I’ve skimmed through many cookbooks for beginners and even reviewed one or two. They’re a great tool for teaching tips and tricks and for helping cooks to build confidence in the kitchen. Where I struggle is that most of them offer similar kinds of dishes. They’re often tasty and healthy, and I happily add many to my growing repertoire of frequent meals but, ultimately, if I’ve read one, I’ve read most of them.
Now we have the Ross family, who have taken 30 years of experience in French cookery and developed this cookbook which they “hope will prove a great first cookbook; a gateway into a new world of kitchen confidence”. They have, and it’s as refreshing as it is delightful.
Simplicity is the key as Cai, Bob and Barbara unlock a collection of “tried and tested recipes”, steering clear of the more complicated fare often found in French cookbooks. Likewise, they avoid recipes requiring hard-to-find ingredients. What they do provide is a tempting selection of delicious recipes that are “the kind of food that French mothers would whip up”.
The big colourful photos and personable reminiscences that introduce most recipes really give this book a homely feel, despite the professional layout and design. I particularly liked Cai’s chat on page 15 about “the secret to not losing your head” in the kitchen. The importance of being prepared and reading the full recipe in advance cannot be under-estimated – as I’ve found out myself on past occasions.
Of the eight recipes I pinpointed to try out, it was difficult to whittle that down to just two for this review. Favourites included The Ultimate Idiot-Proof Fish Recipe on page 58, a meatball dish on page 100 (Jeeze, I love meatballs!), a ratatouille (page 122) and a cherry flan (page 136). After my success with the two I settled on, I intend to make all of those others as time permits.
Cauliflower & Almond Soup (page 26)
I almost didn’t make this recipe, despite recently rediscovering a whole new love of cauliflower. The recipe looked far too basic and I was fairly certain that something so simple could not be that great. I’m happy to say I was wrong. So wrong, in fact, that a few friends are begging for the recipe. With flaked almonds to give the soup texture, and an ingredient list that is as short as the instructions, this cauliflower soup is incredibly delicious with a creamy aftertaste that leaves you craving more. It goes particularly well with extra cracked pepper and some warm, crusty, buttered bread.
The recipe serves up quite a lot so it’s perfect for a dinner party. One ingredient is milk, but you can use the milk of your choice, noting that boutique milks such as almond or rice milk will change the flavour. I do know regular milk can be frozen for up to 1 or 2 months so there shouldn’t be any issues with freezing any leftovers to enjoy another day. I can’t rave about this soup enough and absolutely recommend you make a beeline to it when you purchase this book.
Hungarian Goulash À La Little Budworth Circa 1968 (page 94)
I wasn’t expecting a touch of nostalgia nor a Hungarian goulash in a French recipe book but, as is pointed out, both are enjoyed worldwide. The goulash, like the cauliflower soup, was so easy to make that it’s hard to understand just how much flavour is packed into each mouthful. The recipe takes about 90 minutes to cook in the oven but is straight-forward, with the prep time primarily going towards browning the meat and chopping up the vegetables. I did find the meat a bit tough however, and threw it in a pressure cooker for some extra time to tenderise the meat. In future, I’d make this in a slow or pressure cooker instead of the oven.
The combination of green capsicum for its bitterness and red capsicum for its sweetness works a treat. Until now I hadn’t given any thought to the difference between capsicum colours but it’s a prime example of how the Ross family is able to use such knowledge to create so much subtlety in their flavours.
La Vie Paysanne is an exceptionally handy cookbook that will make your dinner guests think you’re a whiz in the kitchen. My advice: Keep the simplicity of some of these recipes a secret and live the lie!
Reviewed by Rod Lewis
Rating out of 10: 10
Distributed by: New Holland Publishers
Released: May 2018
RRP: $35 hardback