Even before Susan Herrmann Loomis wrote her now-classic memoir, On Rue Tatin, American readers have been compelled by books about the French’s ease with cooking. With In a French Kitchen, Loomis—an expat who long ago traded her American grocery store for a bustling French farmer’s market—demystifies in lively prose the seemingly effortless je ne sais quoi behind a simple French meal.
One by one, readers are invited to meet the busy people of Louviers and surrounding villages and towns of Loomis’s adopted home, from runway-chic Edith, who has zero passion for cooking—but a love of food that inspires her to whip up an array of mouthwatering dishes—to Nathalie, who becomes misty-eyed as she talks about her mother’s Breton cooking, then goes on to reproduce it. Through friends and neighbors like these, Loomis learns that delicious, even decadent meals don’t have to be complicated.
Are French cooks better organized when planning and shopping? Do they have a greater ability to improvise with whatever they have on hand when unexpected guests arrive? The answer to both is: Yes. But they also have an innate understanding of food and cooking, are instinctively knowledgeable about seasonal produce, and understand what combination of simple ingredients will bring out the best of their gardens or local markets.
Thankfully for American readers, In a French Kitchen shares the everyday French tips, secrets, and eighty-five recipes that allow them to turn every meal into a sumptuous occasion.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Penguin Group|
|File size:||1 MB|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The French love Food.
I know, that’s like saying “The sky is blue.” But the French love of food isn’t just carnal. The French love of food is primordial. They love food the way we love our Grand Canyon, our freedom, and our waves of grain—primitively, instinctively, fundamentally. Their love for food is overwhelmingly universal—it permeates the air, the life, the lifestyle, and the habits of all in this country.
This love of food resonated from the day I set foot in France and smelled butter in the air. It was a chilly day in March, and I had just arrived on an early flight. nothing was open in Paris that morning, and I walked to stay warm, inhaling that buttery smell that would balloon into intensity each time I passed a boulangerie.
When one finally opened its doors, I stepped inside and bought my first French croissant. It shattered all over me when I bit into it, and I’ve never been the same since. This buttery, shattery moment led me to a French life. There was, of course, a lot more involved. But that croissant was like a perfect first kiss at the start of a lifelong romance.
Since then, I’ve discovered just how much the French love food, which has allowed me to openly love it, too. I always loved it, which made me something of an extra-terrestre when I was in college and after. Then, friends and colleagues greeted my love of cooking with skepticism and friendly derision, as if to say, “Who on earth would want to spend time cooking?” The minute I came to France I was surrounded by like minds, and my somewhat suppressed passion came fully out of the closet.
Fast-forward to a life in France raising children, writing books, teaching cooking classes, settling myself into a culture where food is the linchpin, the gathering point, the warmth in a cold world of politics, social upheaval, complex religious persuasions, and every- thing else that composes our contemporary French world. Here, I’m surrounded by people who love food.
Take Edith, my friend and cohort in many an exploit for thirty years. She is the antithesis of the stay-at-home mom, though that’s what she’s been for nearly thirty years. The thing is, she coddles no one, believes that a harsh life is better than a soft one, wears Birkenstock sandals every day of the year regardless of the temperature, and is always dressed in items of designer clothing that she assembles with the flair of a diva. As for her four kids, they were born, they were fed, they were schooled, and now they’re out of the house, all of them strong individuals with passions of their own.
What did Edith do with her time? She painted, landscapes and portraits that enchant everyone who sees them. She has many other passions—remodeling, sewing, hunting down bargains on eBay. One of her most notable passions is her love of eating. I’ve never encountered anyone who approaches meals with so much gusto. When she sits down in front of something she loves, you’d better be sure to serve yourself quickly because otherwise she is likely to eat it all, with big, appreciative mouthfuls, down to the last crumb.
I see a lot of Edith. For one thing, I often swim in the pool she and her husband, Bernard, thoughtfully put in their backyard. If she isn’t making lunch when I arrive, she’s about to sit and eat it, and it’s always a hot meal. Lately it’s been boiled potatoes with mustardy vinaigrette and smoked herring (it’s herring season). But it might as easily be thick, herb-rich potage, or pasta with lots of garlic and a shower of Comté, or a mass of vegetables that she pulled from her garden and braised with bay leaf and thyme.
Edith wouldn’t dream of eating something she considered less than scrumptious, which for her is heavily weighted to vegetables, garlic, and olive oil. Her refrigerator is mostly empty, but half their property is given over to a vegetable garden where her neighbor, Mr. Harel, has tended the same few crops for at least fifteen years. There are leeks and carrots, lettuces and potatoes, onions, green beans, and a big row of red currants. It never varies (which would drive me crazy because I like variety, but which suits Edith just fine). As long as she has these fresh staples, her life—and her diet— are complete.
What I find fascinating about Edith, aside from her colorful nature, is the time she spends cooking. She has absolutely no passion for it, yet her intense passion for eating drives her into the kitchen twice a day. She’s efficient there like she’s efficient everywhere. Nothing she cooks takes long—leeks are washed and cut in seconds, then set to braise in olive oil and garlic; potatoes are put on to boil; cheese comes out of the fridge. Edith loves good bread and while she might not take time to go to the market for vegetables, she’ll drive miles for a great loaf. She loves dessert and whips up a chestnut and honey cake in five minutes, or a thick chocolate sauce, which she’ll pour over homemade ice cream, or a fruit tart made from the figs off her prolific tree.
Her meals are all impromptu and very simple, whether she’s cooking for herself at noon on any old day or has ten people coming for dinner. For a dinner party, she’ll just multiply that warm potato and herring salad, preceding it with nothing more than some delicious cured sausage, fresh walnuts (from her tree), and perhaps a chickpea or avocado purée; she might decide to splurge and grill perfect little lamb chops, which she’ll cook in the fireplace; these she’ll serve with buttery tender green beans or sautéed leeks. If she doesn’t want to eat meat she won’t serve it and will, instead, offer an extra-ample cheese selection and call it good. Her meals are direct and no frills, like her. And because she’s an artist, while guests might be surprised, they allow her this peccadillo.
Most of Edith’s dishes are based on memories from her austere grandmother Juliette’s farm, where she spent many a summer and school holiday. I swear, there isn’t a flavor or food memory she’s forgotten. If she’s making braised endive, she’ll tell the story of how her grandmother forced her, at age twelve, to sit in front of a plate of braised endive every meal for three days until she ate it. (This is a true story. Then, she hated endive; now, miraculously, she loves it.) When she bites into a butter cookie, it reminds her of those the housekeeper made with fresh top cream when she was a girl; when she makes chocolate sauce with water, it’s because her aunt at the farm did it that way.
Edith wasn’t surrounded by a lot of warmth and affection when she was growing up, so food became the vehicle for emotion. She is much like her grandmother, somewhat austere to those who don’t know her. Yet eat at her table and you’ll feel as though you’re wrapped in a down comforter. Food, for her, is memory and warmth all wrapped up together.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Loving Food 3
Chapter 2 It All Begins with Mamie 25
Chapter 3 Order in the Kitchen and a List of Equipment 47
Chapter 4 Intimacy Amid the Produce 63
Chapter 5 Always Salad 83
Chapter 6 Cheese, Oh Cheese! 101
Chapter 7 Indispensable Dessert 123
Chapter 8 Le Petit Déjeuner?Breakfast à la Française 141
Chapter 9 The Delights of French Brad 153
Chapter 10 A Dozen Great French Techniques 173
Chapter 11 Les Restes?Leftovers 213
Chapter 12 L'épicerie 235
Chapter 13 Meal Plans and More Recipes to Get You Cooking Comme les Français 253
Ingredient Sources 297
Recipe Index 301
What People are Saying About This
Praise for Susan Herrmann Loomis
“Where many American writers merely love France, Susan Loomis knows it: its smells and people and manners. . . . She is as natural a writer as she is a chef.”
—Adam Gopnik, author of Paris to the Moon
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I loved this book. The author has a relaxed, chatty writing style that feels more like a casual conversation with a friend than reading a book. I love reminising with Loomis about her corner of France. I've been there many times and love seeing it again through her eyes. If I didn't already love to cook, this book would make me want to start.
As the daughter of a chef I learned to cook from an expert who was happiest in the kitchen. If Dad taught me anything, it's that there is no better meal you can serve your family than one you prepare at home with a little time, thought and love. I didn't inherit my father's wizardry with food (although I am an excellent baker), but for the last thirty-odd years I've cooked meals nearly every day at home. No matter how hectic life becomes I do believe home cooking is the best food in the world. With In a French Kitchen Susan Herrmann Loomis does for her readers what my Dad did for me, and shows us the many sides, secrets and little sorceries of home cooking in France. From her own kitchen to those of her friends and colleagues, Ms. Loomis demystifies and illuminates how ordinary people carry on the well-known and often obsessive love affair the French have with food while looking after their families, perpetuating traditions and creating more than a few of their own. That she covers so much in just thirteen chapters, all of which include dozens of recipes, helpful lists and topical spotlights, is just as fascinating as her stories. I wouldn't say this is a traditional cookbook. It's something of a memoir, as the author offers plenty of tales about her own experiences in France, but it's also an intimate guide to how we can all learn a little from French home cooks to make our cooking lives a little fresher, livelier and fun. I don't see myself whipping up homemade mayonnaise -- I'm a Hellmann's girl from way back -- but I definitely want to try out many of the delicious-sounding recipes, particularly in the chapters on breads and desserts. There are a great many terms in French in the text, but Ms. Loomis deftly translates all of them directly or within context. I particularly appreciated seeing all the various quantities listed in both US and European measurements, which when not offered can be a pain for either side to convert. Among other things the author is a trained chef who runs a cooking school (in France!) so this is not going to read like your Mom's Betty Crocker or the last issue of Taste of Home. She's a pro, guys, and while she does want to develop her readers' inner French cooks, many of her techniques are fairly advanced. While the dedicated gourmands probably won't bat an eyelash over Lapin Aux Pruneaux D'Edith, if you're a Hamburger Helper-dependent cook you're probably going to feel a bit intimidated. Don't be. Everyone has to start somewhere, and you can try something simple, like the homemade hot chocolate in chapter eight, or the poached pears in chapter thirteen. Once you've tackled a few of the easier recipes (and there are a lot of those, too) you can try something a little more complex, like Edith's Rabbit with Dried Plums. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys French cooking and culture and wants to take some adventures with their own cooking -- and if you simply love reading about cooking as I do, then you're in for a treat. I received an advance reading copy of this book from the publisher via Library Thing in exchange for an honest review.