Big Heart Little Stove by Erin French

As I started reading the intro to Big Heart Little Stove by Erin French, I kept thinking, “I know her. I know her story.”    Yes, sometimes I live under a rock, but I started thinking back.  Did she write a memoir?  Did I read it?  I finally decided that I had seen a news story on her and her restaurant soon after it hit the national spotlight.   Yet, there was still something.  (I have not read her memoir, Finding Freedom in the Lost Kitchen, but I want to remedy that soon.)

Today’s review is obvious. Big Heart Little Stove is a practical book, full of tips and hacks and approachable recipes.

About the book:

Big Heart Little Stove is your new go-to inspiration for cooking thoughtful and meaningful, yet refreshingly simple meals. With more than 75 recipes and her favorite hospitality “signatures,” Erin French—author of The Lost Kitchen cookbook and the New York Times-bestselling memoir Finding Freedom—invites readers to bring a piece of her beloved restaurant, The Lost Kitchen, home with them.

With dishes pulled from French’s family recipe box and the menu at The Lost Kitchen, ranging from irresistible nibbles like Pecorino Puffs and Gram’s Clam Dip; to luscious soups like Golden Tomato & Peach and Potato & Lentil with Bacon and Herbs; to heaping platters of family-style salads and sides like Peach & Blackberry Salad and Green Beans with Sage, Garlic, and Breadcrumbs; to show-stopping main courses like Pickle-Brined Roast Chicken and Wednesday Night Fish Fry; to French’s favorite all-purpose kitchen staples like Kitchen Sink Pesto and Floral Vinegar, this cookbook has all the tools you need for assembling a seamlessly special meal.

To round things out, there are beverages to sip as dinner comes off the stove (Fresh Fruit Shrubs, Slush Puppies) and desserts to make your guests feel truly looked after (Salted Caramel Custards, Roasted Peach Pie with Almond and Fennel). And because weekend mornings deserve celebrating too, there are feel-good treats like Sunday Skillet Cakes and Little Nutmeg Diner Donuts.

Regardless of whether it’s a dressed-up affair or a quick weeknight meal, French’s recommendations are the same: Start with the best ingredients you can find, keep it simple, and serve with love.

But Big Heart Little Stove is more than just a cookbook. With tips and tricks French has used in her own dining room—at home and in the restaurant—this book is your invitation to use what’s around you to create meaningful moments, from setting a table with found treasures, to adorning dishes with edible flowers, to thoughtful gestures such as offering a cold cloth on a hot day. Full of warmth and spirit, Big Heart Little Stove will show you how to create more joy and connection around your table.

What I thought:

While I thought I had read French’s work during the opening of this book, as I got into the “heart” of the book I felt like a knew her.  I appreciated that she always gave credit to her diner days and her family recipes. The book is full of  “things I learned to make on the line at my dad’s diner, my mom’s specialties that we looked forward to seeing on the table when we got home from school, my grandmother’s recipe box classics, and Mainers’ rites of passage” (5).  Her purpose may be to help us all bring a little bit of The Hidden Kitchen home, but these recipes are her history:  “these are the moments I would quilt from uncomplicated, unfussed recipes made and served, quite simply with love” (2).   (“Quilt” is a great verb to use when talking about family recipes.)

French locally sources her ingredients for The Hidden Kitchen and creates her dishes from what’s available, including what’s grown in the restaurant’s garden and at her own home and what she can forage.   Because she does have chickens, there’s is a complete section on eggs.  I appreciated her recipe for Mediterranean Mess.  It is basically a thrown together salad using whatever looks good at the farmers market or from you garden, tossed with a few good olives and feta, drizzled with good olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper.

I know that it’s chic and cool to add edible flowers to dishes, but I learned a lot from the edible flower section.  She lists edible flowers with their flavor profiles.  For instance, I had no idea that dianthus was edible and had overtones of “floral with notes of celery and clove” (244).   I also did not know that I could forage my early blooming forsythia, using the flowers to make a syrup.

French’s relaxed entertaining hacks were inspired.  I l oved her idea of placing herbs or flowers or ferns into repurposed clear wine bottles, filling them with water, and then turning them into candle holders.

“Be a tablecloth renegade” (260) encourages us to  add a tablecloth as an unexpected elevated touch to outside dining.  (And, that tablecloth could be nothing more than a canvas drop cloth.)     Whether you’re dining inside or out, focus on the napkins:  “Pour a few capfuls of rosewater into your steam iron” when pressing napkins for a nice fragrant surprise for your guests.

I usually only focus on the edible recipes in a cookbook, but there’s a great hack and recipe for a silver polish.  It’s not just any silver polish; it’s meant to spoil your vintage silver by treating them to a bit of dried rose petals to soak in.  (265)

One of the final pages lists tips and tricks learned from all the mom’s in her life, lots of homey, practical wisdom, passed along with love.

Some of French’s recipes are out of my reach (because of locally sourced seafood from Maine), but I still have a few I want to try.

Recipes that I’ve bookmarked:

  • Roasted Allium Dip, her homage to Lipton’s Onion Soup Mix Dip (36)
  • Cheddar & Thyme Nibble Coins (47)
  • Simple Salt & Rosemary Crackers (49)*
  • Fresh Celery Soup (67) because I am always throwing away celery
  • Potato & Lentil Soup (w/bacon and herbs) (72)
  • Shallot Dressing (157) with all the variations

I’m off the to library to return this book along with my last two reviewed cookbooks, Baking Yesteryear and Seed to Table, and to pick up French’s Finding Freedom.

*I did make these crackers and I subbed in some whole wheat flour.  I loved the flavor and her suggestion for using a pasta maker to roll out the dough (to a 4 if you’re interested).


I’m linking up with January’s Foodies Read.

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