Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan is my favorite cookbook of the year. It's the kind of book you crack open and flip through while your jaw slowly drops. First, there are the pictures: a light-filled tableau of pale yellow wine and olive fougasse strewn with crystals of salt; crisp flounder meunière gilded with browned butter and almonds; a basket of cloverleaf rolls so shiny and perfect you can practically smell them. After the pictures, there are the recipes, dish after dish of tantalizing French goodness, culminating in buttery, ethereal-looking desserts.
The difference between Around My French Table (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $40) and cookbooks like Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home and Sam Beall's The Blackberry Farm Cookbook is that this book actually inspires me to cook. The others are lovely but intimidating. Greenspan's recipes are not usually as involved as Keller's, but it's her writing that makes the crucial difference. She writes like she wishes she could reach through the pages and pull you into her Paris kitchen -- a most welcome experience indeed, as her kitchen appears to be the center of all fabulousness.
In the book's introduction, Greenspan reminisces about falling in love with Paris, bite by bite: "The [barquette's] crust was so beautifully baked and flaky that when I took the first bite, small shards of it flew across my scarf." You can practically hear her delighted giggle. She determines to make a home in Paris someday, taking French lessons and practicing "making an espresso last long enough to get through a chapter of Sartre." She's head over heels.
I would be too, if I'd had all the amazing meals Greenspan's had, with mentors like Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Gilbert Le Coze, Alain Ducasse, and Pierre Hermé. Luckily for us, their influences and in some cases their recipes are here, translated literally and figuratively for American cooks. After reading about hachis parmentier, a homey shepherd's pie beloved by Daniel Boulud, I decided to try making it-the "easy" version, which saved my lazy self from making my own bouillon and chopping some beef. I got a little turned around trying to figure out how to dovetail the main recipe and the easier version, but whatever I did, it turned out delicious: a savory mixture of ground beef and pork sausage topped with mashed potatoes and a little Gruyere on top. The pork sausage is an unconventional addition by Greenspan; it's a French book, but she's not afraid to mix it up a bit.
Greenspan's personality permeates each recipe down to the instructions, as though she's there next to you, guiding and giving useful advice. "You're going to add the pasta to this pan, so make sure it's large enough," she notes, after directing you to melt some butter; in the recipe for vanilla-butter-braised lobster, she gets stern, suggesting that "even if you never wear an apron… make an exception and don one now."
There are so many other recipes I want to make, because they sound and look delicious and because Greenspan's enthusiasm makes me want what she has. She has chicken, apples, and cream à la normande; lime and honey beet salad; gorgonzola-apple quiche; and butter and rum crepes. She has beggar's linguine, which combines pistachios, almonds, figs, raisins, and chives. She has fun stuff like "salted butter break-ups," a giant butter cookie that you place in the middle of the table; guests break off pieces for themselves. She can make both poached eggs and ruffly poached eggs. Dorie, adopt me, s'il vous plait. I will begin French lessons immédiatement.