(this article originally appeared on Recipe Geek)
Paris. Express. Even Laura Calder admits that the title contains a bit of an oxymoron. Many people consider French food as something best saved for a “special” occasion – they feel it’s time-consuming, so it’s not cuisine for everyday. Laura Calder, with this book, is out to prove them wrong!
Paris Express is filled with quick-to-prepare, modern French recipes and, while it’s not “remotely trying to be the next 15-minute cookbook” (so not every recipe takes 30 minutes or less as the “Express” part of the title might make you think), these are recipes that will help you bring a little piece of the City of Light to your table everyday, not just for “special” dinners.
Calder originally began writing this book thinking it would be a “fast French food” collection of recipes, however when she sat down to think about it, she realised that see doesn’t actually know anyone in France “who considers speed to be a priority when it comes to food.” For many French people, a “quick meal” can take between 15 minutes to 3 hours to prepare! And so Calder switched her focus from “quick” to quick and/ or easy meals, which are, most importantly, enjoyable to prepare. After all
If you’re happy [in the kitchen…] why would you be in a great hurry to get it all over with? Therein lies the greatest gulf between the attitude towards food in France and that in most other places.
For me, this is as much a reading book as a cookbook – Calder weaves stories of life in Paris into each recipe’s headnote. For those of you who yearn for a little Paris in your everyday, she also provides tips and tricks to help you achieve that. There are hints for everyday menu-planning, how to plan the perfect impromptu indoor picnic (aka a crudité platter) and tips for shopping like a Parisian (hint: it’s not once every two weeks at a big box supermarket!).
Laura teaches you how to make your kitchen a place you’ll truly enjoy spending time in (think, white plates, banishing ugly packaging, a section on “the niceness of napkins” and even tips for cleaning your house and kitchen comme une Parisienne!
In terms of the food itself and ingredients, Calder stresses the importance of salt and pepper, demonstrates how to properly store fines-herbes, tells you how learning how to roast a chicken can change your life (really!), talks about why no kitchen should be without a supply of fresh breadcrumbs, and even reveals the secrets to reviving frozen or day-old bread (a very Parisian problem – what to do with the baguette the next day?).
You can’t go wrong with a cookbook that includes a recipe for that classic French “fast food” meal – the Rotisserie Chicken Dinner – can you? Containing around 120 recipes (and some sample menus), the book is divided into First and Main Courses with chapters for Sides and Desserts.
The book includes classic recipes but also some modern interpretations. The dessert chapter lists recipes you’d expect to see like salted caramel pots de crème and a soufflé but there are other classics with modern twists too: Clafoutis with raspberries, a “speedy” Rum Baba, one giant Financier, “food processor” profiteroles and a “tart for the pastry-phobic”. Calder has an excellent understanding of how to de-mystify French food and make it more approachable, do-able and much more of an everyday affair.
All recipes are listed at the beginning of each chapter and are simply named (no interpretation required!) so it’s easy to flip through and menu plan. For example, coming up with a perfect fall/winter menu was easy: Lentil and Chestnut Soup with toasted Hazelnuts and Cream, Chicken and Endives in Cider Sauce, Duck Fat potatoes (why not?!)and Souffléed Apples with Sugared Rye Crumbs. Of course, once you start flipping through the book, you’ll have bookmarked so many recipes that you’ll want to start cooking straight away!
True story: I gave this to a dear friend who recently spent some time in Paris with her young family and returned smitten with the city, the culture and the food. She started cooking from the book the day she received it – later emailing me to tell me “Chicken tagine with oranges and couscous with currants for dinner last night – all made in an hour after we got home from Girl Scouts – LOVE!” Right? This is what Laura’s talking about. Bringing enjoyment back to the dinner table by cooking real, beautiful food.
Given it’s a book about getting Paris onto your table in less time than you’d expect, I’d perhaps like to have seen hands-on and cooking times listed for each recipe. Even though I don’t think you should choose a recipe based on how long it takes to make, sometimes it is helpful to know that information so you can plan ahead (although working on my own book has taught me how fraught with issues “prep time” can be – it’s so different for everyone and depends on so many different factors).
In any case, for those of you looking to bring a little Paris to your everyday, this is a great place to start!
Purchase Paris Express on Amazon (this link should bring you to the Amazon store in your country).
Please note: This post contains product links from Amazon which are affiliate links, meaning if you click over and purchase something, I will receive a very small percentage of the purchase price (at no extra cost to you) which goes towards maintaining eat. live. travel. write. Thank you in advance!
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