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Cookbook review: Cowgirl Chef by Ellise Pierce

A homesick Texan finds home in Paris by recreating Tex-Mex favorites with Parisian ingredients.

By Kitchen Report / December 7, 2012

French lentils with creamy goat cheese, toasted pine nuts, and topped with cherry tomatoes and poached salmon makes for a delicious meal on a chilly evening.

Kitchen Report

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France, it has long been known, has the power to ignite a passion for food.

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Staff editor

Kendra Nordin is a staff editor and writer for the weekly print edition of the Monitor. She also produces Stir It Up!, a recipe blog for CSMonitor.com.

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Julia Child overcame prejudice and disdain for Americans to earn her culinary badge from Paris Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in the 1950s. Her memoir, “My Life in France,” details her love affair with the country and its culinary masterpieces. Food writer Amanda Hesser wooed a grumpy peasant caretaker in a walled kitchen garden at Chateau du Fey in Burgundy, France, and wrote about it in “The Cook and the Gardner.” And even food blogger-turned author Molly Wizenburg of Orangette fame traces her food writing epiphany to the streets of France in “A Homemade Life.”

There are countless other Americans who traveled to France and suddenly found a new direction in life centered on food. So revered is French cuisine that its principles are a bedrock in Western culinary schools. In November 2010, French gastronomy was added to UNESCO’s “intangible cultural heritage” world list.

And then there is Ellise Pierce, the Cowgirl Chef, who followed a Frenchman to Paris only to get homesick for Texas. There, in the romantic culinary capital of the world, the former journalist found herself yearning for cornbread, hot chilis, and even – gasp – Milky Way candybars.

Unlike Child who started L’Ecole des Trois Gourmandes, an informal cooking school that taught American expats how to cook French dishes, Ms. Pierce created Cowgirlchef.com and started teaching other homesick expats how to cook Tex-Mex.

“I taught them the differences between jalapeños and habañeros, and explained the importance of corn in Mexican cuisine,” writes Pierce in her cookbook, Cowgirl Chef: Texas cooking with a French accent, (Running Press, 2012, 333 pp.). “We rolled out flour tortillas, pressed corn tortillas, and made enchiladas. We made guacamole and salsa, too.”

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