Recommending this book is a no-brainer and I predict that it will become a classic. It will earn coveted real-estate in many bookshelves and will be a cookbook today’s children will remember as one of the ones that was out on the countertop often during their childhoods, not unlike The Joy of Cooking or Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
Part of what makes this such a keeper is Dorie herself. I don’t know many cookbook authors but I think I can safely say that Dorie is unique in the level of care she brings to developing recipes and to her cookbooks. She has commented on my site three times (so far) and I can’t be the only one. The fact that she spends so much time following the people who are using her book says to me that she cares deeply that these recipes are working, out there in the real world, and that people like them. She didn’t just give birth to this cookbook and send it out in the world to fend for itself, she is the ultimate helicopter parent and for once, it’s appropriate.
In addition to the carefully-developed recipes and instructions, this book is marbled with anecdotes about Dorie’s life in Paris. Observations and very short one-act plays that either reveal something interesting about modern French life (how to complain in a way that will earn you respect and better service) or re-enact a scene of cultural misunderstanding (In fact her story about being inpatiently waved off by a French butcher when she could not ask for the cut of meat she wanted with le mot juste is not necessarily the result of a language barrier. Having asked the meat cutters at my neighborhood store for something slightly unusual and being looked at as if I’d requested filet of poodle, I can relate). Reading the forwards to the recipes and the side bars I was filled with envy that the French have access to things like “extra fresh” eggs (9 days post-laying) and spring asparagus is rushed to the markets so it can be enjoyed at its most tender and flavorful. Then again, apparently you can’t get canned pumpkin in Paris so I guess life is not entirely a bowl of cerises there either.
Another reason I think this book will stand the test of time is that the recipes are appealing and approachable (Dorie calls it “elbows on the table” food). “Roast Chicken for Lazy People”? Yes, I think the American people can rally ’round that one. A delicious apple cake that uses ingredients most of have on hand all the time, yes, that works too. And yet there’s enough here to stretch us just a little in terms of our palates and our skills. How many of us would have made the Mustard Tart if we hadn’t been encouraged to do it? And how many of us will make it again and again? There is the cheese-draped onion soup we all love, as well as souffle, crepes, quiche, and creme brulee — in other words, the usual French suspects. But becaues this book is about what the French are cooking right now, she includes guacamole, tzatziki and b’stilla; dishes that demonstrate the flexibility and worldliness of French tastes. Just because they invented cooking doesn’t mean they have to have classic French food every night.
Of course I also appreciate that for the harder to find ingredients (I’m talking to you old friend Pimente d’Espelette) she offers a reasonable substitute that you can get at your chain grocery store (and lovely as Whole Foods and sustainable, fair-trade, cage-free peanut butter is, I’ve got a Coke Zero monkey on my back and they don’t traffic in that substance). Because she understands. She understands that some days we want to push ourselves and create something special and new and remarkable and we’re willing to send away for an ingredient and take on a project recipe, but some days (most days) we just need to feed the beasts. In Dorie’s world, you can have it both ways.