Madeleine Kamman is one of those food writers that is very well known in certain circles and yet, puzzlingly, has never really dominated the food scene. She writes books that are educational, informative, opinionated and readable, all very important things. Back when I was in culinary school, one of my instructors held up her book, The New Making of a Cook, and told us all to go out and buy it if we were serious about heading into fine dining. I immediately went out and picked it up and then proceeded to slowly collect every single book of hers that I could get my hands on. Her books make you smarter in the kitchen. Unfortunately the New Making of a Cook is not as easy to find as it should be, large comprehensive culinary tomes have a very specific audience. Fortunately she has written several other slightly shorter books that are equally wonderful and today we are giving away her memoir/cookbook When French Women Cook.
I'm a sucker for gastronimic memoirs. There's something in the way that the stories are woven around the recipes that makes them both stay with me longer. A well written memoir is something special. I cut my teeth on MFK Fisher's The Art of Eating and James Beard's Delights and Prejudices, moved on to John Thorne, Roy Andries de Groot, Calvin Trillin, and Laurie Colwin and a lifelong obsession was born. There are a lot more food memoirs out there now, some are pretty wonderful and others are only loosely about food. The very best food writers understand how to draw you into their culinary lives while still establishing a boundary. There is sharing and then there is over-sharing. A good writer knows exactly where their personal line in the sand is drawn and can write beautiful stories and recipes right up to that point.
I happened to pick up When French Women Cook this afternoon and randomly opened it to a recipe for Heavy Cream Brioche. It was a reminder to me that everything has been done before as the recipe is basically a no-knead brioche recipe developed long before the idea of no-knead bread became mainstream. It is made with melted butter and forms a very loose, liquid batter that is allowed to rise in the pan that it will be baked in. While written in an old fashioned voice, which is one of the things I love about Kamman's writing, it has very precise instructions and looks to be something I may have to try in the very near future. The recipe is part of a group at the end of a chapter titled "Henriette," which takes place in Normandy, 1939. It is a snapshot of a time and place that no longer exists, told with such evocation that you'll wish you could travel back in time to experience it.
I think that When French Women Cook will be an admirable addition to the library of anyone who loves food. Unsurprisingly the dishes are very French. The recipes are relatively short and encompass a wide range of preparations including Oysters with Muscadet Fennel Butter, several different pates and terrines, Poached Chicken in Vinegar Sauce, Lobster with Garden Vegetables, Artichokes with Tomato Fondue and several regional breads and desserts. It is a wonderful book and a good introduction to the world of Madeleine Kamman. To enter to win a copy of the book please leave a comment below telling us about a woman who has influenced you in the kitchen. One entry per person please and please be sure that there is an email address attached to your comment so that we can contact you if you win. Comments are moderated and will not appear immediately. Winner will be picked on Friday, January 20, 2011 at 9am EST. This giveaway is now closed. Our winner has been notified via email. Thank you for all your great comments.
January 17, 2005