Reviews of the best French cookbooks and a guide to the cuisine food and recipes from France:
Those with a love of food cannot be without a French cookbook to bring an authentic taste from France into their home. The ones below bring you traditional French recipes such as onion soup, boeuf bourguignon, coq au vin blanc and profiteroles au chocolat and slims down the fat and sugar content even further in the ingredients. Not an easy taste given that their cuisine is traditionally low in fat.
The Drummer Boy is my latest novel about the ghost of a Gordon Highlander Drummer Boy from the Battle of Waterloo who haunts a modern day army nurse.
Chapters take place in modern day Aberdeen, at the Noose & Monkey bar and restaurant as well as His Majesty’s Theatre and Garthdee. Other scenes take place at Tidworth and during the Napoleonic War.
Read the first three chapters for free on most devices.
The Skinny French Kitchen by food writer, TV presenter and co-founder of the cake manufacturing company Petit Pois Harry Eastwood is a welcome addition to the shelves. Its unique feature is that it cuts down the calories so that those on a diet or have health issues can still enjoy French food from this collection of one hundred French meals. Not an easy task when one considers such rich dishes as Gratin Dauphinois or Cheese Souffle. However she has accomplished this without losing the all-important taste. Prior to publishing she asked her friends from Paris, where she has lived since her childhood, to sample her meals. When Marcel the fishmonger approved of her Salmon Tartare she knew she had succeeded in reducing the calories whilst retaining flavours.
Each recipe has the suggested serving with the amount of calories as well as list of ingredients, how to cook and a skinny secret to help you reduce the sugar or fat content as well as cooking tips. For example gratin dauphinois has 213 calories per serving and is poached with semi-skimmed milk and garlic prior to adding small amounts of cheese and cream.
Most ingredients are readily available throughout the UK and when difficult to source Harry has included where to buy them such as the stockists of snails and frogs legs in the UK. The meals are broken down into convenient chapters of aperitifs, sides, mains, tips on cooking with garlic and creme fraiche and pastry dishes. One important tip explains how to avoid garlic breath when eating garlic dishes - worth the price alone.
Soup recipes include vichyssoise and cream of pumpkin soup with chilli and sage.
Examples of low fat recipes include rabbit and pork terrine with pistachios and coq au vin blanc. Other main dishes include bayonne ham omelette, frog legs en persillade, sole meuniere, pan fried veal kidneys in white wine and mustard cream sauce, tomato tarte tatin (at only 101 calories per serving), ratatouille and confit de canard.
Low calorie side dishes include parsley and pomegranate couscous and flageolet beans. Salads include pears poached in red wine with Roquefort and spinach salad.
Low fat snacks are croquet monsieur, chicken liver pate with sherry and shallots (165 calories) and leek and ham gratin.
No meal would be complete without bread and she has included bread recipes such as pan bagnat.
Harry Eastwood is a self-confessed chocoholic and this shines through with her naughty but nice recipes for Grand Marnier chocolate truffles, mini coffee éclairs and chocolate macaroons. Her sweet tooth continues with dishes like the little cakes of Madeleines. Puddings include a 211 calorie chocolate soufflé, profiteroles au chocolat at 264 calories for a three piece serving and crepe suzette at 201 calories per pancake. Other sweets include rum baba and crème caramel and there are sauces for puddings like raspberry or strawberry coulis and custard crème patisserie.
Photographer Laura Edwards beautifully captures Parisian life such as her picturesque photos of cafes, Eiffel Tour, and of course many of the recipes.
It was published by Bantam Press, an imprint of Transworld Publishers, A Random House Group Company in 2011.
This inspiring pice of work makes you want to rush into the kitchen and start cooking some traditional French cuisine and create some new wonderful ways of giving home cooks a taste of France. Flicking through the photos brightens up the day giving one an appetite for a relaxing family meal. It is a must and we consider it to be the best.
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Thomas Jefferson's Crème Brulee: How a Founding Father and His Slave James Hemings Introduced French Cuisine to America concerns itself with the history of how recipes from France were introduced to America and the unique relationship between foundling Father and President of America Thomas Jefferson and his slave James Hemings.
Readers learn that not only did Thomas Jefferson introduce crème brulee to America, but also fries and champagne. He is also thought to have popularised macaroni and cheese to the American palate.
It is not often that we add history books to the website but this volume is so fascinating and we have to confess to reading it in one sitting. It reads much like a novel and the passion for his subject shines through in the writing of author Thomas J Craughwell.
Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, before he became the third President of America, was the United States Minister to France based in Paris where his role as Commerce Commissioner during its culinary renaissance by King Louis XV who had an opulent and hearty appetite gave him a valuable insight. Jefferson struck a deal with his slave, James Hemings. He promised that if Hemings learnt their cuisine and in turn taught other slaves upon his return to America, then he would earn his freedom. Hemings agreed and became an apprentice to restaurateur Combeaux . The author introduces us to the eating habits at the time and discusses the known collected 150 recipes of Thomas Jefferson.
It is full of fascinating facts such as the first cookbook to be published in America was in 1796 by author Amelia Simmons and that a study between the years 1700 and 1709 revealed that only 3 to 8 present of Virginians owned a fork. Most people of the time used a spoon, knife or fingers when eating.
The social attitude in France at this time was much different to America, for example there was no slavery. The author suggests that this may be why Thomas Jefferson struck his deal over cooking lessons with James Hemings for fear that he may learn this and run off to the admiralty court that enforced the Freedom Principle.
This was a time of great and exciting change with changing attitudes to food, the way it was served and eating habits. The classic cookbook and guide to all things culinary, Le Dons de Comus, was published. The role of Cuisinieres was created so that they could master and serve this new cuisine. This was in balance to the simple vegetarian diet of locally grown produce as advocated by philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. However lavish meals grew in popularity thanks largely due to Louis XV and his mistress Madame de Pompadour. Their favourite meal, poulet au basilica, a chicken stuffed with chopped basil and other herbs then brushed with raw egg before being roasted became popular with their guests and also with their pages that ate the leftovers.
We learn that Madame de Pompadour not only had a discerning palate but also enjoyed being served her fine meals with silver plates or Sevres porcelain. This practice of serving food on silverware soon caught on and hotels were serving guests their meals with silverware in dining rooms. Her private chef de cuisine named a dish in her honour. This was filets de volailee a la Pompadour which was a boned chicken breast pounded flat, stuffed with sweetbreads and then braised in bouillon.
Readers learn of Louis XV’s next mistress, after the death of Madame de Pompadour. This was Madame du Barry who also had a love of recipes and cooking. She further changed eating habits by introducing lighter and more flavoursome food that did not leave her guests feeling bloated. She also introduced female chefs into the kitchens of the aristocracy. New food included pheasant consommé , poached chicken in a cream and butter sauce and peach ice and strawberries in maraschino.
It discusses the innovation of restaurants in France. Traditionally these were establishments where those with lose of strength or an ailment could go, on the advice of a physician, to drink recuperative liquid meat essence. These early restaurants would boil down huge slabs of beef, veal or pork in large pots covered in water to create consommés and bouillons which were thought to act as restoratives since they could easily be sipped and digested by invalids. So the word restaurant soon changed from the drink to the establishments that sold these drinks. As business grew in this first establishment run by Roze and Pontaille in Paris so did the menu. Light dishes such as soups, compotes, eggs and pasts were introduced to their menu in this and newly created restaurants in other regions. Inns and taverns sold food that was not of such good standard and business thrived and soon other restaurants were opened and menus developed. This history of restaurants in France is written about in much more detail in this book by Thomas J. Craughwell .
Of further interest is the history of the first potato crop and the vegetable growing of Thomas Jefferson at his plantation in Virginia.
Whilst James Hemings was learning his trade, Thomas Jefferson began a wine tour of France. He learnt the skills of growing vines, keeping a wine cellar and selected wines and champagnes to bring back to America.
An example of a meal cooked by James Heming upon their return to America is given as green salad served a wine jelly from boiled calves feet, capon stuffed with truffles, artichoke bottoms, chestnut puree and Virginian ham and served with sauce of Calvados and then boeuf a la mode which was a top round of beef with onions, carrots, bacon, sprigs of parsley and thyme and a veal knuckle bone that had been cooked for five hours in a Dutch oven. Small plates of meringues and macaroons were then served before guests enjoyed vanilla ice cream stuffed inside warm puff pastry. Each course was accompanied by a different wine.
James Heming taught his brother Peter and finally gained his freedom on the 5th February 1796. After his emancipation he moved to Philadelphia to continue working as a cook. He later briefly returned to France. When Thomas Jefferson became the President of the United States in 1801 he invited his former slave to serve as chef at the Presidents House. James was working at a Baltimore Tavern as a cook and replied that he would like to receive a few lines about the post. President Jefferson never wrote back and hired another chef. However he did work for the President during his summer vacation from Washington. Sadly after this reunion James Heming killed himself when delirious with alcohol. Many of the recipes introduced to America by James Heming and Thomas Jefferson are collected in the book. These include the earliest known recipe in America for ice cream and of course crème brulee.
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