I've had fun re-watching some of the programmes from Keith Floyd's "Floyd on France". This was a brilliant (and intelligent) television series made during the 1980's, exploring the regional cooking of France. It made the radical innovation of filming in real-life kitchens, in real time; a sort of antithesis to the likes of Auntie Delia and the scary Mrs Cradock. Floyd's anarchic antics were, of course, very amusing too. But, oh, what a contrast "Floyd in France" makes with the formulaic, yoof-orientated rubbish peddled on the television (or computer screens) of today!
Which suddenly reminded me of Mireille Johnston and her French Cookery Course. I had forgotten all about her. In her BBC television series from the early 90's, Mireille comes across as a dishy and sophisticated French housewife, with a drop-dead sexy accent that will break your heart- a lip smackin' mid-life male fantasy. In reality, she was a dishy- and sophisticated- academic; a Fulbright scholar, and translator; she held a doctorate in comperative literature and taught at Yale. In her "Cook's Tour of France", like Floyd, she travelled across the regions of France investigating the local food and sharing the secrets of various Michelin starred restaurants. I'm sure that if we had ever met, I would have liked her. A Lot.
Her book was published by the BBC in two volumes. I bought the first yonks ago and, to my chagrin now, barely looked at it. But it was still there at the back of the shelf- a little yellow in places, slightly dusty and tired, but crying out to be used and loved. And what a terrific book it is! As I get older, I'm really coming to the conclusion that the simple and classic food of the cuisine bourgeoise is The Way Forward for home cooks.
So far, I've made Poule au Pot Farcie (Poached chicken with a chicken liver and spinach stuffing), Poulet au Vinaigre (chicken with vinegar and cucumber), Marmite Dieppoise (creamy mixed fish and seafood flavoured with curry), and Salmon aux Lentilles (salmon with lentils). I love the integrity, simplicity and relative sophistication of local French food. Incidentally, the Salmon with Lentils dish could easily be rustled up as an after-work thing; it's essentially a pan-fried salmon filet served with a creamy lentil sauce.
Mireilles' recipes are easy to make, work brilliantly, don't require strange ingredients and look beautiful on the plate. But I am of course, typing the obvious. All these classic recipes have been handed down from generation to generation, and have been tried, tested, discussed, argued over and refined over many, many, many years. They smack of authenticity. How different from today's so-called celebrity cook books, rushed out for the Christmas market, peppered with mistakes, so often leaving you slightly disappointed; with over-complicated recipes that don't really work.
Mireille Johnston's Complete Cookery Course is currently being peddled on amazon for a penny. I've posted up two videos of Mireille from youtube. If you're a subscriber you may have to have a look at The Greasy Spoon via your web-browser to see them.