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The Culinary Institute of America’s Gourmet Meals in Minutes

Lebhar-Friedman Books

ISBN: 0-86730-904-0Hardcover. 372 pages $40

Gourmet Meals in MinutesMany cookbooks seem to be designed to seduce the home chef with beautiful graphics and spectacular presentation. “The Culinary Institute of America’s Gourmet Meals in Minutes” (quite a mouthful of a title) doesn’t disappoint in that department. Ben Fink’s photographs are as good as any I’ve seen. A passionate amateur can enjoy a vicarious meal from every other page, it seems.

But volumes that have only pretty pictures often wind up on the remaindered table at bookshops. More is needed. The promise of turning out great meals in a short time is intriguing, but this bait has been used before. Who wouldn’t want food that was delicious and easily—or at least quickly—prepared? That many books implying such bounty have fallen short of delivering, naturally may make readers wary.

This book from America’s foremost professional cooking school succeeds as a traditional collection of recipes, beautifully accompanied by photos. It would seem to validate the “in Minutes” promise also. But its greatest strength may be the solid information, both theoretical and practical, that is clearly and cogently presented. Simply defined chapters such as Appetizers, Soups, Meats and Side Dishes all include sections with headings like “At A Glance,” “Step-By-Step,” and “Focus On.” In each case, basic information is presented in terms both clear and refreshingly un-technical. Inexperienced cooks should find these tips invaluable.

“Gourmet Meals in Minutes” provides over 200 recipes, none of which looks too daunting for a typical home cook. In each case, the number of ingredients is reasonable and the method is condensed to a just a few paragraphs. In the world of sports, it’s often said that, “The really good ones make things seem simple.” Perhaps the phrase applies in the culinary world, too. Certainly, The Culinary Institute of America should have no shortage of highly qualified chefs. Maybe more to the point is that their mission is to teach how to cook. Pupils in any realm need to build confidence as they start with little successes and proceed to bigger ones. This publication from the Culinary Institute of America will be supportive of beginners’ efforts, but more experienced home cooks will enjoy no doubt appreciate the clarity of the recipes.

Curiously, there is no author credited in the book, though its publicists name Chef John DeShetler, Professor in Culinary Arts at the Culinary Institute of America, as a spokesman. Acknowledgement is given to chefs Olivier Andreini, Bruce Mattel and Michael Skibitcky for execution of the recipes for the photographs.

Editor’s Note: Sample recipes from The Culinary Institute of America’s Gourmet Meals in Minutes follow:

Black Bean and Avocado Crostini

Crostini is a general term that refers to “little toasts” which are usually topped with one or more garnish items. This Southwestern version combines the creaminess of black beans with the heat from the guacamole for a terrific hors d’oeuvre or snack idea.

Makes 8 servings / preparation time: 45 minutes

24 baguette slices, 1/4-inch thick

1/4 cup Garlic and Parsley Butter (recipe follows)

1/2 cup Vidalia onion, small dice

2 plum tomatoes, small dice

3/4 cup cooked or canned black beans, drained and rinsed

1-1/2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped

1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

2 avocados

2 tablespoons lime juice

1 garlic clove, minced

1/4 teaspoon chili powder

1/8 teaspoon ground cumin

24 cilantro or parsley leaves, washed

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees

Toast the baguette slices in the oven for 5-7 minutes, or until the outside edges are golden brown. Spread each baguette slice with approximately 1/2 teaspoon of the garlic butter. Reserve the toasts until needed.

Combine the onion, tomato, black beans, cilantro, and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper.

Peel and core one of the avocados and dice into 1/4-inch pieces. Combine the avocado with 1 tablespoon of the lime juice, garlic, chili powder, and cumin. Season with salt and pepper. Peel and core the remaining avocado. Slice each half across the meridian into 8 slices. Sprinkle the avocado with the rest of the lime juice to prevent oxidation.Spread 1 heaping teaspoon of the avocado mixture on each crostini. Top with 1 tablespoon of the black bean mixture.

Garnish with an avocado slice and a cilantro or parsley leaf.

Garlic and Parsley Butter

Versatile and delicious, this is a compound butter used in classical French cuisine. The butter holds well, so make enough to enjoy with crostini, or simply on toasted bread as an accompaniment to pasta dishes.

Makes 2 cups / preparation time: 10 minutes

1-1/2 bunches parsley, stems removed

4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1 pound butter, diced into small cubes, cold

Place the parsley, garlic, and salt in a food processor fitted with a metal chopping blade and pulse until evenly minced and well blended.

Add the cubed butter to the parsley-garlic mixture. Process, scraping down the sides as needed, until the butter is softened and mixture is well blended. The butter should be light green in color.

The butter may be placed into a ramekin, or shaped into a log and rolled in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until ready for use. The butter can be held for at least a week in the refrigerator, or frozen for several weeks.

Tenderloin of Beefwith Blue Cheese and Herb Crust

Simple and elegant, this dish is a sure winner. Whether serving an intimate dinner for two or a number of guests, the delicious flavors of Madeira and blue cheese are a perfect choice with the beef tenderloin.

Makes 6 servings / preparation time: 30 minutes

3 tablespoons butter, softened

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3 cups beef broth

6 tablespoons Madeira wine

2-1/4 pounds beef tenderloin

1/4 cup breadcrumbs

6 tablespoons blue cheese

1/4 cup parsley, chopped

1/4 cup chives, chopped

1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed

1 tablespoon olive oil

Combine the butter and flour together.

Bring the beef broth and Madeira to a boil. Whisk in the butter and flour mixture until completely dissolved. Simmer for about 15–20 minutes, until the liquid is thickened and reduced by half. While the sauce is simmering, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray the rack of a roasting pan with nonstick spray and place in the pan.

Slice the tenderloin into 6 portions that are approximately 3 inches in diameter and 1-1/2 inches thick. Tie butcher’s twine around the beef medallions so they maintain their shape while cooking, if desired.

Combine the breadcrumbs, blue cheese, parsley, chives, and pepper to form a paste.Heat the olive oil in a nonstick skillet over high heat. Sear the medallions until just browned, 2–3 minutes on each side. Arrange the medallions in a roasting pan. Coat the top side of each medallion with 3 tablespoons of the blue cheese and herb crust.

Roast until the crust is golden brown and the meat is cooked as desired, about 6 to 8 minutes for medium-rare, depending on the size of the medallions. If butcher’s twine was used, be sure to remove it. Serve the medallions on a pool of the warm Madeira sauce.

 

--reviewed by B.J. Shepard

The Food of Fisherman's Wharf: Cooking and Feasting from San Francisco to Montereyby A.K. Crump

 

TCB-Café Publishing

ISBN: 0-9674898-9-XSoft cover, 192 pages $19.95http://www.cafeandre.com/

 

The Food of Fishermans Wharf

To this third-generation San Franciscan, the name Fisherman’s Wharf conjures just a limited strip of that city that borders the Bay. That’s a parochial view, though, and limiting. Countless settlements on the water must have their own fisherman’s wharves and Monterey, some 115 miles south of San Francisco on the Pacific, would be one of them. Many of the restaurants profiled by A. K. Crump would be on or near the fisherman’s wharves of these two cities. Others in the book are not, but are near water and would certainly be encompassed by the subtitle “Cooking and Feasting from San Francisco to Monterey.”

Over 300 color photographs give the reader a good feel for the restaurants featured and for the 24 recipes that are included. “The Food of Fisherman’s Wharf” might be a worthy souvenir for tourists who have visited the area or dined at any of the restaurants featured. It might also whet the appetites of out of state residents contemplating a visit.

Recipes included concentrate on—but aren’t limited to—fish and seafood themes. They seem fairly straightforward and are all credited to restaurants in the area, if not always to their specific chefs. Such references provide the home chef with opportunity to try signature dishes—or adaptations of them—from some very popular restaurants.

 

--reviewed by Dan Clarke

Wednesday, 25 July 2012 15:37

At Mesa’s Edge

At Mesa’s Edgeby Eugenia Bone

 

Houghton Mifflin Company

ISBN 0-618-22126-3Hard Cover, 330 pages, $24.

 At Mesas Edge

Eugenia Bone is a New York writer with heavyweight credentials (Saveur, Food & Wine, Gourmet, etc.). In At Mesa’s Edge she has created an intriguing memoir and cookbook.

When her architect husband decides that there’s room in their urban life for a part-time existence in Colorado’s North Fork Valley, Eugenia packs kids and cooking supplies to spend a summer in the West. Ranch property has been purchased, but it needs work. The theme may seem familiar, but who of us hasn’t daydreamed of moving—at least on a temporary basis—to someplace completely different? Crawford, Colorado isn’t Italy or southern France, but it might be as different from New York City as those locales.

In addition to tending sick children and rehabbing the long-abandoned ranch house, she must deal with snakes, skunks, feral cats and neighboring cattle wandering through her vegetable garden. As the newcomer ingratiates herself with the locals, she finds a substantial number who’re deeply food-conscious. The area has long been famed for its fruit production and seems to have a significant number of latter day specialty food producers.

Her recipes acknowledge shared experiences with newly-found Colorado friends and acquaintances, as well as the contributions of family and friends in New York who shaped her love for food and her cooking style. Marilee Gillman’s Tortilla Soup includes broth from her own pheasants, but chicken broth will suffice, says Bone. Asparagus Vinaigrette is a treatment of this basic vegetable dish as prepared by French-born Yvon Gros, who with his wife Joanna, runs the Leroux Creek Inn in Hotchkiss. Bone uses purchased asparagus stalks as well as wild examples found growing in area ditches. The recipe for Fettucine with Wild Mushrooms is from the author’s brother, Cham Giobbi, who discovered Porcinis growing wild in the nearby West Elk Mountains. Leek and Cilantro Pesto Tart is a recipe the author says she took to “a potluck winetasting at Ela Family Farms on Rogers Mesa.”

Bone’s intimate introductions to the recipes makes them seem all the more appealing. Anecdotes from the preceding narrative are in a style similarly personal. Bone’s recollection of little details when old Greek men barbecued lamb at the home of the uncle of her friend painted a vivid picture. Her story of taking a hunter safety class with 12-year old boys to qualify for a Colorado license was funny—and provided a window to a western ethos untroubled by political correctness.

 

--reviewed by Dan Clarke

Wednesday, 25 July 2012 15:28

The Presidents’ Cookbook

The Presidents’ Cookbookby Poppy Cannon and Patricia Brooks

 

Funk & Wagnalls, 1968

ISBN 978-545 pages + Presidential pen and ink caricatures $22.50

 The Presidents Cookbook

Party politics aside, there’s one thing that over two centuries of elected officials who have resided at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue can agree on: the enjoyment of a well cooked and satisfying meal. The Presidents’ Cookbook, released in 1968, is a vintage gem that invites readers into the White House dining room to break bread with every president from George Washington to LBJ. And what a treat that is!

Often referred to as life in a fish bowl, America’s First Families have been the precedent-setting hosts of many a social gathering revolving around excellent food, exemplary service, and cognizance not only of foreign dietary customs but sensitivity to the protocol of smart seating arrangements for fostering good will. As early as 1789 when the first official White House chef was hired, George and Martha took pains to craft an ad that would attract only the finest candidates:

A COOK is wanted for the family of the President of the United States. No one need apply who is not perfect in the business, and can bring indubitable testimonials of sobriety, honesty and attention to the duties of the station.

The common assumption that our founding fathers were simple meat ‘n’ potatoes folks who noshed on whatever they could kill or grow is quickly dispelled in the opening chapters. Jefferson, for instance, took advantage of his years overseas to enthusiastically collect recipes and fine wines for what would be considered radically eclectic dinner parties by the standards of the day. Records reveal that during his stint as president, his wine bill alone exceeded $10,000. Dolley Madison, of course, is legendary for making sure that no one ever went home hungry and was known to use any occasion—even a casual drop-in visitor—as a good reason to see that her kitchen whipped up memorable refreshments. Widower Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson may have had a backwoods upbringing but wasted no time embracing the soufflés and crème brûleé served up by the French chef whom John Quincy Adams couldn’t take with him when he left office.

Anecdotes abound throughout the lively text, providing little-known insights on presidential taste buds (Ulysses S Grant liked his steaks burned to the consistency of charcoal), regional influences on the preparation of menus (Zachary Taylor’s fondness for Creole cuisine), decorating trends (Caroline Harrison’s decision to have a china cabinet installed and display all of her predecessors’ dinner plates), the consumption of spirits (Harding and his wife Flo deemed themselves exempt from Prohibition), and cost-cutting measures to set an example for the rest of the country (Mamie Eisenhower declared that leftovers—no matter how small— were not to be thrown out).

It’s not just the history buffs who will be entertained by these chapters, however. Ten or more recipes have been resurrected from each administration and, for the most part, utilize modern ingredients (just in case you were worried you’d have to run out and bag an elk or fry up a couple chipmunks), easy measurements, and utensils and cookware that are on hand in most kitchens. The names alone are worth a look:

Golden Alligator Spring House Cake

Williamsburg Buns

Mugwump in a Hole

Confederate Apple Pie Without Apples

Corn Chowder with Bear’s Paw Popcorn

Rutledge Tavern Squash Pie

Capitolade of Chicken

Sailors in Hammocks

Pineapple Fairy Fluff

Daniel Webster’s Punch

Fat Rascals

Fiddlehead Fern Salad

The most surprising revelation? Presidents throughout history seem to have supported something that contemporary nutritionists have been saying all along: breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. For those who love to plan parties around brunch (and that goes for baby and bridal showers, too), there’s no shortage of waffle, pancake, muffin, and crumb cake recipes as well as fruit cobblers, punches, and pies for every season.

It’s also interesting to note how early administrations prided themselves on strict punctuality when it came to mealtimes. For Martha Washington, this not only applied to when her guests sat down for a White House supper (Democrats were never high on her invitation list) but when they were expected to leave and go back to their own homes. At one particular dinner party, she rose from her place and bluntly announced, “The General always retires at nine, and I usually precede him.”

Much more direct, one thinks, than stifling yawns or trying to artfully nudge guests toward the front door after a long evening.

As of this writing, The Presidents’ Cookbook is out of print. Used copies, however, can be found at Amazon as well as used bookstores and would make a wonderful addition to the shelf of anyone who loves presidential trivia as much as they love culinary adventures.

 

Reviewer Christina Hamlett, a former actress and, is an award winning author and script coverage consultant for the film industry. Her credits to date include 22 books, 118 plays and musicals, 4 optioned feature films, and columns/interviews that appear throughout the world. She and her gourmet chef husband, Mark Webb, reside in Pasadena, California.

Secrets of the M*A*S*H Mess: The Lost Recipes of Private Igorby Jeff Maxwell

 

Cumberland House 2007

ISBN 978-1888952414268 pages + TV photos and letters

secrets of the MASH Mess 

In 1950, a country bumpkin named Igor Straminsky answered his country’s call to duty and, as an unwitting Army private, soon found himself in the most hostile environment that the planet could ever serve up. No, we’re not talking about Korea. We’re talking about the men and women of the 4077th, who queued up three times a day with plastic trays, growling stomachs, and growing suspicions that they’d more likely meet their deaths at the inept hands of their new cook than they ever would in confrontations with the enemy they’d come to fight.

“Dear Ma,” Igor wrote home, “Instead of letting me work at something I’m good at, they’re gonna make me do a job I don’t know anything about! Radar, the company clerk here, told me that he thinks the Army does that on purpose.”

Still, a job was a job and the beleaguered young private wasn’t going to let the ongoing sarcasm of Captain Hawkeye Pierce dampen his spirits.

Hawkeye: “It’s inhuman to serve the same food day after day. The Geneva Convention prohibits the killing of our taste buds.”

Suffice it to say, Igor had plenty of time to hone his craft (such as it was). His stint in a mess tent chef’s hat, in fact, lasted 8 years longer than the actual Korean War. When the hit television series M*A*S*H finally bowed out in 1983, almost 125 million viewers tuned in to say goodbye, the largest audience ever for a TV show.

“Ma! I’m sure you’ve heard the news…IT’S OVER! I’ll probably be home by the time you get this letter but I wanted to write it anyway. I’ll make everybody dinner when I get there but could somebody else please serve it?”

Fortunately, Igor’s efforts to please the palate weren’t left behind on a helicopter pad. His alter ego—Hollywood actor/writer/entrepreneur Jeff Maxwell—has compiled the best of Igor's mess tent magic into a hilarious book entitled “Secrets of the M*A*S*H Mess: The Lost Recipes of Private Igor.”

Testimonial from Colonel Potter: “There seems to be a misconception here—those recipes weren’t lost! We did our best to hide them.”

Within these wacky pages--which are replete with black and white production stills, “dog-tag” quotes, and letters home—the author not only gives us generous dollops of homegrown culinary advice but demonstrates a talent for memorializing his Army experiences and friendships with his own brand of signature recipes:

Hawkeye and Trapper’s Swamp Spaghetti

Winchester’s Upper Crusted Chicken

Hot Lips Tri-Tips

Pork Choppers with Barbeque Sauce

Stuffed Seoul

Radar’s Teddy Bear Turkey Loaf

The Colonel’s Kernel Stew

Toasted Tank Tuna

Hunnicut’s Homesick Cookies

Intravenous Drip Dip

Igorism: “Hawkeye told me he went to school for twelve years to be a doctor. I trained in boot camp for eight weeks to become a soldier. It sure takes a lot more time to learn how to save a life than how to end one.”

As clueless as Igor seemed to be whilst unveiling inventive concoctions such as “Cream of Weenie Soup” or “Hot Potato Pucks”, he shows remarkable clarity in laying out instructions that are fun and easy to follow. Whether you’re mustering your troops off to work or school with “Frontline Flapjacks with Chocolate Gravy”, settling in for an evening flick with “Movie Night Popcorn Shrimp,” or dazzling your next book club group with “Forward Marsh Melts”, there’s no denying that Igor knows what it takes to please picky eaters.

Igor: “Peas or carrots, Sir?”Hawkeye: “Oh, a little of each will be fine.”Igor: “Good, because I don’t know which is which.”

He has also included a short section on drinks, including “Pre-Op Novocaine Shake”, “Swamp Swill Martini” and “Suicide is Painless”, the latter popularized in song for both the original film and the TV series.

Testimonial from Hawkeye Pierce: “Can’t wait to try the recipes. There are several people I’m trying to kill.”

In real life, by the way, Maxwell is the inventor/purveyor of a kicky Bloody Mary Mix called Chico Rico™ which won a People’s Preference Award in the 2003 International Zesty Foods Show. The mix, which he describes as “Lip Smackin’ Fire & Spice”, is available at Bristol Farms or through his website at http://www.chicorico.biz/order.html.

While dinner is cooking, TV trivia fans will find themselves well entertained with Maxwell’s behind-the-scenes anecdotes, as well the convoluted journey that took this affable actor from the bowels of the Print Department at 20th Century Fox to stand-up comedy to the elation of playing a character with an actual name on a hit series instead of just a credit as “Soldier 1”. The proliferation of candid shots suggest the slap-dash happiness of an overgrown kid who has not only found himself at the summer camp of a lifetime but in the thick of new friendships destined to last forever.

Hotlips: “I thought you might enjoy being the Charity Officer for me. You’d be so good at it.”BJ: “Oh really?”Hotlips: “You have such a nice smile. Not liking you is the same as not liking a collie.”

Last but not least are the bittersweet tugs of nostalgia which remind us that the 4077th wasn’t just Igor’s family and his home-away-from-home but a weekly part of our own family as well.

“Dear Ma, We all just found out that Colonel Blake gets to go home. Lucky guy—sure wish I was gonna be on the plane with him!”

In the third season finale, "Abyssinia, Henry", marking actor McLean Stevenson’s departure from the cast, viewers will recall the heart-stopping moment when a stunned Radar announced that Colonel Blake’s plane had been shot down en route to Japan. There were no survivors.

It was moments like this that reminded us of what good writing can be. And it’s books like “Secrets of the M*A*S*H Mess” that demonstrate Private Straminsky has a definite calling in top brass cuisine.

 

Reviewer Christina Hamlett, a former actress and director, is an award winning author and script coverage consultant for the film industry. Her credits to date include 22 books, 118 plays and musicals, 4 optioned feature films, and columns/interviews that appear throughout the world. She and her gourmet chef husband, Mark Webb, reside in Pasadena, California.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012 14:51

Cooking to Impress Without Stress

Cooking to Impress Without StressBy Annabel Langbein

 

Graphic Arts Center Publishing, 2003

978-1558687721160 pages, 85 color photographs

 cooking to impress without stress

Back in the days when I used to run a touring theater company, cast parties were not only frequent in number but also easy to plan because (1) everyone brought something and (2) everything bought at a grocery store was thrown into the oven, taken out of the refrigerator, or tossed onto a serving platter.

Such a cavalier approach to home entertaining, however, didn’t lend itself as easily to the orchestration of formal dinners or holiday gatherings for relatives. The amount of time I found myself deciding on the perfect menu was matched only by the amount of time I spent away from my guests doing the preparation and serving.

No wonder I was always exhausted and fading out by the time the dishes were finally cleared!

While New Zealand author Annabel Langbein’s latest release came out 30 years too late for me to effortlessly dazzle my former in-laws and long ago business associates, “Cooking to Impress Without Stress” is a welcome addition to the cookbook collection of anyone in this fast paced day and age who wants to be able to participate in and enjoy his or her own dinner parties.

“Feeling relaxed and comfortable in someone else’s home and enjoying the food they have prepared (no matter how simple) is one of life’s great pleasures,” Langbein begins. She follows this up with what she calls The 12 Commandments of getting organized, setting the scene, and choreographing a memorable brunch, luncheon, dinner or special event. Among them:

Cook in your comfort zone

Know your audience

Delegate

Don’t fall into the gravy

How many cooks have you known, for instance, who use their guests as unwitting guinea pigs for a complex and untried recipe, aren’t aware if their visitors have food allergies or dietary restrictions, chase helping hands out of the kitchen, or consume one too many adult beverages in order to calm their nerves? Langbein’s dozen commandments alone are worth photocopying and taping up in sight.

She also emphasizes that “elevating an everyday meal to a special occasion doesn’t demand a departure to complicated dishes…it’s the ambience you create that allows people to feel relaxed and spoilt.” To that end, she introduces a number of eye-catching and savory starters that set the scene for a dining experience that will be long remembered. The recipes throughout the text are designed to accommodate 4-6 people but can be adjusted up or down depending on whether you’re dining intimately with your significant other or having friends over for an after-concert buffet or show-stopping desserts and coffee. It’s also interesting to note that Langbein includes metric measurements and displays cooking temperatures in both Fahrenheit and Celsius.

What I especially like about this book is that it is written to be sensitive to the amount of time the cook actually has to prepare the meal. Regardless of the length of time involved in assembling the ingredients, however, all of the dishes are readily approachable. A quick dish, such as the Pasta with Salmon, Capers, and Arugula (page 100), for example, can be fixed in less than 15 minutes but promises to be a delightful and flavorful meal that will look as if it took much longer.

Langbein also introduces a Fish and Scallop Pie with Creamy Lemon Sauce and Caper Crumb that can be assembled up to 12 hours prior to the arrival of one’s guests, then slipped into the oven for baking. And let’s not forget the obvious bonus that all evidence of that preparation will have been run through the dishwasher and stored away long before the doorbell rings! On the other end of the spectrum, the almost decadent Roast Leg of Lamb with a red currant or quince jelly jus is remarkably easy to prepare even if it takes hours to cook.

In addition, the author provides the cook with creative options for side dishes and preparation of the main meal that encourages experimentation and variations on the central theme. The above referenced Roast Leg of Lamb, for instance, contains recipes within the margins of the same page that will turn it into a Moroccan-style feast or a North Indian Cardamom and Chilli dish. Various sauces, dips, and preparation pointers add a wealth of opportunities for preparing that special meal and contribute greatly to this being a top shelf resource for your cooking education that doesn’t require you to go strictly "by the book."

A resident of Auckland, Langbein is the author of ten prior cookbooks including the popular Savour series. If the rest of them are as inspirationally tasty and fun to read as this one, you’ll want to add them to your library. They’re guaranteed to make your dining room the most comfy and inviting restaurant in town!

 

Reviewer Christina Hamlett, a former actress and director, is an award winning author and script coverage consultant for the film industry. Her credits to date include 22 books, 118 plays and musicals, 4 optioned feature films, and columns/interviews that appear throughout the world. She and her gourmet chef husband, Mark Webb, reside in Pasadena, California.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012 14:47

The San Diego Restaurant Cookbook

The San Diego Restaurant CookbookRecipes from America’s Finest CityBy Ingrid Croce

Avalanche Records and Books, 2005

ISBN 978-0976680147

271 pages including index $29.95

 sandiegorestcookbook

The author dedicated this book to the daring restaurateurs who have placed their hearts and fortunes on the line to build their city’s exciting and vibrant dining scene.

I like to cook, share meals with others and look at cookbooks for new recipes. Once or twice I have read a cookbook entirely. In recent years San Diego has been the home of my daughter, son-in-law and grandson so I visit there often. The editor/publisher said, “I have a cookbook that you might enjoy reading and reviewing.” “OK let me see it” was my reply. Maybe the book would help us find a good restaurant or specialty food shop? Might it have a recipe from a restaurant dish we had enjoyed?

What should a cookbook do? The book should provide good recipes explained well. Drawings or photos or the ingredients, utensils, process and the finished product are helpful. It helps that the book presents a style of food or regional specialties. Sometimes a good one features the cooking of a famous chef or school of cooking.

Good and interesting cookbooks might be printed and sold for a good cause or a charity. I search for a copy of the Ida Grove Farmers and Swineherds Auxiliary cookbook frequently but unrequitedly. You know the kind produced on a mimeo machine by one of the members and assembled on one of those snap rings that opens for the holes in the pages. Who could refuse a chance to see real Iowan farmers’ wives’ recipes? Pork chops, summer sausage, pound cake or head cheese anyone? How about a book of the recipes of the various home cafes or eats places that graced small town America before major leagues expanded?

This book is organized by appetizers, first course, soup, salad, pasta, fish, crustaceans, poultry, meat, dessert, breakfast and brunch, growers and vendors. The author informs us of the background of the chef or the restaurant which is the source of the recipe. The recipes are the restaurants and Ms. Croce tells us so that we make the adjustments in amounts for the home kitchen. Many of the recipes are rather appealing. Their scope across many ethnic and American styles of food illustrates the variety that one finds and enjoys in San Diego’s restaurants.

Unfortunately, this volume, which gives the hope for much, delivers less. This book has many recipes and some of them read well and might be good to make and eat. There is a dearth of photos that matter in a cookbook -- pictures of ingredients or what the finished product should look like when completed. The book is replete with photos. There are photos of restaurant front doors, dining rooms, tables, staff, chefs and even a stove with pots and pans on it. However, few of them are of the food that using the recipes would produce. There are good photos of outside scenes of San Diego and nice shots of view from restaurants. Of the more than 100 photos in the book less than two dozen of them show any food or product cooked or raw. When photos of them are in the book they most often introduce one of the sections: poultry, pasta, meat, dessert, etc. Why are not the photos of the foods those for which you have printed the recipes?

The San Diego Restaurant Cookbook is a good looking volume, which provides insights into what is available in San Diego’s restaurants.

www.sandiegorestaurantcookbook.com

 

--review by Mike Petersen

Wednesday, 25 July 2012 14:43

César – Recipes from a Tapas Bar

César – Recipes from a Tapas Bar

By Olivier Said and James Mellgren with Maggie Pond

 

Ten Speed Press, 2003ISBN 1580084893

211 pages, hard cover. $29.95

 cesar

Many modern cookbooks go to great lengths to describe the culture and history of the country or region from which the recipes originate. This is a valuable aspect of learning how to prepare cuisines from different lands, especially for those of us who do not plan to go to Provençe or Spain or Italy or Thailand anytime soon. There is something that enhances the ability to create and present a dish when a carefully crafted cookbook evokes the history, sights, sounds, and aromas of distant lands. Cookbooks that highlight a restaurant, as does this of César - a tapas bar in Berkeley, California - add to this cultural immersion personal notes, explaining the hard work and dedication as well as the sense of purpose that goes into creating a successful restaurant.

The authors - Olivier Said, managing partner of César, James Mellgren, writer and expert on Spanish food, and Maggie Pond, César’s executive chef - have gone one better with this collaborative cook book. Not only does it literally take the reader from concept to construction to opening of their restaurant in its amusing and sentimental introduction, but they also share with you every aspect of what a tapas bar is supposed to be, which more than anything else is ambience. In many aspects, this cookbook is more like a menu with instructions. All that is missing is the crowded intimacy that comes from being there yourself. The foreword by Jackson Browne draws a carefully arching line from Barcelona to Berkeley, leaving no doubt about your departure point or your destination on this culinary journey.

As would be expected of a tapas bar, much of the first part of the book is devoted to both traditional Spanish and modern American libations. The opening section on sherries was particularly welcomed. If the traditional start to an evening of tapas is not the direction in which you want to head, the authors go through an extensive array of cocktails covering all the modern trends in martinis, rum drinks, and tequila creations. Clearly, after going through this section, the reader can quickly lay claim to being an expert mixologist.

While it was consistent with the concept behind the book, I was nevertheless disappointed with the terse discussion of wines, which primarily was a quickly listing of regional reds and whites and an interview with one of the other partners at César, Dennis Lapuyade. Frankly, it really doesn’t add to the book or to the knowledge of someone trying to replicate the food and beverage of this fine restaurant to know that he buys between twenty and twenty five cases of wine a week – unless the reader really parties at home. A more extensive explanation of how the regional Spanish wines pair up with the tapas offered at César, or some basic distinctions between Spanish and American wines, would have been more valuable than the note at the end of this section that basically states everything goes with everything and don’t worry about it. That may work in a restaurant, but not every person hosting a dinner at home can buy flights of Spanish reds and whites for the four guests coming over to make sure there is a functional wine list.

Of course, the most significant part of any experience at a tapas bar is the tapas. In this regard, the people at César do not disappoint. The authors start with a brief description of the essentials for the Spanish pantry, a concept that many other cookbooks would do well to emulate. From there, they go through a litany of soups, salads, vegetable, meat and seafood tapas, and even sandwiches. The variety in the offerings is at least in part an acknowledgement that more substantial fare may be necessary at home when planning a dinner. That is unfortunate, since part of the art of serving tapas is in its diversity. Care has to be taken to read the directions carefully, since more than a few of the intriguing recipes are made to serve eight, which might require some awkward paring down if you are planning an intimate dinner with that special person in your life.

Of the many interesting recipes in this book, I was especially intrigued with the Poached Salmon with cilantro and cumin vinaigrette. Its liberal use of jalapeños should make this a dish that is hard to put down even as the temperature is rising. If heat is what you like, I would also recommend the Gambas a la Gallega, which with its liberal use of pimenton is certain to slap around even the most jaded palate. For those who feel that eggs can be eaten any time of the day - and for a good contrast to many of the other meat, seafood, or vegetable dishes in this book - I’d recommend the Migas which, as the authors state, is somewhat of an Old World equivalent of huevos rancheros.

More than anything else, César – Recipes from a Tapas Bar, made me want to hop on a plan, fly to Oakland, and go spend the evening sampling all that this restaurant has to offer. While good for business, it is not necessarily the objective of a cookbook. For the uninitiated, many of the recipes border on unapproachable. Part of the challenge to doing justice to tapas at home is being able to prepare relatively small portions of many dishes. Once again, the authors fail to recognize that most kitchens do not have this capability. A little more direction and a little less narcissism would go a long way to make this book a must have on any culinary shelf.

Reviewer Mark Webb is an insurance executive and gourmet chef. He is married to former actress and director Christina Hamlett, who is an award winning author and script coverage consultant for the film industry. They reside in Pasadena California, although on any given week Mark may be found at his satellite office – Aioli Bodega España – in Sacramento.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012 14:32

Brazil – A Culinary Journey

Brazil – A Culinary Journey

By Cherie Hamilton

Hippocrene Books, Inc., 2005

ISBN 0781810809

205 Pages, $24.95

brazil 

Hippocrene Books deserves kudos for its extensive cookbook library, of which Brazil – A Culinary Journey is a part. The publisher has managed to develop an extensive array of cookbooks focusing on less published cuisines, such as “Estonian Tastes and Traditions” and “My Mother’s Bolivian Kitchen.” As is the case with many modern cookbooks, the first-hand experience of the author while living in the country whose cuisine is being featured adds both a personal and cultural perspective that aids the reader and cook in the preparation and presentation of the food. Clearly, Cherie Hamilton has a profound affinity for the cooking of Portugal, which has manifested itself in cuisines from Asia (Macau) to South America (Brazil). If there is any doubt of her expertise, she lists her bibliography in the preface. While interesting, it is a lengthy effort at reciting credentials that is unnecessary. Embracing the cuisine of another country – or even in one’s own – is equal parts training and passion. It is those credentials that should be established in a cookbook such as this. No better example of this is “The Complete Book of Mexican Cooking” (Evans, 1965) by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz.

What follows is an invaluable Introduction that is a geographic, cultural, and historic roadmap of this largest nation in South America and how these various factors influence the diverse cuisine of Brazil. Additional context is provided by the short introductions that precede each of the regional sub-sections of the book. The recipes are easy to follow and well laid ou, even if not all recipes are easy to prepare given the sometimes exotic ingredients. It is also very helpful that the author provides some representative menus for each region near the end of the book, adding to the ability to navigate some of the less familiar recipes with relative ease. The publishers did a disservice to the readers by not including web addresses for suppliers in the “Ingredient Sources” section at the back of the book. Additional research would likely have made the ingredients necessary for some of these dishes more accessible for readers across the United States.

The recipes themselves are fascinating, especially when viewed within the regional context the author sets out in each of the regional sub-sections. The grilled steaks from the Center-West area are straightforward and easy to prepare, as one would expect from a recipe from the rural areas of that country. The idea of marinating beef in melted butter, vinegar, garlic, onions and salt and pepper may cause your cardiologist to intervene, but is so wickedly tempting as to be irresistible. You can almost taste the richness of this grilled beef just by reading the recipe. Reflective of the incredible diversity of this nation, the São Paulo – style Shrimp Couscous reminds you of a dish that should be cooked up in a tagine in North Africa rather than in South America. The author also provides regional appetizers and desserts for a complete dining experience.

There are also many unique recipes in this book that would be the talk of any dinner party. Mato Grosso-Style Fish, for example, utilizes a fruit sauce with bananas and pineapple over fried fish fillets. While this sounds relatively straightforward, this intriguing sauce also uses onion, green onion, black olives, parsley, palm hearts, tomatoes, and tomato puree. If you have access to some of the more exotic ingredients necessary for many of these recipes, then the options truly expand when planning what would be a unique culinary adventure through this country.

This is a book that should be in the library of any cook who periodically seeks to do something different. The style of cooking is a reflection of the many and varied foreign influences that have made their imprint in this country over the centuries. The publisher would have served the public better had it been more determined to provide easy access to some of the ingredients necessary for many of these dishes, but there still remains a wealth of unique recipes that would make for an entertaining and satisfying dining experience.

Reviewer Mark Webb is an insurance executive and gourmet chef. He is married to former actress and director Christina Hamlett, who is an award winning author and script coverage consultant for the film industry. They reside in Pasadena California, although on any given week Mark may be found at his satellite office – Aioli Bodega España – in Sacramento.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012 14:13

Politics & Pot Roast

Politics & Pot Roast By Sarah Hood Solomonpoliticspotroast

Glenn Foden Illustrator

Bright Sky Press, Albany, Texas 2006.ISBN-10: 1931721793

$24.95

 

The editor requested that I review this book during the 2006 campaigns but I was involved in them and the week after the election I was in no mood to review any book with politics in the title, even a cookbook. One political commentator has observed that with the announcement of sundry that they are running for president or exploring running for president the next election has begun. For the commentator it was a matter of joy. For the rest of us it is a matter of pain to have the campaigning staring all over again a mere two months after the last national election. Now I have the time to review Politics & Pot Roast and the presidential aspirants of all parties have made it election season again. So the book is topical again.

Americans do not like politics and easily ignore it in the good country in which we live. According to the numbers most eligible people take a pass on voting. Many of us enjoy eating. Some of us like to eat. Fewer still buy and read cookbooks.

The author has provided us some interesting recipes over the 200 plus years of the presidency because the focus of the book is favorite foods and recipes of the presidents of the United States including the current incumbent. All presidents are included so there is no political, let alone partisan, bias to the book.

Ms. Salomon reports that the inspiration for her book was a simple dinner party that she held for thirty women at her home in Washington, D.C. She started with U.S. Grant Roman Punch. “The dishes were labeled with their names and creators, which kept the conversation lively.” Perhaps, the Roman Punch had something to do with the energy of the conversation. It contains sherbet improved with rum, Cointreau and Champagne. Just enough sugar to hide the alcohol.

Her approach to the book was to use original recipes, if available, such as Elizabeth Monroe’s Rose Syrup. If they were not available, she tried to make connections between the Presidents and the chosen dishes. Ms. Salomon used state dinner menus and contemporary cookbooks for recipes. She modernized old ones to reflect modern techniques and conventions of recipe writing, although including the old recipe to allow the reader to fashion a version of the dish. This is surely for the good when old recipes she includes describe measurements qualitatively not quantitatively, such as, “enough” flour or bake “until enough.”

The book is interesting for the light it sheds on food tastes throughout the last 200 years. Even the President who had staff and the White House kitchen was subject to the inconveniences of the foods, techniques and appliances then in use. Be thankful that you have temperature controls and a range that is instantly on as opposed to having to light a wood fire to build up heat while preparing the food to be cooked.

This book is fun and meant to be so. The author wrote so the recipes can be used for cooking. In addition, the accompanying text and illustrations cause grins, chuckles and a laugh or two as well. One of my favorites was the reference to, and quotation of, the Etiquette Rules for State Dinners taken from The White House Cook Book, 1887. “One’s teeth are not to be picked at the table; but if it is impossible to hinder it, it should be done behind the napkin.” Oh yes, there is an appropriate cartoon by the illustrator. Too bad there is no reference to mobile phone and personal assistant device (Blackberry) use at meals, state dinner or not.

The author opens another possibility for a fun evening at dinner in your home. Gather a mixed group of partisans both Democrat and Republican. Prepare dishes from this book favored by presidents of both parties and label them so. Provide a score sheet, which includes each dish and spaces for rating and commenting on them. Ask the gathering to rate the dishes. You will have insights into the quality of the food and of the senses of humor of the guests. See how the Reagan admirer liked a Jimmy Carter recipe. Did the Clinton fans enjoy their Nixon Omelettes? The possibilities are there. What are the hosts communicating when they serve LBJ Chili to anyone?

Politics & Pot Roast has good recipes, interesting history and good humor as well.

 

Reviewer Mike Petersen is an attorney employed at the state capitol who travels whenever he can to try new foods and wines in California and Europe. He especially enjoys cooking and eating Italian, Spanish, French, German and other dishes that he has sampled with the locals here and abroad. Mike is a founder and chair of Mr. P’s Wine Club, a no-load wine club whose members love trying new wines and foods. He also searches for Chicago-style, kosher hot dogs wherever he may be.

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