11.22.2014

Beauty and the {French} Bistro: A Cookbook Review

This is the first time I have reviewed a cookbook without holding it in my hands, to feel its heft, and how it actually reads with (and without) my glasses.

French Bistro, by Maria Zihammou with photographs by Åsa Dahlgren, is a real beauty, at least in the online proof sent to me by Skyhorse Publishing. (Disclaimer: I was sent this free copy to give my honest opinion of the book.)

Originally published in Swedish in 2013, it is being released this year in English with translation by Cory Klingsporn. 

The layout is immediately engaging, with photographs that make me want to scratch the page to see if, by chance, I might get a sniff of the food Maria has prepared.

At the outset, she tells us that these are her interpretations of French bistro classics. I appreciate that disclaimer. Why? Because I like that she is being creative yet respectful of culinary traditions. The changes she makes arent huge, but they arent traditional. The onion soup, for example, calls for vegetable or chicken stock. I have never seen it made it with anything but beef stock.

Maria has a good sense of flavors, and has adapted many of these recipes to make them more accessible and less daunting for a home cook.

I love that her recipe for Pâté with Radishes and Horseradish Cream, calls for 4 slices good pâté” purchased, I assume; who among us is a French farmwife with time to work up a pâté from scratch? Yet she also gives us recipes for rilettes from scratch, which are not too difficult, and rather fun to make.

I liked the non-traditional chapters of the book, and the French titles she chose for them: Amuse-Bouches (Appetizers), À la Minute (In a Minute), Au Four (From the Oven), De Campagne (Rustic), Un Bon Marriage (A Marriage of Flavors), Ose! (Daring Flavors), Les Fromages (About Cheese), Les Desserts (Sweets), Apéritifs, Digestifs, et les Autres (Drinks). 

Her book concludes with menu suggestions. Few may replicate an exact menu, but in those What-shall-I-serve? moments that vex us all, these are just right for getting the creative juices flowing.

One downside to the book is the way the recipes are written. It reminds me of reading old recipe cards from my grandmother  a list of ingredients, sometimes without clear quantities, and often with unclear directions. A seasoned cook will be able to make sense of them but, for someone who is just learning, this book might be very frustrating.

Paris Bistro celebrates the simplicity of bistro cuisine and, simultaneously, presents dishes that are elegant enough for a Michelin-starred restaurant. 

For this post, I chose to make a rustic classic:  Poulet Bonne Femme, browned chicken which is then braised in apple cider and finished with cream. Served with a crusty hunk of bread, a salad, and glass of wine, I can think of no meal more satisfying.

I look forward to the book's release so I can hold it in my hand, spatter its pages while cooking, and share its delights with my friends.

~ David

Poulet Bonne Femme
Chicken Stew with Apple Cider and Cream
(My notes appear in blue)

1 chicken 
2 tablespoons flour
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons butter
31/2 ounces (100 g) lightly salted pork belly
10 pearl onions (If you count mine, I think I used 13)
1 1/4 cups (300 ml) dry apple cider (I used fresh apple cider from our farmers market)
1 bouquet garni (a few sprigs of parsley, thyme, and a bay leaf tied with cooking twine)
1/2 cup (100 ml) cream
1 tablespoon parsley

Divide the chicken into eight pieces (I used 8 chicken thighs, skin on and bone in.). Flour, salt, and pepper each piece. Sear them in a pan with half of the butter, so the chicken gets a nice color all around. Transfer the chicken to a large pot.

Slice the pork belly into small cubes and sauté it in the pan in the remaining butter. Peel the onions and add them to the pan when the pork begins to take on some color and become crispy. Continue sautéing until the onion, too, has browned. Then place the onions and pork in the pot with the chickenuse a slotted spoon to avoid picking up too much of the fat. Pour in the cider and bring to a boil, without covering.

Tie together the parsley, thyme, and bay leaf to make a small bouquet garni. Place it in the bottom of the pot and cover. Simmer for about 30 minutes. Add the cream and cook, uncovered, for about 10 more minutes, then garnish with parsley.

Serve with salad and rustic sourdough bread.


Serves 4.

A lovely rosé, but not the best pairing for this Norman dish.
I suggest something much heartier. As the Malbec grape is grown widely
in the region, I would look for a red that is 100% Malbec to serve with this.

37 comments:

  1. What a wonderful post! As luck would have it, I received the same book to review! Even if you never cooked anything, it's worth buying just for the photos! I love the dish you made because, true to French style, it's rustic and elegant.

    And - you just have the most terrific collection of plates.

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    1. Thanks, Susan! I agree - the photos in this book are stunning! And I think with some work, the recipes will all be good. Glad you like all my plates... Mark is not such a fun! :) He thinks we should only have 2 white plates!

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  2. Hi David, oh this looks so dreamy, such a comforting dish, love everything about it!

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    1. Thanks, Cheri - and it is nice that we are having s cool spell in Arizona to try these dishes!

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  3. Actually, my dream is to become a french farm wife... GREG

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  4. I dread the day when cookbooks (all books!) are no longer.. only in e-version. Luckily I don't think that will happen in the rest of my lifetime, but I think of future generations.

    I feel the same about River Cottage Veg, for beginners, it could be frustrating.

    This dish looks and sounds wonderful, David, and is so beautifully presented. Love all the pictures!

    Have a wondrous Thanksgiving!

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    1. Cathleen - I couldn't agree with you more! I don't like reading in my iPad. I want real books, with pages that smell of fiber and ink, that have stains to prove how often you made the recipes, and even used books with dedications to a new bride or favorite nephew.

      I hadn't though about River Cottage Veg, but I see what you mean.

      Glad you liked this dish and presentation. I give this recipe five stars because it is simple, authentic, and really tasty. I must try it sometime with a Normandie cider!

      Happy Thanksgiving to you, too!

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  5. Your photos are very enticing and, like you thumbing through the cook book, I felt like the aromas should be emanating from the screen! This looks like a book I would like to have!

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    1. I think you and Towny will like this book. It is really a nice springboard for creating wonderful meals that aren't too fussy.

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  6. I love nothing more than to hold a book in my hands, feel its pages and drink in its pictures and words... both old and new books smell so different and delicious! Your chicken dish looks really good David... my mouth is watering!

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    1. Liz - don't you just love the smells in a vintage bookshop? I especially love used and well-loved cookbooks, so I can see all the favorite recipes.

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  7. Great review - looks like a book that I may want to add to my collection! Especially love your pics in this post. Happy Thanksgiving!

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    1. Thanks, Nicole. Knowing that you are a good intuitive cook, this book will be great for you. Glad you liked the photos... I was worried about chicken in cream sauce... Might have looked awful!

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  8. Your recipe looks yummy!! I just returned from eight days in Paris and three days in the Loire Valley, and I must say I am decidedly unimpressed with the bistro fare I encountered. From cafés to bistros to restaurants, the emperor has no clothes!

    When I go to France I usually stay with friends and eat chez eux. On this trip I stayed in the heart of Paris in the 6eme arrondissement. We had the occasional tasty dish, but nothing as fresh and vegetable laden as the cover of the book you are reviewing. Most cafés and bistros offer the same tired menu -- heavy on meat, cheese and frites. I think I have simply lived in California too long and have come to expect seasonal plates with lots of vegetables when I dine out. Salads are an art in California -- they seem like an afterthought in Paris. If you want haricots verts, you are in luck. It's the default vegetable. "Salad" is typically a pile of shredded iceberg lettuce with slivers of carrot off on the side of your plate.

    I can honestly say that in nearly two weeks of dining out, we only ate at one memorable restaurant. (We had lots of ambience and good people-watching in various other locales -- just generally unimpressive food.) We ate there twice just to savor the experience: light fresh food in season that was creatively prepared and presented beautifully with zero fuss. And to top it off, one of the sweetest waiters we encountered (a treat in France were, sadly, rudeness is still all too common in restaurants). After all this praise, I am sure you will want the restaurant name: Le Fumoir, directly behind the Louvre.

    Have a great Thanksgiving!

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    1. I have read several articles on the net about how French restaurants are not making the dishes fresh anymore.
      I hope that is not always true and that the trend will reverse itself.
      This recipe is right up my alley and I will make it with our own home raised chicken as soon as I can get some organic apple cider!

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    2. Kirsten - that is so disappointing to hear! I haven't been in France since 2008 but have heard there are some quality issues with food. (I might blame the United States for these indiscretions!) Thank you for the recommendation of Le Fumoir - we will definitely try it next time we are in Paris!

      Caterina - I can only imagine how much better this dish will be with your home-raised chicken! Let me know!

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  9. That looks delicious, David! I have always loved French bistro food and am disappointed that we don't have many in Denver (or rather ones where I can actually eat sometning!)
    I also love the feel of a book. It's funny, when I need a recipe, the first thing I do is google and end up using those recipes or one of my blogger friends. But, I love cookbooks, I buy them but they are always for thumbing through and leisure reading! I don't think I actually cook from them!
    I would buy this one though, if you like it then I know I will. I look forward to seeing it at the bookstore.
    Have a great Thanksgiving Mark and David!

    Nazneen xx

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    1. We have very few French restaurants here in Tucson, as well. There is one, Agustín Kitchen that is pretty wonderful. Glad for that!

      For me, I always want the real book. I don't think that will ever change.

      Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!! xoxo

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  10. Such a deliciously rustic dish, David. A little too much cream for my significant other (see what I am living with?), but perfect for me.

    The mention of dry cider makes me think it could be the alcoholic kind? A delicious sauce like this wouldn't go astray with a splash of booze!

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    1. I do see your problem there... Maybe you could tone down the cream for Dean?

      I am sure this recipe calls for the alcoholic cider and plan to make it that way next time. But it was really good with the sweet cider, too!

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  11. Wonderful book review, David. I appreciate your honest assessment of the author's way of communicating the ingredients and method; so important for a home cook to know what they're getting into before trying a new recipe, especially if they're just learning, as you said.

    The chicken you chose to make looks divine - just the thing Jase and I would love (even as summer approaches). The serving dish itself is fab - is that a family heirloom or a great thrift store score?

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    1. Thanks, Yas! The dish is Mexican and not vintage at all - it was a birthday gift form my friend Susan of The Modern Trobadors. I love it, too!

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  12. I made this tonight and it was delicious! Never would have known to make it without your blog-- thanks, David!

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    1. Thanks, Cora - isn't it comforting? I am so glad you enjoyed it - and find fun things on my blog!

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  13. Dear David, to answer your question with respect to the "storzapetri", of course, you are right, they are NOT priest stranglers but a gnocchi. There is a fusili type shaped pasta that is called "strozzapetri" and there is a long story why they are called this way - I even went to my fav Italian market to buy a bag and took pictures but decided against including it in the post...I did not want to preach again about foods again...but, you were right!
    And, no offence but I do not share the opinion that the River Cottage Cookbook is confusing for beginners at all. Be that as it may, the book you reviewed did catch my attention as well, love the photography. The recipe you chose looks delightful and like delicious family-fare, the kids would love this dish!
    I shall take this opportunity to wish you and Mark a very Happy Thanksgiving!
    P.S.: if Mark does not mind parting with his recipe for the Stollen (I will keep it to myself, promised), I would be delighted if you mailed it to me, I would LOVE to try it and send you pictures!!!
    Liebe Grüsse,
    Andrea

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    1. Andrea - I thought so! The names are so close, and one of the Doristas mentioned that they were priest stranglers, which confused the issue.

      No offense taken - I love Rover Cottage Veg! Like this bistro cookbook, Hugh does leave some things to the cook, and I think that is good. We have forgotten that cooking is an art and not a science! (I leave the science to baking!)

      Let me know what the family thinks of this - it is a really tasty recipe! And thank you for your Thanksgiving wishes!

      I will send the Stollen recipe soon! xox, David

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  14. This dish is the epitome of what I love -- deliciously flavorful comfort food. The book sounds lovely. I love hearing about books I don't know. My cookbook collection is very dear to me. :-)

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    1. Me, too, Valentina! Now that it is finally getting cold, we can enjoy our comfort foods! And I definitely know what you mean about your cookbook collection being dear to you! It is like a shelf filled with friends!

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  15. Wonderful post, David.
    The chicken looks so good, I'm tempted to prepare it right now, even it's nearly 10 o'clock in the evening here.
    Congratulations on the pictures, they are beautiful.

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    1. Thanks, Daniela! I have really been enjoying your posts about your visit to Colombia - they made me want to pack my bags and go!

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  16. You did a fine job with this recipe. I know it has to be delicious, I once had this fall dish while traveling in Normandy and the sauce was so good.

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    1. Thanks, Karen! I am sure they used a dry, alcoholic cider, but subbing with a sweet cider was really good, too.

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  17. That chicken looks and sounds DIVINE! Oh my! This is one I really want to try, but I already know I'm going to love it...what's not to love! :)

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    1. It is a truly wonderful comfort dish, Christina! Let me know if you try it!

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  18. When I saw the book cover I was really hoping that you would be making those cute little desserts with the cherries on top - it was not to be but hopefully you will make them for a future blog please please.... Anyhoo the chicken dish looks awesome and I will bookmark this to try when the weather cools a bit. Very good and fair book review.

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    1. Karen - those little clafoutis were quite cute and were tempting, as were several other desserts! I will just continue to cook my way through the book, and will definitely post them as I do!

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Thank you for taking the time to leave me a note - I really appreciate hearing from you and welcome any ideas you may have for future posts, too. Happy Cooking!

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