cookbook club: Plat du Jour by Susan Herrmann Loomis

potato souffle

I’d say the spring cookbook club is off to a great start! 

In our second meeting, we talked French comfort food and life in France with award-winning author Susan Herrmann Loomis as we cooked to her latest book, Plat Du Jour: French Dinners Made Easy

book cover: Plat du Jour
https://kitchenartsandletters.com/product/plat-du-jour/

Plat du jour means daily special. These are the dishes handwritten on chalkboards outside every bistro and café in France. They tout the chef’s excitement for a new ingredient, a seasonal return of a classic, or its creative reinterpretation.

Susan Herrmann is – amongst many other things – the founder and chef of On Rue Tatin cooking school in Normandy and Paris. When the realities of life in 2020 took shape, like so many of us, she pivoted. Leaving her Normandy home in good hands, and shuttering her cooking school, she settled into a cloistered life in Paris full-time. 

Part of Susan’s pivot included the early-2021 release of a new cookbook. Plat Du Jour is her 14th book and reflects some of her most beloved recipes from three decades of living, marketing, and cooking at home in France. Recipes are personal interpretations of classic French fare with emphasis on seasonality and market-fresh ingredients. 

One of the beloved features of Plat Du Jour is the inclusion of astuces. An astuce is “a tip, a trick, a little secret” that help the cook navigate the recipe and gain confidence making a recipe their own.

live from Paris

I had the pleasure of interviewing Susan Herrmann the week before our group met to discuss her book. I was ready with pre-submitted questions from many of the group members, as well as a whole list of my own. Several other members were able to join in the conversation live. The rest got to see the whole thing play out in video. 

The conversation was lively. Susan captivated us all with her extensive knowledge and obvious love for cooking with the seasons. A huge part of our discussion was around making well-considered choices of fresh food. Especially popular with all who participated was Susan’s obvious passion for seafood – wild, seasonal, well-handled, sustainably sourced, and lovingly prepared. The same goes for all produce, dairy, meats – she considers this mindset something the French take for granted and the rest of us must learn.

Susan’s newest project is called Dancing Tomatoes. It’s an internet-based cooking, culture, and entertainment platform. It launched recently and is continuously evolving in celebration of all the ways food and culture enrich our daily lives. 

Curious cooks should definitely catch Susan on the Dancing Tomatoes YouTube channel. You’ll find and ever-growing library of engaging and beautiful educational videos. Find out why her cooking school was beloved by so many for so long!

now, let’s talk food

As much as we all enjoy looking at the pictures and daydreaming about flying off to Paris to explore its culinary delights, cookbooks are also for cooking. Since we have about 2 weeks allotted to each book, I wanted to encourage as much exploration as possible while still providing a framework. With our first book, all recipes were organized by menu. This time, it was up to me. Good thing I have some experience in menu writing! 

So, in preparation for our discussion, club members and I all prepared at least a couple of the recipes listed here… 

Brunch
Potato and Chive Soufflé with Chive Cream
Classic Green Salad
App/snack
Cheese Puffs with Thyme
Entree 
Mme. Lambert’s Lemon-Scented Seasonal Veal Stew
or
Cider Braised Duck with Onion, Shallot, Leeks, and Carrots
Salade
Winter Greens with Hazelnut Vinaigrette
Dessert 
Creme Brûlée
Lemon Tart
or
Chocolate Mousse

Since we are in between seasons in North America (not quite winter, not quite spring), I selected a menu that would be happy just about any time of year and leaned toward what was fresh in our markets these days.

potato chive soufflé with chive cream

Pretty much everyone tried this recipe. An important note to share, the recipe calls for a 3-quart souffle dish. That’s an error. It’s supposed to be a 1.5-quart souffle dish. Otherwise, we were all happy with the outcome… even in the wrong pan, the final product was still delicious! Those who used Yukon Gold potatoes seemed to get the best texture. I used russets and was happy with the results but will definitely use the smoother potato the next time. And there will be many next times!

cheese puffs with thyme

Gougeres. One of my favorite wine bar snacks, and fun to make. The recipe is easy. The piped puffs freeze well raw or after baking. Most of our American palates wanted more cheese in the mix. I don’t think increasing the amount by half would do any harm at all. I also recommend filling them with whipped herbed goat cheese for a tangy treat. 

Madame Lambert’s lemon-scented veal stew

Veal is hard to find! Especially good veal. Use lamb if veal isn’t available. This is everything a classic veal stew should be with the extra love that comes from fresh lemon. Another new regular dish in my rotation. And I’m not the only one. This dish had many fans.

cider braised duck

More people tried this than I expected and I’m so happy they did. My own experience was lack-luster because of some old tough duck legs. Those who had good duck had great results. Make sure you use dry (hard) cider – not sweet. There are so many onions in the recipe that give off their own sweetness, don’t overwhelm them with added sugar. You can also use dry white wine in a pinch. 

winter greens with hazelnut vinaigrette

There are many creative and delicious salad recipes in this book. It was hard to choose just one! We all loved this recipe. It even won over fans to bitter greens who would never have considered them in the past. Can’t find hazelnuts or hazelnut oil? Walnuts and walnut oil were a delicious substitute. 

desserts

Only a few people tried making the crème brûlée. It’s a challenge for home cooks. The chocolate mousse was a big hit – not a surprise! But, of the three selected, the lemon tart was the runaway winner. I wish I had made two! The filling is super-tangy, and the flaky crust holds up well, even after refrigerating for a couple days. Another that many of us will make again and again.

what would the chef recommend? 

Asking a cookbook author what their favorite recipe is is like asking their favorite child. Still, Susan offered some recommendations that she hoped we’d all try…

  • Avocado Cherry and Chive Salad
  • Chicken with Walnuts and Lemon
  • Monkfish Confit with Fresh Shell Beans
  • Lambchops with Rosemary and Orange Syrup (try the sauce on anything – even tofu!)
  • And, of course, Tarte Tatin (upside down apple tart)
Susan Herrmann Loomis’s other books include:
  • On Rue Tatin
  • The Great American Seafood Cookbook
  • The French Farmhouse Cookbook
  • The Italian Farmhouse Cookbook
  • And many more…

our next book is… 

As I write, we are all cooking from Classic Indian Cooking by Julie Sahni. We’ve moved from a culinary culture that influenced our past to a culinary culture that is influencing our present and future. I’ll share more about that in my next post.

In closing, as always, I want to thank Kitchen Arts & Letters bookstore and the 92nd Street Y in NYC. Their beloved live program, Talks & Tastes, had to go virtual and they made it happen in the best possible way. If you missed this season’s club registration, stay tuned! 

The summer season is in the works and will be announced on April 29, 2021!

You can catch up with my previous post HERE.

Have you read this book? Have you cooked any of these recipes? What’s your favorite plat du jour?

Let me know in the comments below!

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