Celebrating Julia

Juliamussel

            I’m one of the few food-loving folks who did not grow up watching Julia Child though I have known that her name was synonymous for bringing French Cuisine into the American household. Last year, in my search for culinary enlightenment, I had purchased several of her The French Chef dvds. I had watched several episodes and even as I found them charming, I thought her techniques were a bit dated. It was not until I read her book My Life in France that I experienced an epiphany of utmost admiration and overwhelming fondness for a woman who had discovered her passion for cooking late in life and managed to leave an indelible mark in the world of gastronomy. Now, when I watch her dvds, I feel like I have an old friend teaching me skills that an avid home cook can learn. Her techniques weren’t dated , they were classic! As I read chapters about her life in France, I could hear the exuberance in her voice while she narrated her beginnings in an apartment she fondly called “Roo de Loo”. The book was further enhanced by the artful photography of her husband Paul – the other half of the team known as “Pulia”. This book also handed me the opportunity to show a picture of Julia’s kitchen, with its endless array of pots and pans, to the “Hungry” hubby.

         “See honey, look at Julia’s pots and pans. Very important to have the right cooking implement, you know,” I enthused, as if to justify my own addiction to cookware.

          I also felt the frustrations and triumphs of Julia’s experiences as she wrote her masterpiece, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. In a time when America was starting to move into fast food, her timing couldn’t have been worse. The publishers thought her gargantuan book wouldn’t sell and wanted her to split it up into smaller volumes. But Julia being Julia, persevered. Her book was published, she had her public-TV series, and the rest as they say is history.

            Julia Child’s birthday is on August 15th. Lisa, of Champaign Taste, is hosting an event to honor the enduring legacy of this wonderful woman. I knew I just had to participate. What recipe to make? Well, I have never cooked mussels before, so let’s see if Julia can make me turn out this seafood dish like a pro.

Moules A la Mariniere –II

(Mussels Steamed with Wine, Flavorings, and Bread Crumbs)

Julia Child, Mastering the Art of French Cooking

  • 3 cups finely minced onions
  • ¼ lb. butter
  • An 8- to 10 quart enameled kettle with cover

Cook the onions slowly in the butter for about 10 minutes, until they are tender and translucent but not browned

  • 2 cups light, dry white wine or 1 cup dry white vermouth
  • 1-½ cups fine, dry, white bread crumbs from homemade type bread
  • ½ cup chopped parsley
  • 1/8 tsp pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ¼ tsp thyme

Stir in all the above ingredients, cover the kettle and simmer very slowly for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, and making sure the mixture does not scorch. Remove the bay leaf.

  • 6 quarts, scrubbed, soaked mussels
  • 1/3 cup chopped parsley

Add the mussels. Cover and toss them in the kettle. Set over high heat, tossing frequently until the mussel shells swing open. Ladle the mussels and sauce into soup plates, sprinkle with parsley, and serve.

Cooking Notes:

            Julia has written her books with the home cook in mind. She intuitively knows what questions might arise when someone is new to handling a certain ingredient or dish. In her introduction to her mussel recipes, she clearly explains how to clean and prepare this particular seafood.

             It is important to scrub the shells of the mussels with a hard brush to remove the dirt that may cloud their flavor, she says. Just as necessary is to soak the mussels in water so they can release the sand that is secreted in their interior. Some cooks also add 1/3 cup of flour to 2 quarts soaking water so the mussels can eat the flour to fatten them up as well as disgorge the sand more thoroughly. Beat the flour first with a little water to mix it well. Then, after soaking the mussels, lift them into a colander, and rinse them in cold water. It is also good to pull the hair protruding from the one side of the shell halves.

            The rest of the recipe was easy. I did not have fresh breadcrumbs so I used Panko crumbs. This thickened the broth too much that it almost looked like a batter. I quickly added more wine. After a few minutes it started to look more watered down. I then added the mussels and waited for them to open, shaking the kettle every so often. How I managed not to toss the entire contents of the pot all over the kitchen was a miracle.

           I have not cooked much from Julia’s books, but knowing that I have them on my bookshelf is a very comforting thought. I know that if I were to look for a recipe or an answer to a cooking question, I can find a clear answer in the wealth of information secured in her books. I had always wanted to read “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” and “The Way to Cook” cover to cover. I might do just that before this year ends.

20 thoughts on “Celebrating Julia

  1. I gave great admiratiom toward Julia Child…. I have tried a lot of her recipes, and they all work out. She is really a wonderful woman!

  2. I've only been cooking for a short period of time but I've gained so much appreciation for Julia Child. I really need to buy her cookbooks. Great post!

  3. You know, I am like you, I knew little about her until only recently, after reading about her on food blogs, of course. Perhaps she did not have the same impact on me because I am French? I am very curious though. I bet she would make me think of my grandma, perhaps

  4. I learned to cook by watching Julia on TV, and I think I've adopted her attitude about having fun in the kitchen and not taking it all so seriously. She was a serious cook, and absolutely diligent about testing recipes over and over, but she always had fun. That was the best part of her legacy.

  5. Like you, I didn't grow up watching Julia either but have read about her celebrated life and seen some videoclips online. Thank you for the tips on the moules a la mariniere, I bookmarked Ruth Reichl's version to try someday and your tips will definitely come in handy. 🙂

  6. I grew up in a half-French kitchen, so Julia didn't introduce us to cuisine but she did present an image of a cook/chef who didn't have to be frumpy, boring and half-witted. She was everything that wasn't that, with repartee informed of life and culture and a sense of humor. That made it possible for me to think that cooking was another art+science discipline that I could get into.

    She's one of my heroines because she made it possible for women like me to say, "Hell no, I am not a servant. I cook. You eat. I'm good at it. That's the deal."

  7. This is a lovely tribute to Julia, and an inspiration for me, Veron. I too, have "Mastering The Art" on my shelf but haven't used it much (except for the souffle section). I've also always wanted to make mussels at home, so you've just shown me how simple it can be! (Happy Birthday to Julia!)

  8. Hi Anh – I really should try more of her recipes. Judging from the mussels, they really work!
    Thanks Amy – yes, definitely get her "Mastering the art of French Cooking". Also, her book "The Way to Cook" is a good one.
    Hi Bea – I believe Julia Child is popular mostly in the U.S. but you are right she might remind you of your grandma's cooking…but if you read "My Life in France" you will get an insight into how warm and funny and how down to earth she can be.
    I agree, Lydia – she would test recipes a lot. But in her show, she is so funny. I remember her looking through her different rolling pins and looked at one funny and said "This… I don't why I even have this" and threw it away. the hubby and I laughed at that incident…and ever since then I know I'd love her!
    Hi Christine…ooh I love ruth reichl too. I have a recipe of hers I want to try …I think it's for buttermilk fried chicken.
    Well said Judith. Julia had a lot of spunk and she was indeed really smart. I remember how she held her own when she attended her first culinary class where all her classmates were men.
    Lisa – thanks for hosting this. I cannot wait for the roundup.
    Hi T.W. – well get that book out and start cooking! 🙂

  9. You are not the only one who didn't grow up with Julia Child 🙂 I only discovered her later in life. I have been wanting to get one of her books…I am a home cook so I think they are geared for me…hehehe 🙂

    Those mussels look fab! I love these little guys but have never cleaned/prepped them myself. I guess that's where Julia comes in!

  10. I only heard about her when I moved here but I appreciate her honesty, full of love for food character. All that is needed with that plate is a side of french fries, "moules frites" is the way to go!
    Great pic!

  11. Hi Veronica – this is the first I've seen of your blog. It's great, and those mussels look fabulous. We were in New York last month, and I ordered Moules A la Mariniere for breakfast at Balthazar. The first time I have ever had them for breakfast and I certainly would do that again! You have given me the inspiration to make them at home.

    Thanks, and happy to discover your blog! And Happy Birthday Julia!

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