Blogs about food are often tiresome or mouth-watering and sometimes even both. None has been celebrated more than Julia Powell’s. She set out to cook all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 365 days whilst breaking up with her boyfriend, and without gaining weight. The blog became a book and then a film starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams – Julie and Julia. It’s a wonderful film, with Meryl Streep at her absolute best. I’ve watched it at least three times. One of its few serious points is that ‘if it tastes good, it’s got butter in it,‘ a truth that, unfortunately, keeps the cardiologists in work.
Mastering the Art of French Cooking is actually a difficult cookery book by today’s standards – dense and almost academic in its thoroughness and technical detail. It’s severe rather than encouraging. There’s none of the joshing and personal anecdote that are typical of today’s lighter guides, where food is not always the centre of attention, and where photographs occupy more than half the space.
To my mind, 524 recipes in 365 days is only moderately impressive. It’s only just over 1.5 recipes per day, which is not spectacular, though I suppose it’s hard to keep going day after day for an entire year, and do the shopping and washing up as well. By contrast, I work in bursts, and am more of binge cook than long haul. My big binge of the year coincides with my partner’s birthday. This year I cooked 19 dishes in 48 hours (about 15 hours of cooking all told). We invite about 50 guests for a combination birthday/Christmas party.
- Lasagne (Elizabeth David’s recipe from Italian Food – a Bolognese sauce with a pinch of cloves, a white sauce with a hint of nutmeg.)
- Parmigiana di Melanzane (form the famous staple of Italian cooking – The Silver Spoon).
- Fish Curry (own invention – white fish, coconut milk, onion, butter, curry powder, coriander, lime juice)
- Beans with chorizo in tomato sauce
- Paprika Chicken with sour cream
- Cauliflower cheese (more nutmeg, mustard in the sauce, topped with breadcrumbs mixed with grated parmesan and browned)
- 36 Cumberland Sausages from Marks and Spencer
- Fennel baked with honey, white wine, chicken stock and mustard seeds (got this one of the internet a couple of months ago – easy and delicious)
- Crispy Chicken from Jamie Oliver’s Dinners (chicken legs, tomatoes, chick peas, masses of garlic, and basil in a very hot oven)
- Potato salad with spring onions and mayo
- Waldorf Salad (chicken, celery, walnuts and apple)
- Green salad
- Beetroot baked with honey, coriander, garlic and balsamic vinegar, cooled and served with goat cheese
- Caprese Salad
- Paella from Pru Leith’s Cookery Bible (Chicken thighs, onion, rice, crab meat, prawns, mussels, chopped tomato, saffron)
- Stuffed mushroom (leeks, tomato, white wine, blue cheese)
- Grilled courgettes with Parmesan
- Eton mess (cream, meringue, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries)
- Strudel (caramelised apple, lemon peel, lemon juice, dates, currents, honey, cashew nuts, ground cloves and cinnamon)
All of the above required some effort, if not great skill. Otherwise it was a matter of opening bags of crisps, tortilla chips, and jars of dips.
Most of these dishes had been consumed by the time the final guest left at 8.30 the next morning.
Apply in plenty of time for next year’s party. I can’t cook for more than 50.