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French Cookbook for beginners


Doodad
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My Mom was in inspired by Julie/Julia and wants to learn French techniques.

Though various people here cited Pépin, I'm surprised not to see him emphasized more given Doodad's phrasing. (It might be a generational thing, because Pépin, like Julia Child, came onto the North American scene years ago -- middle 1970s -- but unlike JC, hasn't experienced a recent revival.)

Escoffier organized French recipes (plain and fancy) into the Guide Culinaire. Julia Child adapted a sampling of them for US audiences. Pépin took the next step and focused on technique. With a smaller but representative set of basic French recipes, he described the procedures with meticulous step-by-step photos. It was a novel format at the time. That (large-format) book is titled in English La Technique (literally "Technique"), paperback ISBN 067179020X, reprinted 1985 and 1989 as ISBN 0671707116 and under those two ISBNs can be found easily and cheaply online in used copies.

(Later, Pépin collaborated with Julia, but it was the book above and his own TV work that established him in the US market. Also, unlike Julia, Pépin actually was both French and a chef.)

--

Solid background is essential, and must precede inventiveness. An artistic mind can create a stunning decoration for a cold glazed salmon, but the dish will be triumphant only if the salmon is first properly cleaned and poached, and the aspic rich and crystal-clear. This requires hard work and love. (Pépin, La Technique, 1976)

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In surfing the web I cam across this book " La Varenne Pratique" by Anne Willan. Some reviews say it is better, in terms of simplicity and is better photographed than La Technique.

Can anyone comment, SVP ?

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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I'm looking for La Varenne for a while now, it's out of print and most copies for sale are over $100. From all I read it's a great book well worth looking for. I'd love to hear from someone here that has it. I have Pepin's book (I have Complete Techniques, which is La Technique and La Methode in one book (isbn-13: 978-1-57912-165-5). All photos are b&w and some could use a bit more contrast or better printing, but that's a minor thing. There must be thousands of photos and as far as I know they all show Jacques doing the work. Must have been an astounding book back when it came out, and still is a great resource.

If anybody has both, would be great to hear what you think!

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

- Thomas Keller

Diablo Kitchen, my food blog

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Hi,

If you go to either abebooks.com or alibris.com and search La Varenne. There are a number of copies in the $10.00 range. not sure if it's the one you're looking for.

Hank

'A person's integrity is never more tested than when he has power over a voiceless creature.' A C Grayling.

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I have La Varenne Pratique.

It's not a French cookbook.

It's a cooking school text (skills, techniques, product use and identification, etc).

It's a "how do I temper chocolate" or "how do I truss a chicken" text, and a very comprehensive one at that.

La Varenne is/was a cooking school (sounds like it's in Southern California now, not Burgandy) and it's the kind of book you would use in cooking school (or, like me, in spite of it).

It has the usual creme brulée, brown sauce, mayonnaise, but little from the pantheon of French cuisine–no Homard à la Newburg, no Pigeonneau en salmis, no Îles flottantes here.

Where La Varenne shines is in its encyclopedic coverage of ingredients, tools and procedures.

If you buy a pepper and don't know what it is, Varenne will probably tell you.

It's also tell you the Latin name, where it's grown, its season, how to choose them, recommended portions, nutritive value, cooking methods, when it's done, processed forms, typical dishes, etc.

That's really how I think of La Varenne, not as a French cookbook, but an encyclopedic reference of ingredients and (Western) technique.

IMO, La Varenne is the "what" to La Method's "how", although both have some significant overlap.

If you want 80% of La Varenne, buy Le Cordon Blue Complete Cooking Techniques.

It covers much of the same ground, is cheaper, and has better photography (La Varenne was originally published in 1989, but the photos (and many of the recipes recipes) seem strangely dated, like from those Reader's Digest cookbooks from the 1970s).

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

You're right, Fooey! I just got this in the mail the other day and it has gone right to the top of my favorite cookbooks. Thanks!

Peterson is a one-man army of cookbook authors. He's won 3 James Beard awards for his books. Even those that didn't win, like his Splendid Soups, are worth owning. His Sauces is my favorite technical text. Did you like 8 pages of reference on French pronunciation? I loved it! Augustin is not "august-steen" it's "aww-goose-stan!" :laugh:

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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I have La Varenne Pratique... It has the usual creme brulée, brown sauce, mayonnaise, but little from the pantheon of French cuisine–no Homard à la Newburg

Points taken, but FYI, don't look for that lobster dish in the French canon: it's an American creation (with significant US food-history associations) as discussed earlier on eGullet with further link there to summary of its history.

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I pulled it out of Peterson's Glorious French Food (p. p 337), where he writes, "This is another of the great French classics that were once popular on American menus (in French restaurants, at least), but now are all but forgotten. This is a pity because, when well prepared, lobster Newburg captures the essence of lobster far better than lobster à la américaine."

I don't even eat lobster. The thought of dispatching in 10 minutes a crustacean that could be three times my 34 years old is just disturbing.

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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Peterson's Glorious French Food [writes] "This is another of the great French classics that were once popular on American menus (in French restaurants, at least), but now are all but forgotten..."

Certainly this is no reflection at all on fooey, and I don't mean to belabor Peterson -- whose books I haven't read, and they seemed interesting from the descriptions here. But I hope the quotation (Lobster à la Newberg or Delmonico* "another of the great French classics") doesn't reveal Peterson's sense of culinary history! That's a gaffe of Wikipedia proportions, even contradicting obvious English-language reference books on French cooking such as Larousse Gastronomique. (Both of LG's established modern English-language editions, 1988 and 2001, cite the dish's US origins, and it's also far newer than any French "classics" I can think of.)

Also, if Peterson read many 20th century US cookbooks, he should know the special US role this dish became famous for: not in "French restaurants," but as the prototypical chafing-dish specialty to make easily at table top (as Ben Wenberg did originally), such as after card parties, or for buffet meals. (Chafing dishes, by the way, reappear periodically as fads for new generations -- we're about due for one, in the US -- but were wildly popular around 1950 or slightly earlier, to judge by their unusually heavy cookbook presence then.)

* Ranhofer's original verbatim title circa 1900. Note spelling "Newberg," anagram for Wenberg.

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I can't speak for Peterson, but I'm sure he has a more expansive view of what makes a French dish French, a classic dish classic, as do I.

If 1876 is the date (and not Louis Faucher's 1852 claim), that makes it 27 years older than first edition of Escoffier's Le Guide culinaire.

I won't find Homard à la Newburg in Le Guide culinaire, but does that make it not French? Not classic? I suppose that depends on the arbiter.

We have French techniques, French chefs (including Ranhofer, who went to back to France after Delmonico's), restaurants that served French cuisine because it was "the" cuisine of the time, a French name, but it's not a French classic?

It wasn't made in France, so it's not French?

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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A book entitled "French - delicious classic cuisine made easy" by Carole Clements and Elizabeth Wolf-Cohen and published by Hermes House a British import that I found at a Borders or some other big box book store in the bargan section has some excellent very doable recipes for a beginner. I have cooked a lot out of this book and compared recipies to those in the classics. It compares very well with good explainations and good photos. I hope you can find it.

Jmahl

The Philip Mahl Community teaching kitchen is now open. Check it out. "Philip Mahl Memorial Kitchen" on Facebook. Website coming soon.

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I can't speak for Peterson, but I'm sure he has a more expansive view of what makes a French dish French, a classic dish classic ...If 1876 is the date (and not Louis Faucher's 1852 claim), that makes it 27 years older than first edition of Escoffier's Le Guide culinaire. I won't find Homard à la Newburg in Le Guide culinaire, but does that make it not French? Not classic?

Um, fooey: This is a dish from a New York restaurant and named (with a twist -- it was originally Lobster "Wenberg") for a US customer who first cooked it there. History in links already cited. It has been discussed here, off and on, for years.

Escoffier organized and codified existing French recipes -- he did not create them! Many of what are usually called classics were hundreds of years old in Escoffier's time. There's plenty about that in standard reference books related to the subject (I don't know how much is online). As I already pointed out, standard French sources also credit the dish with US origin.

If it came from New York, and its late-1800s origin is much newer than most of the French cooking already established when Escoffier et al. began cataloguing the subject, then the dish isn't French, even less classic French. Those realities are independent of "arbiter."

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If Ranhofer's recipe is not French, then what is it? If Homard à la Newburg is not classic, then how old, how much history does a dish have to have to be considered classic?

I think Peterson is right in calling it a French classic if, by such, he means the techniques involved are French and, relative to today, it's a classic dish, which it is.

Your original dispute was not with Peterson, it was with me: "It [La Varenne] has the usual creme brulée, brown sauce, mayonnaise, but little from the pantheon of French cuisine–no Homard à la Newburg, no Pigeonneau en salmis, no Îles flottantes here."

You replied: "don't look for that lobster dish in the French canon: it's an American creation (with significant US food-history associations)"

I said pantheon; you said canon; those words are not synonymous.

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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Can't add much to this except more factual corrections (below). Lobster Newberg is a dish whose history I know something about, evidently much more than Peterson did. I posted links summarizing Evan Jones's authoritative 1992 historical article (though I gather fooey did not look at it before replying). Most of the relevant writing is in print, not online (except the Ranhofer recipe, though I got that too from the printed book). I've seen print references to this dish (and occasionally its colorful history) since before fooey was born, and collected books and information on French cooking, and enjoyed that and talked to people about it (in France) since even earlier. If any other author identifies Lobster Newberg with French cuisine, I somehow missed it, and that author is wrong too. I already explained that the primary French food encyclopedia (far more authoritative on French cooking than any US source) calls it a US dish. If people want to argue positions contradicting these widely respected sources, please at least take the time to check them first.

One of the minor-classic midcentury US cookbooks also summarized the history with Captain Wenberg, though not in as much depth as the Evan Jones article. Wenberg, a customer, introduced the dish to Delmonico's; it went onto the menu; later the owners anagrammed the name, after expelling Wenberg for causing a fight. Some years later, the recipe that fooey linked to appeared in Ranhofer's unauthorized Delmonico's cookbook (whose own colorful history figures also in Jones's historical article, which I highly recommend).

We have French techniques, French chefs (including Ranhofer, who went to back to France after Delmonico's) ... a French name...

Not so. It was created with cooked lobster and cream in a chafing dish by a US customer; those cooking principles are international. Ranhofer is only obliquely relevant, because he later published a version of the recipe. The dish's original name is in English; you happened to encounter, by chance, Peterson's translation of the name into French just as it might appear on a French restaurant menu (in the US or France). Just as Narsai David, whose California restaurant I enjoyed in the 1970s (still have the menu on file) listed a chicken dish "Suprêmes de Volaille 'Alexis Bespaloff'" even though created in the US. (By accident.*)

*This dish, related slightly to the Newberg by the way, is boneless chicken breasts sautéed, the pan then deglazed by reducing Sauternes wine in it and then cream. Recently, after wondering about the name for years, I contacted Narsai who explained it to me and then publicly. Bespaloff, the popular US wine writer, was entertained by Narsai at home. Narsai said that he was cooking a simple chicken sauté, reached into the refrigerator for an opened bottle of wine to deglaze with, and found only Sauternes -- sweet, unlike the wines he normally used. What the hell, he thought. Turned out well, went onto his restaurant's menu. Technique meets improvisation. In fact, I may make that dish very soon, like tonight; writing about it always makes me hungry ...

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  • 2 weeks later...

Let's put it this way: If someone is almost ready for Mastering the Art of French Cooking, then I think they are ready for The Complete Robuchon -- and while this might be a heresy, after spending some time with the Robuchon book I'm starting to feel like it might be a better choice. It will not teach the most basic-basic of techniques, but it is a very good guide to French cooking for the novice who is past the boil-water-make-toast-fry-egg stage of learning. When my young sons are old enough to ask for cookbooks, it will be among the first 3 or 4 books I give them. (If I had to choose today, the very first would be the 1975 Joy of Cooking, but we'll see.)

John Rosevear

"Brown food tastes better." - Chris Schlesinger

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Well, the recipes are good.

But to the point, I love the simple precision of the instructions and the heft of experience that comes through. For instance, for a vinaigrette, he notes -- just in passing -- that you should add the salt to the vinegar and then add the oil, because the salt won't dissolve in the oil. "Duh", you and I may say, but for a novice, an important point that isn't necessarily obvious. Or the note that turnips are sort of traditional for a pot-au-feu, but here's why parnsips are better choice (and then a bit about what to do if you absolutely must have turnips anyway). It all adds up to an awful lot of wisdom, delivered about as simply as it could be -- but with great authority. Do these things, as described, and results will follow.

I think a lot of foodie types have given the book a casual look and kind of yawned, because it doesn't look like much at first glance -- it certainly isn't The French Laundry Cookbook -- but in its quiet, spare kind of way, it's a big deal, a very modern French equivalent of The Silver Spoon.

John Rosevear

"Brown food tastes better." - Chris Schlesinger

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I recently purchased "La Bonne Cuisine" by De Madame E. Saint-Ange from ecookbooks.com. I quote from the book jacket - "Originally published in 1927, La Bonne Cuisine de Madame E. Saint-Ange is considered by many to be the bible of modern French home cooking. Here, Madame Saint-Ange's techniques, recipes, and culinary wisdom are are translated into English forr the first time, with a forward by Madeleine Kamman."

It is 700+ pages. At the time I got mine ecookbooks was selling it for $9.98. I think it $12.98 now.

Regards,

Hank

'A person's integrity is never more tested than when he has power over a voiceless creature.' A C Grayling.

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I recently purchased "La Bonne Cuisine" by De Madame E. Saint-Ange from ecookbooks.com. ... At the time I got mine ecookbooks was selling it for $9.98. I think it $12.98 now.

That's Saint-Ange's famous 1927 Livre de Cuisine, doing for home cooks roughly what Escoffier's Guide Culinaire did for professionals. I've gotten valuable info on practical French cooking from it. Could make a fine introduction, and none is more authentic. Originally published by the encyclopedia specialists Librarie Larousse, who also did a general French food reference (an encyclopedia rather than a cookbook), the Larousse Gastronomique. The Saint-Ange cookbook experienced a renaissance of popularity in France in (IIRC) the 1950s, re-released under the new Bonne Cuisine title, and was translated into English under that title.

It's also among the small group of standard reference works on French cooking. They surface in various eG threads, such as This one recently, explicitly about them, and an earlier thread on iconic Women writers on food.

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