Cover of Chez Jacque's
Title: Chez Jacques
Author: Jacques Pepin
271 pages; Hardcover $45 US/$54 CAN
Publisher: Stewart, Taboti & Chang, NY NY 2007
Reviewed by, Tiesha Lewis, November, 2010

The review--- Now, more than ever, cookbook authors are transforming cookbooks from strict resources for recipes to novel works that tell a story. Jacques Pepin's, Chez Jacques, is not just a cookbook. His feeling of nostalgia engulfs us as we browse through pages of artwork, heartfelt stories, and mouth-watering photos of dishes he's created. Even the recipes are written as a story, as opposed to the traditional lists of ingredients and procedures format. Jacques gives an in-depth analysis of certain ingredients so that we understand why he's using that particular item.

Jacques Pepin retells stories of his life in France, times with his wife Gloria, and daughter Claudine, various friends and events, and shares the recipes that played an important role in creating those memories. At times, I found myself taking a trip down memory lane. As a child, I can remember my grandmother having a candy jar full of her homemade caramels. They were chewy, buttery, and melt in your mouth delicious. So naturally, after coming across the caramel recipe in Jacques' book, I had to try them. It's amazing what simple ingredients like sugar, butter, and heavy cream can do. The caramels were quick, easy, and absolutely delicious.

What I have found to be a great part of this cookbook is the range of recipes. In my opinion, there are dishes for every level cook. Included were simple endeavors like Linguine with Basil and Walnut Pesto as well as more demanding dishes like Pate of Foie Gras with Rose Hip Jam, or Lobster Souffle, and many more in between.

I would recommend this cookbook for anyone, from professional cooks to those who are just looking for a good book. There's much more than recipes. Inside the pages of this hardcover, 272 page cookbook is the life and times of one of the world's most beloved chefs.

Recipes tested---!

When I was a kid, one of the big treats that my brothers and I had on Sundays after church was a little bag of caramels. Some were hard, some were very soft, and my preference was for the softer ones. We usually bought these at a patissserie de boutique in Bourg-en-Bresse, a store that specialized in making caramels along with puffed and blown sugar confections, chocolate candies and small fancy pastries.

I have tried through the years to make caramels with diffrent rates of success. The recipe that I have here is almost fool proof, and the caramels freeze quite well. All you need is a good candy thermometer, which is available at any hardware store. I mold my caramels in a nonstick loaf pan. I oil the pan very lightly, and put a strip of lightly oiled parchment paper in the middle with the ends extending over the edges of the pan. The paper should be oiled on both sides, underneath because it makes it adhere well to the pan, and on top to make the caramel mixture release.

If you like your caramels very soft. take them out of the refrigerator a couple of hours before eating. I like to package them individually in plastic wrap or little squares of waxed paper or parchment paper. Bring These as a treat when you are invited out to dinner; they always get raves. I also love chocolate caramels. usually made by adding cocoa powder to the mix. Yet dipping one end of each caramel front the recipe below into the best quality melted bittersweet chocolate is easier and yields a great result.

Combine 1 stick of butter (8 tablespoons), cut into pieces and 1/2 cup of heavy cream in a small glass bowl, and microwave for about 1 1/2 minutes, until hot. Set aside.

In a small stainless steel saucepan, combine 3 tablespoons of water 1/4 cup of light corn syrup and 1 cup of sugar. Stir just enough to moisten the sugar. The goal is to avoid having the mixture collect on the sides of the pan, which happens when you mix with a spoon or shake the pan; it tends to crystallize where it touches the sides. Pouring the water and syrup in first and then adding the sugar allows it to get wet by the liquid without splattering the sides. Heat over medium high heat until the mixture comes to a boil, and then cover with a lid for a minute or so to create moisture in the pan and melt any sugar that may be clinging to the pan sides.

Place the candy thermometer in the pan, and cook for about 6 minutes, or until the sugar reaches a temperature of 320 F. at which point it will begin to take on a light golden color around the edge. At that point, pour the butter and cream mixture gradually into the pan, adding about a third of it at a time, and stir, using the base of your thermometer to incorporate it. Continue cooking for another 5 or 6 minutes, until the mixture reaches a temperature of 240 F on on the thermometer, the soft-ball stage. (This will create a relatively soft caramel; if you bring the temperature to about 245 F., the caramels will be hard. So make adjustments based on your own tastes.)

As soon as the caramel reaches the desired temperature, pour into an oiled loaf pan with a base that measures at by about 7 1/2 inches long by 3 1/2 inches wide lined with a strip of oiled parchement paper that is long enough to extend up and slightly over either end of the pan. Cool, uncovered, at room temperature, for about 4 hours, Invert and unmold onto a sheet of parchment paper or waxed paper (pulling gentely on the paper strips, if necessary). If the caramel is too soft to work with, refrigerate for an hour or so to firm it up. Cut into strips 3/4 inch wide, and then cut the strips into 1 1/2-inch lenghts to have about 20 caramels. Wrap in squares of plastic wrap or wax immediately, or refrigerate or freeze for eating later!

To make chocolate-dipped caramels, let the cut caramels firm up overnight, uncovered, in the refrigerator. Drop a few squares of your best bittersweet chocolate into a glass mesuring cup and microwave for 1 minute. Wait a few minutes, and then microwave the chocolate for another minute. It'should be thoroughly melted at this point.

Dip one end of each caramel into the melted chocolate, so that it covers about half the caramel, and place the caramels on a piece of parchment paper to harden. When cool and hard, wrap the caramels and store them in the refrigerator.

Linguine with Basil and Walnut Pesto
Yield: 4 Serving's

I rarely used basil in France. In the cooking of the 1950's, it was considered unusual and esoteric. Tarragon, chervil, parsley, and chives were the favorite herbs, I learned to appreciate basil after I came to the United States, visiting the homes of friends who were of Italian descent and used basil regularly. I started growing it and have since become addicted to basil. I plant tiny hush basil, red basil. and regular basil in my garden during the summer, and we make pesto often for dinner, usually on the spur of the moment. I keep herbs for the winter, drying Some in the microwave, but basil is best frozen, provding it is blanched first, otherwise it turns an unappealing khaki color. Blanching also takes some of the bitterness out of the pesto.

I don't like to freeze finished pesto: the nuts, cheese, and garlic tend to get rancid in the freezer after a few weeks. The puree of fresh basil keeps beautifully green in the freezer, and I add the nuts, cheese, additional olive oil, and garlic to my basil just before using it. Sometimes I add flat-leaf parsley as well, and occasionally a few leaves of verbena, which grows next to my basil. I have experimented with all nuts, but go back to pignoli nuts mixed with walnuts or pecans. I like to use a lot of garlic, plenty of olive oil, and always include some jalapeno or serrano pepper in my pesto. Use the best possible Parmesan cheese, and make sure, that your serving plates are very hot.

For a main course, use one pound of linguine for four people. You can make this dish with penne or spaghetti. but I like linguine best. At our housep pasta is usually the main course, and we follow it with a tommato or zucchini salad in summer and cheeses and fruit for dessert.

Bring 3 quarts of salted water toa boil, this will be used to cook the pasta and blanch the basil. Drop 4 cups of basil leaves, lightly packed, into the boiling water. Push the basil down into the water, cook for about 20 seconds, and then lift it out with a skimmer, and rinse under cold water. Put into the bowl of a food processor. Add at least 4 cloves of peeled garlic a small jalapeno, seeded, and about a 3/4 cup pignoli nuts and walnuts or pecans. (Make sure to taste your nuts, since they can turn rancid pretty quickly.) Process on high, using a rubber spatula to push down any of the mixture that collects on the sides of the bowl. Add 3-4 tablespoons of the best possible olive oil and a few tablespoons of water to make combine better, and process until you have a beautiful green puree.

When your ready to cook the pasta, drop 1 pound of linguine into the boiling boiling water, and while its cooking, grate about 1 cup of parmesan cheese. When the pasta is cooked to your liking (like mine firm but not raw in the center), set a stainless-steel bowl near your pasta cooking pot, and spoon 2 to 3 tablespoons of the best possible olive oil into the bowl. Add a good dash of salt and black pepper, and then scoop out 3/4 cup of the pasta cooking liquid and add it to the oil in the bowl. Drain the pasta in a colander, shaking it to remove excess water. Transfer the pasta to the bowl containing the oil and pasta cooking liquid and toss. The cooking liquid will be asorbed by the pasta. Add the pesto and a good handful of the Parmesan cheese, mix well, and taste again for seasonings. It'shoulld be well seasoned and the pasta should be quite moist. Serve immediately in deep hot plates, sprinkled with additional Parmesan cheese.