Julia Child long ago inspired me, along with my mother and grandmother, to have courage in the kitchen. They all recorded their successes in books, and reading their cookbooks has become one of my favorite pastimes. Of course, trying the recipes is a treat too.
A friend recently sent me an excerpt in The Boston Globe of The French Chef in America by Alex Prud’homme, Julia Child’s great nephew, prompting me to look for this latest examination of my favorite chef. Prud’homme co-wrote his great-aunt’s 2007 memoir, My Life in France, and he describes The French Chef in America as the story of Child’s “second act – her life after the publication of her classic cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”
After Julia and Paul Child returned to the United States from France, they settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she reinvented herself as a TV personality and dealt with her husband’s challenging health issues, never losing her optimistic view of the world – a role model who didn’t find her true voice until her seventies. After reading Steven Krage’s review, I downloaded the book from audible and look forward to learning more about Julia Child.
I also recently discovered Yotam Ottolenghi, the British chef with Israeli roots. His first cookbook – The Yotan Ottolenghi Handbook – published eight years ago, has just been reissued with a shiny red cover. I found two more of his books in the library – Plenty and Jerusalem – and now have them on my shelf.
Both books are heavy with padded colorful covers. Jerusalem focuses on traditional fare with food ranging from roasted potatoes with figs to chocolate krantz cake – better known as chocolate babka for Seinfeld fans – with step by step pictorial instructions. Some recipes met my expectations – tabbouleh, hummus, couscous; others were a pleasant surprise – Clementine syrup cake, herb pie, lamb stuffed with pomegranate. Plenty offers all vegetarian dishes but the desserts caught my eye: pear crostini, watermelon and feta, and Halloween soufflés.
Always looking for a new way to cook chicken, I found Ottolenghi’s recipe for roast chicken easy to follow, but finding the accompanying ingredients of sumac and za’atar required my best research skills. An easy substitute for sumac is lemon zest, and I found an easy recipe for za’atar:
Grind together 3 Tbs. dried thyme, 1 Tbs. lightly toasted sesame seeds, 1/2 tsp. dried oregano or marjoram, 1/4 tsp. kosher salt, and add 1 tbsp lemon zest.
Years ago, a friend gifted me a small jar and I used it as a wonderful topping for cheeseless pizza. Just drizzle the dough with olive oil and pat in heaps of za’atar before baking. I may try it again now that I’ve found the recipe for making my own.
Yotam and Julia share the same philosophy in cookbooks, with the careful attention to detail and their determination to simplify instructions and clarify the process. Yotam noted in an interview: “So long as a recipe made sense and our readers could make a delicious meal by following it, that was that. Job done: let’s eat!” Julia is famous for saying, “”Well, if I can do it you can do it.” Unlike Julia Child, Ottolenghi’s books have full page pictures with mouth-watering plates to tempt me to try making them. But for now, I’m content to read the recipes, look at the pictures, and savor the food vicariously while listening to stories about Julia.
Related Review: Cookbooks 101