julia child, mastering the art of french cooking, julie powell, french cuisine

Mastering the Art of French Cooking – Don’t Leave Home Without It


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“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.” – Julia Child


Store #1 "Scoop Your Own" Spice Shelf

Yesterday we went on our first shopping expedition for the ingredients needed for this week’s recipes, and let me just say…the experience was highly educational. Knowing our local market wouldn’t carry some of the items on our shopping list, we set out for uncharted territory. Our first stop was a grocery store that specializes in organic foods. It wasn’t a very big place (which went along with its small-town farmer’s market feel), yet it carried lots of great stuff. There were aisles of “scoop-your-own” bins, with nuts, baking needs, trail mixes, granola and candy. It had a small yet impressive meat counter, a large selection of cheeses, and (my favorite part) a spice shelf that would allow you to scoop out the amount you needed and pay a lesser fee. Brilliant! (I hate having to pay $6 for a small jar of something I only need a little of and will probably never use again.) We didn’t make any purchases here, but this was mostly a fact finding mission anyway.

Our next stop was a much bigger store with an amazing selection of food items. We walked through the building and were continually amazed by the presentation of merchandise, the friendly and knowledgeable staff and the wide variety of foods and products available. (We were excited to find the same items from the previous store and much more!) All of this, plus the fact that this place isn’t far from home, led us to the decision that this would be our go-to store for those harder to find ingredients. We headed to the fish counter (a first for both of us), excited to buy our first ingredient – and instead came face to face with our first hurdle. They were out of the fish we needed. So Ben brought MtAoFC in from the car and there I stood, in the middle of the produce section, frantically flipping through the book trying to find a replacement meat. With a Julia-approved stand-in ready to go, we were able to move forward with our plans.

A bag of rainbow trout, a package of cheesecloth and a roll of butcher’s twine later, we found ourselves at the meat counter. Things were loud and hectic, so we took a number and waited our turn. When called, I asked for a sirloin steak and, in a moment of panic, I couldn’t remember the next thing I needed. So I took the wrapped meat, and then took another number to buy me some time to look back over my shopping list. Eventually deciding I could probably buy the next piece of meat cheaper at my neighborhood grocery store, I decided to ask some questions for future reference. When called again, I asked the lady behind the counter about some of the more unusual meat ingredients I knew I would need down the road. As I mentioned each one her eyes got bigger and bigger, and when I asked if they sold calf brains, she stopped. “Let me go find out,” she said. “Don’t go anywhere.” And she disappeared around a corner in the back.

I waited patiently while Ben wandered to the other end of the aisle, and eventually the lady returned. “Um,” she said, “come down here,” nodding to the end of the counter. I felt like I was being called to the principal’s office, and when I met her at the entryway to the counter, she said, “As for the sweetbreads and cracked knuckles, we keep all of that in the freezer so you can come in any day and pick that up. But we aren’t able to get the calf brains… they’re illegal.” I thought for a moment the next words out of her mouth were going to be, “And now I have to report you to the FDA.”

I suddenly felt like I had just tried to purchase a human kidney on the black market – or worse, a baby – and immediately apologized. “Oh, it’s okay! You must be using an old recipe,” she smiled. She went on to explain that while this is easier to find in European countries, due to health concerns, and the fact that major diseases in cows typically begin in the brain, regulations had been put into effect that now kept this from being available for sale domestically. When I explained what I needed it for (“I figured that’s what you were doing, but I didn’t want to ask,” she smiled), she gave me some advice on how to go about finding this obscure ingredient. Advice which included words like “online ordering” and “direct from rancher” – oh dear. I thanked her, still feeling a little like a dog with its tail between its legs, and met back up with Ben to continue our shopping.

Artichokes, the Bully of the Vegetable World

This was definitely going to throw a kink in our plan. Sure, it had occurred to me that some of these ingredients may be a little hard to find over the next 365 days, but illegal?? The words “illegal” and “Julia Child” just don’t go together. I couldn’t focus on it too much…we had other things to buy. We filled our small cart with the rest of the items we needed, paid for our purchases, and headed back to familiar territory – our neighborhood market. Here we found the rest of the things on my list, including asparagus, green onions, mushrooms, and artichokes. (I have since decided that artichokes are the bully of the vegetable world – those spiny points will really get you if you’re not careful!)

It was exciting to come home and fill our refrigerator with all of our goodies. (There’s fresh fish in my meat drawer! I’ve never had fresh fish in my refrigerator.) Do you know what this means? It means we’re just a few hours away from our first cooking adventure with Julia Child! As a heads-up, here’s the plan for our very first meal of French cuisine (open the links, then click on the speaker icon for pronunciations):

To be honest, I hadn’t planned on starting with the same meal as Julie Powell – but when I began mapping out the week, this combination seemed like a good way to ease into this experiment. (After an honest conversation with myself, I’ve decided I’m not quite ready to truss a chicken.) We’ll see how it goes! Tune in tomorrow for a recap of the cooking experience and full review of the meal.

Let’s get cooking!


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5 Responses to “Mastering the Art of French Cooking – Don’t Leave Home Without It”

  1. Gwen Frazier says:

    Hi Jessica! I am so glad to be able to subscribe to your blog now! We have some very good friends who raise cattle and knowing his wife – I may be able to score some beef brains for you – they butcher several times a year and they may be lurking in her freezer right now! I will check and let you know! If you need venison – I will gladly supply you with steaks, stew meat or ground meat at no charge! Just let me know what you need! Hugs to you!

    • Jessica says:

      Wow, Gwen!! What a generous offer! Thank you so much – I will definitely take you up on the offer for the calf brains. (That was a very weird sentence to write.) I don’t plan on making them for awhile – can I let you know at a future date when I would need them? Talk about adventures in cooking! 😉 Thanks for all your support in this project, and thanks again for telling me about the “subscribe” option. I’ve had a lot of people take advantage of it. :)

      • Gwen Frazier says:

        I have called my friend Donna and she will be glad to get you the calf brains. She also has a calf tongue if you need one and if you need calf fries (ahem – we know what that euphemism is I hope) she can get you those too! Any other sundry parts of a cow you could need, she would love to provide! And my offer for venison is still good too. I suggested this fall to winter for the exchange of frozen calf parts so they will keep well frozen!! Good luck cooking!

        • Jessica says:

          This is wonderful news!! Thanks, Gwen! What a wonderful friend – both you AND Donna! :) I can use all of the parts you mentioned. I’ll definitely be in touch. Thanks again!

  2. Melanie Ridings says:

    Congratulations on a wonderful first meal! Sounds like you did an amazing job, Chef Jess! Looking forward to following your cooking adventures – Cooking is fun and enjoyable. Just go with your instincts on what you want the end result to be…you’ve only just begun – Love, Melanie

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