Cooking has always been a part of Ellise Pierce's life whether it was living back home in Denton, Texas or half a world away in Paris, France. With a relationship under stress and her freelance writing career tanked, she slowly found herself again by cooking. Gradually she built a cooking career by teaching home cooking for other ex-pats living in Paris. This and much more is explained in the introduction to Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking with a French Accent.
After the introduction it is on to "Cowgirl Chef Kitchen Basic" where her equipment and ingredients are discussed. That leads folks into" Cowgirl Speak: A Trail Guide" that covers how to make adjustments for cooking times, sizes, etc.
The recipes start on page 22 with "Chapter One: Appetizers: Old Favorites and New Beginnings." Whether you want to make the Texas shaped cookies "Texas Killers" (pages 26-27) "Mushroom Tapenade" (pages 42-43) or "Cheesy Rosemary Olive Flatbread" (pages 48-51) among other dishes there is something here that blends Texas cooking with French cooking. Each recipe has an introduction to it about the background of the recipe, a serving suggestion, and a couple of tips regarding ingredients, freezing options, or other helpful advice. Pictures accompanying the recipe can be of the dish itself, ingredients, of Paris or elsewhere in France providing local color to the recipe being discussed. This same format continues throughout the book.
"Chapter 2: Cowgirlified Frenchy" begins on page 56 where the author notes, among interesting things, that jalapenos are not available in Paris. Over time she learned not only how to adjust to that, but to blend French Cuisine into her cooking. That gives rise to dishes such as "Cowgirl Quiche" (page 59-61), "Paris Chicken Fricassee" (page 72-75) among others.
According to the author the French are crazy about soups. They come next in "Chapter 3: Souped Up" starting on page 82. After some soup tips it is onto recipes such as "Smokin' Tortilla Soup" (page 86-89), "Broccoli-Basil Soup" (pages 95-97) or "Skin & Bones Chicken Stock" (pages 111-112) among others.
Of course when one thinks of soup, salad cannot be far behind. In "Chapter 4: Greens" the topic is salad in many varieties. "Les Halles Spinach Salad" (pages 124-125), "Texas Pickup Salad" (pages 138-140) among other choices are here. By the way, in this chapter you learn the interesting fact that Paris grocery stores close at 8 pm during the week and at 1pm on Sunday. Puts our 24 hour seven day a week grocery stores in real perspective.
If it is a Texas based cookbook it absolutely must have tacos. Part of the state constitution. Tacos are here in "Chapter 5: Tacos, Tarts, and Tartines" starting on page 152. You can put just about anything in a taco so give "Corona Beer-Braised Brisket Tacos" on pages 154-156 a try as well as some of the other taco suggestions. You can also try the "Tomato-Ricotta Tart" (pages 171-173), the Tex-Mex Tart" (pages 174-176) or the "Adobo Salmon Salad Tartines" (pages 192-194) among others.
Farmer markets are very big in Paris and there are over seventy of them in the area. That means there is a lot of produce to consider and Ellise Pierce uses what is season to drive her meals. That is just part of the introduction to "Chapter 6: Riding Side Saddle: Veggies" starting on page 198. Of course, there are Texas based dishes like "Mom's Black-Eyed Peas and Jalapeno Cornbread" (pages 208-210) as well as "French Bistro Green Beans" (page 218-219) and "Roasted Ratatouille" (pages 230-231) among others.
Meat, fish and poultry finally get their turn in "Chapter 7: From the Farm and Sea." Starting on page 234 there are recipes for items such as "Provencal Fish Stew" (pages 248-250), "Gascon-Style Pork Chops with Pepper Honey" (pages 254-256) and "Easy Roast Chicken" (page 264-265) among others. It was also interesting to learn in this chapter that the chicken is the national mascot of France (page 264).
If you still have room for dessert that begins on page 274 with "Chapter 8: Desserts." Among other delectable treats here there are recipes for "Grilled Oranges-Vanilla Pound Cake with Strawberries" (pages 279-281), "Watermelon Granita "(page 290-291) and "Peach Croustade" (page 306-309)
"Chapter 9: Tex-Mex" starts on page 310 and is all about home in Texas. The author may be living in Paris, France, but who she is day to day is Texan. Here are the recipes that made up her first cooking class such as "Wheat Tortillas" (pages 312-313), "Holy Guacamole" (page 318) among others including "Texas Chili" (pages 320-321).
The cookbook concludes with a very brief epilogue, a two page acknowledgment section, and a six page index. Unfortunately, there is no nutritional information in the book for those of us who need to pay attention to certain issues.
Despite the lack of nutritional information in the book, overall, this is a very well done cookbook. In addition to the cooking side of things, the over 300 pages cookbook also provides a lot of culture and history information about Paris, France as well as the joys and sorrows of American living abroad. Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking with a French Accent is more than a cookbook. It is also a cultural awareness guide and inspirational regarding reinventing yourself and adapting to new situations and experiences.
Material supplied by the good folks at the Plano, Texas Public Library System.
Kevin R. Tipple ©2012