Reflections on a cookbook
As I am writing this, three days have passed since my cookbook, A Kitchen in France, was officially published. Three days since I was in Paris giving a talk at the American library, three days since people all over the world could go into their local bookstore and whether they noticed it or not my book would be there, somewhere in the room, waiting to be picked up, explored, judged, bought or even criticized. It’s also been three days since my husband and daughter walked into a bookstore on rue de Rivoli in Paris, finding the book in stacks on a table in the middle of the room. I wasn’t there but I am told that Louise, our 6-year-old, looked at the stack for about 30 seconds and then asked “why doesn’t anyone want to buy mommy’s book”, then she headed to the cashier and simply asked “Do you know Mimi Thorisson?” The lady answered “The woman who cooks?”. Louise beamed with pride “I am her daughter”. Later that night, when so many people were getting a copy at the American library, waiting in line to have their book signed, she seemed relieved – people seemed to like it after all. We all know that Louise is the businessperson in the family – in fact her father jokes that we can all just comfortably retire now that she’s around.
I went to WHSmith and Galignani on rue de Rivoli all the time when I lived in Paris, probably three times a week. Getting books for me and the kids, magazines, even sweets and tea. Sometimes I would see an attractive book on display in the center of the store, something recently published and beautiful. I always wondered what it would feel like to be among the shelves, to be an author of some kind, to have my own book in the spotlight of a bookstore.
Now I’ve had three days to reflect on the fact that my book is actually for sale in a real bookstore with real customers who in turn choose to buy it even if they could do otherwise. It’s a thrill, I must admit, but it has made me think, now that I’m there “what does it all mean?”
I’ve come to the conclusion that it wouldn’t mean anything at all if I wasn’t proud of it, and I am.
It will be there for our children and their children as a souvenir of the life we had and the food we cooked. It will be there to remind me and my husband that once we were young and had dreams and hoped that our dreams might give wings to the dreams of other people.
But most of all this book is a celebration of good food and mainly good French food. What is French food, is a question I am frequently asked. Is it just frog legs and snails or mainly croque monsieurs and cassoulet’s. What’s the difference between an American steak and a French one? What makes an omelette French and a frittata Italian, are French fries really French? How about French toast?
Go to any city in the world and you can easily find a pizzeria or a trattoria, a noodle bar or a burger joint around the corner. But mostly the bistrots are few and far between. French food is the fancy dress you have in your closet for the annual ball, it’s the tuxedo you take out once or twice a year. It’s a complicated dish best served in a place with three Michelin stars. A tomato and mozzarella salad is so easy to make, that plate of pasta so convenient or just throwing a steak on the grill. But French food is for the chefs … and of course the French.
I guess what I am saying that after three days of reflecting what makes me most happy about this book is not just that it’s there, that I did something exciting or that some people may know my name. It’s the fact that tonight, more people will be making simple, delicious French food, perhaps opening bottles of wine, thinking of France and all is has to offer.
So all there is left to say is bon appétit.
Merci mille fois
This week is a celebration and joyous spirits. It’s also a time for thank you’s and hope to see you again’s.
Thank you ever so much to my readers to take the time to read my blog and share their thoughts and ideas. Many of you have been with me from the very beginning when a garden cake, photographed on an iPhone traveled the world through cyberspace and increased my readership from a few hundred to many more.
And thank you to everybody who’s contributed to Manger with their products, insights, generosity and general wonderfullness.
A big thank you to the dream team at Clarkson Potter who have made this whole process pure joy.
The wonderful Anna Mintz who trotted up and down Manhattan with the pregnant me in sub-zero temperatures in March yet made me feel warm. Kevin Sweeting who is as sweet as his name suggests.
The incomparable Jenny Kate who designed the book so beautifully. Anna Bond from Rifle Paper Co. for her beautiful illustrations.
And finally the best editor in the world, Rica Allannic, so sharp, so quick, so absolutely wonderful to work with.
Of course our story continues, new house, new adventures but that is, as they say, another book!
I wanted this to be a special post and what better way to make it special than to share two of my absolute recipes from the book. In the year that has passed since I handed in my first manuscript I think I must have made these two more often than any other in the whole book. As for the images in this post, they are photographs that we did specially for the book but did not get into the final version. I thought they deserved a chance to shine.
One of my favorite things to serve alongside meat is braised Savoy cabbage. Wonderful things happen when you cook this bitter vegetable with butter and let all the flavors come out. This little dish is really a variation of serving meat with cabbage—it’s all wrapped together in a pretty parcel. Serve it on its own, as a weekend lunch, or as an appetizer for a decadent feast. It’s the sort of dish that will make those at your table wonder, “If this is the starter, what are we having for the main course?”
1 head Savoy cabbage
Unsalted butter, for the pan
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 carrots, finely diced
2/3 pound/300 g ground beef
2/3 pound/300 g good-quality pork sausage meat
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 to 3 sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon Rabelais spice or ground allspice
Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
½ (7-ounce/200-g) can whole tomatoes, crushed, with their juices
1 large egg
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, core the cabbage leaves and separate them, discarding any coarse outer ones. Cook the leaves in boiling water for 8 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool.
Grease the bottom and sides of a deep 7-inch/18-cm soufflé dish or charlotte mold with butter. Put a large pretty cabbage leaf, domed side down, in the dish. Top with another leaf and continue arranging the leaves one on top of another until the entire base and sides are covered. You won’t use all of the leaves at this point (reserve enough for 4 or 5 layers).
Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Cook the onion and carrots until softened, 4 minutes. Add the ground beef, sausage, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, spice and season with salt and pepper to taste and cook, stirring once or twice, until the meat is browned.
Pour in the crushed tomatoes, with their juices, and simmer until nearly all the liquid has been absorbed, about 5 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and let cool.
Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C.
When mixture has cooled, discard the thyme and bay leaf. Add the egg and mix well.
Put a layer of about ½ inch/ 1 cm of the meat in the cabbage-lined dish and top with a cabbage leaf. Repeat until you’ve used all of the meat and filled the dish, about 4 layers. Finish with a final layer of cabbage, making sure to tuck in the leaf on all sides.
Bake for 40 minutes. To unmold, invert a plate over the soufflé dish, flip the plate and dish, and remove the mold. Serve immediately, cut into slices.
Note: Rabelais spice is a mix of allspice, nutmeg and curry – a traditional spice in France since 1820.
This is a wonderful speciality from the medieval town of Pérouges, near Lyon, made from a lemony yeasted brioche dough that is sprinkled with a generous amount of sugar, dotted with butter, and baked in a very hot oven. the sugar caramelizes and each bite is a pure delight. I am very fond of this medieval cake. It is so authentic and simple in taste – exactly what I look for in a dessert.
Serves 4 to 6
3 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/3 cup/ 80 ml lukewarm water
12 tablespoons/ 1 1/2 sticks/180 g unsalted butter, plus more for the bowl, at room temperature
1 large egg
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Pinch of fine sea salt
1/2 cup/ 100 g granulated sugar
1 1/3 cup/ 160 g all-purpose flour, sifted, plus more for rolling
Mix the yeast in the lukewarm water in a small cup. Set aside for 5 minutes to allow the yeast to dissolve.
In a large bowl, mix together 8 tablespoons/ 120 g of the butter with the egg, lemon zest, salt, and 2 tablespoons of the sugar. Add the yeast mixture and then gradually add the flour, mixing with a wooden spoon until you have a soft and elastic dough.
Shape the dough into a ball, put it in a buttered bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and let rise in a warm spot . Press doubled in size, at least 2 hours.
Preheat the oven, 450°F/ 230°C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
On a parchment-paper-lined surface.roll the dough into a 9-inch/23-inch circle about 1/2 inch/1 cm thick. Press on the edges to make a 1/2-inch/ 1-cm wide raised border. Sprinkle the remaining 6 tablespoons/ 75 g sugar over the dough and dot with the remaining 4 tablespoons/ 60 g butter.
Transfer to the baking sheet and bake until golden and caramelized, 15 minutes. let cool for 5 minutes and serve warm.