).  Add the garam masala, salt and garlic and cook for 30 seconds until fragrant.  Add the rice and stir to coat evenly with the oil.  Add the chicken stock and coconut milk and bring to a simmer.

Simmer, covered, for 25-30 minutes, stirring once or twice, until rice is tender.  Add the frozen peas and cook for 1-2 minutes until the peas are heated through.

Garnish with chopped pistachios, or with pomegranate seeds as I did (mostly because I didn’t feel like shelling pistachios and the pomegranate seeds are so pretty).

Chicken Tikka
The cayenne and black pepper in the yogurt marinade gives the chicken a nice subtle bit of kick.

plated chicken

3/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
3/4 teaspoon coriander seeds
2 cups whole-milk yogurt
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 (1.5 inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon garam masala (Indian spice mixture)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne

5 pounds skinless boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes

Put all the ingredients (except the chicken) into a blender and blend until smooth.  Marinate the chicken in the yogurt mixture at least 4 hours.  I put mine into marinate in the morning before I left for work.

The original recipe has you cut the chicken into cubes and then skewer it.  I butterflied by chicken breasts, pounded them lightly and didn’t bother with the skewers at all.  Whatever you choose to do, grill it over a hot grill (or under a broiler if you don’t have a grill or grill pan) until done.

cooking chicken

Peach Chutney
(makes about 2.5 cups)
This was very tasty, although I think next time I might use more jalapeno to give the chutney a little more bite.

½ cup cider vinegar
½ cup loosely packed brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
1 large red pepper, seeded and diced small
1 small white onion, diced
1 small jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced
1/3 cup raisins
1 Tbsp garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbsp ginger, grated
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ pounds firm, fresh peaches (don’t use really ripe peaches, you need them to be a little firm or they’ll fall apart when you cook them)

chutney composite

Bring the vinegar and sugars to boil in a heavy saucepan and stir until the sugar has dissolved.  Add all the remaining ingredients except the peaches and cook for 5-10 minutes.

Blanch the peaches and then remove the skins* and cut into a largish dice.  Add to the saucepan and cook for another 5-10 minutes.  Allow to cool to room temperature before serving.

* A word about blanching peaches.  99.9% of the time I don’t bother.  Between boiling the water and then cleaning the pot it always seems like more work than just peeling the peaches.  However, I was making corn on the cob for dinner the night I made the chutney, so I boiled the water, blanched the peaches and then cooked my corn.  I wouldn’t say that the skins slipped off which is what cookbooks always tell you will happen if you blanch your peaches, but it was easier than peeling them.

Pattypan Squash
I took myself up to the farmer’s market on Wednesday afternoon in search of a vegetable.  There was broccoli, but I just couldn’t bring myself to even contemplate eating it.  There were green beans, but I was unenthused even by the purple ones because I know that while they look amazing when they’re raw they turn a dull muddy green when you cook them.  I stared at the squash for so long at the farmer at the stand finally took pity on me and convinced me to try the pattypan squash.  I’m a sucker for cute vegetables and pattypan squash look like little flying saucers, so I wasn’t all that hard a sell.  They’re not green per se, but he told me it counted anyway and I wasn’t inclined to argue the point.

pattypan squash

Pattypan Squash (about one per person depending on size)
Olive oil

Slice the stem off the squash and then slice the squash into ¼” slices.  Heat the olive oil and then sauté the squash for 5-7 minutes until just cooked through.  Season with salt, pepper and cinnamon to taste.

cooking squash



  1. Your timing is perfect, as I just received a pattypan squash in my bundle of veggies from Planet Organics. I’d planned to cook it the way I cook zucchini (sauteed in butter with a mix of spices, then melt Parmesan over it and eat right out of the pan), but I’ll try your way instead. Yum!

    • I don’t know, that sounds pretty tasty too. I have a couple left over, this may be what I do with them.

  2. Regarding Julia Child’s book, you might be interested in the article “A Boeuf Bourguignon In (Gasp!) Five Steps” in the Dining section of the New York Times on August 16, 2009:

    Julia Moskin, author of the article, writes, “But although we’re suddenly a nation of pearl-onion-peelers, Ms. Child’s recipe is not the boeuf bourguignon that most French cooks would make.”

    She suggests using the recipe in Ginette Mathiot’s “Je Sais Cuisiner,” which is being translated into English as “I Know How to Cook” and will be available in October. She continues, “Ms. Mathiot’s version, especially when left for a day to assimilate its flavors, is equally suave and feels more satisfying–great payoff for little work.”

    Our home has both Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” and the French edition of Mathiot’s book, “Je sais cuisiner.”

    • I saw that and found it deeply reassuring.

  3. I have Mastering I and II, which we inherinted from Mrs. A’s grandmother. I must confess I’ve never cooked from them. Mrs. A’s mom cooks from Julia Child and Co. all the time, though.

  4. A) The rice sounds amazing.
    B) The chicken sounds amazing.
    C) Those squash are adorable.
    D) Did you really put pomegranate seeds on everything? It doesn’t say so in the recipes, but it certainly looks like it in the pictures!

    • I did put pomegranate seeds on everything because I happened to have them around and they were aesthetic, not because they were called for in the recipe or are vitally necessary.

  5. […] Recipe previously given: Mastering the Art of French Cooking, sort of […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: