Hello and Happy French Friday! Today I’m looking at Melissa Clark’s latest, Dinner in French; ostensibly a cookbook but also a lovely way to bring a little bit of France to your home this summer when most of us won’t get to travel there.
From the publisher:
Just as Julia Child brought French cooking to twentieth-century America, so now Melissa Clark brings French cooking into the twenty-first century. She first fell in love with France and French food as a child; her parents spent their August vacations traversing the country in search of the best meals with Melissa and her sister in tow. Near to her heart, France is where Melissa’s family learned to cook and eat. And as her own culinary identity blossomed, so too did her understanding of why French food is beloved by Americans.
Now, as one of the nation’s favorite cookbook authors and food writers, Melissa updates classic French techniques and dishes to reflect how we cook, shop, and eat today. With recipes such as Salade Nicoise with Haricot Vert, Cornmeal and Harissa Soufflé, Scalloped Potato Gratin, Lamb Shank Cassoulet, Ratatouille Sheet-Pan Chicken, Campari Olive Oil Cake, and Apricot Tarte Tatin (to name a few), Dinner in French will quickly become a go-to resource and endure as an indispensable classic.
Now, I obviously have a great deal of time for France and French food and have many many French cookbooks already. I was curious to see what Dinner in French might be able to bring to the table, so to speak. I was intrigued to read Clark’s story of spending summers in France with her family, exchanging houses with other families all around the country, simply because her parents loved France so much. They explored the country and its cuisine each year and this has come to influence the way Clark cooks and eats today (though, interestingly, she says her own daughter doesn’t love France where they still spend a lot of time, rather, she “grimaces and bears it”)!
The book is beautifully photographed (photos of each recipe as well as lovely lifestyle shots that transport you to France) and I love the snippets of (food) culture throughout. The headnotes of the recipes are full of information about the food, including the traditional way to serve some recipes that Clark has put her own spin on. Headnotes also include personal anecdotes from Clark’s time in France with her parents and, more recently, her own family. The chapters focus on food groups as opposed to “meals” and include: eggs, cheese, salads, soups, quiches, tarts & savory pies, fish & shellfish, chicken and other meats, vegetables and the “after dinner” section (desserts).
This is not your standard French cookbook – Clark takes many classics and puts a twist on them – the roast chicken which Neil and I made this week is prepared with tarragon – something you don’t see much in recipes – and thyme, and served with crispy, buttery mushrooms – a nice spin on a classic dish. The crème brûlée is pumpkin flavoured (I have made a version of this before and can attest that it’s a great combo!) and there’s a jalapeño fromage fort that you might not expect to see on a French menu. Mix in some absolute classics and you have the cookbook that is “bringing French cuisine into the 21st century” per the publisher’s notes.
In fact, as well as a mix of the old and new in terms of the recipes, there is also a lovely mélange of ingredients that speak to Clark’s Brooklyn, the various regional cuisines of France and classic ingredients you expect to see in a French cookbook like garlic, butter, mustard, cream, cheese, duck fat and anchovies. The complexity of the recipes is a nice mix of simple dishes that would work for weeknight dinners and recipes involving more complex techniques that maybe take a little more time. It’s the perfect book to dabble a little in during the week but to take a deep dive into come the weekend or vacation time.
The recipes themselves are extremely thorough, yet clear and easy to understand, even the longer, more complex ones. Ingredients are listed in both weight and volume (hooray for weight measurements!), though vegetables are listed as “small, medium or large” which can be open to interpretation (fruits list an approximate weight). Recipes are written in numbered steps and the layout is very clear. There are thoughtful “Thinking Ahead” sections in many recipes which is helpful in terms of prepping as much as possible in advance – useful for busy weeknights or a multi-course dinner.
In short, a book that will have you dreaming of France. And since we can’t get there anytime soon, “Dinner in French” will have to suffice. Melissa Clark can help you with that. Just as at home on the coffee table as the kitchen counter, this is one for Francophiles and armchair travellers alike.
Please note: I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. This post also contains affiliate links from The Book Depository. This means that if you click over and purchase something, I will receive a very small percentage of the purchase price (at no extra cost to you). Thank you in advance!
Disclosure: I received a copy of Dinner in French from the publisher for review purposes. I was not compensated for writing this post. All opinions are my own.
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