on March 12, 2004
Julia Child is my greatest culinary hero. Her first two books, the two volumes of 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking' influenced two generations of home cooks, caterers, and restaurateurs. Her PBS television series did not invent the TV cooking show, but they made such an indelible impression on the genre that I am sure their influence will be felt long after Julia is cooking for St. Peter. Her generous support of charities and freedom from commercial influences should be a model for other culinary professionals who wish our respect.
After all that, I confess a certain irony in expecting to give this book a cautionary review. It is certainly a joy to read a new work by Ms. Julia, but I anticipated a few things you should consider, based on the fact that this is a very short book.
First, there are 105 pages of kitchen wisdom for a list price of $20, not including introductions and index. Short books leave things out. The book very wisely advocates a slow rise to bread dough to get better development of flavor, but it doesn't explain why. Another area where the book is clearly leaving things out is where it mentions the five French mother sauces, but only gives details on making two of the five.
Second, it seems to concentrates on the faster rather than the tastiest result, as this requires less space. One example I found is in the recipe for creating a crème fraiche at home. Almost every recipe I have found asks you to let the mixture of cream and sour cream or yogurt to sit in the fridge for at least 24 hours. Some have it sit for up to three days. This book allows for no waiting time. I confess the book does not always take the shortest route, as the recipe for pie dough (pate brisee) recommends a rest period of two hours in the fridge. Most writers suggest at least 30 minutes.
I bought this book over a year ago and I do not use it for anything except for its crepe recipe, which I find to be both effective and simple. Rereading selected sections a year after reading it the first time shows me that in spite of it's small size, it simply does not mislead by omission. When an important detail is needed for a technique, the detail is there. I expected the book to skimp on the discussion of the omelet, for example, but it did not. It stated that there are many ways to make an omelet and the method presented was simply Julia Child's preference, not the Gospel. I was especially fond of the fact that on the matter of fresh vegetables, Julia was closer to Nigella Lawson's common sense approach to using goods out of season than to the stoic 'only fresh and local' dogma. She does confess that we have not yet corrected the insipidness of tomatoes out of season, but almost all other produce is as good as gold, and healthy to boot.
The lesson I take from the change in my impression of this book over the last year is that one may not be able to appreciate this book or be comfortable in using it unless you are already comfortable in the kitchen and know why you do certain things in certain ways. To use an Alton Brown metaphor, this book is excellent at giving you directions, but it leaves out all the details of alternate routes in the event you stray from the straight and narrow.
I highly recommend this book, but I urge you to not take it as a shortcut to kitchen wisdom. The best way to use the book is to have studied these techniques in more detailed books and to come back to this book for a reminder. The irony in this advice is that Julia herself says that once you know a technique, you rarely have to refer to a recipe again. To those of you who are reading the book without a wide reading in other good books on cooking, please take my word for the fact that this lady knows what she is talking about.
Very highly recommended for all amateur cooks.
on February 21, 2001
I bought this book to give as a gift and kept it for myself! I am so glad I did. Although I have been cooking for many years, this delightful little book gave me lots of hints and tips, as well as often making me laugh out loud. I regard it more as a book of kitchen essays than as a cookbook, although I think any cook could benefit from the recipes, variations, hints, tips, and reminders it contains. Many of Childs' original recipes have been simplified for this book, but this does not appear to have compromised them.
One of the nicest things about "Julia's Kitchen Wisdom" is the attractive layout and its wonderful index. Someone above mentioned this also. I am very appreciative of a good index in any book - and this one sure made the book easy to use.
I also loved Julia's pithy quotes at the beginning of each chaper--I could just hear her saying them, breathlessly. Her wording in some of the recipes is droll---when describing how to make an omelet, she instructs the reader to "jerk the pan towards you", "bang on the handle with your fist", and "spear a lump of butter with a fork". No formal language here! She really endeared herself to me when she said that she uses an aluminum Wearever pan for her omelets.
The great photos, taken over many years, brought back good memories of Julia Child's weekly shows.
on September 28, 2001
I love cooking shows and often read cookbooks for pleasure, picking up tips from each author and pondering what recipes I'd like t try, but I have to admit that I've never been a part of the cooking cult that worships Julia Child. I do remember watching her shows as a child, with my mother, and know she pioneered the genre, but the meals she made rarely appealed to me--too time consuming, too "fussy" and just too "strange" for every day taste. (If I have to visit eight different shops and peruse three mail order catalogs to make a dish, I'm probably not going to try it.)
Recently, I picked up "Julia's Kitchen Wisdom" at the library and was quickly sold. I am now ordering a copy to keep. The book is filled with useful basic recipes and techniques, as well as lots of helpful time-saving tips that Child has picked up over the years. It's not really a recipe book per se, though tried-and-true formulas for things like Hollandaise sauce and pastry dough do appear, it's more of a kitchen guide. It's full of ingredient substitutions, serving suggestions and definitions of terms you may come across. More useful to experienced cooks, it's also a helpful guide for the best technique, according to Child, for things like braising, searing, roasting and folding. Child's years in the kitchen have made here at master and I was pleasantly surprised to find many time-saving techniques and places were Child says the "easy" way is actually better.
This slim volume really packs a wallop of cooking information and I think it would make a nice addition to any cook's bookshelf.
on December 30, 2000
After 40 years of cooking with fellow chefs and friends, Julia Child has developed a refined method for cooking her master recipes. In this cute little cookbook, she has also included variations to many of the recipes to show us all how creative cooking can be, yet how essential it is to follow the basic cooking truths. Julia was born in Pasadena, California. She then moved to Paris with her husband Paul and studied at the Cordon Bleu. After writing her first cookbook "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," in 1961, she appeared on many public television cooking shows.
Judith Jones can be credited for discovering Julia Child, she is the best editor Julia Child could have ever found. She is very wise and once wrote me a nice letter to explain why my instructions in my own cookbook were too truncated. She loves the cookbooks she edits to have a personality and an easy flowing writing style. I took her advice very seriously and she has in fact improved my writing by her one small comment. It is with that said, that I can say that her influence on this book has only made Julia's writing even more wonderful.
I love the fact that Julia gives her editor so much credit in the Acknowledgments section. Without great editors, most cookbooks would never make it to the publishing stage. David Nussbaum was also very influential in the writing of this particular cookbook as he was with "Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home." He helped to gather information needed for this book from Julia's books and shows. He also spent time with Julia in Judith Jones's Vermont kitchen, working out the details of some recipes.
The book I am reviewing is only 127 pages, but there is also a 288 page large print edition which I applaud Julia for considering and publishing. In both books, Julia presents soups, sauces, salads, dressings, vegetables, meats, poultry, fish, eggs, breads, crepes, tarts, cakes and cookies. The index is delightfully easy to use and I love the headings, e.g., Almond(s) is in a different color than the list following it. In that way, you can find the basic categories of Apples, Crab, Soup, Cookies, etc.
When you read the text in this cookbook, you will almost feel that Julia Child is reading to you. I can hear her voice and that is what makes this book so wonderful. Each chapter begins with a fun note (or what you might call a headnote) from Julia. The first chapter is "Soups and Two Mother Sauces." There is a recipe for "Leek and Potato Soup." Julia explains the master recipe and then gives variations of "Onion and Potato Soup," "Cream of Leek and Potato," and "Watercress Soup." What you will learn from this book is "techniques." This allows you to create your own recipes. In cooking there are certain proven cooking methods and that is what I believe Julia is trying to show you. You learn to make a white sauce and a hollandaise sauce in the first chapter. The style of the master recipes is similar throughout the book. Each one has a nice heading of a different color, ingredients are listed in the order they will be used and the instructions are easy-to-read, yet do not have numbers. The Variations for the recipes are in a paragraph style, but also have nice headings in a different color. Each page has two columns of text.
In the second chapter, you will enjoy learning to make a "Basic Vinaigrette Dressing." The variations sound just delicious and there is also advice in a small block which explains how to keep your vinaigrette fresh for several days. Throughout the book you will find little blocks of text with a pink background. These must be some of Julia's secrets. This is a book you will want to read and absorb.
In the third chapter, Julia has charts for blanching and boiling vegetables. She says: "When you serve fine, fresh green vegetables, you want them to show off their color." She gives some sage advice on how to accomplish this. The chapter on "Meats, Poultry and Fish" is an introduction into sautéing, broiling, roasting, stewing, braising, poaching and steaming.
Then, onto French Omelets and dreamy soufflés. You will enjoy learning how to make molded dessert custards or as we know them to be, "Caramel Custards". She makes a "Classic Custard Sauce," a "Pastry Cream" and finishes the chapter on eggs with a "Classic Chocolate Mousse."
Julia Child knows that you could just use a ready-made pie shell, but thinks it is a shame if you can't make one yourself. With that, I can agree. So, in her Bread Chapter, she not only explains how to make basic bread dough, she shows us how to make an all-purpose pie dough. "Cakes and Cookies" follow this chapter. This will soon become one of your favorite chapters. Now, there is one thing you will want to know when making Julia's recipes. She uses a different method for measuring flour than I do. She sifts the flour into the cups and then sweeps off the excess. That will be key to your success where noted. I personally only use that method when making pie crusts, because I create my recipes by the dip and sweep method, which is the lazy way! You will notice that in her directions, she will say 1/2 cup cake flour (sifted and measured as per the box on page 97.) I was delighted to find a recipe for "Cat's Tongues." While I had heard of these finger-shaped sugar cookies, I had no idea what they tasted like.
I recommend this book to new cooks, especially because these are the master recipes I learned when I was learning to cook as a teenager in cooking class. For experienced cooks, you will enjoy the variations. This is a book of Kitchen Wisdom from American's favorite teacher of French home cooking.
on March 6, 2001
This book works well for both the more advanced cook as well as the beginning cook. This book is well layed out with attractive easy to read pages. This book has techniques as well as many recipes. The techniques here range from the very basic to more advanced cooking. Julia Child writes in a language that is easy to read, and best of all easy to understand. I am sure if you are like me, you soon be experiencing some improvements in your cooking with the helpful hints that this book will provide for you.
on December 31, 2000
This book is fairly comfortable to read and well cross referenced. However, I expected more from it after reading the reviews. Most of the topics covered are plain common sense while cooking that I learned from my parents and working in various food environments. This book does however provide valuable advice to people who haven't spent a lot of time in the kitchen, or to those who want to try cooking unfamiliar foods. I did get some valuable tips from this book, and some of the basic recipes are good places to start.
on March 7, 2001
Packed with expertise, Julia Child's "Julia's Kitchen Wisdom" began life as her personal kitchen reference, "a mini aide-memoire for general home cookery." It addresses the basics - making stock, master recipes and variations on basic sauces, soups, salad dressings, bread dough, cakes, omelets, rice and more. There are charts for steaming vegetables and tips for successful roasting, braising, sautéing, broiling and stewing.
In among the basic techniques and recipes are boxed tips - for herb bouquets, making clarified butter, buying and storing eggs, whipping cream, butterflying a chicken, etc.
Recipes range from earthy to elegant - French Fries, Pizza, Hamburgers, Pot au Feu Boiled Dinner, Cream of Mushroom Soup, French Style Risotto, Potato Galette, Genoise Cake, Country Pate, Beef Bourguignon, Creamed Lobster (or shrimp or crab).
The index is extensive and cross-referenced and the book is impeccably organized - a slim and efficient volume which answers most of the questions that arise in everyday cooking.
on March 27, 2001
I wasn't quite as enthralled as other reviewers, but perhaps that has more to do with my recent infatuation with Cook's Illustrated Magazine which I think is the most incredible reference around -- they have a book also called The Best Recipe. To me, that book is more of a general reference than Child's. Still, this book has lots of general recipes and techniques that make it a good reference book to have around if you just want to know at what temperature to roast a duck and for how long.
Maybe this is an odd gripe, but there were some pretty fancy recipes here for a basic reference. I found the meat and potato stuff very helpful, but the advanced dishes way beyond what I'm capable of. I also would have liked more pictures of some of the things she described (Cook's Illustrated is the BEST) -- from her description of how to shake the omelet pan, I needed a visual. If you like to book, this is a good book to have around, but don't miss The Best Recipe either.
on June 20, 2010
This is a fun little book that showed me unexpectedly fabulous things to do with common foods. you think you know how to fry a steak but you do not! Did you know that Julia's method takes one and a half minutes on the first side and one minute on the second side? Until you have checked this out, you are not experiencing food as it could be. This is a book about method, what temperature, how to recognize when it's done, with few recipes. The recipes that there are are simple everyday applications. it's what your grandmother would teach you when you're just starting out, if she were an awesome chef and gave you ideas that never failed.
Some of the recipes may work in france but I wasn't planning to work with lamb much, and some of the ingredients are obscure. But I look up everything that I THINK i know how to make before I start and - I'm always wrong. There is a much better way to do everything and it's not difficult. Check out the scallops.
on December 18, 2000
Ever peek into a best friend's medicine cabinet? Reminding you a bit of what you have already known through the years, yet revealing newer curious secrets? Shhh! Well, that's the grand idea behind "Julia's Kitchen Wisdom: Essential Techniques and Recipes from a Lifetime of Cooking". Except we are privileged to spy in the kitchen, not the water closet.
An enchanting compendium of once secret chef's notes, personal pictures (including the infamous dancing goose), a fascinating index, which alone makes one salivate, and then, sharing it all with the world. We applaud you Ms. Child.
Please do not miss out on this! More than a cookbook, Julia makes you feel right at home with her spirit, dry as fine wine humor, and brilliant skills. You just may want to buy a copy for that best friend--maybe she'll hide it in her medicine chest for you.!