Pros: Wine suggestions for recipes, equipment list, easy to follow directions, great advice for beginning cooks
Cons: More photographs would have been nice.
You may wonder why I would title my book review “Mastering what you love to eat.” However in Patricia Wells’ latest book, The French Kitchen Cookbook, Recipes and Lessons from Paris and Provence, she has a wonderful section in her introduction called “Learning to Cook.” I have to say that in all my classes and studies about cooking, her little tidbit of advice was the best I have ever received. Wells’ advice is simple, really; she advises students to compose a list of ten things they love to eat. It can be anything from your favorite fast food snack to a decadent dessert. “Then, as though you are a pianist learning to play a piece of music, you cook, cook, cook!” Once you have mastered one recipe you move on to the next, and so forth. After this list is complete make another list to work on. This cookbook is packed full of information that should benefit every beginning cook and perhaps even some more seasoned cooks as well. Wells is definitely sharing wisdom from her years of teaching classes in both Paris and Provence. The recipes in this cookbook are selections of what she actually teaches in her schools. I visited her website “At Home with Patricia Wells," to look at her cooking classes in both Provence and Paris. As of February 2014 the soonest I could take a class would be March of 2015! If you can’t wait a year, or longer, to get into one of her classes, or perhaps traveling is out of the question, then this book is for you.
The French Kitchen Cookbook is a nice hardback book filled with recipes and experiences from both her perspective as a mentor, as well as interesting stories of students she has taught. Wells has successfully brought her lessons from Provence and Paris to us in this easy to understand and fun to read book. The pages are durable which is important to me because I always manage to get them dirty somehow. Obviously, Wells deals with students like me as she always suggests having your recipes protected with a plastic covering while cooking. However, I like to make notes on my recipes as I cook, so I am always thankful when the pages are durable enough to withstand the abuses of a kitchen. The cookbook is arranged with sections on opening acts, salads, soups, fish & shellfish, poultry & meat, pasta, rice & beans, vegetables, eggs, cheese & friends, bread & friends, desserts and the pantry. One of the hardest things to figure out in this book is what to try first. There are about 78 fully colored photographs related to the recipes in the book. However, not every recipe has a photograph. There are also several inspiring photographs of the surrounding areas. A few of the recipes also show photographs of the steps, but not all of them do. I feel that for a cookbook geared towards students it would be nice if there were more photographs. Even if you don’t use all of the recipes in this cookbook the advice from Wells alone is priceless. With that being said, I believe this cookbook is geared towards the new cook, or anyone wanting some fresh French recipes.
Every recipe I tried in this book was doable. All the ingredients can be found in your local grocery store or on Amazon for some of the special seasonings. The only thing you will have to look for is the wine Wells suggests. If you can’t find the wine locally she does have a section listing her wine importers in the index. I hope you enjoy the recipe I chose to share.
Monday Night Beef Salad with Green Beans, Avocado, and Arugula (page 51)
My husband, Walter, often cooks his famed Salt and Pepper Steak (page 111) on Sunday nights, and we always hope for enough leftovers to prepare this salad as a meal the following day.
Equipment: A small jar with a lid; a 5-quart (5l) pasta pot fitted with a colander.
2 tablespoons minced fresh tarragon leaves
2 teaspoons tarragon-flavored mustard (see note)
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ cup (125 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons capers in vinegar, drained
6 cornichons, cut crosswise into thin rings
3 tablespoons coarse sea salt
8 ounces (250g) green beans
10 ounces (300g) cooked beef rib steak, cubed
4 scallions, white and green part peeled and cut into thin rings
A large handful (60g) arugula, rinsed and dried
10 firm cherry tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1 large ripe avocado, halved, pitted, peeled, and cubed
1. In the jar, combine all the dressing ingredients. Cover and shake to blend. Taste for seasoning.
2. Fill the pasta pot with 3 quarts (3l) of water and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Prepare a bowl of ice water for an ice bath.
3. Add the coarse salt and the beans to the boiling water and blanch until crisp-tender, 3 to 4 minutes. (The cooking time will vary according to the size and tenderness of the beans.) Immediately remove the colander from the water, allow the water to drain from the beans, and plunge the beans into the ice water so they cool down as quickly as possible. (The beans will cool in 1 to 2 minutes. If you leave them longer, they will become soggy and begin to lose flavor.) Drain the beans and wrap them in a thick towel to dry. (The beans can be cooked up to 4 hours in advance. Keep them wrapped in the towel and refrigerate, if desired. )
4. Place the beef in a large bowl. Add just enough dressing to lightly coat the meat. Toss to blend. Add the beans and scallions, and add just enough dressing to lightly coat the ingredients. Tear the arugula into bite-size pieces. Add the arugula, tomatoes, and avocado to the bowl, and add just enough dressing to lightly coat the ingredients. Taste for seasoning. Serve.
Note: I favor Edmond Fallot’s Tarragon Dijon Mustard, which can be found in Patricia’s Pantry at my Amazon Store, accessed via the home page of www.PatriciaWells.com.