La cuisiniere courageuse

American adventures in French cooking

25 Mars: Bonjour

Last weekend, I finally blew the dust off my beloved hardbound, two-volume set of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I moved them into our new home two years ago, set them on a shelf with all their cookbook friends, and commenced ignoring them.

The past few years have been busy – a new marriage, a blended family, a new home, a new baby, on top of a full-time career and raising three teenagers. I’ve fallen into a rut of Just Keeping Everything Going. Cooking has gone from my very favorite pastime to baffling drudgery. How in the world did that happen?

No more. I decided last Saturday that we were going to throw caution to the wind and cook a Proper French Meal. Cookbooks were thoughtfully consulted. Grocery lists were prepared. We returned from Wegman’s with our usual groceries and a few specialties, and I set about working on dinner: Supremes de Volaille aux Champignons and Gratin Jurassien, or chicken breasts cooked in mushroom and cream sauce coupled with scalloped potatoes and carrots with cream and cheese.

I realized as I was cooking that, um, that’s a lot of cream.

And you know what? It took a little extra time, but really, the actual cooking part wasn’t that hard, and the ingredients weren’t too far outside our normal purchasing habits. (OK, fine: I really do consume that much cream. Heavy cream is a hill worth dying on, if your clogged and feeble arteries permit you to climb it.) We sat down a bit later than usual and enjoyed a delicious, home-cooked meal.

Inspiration struck.
Another food blogger was born.

So, here’s the plan: I’ll be scouring two kitchen shelves of cookbooks for French recipes that can be pressed into service for busy weeknight dinners. Weekends will be for (1) planning meals for the following week and (2) testing out more complicated dishes that will challenge my abilities and the palates of certain children in this house. I am going to teach myself French cooking, and I am going to feed my family something beyond the time-honored, unwritten agreement of tacos/pasta/chicken.

I know what you’re thinking:  hasn’t this been done before?

No. This is not Julie and Julia. I don’t have the time, energy, budget, or frankly, the interest to work chapter by chapter through 1,000+ pages of complex, time-consuming (albeit delicious) French dishes. And I can imagine how a plate of Langue de Boeuf Braisee, Calcutta (that’s sliced beef tongue braised with curry) will go over at the dinner table.

Instead, I’m hoping answer to a few questions:

  • Is this way of cooking still possible with today’s busy lifestyles? Can I really master the art of French cooking while working full-time, raising four kids, and cooking in a woefully underwhelming fixer-upper kitchen?
  • Can I really do this without blowing up our food budget? Can I use the same groceries we typically buy, only in a new way? Can I support local sources instead of instinctively running to Wegman’s? Don’t worry, Wegman’s: I can’t quit you.
  • Can I adopt the same confidence and exuberance and joie de vivre as Julia Child? Will I be able to improvise in the face of fallen souffles and soggy potatoes? Can I get over my fear of failure, in both cooking and writing about it?
  • Will my kids actually enjoy French food? Can I successfully introduce new tastes beyond the dozen or so mainstream-American dishes to which they’re accustomed? Will they ever get over their resentment for my cancelling Taco Tuesday?

I think I found my answer, at approximately 1:51 below (and, if you have time, do watch the whole thing – it’s 19 minutes well-spent):

So there it is, straight from Julia herself: I don’t care what happens! The sky can fall! Omelets can go all over the stove! I’m gonna learn! I shall overcome!

It doesn’t matter that my kitchen isn’t up-to-date or packed with expensive cookware. It doesn’t matter that I’ve never been to France (true confession? I don’t even have a passport). It doesn’t matter that I’ve never taken a single formal cooking class. I just have to be ready to learn. And ready to make mistakes.

AND I AM GREAT AT MISTAKES. Besides, I already know how to make sugar syrup, so I guess I’m actually ahead of the game.

So, meals for the coming week? Not sure yet.
Weekend challenge: Boeuf Bourguignon, just like Julia would make, and a big batch of ratatouille.

Courage! 

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10 Comments

  1. I LOVE this! I’m so excited to follow along and see what you discover. I wish I knew what Good Luck was in French. Oh wait…google translate…bonne chance!

    • Heather

      Merci, Stephanie!! Recipe Archaeology may have been a major inspiration for this project …

  2. Awesome! YAY, I’m so excited for you. I have FULL FAITH in you. Because it will be fun, and an adventure, and that’s the best part, right? (Other than all the yummy dishes?!?).

    • Heather

      🙂 Thank you, Beth!! After this weekend (update coming tonight!), I think it’s going to be a TON of work, but also A LOT OF FUN.

  3. Okay, aside from all the other ridiculous awesomeness here, you are my heavy cream soul sister. I should have known.

    • Heather

      Perhaps a “heavy cream is a hill worth dying on” coffee mug is in order here.

  4. I adore this! I can’t wait to follow and along and learn from you along the way!

  5. Yahoo!!! What fun! I know NOTHING about all that is French, but am excited to learn through this adventure of yours. =) Also, I LOVE cooking , but like you, it’s become somewhat of a past time since the kiddos started getting mobile. Now that they are older and interested in “helping” mommy in the kitchen, I should probably get back into it! (Although I’m more of an Emeril Lagasse /Tyler Florence/Alton Brown/Jaime Oliver in the kitchen – Hey where are all the female chefs??? ….I did love Rachel Ray at one point…) Anyhoo, I can’t wait to go on this adventure with you! And in a couple of the few french words I know, Bon Appetit!

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