featuring excerpts from Julia's Kitchen Wisdom
Julia's Kitchen Wisdom: Essential Techniques and Recipes From a Lifetime of Cooking was Julia Child's final cookbook, published just four years before her passing in 2004. She called it "a mini aide-mémoire for general home cookery," and based the slim volume on her own "loose-leaf kitchen reference guide gradually compiled from my own trials, remedies, and errors-corrected as I've cooked my way through the years."
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The pages are filled with classic recipes, including roast chicken, boeuf Bourguignon, scalloped potatoes, and chocolate mousse, and yet it is hardly a book for novice cooks. In fact, in the introduction, Child very clearly addresses her audience as "those who are tolerably familiar with culinary language; whose kitchens are normally well equipped with such staples as jelly-roll pans, a food processor, a decent rolling pin; and who know their way around the stove reasonably well."
Yet regardless of whether or not you own-or could even identify-a jelly roll pan, we think just about anyone can benefit from Julia's expertise. The book is filled with just the type of practical kitchen know-how we all so often need at our fingertips. We gathered 10 of Child's signature tips, including how to clean a burn-blackened pan, which wine is best to use when cooking, and tricks for disguising canned chicken broth.
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1. BAKING POWDER in an opened can loses its strength after about 6 months, so always test it by stirring a teaspoonful into 1/2 cup of hot water. If it doesn't bubble up in a lively way, throw it out. Before you use baking powder, be sure to smooth out any lumps.
2. TO CLEAN A BURN-BLACKENED PAN. Fill the pan with water, adding 2 Tbs baking soda per quart. Simmer 10 minutes, cover, and let soak off heat for several hours or overnight. The black residue should scrub off easily with a stiff brush.
3. TO PROOF YEAST. It's always wise to make sure your yeast is really active. Stir a tablespoon of active dry yeast in a cup with 3 tablespoons of tepid water and a pinch of sugar. In 5 minutes it should begin to bubble. It's alive!
4. BUYING AND STORING EGGS. It behooves us to choose eggs carefully and to treat them right. Because at room temperature they make a warm and comfortable home for evil bacteria, always buy refrigerated eggs, never buy cracked or dirty eggs, always bring your eggs home in a refrigerated container, and keep eggs chilled until the moment you are to use them.
5. CLARIFIED BUTTER-FOR SAUTÉING. The simple system: melt the butter and pour the clear yellow liquid off the milky residue. The professional, long-keeping method: bring the butter to the slow boil in a roomy saucepan and boil until its crackling and bubbling almost cease; pour the clear yellow butter through a tea strainer into a jar, where it will keep for months in the refrigerator or freezer.
6. FOLDING. Folding egg whites or flour or whipped cream or anything else into anything like a cake batter is an essential part of soufflé and cake making. You have to incorporate the one into the other without deflating the puff of the one or the other. To do so, plunge a large rubber spatula like a knife down into the center of the mixture, and draw it to the side of the bowl and up to the surface in a rapid scoop, bringing some of the bottom up over the top. Rotate the bowl slightly, and continue rapidly and gently for several scoops, until the elements are blended-but do not overdo it and deflate the puff.
7. GARLIC FACTOIDS. To separate the cloves from the head of garlic, cut off the top, then bang down on the head with your fist or the flat of a knife. To peel whole garlic cloves, drop them into a pan of boiling water and boil exactly 30 seconds; the peels will slip off easily. To mince garlic, smash a whole garlic clove on your work surface, peel off and discard the skin, then mince with your big knife. To purée, sprinkle a big pinch of salt on the minced garlic, then press and rub the garlic back and forth on your work surface with the flat of your knife, or pound with a mortar and pestle.
To remove garlic smell from your hands, wash in cold water, rub with salt, wash in soap and warm water; repeat if necessary.
8. WHEN IS IT DONE? Test rapidly and often, since meat can overcook very quickly. Press it with your finger. If it feels squashy, like raw meat, it is very rare. As it cooks it becomes springy-when lightly springy it is medium, and if there is no spring it is well done.
9. USING CANNED BROTHS AND BOUILLONS. To disguise your use of the can, simmer the broth for 15 to 20 minutes with a handful of minced carrots, onions, and celery and perhaps a bit of dry white wine or dry white French vermouth.
10. COOKING WITH OR WITHOUT WINE. For red wine, use a young, full wine such as a zinfandel or a Chianti. White wines should be dry and full-bodied, such as a sauvignon, but because many of the whites are too acid, I prefer to use a dry white French vermouth. In addition to its strength and quality, it keeps nicely. Port, Madeiras, and sherries must be dry. If you do not wish to cook with wine, simply omit it, or add stock or more herbs.
Excerpted from Julia's Kitchen Wisdom by Julia Child. Copyright © 2000 by Julia Child. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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featuring excerpts from Julia's Kitchen Wisdom