Laura Calder, French Food at Home (HarperCollins, 2003)

French food has never appeared so friendly and fun as in Laura Calder's new book, French Food at Home. Calder, a correspondent for Travel and Vogue Entertaining, learned French food first hand cooking for herself and her friends while living in Paris. Yet her cookbook is far from traditional, presenting the cuisine as approachable and surprisingly simple.

Calder's recipes are easy to read and manageable, with most calling for only a handful of ingredients. Her collection of inventive dishes include intriguing recipe names like Flower Press Potato Chips, Orange Juice Chicken, and A Good Coffee Chop.

Her conversational style creates recipes that are light hearted, witty, and enjoyable to read. In Spiced Almonds, the almonds will "darken like aged oak" and in Beet Stacks, a first course of beets, goat's cheese, pine nuts, balsamic vinegar and olive oil, cooks are instructed to drape a beet over the cheese "like a floppy sun hat."

In just six chapters, she covers aperitifs, first courses, main courses (appropriately labeled "Dinner Fairly Fast" and "Dinner Slightly Slower"), side dishes and desserts. The book's arrangement allows cooks to easily pick and choose from courses, creating a quick weeknight meal or an elaborate weekend dinner party. Throughout the book, Calder recommends keeping it simple but encourages experimentation, using her recipes as a springboard to an endless number of variations.

Calder's enthusiasm for food is not only apparent, but also infectious. Her fun, upbeat approach to a cuisine with a "stuffy" reputation is a welcome addition to the selection of French cookbooks already on the shelf.

[Stacy Troubh]