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Table for Two - Cookbook Review

French Recipes for Romantic Dining

by Marianne Paquin

(Flammarion, 2003)



Table for Two: French Recipes for Romantic Dining by Marianne Paquin

French writer Marianne Paquin's latest book is devoted entirely to gastronomic pleasure for couples. Most of the 80 recipes are stunningly simple, require a short list of ingredients, and entail brief preparation and cooking times.

Paquin's Table for Two reminds me of shopping in Paris. You wander down some side street off the Boulevard St. Germain and stumble upon a tiny, enchanting shop that sells one item, like mustard or olive oil. The window display is elegant and composed, but not over-the-top. You cannot resist taking a peek inside. An hour later you walk out with a bagful. Somehow, those ten square meters so perfectly captured the experience.

The book's introduction is an excerpt from Brillat-Savarin's Influence of Gourmandism Upon Conjugal Happiness — classic, relevant and right to the point. It sets the stage for what follows.

Cocooning comes first. Paquin suggests "structured, generous, full-bodied wines," and develops a winter-perfect menu with such dishes as Chicken Breasts with Chanterelle Mushrooms and Wild Rice, Tagliatelli in Cream with Walnuts, Hazelnuts, Pistachios, Olives and Parma Ham, and Stuffed Fillet of Cod. The salads are all worthwhile and desserts include Chocolate Truffles with Custard Sauce.

Her version of delicious chicken requires only eight ingredients (including pantry staples like salt, pepper and olive oil). It will take you 20 minutes to prepare and 15 minutes to cook. And that's pretty typical of what you'll find in Table for Two. Although scattered challenges arise from the translation, they're easy to solve after a few minutes of reading and thinking.

After Cocooning in the first chapter, Paquin eases us into Dinner By Candlelight where Champagne rules and the food is fine: like Soft-Boiled Eggs with Caviar Fingers, Scallops with Ginger and Lime, and Lamb Sweetbreads with a Salad of Fava Beans. Then it's In the Kitchen for informal foods including Spinach Salad with Egg, Smoked Duck Breast and Roquefort, Fresh Tuna Pizzas, and Madeleine-inspired Tiny Coconut Hearts. The dining then goes al fresco in A Riverside Lunch, laden with the likes of Prawn Toasts with Avocado, Salmon Crêpes with Herbs, and refreshing Lemon Granitas with Verbena.

Figs, truffles, foie gras and unexpected combinations are big players in Bedside Dinners. I, for one, cannot imagine skipping over the Crème Brûlée with Foie Gras, and when it's in season I'll definitely try Pineapple with Szechuan Pepper. Springtime on the Terrace is just the right place to finish, and that's where I would linger over a glass or two of Muscadet, Spring-Vegetable Tart, and Strawberry Soup with Mascarpone and Pink Sugar.

Table for Two is a big, pretty book filled with lots of color, and plenty of luscious photographs from Jacques Boulay. The recipes are inspired and exciting but also sensibly grounded and definitely delicious. Whatever the season or occasion, think about using this book next time you set the table for two.

RECIPE: CHICKEN BREASTS WITH CHANTERELLE MUSHROOMS AND WILD RICE

Reviewed by Kevin Schoeler

 

 

(Updated: 01/24/12 CT)

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