The skinny on the French

I recently saw the movie Julie & Julia, and found myself fired up to learn how to cook like that.  My middle daughter loves to cook, and would like to learn how to cook more things, and I can’t cook, so I thought….hey, let’s do this thing!  I went out and bought the cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, subscribed to Julie’s blog so I could follow along her same journey, and set about picking the first dish!

(Sidenote:  When I say I can’t cook, I’m not exaggerating.  My poor family.  I’ve been known to ask questions like “how do you reheat pizza without a microwave?” or “what’s a broiler?”  or “why is there an oven made just for toast?”  As a wedding gift, I actually got the cookbook “How To Boil An Egg”.  You get the picture…)

So, I decide to start with this meal (is it a bad sign when you can’t pronounce any of the words for the foods you are about to cook and then eat?):

Potage Parmentier

Filets de Poisson Bercy aux Champignons

In layman’s terms, potato & leek soup with fancy fish.

First, let me say that after cooking this meal, I now understand why French women are skinny.


I was exhausted just reading the instructions, which should have been my first inclination that I was in waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay over my head.  Plus, she required using cookware and dishes I had never even heard of, and I spent a fortune just preparing to make the meal.  I hadn’t even bought ingredients yet!

Buying the ingredients:  Keep in mind that I don’t like talking to strangers, especially in the grocery store.  I loathe having someone help me out to my car or load my groceries for me (which is why I avoid Market Street unless my husband is with me).  I’d rather spend hours trying to find an ingredient than ask for help.  I might have some issues, probably could benefit from some therapy, but that would require talking to strangers…and here we go again.  So, I did what any grown woman would do, I waited until my mommy was in town, and decided to drag her all over town to help me.  Apparently, those guys behind the meat counter, know some things and can be quite helpful (who knew!).

So, my ingredients are purchased.  Bed, Bath & Beyond has a good chunk of my money.  We are ready!

First the soup, Potage Parmentier.  Actually, I have to say this recipe was fairly easy to follow and not difficult.  At one point though, I did look up to find Emily crying, and I thought OMG is cooking with me THAT bad?!?!?!?!  Then I realized that it was the leeks.  I don’t think I knew that leeks were a type of onion, or I guess they are since Em was Ms. Waterworks during the dicing process.  The only other real issue was trying to learn how to use the food mill.  I have to say, I’m not a fan.  Although, it probably was more user error than anything else.  All in all, it was not bad.  Anything which lets you add whipping cream or butter can’t be all bad (we went with the butter, next time I’d like to try the cream and OMG…did I just say next time!).  It was even a pretty color!

Here is a pic of all the ingredients cut up and ready for cookin’, pretty isn’t it?:

Now let the cooking begin!

After passing thru the food mill

It probably could have used a few more passes through the food mill, and I personally would have liked it served a little warmer, but all in all, it was generally decided that we did a good job, and it was a delicious dish.

Now, moving on to the fish!  I believe the recipe called for flounder.  Couldn’t find any flounder, so the very helpful guy behind the counter at Sprouts suggested using Orange Roughy.  He could have named any fish, or the most expensive fish he had in stock, and I wouldn’t have known the difference, so okay.  Orange Roughy it is!  Weird name for a fish anyway, and it wasn’t necessarily orange or rough, so I don’t get it.  Oh and as an aside, if you buy it frozen, don’t plan on cooking it that day.  We were a bit derailed trying to thaw out this fish before we could use it.

Here are my pretty mushrooms (which I don’t even like, but they did look good):

I was too tired trying to get the meal cooked and time everything perfectly, that I didn’t really have time to snap pictures of all the different processes that went into the fish dish.  This recipe covered several pages, for the fish itself and for the sauce.  Again, anything smothered with cheese, cream and booze, can’t be all bad.  Here’s a pic of the final look:

I assume that is what it is supposed to look like, if I could have offered a suggestion to Julia Child or her publishers, it would have been nice to have pics to go along with this recipe.  The cooking challenged might have appreciated knowing that at least by sight, the dish was going well and on track.  Taste is another thing entirely, which I’ll get to later.

Here are some pics of my helper, hard at work.  Grating cheese and stirring and whatever else I asked her to do.  I think she learned a few things, although it was probably more fun to watch me run around the kitchen, cursing and muttering under my breath, breaking a sweat, and generally oozing confusion and exhaustion.

After a half-day of prep and cooking, this  blasted meal is finally done.  I have to admit, I was feeling immense trepidation on how everything would taste, and I had some pretty major critics:  my parents, my husband, Emily, the other 3 overly picky kids and myself.

The consensus:

The 3 picky kids: ummm no thank you “where is the peanut butter and jelly and please don’t tell me we are out of bread”.

Emily – co-Chef – she liked it, not sure she would ask for it again, and I think she liked the process better than the outcome, and that was really the point anyway and we had fun (well a sort of fun I suppose).

The Parentals:  Dad – it’s really good (he cleaned his plate) and Mom – “I want to bathe in this sauce and the soup is my favorite, very yummy”, she even got seconds of the soup I think, and my mom doesn’t eat as a general rule 🙂

The Husband: I think he nodded, maybe grunted.  His plate was clean, so I’ll take that as a good sign.

Myself:  After I picked off the mushrooms, I have to say, the fish was excellent.  Very rich.  Very yummy.  I would definitely eat it again.  The soup, I wasn’t as big a fan, but it was good.  I really don’t like green food.

So that pretty much sums up my first Julia Child experiment.  I don’t know how Julie did it over the course of the year.  We are trying to plan dish #2, but procrastinating hasn’t been difficult if I’m being honest.

Did it make me love cooking?  No.  Did I bond with my daughter and did we share an experience?  Yes.  Does anything else really matter?  Nope, I don’t think so.

I wouldn’t have picked this as a way to bond with Emily, but it wasn’t about me, it was about her.  It’s easy to find ways to spend time with your kids doing the things you like, but then you miss out on what could be some really awesome opportunities.  You end up learning much more about each other when you are both flying blind.  Or at least that is how it worked for me.

Au Revoir

44 thoughts on “The skinny on the French

  1. I loved this post. Saw the movie and briefly thought about taking on the same challenge but quickly backed down when I realized what would really go into it! Kudos to you for giving it a go.
    Best of luck,

  2. Oh what fun – I laughed until I cried!! Oh I do apologise, that was unkine of me!! I just adore leak and potatoe soup. But having started on your cooking adventures, I do hope you will continue!! I suggest you get an easier cook book and start with something much simpler. Good Luck!!

  3. Wow! What an incredible meal! You’re a better woman than I for being able to skillfully handle such a task; there are days when it seems all I can master is toast.

    Think you’re quite right about flying blind and I must say excellent job. Keep up the great work and I look forward to reading more of your posts. 🙂

  4. Hi there. Just came across your blog and just want to say congrats to your first dish! I too was very inspired by the movie Julie and Julia and hope one day I can embark on doing a challenge like that since I am no cook myself. Sigh.. i need more than 24hrs in a day! Anyway, keep it up!

  5. Loved this! I, too, got a copy of Julia’s book after seeing the movie, though I checked it out at the library. After reading several of the recipes, I was worn out and decided to return the book. I have no kids living at home to bond with, so I don’t feel too guilty about my laziness. Good thing I didn’t ask my husband to buy me the book as a present or I would have been stuck!

  6. Haha, what an awesome post! I have to say, I actually looked up Julie’s blog after watching the movie and wasn’t very impressed with her writing. I loved yours though!

  7. Enjoyed your article with pictures very much. The dishes looked yummy and your cookware was impressive for a non cook!

    I’ve made dishes from Julia Child’s cookbook and they were out of this world, but they are quite labor intensive. Just locating and obtaining her ingredients can be “labor intensive”!

    A little suggestion…next time you decide to prepare fish with the fancy sauce, just spread the fish (in it’s Pam-sprayed baking dish) with some (don’t spread to excess) Hellman’s mayonnaise and add a small amount of dry white wine and a small amount of water to the pan and cover before baking. Bake in a moderate oven (approx. 325-350 degrees). Prepare the rest of the meal dishes first, because you want to monitor the fish to be sure it doesn’t overcook and dry out; depending on the thickness of the fish and the quantity in the baking dish, the baking time should be less than 15 minutes (I’m estimating).

    Have you considered cooking lessons? Preparing healthy, great tasting food can be a very satisfying endeavor; only the clean-up chores are the down side. Plus it’s a great activity to share with your family.

    BTW, I saw the “J & J” movie, too. I was rooting for Meryl to win the gold statue.

  8. Uh, oh…I think I goofed; I think I canceled my posting by mistake. I just signed up for today and it’s still a learning process…like your learning to cook. I don’t know if my posting can be reinstated, but I couldn’t retrieve it.

    Is “Rebecca” the author of the article/blog?

  9. Loved this post! My husband is French and so my first soup was Potage Parmentier! Loved it and still enjoy making it! He is a chef too, so his Orange Roughy Bonne Femme is one of my favorites at the restaurant.

  10. Love your blog entries so far. So glad I stumbled across your blog. I too watched Julie & Julia and I can’t wait to buy the cook book and try out some of the recipes.

  11. Pingback: The Skinny on the French « Dis Aliter Visum (It seemed otherwise to the gods)

  12. Great post!
    Love to cook myself, and reading this was truly a blast- love your take, humour and persistence to get this thing done. Hilariously fun, too. I’ll be looking forward to more of these great posts! Nice job, all around- have fun, eat well. Cheers! Luge

  13. OH boy.

    I went to culinary school, to learn to “do things right” and realized what a croc it was (no pun intended). Granted, while taking certain extra steps DO make it more flavourful, and while using certain special pots, pans and utensils make it easier, you DON’T need it.

    I’m trying to explain that to my roommate who is now in culinary school, and takes 2 hours and uses every @#&^% dish in the house to make a simple meal.

    I’m not trying to be a downer, cooking IS fun, but if you find all the steps overwhelming and your wallet wearing thin, take a few seconds to look the recipe over and ask yourself “is that really necessary?”

    Also, I should mention I’ve been cooking for years, so through trial and error mostly I’ve figured out ways to cut corners without sacrificing appearance or taste. If you have any questions feel free to send me a message 😀

    Happy cooking and “Bon Appétit!”

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