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A must for any serious lover of food, French or otherwise!,
This review is from: Bistros and Brasseries: Recipes and Reflections on Classic Cafe Cooking (Hardcover)The Culinary Institute of America (or "The CIA") is a prestigious, not-for-profit, culinary college founded in 1946 in New Haven, CT. This book is a part of their Dining Series and was written by two CIA professors, John W. Fischer and Lou Jones, both of whom possess the passion and knowledge necessary to take on a subject as broad and as endearing as this, the quintessential French institutions of bistros and brasseries.
As the book explains in the beginning of the first chapter, the term "bistro" is generally meant to be applied to restaurants that are "unpretentious, uncomplicated, casual, comfortable and relatively affordable" (it should be mentioned that much of the world, especially Europe, spends a great deal more of their income on food than do Americans, so the word "relatively" is important here). The word Brasserie comes from a Middle French word for brewery and usually refers to "a casual restaurant that serves more beer than wine". If the definitions seems rather plebeian consider the fact that casual food in France includes dishes such as Ragout de Champignons, Coq au Vin and Steak Tartare.
Fischer and Jones compiled recipes from bistros and brasseries both in France (several stories include accounts of their dining experiences during their "Tour de France Gastronomique" in 2004, a 2000 kilometer, seven day culinary sojourn) and the US, including the Blue Ribbon Brasserie in New York.
Scattered throughout this small but beautifully designed book are informational sections that enlighten the reader and add to their overall understanding of this culinary genre. French wines are discussed and suggested for the corresponding dishes; there is an introduction to the world of French cheeses; the phenomenon known as "The French Paradox" (why the French can eat the way that they do and not die from a massive, national heart attack) is explained; cooking techniques are shared; and ingredients are examined (such as the lovely ode to the Brussels sprout). The authors live up to what I would expect from a pair of experienced culinary academics.
The chapter titles are written in both French and English. Here is the English list:
1. An introduction to the Pleasures of Casual French Dining
* Here the authors discuss French Wines and Cheeses.
2. Appetizers and Soups
* Recipes are included for classic French dishes such as Escargot, Frog Legs and Onion Soup.
3. Pancakes and Egg Based Dishes
* Recipes include those for Spinach and Cheese Crepes, Raclette and Ham and Gruyere Omelet.
4. Side Dishes
* In this chapter is a great recipe for Oignons Farcies (Stuffed Onions) as well as those for Tartiflette, Pomme Frites and five others.
5. Main Dishes
* This is by far the largest chapter in the book, with well over two dozen recipes, such as: Butter Roasted Capon; Sliced Duck Breasts with Cherries; Duck Confit; Rabbit Stew; garlic Sausage on Green Lentils; Braised Lamb Shanks with White Bean Puree; Steak au Poivre; etc.
* The simple but delicious deserts served at family-style French restaurants include Caramelized Apple Tart, Peach and Goat Cheese Tart, Poached Pears with Roquefort and more.
7. Fonds de Cuisine
* In this chapter the authors explain the cooking techniques necessary in order to tackle this style of cooking, such as: testing dishes for doneness; making clarified butter; the making of various stocks and sauces; etc.
A highlight of this book for me was the photography. Veteran food photographer Ben Fink captures the warmth and earthiness of these classic versions of French comfort food with a style that is both contemporary and timeless . His shot of the Soupe a l'Oignon Gratinee sent me hurrying to the grocery store for the ingredients.
This book is not an exhaustive treatment of the subject of French rustic cuisine (such as Paula Wolfert's classic "The Cooking of Southwest France") but it serves as both an introduction to this style of food and a reminder to some of us to the pleasures of simple, joyful cooking. This will be a book that I turn to often. Very well done!