Glorious cookbooks and a vegetarian recipe for a boozy French chocolate mousse perfect for the holidays

All sorts of wonderful cookbooks and food-related books (for example, there is a memoir of a famous food editor out in paperback) are hitting store shelves right now. So this week and next, I am going to look at an amazing variety of titles. So many, in fact, that you are sure to find some good reads for yourself and some good reads to give to a friend or love this holiday season.

And, just for fun, I am also going to post an almost vegetarian recipe in every post that will be perfect for a holiday meal.

So let’s dive in . . .

Today, I’m going to start with two French cookbooks. I tend to gravitate toward the French books because the tried-and-true French recipes tend to be both gorgeous and incredibly tasty. Of course, I head straight for the almost vegetarian (and vegan) recipes, but I do browse the meat-based items for inspiration. For example, I was once so inspired by an Alsatian Onion Tart recipe I found in Julia Child’s Baking with Julia that I made an almost vegetarian version that is delicious, elegant, and easy enough to serve to guests. The recipe is here and it is gorgeous, if I do say so myself.

So let’s tip toe through the books.

Cooking School Province: Shop, Cook, and Eat Like a Local
If you are going to start cooking French, it seems to me that the place to start is in school. And, why look, here’s a book that’s perfect!

Now, I must admit that this book is actually Plan B. I resorted to Plan B because Plan A went like this:
“Darling, let’s go to southern France and learn how to cook the way the French do it.”
“Okay? Really? Well, when do you want to go?”
“Whenever you like.”
“Fabulous! Let’s go for the holidays!”
“Sure. But will that give us enough time to save?”
“Well, it’s going to cost a few thousand at least for airfare and hotels and meals and stuff.”
“A few thousand? Jeez, we don’t have that. Think we can afford $25 instead?”
“Sure. What for?”
“A French cookbook.”
“Knock yourself out.”

Welcome to Plan B.

Now, Cooking School Provence is a book I would want to own even if I had cooked my way across the south of France (or, at least, Provence) if just to flip through the gorgeous pictures and try the incredible range of almost vegetarian recipes which include panisse (a surprisingly easy chickpea cake), papeton d’aubergine (a creamy eggplant mousse), and salade aux fruits cuits (a pretty fruit salad).

Organized as a week-long cooking class, not only does it have more than 100 authentic Provencal recipes, but you will also learn the techniques you need to make these recipes. Techniques (and here’s the other good part for me) you can use to improve all your cooking.

One Pot French: More Than 100 Easy, Authentic Recipes
As with Cooking School Province, we’ve got more than 100 French recipes. And, in both, the emphasis is on easy. Because, let’s face it, you can’t get that complicated when you are using only one pot. But simple or not, the recipes are really very tempting, such as the elegant almost vegetarian tatins d’endives au fromage et noix de pecanes (Belgian endive tatins with Gruyere cheese and pecans), sauce maltaise (a spectacular hollandaise sauce with blood orange juice), and clafoutis aux framboises (a simple, but lovely, raspberry clafoutis).

Once again, we’ve got pretty, pretty pictures, but it is the simplicity and clarity of the recipes that grabbed me. Recipes such as:
Vegetarian recipe for Mousse au Chocolat et aux Fruits Secs (Chocolate mousse with Dried Fruits)

1 tbsp/15 ml finely diced dried apricots
1 tbsp/15 ml finely diced dried cranberry
1 tbsp/15 ml finely diced dried mango
2 tbsp/30ml Grand Marnier
1-1/2 cups/375 ml dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup/125 ml cold unsalted butter, diced
1/4 cup/50 ml whipping cream
5 eggs, separated
Pinch of salt

Marinate the dried fruit in Grand Marnier for 1 hour.

Melt the chocolate chips in the top of a double boiler or in a bowl over a pot of simmering water.

Slowly add the butter to the melted chocolate, stirring until incorporated. Stir in the cream.

In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks slightly, then pour in the warm chocolate mixture, a little a t a time so as to not scramble the eggs, until incorporated. Stir in the marinated fruits.

Whip the egg whites with a pinch of salt until firm peaks form; fold into the chocolate mixture. Spoon the mousse into parfait glasses and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.

To serve, top with whipped cream, finely diced fruit sprinkles, or chocolate shavings, and dust with powdered sugar.