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on March 6, 2004
This recent book by Patricia Wells is a selection of the author's favorite recipes from the restaurants, Boulangerie, and patisseries in Paris. In a sense, it broadens her focus of the book 'Simply French' from the single restaurant of Joel Robuchon to look at many leading Parisian establishments. While being broader, it is also just a bit less deep in it's exploration of complicated recipes, as very few in this book match the complexity of the typical recipe in 'Simply French'.
I would place this book as my third or fourth French cookbook after Julia Child's 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking', Richard Olney's 'Simple French Food', and Madeline Kamman's 'The New Making of a Cook'. While these are some of the best texts on the principles and techniques of French cooking, this book by Wells is real world application of the principles. As it looks at the real world, it offers the reader some pretty unusual dishes in giving us a variety you may not find in a single restaurant cookbook, even one so good as the recent 'Balthazar Cookbook' from the chefs at the New York restaurant of the same name.
While this book is not a teaching book, it is still true to the style of cooking you will find in Paris and, as such, it is primarily a book for the gourmet, the entertainer, the traveler to Paris, and the wine lover. Like 'Simply French', the book gives wine suggestions for all savory courses. These wine suggestions are a bit more generic than those in 'Simply French', so it will be easier to find something to match, even in the oenologically backward state of Pennsylvania.
Before you get the impression that none of the recipes in this book have any general currency for the average cook, I must say that many are really very easy, especially the salad, vegetable, and soup recipes. Even some meat recipes are fairly simple, such as the braised lamb shank recipe Wells did on 'Emeril Live' when she made a promotional appearance after the book first came out. Everyone does braised lamb shanks, but Wells does it just a little differently, and offers some good suggestions on choosing the best cuts. But, there are some real novelties, such as the Arpege Eggs with Maple Syrup. I will be content to simply read about these dishes.
The organization of recipes is classic, following almost exactly the same chapter headings as in 'Simply French'. These are:
Appetizers, Starters, and First Courses
Pasta, Rice, Beans, and Grains
Fish and Shellfish
The Pantry
The first two chapters plus the third and fourth are real gems. At the $30 list price of this book, they are worth the price of admission. The Breads chapter is a little teaser with only six recipes, each fairly complicated, but very rewarding. Just enough to whet your appetite for a book by a bread heavyweight such as Nancy Silverton or Peter Reinhart. The chapters on protein dishes are surprisingly simple. They are certainly less complicated than the soups and desserts. The desserts chapter is quite large, with many recipes for apples, cherries, and ice cream. The Pantry chapter gives all the expected recipes for vinaigrettes, mayonnaise, spice mixes, stocks, and sauces. This is somewhat better than average.
In spite of the utility of cookbooks that organize by menu for occasions and themes, this is still my favorite organization for a cookbook covering many types of dishes. One entertains once a month, maybe. One cooks for your small family in a single household every day. This is better for the latter situation.
I am not a fan of splashy color photography in cookbooks. When it is there, I rarely look at it except to judge its quality for a review. To my mind, the photography in this book is just right. Its occasional black and white pictures of people and places have informative captions and decorate the book with views of Paris and its people.
If you are traveling to Paris or love French food or need new recipes for entertaining with a lot of ta-da, this is the book for you. Be aware, however, that basic cooking skills and a well-equipped kitchen are a must in order to accomplish many of the recipes in this book.
You may also find yourself developing irrational urges to visit your favorite travel web site for plane tickets to Paris. Highly recommended.
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on July 18, 2002
I was so impressed with this cookbook. First, I adore Paris and love the art of French cooking. I learned French style cooking years ago and I love to watch how my French friends put together a seemingly simple meal that turns out so impressively. And the black-and-white photos of Paris that illustrate the book are great reminders of visits past.
The key to these seemingly simple recipes in "The Paris Cookbook" is good ingredients, a knack for combination, some fundamental traditional ideas, and a passion for excellence. For example, some of the most interesting recipes to me were for peasant cooking from Provence. There was a soup of spelt (a wheat-like grain with many healthful properties.) It was combined with barley and the green French de Puy lentils to make a Mediterranean-style meal-in-a-pot soup. The use of spelt is more common in Germany --however the Provencal use it as one would use rice, in risottos or as here, in a soup. There is also a recipe for a simple version of bouillabaise fish soup that I really want to try.
The other recipe that got me excited was for an ordinary gazpacho cold tomato soup but...with a savory mustard ice cream as a garnish. Now THERE'S an interesting idea. If you have ever had a blob of cream in a tomato-based soup, you know how nicely cream blends and smooths the flavor of the acid fruit. But to add the cream in the form of ice cream, but unsweetened and with a spicy mustard, now that is exciting! I will be making that for my next summer dinner party. I also got the idea to modify the recipe and make wasabi green tea ice cream (wasabi is the green Japanese mustard you get with sushi.) I can pair that with a cold cucumber-crab soup.
That's what I adore about this cookbook. Not only great recipes, but they are in essence, fundamental and can be adapted with your own creative ideas.
The author also includes information about each restaurant where she obtained the recipes--chef, address, notes. So if you go to Paris, you essentially have quite a good restaurant guide.
The only caveat about this cookbook is that to make any of these recipes, you must get top-quality ingredients, as they are the backbone of each dish. This means a trek to the farmer's market, to the specialty shop, the farm, your backyard garden, the dairy or mail-order as many grocery store items will just not measure up. I can tell you from experience that the quality of the ingredients is paramount to success, and grocery store cream and butter in most of the US just can't do the job. And don't get me started on the vegetables.
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on November 2, 2001
The recipes contained in this book are numerous and diverse. However, unless one is experienced in French cuisine, it may be difficult to achieve the exact same end result as one who has experience, such as the author. The recipes are certainly original and authentic.
As dedicated chefs will know, one cannot rush in the preparation of these recipes and the downside, for most of us who are career people, is finding the time and energy to prepare most of the recipes contained here. They are by no means ones you can whip up in thirty minutes or less. Some take the best part of the day to prepare so perhaps these recipes are best set aside for special occasions, week-ends or for some event where time is not a factor. "The Paris Cookbook" will make a great addition to any library. Most of the recipes tried to date are excellent such as the Bonaparte's Chicken Salad and the Zucchini and Curry Soup; however, you might want to pass by the White Bean Soup - it left a lot to be desired and had the same appeal as wallpaper paste! Oh, well, we cannot expect every recipe to be perfect.
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on October 24, 2001
Wells has assembled a fine collection of recipes culled from the many wonderful restaurants in Paris, whose chefs she seems to know, and from other sources such as French magazines and newspapers. What she seeks to present is a sampling of quintessentially French urban fare that reflects the tastes of a populace enamored with daily marketing, locally grown, fresh produce, and distinctive saucing. The recipes are well written, clear for both newer and more seasoned cooks, and generally straight-forward, non-complex.
Her instructions provide the rationale behind each dish, and her selections stray from the familiar French cuisine found in the myriad other cookbooks on the subject. The book has a distinctive appearance, with B&W photos displaying the cooks, restaurants, and markets rather than the food. Wells is a connoiseur of food and other social features, and her writing is mildly pretentious, but the food is accessible and the dishes come out tasty and reliable.
The book contains separate chapters for Appetizers, Salads, Breads, Vegetables, Potatoes, Pasta/Grains, Soups, Fish, Poultry, Meats, and Desserts. Its offerings are produce friendly so that it works well for vegetarians. Interesting recipes include the Aspargus Veloute, a soup made from the oft-discarded stems of the spears; Carrot Salad with Cumin and Lemon Juice; Spinach, Bacon, Tomato and Avocado Salad; Asparagus and Arugula Salad; Zucchini Stuffered with Goat Cheese and Mint; Jerusalem Artichoke Puree; Cooked Carrots with Orange and Cumin; Potatoes Anna; Penne with Mustard and Chives; Polenta Fries; and Pumpkin Soup. There are several bean dishes and polenta recipes.
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on December 7, 2001
Can't say it anybetter than book's inside flap: "covers all facets of the city's dynamic food scene, from the three-star cusine of France's top chefs, to traditional bistro favorites, to the prized dishes of cheese-makers, market vendors and home cooks."
Must have been fun to experience these favorite 150 recipes and then put them in a cookbook form. Will continue to dive with excitement into such marvelous, succulent recipes as: Tante Louise's Caramalized Cauliflower Soup; Eggplant, Tomato and Parmesan Gratin, and JR's Burnt Cream.
Fantastic that the author worked with the famed Joel Robuchon, and many of his offerings are here for all of us to try. There is also an ample Pantry section as well as Menus Planner.
Delightful French cuisine at several levels.
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on November 14, 2001
Nobody has a finger on French cooking like Patricia Wells and certainly nobody has the pulse on the Parisian food story like Madame Wells. She has been at the epicenter of the Parsian restaurant scene and has incredible access to the powers that be. Patricia Wells not only is a superb journalist but her taste in food is au courant. She has gathered recipes that not only enliven the palate but also are very practical. The recipes are uncomplicated and have easily obtainable ingredients. The book has the flavor of Paris - one can almost be there and smell the glorious aromas. This is not a coffee table type cookbook. It is a black and white themed portrait from its blurred image of the Eiffel Tower to the intimate photographs around and inside the greatest food scene in the world.
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on April 6, 2003
Wells wanders around Paris, gathering recipes from her friends, grocers, mentors, and even taxi drivers; that turns out to be fine, since she knows lots of people who cook brilliantly. What's even better is that many of the dishes illustrate the return to long cooking techniques, using less-expensive meats. This is right up my alley -- I'm a braisen' fool -- and so far, I've been happy with everything I've made. One caveat: Wells is no wine expert. Approach her wine pairing recommendations with caution.
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on February 22, 2002
Having just returned from Paris, and already missing the food, 'The Paris Cookbook' is just what I needed. Patricia Wells again combines wonderful recipes, lovely mood photos of Paris with stories of each recipe. What I love about Wells, is the lack of photos of completed dishes. Instead the written word is used to provoke your taste buds. A lovely addition to any Francophile or Cookbook Collection.
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on February 22, 2002
Having just returned from Paris, and already missing the food, 'The Paris Cookbook' is just what I needed. Patricia Wells again combines wonderful recipes, lovely mood photos of Paris with stories of each recipe. What I love about Wells, is the lack of photos of completed dishes. Instead the written word is used to provoke your taste buds. A lovely addition to any Francophile or Cookbook Collection.
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on January 13, 2003
I've only had this cookbook for a few months, but I already rely on it as a source of creative, well-crafted recipes. The dishes are fresh, simple, accessible. Try the Green Olive Tapanade. It takes about 10 minutes to make and was a huge hit. I think it will be a great use for spring/summer basil.
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