Wednesday marks what would've been the 100th birthday of the late, great Julia Child. For folks whose work revolves around food in this country, there is no more important figure to us than the gourmand, chef, author, and television personality.
So, it's fitting that her life and legacy is being celebrated by the various cable networks that owe her a debt of gratitude as well as public television, whom Julia, who died in 2004 two days before turning 92, introduced to the possibilities of food-based broadcasting.
This week, we'll celebrate Julia with a dinner-and-a-movie recommendation today followed by a proper package of recipes and stories on Wednesday.
This Wednesday, if you want to properly celebrate Julia, do it in courses as Julia would have.
Watching Dan Aykroyd's famous portrayal of Julia from the golden era of “Saturday Night Live” is the perfect amuse bouche.
You can find that video and enough others to fill a 15-course meal online at pbs.org/food, including interviews and a sampling of full episodes of her various programs. The site also has a collection of Julia Child quotes, a Julia Child personality quiz, recipes and more. That site also encourages home cooks to create a classic Julia Child dish and share their experience at the site and on Twitter, using the hashtag #CookforJulia.
Home bakers, meanwhile, can still enter the Julia Child Birthday Cake Contest sponsored by the recipe website Epicurious. Enter your original recipe, including a photo, for a chance to win a KitchenAid stand mixer, an All-Clad French skillet set or a 60th Anniversary Limited Edition nonstick Bundt pan from Nordic Ware. Details are at facebook.com/epicurious. The deadline is 11 a.m. Aug. 21.
For your library, there's the new biography, “Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child,” by Bob Spitz (Knopf, $29.95). Expanding greatly on the popular “My Life in France” (2006), cowritten by Child and her grandnephew Alex Prud'homme, this new book covers Child's full life, from gawky schoolgirl to rebellious collegian, government service worker abroad, culinary student, writer and finally TV star and French cooking authority.
Introduce the kids to Julia with “Minette's Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat” (Abrams, $16.95). Written by Susanna Reich and illustrated by Amy Bates, the book covers Child's Le Cordon Bleu days in Paris, from the point of view of Child's first cat.
The book also includes a photo of Child with the real Minette, a short biography and a glossary and pronunciation guide of French words used in the story.
For the movie end of your celebration of Julia, the only real choice is Nora Ephron's “Julie and Julia,” which intermingles Julia's conversion from bored housewife/civil servant to French chef and author with Julie Powell's conversion from bored civil servant to renowned blogger via creating each recipe from Julia's first book “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”
Powell performed the feat inside a year and lived to blog about it in 2002. The Julie/Julia Experiment graduated from blogspot to book form.
Meryl Streep's carefree, almost bawdy, portrayal of Julia Child is so charismatic, you'll be left wanting much more of her and less of Julie Powell. That doesn't mean Powell's story isn't compelling, it's just difficult for her — or anyone else — to stand up to Julia, especially in an Oscar-nominated turn by history's most celebrated actress.
Amy Adams is one of her generation's finest talents, and she portrays Julie Powell winningly. Powell has written a poignant and aggressively intimate memoir of a woman in need of inspiration.
Maybe Streep's Julia is so ebullient, I felt I was missing something when she wasn't on screen.
Julie's story is about picking yourself up and getting yourself going. We can all relate to that. It has its own bit of inspiration. You want to pat her on the back, but juxtaposed with Julia's achievement, Julie comes off a little marginal.
Part of that is the fault of the script. In the film, as Julie delves deeper into her yearlong endeavor, she becomes shrill and a touch obsessed without regard to much else while Julia's battle to publish her book takes four times as long to accomplish, and she's never depicted as a crying mess. The only effect on her marriage is enrichment.
When Streep was first cast as Julia I had a hard time picturing it, but this performance is yet another indication that underestimating her is folly. As you slip further under Streep's spell it becomes evident that no one else could've played Julia. Perhaps only someone with the kind of drive Julia had could portray her, and it's hard to imagine an actor with more drive and acclaim than Meryl Streep.
Stanley Tucci is perfectly understated as Paul Child and Chris Messina depicts Powell's ever-patient husband Eric with aplomb. “Julie and Julia” was the last film for Ephron, who died in June from pneumonia brought on by acute myeloid leukemia.
To get ready for Wednesday, you should start on Julia's famous Boeuf Bourguignon a day or two in advance. On Wednesday, you'll find a recipe for Salad Nicoise, which can be put together that day.
Bouef Bourguignon is truly a labor of love, which is why it's such a fitting dish to celebrate Julia. There are countless shortcuts one could take, but that would go against Child's spirit. Just like great stew or chili, this braised dish appears to get better overnight, so by all means, shop today, cook tomorrow, eat, drink and be merry in Julia's honor on Wednesday.
One 6-ounce piece of chunk bacon or salt pork
31/2 tablespoons olive oil
3 pounds lean stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 carrot, sliced
1 onion, sliced
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons flour
3 cups red wine, young and full-bodied (like Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhone or Burgundy)
21/2 to 31/2 cups brown beef stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
A crumbled bay leaf
18 to 24 white onions, small
31/2 tablespoons butter
Herb bouquet (4 parsley sprigs, one-half bay leaf, one-quarter teaspoon thyme, tied in cheesecloth)
1 pound mushrooms, fresh and quartered
Remove bacon rind and cut into lardons (sticks 1/4-inch thick and 11/2inches long). Simmer rind and lardons for 10 minutes in 11/2quarts water. Drain and dry.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Saute lardons in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a flameproof casserole over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon.
Dry beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Heat fat in casserole until almost smoking. Add beef, a few pieces at a time, and saute until nicely browned on all sides. Add it to the lardons. Remove beef and lardons and set aside.
In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out the excess fat.
Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly. Set casserole uncovered in middle position of preheated oven for 4 minutes.
Toss the meat again and return to oven for 4 minutes (this browns the flour and covers the meat with a light crust).
Remove casserole and turn oven down to 325 degrees.
Stir in wine and 2 to 3 cups stock, just enough so that the meat is barely covered.
Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs and bacon rind. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove.
Cover casserole and set in lower third of oven. Regulate heat so that liquid simmers very slowly for 3 to 4 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.
While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms.
Heat 11/2 tablespoons butter with 11/2tablespoons of the oil until bubbling in a skillet.
Add onions and saute over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling them so they will brown as evenly as possible. Be careful not to break their skins. You cannot expect them to brown uniformly.
Add 1/2 cup of the stock, salt and pepper to taste and the herb bouquet.
Cover and simmer slowly for 40 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but hold their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove herb bouquet and set onions aside.
Wipe out skillet and heat remaining oil and butter over high heat. As soon as you see butter has begun to subside, indicating it is hot enough, add mushrooms.
Toss and shake pan for 4 to 5 minutes. As soon as they have begun to brown lightly, remove from heat.
When the meat is tender, pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve set over a saucepan.
Wash out the casserole and return the beef and lardons to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms on top.
Skim fat off sauce in saucepan. Simmer sauce for a minute or two, skimming off additional fat as it rises. You should have about 21/2 cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly.
If too thin, boil it down rapidly or whisk in beurre manie, a paste made from 3 tablespoons flour and 2 tablespoons butter. If too thick, mix in a few tablespoons stock at a time. Taste carefully for seasoning.
Pour sauce over meat and vegetables. Cover and simmer 2 to 3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times.
Serve in casserole, or arrange stew on a platter surrounded with potatoes, noodles or rice, and decorated with parsley.
Published with permission. Source: Julia Child, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” (Alfred A. Knopf, $40) and “Julia's Kitchen Wisdom” (Alfred A. Knopf, $14.95)