I hate to admit that French food intimidates me. Both eating it and cooking it. While there are plenty of “rustic” and simple classic dishes they all seem to require a patience, focus and techniques that are hard to master for a self-taught chef. Plus, the list of ingredients can also be rather daunting. The French make some of the most amazing food in the world and you can’t get that complexity of flavor without quality products and a passion to make them come alive. Frankly I rarely have the time or energy to devote to dinner, so I’ve often lusted from afar when it comes to actually preparing French cuisine. I will consider that amazing recipe for about 30 seconds, mouth-watering, before moving on to something far less complicated, and most assuredly less memorable.
That is, until I came across Hillary Davis’s new book French Comfort Food. Sure the “French” part of the title gave me a moment’s pause, but the words “comfort food” caught my attention and sent my mind spinning with dreams of bread, cheese and all sorts of decadent delights. Perhaps even ones that I could create in my kitchen. The book brings together classic, home-style recipes from her experience of living over a decade in France (2 years in Paris, 11 in the South). Some collected from friends she made along the way, others tasted in out-of-the-way bistros and family dinners she found herself included in, many regional dishes that you rarely see here, but still cherished in their native land. Her love of all things French jumps from every page and the photos make you want to immediately book a flight.
Summer. Provence. Two words that are eternally linked together. One can’t think of this southern French locale without immediately imaging yourself overlooking the sea from a seat on a patio with a glass of rosé in your hand. Well, maybe that’s just me. Being a wine lover, Provence is one of those destinations on my bucket list. A place I plan to spend many lovely, languid, lazy days doing nothing but eating and drinking and watching the world go by. It’s not a wine region that’s garnered much respect over the years, since it’s mostly famous for crafting all shades of pink, which until this decade didn’t appear to be to something that most serious wine drinkers gave much thought to. Rosé was something you drank on your way to “better” more serious wine.
Well, as Francois Millo and Viktorija Todorovska show in their new book, Provence Food and Wine: The Art of Living rosé from this region has been serious all along. Francois has actually written THE French textbook about rose wines, along with several other wine tomes, and is from Provence. (Lucky devil.) Viktorija is a cookbook author in love with the Mediterranean lifestyle (she’s also written books about Puglia and Sardinia) and marries her love of traditional recipes with his knowledge of the region and his amazing eye (he’s also the book’s photographer). Together they bring the joie de vivre of this region right to your fingertips, capturing it’s allure with simplicity and heart.
Two weeks residing in an eighteenth-century Provencal farmhouse owned by a world-renown cookbook author and former restaurant critic who enthusiastically teaches you to how to cook, enjoy fine wine, and find satisfaction in the kitchen (and in life). While it may sound like the plot summary of a delicious novel, it’s not. For nearly twenty years, Patricia Wells, America’s preeminent French culinary expert, has shared her home and kitchen with scores of “total novices” who, thanks to her efforts, have been “transformed into confident cooks.”
Wells isn’t just any cook. She is the former global restaurant critic of the International Herald Tribune, the only foreigner and female to serve as a restaurant critic for the French publication, “L’Express,” the author of twelve cookbooks, and the four-time winner of the James Beard award, the culinary equivalent of an Oscar.
The French Kitchen Cookbook: Recipes and Lessons from Paris and Provence, her latest cookbook, is a reflection upon her years as a cooking instructor, her relationships with students (many of whom have become her dearest friends), and her appreciation of shared meals. Her goal is to show the home cook the “joys of combining good food, good wine, and friends altogether around the table — an experience we can enjoy day in and day out, any time.”
Growing up my mother had the usual cookbooks a housewife in the ‘60s owned like the ring-bound Betty Crocker, and Better Homes and Gardens.Books that were useful but hardly high cuisine. My first cookbook was Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1 by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck. I bought the book at age eighteen after returning from living in rural France for a year. I was an au pair, also known as a ‘mother’s helper, and worked for a French family in the Alsace region of France. My duties included caring for four children, light cleaning, and shopping and cooking. Madame Zundel, an American married to a Swiss Frenchman, owned Mastering the Art of French Cooking, as well as all the needed American measures to cook from it.
I can say with absolute certainty that Mastering the Art taught me to cook. Madame Zundel and I used it together. She also taught me a lot about French cooking. It was the highlight of my time in France – creating a menu, shopping for the ingredients, and cooking the family meal using Mastering the Art. When I returned to the States I immediately bought my own copy and have been cooking from it ever since. It holds a special place amongst my cookbook collection.
Around My French Table
I don't know anyone who is not amazed by Dorie Greenspan. She's not only a talented baker and meticulous recipe writer but an internet phenomenon, who happens to lead a charmed life in Paris, New York and Connecticut.
Bookmarked recipes: Mussels and chorizo with or without pasta, Potato chip tortilla, Marie-Helene's apple cake
Her recipes are detailed but easy-peasy to follow because she is ultimately a home cook, not a restaurant chef. This is like a personal scrapbook of all the recipes she makes. It is impossible not to fall in love with this book.
Anyone who enjoys cooking and eating more than fussing over food.
I know why David Lebovitz gets inundated with questions from people planning trips to Paris. I know why perfect strangers want to visit him or better yet, dine with him. In addition to knowing exactly where to get the perfect baguette and being on a first name basis with every important chocolatier in town, he's also very funny. If you've ever visited his blog, you know what I mean. An artist friend of my parents moved to Paris and because, horrors! he still wasn't online, I printed page after page of it for him, in part, to convince him he needed to get online, if for no other reason than to read David's blog.
While I am a fan of his cookbooks, his latest book really takes the cake. And yes, that would be chocolate cake. In The Sweet Life in Paris his observational powers and his equal parts snarky and self-deprecating humor give that other ex-pat David, a run for his money. In fact, perhaps that's why David Sedaris moved to London. Paris might not have been big enough for two hilarious American Davids.
by Nancy Ellison