The Bonne Femme Cookbook
When I first saw The Bonne Femme Cookbook: Simple, Splendid Food That French Women Cook Every Day in my Vine newsletter, I was thinking it was somehow related to French Women Don’t Get Fat (it’s not). Much to my pleasant surprise, this charming cookbook is filled with the (simplified) pleasures of dining French-style, including a proper start with jaunty apéritifs and amuse-bouches like flaky green olive and cheese spirals, chutney-ham amuse-bouches, cognac julep, kir, and lemony pear sparkling sangria (there’s even a handy guide to setting up your own apéritif dinatoîre). The recipes are a delightful blend of French and international influences, like the North African staples tabbouleh and couscous, or a Spanish-influenced salad with paprika, sherry vinegar, and Cabrales cheese, and many Italian-influenced dishes, like the amazing tagliatelle with blue cheese, walnuts and grapes.
Along the way, sidebars contain stories about various aspects of French culture and cuisine from the author’s experience as an exchange student and frequent visitor. Each recipe has a complete introduction as well that gives insight into its presentation (there are very useful tips for ordering in French restaurants, like the cheese trolley and dessert tray (hint: no, all those desserts are NOT for you!) and origins. The best part is that most recipes come together fairly quickly using common U.S. supermarket ingredients whenever possible. Sparse but charming illustrations round out the book (sorry, food photo lovers; there are no photographs of completed dishes in this volume!).
I love that the recipes are low-maintenance. Consider the Zenlike simplicity of Any-Night Baked Rice: you saute garlic, add the rice to coat with butter, add stock, cover the pot and throw it into the oven for 15 minutes. The blending of classic French flavors is refreshing without being heavy, and captures the various regions of France, like the fingerling potatoes with walnuts and thyme from Périgord. Vegetarians will be pleased with the wide variety of grain-based and vegetable dishes that are complete meals in themselves. The best part is that these recipes can be completed in an hour or less in most cases. And the dishes are perfectly elegant: roast chicken breasts with goat cheese and trois oignons, roast pork with honey-cider vinegar sauce, a rolled French omelet with tapenade verte and sheep’s milk cheese. The desserts also warrant special mention, including favorites like clafouti, tarte tatin, and madeleines (including lime pecan!) alongside walnut cake with cognac-brown butter frosting, apricot-pine-nut cakelettes, and a lemon curd crème brûlée that are the perfect sweet finish to your French meal.
If you’re interested in French cooking but you find Julia Child intimidating, this is the book for you. It perfectly captures the flavors and ambiance of France while making classic recipes accessible to a new generation of cooks with limited time (and access to French supermarkets!). Wini is a most engaging tour guide through the various facets of French cuisine and regional variations, and the recipes are clearly written and not intimidating at all. A list of U.S.-metric conversions for liquid and weight conversions and oven temperature is also provided at the back.