French Food at Home by Laura Calder

240 pages;  No photographs or sketches.  Hardcover

Published by William Morrow/Harper Collins, NY, NY, February 2003

Reviewed by Peter Zane for Good Cooking, Spring 2003

Whenever I pick up a cookbook my hope is to be 'inspired'...that one or a number of the recipes will catch my eye and motivate me to buy the book and immediately set about to cook what I've read. Such was not my experience with Laura Calder's book, French Food at Home.
I think the main problem with the book is that the presentation of the subject matter is lackluster and does not "do justice" to the glory of French food. The book is a compendium of recipes whose titles are, in a word, boring. And this, I believe, has a detrimental impact on the perception of the reader (at least this reader).

For example the pea soup recipe is entitled, "Pea Green Soup, (P. 47)" That's not the kind of title that spurs one to action. I prepared the soup and frankly it tasted good, but it lacked the depth and character of the more traditional French Potage St Germain. The recipe was quite simple. So simple that I would have expected it to come out of "Family Circle" or "Better Homes and Gardens"... but not a book that purports to be a French food cookbook (Ironically - that while the very first line of the book's introduction talks about 'quality' and 'freshness of ingredients' as hallmarks of French Food, this soup uses frozen peas). Nonetheless, the soup is good and the recipe is well presented.

The leek tart recipe (not surprisingly entitled 'Leek Tart, (P. 67) was the other recipe I prepared. See recipe and comments below.

Leek Tart

4 large leeks
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 large onions, chopped
1 Plain Pastry shell (page 57) unbaked
1 1/2 cups grated Gruyere cheese
3 eggs
1 cup heavy cream
S and P
Pinch of nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 425. Trim and discard all but an inch of green from the leeks. Slice, wash, and drain the rest. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a medium heat and cook the leeks with the onions, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Cover the pan and continue to cook until soft, 10 to 15 minutes.

Spread the leeks in the tart shell. Top with the cheese. Beat the eggs in a bowl and whisk in the cream. Season with salt, pepper and the nutmeg. Pour over the leeks and cheese. Bake until the tart has set and is golden brown on top, about 20 minutes

I prepared it according to its directions. It was simple and the results were good, but like the pea soup it was not the most savory leek tart recipe I've tried. Many other leek tart recipes use bacon, ham or wine to add body and depth to the flavor. The author thought that this was the best leek tart she'd ever eaten, but not I. For comparison's sake I prepared a leek tart that appears on page 128 in Patricia Wells book entitled Bistro and found it to be more flavorful and satisfying. It included Crème Fraiche and Parma ham.

I believe that French food is a very "developed" cuisine and renditions of its standard fare (which these two recipes represent) should meet or beat one's expectations. Neither of recipes I tried achieves that.

While I believe French Food at Home may contain solid recipes, I would not recommend it as it lacks that "Je ne sais quoi" that inspires one to cook.