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French Cookbook for beginners


Doodad
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I was wondering what you all could suggest for a French 101 or Intro book as a gift. My Mom was in inspired by Julie/Julia and wants to learn French techniques. I think after I delved in a few years ago and cooked them several dishes that provided some impetus as well. At least I hope.

She is a very accomplished cook in her own right so it need not instruct how to break an egg, but she has no basis in true French cooking.

Thanks.

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Doodad, what do you mean by "French techniques"? And how hard-core is Mom?

If she's interested in a friendly, engaging take on bistro fare, that would be one thing; getting schooled by Pepin on "la methode" is another thing entirely.

Give us a sense of what she'd like to be able to do and that will help with recommendations.

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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She is a versatile cook, but does not know classic sauces, preparation, recipes etc. I don't think she could take or would have much patience for Escoffier and such and wants a more "this is how a trained French chef would approach this classic or a derivation."

Does that make sense? Tips and techniques for more general/classic applications than precisely how to harvest and purge garden snails.

She is not hard core in the sense that most of us probably are, but a good cook who wants to learn and improve.

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Beef Bourguignon was mentioned. I imagine this and bistro standards would be the name of the game. I have, and thought about getting for her as well, the Bouchon cookbook. Or a Ramsay book as he explains things well, has pictures of methods and tends to be straightforward.

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She might really like Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook, if she doesn't mind being called a twit (and worse). I have a soft spot for the Saveur Cooks French book, which has a lot of provincial classics and, though remaindered, is a well-designed, beautiful book.

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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The Les Halles Cookbook is a very practical book with all the bistro classics, but could backfire as Chris suggests, if she's easily offended by the, umm, saucy tone and salty language.

Julia Child's The Way to Cook is not as hardcore or as comprehensive as Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and is much more modern with good photographs and streamlined instructions, and might strike just the right note for someone who liked Julie & Julia.

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Any particular reason NOT to consider Mastering the Art of French Cuisine?

Honestly, this was my first thought on the subject. If there's one thing I learned from the Cooking to Honor Julia Child thread & my own experiences with MAFC is that the recipes really work. It is a big book, but part of the reason for that is the extreme attention to detail in the instructions. The reader is not expected to be an expert, yet is not treated like an imbecile.

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Here's a choice you won't regret for a second: James Peterson's Glorious French Food: A Fresh Approach to the Classics.

He's revived all of the old classics and made them accessible to a modern audience. It's full of suggestions about what's necessary, what's not, where to be exacting, and where you can fudge it.

I also find the ingredients much more accessible than MAFC, as sometimes Julia's read like they were pulled from Henri Babinski's Gastronomie Pratique d' Ali-Bab.

And if your Mom gets into French cuisine in a big way, it's an easy jump to his Sauces book, now in the 3rd edition, and worth every penny.

I second the opinion on The Way to Cook over MAFC.

It's a better book, and it too has been updated for a more modern audience.

Edited by fooey (log)

Fooey's Flickr Food Fotography

Brünnhilde, so help me, if you don't get out of the oven and empty the dishwasher, you won't be allowed anywhere near the table when we're flambeéing the Cherries Jubilee.

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The Bouchon cookbook, while I love it myself, is not one I'd recommended for someone new to French food.

It's a cross-section of French bistro food, not French food as a whole. There's a lot missing, in other words.

It also has a lot of recipes with sub-recipes, so the prep can take an astonishing amount of time.

I made Bouchon's Quiche Lorraine a few weeks ago and it was a couple days in the making: onion confit, bouquet garni, pastry crust, custard, not to mention rendering the bacon, etc.

Was it worth the effort? Yes, it's the best quiche ever, but...

Would a newbie even dare after seeing a recipe with four sub-recipes, a couple days of work (or one really long day), and then the recommended several days rest before eating? I'd say probably not.

For bistro food, have a look at Gordon Hamersley's Bistro Cooking At Home.

Edited by fooey (log)

Fooey's Flickr Food Fotography

Brünnhilde, so help me, if you don't get out of the oven and empty the dishwasher, you won't be allowed anywhere near the table when we're flambeéing the Cherries Jubilee.

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Regina Schrambling of Slate reccomends:

My cynical side suspects cookbook buyers looking for that old French magic would be much happier with other authors. Patricia Wells and Anne Willan have done great jobs translating classic French cuisine, using one-page or shorter recipes, while some of the better modern-French "instructors" include Jacques Pépin and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and even Jeremiah Tower. Also, never underestimate the late Pierre Franey, the "60-Minute Gourmet." Hardcover editions of his books command a premium online for good reason: The recipes are foolproof and easy but yield sensational results.

PS: I am a guy.

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If you really want Julia but fear MAFC, then The Way to Cook is the way to go. I don't agree with the comment above that it's a better cookbook, but it's definitely less dogmatic and intimidating.

Pierre Franey is a great suggestion. And I really like Patricia Wells' Bistro Cooking. Easy, friendly, tasty recipes.


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I own and I've cooked out of both Mastering The Art and The Way To Cook by Julia. As much as I like MTA, I find the recipes very heavy on the fat. I usually try to decrease the fat in a MTA recipe by 1/3. I don't have that problem with Way to Cook. But ironically, I like the food in MTA better. The recipes in MTA are more old-fashioned in their cooking methods, often you're making 2 or 3 separate components in a recipe and putting them together at the end, and that means big deep flavors. Way to Cook is more streamlined, and I can taste the difference.

I agree with what another post said, MTA may seem intimidating by the length of some recipes, but the recipes give great detail, troubleshooting tips, etc. It's extremely well-written and if you follow along carefully those dishes will come out.

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Is(ARE?) there Volume I & II MTAFC ?

Yes. Here is a link to Volume I.

Here is a link to Volume II.

Volume 2 has more in-depth coverage of pastry, charcuterie and desserts. But, it covers many topics in more depth and has valuable resources. IIRC it was first published in 1970. I recommend purchasing both. If one is thinking of purchasing Mastering the Art, the second volume has some really wonderful recipes and lots of illustrations.

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Thanks Lisa. I want to get both.

The link in your email to VOL II did not connect.

Here it is II

edited for grammar & spelling. I do it 95% of my posts so I'll state it here. :)

"I have never developed indigestion from eating my words."-- Winston Churchill

Talk doesn't cook rice. ~ Chinese Proverb

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Sorry for the late response.

She is getting Mastering I believe; waiting on a new edition (?)

Not sure it will do all she needs as I have never really used it and don't own it. Pictures or illustrations are going to be very helpful for her. She has Les Halles and between the lack of pictures and salty language I can tell it is not her cup of tea.

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Volume 2 has more in-depth coverage of pastry, charcuterie and desserts. But, it covers many topics in more depth and has valuable resources. IIRC it was first published in 1970. I recommend purchasing both. If one is thinking of purchasing Mastering the Art, the second volume has some really wonderful recipes and lots of illustrations.

The other nice thing about Volume 2 is that it has a combined index for volumes 1 and 2, so you don't have to ask yourself, "Which volume was it in?" before hitting the index. It's a nice touch.

I'm always baffled when people recommend Les Halles for beginners. Don't get me wrong; I love it, especially for Bourdain's inimitable voice, but I don't think it's a very good cookbook for someone who's never cooked French food before. There's too much reading between the lines that's needed in order to make sure the recipes come out properly.

It sounds to me like the OP's mother is interested in techniques and building blocks as much as full-on recipes, in which case I would add The Cook's Book to the list. These days, I find myself turning to it frequently for basic information, especially sauces and meat-cooking techniques. I bought the full version so I could Ferran Adria's chapter on foams, but there's an abridged version that might work just as well for a beginner.

Matthew Kayahara

Kayahara.ca

@mtkayahara

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Me, I'm very partial to Julia and Jacques book. Although it is not necessarily classical French, I love the banter, the different takes on the same dishes. And, if you ever saw the show and watched them interact, it would be one of your all-time fav cookbooks.

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
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Elizabeth David's French Country Cooking might be of interest too, though it's less focused on the fancy French cooking, more on what you find in anybody's kitchen. I just got it yesterday, an edition that combines her 3 classics. Found it used for a fair price, came from England. Might add, it's an old book from the 50es and not focused on low fat or anything like that. Just great looking recipes she collected.

But I think if she gets Julia's books and the Pepin technique book, she has plenty to read and play with. There are more modern books out there of course, I'm just not a fan of books that fiddle with ancient recipes just to make them lighter or healthier etc. It's not like you're gonna cook something fancy every day, the extra fat and calories should not play a big role unless one has health reasons to watch these things.

Personally I find recipes that use 3 sticks of butter rather intriguing :-D

If your mom gets around on the net ok she can also find Julia and Jaque videos to watch, I agree, they made a great team that's a lot of fun to watch. Don't know, but maybe some of the shows are available on DVD? That could be a fun gift too.

I have yet to see the movie, probably have to wait for the DVD now.

Les Halles is great too, but she might find the writing offensive? Look at it first.

Bouchon is fantastic, but as somebody mentioned, not for the timid. Keller seems to have an abundance of the most important ingredient, time. Of course, he has a fantastic staff to help too :-)

"And don't forget music - music in the kitchen is an essential ingredient!"

- Thomas Keller

Diablo Kitchen, my food blog

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