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Thursday, Jan. 28, 2010 09:48 am

More cooking classes and more Julia Child


A view from inside of the Caitie Girl’s restaurant.

I was afraid this would happen. When I wrote about local cooking classes earlier this month, I tried to find everything available. But I had a nagging feeling that there were more.

And there were. I’ve since discovered two more cooking class opportunities, and a third that’s just been announced.

I definitely should have known about the cooking classes at Caitie Girl’s restaurant, located at 400 E. Jefferson (the entrance is on Fourth Street). Caitie Girl’s fun and funky décor is the perfect setting for chef/owner Caitie Barker’s cooking, which relies as much as possible on local and seasonal ingredients. Barker teaches classes at the restaurant on Mondays. The schedule varies — sometimes they’re weekly, other times bi-weekly or monthly. The topics vary as well. Barker just taught a class on classic French sauces; on Feb. 15 she’ll be doing a romantic dinner-for-two class. A seafood class is also in the works.

Each session begins with Barker discussing the recipes with participants. Then the class divides into groups to prepare individual recipes. “It’s really a hands-on experience,” says Barker. After the food is prepared, it’s set out on a buffet, and students enjoy a full meal and discuss their experiences. The cost is $60 and includes wine. Visit www.caitiegirls.com or call 528-1294 for more information or to make reservations.

Do you want to learn to cook, but think it might be too hard – beyond your capabilities? Maybe you should take a cooking class from Susan Shaw, who is a culinary “Profile in Courage” if ever there was one.

In 2003, Shaw had a virulent sepsis infection after routine surgery. The doctors were able to save her life, but not all her toes and nine of her fingers, which had to be amputated. Afterwards, Shaw began the adjustment to her new circumstances. Cooking — especially baking — had been a big part of her life. Now, she found, it might not have been as easy as before — but it wasn’t impossible, either. Cooking and baking became an essential component of her recovery — effectually her lifeline.

The next step was the biggest: deciding to turn her love of all things culinary into a profession. Shaw enrolled, and graduated from Lincoln Land’s Culinary Arts program, where she earned the respect and admiration of instructors and fellow students.

These days, Shaw is chef/owner of Central Illinois Event Catering. Operating out of her newly-certified commercial kitchen at her home in Elkhart, last summer she sold baked goods at the Illinois Products Farmers Market at the fairgrounds. She caters all kinds of events, from business lunches to weddings, and says she’s always happy to customize: “If somebody wants me to make their favorite food for their event — like maybe an old family recipe for spaghetti sauce, I’ll do it.”

And Shaw teaches cooking classes. This season’s schedule centers primarily around homey comfort foods: soups, a Super Bowl party menu, pasta, artisan bread making, chocolate, and making homemade soft cheeses. As well there’s a Girls’ Night Out class featuring “trendy foods and fancy cocktails.”

Julia Child

She is also committed to teaching young people to cook, and offers classes for both children (6-10) and teens (11-16) with topics ranging from Eat Dessert First to Bread Making Basics.

Shaw is delightfully outgoing and upbeat; her classes are sure to be fun as well as educational. Classes are $45 for kids, and range from $55-$65 for adults. Visit www.ciecatering.com or call 217-314-9125 to register or for more information.

Lincoln Land Community College has just announced a “Julia Child Series,” a three-session baking class to be taught by Charlyn Fargo Ware. Ware, a registered dietician, adjunct LLCC culinary instructor, and former SJ-R staffer, met Child years ago at a food writers’ conference. Ware states: “I asked Julia about her fondness for butter. Her philosophy was to use the best ingredients, rather than substitutes, [but to eat small portions].” In other words, as Child relates in her autobiographical My Life in France (the book upon which the Julia portion of the Julie and Julia movie was based), “…the best diet tip of all was [her husband] Paul’s fully patented Belly Control System: ‘Just don’t eat so damned much!”’

Ware will be basing the classes on the book Baking with Julia, which is the companion cookbook to the 1996 PBS show of the same name. It’s an outstanding work, one I’ve used extensively; in fact, my copy is badly stained and falling apart. The recipes and techniques range from incredibly lengthy and complicated (pecan sticky buns that take three days to make and are unbelievably delicious — they’ve become an essential part of my family’s Easter breakfast) to simpler breads and cookies.

They are not, however, Child’s recipes. Child had a healthy sense of self without being the least egotistical, never hesitating to share the limelight with others. In her later years, she hosted three PBS cooking series in her own kitchen in Cambridge, Mass. She was literally the host; in each episode, a different renowned chef or baker was featured. Child helped with the prep and conversed with each, but made sure the visiting chef was the focus. This was even more so in Baking with Julia, the last of the series. In fact, as Child’s assistant, Nancy Barr, says in her book, Backstage with Julia, Child’s sister, Dort, asked Barr whether or not she should even do the series: “Julia made me promise to tell her when she should stop…when she was too old to do it anymore. She didn’t want to appear a fool.” Fortunately, Dort and Barr didn’t dissuade Child, but Barr says that, unlike the previous master chef series, “…neither of us [Child or Barr] had to write the book. Dorie Greenspan, author of a number of superb baking cookbooks and a master baker if ever there was one, wrote the beautiful book that accompanied the show.”

Child herself says in the foreword, “My role…was to be with the bakers on the set, in order to move things along if necessary, but principally to assume the function of pupil as well as member of the audience.” Child would appear in one more PBS series with her great friend, Jacques Pepin, Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, and a two-hour special, both of which were filmed on sets.
In the food world, chefs and bakers occupy two distinct categories. Desserts in celebrity chefs’ cookbooks are almost always contributions by their pastry chefs.

Child would unquestionably have put herself in the chef column. In fact, her landmark Mastering the Art of French Cooking contained no recipes for bread, and, as she said in My Life in France, “Simca [her French collaborator, Simone Beck] wrote the entire dessert chapter.”

Child might not have been a baker, but she’d made it her life’s mission to bring authentic French food to America. And what’s more French than French bread — which in those days was virtually unknown here? When MtAoFC editor Judith Jones suggested that a recipe for French Bread be included in the second MtAoFC volume, it started Child on a quest that took multiple visits to French boulangeries [bread bakeries], “two years and something like 284 pounds of flour.” The biggest stumbling blocks were the differences between American and French flours [American typically has a higher gluten content] and replicating the conditions of traditional bread ovens in home kitchens.

The result took up 19 pages of MtAoFC II, complete with tips for dealing with weather variations, machine vs. hand-mixing, different ways to shape the dough, and “Self-criticism — or how to improve the product.” Then there was the recommendation to bake the bread on preheated asbestos tiles. It wasn’t until shortly after publication that the dangers of asbestos were discovered; Child found that unglazed quarry tiles worked just as well. She wrote, “French bread was the recipe I worked hardest on.”

Ware says she’ll be using recipes from other Child books as well.

Cost for the series is $99. To register, contact LLCC’s Registration Services at 217-786-2292, or 1-800-727-4161, ext. 62292

Contact Julianne Glatz at realcuisine.jg@gmail.com.

A view from inside of the Caitie Girl’s restaurant.

RealCuisine Recipe
My Favorite Brownies

I’m not a chocoholic by any means, although I certainly enjoy it occasionally. Actually, I’m just generally not much of a candy-eater. When I do get a craving for chocolate, it’s for a cup of not-too-sweet cocoa on a frigid day, a scoop of dark chocolate ice cream, a thin slice of dense flourless chocolate cake – and, most of all, these brownies. I’ve made many different brownie recipes over the years – starting with the 4-H Club classic when I was in grade school; this is my favorite. It’s actually an amalgamation of two recipes: The ingredients are from baker Rick Katz’s Best Ever Brownies in Baking With Julia, and the method is from Brownies Cockaigne in The Joy of Cooking. Use the best quality chocolate you can find; it’s worth it for this special indulgence. 

  • 2 sticks (one half pound) unsalted butter
  • 4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 oz. bittersweet chocolate (I recommend Ghiradelli 60 percent cacao bittersweet chocolate chips, available in most grocery stores)
  • 1 1/4 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 c. sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Chop chocolates into small pieces if necessary. In a saucepan, heat the butter over medium high heat until it bubbles. Remove the pan from the heat, add the chocolates and stir until the chocolate has completely melted and the mixture is smooth.

Combine the flour and salt and set aside.

In a food processor or mixer, beat the sugar and eggs together until thick and pale, almost doubled in volume, and a thick ribbon falls off the beaters. Stir in the vanilla. Gently fold in BY HAND alternately the chocolate mixture and the flour mixture. DO NOT OVERBEAT! It’s even OK if the mixture still has some streaks in it.

Pour into an ungreased 9” square pan. Bake for 25-28 minutes. Check at about 23 minutes. They’re perfect if they’re just barely set and still pretty gooey. Cool the pan on a rack and cut into small squares. Makes 16 - 20.

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