Cookbook: My Little French Kitchen by Rachel Khoo
Overall Impression: Drawing inspiration from her travels throughout France, Rachel Khoo puts her distinctive stamp on the country's regional cuisines.
What do you do when you’ve got a case of Parisian ennui? Why, cavort all over France with an ace photographer, gathering gorgeous images and riffing on classic recipes from the country’s various food-producing regions, of course! Put your envy aside and live vicariously through Ms. Khoo as she does just that in this breezy, charming travelogue.
Recipes I Tried
- Gelée de piment d'Espelette (Espelette Pepper Jelly) p. 127
- Salade Savoyarde avec une vinaigrette de noix (Chunky Savoie Salad with a Walnut Vinaigrette) p. 208
- Soupe au jambonneau et légumes (Ham Hock and Vegetable Soup) p. 250
Cooking from My Little French Kitchen
This is the fourth offering from Rachel Khoo, English cookbook author and BBC television personality. She’s known for taking French dishes and giving them a playful twist, and she often takes this tack in My Little French Kitchen. Classic Paris-Brest (p. 40) gets a savory update with a filling of brie, spinach, apples, and a mustard mousse. Hazelnut-Crusted Monkfish Cheeks (p. 151) get a zingy lift from a bright salad of watermelon radishes, carrots, and grapefruit.
And then there are more off-the-wall dishes such as Pad Alsacien (p. 237), an irreverent riff on Pad Thai using ingredients from Alsace. Shredded red cabbage and julienned carrots are tossed with smoky cubes of bacon, Alsatian egg noodles, and a sweet and sour stir-fry sauce of honey and white wine vinegar. Ms. Khoo definitely takes French cuisine to a new place!
You will find a few recipes that are straight from the playbook de cuisine, such as the fantastic condiments in the section on the Basque region of southwestern France. Espelette Pepper Jelly (p. 127) tastes at once classic and new, a fruity and spicy spread that's perfect on a cheese plate or tartine.
If you can’t get your hands on dried Espelette peppers in whole form (which, by the way, is no small feat outside of France. I was lucky enough to find a local grower, though piment d'Espelette grown outside of their designated region of origin cannot technically be labeled as such), seek out the freshest, medium-hot dried peppers you can find. There’s no need to worry about finding a use for any leftover chiles, since you’ll need them for the two other condiments in this chapter, Xipister Sauce (p. 112) and Basque Ketchup (p. 125).
Ham Hock and Vegetable Soup (p. 250) is comfort food with a little pizzaz. The otherwise basic broth gets a spike of piquancy from a spoonful of grainy mustard, and a last-minute topping of chopped green onions and quick-pickled, julienned pears adds a pleasing pop of freshness.
I’m looking forward to playing with this recipe, perhaps subbing in a smoked turkey leg for the ham, and sliced apple for the pear. I’d never thought to top a soup with quick-pickled fruit, which as it turns out, is a great way to perk up a wintery dish. It’s always fun when a recipe teaches you something new.
I also picked up a couple great techniques from the recipe for Salade Savoyarde (p. 208), a sumptuous, Lyonnaise take on salade gourmande. First off, when you fry up a pan of bacon with cubed, crusty bread, you get golden, bacon fat-infused croutons and crispy bacon bits all in one go. It was very, very difficult not to eat these toppings straight out of the skillet, let me tell you.
The dressing is unusual, too — it's enriched with pan-toasted, finely chopped walnuts and coats the lettuce leaves to add even more richness to the party. Oh and there's a generous amount of shaved Beaufort cheese in here, too. Frankly, the vegetables seem like a bit of an afterthought, basically providing you with an excuse to eat croutons, bacon, walnuts, and beaucoup de fromage.
What Could Be Better
I don’t have a lot to complain about when it comes to this cookbook — the recipes are unique, delicious, and well-written, and it’s great fun to learn about each region of France as you flip through the chapters. Where unique, hyper-regional ingredients are used, Ms. Khoo offers similar substitutes, encouraging the reader to improvise based on season and locale.
The recipes have French titles, but each is accompanied by an English translation — nothing is left unexplained or assumed. Even the fancy pastry recipes look doable due to their thoughtfully written directions, reflecting the author’s background in patisserie and cooking instruction.
Copious photography helps to give a sense of place to each region of France, and David Loftus has a real knack for capturing gorgeous, natural-looking portraits of his subjects. You'll find charming photos of food producers from all over France, as well as dozens upon dozens of dreamy documentary shots of Rachel Khoo on her travels, looking effortlessly gorgeous in her trademark lipstick and fringe. Whether or not you appreciate the photo-palooza is a matter of personal taste.
When I first picked up My Little French Kitchen, I expected to find traditional French recipes. What I actually discovered was a quirky collection of riffs on the canon of cuisine française, peppered with the occasional straight-ahead recipe for a well-known regional dish.
This wasn't a bad thing. Many staid, serious books have been written on authentic recipes and techniques, hewing to the codified classics. Ms. Khoo's warm, irresistible energy shines through in her recipes and descriptions of her travels, and I couldn't help but feel a little sunnier each time one of her dishes came out of my own little kitchen.
Find the book at your local library, independent bookstore, or Amazon: My Little French Kitchen: Over 100 Recipes from the Mountains, Market Squares and Shores of France by Rachel Khoo
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