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Forget 'let them eat cake'

Fanfare for the common French food: Vive Bastille Day!

Make Salad Niçoise
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  • InteractiveQUIZ
    Test your classic cooking know-how with our cuisine quiz. Relax, it's multiple-choice.
    A tasty trend: Take a video tour of New York's bistros and brasseries with Travel Now.
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    July 13, 1999
    Web posted at: 6:43 p.m. EDT (2243 GMT)

    By Wendy Wolfenbarger
    Interactive Food Editor

    ATLANTA (CNN) -- French food doesn't have to be fancy, fattening or time-consuming. The saucy and heavy dishes of the world's most famous cuisine were reserved for princes, not peasants. So forgo the foie gras and celebrate the true spirit of Bastille Day: Eat as the common man would -- food that is simple, fresh and filling.

    Bistro-type foods are more popular than ever and more cooks are writing of the pleasures of provincial cooking. Even chef Daniel Boulud of the lauded New York eatery "Daniel" is planning a book of rustic recipes for the home cook.

    The past decade has brought a resurgence in French cuisine, as fine restaurants dished up the traditional fare and chic bistros and brasseries sprang up on the American dining scene.

    But French still lacks a firm grip on consumers as Italian, Chinese, Mexican and other popular food styles dominate the offerings for quick and easy meals. There is no "French to-go."

    Michael Roberts, a restaurant consultant and author of "Parisian Home Cooking," says French food is portrayed as the high-end food served in restaurants. But the food made in home kitchens is not nearly so complex.

    "Nobody cooks at home like they cook in restaurants; they'd all be dead," joked Roberts. "Home cooking is not trendy at all. French cooking really consists of some few hundred recipes handed down. Everyone has a little twist on what is a classic recipe."

    The buzz on bistros

    Bistros and cafes are popular in America, but they tend to be more "snotty," possibly misleading potential cooks, says Daniel Young, restaurant critic for the New York Daily News and author of the "The Paris Café Cookbook."

    Young likens French bistros to American diners, or better yet, truck stop eateries -- quite casual and affordable.

    Young says a trend in Paris is "trickle-down" gastronomy, where cafes and bistros imitate trends in the top restaurants, cutting down on ingredients and simplifying the preparation. "For the home cook, it's the same advantage," he says.

    Eat French for a day

    How to eat healthy? Here is how the French do it:

  • Don't consider shopping a chore. Look for what is fresh and in season at the market. Choose the finest ingredients.

  • Fill up on vegetables. Make meat a small portion on the plate, just 3 or 4 ounces.

  • Make lunch (déjeuner) the heartiest meal of the day.

  • Dinner should be light and simple, with few courses.

  • The French are famous for their sauces. But don't smother your food; use just one or two tablespoons.

  • Don't complicate the food. Let the natural flavors come through.

  • Some must-have-on-hand ingredients: butter, red and white wine, red and white wine vinegar, dijon mustard, tarragon, summer savory, cheese (try Brie, Camembert or imported Swiss), onions, shallots and olive oil.

    'Savoring the flavors' -- the key to Daniel Boulud's cooking
    December 6, 1999
    Book review: Saveur savors French food and the French way of life
    November 3, 1999
    Chat transcript: Patricia Wells on French cuisine
    July 20, 1999
    City Guides: Paris restaurants
    French recipe swap
    French recipes on the Web
    Cheap eats in Paris

    CuisineNet: Brasserie Le Coze
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