Dorie Greenspan has worked in the kitchens of the world's most revered chefs: Pierre Herme in Paris, Jean-Georges Vongerichten in New York, and America's own French cook, Julia Child.
She has witnessed, even assisted in, the preparation of the most exquisite patisseries on the planet, gussied and glazed to perfection by food stylists for stunning photography.
And still, when the best-selling cookbook author took time out from her most recent book tour to cook at my house, she rhapsodized over my little orange almond tart as if I had baked something off the dessert cart at Le Bec-Fin: "Just look at that tart you made!" she cooed. "You made that! It's so beautiful!"
No wonder Julia Child had her number on speed dial. (It's true. You can still see "Dorie G." on the phone that hangs in Julia Child's kitchen in the Smithsonian Institution.)
So I begin to understand why everyone wants Dorie Greenspan in their kitchen, writing their cookbooks, testing their recipes, and why she gets invited to all the best dinner parties.
While she speaks perfect French, rotates between apartments in Paris and Manhattan and a home in Connecticut, and cooks and bakes with the utmost sophistication and expertise, she is so "not a snob -- food or otherwise.
"I am really, truly, just a home cook," she insists. That humble, charming, sunny persona resonates from the pages of her latest offering: "Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes From My Home to Yours (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), a compilation of her favorite recipes gathered over the last 30 years -- from French friends and neighbors, bistro owners, even from the back of a card at a cheese shop in Provence.
Each recipe is accompanied by a little story about its history: her attempt to come up with her own lentil soup after hearing Jean-Georges Vongerichten rave about his childhood staple; her favorite salad from her friend Helene Samuel's snack bar at Paris' Le Bon Marche, and so on.
"I would love for this book to give people a new look at French food," says Greenspan, 62, "so they could understand: It's not fussy, it's not formal, it's not technique-driven, it's not difficult to make, it's not a weekend project. It's just delicious, homey food for every day, from a land that has treasured food."
The book is her 10th, and even though she may not be a household name with the Food Network nation, she has achieved critical success with numerous awards, including two James Beards -- and a loyal following that has been building since her breakout book in 1996, the best-selling "Baking With Julia," which accompanied Julia Child's public television series.
From there, she worked on two cookbooks for Herme, king of Paris pastry chefs, and another for chef Daniel Boulud, before turning to the first major project of her own: "Baking, From My Home to Yours" (Houghton Mifflin, 2006), a 500-page ode to her first love, with three decades worth of her favorite things to bake, also with personal anecdotes and tips from working beside all those famous chefs.
That book inspired an online cooking following, sparked by the blog "Tuesdays with Dorie." A similar community, "French Fridays with Dorie," has evolved around her new book, released only this month.
> Chicken in the Pot: The Garlic and Lemon Version
1/2 preserved lemon (see note)
1 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and each cut into 8 same-sized pieces (white potatoes may be substituted)
16 small white or yellow onions or shallots
8 carrots, trimmed, peeled, and quartered
4 celery stalks, trimmed, peeled, and quartered
4 garlic heads, cloves separated but not peeled
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3 thyme sprigs
3 parsley sprigs
2 rosemary sprigs
1 chicken, about 4 pounds, whole or cut into 8 pieces, at room temperature
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup hot water
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Using a paring knife, slice the peel from the preserved lemon and cut it into small squares; discard the pulp. Bring the water and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan, drop in the peel, and cook for 1 minute; drain and set aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the vegetables and garlic, season with salt and pepper, and saute until the vegetables are brown on all sides (if necessary, do this in 2 batches.) Spoon the vegetables into a 4 1/2 - to 5-quart Dutch oven or other pot with a lid and stir in the herbs and the preserved lemon.
Return the skillet to the heat, add another tablespoon of oil, and brown the chicken on all sides, seasoning it with salt and pepper as it cooks. Tuck the chicken into the casserole, surrounding it with the vegetables. Mix together the broth, wine, and the remaining olive oil and pour over the chicken and vegetables.
Put 1 1/2 cups flour in a medium bowl and add enough hot water to make a malleable dough. Dust a work surface with a little flour, turn out the dough, and, working with your hands, roll the dough into a sausage. Place the dough on the rim of the pot -- if it breaks, just piece it together -- and press the lid onto the dough to seal the pot.
Slide the pot into the oven and bake for 55 minutes.
Now you have a choice -- you can break the seal in the kitchen or do it at the table, where it's bound to make a mess, but where everyone will have the pleasure of sharing that first fragrant whiff as you lift the lid with a flourish. Whether at the table or in the kitchen, the best tool to break the seal is the least attractive -- a screwdriver. Use the point of the screwdriver as a lever to separate the lid from the dough.
Depending on whether your chicken was whole or cut up, you might have to do some in-the-kitchen carving, but in the end, you want to make sure the vegetables and the delicious broth are on the table with the chicken. Makes 5 servings.
Note: Prepare preserved lemons by cutting deep slits in lemons and burying them in salt and their own juices for at least three weeks.Per serving: 486 calories, 45 grams protein, 63 grams carbohydrates, 34grams sugar, 6 grams fat, 127 milligrams cholesterol, 311 milligrams sodium, 10 grams dietary fiber.