Ripailles, Traditional French Cuisine. Stephane Reynaud.

I have a decent collection of cookbooks. I’ve always loved cookbooks, even before they became a must-have bit of kitchen decor. I know that lots of people buy cookbooks with the best of intentions but never use them. I really do use mine and I am quite deliberate in the way that I use them. When I’m writing my weekly shopping list, I choose a book (I have favourites but I try to be fair to them all!) and I flick through it until I find three or four recipes I’d like to cook. My choice is dictated by mood, energy levels and how close we are getting to the end of the month. Jamie Oliver is for pay-day only, the man seems to think that Parmesan grows on trees. Darina Allen (Ballymaloe) will get you a five course meal for a fiver, as long as you’re willing to eat nettles and suck the marrow from the bone (literally). IMG_6168

This stunning tome of a cookbook has been sadly neglected. I can’t recall cooking a single recipe from this. It was published in 2008 and I’ve noticed it taking pride of place on shelves in pretty pinteresty kitchens. It’s a good-looking book but, just like handsome people, it’s quite intimidating. Fearing that I hold a bias against beautiful books, I determined to discover what I was missing.IMG_6164

At first glance, I couldn’t find anything appealing other than the book itself (snails, anyone?). I enjoyed pressing my flat palm against the smooth, matt paper ( I did say that I am a book person!).IMG_6163

The photographs are so stylish they almost hurt. The book is crammed with witty illustrations.IMG_6166

There are even a couple of songs thrown in.IMG_6165

Damn it, this book has looks and personality. But what about the food?IMG_6161

Deciding on an easy start, I made this Tarte Provencale. It’s just a collection of sauteed vegetables (courgette, aubergine, onion, cherry tomatoes) mixed with sun-dried tomatoes, black olives and basil and then piled on top of flaky pastry (ready-made, in my case). Thirty minutes in a moderate oven gave us a very tasty lunch. IMG_6173

Gunning for a challenge, I tackled the Canard a l’Orange. IMG_6157Duck breasts lay overnight in a bath of orange juice, honey, soy sauce and cinnamon.IMG_6159The next day the meat was fried, skin side down, on a gentle heat until a shocking quantity of fat emerged. The shocking fat was carefully removed (and stored in the fridge for future indulgence) and a blissful sauce made by reducing the marinade. To replace lost fat, and add shine, a generous blob of butter was whisked into the sauce just before serving. Yum.  But calories people……Dear God, I fear to count.IMG_6266My favourite recipe was this Boudin aux Pommes. IMG_6162

Boudin is a blood sausage and I used  black pudding which is our version of the same thing. I haven’t ever had French boudin so I can only guess that it’s not too different. IMG_6232

Black pudding, sliced apples and onions (Reynaud specifies Granny Smith apples and French shallots but I had neither) were all fried in butter. I have made a lunch like this many times myself but the next step was the revelation.IMG_6235

A tablespoon of honey and a small glass of port went in and, in a sizzling flash, the dish was elevated to something very special. IMG_6237

I licked the plate. We all licked our plates and the poor dog was left crying with despair under the table.

This book will enhance any kitchen bookshelf by merit of its aesthetic appeal but it’s not an instruction manual. The recipes are brief and assume more than a basic knowledge. A fairly competent cook should find inspiration and if, like me, you are watching your waistline you can just consume with delight the sheer beauty of it. I won’t be using this book to write my menu plan this week or next, but that boudin aux pommes will become a regular fixture.

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