Julia Child

In Honor of Julia Child’s 100th Birthday…Hamburgers?

by Anne Maxfield on August 16, 2012

Accidental Locavore Julia Child

Quick now, name the best French meatballs you ever had.

The Accidental Locavore was thinking about the 100thanniversary of Julia Child’s  birthday and wondering what could be make with hamburger (since that was what was for dinner) that would be French. Other than steak tartare or bifteck haché (hamburger without the bun to you or me) not a whole lot comes to mind. In both volumes of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, a mere three pages is devoted to hamburger (the ever-popular kidneys get six). Mind you, one of the recipes has the bifteck haché sautéed in butter and topped with cream sauce, but for the usually verbose Julia, hamburger goes virtually unmentioned.

Which got me to thinking, what do the French make with ground beef? For a cuisine that does really amazing things with leftover bits and pieces, ground meat of almost any kind rarely makes a solo appearance. Meatloaf quickly becomes pâté and is usually a pork or poultry product. According to my French friend, MC there are boulettes (meatballs) in the South and towards Alsace and she also mentioned hachis Parmentier, the French version of Shepherd’s Pie. However, a quick scan of all my Julia books fails to mention it, although according to Dorrie Greeenspan’s Around My French Table, it was a favorite of Daniel Boulud (but generally made with left-over beef).

Accidental Locavore French ChefBut back to Julia. Most people I know, grew up cooking with the Joy of Cooking, Fannie Farmer, or possibly Betty Crocker as their go-to cookbooks. When I went off to college, I was armed with Volume One and a Cuisinart, both of which I still use many (many) years later. At RISD, I would play with souffles, make a mean poulet grilles à la diable, learned hollandaise sauce and sole meunière from the book. Now, it’s my go-to for basics like coq au vin and anything else where I want to get a sense of what the “vrai” dish would be. It’s also interesting to see how some recipes transform from volume to volume. One of my early culinary disasters was the tarte tartin (upside-down apple tart)from Volume One. Later, in The Way to Cook (my personal favorite), it gets simplified/clarified and possibly because, according to Julia, it’s the ”definitive version” I haven’t ruined a skillet since then!

So, Happy 100th Julia! And even though you weren’t much help with the hamburger, thank you for being a major influence on how I cook today!




Accidental Locavore Essentials

A couple of weeks ago, the Accidental Locavore was talking about essential cookbooks. At that time I was thinking about them in terms of what a new cook would want, but what about the rest of us? Don’t you think it’s like movies–there are classics and then there are ones you can watch over and over? I would ask, if you were on a desert island what you would want, but there it would probably be a lot of BBQ books and 365 different ways to serve coconuts, right?

For the rest of us, location, time and space play a big part. Because of my farm-boxes, my country house has a lot more veggie-centric books than the city. Same for grilling and smoking. The biggest proof of essentialness might be owning more than one copy. Although each house has a copy of Gordon Hammersley’s Bistro Cooking, I’m not sure it’s essential (and the short ribs with Guiness and bacon is pretty much memorized). Rick Bayliss’s Mexican Everyday. There are a lot of great recipes in it and even better, they all can be prepared in 30 minutes or less. Julia, always Julia, for comfort if nothing else. And a basic, be it Mark Bittman, The Essential NY Times Cookbook (must be essential, it’s in the title) or the Joy of Cooking.

You might have noticed there’s no mention of anything Italian. It’s not that the Locavore is such a Francophile, I just don’t make that much Italian food and when I do, it’s mostly from memory. If I could find an essential Indian cookbook, that might go on the list, any suggestions? A Middle Eastern book could probably wrangle its way on, possibly Claudia Rodin’s A Book of Middle Eastern Food.

Accidental Locavore Charlie TrotterOne of the members of our Blogging Boomers Carnival, Katie, had to make the ruthless choice when she and her husband moved to Dubai (almost a desert island). Here’s what she chose and why: “Workin’,  More Kitchen Sessions with Charlie Trotter – love the way he melds the tastes together to achieve the ultimate meal – but this is maybe not for the inexperienced cook. Some of the recipes are rather time-consuming and intricate but I think they are well-explained and not too much to do. The Best Ever Vegetarian Cookbook by Nicola Graimes – picked this up on the sale rack at Barnes & Noble years ago and swear by it. Almost every recipe is awesome! Eat More Weigh Less by Dean Ornish, MD – I inherited this from someone I can’t remember but I love the use of herbs to create delicious vegetarian meals. All the Best Pasta Sauces by Joie Warmer –  a simple soft-cover book one of my daughters gave me because she didn’t want it. The VERY best sauces of all descriptions! Great Bowls of Fire by Jay Solomon – when we were first dating my then-future husband invited me to dinner to his house and proceeded to cook dinner – all in a microwave! When he later found out I had a reputation for being a fairly good cook, not to mention was once the owner of a very successful catering business, he was very chagrined! After we were married, I was surprised to find among his kitchen item this incredible book of amazing one pot meals from all over the world. They are really hot, spicy and delicious.”

But how much of this is a moot point? Do we even need cookbooks? Ah, that’s a blog for another day… Stay tuned!

And if you have any cookbooks you think are non-essential how about donating them to an incubator kitchen? Let me know and I’ll hook you up with the incubator.



What Do You Think Are Essential Cookbooks?

by Anne Maxfield on October 28, 2011

Accidental Locavore Essential Cookbooks

Have you ever thought about the one or two cookbooks you use that are essential? The Accidental Locavore just got through reading Amanda Hesser’s piece in the NY Times, when my BFF asked me for a cookbook recommendation. She wants a good starter book for a friend who has just moved into her first apartment and I remembered the Times article.

When you read what other people consider crucial and you own the book, don’t you immediately want to run to the bookshelf and review it? I do. Case in point, Sunday Supper at Luques (gathering dust on my shelf), Amanda Hesser’s go-to for inspiration.  Just picking the book up reminded me why this is not on my hit parade. While it may sound petty, the Accidental Locavore hates cookbooks that are grouped by menus (come on, do you ever cook a whole menu?) instead of categories (like soup, salad, etc.) and isn’t fond of books that are arranged by seasons. This may sound crazy for someone who is focused on local and fresh, but what’s in season in LA is very different from NY (duh). Unfortunately for Sunday Supper, it (as the Brits would say) ticks both those boxes.

Accidental Locavore Julia & CraigMy answer to my BFF was either Julia Child’s The Way to Cook, Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything or The Essential New York Times Cookbook. Here’s why: Mastering the Art of French Cooking, while a masterpiece, is a very detailed book and, for a beginner, intimidating. The Way to Cook is more of a modern take, a lot less intimidating and has a good selection of recipes. It’s become my go-to when I’m looking for a classic French recipe (and then I flip back to Mastering for comparison).

As much as Mark Bittman can be a little annoying, How to Cook Everything, does give you good directions for cooking almost everything. When we got our house upstate and I was trying to figure out what basic cookbook I wanted to start the upstate collection with, that was the one I went to. The two most stained recipes? His buttermilk biscuits for strawberry shortcake and eggplant Parmesan.

And The Essential New York Times Cookbook? While I might not agree with Amanda Hesser’s fundamental cookbook list, I often find myself referring to the old Craig Claiborne version. It’s more interesting to me than the Joy of Cooking, which is comprehensive but rather ordinary.  I don’t own the new version, but from what I’ve seen of it, the reviews and what I know about Amanda, it’s a sure thing (and if anyone wants to give me a copy, feel free).

When the Locavore posted the cookbook question on Twitter, the response was fascinating.  My friend Serge, from Serevan, suggested Elizabeth David. Someone else was a fan of Ratio by Michael Rhulman (a book my father swears by) and a third favorite was The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. Here’s my question to you: what book would you recommend to a new cook? And what is the one that’s essential to you?



The Attack of the 5 Pound Cookbooks

by Anne Maxfield on October 10, 2011

Accidental Locavore 5 Pound Cookbooks

Maybe, like the Accidental Locavore, you have a copy of Julia Child’s The Way to Cook. Possibly, when you got it, you marveled at the size and heft of it (5.4 lbs). Well, like the average American waistline, the average American, French, or Moroccan cookbook is quickly expanding.

I was at the Beard House again this week, listening to Paula Wolfort reading from her new book, The Food of Morocco (4.6 lbs) and quickly decided I needed to add it to the collection. Later that day, it ended up on the coffee table with Dorrie Greenspan’s Around My French Table (5 lbs), The Way to Cook and Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie (2 lbs, but his new book is almost twice that). Since the Locavore has always thought The Way to Cook was a massive book, I was surprised to see that they were all about the same size and weight.

Now, I don’t know about you, but the Accidental Locavore is very conflicted about cookbooks on e-readers. I use my iPad a lot in the kitchen, so putting cookbooks on it would make sense, but there are a couple of drawbacks to it. First of all, I hate the idea of paying for books twice. I’ve always wished you could pay a (small) surcharge and access recipes through a smartphone so you could access recipes when you need inspiration in the market. Secondly, there’s the mess factor. It’s one thing to drip on a cookbook and most people proudly point to the much- stained pages of favorite recipes, but dripping on an iPad can be an expensive mistake. Finally and least importantly there’s no place to sign an e-reader…

On the plus side, my iPad is much smaller and lighter (1.33 lbs), can hold all of these monsters without gaining an ounce (boy, wouldn’t that be a great quality in people?) and they can be used anywhere, at any time.  However, while you can just open a book on a counter and it’s always there to consult, the iPad (to save battery life) only stays on for a couple of minutes and then has to have sticky fingers slide it on and punch in a password. Kind of a pain when you just want to double-check something.

So what I do is switch back and forth. Some stuff is on my iPad and some stuff is in books. With the books, I’m limited to the ones I have with me, but I can make a mess and not worry. Electronically, there is no limit but a degree of caution (and a fairly clean finger) has to be maintained. What do you do? Are you committed to one format over another? Or do you switch between paper and microchips? And what’s wrong with a slim (well-edited) volume?