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Some cookbooks you love for one particular recipe (that awesome chocolate cake), but others become old friends because you get to know them inside and out. Richard Grausman's French Classics Made Easy belongs to the latter category.
From simple stocks to flavorful shrimp à la Provençale to a fabulous but simple chocolate soufflé with Grand Marnier, you'll find a world of flavors and dishes that you can create in your own home kitchen with minimal experience. As Grausman notes in the introduction:
Above all, my primary objective has been foolproof recipes that remain unmistakably French even though their proportions and preparation may have changed. (p. 2)Throughout, Grausman explains techniques so you understand not just what you're supposed to do but why you are doing it. At the same time, he encourages creativity that is built on both skills and experience yet helps even novice cooks achieve success with minimum fuss. He doesn't hesitate to suggest store-bought ingredients (like puff pastry and stocks) when they will work, and he has perfected methods that simplify the classics to make your life easier. Here's example from the introduction to a pork medallion recipe:
Pork served with a classic mustard-based brown sauce called sauce Robert is a bit of an undertaking. I make mine with a Thickened Beef Stock (page 318) instead of a demi-glace, which cuts out 2 hours of preparation. (p . 166)I'm all for any trick that saves me time in the kitchen without skimping on flavor. Another thing I love about this cookbook is Grausman's eye to the modern realities of healthful foods. Here he explains the changes he made to the classic chicken with Riesling recipe, which not only saves time but saves calories and fat:
. . . In this recipe, the mushrooms are cooked with the chicken, eliminating two steps, and only cream is used in the sauce. Omitting the butter, flour, and egg yolks yields a smaller quantity of sauce with a greater intensity of flavor. (p. 119)For almost every recipe, you'll find variations and serving suggestions. In addition, Grausman includes great tips (how to clean mussels, what to do if you don't have a nonstick roasting pan), definitions of terms, wine suggestions, and explanations of ingredients, all geared to guarantee success. Although there are no photographs in French Classics, few cooks will miss them. The directions and sidebars are so clearly written, you won't have any trouble following along. On the other hand, when visuals are important, detailed pencil drawings are provided.
The variety of recipes, from soups and egg dishes to meats, vegetables, and desserts, means there is something for everyone. Here are some recipes that I want to try:
- Cream of Asparagus Soup
- Chicken Salad with Fresh Peaches in a Curry-Lime Dressing
- Grilled Salmon Fillets
- Green Beans Vinaigrette
- Gâteau Moka ("a light vanilla cake with an irresistible coffee buttercream")
- Strawberries with Sabayon
French Classics Made Easy was not written by a starry-eyed Francophile but by a practical chef who wants nothing more than to allow busy twenty-first-century cooks the opportunity to create wonderful, flavorful meals for their families in a standard kitchen. In my opinion, forget Julie and Julia and bring on Beth Fish Reads and Richard Grausman.
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