Cookbook Review: The Flavor of France

Not everyone knows it, but I have an obsession with cookbooks.

When I moved to New York in 2007, I got rid of so much stuff in my home state of Michigan. I gave up most of my clothes, kept only my basic cooking tools, and ditched basically anything else I could get rid of…but I couldn’t give up my cookbooks.

So I paid $100 a month to store all 2,000 of them in a storage unit. I only brought about 25 with me to New York.

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The author, giving an interview in front of about 1/100th of her cookbook collection. (Screen shot from Josh Shayne’s lovely short film about us; click to watch it.)

I don’t still have all 2,000 cookbooks today. Not to brag, but I think I did a great job editing my collection. I would say I’m down to about 1,000.

You may well ask, “Jen, what’s the deal with your 1,000 cookbooks?” Well…to me, cookbooks are such a great way to travel and get a different perspective of life – all in the comfort of your home. And since I’ve been searching for something to do for the blog, I figured a cookbook review with recipes would be just the ticket.

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Today, I’m going to cover one of my first reads into French Cuisine – and no, it’s not Julia Child’s epic Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It’s a small book by a family, Narcissa G. Chamberlain, Samuel Chamberlain and Narcisse Chamberlain (quaintly referred to on the cover as “The Chamberlains”) called The Flavor of France.

Written and published in 1960 by Hastings House Publishers, this delightful book covers regional specialties from Alsace, Lorraine, Normandy, Provence, and many more locales. The recipes are lovely, yes; but I find the beautiful black and white photos of villages, farms, coastal beaches, and landmarks particularly charming. Who wouldn’t be thrilled with a recipe for Hot Apple Mousse (Mousse de Pommes) or Steamed Salt Cod with Garlic Mayonnaise (Aioli Provencal) while gazing longingly at a picture of the Chapel of Ste. Croix!

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The beauty of this cookbook, and so many older cookbooks, is that the recipes are short. I know that this sounds counter-intuitive; but I find that too many instructions and photos can make you more afraid of cooking. You’re too busy checking if what you’re making matches up with the photo, and not paying enough attention to the actual cooking! All the recipes here are between a quarter and a half page long; simply written, but crystal clear and easy to follow. I made my first Chocolate Mousse from this cookbook.

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THE RECIPES

I cooked a couple of recipes for lunch: Anchovy Baked Mashed Potatoes, and Baked Eggs in Tomatoes. All week, I spend my time working with sugar and chocolate so when I can turn my attention to anything savory, I’m like a kid in a playground! I chose these recipes for their simplicity and ease of preparation.
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Baked Eggs in Tomatoes

These baked eggs would be a welcome addition to any brunch, or enjoyed as a simple dinner. They’re easy and healthy, and make use of the season’s tomatoey abundance! You can make as many or as few as you’d like. Count on about 1/4tsp parsley and garlic, a pinch of salt and pepper, a tablespoon of cheese, and a teaspoon of breadcrumbs per tomato.

Ingredients
Medium tomatoes, preferably a paste variety; e.g. Roma
Olive oil
Parsley, chopped
Garlic, chopped and mashed
Eggs
Cheese, grated
Bread crumbs

Cut a slice from the stem ends of ripe tomatoes, shake out the seeds and scoop out some of the pulp. Sauté the tomatoes, cut side up, in a little olive oil for 3 or 4 minutes. Transfer them carefully to a shallow baking dish and sprinkle them with chopped parsley and a little chopped and mashed garlic. Break an egg into each tomato and sprinkle them with salt, pepper, grated Swiss cheese, bread crumbs and a little melted butter. Bake them in a 400 F oven for 10 minutes, or until the eggs are set and the crumbs are lightly browned.

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Anchovy Baked Mashed Potatoes

These are a delightful eye-opener to anyone who thinks they don’t like anchovies. The anchovies in this dish gave a wonderful umami flavor to the potatoes: not so much fishy as it was briny, and – to me – tasted of the ocean. If you’ve never cooked with anchovies, try adding a couple mashed to your next batch of beef stew or add it to a pot of tomato sauce. You’ll be amazed on how much flavor it adds, and how few people will guess what your secret ingredient was!

Ingredients

Anchovies
Butter
Potatoes, cooked and mashed
Eggs, separated
Cream
Swiss cheese
Bread crumbs

Mince 4 anchovy fillets and work them to a paste with 2 tablespoons of butter. Cut 4 more fillets into ¼-inch pieces. In a bowl mix together 2 cups of hot mashed potatoes, 2 lightly beaten egg yolks, ½ cup of warm cream, the anchovy butter and diced fillets, ¼ cup of grated Swiss cheese and a little pepper. Fold in 2 beaten egg whites* and turn the mixture into a well-buttered soufflé dish. Sprinkle the top with fine bread crumbs and bake the potatoes in a preheated 375 F oven for 25 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and a little puffed. Pour melted butter over the top just before serving. Serves 6.

*The recipe didn’t specify how well beaten the egg whites should be. I beat mine to stiff peaks and it worked pretty well.

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That’s it for today. Let me know if you try these at home! I’ll be back soon with another cookbook review and more recipes.

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