Sunday, May 31, 2015

Francophiles, Find Yourself In A French Kitchen

If you love books and films set in France and spend as much time soaking up the sensual background details in each and every scene on the page or frame, you are sure to be delighted by Susan Herrmann Loomis' revealing new cooking memoir, In a French Kitchen: Tales and Traditions of Everyday Home Cooking in France.

To my delight, I discovered at the outset of the book I must actually be French! First, I love food. (Chapter 1: Loving Food begins, "The French love of food is primordial.") Second, I owe the vast majority of my kitchen and cooking knowledge to my grandmother. (Chapter 2: It All begins With Mamie.) [Never mind that my family tree stretches back to England and Germany and that I was raised in the tradition of Midwestern farmhouse cooking; I am now considering it a high probability that my ancestors somehow stumbled into these areas from regions of France!]

Despite Julia Child's best efforts, I believe that most American cooks still see French cooking as the most complex/difficult form of food/technique to master. Loomis' book is a reassurance that any one of us, with whatever we have on hand at this very moment for equipment, can likely whip up a meal on par with what is being served in a typical French home on any given day. If I was skeptical that any book could answer the question as to how the French cook can put "a multicourse meal on the table at least once every day, and usually more often than that, and still manage to look great, act normal, and do everything else that needs to be done, from working to raising kids, to taking care of the dog," all I needed was the reminder that they are just like me, simply being intentional and mindful about everything to do with food.

Loomis describes most of the French home kitchens as being on the small side. That means that the cooks are organized. They know what utensils and equipment they need and they know where each item is kept. I so appreciated her chapter on this and have been inspired to get my own kitchen in better order. (Goodwill is going to be getting some great items I rarely or never use!)

The rest of the book is devoted to chapters on courses typical to French meals: salad, cheese, dessert. She includes a chapter on bread (it's French cooking after all, who wouldn't include baguettes and croissants?) as well as using leftovers (the French are not wasteful). If you love breakfast, rest assured that the French do as well. (It's the basis for Chapter 8.) In Chapter 10 readers get the inside scoop on indispensable techniques used in every French kitchen. I was so inspired, I made my own mayonnaise!

The recipes included in the book come with delightful introductions and plenty of detailed instruction to walk you through to a successful completion of the dish. As with any new recipe, simply be sure to read it through once or twice before embarking on the actual preparation. At the end of the book Loomis offers ways to put together varies recipes from throughout the book into complete, successful French meals. Voila! C'est fini! Vous l'avait fait! (Voila! It's finished! You did it!)

If you are interested in all things French, in cooking, or in learning new ideas, techniques and recipes, you are definitely going to want a copy of In a French Kitchen! Check back in the next couple of days for your chance to win one!

I would like to thank Gotham Books for the Advanced Reader Copy of book I received in exchange for this review.

From the Publisher . . .

A delightful celebration of French life and the cooks who turn even the simplest meals into an occasion

Even before Susan Herrmann Loomis wrote her now-classic memoir, On Rue Tatin, American readers have been compelled by books about the French’s ease with cooking. With In a French Kitchen, Loomis—an expat who long ago traded her American grocery store for a bustling French farmer’s market—demystifies in lively prose the seemingly effortless je ne sais quoi behind a simple French meal.

One by one, readers are invited to meet the busy people of Louviers and surrounding villages and towns of Loomis’s adopted home, from runway-chic Edith, who has zero passion for cooking—but a love of food that inspires her to whip up an array of mouthwatering dishes—to Nathalie, who becomes misty-eyed as she talks about her mother’s Breton cooking, then goes on to reproduce it. Through friends and neighbors like these, Loomis learns that delicious, even decadent meals don’t have to be complicated.

Are French cooks better organized when planning and shopping? Do they have a greater ability to improvise with whatever they have on hand when unexpected guests arrive? The answer to both is: Yes. But they also have an innate understanding of food and cooking, are instinctively knowledgeable about seasonal produce, and understand what combination of simple ingredients will bring out the best of their gardens or local markets.

Thankfully for American readers, In a French Kitchen shares the everyday French tips, secrets, and eighty-five recipes that allow them to turn every meal into a sumptuous occasion.

About the Author . . .

Susan Herrmann Loomis is an award-winning journalist, author, professionally trained chef, and proprietor of a cooking school, On Rue Tatin. She is the author of twelve books, including French Farmhouse Cookbook and her memoir, On Rue Tatin: Living and Cooking in a French Town, which was named the IACP’s Best Literary Food Book in 2002. She lives with her two children in Louviers, where she moved nearly twenty years ago.

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