How, exactly, does one review a cookbook?
That was my question to myself after requesting David Lebovitz's "My Paris Kitchen" cookbook. Do you judge it on the pictures? The instructions, whether or not they're easy to follow? How many recipes do you have to make before you can adequately declare a cookbook good or not? Depending on the answer to that question, it could take me MONTHS to review this cookbook.
After some careful thought, I believe the answer to my first question depends on why you bought (or free-requested) the cookbook in the first place. And I requested this cookbook to review because I love Paris, I want to go back to Paris, in an ideal world I want to LIVE in Paris (well, Tours, actually), but this world isn't always so ideal. I want this cookbook so that when the urge hits to be far, far away from South Carolina, living la bonne vie sous mon parapluie en France, I can pull this out, read the stories, run my fingers longingly over the pictures, and maybe make a recipe that will, just for a minute, transport me.
Because isn't that the most inspiring power of food? My B knows that every single time I go out to the patio to pick some fresh basil, I'll come back in the house, close my eyes, take a hearty sniff, sigh, and say, "God, this takes me straight back to Italy." Every time we have cantaloupe, I'm reminded of having breakfast with my grandmother in the summer. Pinto beans and cornbread take me back to my great-grandmother's kitchen. The most elementary purpose of food is to nourish us, to keep us alive. The truest, best purpose of food is to make us feel alive.
With that in mind, reviewing the cookbook became a little easier. I read his intro and his suggested ingredients and tools. I liked that he offered alternatives if certain ingredients are not readily available in the US, or if we truly did need to use what he specified. I also liked his instructions to cook "au pif," or by the nose...meaning, use your common sense and/or your tastes. If you think something needs more seasoning, or less time in the oven, then go for it.
There are a ton of pictures (including ones of Paris, which I ADORE), but not necessarily a picture for every recipe. Some people (including David himself) might say that you don't need a picture, just "follow your nose," but I'm a visual person and I like to have SOME kind of guideline as to what I'm making is supposed to look like. I did like his stories interspersed with the recipes, as well. I think I would almost rather read this book than cook from it.
I made two recipes before writing this review, and since I am the side dish queen, you can guess which section they came from. We made the green beans with snail butter and the French lentil salad with goat cheese and walnuts. Both were good, although the green beans were a much bigger hit. The lentils were good, but they need a little something else, and we can't figure out what it is. Both recipes were extremely easy to follow and very detailed. I felt confident following the instructions, and I also felt confident deviating a little. It was a good experience with a cookbook. My next project is going to be Coq au Vin, and I think it will be great.
If you can't live in France, "My Paris Kitchen" is (almost) the next best thing.
Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.