Saturday, May 18, 2024

Weekend Cooking/Cook the Books: Mastering the Art of French Murder by Colleen Cambridge


A recipe for murder


A fab opening line

Paris setting

Two close friends (one of whom happens to be Julia Childs)

Fabulous food

A body in the basement

A grumpy police detective

A dash of post war intrigue

Some fun secondary characters


Take two American women who have become best friends after meeting in Paris. Add in a late night party, a missing knife, a body in the basement.

Add a very serious Parisian detective who turns up the heat of suspicion on our main character and then mix in a suspicion of espionage

Cook under pressure, until things begin to boil.

Sprinkle with misdirection

Season with a quest to perfect mayonnaise and lessons on how to make a perfect omelette.

When this book was announced as the current choice for Cook the Books, I was very pleased. I have been reading this author for years, following her through various identities and sub genres. I was also keen to read this because I loved the idea of having Julia Child as one of the characters. 

Right from the opening paragraphs I expected this book to be fun:

Julia Child had a mayonnaise problem.

I knew all about it - every sordid detail - because, first, I was one of her closest friends in Paris, and second....well, I wouldn't be surprised if everyone in the seventh arrondisement - from the Place due Palais-Bourbon to the Tour Eiffel - had heard about the mayonnaise problem. Julia was just that kind of person. She was gregarious and ebullient and giddy and enthusiastic.

Tabitha Knight moved to Paris in 1949, and almost immediately made friends with Julia Child, who would later become known for her work on TV cooking shows. At this point, Julia is attending classes in Paris. When she is not cooking up a storm, Julia is attempting to both teach Tabitha to cook, and to encourage her to try and meet a good man!

After a late night party at Julia and Paul's apartment with Julia's theatre loving sister, Dort, Tabitha stumbles across the body of another woman who was at the party.  She is found dead in the basement and most damningly, one of Julia Child's distinctive knives is found too. The French police, in the form of Inspector Merveille, are instantly suspicious that either Tabitha or Julia were involved in the murder, and so Tabitha needs to prove their innocence. Her natural curiosity soon leads her into investigating the crime, and draws her into an English speaking theatre world and a far reaching conspiracy.

Whilst I enjoyed all the characters, I think my favourites have to have been Tabitha's grandfather and her "oncle" (as in a very close friend of the family). Tabitha and the two gentleman share the house along with their adorable pets.  It is inferred that the two men got up to all sorts of things in the war, and still have many contacts in all sorts of places, which come in handy whilst Tabitha is kind of sort of investigating the crime. Luckily, this is the first in a series so I am hopefully we learn more about them in future books.

I had been intending to try making a Julia Child recipe since I watched the TV series Julia last year. I still haven't actually watched the second series yet! One day.

When it came to deciding which recipe to cook, there were so many options. I did consider trying to make mayonnaise, which I have never done before, and I considered making the omelette which Julia tried so hard to teach to Tabitha in the book. I still intend to try to do both, but in the end I decided on a classic French recipe, Boeuf Bourguignon.

Here is the original recipe, as  far as I can tell anyway!

Boeuf Bourguignon  (Julia Childs)

8 oz bacon chopped 
4 tbsp olive oil
3 lbs stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes.
1 large carrot, sliced 
1 onion sliced.
1 pinch salt and fresh ground pepper
2 tbsp plain flour
3 cups red wine
3 cups beef stock
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1/2 tsp thyme
14 oz pearl onions, 18 to 24.
3.5 tbsp butter
1 herb bouquet (bay leaf, 2 sprigs thyme, 4 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, tied together.)
1 lb brown or white mushrooms, quartered.

Preheat your oven to 450°. Simmer the bacon lardons in a pot of water for about 10 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and let them drain on some paper towels.

Over medium heat, saute the cooked bacon in 1 tablespoon of olive oil for about 3 minutes. You'll want it to be lightly brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Take the beef cubes and pat them dry using a paper towel. Then, working in batches, sear the meat on all sides over medium-high heat in a large Dutch oven. Then set it aside with the bacon.

In the same Dutch oven, saute the sliced onions and carrots over medium heat for about 3 minutes. Add a little more olive oil (or butter) if necessary. Return the bacon and the seared meat back to the pot and sprinkle in about 1/2 teaspoon of coarse salt and about 1/4 teaspoon of fresh ground black pepper.

Sprinkle the flour in and toss. Place in the oven, uncovered, for 4 minutes. Remove the pot fro the oven, toss again, and place back in the oven for another 4 minutes. Then, remove from the oven and reduce the heat to 325°.

Pour the wine and the stock into the pot. You'll want enough so the meat is just barely covered. Then, stir in the tomato paste, crushed garlic, and thyme leaves. Bring this to a light simmer on the stove, then cover and place in the oven for 3 to 4 hours, until the meat is fork tender.

About an hour before you take the stew out of the oven, use a medium-size saute pan and heat 1.5 tablespoons of butter with 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the pearl onions and cook until they are golden-brown, about 10 minutes. Then stir in 1/2 cup of beef broth, a pinch of salt and pepper, and the herb bouquet. Gently saute for another 30 to 40 minutes, until the small onions are soft.

Remove the pearl onions from the pan and set aside. Discard the herb bouquet and add the remaining butter and oil to the pan, over medium heat. Stir in the mushrooms and saute for about 5 minutes until they are soft. Remove the mushrooms and set aside with the pearl onions.

When the meat and vegetables are ready to come out of the oven, place a colander over a large pan and strain the liquid from the meat. Set the meat aside and bring the pan of liquid to a low simmer for about 5 minutes. Place the beef and vegetables back into the Dutch oven, then pour the sauce over that mixture. Stir in the pearl onions and mushrooms, and bring to a low simmer for 5 or 10 minutes.

Serve at this time or allow it to cool and refrigerate for a day or two before serving. The flavor will get better and develop with a little time.

I don't think I have ever seen pearl onions in the shops here, so we ended up using shallots instead of pearl onion, but other than we stuck mostly to the recipe. 

I did pick up a couple of handy hints by reading various different versions of this recipe. We have a few different beef stews that we make, some of which include mushrooms. I have never seen a recipe where you fry off the mushrooms and then add into the pot for only a short time towards the end of the cook. By doing this, you end up still having a firmish texture on the mushrooms.  The other thing that we have never done before was removing all the meat and then straining the sauce. The sauce looked smooth and glossy. It was amazing.

When I went to the shops to buy the ingredients. I was quite shocked by how much I had spent on what in theory was just one meal. In the end though we ended up having this for dinner two nights and I had the last bit for lunch as well. And the dogs got a bit of the gravy on their dinner too, so it didn't work out too badly in the end. What I didn't do, is remember to take a photo but it is difficult to take a photo of a casserole that looks good!

Here's Julia cooking the recipe back in the very first episode of her TV show.

I am sharing this recipe with Historical Fiction Reading Challenge and with Foodie Reads hosted by Based on a True Story

Weekly meals

Saturday - Boeuf Bourguignon
Sunday - Boeuf Bourguignon
Monday - Creamy Mustard Pork with mash, mushrooms and broccoli
Tuesday - Green Chicken Curry Pie
Wednesday -Tomato and Rice Soup
Thursday - Pork Nachos
Friday - Out for dinner

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page


  1. I love the sound of this book, will be adding to my TBR list. I had meant to make her Boeuf recipe too, but had forgotten about it. Although we are heading into summer I am putting it on my cooking list.

  2. I'm a big fan of Julia Child. Mastering the Art of French Cooking was one of the first cookbooks I used when I first had my own kitchen. I have made that Boeuf Bourguignon recipe over and over. At the time I first had the cookbook, it was the only one Julia Child had written, and I acquired the others one by one as they were published, and I also loved some of the later ones and her one autobiographical work.

    I mainly liked the recently-published mystery story, though I felt it didn't do justice to Paul Child who was such a big part of Julia's life. I also found that the historic research was a bit sketchy -- many anachronisms.

    best, mae

    1. I haven't yet actually got any of her cookbooks.

  3. As I may have mentioned, I grew up one town away from where Julia Child was living when she had her television show and she was legendary for her outgoing personality and friendliness. People who ran into her at her favorite grocery store would ask her advice and she happily gave it. There were stories about people finding her phone number and calling her on holidays when something went wrong in their kitchens!

    My mother sometimes made Boeuf Bourguignon for company dinners. And we once made Julia Child's Napoleons recipe for a high school French class feast. It took an entire day, as I recall, and did not look exactly like the picture in the book but tasted delicious!

    I don't totally approve of making up mysteries about real people who aren't around to consent but it does sound entertaining.

    1. I do lose patience with some of them, but this one wasn't too bad.

  4. This was a fun read and I ordered up the sequel.

  5. So glad you enjoyed the book and of course you can't go wrong with Beef Bourguignon! Thanks for joining in!

  6. We'll definitely be having it again at some point!

  7. I love your review with the recipe for murder! Julia is often a bit involved with her recipes, but they invariably turn out well! So is Yotam, but maybe all great chefs are detail minded.