So proud of my friend, Mardi!
This summer, we received a very special delivery of a brand new book called In the French Kitchen with Kids – Easy, Everyday Dishes for the Whole Family to Make and Enjoy, by Mardi Michels. Published by Appetite by Random House® this is a debut book by the author of the Canadian-based blog Eat. Live. Travel. Write.
The book has already become a welcome addition to our family collection, not least because the UK-wide heatwave didn’t follow us to North Wales this summer and so the children and I spent many wet afternoons in the caravan (aside from one fine afternoon on the beach) cooking from the book. It kept them very busy, which is something I was grateful for! Our favourite recipe and our new French-inspired weekly staple is Mardi’s Steak with Oven-Baked Fries, or Steak Frites, and the publishers have kindly allowed me to share the recipe with you here.Jump to Recipe
The author – Mardi Michels
I have followed Mardi’s blog, Eat. Live. Travel. Write. since the early days of my own blogging adventures, that is to say, since around 2010. Mardi had started her blog in 2009 after having completed an MA, and soon found, much like me, that her blog served as a creative distraction that enabled her to cook, write, take photos and share her love of travel, too. It was around the same time that Mardi, a full-time French teacher at an all-boys school in Toronto, began running an extra-curricular cookery class at her school. Mardi had previously taught technology-based clubs as part of her duties, but it was in 2009 after hearing Jamie Oliver give a talk on his Food Revolution campaign, that Mardi was inspired to give her after-school club a cooking focus. That year, the club ‘Les Petits Chefs’ was born. During term-time even now, the benches of the school science labs become kitchen countertops, as Mardi’s boys continue to throw themselves enthusiastically into all the recipes that Mardi introduces them too.
In all the years I have been reading Mardi’s blog, I have always been astonished by Mardi’s dedication and commitment to the cause; riding all the waves and expertly navigating all the ‘ups and downs’ of blogging, constantly creating fresh and engaging content, whilst teaching French, cookery and pastry classes, writing and being a Food Revolution Ambassador in Toronto. Mardi and I both also enjoyed a stint contributing to JamieOliver.com, a point that I’m sure Mardi and I both consider to be one of our true high points.
Many a time, I have found myself wondering how on earth Mardi holds this all together, not least when you add in her love of travelling and frequent visits to France; a country she had loved since a stint there in her 20’s. Mardi now also has a vacation/rental house in South West France and it is during her adventures in France that she most often picks up ideas and recipes for her cookery club back in Canada. Somehow, Les Petits Chefs are always in Mardi’s mind and they are never far away as the source of her culinary inspiration.
I could hardly imagine, then, a better-suited author to a title, or indeed, a better-suited title to an author. Just as Mardi moved seamlessly from French teacher to cookery club teacher, so she has moved from blogger to cookbook author – and Mardi’s debut book sums up her passions perfectly.
Why we love the book
Whether you have kids or not, this is a book that deserves a place in your kitchen. As the sub-title ‘Easy, Everyday Dishes for the Whole Family to Make and Enjoy’ promises, this is simple home-cooking at its best, rather than complicated French haute-cuisine. It’s filled with family-friendly savoury recipes as well as simple biscuits, cakes, bakes and French patisserie – yes, it’s achievable even for kids. Mardi’s collection of recipes reflect the homeliness of French cooking, as well as providing extra challenges for keen helpers and hands.
“All the text is really nicely laid out and easy to read. I like the sweet little icons and bright pops of colour, too.” Elena, aged 8.
Chapters include Breakfast, Lunch, After-School Snacks, Dinner, Dessert, Special Occasions and a chapter on Basic Pantry Recipes. Or, since we’re dealing with a French teacher here perhaps we should say: Le Petit Déjeuner, Le Déjeuner, Le Goûter, Le Dîner, Le Dessert, Pour Les Grandes Occasions et Recettes de base de pâtisserie. Do you see what Mardi did there? She taught us all a little bit of French!
French lessons aside, Mardi also offers a wonderful selection of ‘top tips for cooking with kids’ throughout, as well as outlining the things you’ll most likely find ‘In the French Pantry’ and any equipment you may need. Mardi also points out that her recipes have been tested “all over the world, in kitchens of all degrees of sophistication, from the most basic to the best equipped.” So really, there are no barriers. Mardi’s boys (most of them aged 7-12) have even tested these recipes in their lab kitchen at school, with only the essentials, and they were still able to achieve great results. Even my four-year-old got stuck in with drying off our chips.
For slightly older children (our biggest is 11 and is also learning French at secondary school) this book also provides a wonderful introduction to French cooking. For breakfast, he could learn to whip himself up a classic French omelette. For lunch, he might like to learn how to make himself a classic Croque-Monsieur; a grilled Ham and Cheese Sandwich of the highest order, oozing with a simple béchamel sauce. For dinner, they can all now cook Steak Frites served with a crusty baguette and a little Dijon mustard. Another savoury recipe we love is the classic French Roast chicken or Poulet Rôti, because it invokes the French tradition of picking up a rotisserie chicken from the roadside, which I also did many times when I lived in France for the summer during my 20’s. In the book, Mardi share’s her partner’s recipe, Mr Neil’s Roast Chicken – because, well, he nailed it with a whole stick of butter.
Renee Schettler Rossi recreated the French Roast Chicken for Leites Culinaria and said: “This approach to roast chicken is sorta like a French woman’s approach to tossing a scarf around her neck. With very little effort but just the right knowing, something incredibly simple and commonplace is suddenly made to seem sophisticated.” Brilliant.
For dessert, there are so many great sweet recipes it’s hard to pick a favourite, but I’d recommend Mardi’s “doable” Mini Tartes Tatin – Upside-down apple tartlettes, covered in homemade caramel and served with vanilla ice cream or Chantilly cream. Using ready-made puff pastry, you’ll find the hardest part is flipping the tartlettes in their individual ramekins – although I can attest, it’s a challenge worth mastering. We have a ton of Bramley apples in our garden, so this recipe is going to see us through the autumn.
If you’ve ever travelled to France on holiday, then I’m sure you’ll also appreciate a little bit of French familiarity that you can weave into your everyday home repertoire with ease. There is a certain “Je ne sais quoi” about the French kitchen, which makes this a must-have cookery book, in my view.
As well as taking the book to our only day at the beach in Wales, my sister Elizabeth also picked the book up whilst on holiday and it brought a big smile to her face as she recounted her own adventures in France, as a young French exchange student, experiencing French family life for the first time. In particular, she remembered that the family would always eat Le Dîner or Dinner quite late – at around 8pm, and so Le Goûter or the After-School Snack, was a true feature of French family life. She remembered eating warm Pains au chocolat, but she liked the fact that Mardi expanded on this by including traditional French recipes such as Les Petits-Beurre – Butter cookies, Palmiers – Palmier cookies and Tartlettes à la confiture – Mini jam tarts.
We chose to make Steak Frites as our first recipe because my children were hugely drawn to the fact that they could learn how to make their own chips, although making Mardi’s Choux Puff Tower came a close second and we’ve marked that one for my little girls next birthday bash. They were were also enchanted by the little trio of French salads earlier on in the book and so asked whether they could make the Grated Carrot Salad to go with our steak and chips – anything to help with grating. I have no idea why this is so appealing to kids, I’m always fearful of grated knuckles!
I also got a French ‘way of life’ lesson from my sister Elizabeth (she’s a teacher too!) who pointed out that the French, in fact, don’t often eat “salade” with their main course. Instead, they’ll usually have a small salad as a separate course before the main event. Still, we think it went very well with our Steak Frites and it gave my other two children something to pitch in and help with, too.
Et voila! Now my children know how to make a complete meal all by themselves. Minimal help and supervision was required – mainly, in slicing the potatoes so that they could then chop them into smaller chunks and in pan-frying the steak.
All in all, I think there’s something for everyone in Mardi’s book. It has certainly inspired our family to get to know the French kitchen a little better, as we’ve often overlooked French home cooking instead opting for British, Polish and or Italian dishes. Thanks to Mardi’s gentle introduction, we’ll now be cooking the French way much more often!
"Steak frites, though a French classic, might seem like more of an adult meal, but in a country where the concept of a children’s menu isn’t as common as it is in North America, for example, this might be offered as the plat du jour for younger diners. It’s not unusual to see children eating their steak saignant (rare) either, but in this recipe, we cook the steak to medium. The best fries come from a deep fryer, but as that is not a common appliance in most households, I’m opting for oven-baked fries, which are not only less messy, but also easier for kids to cook." Mardi Michels.
- 2 lb 900 g Yukon Gold potatoes
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 teaspoons flaky sea salt
- 1 teaspoon chili powder optional
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 4 boneless ribeye steaks 7 oz/200 g each, around 1 inch/2.5 cm thick
- 1 teaspoon flaky sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- Flaky sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Dijon mustard
- Mayonnaise and/or ketchup
Slice the potatoes lengthwise (there’s no need to peel them but do scrub them well) into about 1/2-inch-wide (1 cm) sticks. Don’t worry if some of them are shorter than others. The most important thing is that they are more or less the same width.
Place the potato sticks in a large bowl of cold water for 1 hour, making sure the water completely covers the potatoes. This will remove the starch, prevent them from sticking together and help them crisp up nicely in the oven.
Preheat the oven to 400˚F (200˚C). Line two baking trays with parchment paper.
Drain the potato sticks in a large colander. Place a few sheets of paper towel on a countertop and lay the potato sticks in a single layer. Cover with a few more sheets of paper towel and gently pat them dry. It’s important to dry the potatoes as much as you can, otherwise they won’t crisp up when you bake them.
Place the potato sticks in a large bowl and pour the oil over them, then sprinkle the salt, chili powder (if using) and pepper over top. Using your hands, mix everything well to make sure the potatoes are evenly coated with the oil and spices.
Lay the potato sticks in a single layer on each baking tray. Place one tray on the top rack of the oven and the other on the bottom rack.
Bake for 1 hour, switching the trays from the top to the bottom of the oven and rotating them 180 degrees halfway through, as well as flipping the potatoes with a flat spatula so they crisp up and cook evenly. After an hour, the frites should be crispy and golden. If not, leave them in the oven, but check every 5 minutes, until they are done.
Rub the steaks all over with the salt and pepper. Place them on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until about 20 minutes before you are going to use them, so about 40 minutes into cooking the potatoes.
You can pan-sear, broil or grill your steaks. Here we’re going to pan-sear them, so you’ll need to heat the pan just before you’re ready to use it. Place a grill pan (preferably a cast-iron skillet with a ribbed base to make “grill” marks) over medium-high heat and add the oil.
Once the oil is hot enough, add your steaks—you should hear an audible “sssssss” when you add the meat if the pan is hot enough— and cook for 3 minutes on each side. The internal temperature as measured with a meat thermometer will be 155˚F (68˚C) when you take it off the heat and 160˚F (71˚C) after it has rested.
Remove the steaks from the grill pan and place them on a (preferably pre-warmed) plate and loosely cover with aluminum foil. Allow to rest for 10 minutes.
Serve the steak with mustard on the side and the fries with ketchup and mayonnaise on the side.
We also served our Steak Frites with a simple grated carrot salad with raisins and parsley.
Mardi says: "This might seem like a lot of potatoes to slice up into such precisely sized sticks, but it’s a great activity for kids. Tell them why it’s important to slice the sticks consistently, and talk them through the process of soaking them to remove the starch. I find that if kids know why they are doing something, it’s more meaningful and they’re more likely to follow the instructions. Cooking is all about actions and consequences. Maybe they don’t slice the sticks very evenly—leave it be, unless the differences are really marked, and show them once they are cooked how some of the fries are too crispy and some aren’t done enough. Got younger budding chefs? Drying the potato sticks post-soak on paper towels, patting them dry with more paper towels and coating them with the oil and spice mix in a large bowl is a good way to involve younger children who might not be quite ready to work with knives."
Bravo Mardi – and Bon Courage to all the little petits chefs you’ve inspired on their onward cooking adventures.
More Book Recipes You May Like:
- Gennaro’s Risotto Caprese
- Gennaro’s Italian Sponge Cake
- Jamie Oliver’s Mothership Sunday Roast Lamb
- Jamie Oliver’s Skinny Carbonara
- Ren’s Polish Meatballs from Wild Honey and Rye
- Tana Ramsey’s Chocolate Cake
Excerpted from In the French Kitchen with Kids by Mardi Michels. Copyright © 2018 Mardi Michels. Photography © Kyla Zanardi. Published by Appetite by Random House®, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.
Disclosure: as mentioned within this post, Mardi and I are long-distance blogging friends and it’s always difficult to objectively review a friend’s book! However, we have loved every recipe we’ve tried and this book is most definitely a keeper. I received a review copy, although I have since bought additional copies for friends with children who I know will love this book.