French Feasts: 299 Traditional Recipes for Family Meals & Gatherings
In my humble opinion, French food is where it’s at. This is a cuisine responsible for the five mother sauces, a cuisine that wholeheartedly embraces flaky pastry, a cuisine that loves cream, cheese, and butter! Needless to say, I was incredibly excited to review French Feasts, and when it arrived, I was shocked to find a massive tome of a cookbook on my front porch. This is a serious book, so large it comes with a built-in bookmark. I’m happy to report that the recipes didn’t disappoint, and that the book itself is perhaps the most charming cookbook I’ve ever encountered.
Thumbing through a French cookbook that includes 299 recipes laid out over 400 pages is no easy feat. I didn’t know where to start, so I started at the most obvious place: the beginning. I curled up in bed with a highlighter and post-its and got to work looking over the book’s ten core sections: Charcuterie Anything Goes; Long Live Offal; A Dozen Eggs; What Lovely Vegetables; Moo, Bah, Oink; Poultry; Game Galore; Fish & Shellfish; A Bit of Cheese to Finish my Bread; and Sweet, Sweeter, Saccharine.
This loving opus to French food details the types of elaborate meals many French families share around their table; it even speaks fondly of what I like to refer to as “the nasty bits.” The first few chapters piqued my morbid curiosity. As an omnivore, I appreciate cultures that respect the animals they slaughter enough to make use of all their parts. That being said, I can’t bring myself to eat many of these slippery, slimy things. Perhaps I’m not very adventurous, but offal (entrails and internal organs) will never be my thing. So, as much fun as it was to read about making pig's head sausage in red wine, calf’s liver with lemon, and beef tongue in medeira sauce, I don’t think I’ll be feasting on any of those things anytime soon.
I knew I couldn’t test every recipe, so instead I focused on those that had ingredients that were affordable and easy to come by, as well as dishes that could seamlessly fit into my regular rotation of meals. I can’t recommend any dessert recipes quite yet, as I haven’t had the nerve to tackle them—not because they seem difficult, but because I’m afraid of what I might do if left alone with dozens of Chantilly cream pastries.
French Feasts takes a pretty straightforward, almost comically simple approach to food that we’ve all been told is difficult to prepare. I can clearly picture movie scenes where someone is anxiously checking their soufflé, only to find that it’s deflated in the oven. My cheese soufflé, as instructed by French Feasts, turned out perfectly. It really was like digging into a cheesy, ethereal cloud.
Next up, and one of my all time favorites, French onion soup. Despite my long-standing love of onions, I’d actually never made this soup at home. French Feasts’ version was ridiculously simple, though it was actually called “onion soup for digestion.” It only called for seven ingredients, including olive oil, salt, and pepper. Though it pained me to purchase Gruyere cheese at fifteen bucks a pound, I found a lovely woman at the farmer’s market who cut me a deal on a decent sized hunk. The soup was earthy and cheesy, and the caramelized onions were out of this world; it was basically heaven in a bowl.
Other standouts included hard-boiled eggs topped with homemade mayo all atop mixed greens, my first ever Niçoise salad (so briny, so salty, so complex, so delicious), and emulsion of creamed cauliflower that I now use in place of mashed potatoes.
Aside from the killer recipes, I have to take a second to gush about how charming this cookbook is. It’s in French and English and features drool-worthy color photographs and profiles of French food figures, such as butchers and bakers (no candlestick makers). There are also endearing illustrations and ingredient lists that include things like Basque country fandango CDs. This really is a cookbook that I will go back to over the years and explore over and over again… if all the butter doesn’t kill me first.