Dear Amazon Readers:
Have you ever wondered how today’s French women cook? After all, the French cherish (and expect!) the pleasures of a great meal at the end of each day. And yet, most French women don’t have hours to spend in the kitchen any more than we do. How, then, do they do it?
Well, I’ve written a book about it. In The Bonne Femme Cookbook, I approach French cooking not as a chef or leisure cook, but rather in the spirit of today’s French woman (the bonne femme of my title), who, like you, enjoys sharing fresh, stylish, and life-enhancing food—but would rather spend more time at the table than in the kitchen.
The past two decades, I’ve worked as a food and wine writer, a job that has allowed me to spend major stretches of my summers in France. I’ve set up house in charming apartments from Paris to the Dordogne, from the Côte d’Azur near Italy, to the Côte Vermeille near Spain. Everywhere I’ve stayed, I’ve become immersed in the food of the region. While I’ve dined in restaurants and in French homes—gleaning cooking tips from the bonnes femmes I’ve met—what I loved most was cooking like a bonne femme myself. My days in France would see me heading to the markets, chatting with butchers, greengrocers, and cheesemongers, picking up French cooking magazines, and perusing the menus of the town’s mom-and-pop bistros for inspiration.
Most every evening would find me in my little French kitchen, cooking simple yet gratifying dishes akin to what women all over town were serving to their own friends and families.
Day after day, summer after summer, it occurred to me how quick and easy a good, home-cooked French meal could be. Once home and back on the job, I found that so many of the everyday recipes I’d enjoyed in France translate beautifully to the American table.
My favorites are in this book, and I hope that they will soon become yours. Here’s an overview of what you’ll find:
* Dozens of recipes that showcase a clever take on the sauté/deglaze method of cooking. That is, you sauté the night’s meat, you deglaze the pan with wine. Then, simply add a handful of easy-to-find ingredients to make a true-to-France pan sauce, all in 30 minutes or less.
* New takes on French stews and braises. Believe me, there’s more to the French stewpot than Boeuf Bourguignon and Coq au Vin (though I do include both). Enjoy recipes for hearty, warming (yet up-to-date) stews and braises, such as Pomegranate Pot-au-Feu, Tuna Steaks Braised with Tomatoes, Olives and Fennel and other recipes that call on contemporary ingredients for meals that are dashing, yet uncomplicated in that fix-and-forget way.
* More chapters that will help you cook like a French woman. You’ll find appetizers, salads, soups, eggs and cheese, and desserts, as well as great recipes for dishes you might not think of as French, (but that definitely fit into the bonne femme’s repertoire!). These include sandwiches, burgers, pizzas, pastas, and casseroles. (French Shepherd’s Pie, anyone?)
I promise that throughout my 250-plus recipes, you’ll find no hard-to-find ingredients, no difficult techniques—just fresh, simple, and splendid recipes that prove, again and again, that you can cook like a French woman no matter where you live.
Q:How did the idea for The Bonne Femme Cookbook come about?
A: For the past 20 years, I’ve spent major stretches of my summers in France, where my husband and I would rent an apartment so we could live, eat, and cook like a French person. In doing so, I’ve discovered a fresh, everyday-easy side of French cooking that translated quite beautifully to the American table.
And yet, as a contributing writer and editor for numerous cookbooks and food magazines, I noticed that mainstream food editors often shy away from French food as a topic for everyday cooking. Often, French cuisine is perceived as difficult, pricey, and complex.
But French home cooking is none of these things: Most French women have no more time or resources to spend on their cooking than we do. And yet they eat splendidly, night after night. I decided to write a book about how they manage to do so.
Q: What is the bonne femme style of cooking?
A: In French, bonne femme means, "the good wife," but in French cooking, it refers to simple, uncomplicated food served in homes, no matter who does the cooking—husband, wife, friend, or partner.
While cuisine de bonne femme is traditionally hearty and rustic, I’ve provided many recipes that are also light, fresh, stylish and modern—in line with the way contemporary French women cook today. I like to think of my overall approach as "bonne femme moderne."
Q: Why do you think French cooking intimidates so many American home cooks? Is it really as complex and laborious as we think?
A: One reason, I believe, is that most of our first encounters with French food was through French restaurants. Until the last decade or so, most U.S. French restaurants came complete with tuxedoed waiters, crystal chandeliers, desserts flambéed tableside—buzzes and whistles that said, "don’t try this at home."
In recent years, casual corner bistros have helped change that perception, of course, but for many, French food still feels outside of the realm of what we cook everyday.
Q:Is it really do-able to cook and eat like the French, without spending a lot of time in the kitchen or money on obscure ingredients?
A: Yes! Remember—French women often work outside the home, too, so they need quick, stylish recipes, but they also expect to eat well. That’s what this book is about.
The Sauté, Deglaze, and Serve chapter shows how you can get a French meal on the table in less than 30 minutes. You simply sauté the night’s meat, then deglaze the pan with wine or broth and add a few easy-to- find ingredients—grapes or celery root here, sweet potatoes or apples there—for a vivid, true-to-France pan sauce. Voilà: Tuesday night French cooking at its fresh-and-simple best.
When you have a little more time, the Braise, Stew, or Roast chapter offers classic and contemporary on dishes that may take a little more time on the stove or in the oven, but none are difficult.
And I never call on ingredients that are difficult to find. French women don’t chase down expensive ingredients on the Internet, so why should we? If I had an inkling that an ingredient might not be available in all markets, I offered a substitution option.
Q:Is there really such a thing as easy, everyday French cooking?
A: Absolutely. I’ve spent a lot of time dining with and talking to French women and researching French cookbooks and food magazines, and I’m convinced that their everyday food really isn’t any more time-consuming or difficult, nor does it take special techniques or special equipment. In fact, if you cook at all, you probably have the skills and tools you need to cook most of the recipes in my book.
Q: Tell us about The Art of the Apéritif.
A: All over France tonight, friends are gathering in homes for a quick drink and a simple (but stylish) bite or two. It’s a great way to ease out of the busy workday with some refreshment and conversation, without having to cook an entire diner or commit to providing an evening’s worth of entertainment.
Afterwards, everyone may go their separate ways for dinner; or, if everyone’s having too much fun to move on, the host might invite everyone to stay for a casual meal that she puts together quite effortlessly.
I wish we’d do more of this free-form style of entertaining, and I offer an entire chapter of French cocktails and simple nibbles for doing so.