03 September 2011

Weekend Cooking: Review: French Classics Made Easy by Richard Grausman

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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
The word easy in the title of this cookbook is not just a sales come-on. Grausman, who has developed culinary programs for high-schoolers, knows how to guide novices. I wouldn't hesitate to give French Classic Made Easy to any cook, from the most experienced to young adults moving into their first apartment.

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.

Published by Workman, 2011
ISBN-13: 9780761158547
Source: review (see review policy).
Rating: B+
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


Marg 9/3/11, 6:22 AM  

This sounds like a cookbook to keep an eye out for!

My post this week has a French flavour too.

Uniflame 9/3/11, 7:07 AM  

Somehow that chicken salad sounds great, I would use mock chicken of course, but the combination sounds lovely :)

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks 9/3/11, 7:48 AM  

I had seen the FRENCH CLASSICS book in the bookshop, but was afraid it was too "fancy" for me. Now I'm thinking that I should take a closer look.

So, should we be looking for "Beth and Richard" at the cinema soon?! :)

Beth S. 9/3/11, 7:48 AM  

This book sounds wonderful! I especially like this:

"Throughout, Grausman explains techniques so you understand not just what you're supposed to do but why you are doing it."

I like to know why I have to do a certain step, especially if it's long and drawn out and I can figure out a way to shorten it - which I have done in the past. If the recipe explains why the step is important, I'm less likely to make my own shortcut.

Beth F 9/3/11, 7:58 AM  

Beth S -- one of the explanations was why you add egg whites to a consomme, when all you do later is skim them out of the pot: as the egg whites solidify (cook) they trap the little bits in the broth and thus help make the soup clear. Maybe everyone else in the world knew that, but I didn't.

bermudaonion 9/3/11, 8:41 AM  

I'm not a fan of a lot of French dishes, but I am a fan of any cookbook that saves me time in the kitchen. I'll have to look through this cookbook.

TheBookGirl 9/3/11, 8:56 AM  

I am usually intimidated by most French cookbooks, but your description of this one sounds like it might be a good one for me. The fact that he is adept at conveying instructions in a way that even a novice can understand, and is more than willing to allow for time and effort-saving shortcuts makes me think even I could cook from this book :)

caite 9/3/11, 8:57 AM  

sounds like a great book. great food does not have to be complicated and I must say, you had me at chocolate soufflé with Grand Marnier!

Nan 9/3/11, 9:03 AM  

Wouldn't it be fun if you dropped all your other blog activities and really did the J&J thing!! The only 'French classic' I make is chocolate mousse. :<)

Barbara 9/3/11, 9:32 AM  

Hey, Candace, I just saw one of your reviews on Shelf Awareness! I said, "Whoa, I know her!" Very nice.

Bonnie 9/3/11, 10:30 AM  

I'm usually a bit intimidated by the french cooking cookbooks as they can be complicated recipes and techniques. This doesn't sound like that, I like that the author doesn't mind suggesting that you use store bought ingredients.

Zibilee 9/3/11, 10:48 AM  

I think this book would be helpful to me, as the only other French cookbook I own is a very big tome with very complicated recipes. It also calls for a lot of ingredients that I can't get where I am, which makes me more reluctant to cook from it. I like that this book lets you in on what might be appropriate substitutions and that it's not difficult to pull off the recipes. This is something I need to look into.

Sarah (The Brazen Bookworm) 9/3/11, 12:01 PM  

You just inspired me - I just purchased it online! I've never really done much French cooking because I've always been intimidated, but this sounds like it's an easy entree into the cuisine! Thanks for the find! ;)

Joy Weese Moll 9/3/11, 12:23 PM  

This does sound good. I was also drawn to that chicken salad title -- what a great combination of ingredients. This sounds like a terrific book about a cuisine that many of us find intimidating.

Sharon Galligar Chance 9/3/11, 1:13 PM  

Looks like a great cookbook to browse through!

Anonymous,  9/3/11, 2:09 PM  

sounds yummy! And by the way, do you know about my new ' love France' meme? i suggest you link this post to my latest meme post: http://wordsandpeace.wordpress.com/category/i-love-france-2/
Emma @ Words And Peace

Cecelia 9/3/11, 4:11 PM  

The concept of this cookbook appeals to me - there are many recipes that I 'aspire' to make someday, but discount for the time being because of a lack of time. I think I'll get this one out of the library, though! Thanks for featuring it.

Alex 9/3/11, 4:23 PM  

This sounds so much more managable and healthier than Julia Child's french cooking (though I still love some of her recipes) But I am with Caite for the chocolate soufflé with Grand Marnier.

Heather 9/3/11, 5:00 PM  

I haven't been tempted by a French cookbook before. I like that this one explains why as well as how. Sounds like excellent reading even if you never tried any of the recipes.

Marianne 9/3/11, 5:13 PM  

What a pleasant blog to read. You have a good eye when it comes to colors! Just had to say it - am on a blog hopping spree with a husband abroad ;-)
A nice Saturday to you!

Peaceful Reader 9/3/11, 8:15 PM  

This book sounds like one my mother would love, maybe this would make a great Christmas gift!

Unknown 9/4/11, 3:02 PM  

I'd love to give a few of these recipes a try to find out whether it is really possible to make shortcuts without skimping on flavour. I suspect that the dishes will compromise on flavour, but if they are still good then I guess it is worth saving time.

Heidenkind 9/4/11, 3:33 PM  

This sounds like a book I have to get! Cream of asparagus soup, nom.

Col (Col Reads) 9/4/11, 3:53 PM  

I always think of French food as kind of intimidating, so like you, I'm attracting to the "easy" in the title. I'm definitely going to check this out!

Julie P. 9/4/11, 4:15 PM  

I like the idea of easy but I'm not sure I would like many of the recipes. Not a big fan of French food.

BookGeek 9/5/11, 8:17 PM  

Oh gosh! This sounds so good.

Michelle 9/6/11, 5:39 AM  

I'm not much of a French food eater (unless you count the fries, lol). Still you make it all seem appealing.

Serena 9/6/11, 8:50 AM  

This sounds like a book that I would need more time to read given the explanation as to why things are working the way they are what changes are made and why. I'm not much of a cook, so maybe this would make French cooking easier for me.

Yoshi 9/7/11, 10:43 AM  

I like simple cooking. "French" is bound up with the image "difficult to cook" in many people's head,I guess, so maybe we need a book like that.=P

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews 9/8/11, 5:32 PM  

Hi Beth,

My favourite French dessert is souffle.
I am no good at preparing it myself, however we found a fantastic French restaurant in Florida that does a chocolate souffle with chocolate sauce and a normal souffle with Grand Marnier sauce.
They are to die for!!


Richard 9/12/11, 9:57 PM  

Hi Beth,

What a thrill to find your review and the comments of your readers. Your comments captured the essence of the book.

My original suggested title "Who's Afraid of French Cooking" seems to apply to many of your readers and I expect that by reading and cooking from FRENCH CLASSICS MADE EASY, any fear one may have will disappear.

To give you and your readers more support, I do "House Calls" Any questions or problems you have with any of the recipes will be quickly answered or solved if you write to me at rgrausman@ccapinc.org

Sending photos of problems can be helpful.

So if you or any of your readers want to cook through my book, I'll be there to help you every step of the way.

All the best,

Louise 7/20/12, 8:36 AM  

I think it's essential for everyone to have a great French cookbook. This one sounds really interesting.

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