Monday, September 28, 2009

GOURMET TODAY: The Way We Cook Today

The recent arrival of GOURMET TODAY: More than 1,000 All-New Recipes for the Contemporary Kitchen edited by Ruth Reichl (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $40.00; ISBN 978-0-618-61018-1) is truly exciting. Reichl and her crackerjack culinary team at Gourmet magazine have created an all-new 1,000-recipe collection and indispensable kitchen reference that should appeal to any cook—new, experienced and in between.

Big, all-purpose cookbooks are rarely personal. And most of the all-purpose cookbooks I own are used for research or to answer a question. My two favorites are The Doubleday Cookbook by Jean Anderson and Elaine Hanna and How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. Could GOURMET TODAY find a place in a library of these research cookbooks? Or would it be a part of my collection of great recipe cookbooks? Actually it is both and more.

The book is fun to read, even before you start to cook. The headnotes to each recipe are extremely useful. The layout is attractive and easy to read. The line drawings and two-color format minimize eye fatigue. The sidebars are really excellent. For example, there’s a feature on olives with not only an overview of olive history and culture, but also a glossary of the most popular and available here. Other sidebars offer fascinating profiles of the fava bean and green soybeans, or a step-by-step demonstration for making fresh pasta. Want to learn how to prepare fresh ricotta at home? There are instructions here and it only takes five minutes. There's a two-page idea feature on how to create quick vegetarian meals long on flavor and short on heft. The secret to good stir-frying is "a flat-bottomed wok." There are suggestions for using leftover ham; the differences between wooden and metal skewers; how to buy, prep, stir-fry or braise bok choy; what to do with chayote should you encounter one in your local market; the two grades of maple syrup are defined; a primer on chocolate, dates and figs, and a glossary of frozen desserts such as gelato, sorbetto, granita, ice cream, semifreddo, sherbet and sorbet.

In addition to all this information, GOURMET TODAY is classically organized by categories:

· Drinks

· Hors D'oeuvres and First Courses

· Soups

· Salads

· Pasta, Noodles and Dumplings

· Grains and Beans

· Vegetarian Main Courses

· Fish and Shellfish

· Poultry

· Beef, Veal, Pork, and Lamb

· Grilled Dishes Vegetables

· Breakfast and Breads

· Cookies, Bars, and Confections

· Cakes

· Pies, Tarts, and Pastries

· Fruit Desserts

· Puddings, Custards, Mousses, and Soufflés

· Frozen Desserts and Sweet Sauces

As a first-time house owner and neophyte griller, I went to the Grilled Dishes section first. The grilling basics section answered all my questions on the subject from types of grills to utensils and perforated grill sheets. There are lots of appealing recipes and I was drawn to Grilled Chile-Lime Artic Char, Grilled Chicken Breasts with Tomato and Bread Salad, Garam Masala-Rubbed Flank Steak, Veal Involtini, Grilled Spiced Okra and Grilled Sweet Potatoes with Lime Cilantro Vinaigrette and will want to prepare these recipes in the waning days of warm weather outdoor cooking.

Within each chapter, I found plenty of recipes to keep me reading. The interesting drinks such as Fizzy Sour Cherry Lemonade, Rhubarb Collins, and Blackberry Frozen Margarita. I rarely make first courses, but Asparagus Flan with Cheese Sauce, or Beet Carpaccio with Onion Marmalade look impressive for guests. Cauliflower Soup with Stilton and Chunky Butternut Squash, White Bean, and Tomato Soup sound like ideal winter warm-ups, and Classic Matzo Ball Soup made me nostalgic for New York. Ribboned Zucchini Salad or Arugula with Pancetta-Wrapped Peaches should definitely extend my salad repoertoire. Lidia's Pasta Sauce from my favorite TV chef ought to satisfy my pasta cravings, as will Mexican Macaroni and Cheese. Afghani Spicy Scallion Dumplings with Yogurt and Meat Sauces may sound exotic, but "the ingredients are reassuringly familiar." Ginger Basmatic Rice Pilaf with Cumin and Scallions, Gorgonzola Risotto, Fresh Corn Spoonbread, Black Beans with Garlic, Cumin and Cilantro, and Lentils with Curried Butternut Squash and Walnuts are just a few highlights from the Grains and Rice chapter. There are a host of vegetarian main courses such as Grilled Provolone and Broccoli Panini, Bean Burritos and Creamy Ricotta and Faro Quiche, but there are many other dishes through the book that will satisfy and please vegetarians, vegans and omnivores alike.

For fish, I'm sampling first Pan-Seared Cod with creamy Fennel Ragout, Seared Scallops with Brussels Sprouts and Bacon, and Salt and Pepper Squid. For poultry I'm leaning towards Roast Chicken Breasts with Fennel, Potatoes, Tomatoes, and Olives, Oven Fried Panko Chicken, Hoisin Turkey Cutlets, and Duck Purloo. The beef, veal pork and lamb sections provide ample selections, such as Korean Marinated Beef, and Skirt Steak with Cilantro Garlic Sauce, or Braised Veal Shoulder with Bacon and Thyme, Jungle Curry with Pork and Eggplant, Pork Tenderloin in Paprika Cream, Lebanese Lamb and Bean Stew and Anchovy and Rosemary Roasted Lamb.

The sweet tooth will be catapulted into dessert nirvana with so many wonderful offerings. Elvis Presley's Favorite Pound Cake, Silky Chocolate-Pudding Cakes, Lemon Vanilla Cheesecake, Inside-Out Carrot Cake Cookies, Nectarine Raspberry Pie, Caramel Pumpkin Pie, Mandarin Orange Napoleons, Lemon Crème Brûlée, and Chocolate-Covered Mint Ice Cream Terrine are aimed at a thrilling dessert finale.

GOURMET TODAY has so much information to help contemporary cooks make the most out of the time they spend in the kitchen. Menus help inspire, solve and balance meals. Tips and techniques streamline and improve skills. The glossary demystifies a wealth of exotic newer-to-us ingredients that are well on their way to becoming everyday staples in out kitchens such as fenugreek seeds, guanciale, nori, tasso, pimentón are among the many defined. Users are reassured that the world-renowned food magazine has tested every recipe over and over again to insure best results.

GOURMET TODAY gave me hours of reading pleasure and that will be extended into my kitchen. The recipes represent the food we are eating now and into the foreseeable future. From my perspective it is the cookbook of 2009!

1 comment:

  1. Loved reading this detailed review -- all the more relevant in light of yesterday's news that Conde Nast will shutter Gourmet. I know that the recipes will live on, but sorry to see the grande dame go!