Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Food: Recipes, cookbook reviews, food notes, and restaurant reviews. Unless otherwise noted, I have personally tried each recipe that gets its own page, but not necessarily recipes listed as part of a cookbook review.

Mimsy Review: French Bistro Cooking

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, January 25, 1997

Review of French Bistro Cooking, with a recipe for Onion Soup Gratinée.

AuthorJohn Varnom
PublisherChartwell Books, Inc.
Length128 pages
Book Rating7

John Varnom’s coffee-table cookbook has quickly become my one of my favorites, despite the intimidating photographs. Listen to this: “Goose Braised with Onions, Chestnuts and Mushrooms”. Number of steps? Nine! “Braised Chestnuts with Thyme and Bacon”: Four. “Eggplants Stuffed with Garlic and Tomato”: Six. It just doesn’t get any better than this.

Varnom’s philosophy of cooking meshes well with mine. Listen to him talk about the dangers of the artification of cooking:

But this art business has a worse effect yet. It mystifies. Your dish is not simply a collection of ingredients and a recipe, it is something more, something finer, more intangible, something… yes, beyond the reach of ordinary clods. In truth, what is set enticingly before you is nothing other than ingredients and a recipe. And at one point in his life, the chap who cooked it for you could not have boiled an egg.

Here is what you get: Soups, Cold and Warm Appetizers, Fish and Fish Sauces, Poultry Dishes, Meat Dishes, Game Dishes, Vegetable Dishes, Egg and Grain Dishes, Desserts. There are probably only 100 or so recipes, but they cover a range that is more than adequate. And while the results are so good you will be worried about tampering, the recipes are so simple that the temptation to create your own variations will not be overcome. Yes, that sentence makes sense. Read it again!

Also stuffed with great tips on things like how to peel a chestnut, and what the heck is endive and chicory, anyway? Other basic techniques include Béchamels and Veloutés, stocks and glazes, Hollandaise, and Mayonnaise. And if you need to know how to bone a chicken, eleven photographs show you how in disgusting detail.

The ingredient amounts, and the temperatures are given in three formats, for metric, American, and British. So if you carry this book to London you should still be able to use it. Bonus indeed!

Whenever I read this book, I cannot help but start planning a party. I have used French Bistro Cooking to great effect: all my friends think I’m a genius because I can boil water and pour it over French bread.

Onion Soup Gratinée

  • ½ cup butter,
  • 2 cloves crushed garlic,
  • 2 pounds onions,
  • 5 tablespoons flour,
  • 6 slices French bread,
  • ⅔ cup grated Gruyère cheese,
  • salt and pepper.
  1. Melt the butter over medium heat.
  2. Add garlic and onions.
  3. Fry until golden brown.
  4. Add flour and fry until golden.
  5. Add 10 cups hot water.
  6. Season with salt and pepper.
  7. Cook at a rolling boil until the onions are tender.
  8. Skim off any fat.
  9. Place a slice of bread in the bottom of each of six soup bowls and sprinkle the grated cheese over.
  10. Pour on the boiling soup and let stand six minutes.

French Bistro Cooking

John Varnom

My cost: $7.00

Recommendation: Easy and interesting

If you enjoyed French Bistro Cooking…

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For more about French, you might also be interested in City of Lost Children, Fahrenheit 451, King of Hearts, An Old French expletive and The Three Musketeers, French Cooking Simplified With a Food Processor, La Cuisine Française, and Pains Spéciaux & Viennoiseries.