Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Art of Simple Food

Everyday French cooking is not a pricey affair. The French are thrifty--even frugal--perhaps a holdover from WWII when food was scarce. In everyday French cooking, less expensive cuts of meat, fresh aromatic vegetables, and savory sauces combine to make simple but delicious meals. And unless there is a large kitchen and ample storage, ingredients are purchased daily, or several times each week. This insures that indgredients are fresh, and nothing is wasted.

I've adopted these same shopping and cooking habits. Of course it took months to break the routine of a big, weekly grocery shopping and stocking the pantry full. Now, a trip to the market means buying fresh bread, meat for that evening's meal, and several fresh carrots instead of a two pound bag. Even if I market several times a week instead of daily, I only purchase ingredients for two or three meals, not a week's worth. I've made it work for me, and I believe I have the French to thank for it.

A cookbook that has helped is Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food. An advocate of buying fresh and local long before it was fashionable, Waters changed many people's minds about the way they shop for ingredients and cook. And while not a French cookbook, the approach in The Art of Simple Food is très French: the freshest ingredients, simply prepared. A recipe for a pâte sucrée can be prepared in fifteen minutes, and a recipe for braised chicken legs is as delicious as you would find in any Parisan bistro. I also love the book itself: the sunny yellow cover, the red cloth spine, the pressed lettering, and its size and weight make this book a pleasure to hold. The price of $23 was worth it since I use it several times a week.

Today was cold and rainy in the DC area, a perfect day for a meal from this favorite cookbook: braised short ribs cooked with vegetables and potatoes. This humble cut of meat is so inexpensive but so delicious when prepared à la Waters, and the aroma filled the house all day.

The cost of the meal, including wine and bread: less than $18. How very French, non?


  1. I have this cookbook but I have yet to crack it open and try something. I know! I think I am now inspired to pick out one recipe and try it this week. I am so impressed you market as needed during the week. Was it just a forced change that you made that eventually became natural and routine? Or was it an easy transition?

    What are your favorite recipes from The Art of Simple Food?

  2. I think my favorites are the braised meat dishes, like the short ribs I made today. I love the convenience of preparing everything in one pot, and the reduced sauces are the best I've ever made. Of course, these are not quick weeknight meals, as good braising takes hours. But they are perfect for the weekend.

    Maybe try the Potato Gratin recipe on page 318? It's so easy, and if you cut the potatoes thin it cooks in less than an hour. With a salad and wine, the gratin is a meal in itself.

    And thank you for your question about marketing. It's on my list of topics for posting in the next week or so.

  3. Good for you....I think more and more people are slowing down and looking at what they are eating...which is not only good for your health but spirit as's rather be able to go to a fresh market every week is SUCH a blessing no?
    Have you become a Slow Food member? If not, you might want to- I've never come to visit your site (I don't recall at least) but I do have to say- this first impression was nice :)

  4. Yes, Anne Marie, I agree. I believe more people are slowing down, thinking more about the way they shop for and prepare meals, changing their relationship with food. I am not able to buy local year round, but I do appreciate being able to buy *fresh.*

    I am familiar with the Slow Food movement; it was no surprise to me that it started in Europe . . .

  5. I love, love, love this cookbook and agree with everything you said about it!
    Kristi from FC

  6. I agree. I love this book; I've learned so much by using it. Do you have favorite recipes?

  7. Sadly, no. I have checked it out from the library several times, but have not yet bought it ... it's on my "next book to buy list!"
    My favorite cookbooks that I currently own are Joie de Vivre and La Bella Cucina, like the Art of Simple Food they contain much more than recipes, but ideas about maintaining a kitchen and how to eat and live!

  8. Kristi, are you referring to Robert Arbor's Joie de Vivre? I appreciate that book, as it presents ideas and provides recipes for much more than food!

  9. Yes, that one. I agree. He outlines a whole French way of life. I spend every morning at his Soho cafe whenever I visit my brother there. It's wonderful: big bowls of cafe au lait; regulars stopping in and kissing the waitstaff on the cheeks; a small boy riding his tricycle around the inside of the store; a big roasting rack set up on the sidewalk roasting chickens for later in the day ...