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Book Review: How to Lower Your Cholesterol with French Gourmet Food by Chef Alain Braux

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The onion soup was a huge hit. Onion, red wine, melting cheese – what’s not to like? Paired with a salad of mixed greens, it made Sunday supper feel elegant. We lit white taper candles, and felt that for once we were doing our wood-paneled dining room justice.

Any book entitled How to Lower Your Cholesterol with French Gourmet Food poses the instant threat of a double attack of guilt and inferiority. The tub of chocolate chip cookie dough in the fridge is surely transmitting molecules of cholesterol directly into the bloodstream by some mysterious osmosis, and the minute the cookbook is opened, the French chef on the other end will sense the can of Chef Boyardee ravioli in the pantry. However, once he makes it past the immense table of contents (one of my editorial quibbles with the book), the reader is greeted by Chef Alain Braux with a breezy “bonjour” and welcomed to sit down for a chat.

Braux, a classically trained French pastry chef, has taken the seemingly paradoxical step of earning a Bachelor’s degree in holistic nutrition. In How to Lower Your Cholesterol with French Gourmet Food, he marries what would appear to be two contradictory passions. It would seem that you can have your baguette and eat it, too. Braux begins by explaining his credentials and his approaches to nutrition and dining. This section, like much of the first half of the book, does grow a bit long-winded, but is saved from the brink of sententiousness by Braux’s friendly style. He gives a basic primer on cholesterol and the role of food in cholesterol production.

Much of the premise of the book derives from the Mediterranean influence in French cuisine and the results of the Lyon Diet Heart Study which showed an overall benefit in cardiac indicators in post-heart attack patients counseled to eat a Mediterranean diet.

Braux then discusses healthy (and unhealthy) methods of food preparation. Here, he and I part ways temporarily. I am a Californian; I will not give up my grill! Also, I was not able to find credible scientific data to substantiate his concerns regarding microwave cooking.

Exercise and conscious living — okay, now I’m back. Braux takes a pragmatic view of healthy living. He advocates moderate exercise, rest, and an awareness of one’s habits. Considering the American tendency toward a binge/purge lifestyle, any book advocating sensible moderation should be welcomed.

He then goes on to discuss various foodstuffs and their effects on the body. This section does tend to bog down; however, the shopping and cooking tips, especially for produce, are helpful. Contrary to what one might expect, Braux includes meat – a wide variety of meats – in his repertoire. His emphasis, again, is on moderation. A minor quibble with his directives regarding seafood selection: while Braux is correct in his preference for wild caught vs. farmed salmon, his writing implies that wild caught is preferable to farmed throughout the spectrum of fish. However, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch, several types of fish are sustainably and responsibly farmed, and in these cases, the farmed fish are the responsible choice.

Braux’s best advice comes on page 151. “These changes should not be a burden but a joy. Try to remember the French 'Joie de Vivre' when you hit a snag. Good food is meant to be savored.” His ideas for weekly meal planning are an engaging lead into the true gems of the book – the recipes!

And we’re back to the soup. As an enthusiastic home cook, I love trying new recipes. As a working mother of three, I love recipes that can be made successfully in a chaotic kitchen. So far, Braux has not disappointed. As mentioned at the beginning of this review, the Soupe a l’Oignon au Vin Rouge (Red Wine Onion Soup) struck as close to a home run as we get in my house. The preparation was relatively simple, even with my defective oven, and it smelled exquisite while cooking. As a dish, it was given a “thumbs-up” by 4 ½ out of 5 members of the household. My four-year-old dodged the onions, but graciously consented to eat the broth.

I had planned the Pommes Cuites au Four avec Crème Chantilly (Baked Apples with French Whipped Cream) for dessert on the night of the soup. However, we all ate ourselves silly on the soup and were too full for dessert – a rarity in our house. The apples reheated beautifully and made a delicious breakfast the next day.

The Ratatouille and Oven-Roasted Rosemary New Potatoes made excellent companions for a leg of lamb on another night. My husband who claims to hate eggplant had seconds of the ratatouille that night, and beat me to the leftovers the next day.

The Soupe au Pistou (Pesto Soup) was indeed a meal unto itself. This dish is not for the garlic squeamish. Not being a vampire, I loved it.

The Poulet Roti au Citron et aux Herbes Aromatiques (Lemon and Herb Roasted Chicken) went happily with my own risotto. Due to the aforementioned defective oven, I cheated and used the rotisserie on this one, but it turned out well.

And that brings us to this week and the meatloaf. Meatloaf is a tough sell in my house. It’s not one of my favorite dishes, and my husband and kids love it. More specifically, they love my mother-in-law’s version. However, the Pain de Viande aux Herbes du Midi (Southern France Meatloaf) was a pleasant surprise all around. It was moist and well flavored; for me this was a delightful departure from a dish that typically resembles a beef-flavored pumice stone. My husband was initially skeptical about the bacon, but after trying the dish, he even forgave the duplicity of concealing mushrooms within. I couldn’t break the kids of their ketchup habit, but they seemed to think that the meatloaf was almost as good as grandma’s. And, yes, meatloaf can be made in a toaster oven.

Without a year in which to monitor cholesterol levels and with the constraints that render following a set dietary plan near impossible (kids, job, etc.), I could not properly evaluate the cholesterol-lowering potential of Braux’s plan. However, I can wholeheartedly recommend his dishes. How to Lower Your Cholesterol with French Gourmet Food provides clear, enjoyable directions toward delicious cuisine. As Chef Braux has self-published the book, my review copy was sent via PDF file and contained no pictures other than the cover art. I tend to feel that cookbooks should feed the eyes as well as the stomach, and would have loved to see images of these delicious dishes. Also, Braux would have benefited from the services of a professional editor, as there were several typographical and grammatical errors in my review copy. An editor may also have condensed the early sections. Overall, these criticisms are minor, and did not detract from my enjoyment of the book. As Chef Alain Braux says, “A votre sante and bon appetit!”

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About Christy Corp-Minamiji