Since moving to France I've had the good fortune to learn some tricks of the trade from some of the finest chefs in the world. These chefs don't have restaurants, mind you, and their culinary accomplishments are unknown except to the friends and family members that eagerly patronize their tables, but they have nonetheless given this amateur kitchen-dweller a first-class education in the finer points of French cuisine.
Thanks to their gastronomical tutelage, I now know to make coq au vin, quiche lorraine, gratin dauphiois, soup au pistou, crepes, cheese souflées, daube and an exquisite vinaigrette from scratch. I've also accumulated a list of some of my own recipes, like duck in cherry sauce; rabbit in a creamy white wine, mustard and tarragon sauce; perfect pumpkin soup and the banana, coconut and almond muffins that Johann's co-workers keep begging him to bring to the office.
Because not everyone is lucky enough to have a team of French grandmothers, aunts, neighbors and mothers-in-law to give them advice, and because I am often asked for some of the recipes I've learned, I thought I would share a list of some of my favorite cookbooks (see right, under "Books"), just in time for the holidays.
Though it doesn't focus on French cuisine, I highly recommend Feast, which was a gift from our dear friends Jenni and Colin and is chock-full of festive holiday fare. Check out the cake on page 286, which is made with Guinness and actually resembles a pint of it, with the dark chocolate cake supporting a layer of frothy white frosting that could almost be foam. There are also recipies for a gorgeous Thanksgiving turkey, temptingly tasty Christmas ham and even goose stuffed with mashed potatoes.
French Leave is also a good choice, written by an English chef who took up residence in the southwestern part of France and spent a year researching the best French recipes of each season. It's a good example of adherence to the French principle of fresh, high-quality ingredients simply prepared and beautifully served.
So there you have it, my culinary secrets revealed. Enjoy!