(Artisan Press, $50)

Thomas Keller lives in a magical place. The sun shines, the grapes ripen on the vine, the people are happy, flush from the Napa Valley tasting-rooms, and ready to spend their disposable income on perfectly prepared meals. Life is good in Thomas Keller's world, and I want to live there. Keller, the justly lauded chef of the justly famous, extravagant, and wildly expensive French Laundry restaurant in Napa, says that he used to long for the simple bistro cooking he recalled of yore, and that he created Bouchon next door to the French Laundry to satisfy his own taste for food that is earthy, satisfying, frugal, and casual. Did I say casual? Well, kind of like a $400 pair of jeans is causal. And paging through this paving block of a book, it soon becomes clear that if you want that casual 19th-century French cooking in your life, too, it's going to take some effort. And time. And money. You might want to upgrade your kitchen first. Then double your storage space and invest in a walk-in refrigerator/freezer to make room for the myriad items in Keller's "pantry." And a couple of sous-chefs wouldn't hurt, the better to make and store the "building blocks" of casual French cooking: the confits (onion, garlic, tomato, and fennel-onion), the piperades, the soffritos, the red wine, lamb and chicken jus, the shellfish broth, the fish fumet, and just the essential stocks (chicken, veal, white veal, beef, and vegetable). Now you're ready to whip together those simple, satisfying meals that will delight mind and heart and soul . . . like stuffed duck necks with Tuscan kale or French toast with apricots (first soak sliced brioche [recipe p. 324] in crème anglaise [p. 326] . . . ) You see my problem. I don't live in Thomas Keller's world. I live in the world of the working stiff—no time, small kitchen, and even smaller budget. Those with the time, leisure, and money can visit Bouchon in Napa, or its new, casual, and wildly expensive branch in Las Vegas. Or for a little less money, time, and trouble, cook from this book.

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