Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Le Père Noël is here in my classroom with some beautifully wrapped gifts.  My advisees and I decided we would draw names and play "Secret Snowflake" -- our version of Secret Santa.  We brought in little gifts for each other for 5 days.  One of my advisees brought in the little French Père Noël and he kept watch over the gifts.
Choosing just the right gift for someone is one of life's greatest pleasures.  I am lucky if I am able to do that once or twice a year.  You know, the AH HA! moment when you see something that you just know is the perfect fit for a friend or relative.  I gave my Secret Snowflake some bubblegum shaped like coal and she loved it.  It turned her tongue and teeth black when she chewed it.  Just a little thing but right up a 7th grader's alley.
My friend Daniela came in one day this fall with a gift for me.  She is like that-- always very thoughtful.  I am the recipient of her generous nature more times than I deserve.  She loves thrift and secondhand shops as much as I do.  Just one of the things we have in common.  This is what she found for me:

This, mes amis, is the Bible of French cooking-- Larousse Gastronomique.  She found this tome, formerly on the shelf of the Muscle Shoals Regional Library, while she was out and about one day.  It is the English version,  printed in 1961.  It includes prefaces to the original version written by Auguste Escoffier and Philéas Gilbert.   It is 1101 pages thick and has 8500 recipes and 1000 illustrations.  It is known as the "Encyclopedia of Food, Wine and Cookery."  I must admit that it scares me a bit.  Or maybe overwhelms me is more appropriate.  However, I pull it out once in a while and just randomly open it to a page and read. 
Potatoes is the heading I am looking at right now.  Parmentier potatoes (Oh, Julia!), parsley potatoes, potatoes à la paysanne (made with sorrel, butter, chervil, garlic, salt pepper and meat stock), potato purée (otherwise known as mashed potatoes), potato purée à la crème (is there any other way??), potato purée au gratin (with some grated cheese on top and baked), potato purée soup, potato quenelles à l'alsacienne (mashed potatoes with eggs, flour, salt, pepper and nutmeg added to make a paste, quenelled or shaped into balls and then poached in salted water, drained, placed in a buttered dish and drizzled with hot noisette butter mixed with freshly grated lightly fried breadcrumbs), potato quenelles with Parmesan cheese, etc etc etc.  Since it is now noon and I am starving, I think I will stop right here.  Hmmm... wonder where I can find some potatoes for lunch?

Parmentier potatoes are named for Antoine-Augustin Parmentier (1737-1813) a fascinating fellow who is remembered as a "vocal promoter of the potato as a food source for humans in France and throughout Europe" according to Wikipedia.  Here is the recipe found in Larousse--

Parmentier Potatoes
Pommes de terre parmentier

Cut potatoes into pieces about 1/3 inch square.  Cook them in butter.  Serve in a vegetable dish and sprinkle with chopped parsley.
Note:  These potatoes are more often cooked with the meat with which they are served.

Here is another version, with specific ingredient amounts... Julia loved them and they are so simple!

Parmentier Potatoes

Serves 4
1 1/2 lb. potatoes
1 c. butter
1 Tbsp. parsley, chopped for garnish
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400F.
Peel and cut the potatoes into small pieces, about 1/2 inch square.  Season the diced potatoes with salt and pepper.
Cook in melted butter in the oven for about 25 minutes, turning occasionally, until they are golden brown.
Sprinkle with the chopped parsley as a garnish.

Bon appétit, Larousse Gastronomique!

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