Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Review: French Women Don't Get Fat Cookbook

Way back when, I read Mirielle Guliano's bestselling French Women Don't Get Fat and found myself inspired. I'm too much of a food-lover to subscribe for very long to any restrictive diet. So her simple and non-restrictive style of eating was appealing - it's a lifestyle, not a diet. In short, pay attention to what you're eating and truly savor it. Choose fresh, seasonal, natural foods - they taste better and aren't filled with nasty ingredients. And generally don't eat like a pig. Easy enough, right?

Now acolytes of her French style of eating can find a full book of recipes in the French Women Don't Get Fat Cookbook. The book contains recipes for all courses and meals of the day, ranging in complexity from soft scrambled eggs to duck breasts a la gasconne with wild rice. Her recipes don't include nutritional information so you have to take her word for it that eating these dishes as described is indeed healthy.

Being French, Guiliano doesn't shy away from ingredients like butter or cream - her focus is on maximizing flavor and minimizing the need for overindulging or masking poor flavor with salt. But make no mistake, she's no Julia Child - these dishes are still fairly modest in their illicit ingredient content compared to what you might find at a French restaurant.

Generally I'd not recommend this as the cookbook for sophisticated chefs. Rather it's more for people looking to embrace a French style of healthier eating - more about what you're eating than particularly complex flavor profiles or cooking techniques. French cuisine is often very subtle in terms of flavors, and I suspect that my over-titillated taste buds just don't get that jazzed about mackerel with carrots and leeks.

Interestingly, she seems to favor certain ingredients that American families are less used to, such as leeks (used especially frequently) and celeriac. So on the plus side you will get introduced to some new flavors if you try out her recipes, on the minus side you might flip right past some of her less compelling sounding dishes.

She spends quite a bit of time discussing various detox type dishes which she suggests you eat for anywhere from one day to several in an effort to kickstart your healthy eating and weight loss. Both in her original book and this one, she talks about the Magical Leek Soup. I generally like leeks but I simply can't get excited at the prospect of several days of eating mostly leek soup, although I can imagine that if forced to eat so many of them, I would indeed lose weight, at least temporarily.

I was pleased however to find that one of her detox type dishes was very close to something I already regularly eat - yogurt. Not the sugar infested kind the clogs grocery shelves, but real yogurt who's only ingredients are yogurt and culture - no added sugar. I buy a goat milk variety at whole foods and eat it every morning with a little fruit. Thanks to Guilano's Tante Berthe Magical Breakfast Cream recipe, I now have tweaked my breakfast recipe to be a bit more well rounded and tasty. Here's my version:

4 Spoonfuls of plain goat's milk yogurt
1 Spoonful flaxseed oil
1 Spoonful lemon juice
2 Tbsp sugarless cereal (I use Ezekial 4:9)
2 tsp crumbled walnuts
a drop of honey
whatever fruit I have on hand (microwaved frozen fruit works well)

So yummy and filling and good for you. Creamy and crunchy, sweet and tangy. Might sound weird but I promise it's so good. In this case Guilano and I are totally on the same page!

I also tested out a couple of her veggie sides - the Leek and Onion Parmesan and Saute of Peas and Prosciutto with Fresh Mint. The former was weird for me - it was just a lot of onion flavor. I suppose it's a good way to get more vegetables on your plate as it is a rather hefty serving, and it certainly tasted OK, but I didn't like it enough for an encore performance. The peas were a much a bigger hit. I am always a huge fan of peas and mint, and in this case the shallot and prosciutto add even more layers of flavor with minimal extra effort.

In addition to recipes, you'll find anecdotes from her rather glamorous life (she is the former president and CEO of Clicquot, Inc. after all!) and her perspective on frequently asked questions about topics such as sodium intake, the influence of family eating habits and exercise. Sometimes her stories are rather simplistic and hard to believe, like the child who knows what apple pie is but not an apple, but then again I suppose it is impossible to overestimate American's bad eating habits.

All in all, she doesn't share anything earth shattering, but that's the point. Her way of eating is simple - eat in moderation and enjoy. With these recipes you can take healthy eating into your own hands, get more connected with your food and actually be confident that you're putting the right things in your body. If nothing else, trying out some of these recipes will give you a better perspective on appropriate serving sizes and balance of vegetables to seasonings to protein, and you may happen upon a random recipe that becomes a favorite standby.

Sadly French women are actually getting fatter these days, but it's because they're eating more like us, not because their historic eating style was bad. Eating like a French woman of yore is totally in line with farm to table, slow food and every other trendy food topic of the moment, so take a deep breath and savor each and every flavorful bite!
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