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TDG: Is Glorious French Food Glorious?


Fat Guy
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This thread is for discussion of Glorious French Food: A Fresh Approach to the Classics, by James Peterson, and Suzanne Fass's review of it.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Here's one discussion topic, for example:

Anybody who has read the book, do you agree or disagree with Suzanne's evaluation (as so effectively summarized by Britcook)?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Suzanne, great review.

Steve, I haven't read the book yet so I've got nothing.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Suzanne, as I know it will make you uncomfortaboe, I was wondering (seriously) what other of the 50 "classic" recipes or techniques are used as the foundation of this book. Is cassoulet demonstrated? More importantly, what sweet courses are demonstrated?

Thank you for such a thorough review and experiament.

Rice pie is nice.

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Suzanne,

Thanks for the review.

A question about omeletes: Does Peterson specifcally recommend a non-stick pan as your review implies? Does he discuss the classical techniques for seasoning, using, cleaning, and caring for a non-non-stick (sic) omelet pan?

I tend to use a non-stick pan slow-cooked scrambled eggs, but not for omeletes or other quick egg dishes. For a 2-1/2 egg omelete, (2 eggs, 1 white) I use an 8" stainless steel pan. Works like a champ 95% of the time. What do others think?

Chief Scientist / Amateur Cook

MadVal, Seattle, WA

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Lyle, there's a table of contents (which functions as a list of all the base recipes) on the publisher's site:

http://wiley.com/cda/product/0,,0471442763...24;2960,00.html

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Britcook -- I'm glad the message(s) came through clearly. :smile:

Suvir and Jinmyo-- from the two of you, that is high praise indeed. :blush:

Yes, one of the relatively few chapters on sweets is on Apple Tarts. (I neglected to mention that Peterson* seems to be far more interested in the savory side of the kitchen; only 7 of the 50 chapters are on sweets -- but they really are THE classics, like chocolate mousse and crème brûlée.)

There are a couple of differences between Peterson's TT and Julia's (in MtA). Both use a pâte brisée: his includes whole egg and egg yolk, but no sugar; hers has sugar but no egg. And, of course, he gives instructions for making it by hand or in a food processor, while she only gives a "by hand" version.

The bigger difference is in how the apples get cooked: Julia simply layers them in the baking dish with sugar and butter, and lets the oven do the cooking as the crust bakes. Peterson caramelizes the apples on the stovetop with sugar, butter, and lemon juice, then places the pastry over the cooked apples and bakes it.

So: Julia's is much quicker, and easier, and her pastry is more delicate; Peterson's is more time-consuming and more luscious, except for that clunky crust. If I were to make a Tarte Tatin, I'd probably use his apples and method and her crust recipe.

*Note on names: It's a little cumbersome to keep saying "Peterson," but in this context I can't bring myself to refer to him as "Jim." That moniker is of course reserved for Saint James of Oregon, America's spiritual cooking father. :wink:

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Vengroff: he says to use an 8-inch non-stick, or a "well-seasoned cast iron omelet pan" with "curved sides that slope outward to make it easy to get the eggs to fold back on themselves." No instructions on seasoning cast iron -- but that's outside his scope. To me that is not a failing of the book. He's not trying to teach us EVERYTHING about how to cook -- just how to cook these classic dishes, and their variations. As it is, it's jam packed with information, and a monster in size (AND a midget in typesize).

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Suzanne, as the person who assigned and edited the piece and as the grand-poobah/editor-in-chief of the publication in which it appeared, I am of course biased. But I do think that all cookbook reviews should aspire to the scope and thoroughness of your review.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Hullo

Had this one a couple of weeks and have found it an excellent book - though have to admit I am a Peterson fan (have to admit I loved his Sauces book, though I thought the salmon one was a bit random). What I love about his books - and it comes through in this one - is that he tries to cajole the reader into thinking about food in a systematic manner rather then just taking a recipe in isolation - each chapter starts with a basic recipe and then takes variations on the theme. Other books I have seen take this approach is Jean-Christophe Novelli's book. There is also another one by an American chef which takes this sort of tack, but the book escapes me.

What is interesting in the book is how well each chapters read in isolation - they're almost like mini-cookery-courses. You can dip into a chapter and get basic recipes, advanced variation, background information and anecdote all at once. This contrasts with other "intro" books where you'd have to churn right through the whole book to get that sort of progression. Its a great book to dip into for a quick read, even if you aren't cooking

One disadvantage of this approach - and I'd agree with Suzanne here - is that makes the book somewhat haphazard as a reference book. There's no one section where you're guaranteed to find truffles, or salt or whatever. This is a natural corollary of the structure Peterson adopts, and I wouldn't necessarily tag it as a weakness. The whole point of trying to write a "fresh approach" is to get away from the whole "starters, mains, puddings" or "green veg, red meat, poultry" chapter approach.

Another interesting thing I'd add about Peterson's book is that there's a fair mixture of food science sprinkled in his writing, although he never hits you over the head over it in the way Harold McGee does (although I'd add Harold McGee obviously isn't trying to write cookbooks). This comes from his great strength, and one which comes clearly through in this book, that he is an author as much concerned with explaining "why" as much as "how"; why do you use this heat, why do you need this prepatation. This is goes hand-in-hand with his background in teaching and systematic approach to food in his writing, and is something which is sorely missed in many of the cheffy books populating the shelves today.

Of course Peterson was somewhat setting himself up by calling the book "a fresh approach to french cookery" as the market for intro-to-franglais-cookbooks has clearly been done time and time again. I think he probably three-quarter succeeds in this aim. It's not a Bible in the Larousse fashion - but that probably isn't the aim. But what it is a a lucid synthesis of an enlightened north-american style of cookery writing with a classic subject matter

cheerio

J

More Cookbooks than Sense - my new Cookbook blog!
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What a great addition to egullet. I have been curious about this book for awhile and was/am looking forward to checking it out.

Suzanne – If you feel comfortable, could you speak more on why you have not been a big fan of his in the past. Is it just because his books claimed to be complete guides and didn’t contain things you thought they should. I have his soup book (which I use often), and I have cooked from some of his other books - I can’t think of any recipes that were real failures, I like his style, and find his cooking knowledge to be vast. I guess I am a fan.

Chicken at 140 degrees scares me.

Great job Suzanne - very well written and informative - Hope we see more of it.

johnjohn

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If you feel comfortable, could you speak more on why you have not been a big fan of his in the past.  Is it just because his books claimed to be complete guides and didn’t contain things you thought they should.

Yes, that is pretty much how I feel. Not that I blame him personally -- it's more because of his publisher (or to be more accurate, former publisher, since he has switched from Morrow to Wiley). I mean, the dust jacket of Vegetables says "The Most Authoritative Guide to Buying, Preparing, and Cooking, with More Than 300 Recipes." Oh, puh-leeze. I'll take Elizabeth Schneider's Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini over his any day, as a reference. At least until another, even more comprehensive one comes along.

I mainly look at a cookbook as a reference work to be consulted, rather than a blueprint to be followed slavishly. If I were still a beginner, it would probably be different. Also if I had less faith in my own taste. I have no argument with Peterson's recipes -- they are very well-written and clear. I'm just on that constant quest to find books that answer whatever questions I have.

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Yes, one of the relatively few chapters on sweets is on Apple Tarts.  (I neglected to mention that Peterson* seems to be far more interested in the savory side of the kitchen; only 7 of the 50 chapters are on sweets -- but they really are THE classics, like chocolate mousse and crème brûlée.)

There are a couple of differences between Peterson's TT and Julia's (in MtA).  Both use a pâte brisée: his includes whole egg and egg yolk, but no sugar; hers has sugar but no egg.  And, of course, he gives instructions for making it by hand or in a food processor, while she only gives a "by hand" version.

The bigger difference is in how the apples get cooked: Julia simply layers them in the baking dish with sugar and butter, and lets the oven do the cooking as the crust bakes.  Peterson caramelizes the apples on the stovetop with sugar, butter, and lemon juice, then places the pastry over the cooked apples and bakes it.

So: Julia's is much quicker, and easier, and her pastry is more delicate; Peterson's is more time-consuming and more luscious, except for that clunky crust.  If I were to make a Tarte Tatin, I'd probably use his apples and method and her crust recipe.

Suzanne, The Way To Cook (Julia Child), has 20-25 minutes of stove top cooking for the apples in the tarte tatin recipe. How long does Peterson call for on the stove top? I have not used Julia Childs recipe for TT that you refer to.

Her recipe that I use from The Way To Cook is amazing ( and she does use pâte brisée, and it is indeed a great crust). :smile:

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Peterson says 45 minutes to an hour. He keeps adding more apple pieces to the pan as they cook down. And he advises using Golden Delicious :angry: or Romes. His method takes a lot of time also because you have to let the apples cool down for an hour before putting on the pastry, then after you bake it you cool it for another 4 (!) hours before you reheat it on top of the stove to serve it. So that's an all-day project. :shock: But I'll bet it is exquisite (as long as you use better apples than GDs).

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Peterson says 45 minutes to an hour.  He keeps adding more apple pieces to the pan as they cook down.  And he advises using Golden Delicious  :angry:  or Romes.  His method takes a lot of time also because you have to let the apples cool down for an hour before putting on the pastry, then after you bake it you cool it for another 4 (!) hours before you reheat it on top of the stove to serve it.  So that's an all-day project.  :shock:  But I'll bet it is exquisite (as long as you use better apples than GDs).

Did you test the recipe?

Do the apples retain their shape at all?

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I saw this book listed in a catalog as Glorious French Food: A French Approach to the Classics, which brings to mind all kinds of amusing stereotypes, doesn't it?

Thanks for the review, Suzanne--it was very well thought-out.

Matthew Amster-Burton, aka "mamster"

Author, Hungry Monkey, coming in May

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I saw this book listed in a catalog as Glorious French Food:  A French Approach to the Classics, which brings to mind all kinds of amusing stereotypes, doesn't it?

:laugh::laugh::laugh::laugh:

Suvir -- no, I only tested the 3 I mentioned. If I'd made the Tarte Tatin, I would have had to eat it! :shock: And I'm not very fond of sweet things (except you :wink: and my husband [He Who Only Eats] :wub: ) But there are some apples which do hold up quite well -- maybe not for all that long time, but then the way he does it is to keep adding more apple pieces to the pan as the earlier ones shrink. So not all of them get cooked the full amount of time.

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I saw this book listed in a catalog as Glorious French Food:  A French Approach to the Classics, which brings to mind all kinds of amusing stereotypes, doesn't it?

:laugh::laugh::laugh::laugh:

Suvir -- no, I only tested the 3 I mentioned. If I'd made the Tarte Tatin, I would have had to eat it! :shock: And I'm not very fond of sweet things (except you :wink: and my husband [He Who Only Eats] :wub: ) But there are some apples which do hold up quite well -- maybe not for all that long time, but then the way he does it is to keep adding more apple pieces to the pan as the earlier ones shrink. So not all of them get cooked the full amount of time.

I like Julias recipe for the very even cooking of all apples. They get cooked on the stove top for 25 minutes.

And the ones first added to the pan retain their shape, and look so very beautiful as the top (face) of the tart at the end.

With his recipe, I wonder if it gets too mushy.. I will have to test it and post.

Maybe one of our celebrated pastry chefs can add on this even beforehand.:wink:

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OK, so my original comment was, "So what's to discuss", but a further comment, if I may, is that it is good to see a reviewer state her (or his) preferences and bias. None of us (in spite of what Mr Plotnicki says) are truly objective and candid views, precisely explained, will help us to make up our minds about whether the object reviewed will appeal to our tastes or not. In the days when I bought rather more music than I do now and avidly read the music press there were some reviewers whose taste was almost diametrically opposed to mine, and normally if they liked an album I didn't and vice-versa. However the best of them would would occasionally be sufficiently lucid and descriptive to persuade me to buy an album anyway in spite of previous differences. In this case the digression and lack of focus did not appeal to Suzanne but that sort of style appeals to me, I am not really a fan of overstructuring meals so the loose thread hits my buttons. I've not had the opportunity to read the book yet but after that review I will certainly look for it on my next trip, and, depending on other input, may yet buy it sight unseen.

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What I love about his books - and it comes through in this one - is that he tries to cajole the reader into thinking about food in a systematic manner rather then just taking a recipe in isolation -

When Suzannes says:

Most of all, I love Peterson’s philosophy of cooking and eating. Some examples:
[quoting Peterson as saying]   If the cook understands what’s going on in a dish and how it relates to other similar (or not-so-similar) dishes, he or she can cook from principles rather than from recipes. …
it tells me this is a book I'd find interesting. At the same time, when she says:
Sometimes, Peterson’s desire to teach gets the better of his sense of how far to go in explaining, as witness: [What he said is not important in this example.]
I'm fair warned of Suzanne's own subjectivity and the quote is adequately long enough to allow me to bring my subjective interests into play. I think it's great that a reviewer can allow her subjectivity to show without permitting it to get in the way of her objectivity. Or maybe it's the other way around. Those reviewers who pretend to have no prejudices or bias are the one's whole reviews are less objective.

Regarding this thread, I thought Jon Tseng brought added value to the review for me, illustrating just how well this new format can work.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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I most definitely agree with Bux on Jon Tseng's excellent post -- and on everyone else's excellent comments. I wrote the sort of review I want to read. I'm glad people have enjoyed reading it. And if you did NOT, please do not hesitate to say so, and why. That's what I love about eGullet -- that dissent is used as the jumping-off point for some great discussions (mostly).

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