What is the secret of a well-planned French meal with a distinct beginning middle and end and appropriately paired wines? In the fascinating book In a French Kitchen by Susan Loomis, all is revealed. Its part cookbook (85 recipes), part methods and secrets, part story, part peeking into freezers and cupboards and part shopping list. At the end of the book you will have become part of a new extended family. Toss in traditions, opinions and tips and you have one of the easiest-reading books on French cuisine in a very long time.
With style and a bit of sass, you’ll be engaged and involved in what makes French food so good. On page nine, the author asks, “What is the secret of making an excellent pot-au-feu?” Her answer may surprise (and delight you). “A shopping-and cooking husband.” Of course! I wonder how I missed that for so many years.
Further along in the book, the question of how the French meal is always so pleasant comes up. The answer? “Because there is a cadre, or framework to the meal, which means everyone has a clearly defined role.” You can read the book to find out what those roles are and why they work in unison so well.
Ever wonder what the perfect French cheese tray showcases? Two of them – a soft goat cheese and a blue cheese won’t surprise you, but the other three may raise an eyebrow or two. Did you know that the enzymes in cheese can actually help with digestion? Why do you think the French eat cheese at the end of the meal? According to the author, “Cheese is the embodiment of luxury and well-being …like a wrapped gift under the Christmas tree, cheese is the surprise, served as a final delight to a wonderful moment.” What a great sentiment.
Thanks to French law, there must be one boulangerie open in each neighborhood. Best rule ever, I think. Where there is a boulangerie, there is French bread. In this book, the whole of Chapter 9 is dedicated to the delights of French bread. Whether you are a “crumb” or a “crust” connoisseur, this chapter is going to rock your world. Do you know the difference between baguettes de tradition and an ordinary baguette? Why can’t you “sauce” or dip your bread? Why do some French cooks bless a fresh loaf of bread with the sign of the cross before slicing it? Why is it a sign of disrespect in Pays Basque to set a loaf on its back once out of the oven? Read this chapter and you may just be the next winner of culinary trivia.
My favorite recipes include: Melon salad with shallot vinaigrette, Apple and pear chicken, Blue Cheese quiche, Bordeaux strawberries, Hot chocolate and Rhubarb and ginger tart. This is the perfect book to give as a present. Tie it to a basket brimming with French ingredients, a loaf of French bread, some meal suggestions and a couple of fun French utensils. I am pretty sure anyone who takes my advice will be asked back again and again.
Enjoy this lovely recipe compliments of author Susan Hermann Loomis and Penguin Random House http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/ .
Melon salad with shallot vinaigrette
Salade de melon a la vinaigrette aux echalotes
A note about this recipe from Author Susan Hermann Loomis
I returned from a trip to China with a suitcase filled with Szechuan pepper. It’s an ingredient one occasionally finds in a restaurant dish in France, but not a typical home ingredient. I love its floral perfume and the way it numbs the tongue briefly; if you don’t have or cannot find Szechuan pepper, though, any flavorful pepper (Tellicherry black, Voatsiperify, White, Green…).
You can make the melon balls and the sauce a couple of hours ahead, then mix everything right before serving. Be sure to whisk the sauce before using, if you’ve made it ahead.
2 ripe melons, peeled, seeded, and cut either into ½-inch (1.25cm) squares,
or cut with a melon-ball maker
2 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 shallots, diced
Fine sea salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground Szechuan pepper, or other flavorful pepper
1/3 cup (80ml) plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup mint leaves
Fleur de sel
For the Zucchini:
1-1/4 pounds (600g) zucchini, rinsed, trimmed, grated on a fine grater
The zest from 1 lemon
Fleur de sel
Fresh mint leaves
1. Place the melon balls in a medium-sized bowl and refrigerate.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, shallots, salt and pepper, and the olive oil.
3. Just before serving the salad, scissor-cut the mint leaves and whisk them into the vinaigrette. Pour ¾ of the vinaigrette over the melon balls and toss gently.
4. Mince the lemon zest and add it to the grated zucchini, tossing it with a fork so it is well mixed. Add the remaining vinaigrette, and toss thoroughly.
5. To serve, divide the zucchini among 6 plates, making a circle of the zucchini in the center of the plate. Evenly divide the melon salad among the plates, placing it in the center of the zucchini circle. Garnish with fleur de sel and mint leaves, and serve.Spice dusted recipes and secrets from a French Kitchen