Tuesday, 21 February 2012

"French Taste" by Laura Calder

      I have this thing about cookbooks - I adore them. I read them like novels, usually before bed as it helps me wind down after a long, non-stimulating day in the office. They inspire me, excite me, and there have been moments reading a certain recipe where I'm so in awe that my breathe has escaped from me. For the past few weeks now, I have had the privelege of immersing myself into Chef Laura Calder's second cookbook, French Taste. I received all of Calder's cookbooks for Christmas, and  couldn't wait to get my hands on this book in particular; I've had my eye on it for quite some time but just never picked it up. You know those times where you see something that you really like, but still opt to buy something else? I do that all the time, often because I feel I need to leave the thing I really want for a special occasion, so I spend the same amount of money on something I want less when I could have just had what I wanted in the first place. I hate it! It's something I noticed about myself just before the new year and made it my New Year's Resolution to stop it, and just do what I want! Life is too short to punish yourself over silly little things. I think I've been doing pretty well with this resolution so far, because almost two months later I've still managed to keep it! Anyways - rant over, on with the review!

Book cover. Photo from www.lauracalder.ca

     If you have never heard of Laura Calder, she is a Canadian chef who specializes in French food, having lived many years in France and studying the cuisine there (you can read more about Laura's life on her website). She is also the host of TV show "French Food at Home" and most recently one of the judges on "Recipe to Riches." Her French food show is where I first heard of her and developed an interest in pretty much all things French, and became a big fan. One thing I like about Laura is that she talks about food like one would discuss art with an old friend, discussing not only the taste, but the colour of the food and how well certain foods look so well together. French Taste doesn't seem like another generic cookbook; reading the little anecdotes or background stories on a certain dish and how it came to be is like reading poetry. While reading, I sometimes felt as if I was transported back to Prince Edward Island, early 1900s, listening to Anne Shirley describe the Lake of Shining Waters or the cherry blossoms in spring. Only it's Laura Calder talking about food, describing the "little threads of olive oil". I can feel her passion oozing off the page. It's captivating. Reading it is like indulging in a guilty pleasure, only Laura convinces you to never feel guilty about embracing your pleasures; a great lesson to be learnt by many, including myself, as it's engrained in us to work more than play and deprive ourselves of the simple pleasures in life, which is very silly but something I still find hard to practise. Maybe I need to move to France :)

Poulet au Paprika with Potatoes

     Another thing I like about French Taste is that Laura doesn't pretend to know it all. She leaves it up to us, the readers, to make up our own minds about what we like; a little pepper or a lot, a big squeeze of lemon or a little, etc., and she is often inspired by other people's recipes. To me this just drives home the fact that she isn't one of those people who, when it comes to cooking, acts as if it's her way or no way. She works with what's best for the sake of her art and the people she shares it with. However, as much as I appreciate the freedom that allows, there were some recipes where I really wished I had some guidelines. For example, when I made Laura's Cheese and Herb Souffle, it didn't give any suggestions of what herbs to use or what cheese would go best. But there were times where Laura did give suggestions as to what dishes would pair well together, which was nice as it's hard to know where to start sometimes.

Cheese and Herb Souffle

     Whenever I read a cookbook, for some reason I don't always expect to like the recipes in there, I just read them because food is something I am passionate about and I'm always curious and wanting to learn about different foods. It was the same with French Taste. I wasn't expecting to want to make everything (and I don't want to make everything) but it's pretty darn close. I hadn't even gotten through the hors d'oeuvres section and felt I already needed to make a list of things I wanted to make, and not only that, but I was excited to try them! Also, the thing I appreciated about this book is that I don't feel like the recipes are too complicated or unrealistic. The only thing I slightly guffawed at were the duck recipes... that is until I found whole duck in my grocery store. Laughed too soon, but it's still not something I would try just yet. Also, very rarely will you be overwhelmed by enormous instructions. They are in paragraph form, which to be honest I find kind of annoying as I always tend to lose my place (and it would help if the book had a few more pictures), but the paragraphs are short and detailed, yet to the point, which makes me feel more confident in my attempt, and I think that's the message Laura is trying to convey. The message that French recipes can be just as simple and straight forward and the recipes we cook everyday. We are only intimidated by them because we often equate French anything with fancy and elegant, which is, of course, way over our toque-covered Canadian heads. French recipes are nothing to be afraid of, they're to be celebrated. They are for the amateur just as they are for the professional.

Provencal Rack of Lamb, Accordian Potatoes, and House Vinaigrette.
     Laura Calder's French Taste has something for everyone. There are really good meat recipes, but there are also a good share of vegetarian recipes that you could easily turn into a meal. Because of Laura Calder, not only has my knowledge of French food increased, but my confidence in the kitchen has gone up, as well! If you can, you absolutely must get your hands on this book, and make at least three things. It will change your whole perception of not only eating with pleasure but living with pleasure.

Squash Cake with Cinnamon Whipped Cream
     In my review of this book I really wanted to go out on a limb and make something *really French*, and I tried, but I feel like I still stuck to the safe side. The recipes I made are (as pictured throughout this post):

 - Cheese and Herb Souffle
 - Provencal Rack of Lamb, with Accordian Potatoes, and House Vinaigrette
 - Squash Cake
 - Poulet au Paprika
     There were so many more that I wanted to try, but had to limit it. There are other cookbooks to read, more recipes to make and food to eat! But I will definately be making my way back to French Taste again. Some recipes I still want to try are Beef Bourguignon, Sausages and Lentils, Olive Oil and Grape Cake, Salmon and Asparagus in Puff Pastry, and a bread recipe, among many others.




  1. What a great post! I must admit that I love to cook, but I never did something french and this cookbook is good to start with! I'm sure that I will love the recipes. The one that you've done looks really delicious! I've made an order from here: http://www.canadathestore.com/products/french-taste and hopefully in two days I will have it! I can't wait to try something!

    1. Thank you! That's wonderful, I hope you like the book. Have you made anything yet? :)