Seeing as how today, August 15th, 2012, would have marked the 100th birthday of Julia Child, it seems only appropriate to sing praises to one of her most notable legacies: Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
Yes, when you first see a hard copy of Julia Child's famous cookbook, it looks overwhelming. And yes, there is a small section devoted to carving your own duck, a section that I am not yet prepared to jump into, but as overwhelming as the book may initially seem, that couldn't be more opposite of what the book is. Instead, Julia Child takes the art that is French cooking and has turned it into an easy-to-follow step by step process, or rather a well disguised beginner's "how to" guide.
Some of my favorite recipes are the beef stews, inclusive of course of the Boeuf Bourguignon, becoming famous amongst foodies after the adorable Julie & Julia movie, after which this cookbook was immediately sent for reprint with sales that surely skyrocketed. The Boeuf Bourguignon was the first recipe we attempted and we were convinced that it would turn into a bust (back-up pizza on speed dial just in case). But again, the amazing bit of this book is that the recipes are pretty fool proof, assuming you follow what she says. Julia walks us non-French non-trained like-to-cook-at-home chefs through every moment and every detail at each given point in the process. You learn things like when you saute mushrooms in a frying pan, they shouldn't be overcrowded or touching, because they steam instead of browning.
Other great techniques I've picked up in the book include whipping egg whites to perfection, the scoop and fold technique, the ease of making your own soup stock (chicken, beef, and fish), and what exactly the difference is between Béarnaiseand Hollandaise.
So yes, while the cookbook is over 680 pages, that doesn't mean you are required to sit down and read it from cover to cover. No, please don't. The joy of any cookbook is thumbing through the pages on any given occasion, finding your favorite recipes, learning a few tricks along the way, and giving an old-school corner fold to those pages that you know you will want to return to. My book has a big fold in its corner on the Boeuf Bourguignon page (don't worry, I'll have a post to come on it soon enough).