Friday, September 5, 2014

Review - Holly Herrick's "The French Cook - Soups & Stews"

Oh, the joys of French foods! There is nothing I like better than delving into a rich French dish that arouses your senses. Close your eyes and imagine the last time you smelled the delicious scents of Coq au Vin cooking, or allowed the heady aromatics of a freshly opened bottle of Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape to linger on your nose before taking the first sip. Allow yourself to relish the memory of a creme brulee that passed your lips with the lightly caramelized tops melting in your mouth. The beauty of the dessert lies in the torched crust. It makes you giddy as you guide your spoon into the crust and hear the crackle when the top first breaks into the custard below. Most of all, consider the best onion soup that passed your lips. The rich aroma of the broth, made with a stock of beef or chicken, hit your nose before you laid the spoon on your tongue. The first course in a traditional three course French dinner can be the most important, as it introduces you to the style of the chef who has prepared the meal.

Holly Herrick, a local award winning travel and culture writer, has created a cookbook highlighting the wonderful soups and stews that are integral to French cooking. Her book, The French Cook - Soups & Stews, is third in a series and her seventh in total. Her background at Le Cordon Bleu in France, where she received her Diploma in Cuisine and Pastry, is apparent throughout the book. The esteemed school is well known for using hands on teaching methods using traditional techniques, and Holly's book is a fabulous example of her training. Her book, well laid out with beautiful photographs, portrays much of what a French chef would in a fine dining establishment.

The beginning of the book opens with an arrangement of equipment that any French chef (or chef want to be) should maintain - ladles, whisks, roasting pans and more. With each piece, an explanation of its importance and use offers the reader insight as to how it will be used to create the magnificent dishes within the book. After making sure you have the basics of what you need to get started, she then jumps into how to make the perfect stock. Vegetable, veal, beef, chicken, seafood and fish stocks are slowly cooked with the French mantra of "avoid waste" (or "avant tout! (before all)". In layman's terms, the recipes are laid out so that the general reader may make stocks using the same techniques that Herrick uses.

Next, the book delves into the intricacies of making complex soups. Growing upon the stocks earlier described and building the soup with layers of flavor, she takes you through each step with amazing grace and agility. Simple, yet important tips such as how to core fennel or how to remove garlic cores, help to establish the success of recreating her vision. The Aigo Bouido (Garlic Soup) requires proper garlic preparation, as it uses two whole heads of garlic. Understanding how garlic flavors influence an infused soup such as this is imperative, as leaving a green garlic core can ruin the dish and make it bitter. The Soupe au Cantaloup et au Champagne avec Prosciutto et Basilic sounds incredibly hard to make and complex. However, Holly's delicious combination of cantaloupe, champagne, prosciutto and basil is surprisingly easy to make. The creamy soup, served chilled, is wonderful with a bit of ham in the middle.

Classic bisques, stews and what might be the best French Onion Soup recipe I have encountered, are described in terms that will enhance your confidence when trying the recipes on your own. Beautiful photography by Chia Chong allows you to see how each dish should appear. Stylist Libbie Summers, also a photographer, styled the dishes into beautiful arrangements. The nice gloss of each page should help to repel slight spills, because you're going to want to keep this book close by when you're in the kitchen.

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