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- Published on Amazon.com
`Wolfgang Puck Makes It Easy' by, you guessed it, Wolfgang Puck, is easy to mistake for a fast cooking recipe book in the style of Jacques Pepin's `Fast Food My Way'. If you make that mistake, you will be very disappointed with this book. It is definitely not a Rachael Ray wannabe book. Rather, it is much more like books such as `Charlie Trotter Cooks at Home', Guy Savoy's `Simple French Recipes for the Home Cook', `Daniel's Dish' by Daniel Boulud and `Simple Pleasures by Alfred Portale. While not famous restaurant chefs, it is also similar to books by Food Network colleagues Sara Moulton and Tyler Florence. The odd thing is that although this book is not a quick cooking text, it will potentially appeal to the Rachael Ray audience for those occasions when they really want to impress dining guests with a Wolfgang Puck pizza, homemade fresh pasta, or braised lamb shanks.
Wolfgang's technique for making these recipes easy (not necessarily quick or short in description) is to avoid the use of a lot of supplementary preparations. As much as possible, virtually all the steps for a dish are given within the recipe for that recipe. There are definitely some major exceptions, but in general, Wolf is taking exactly the opposite tack from Ming Tsai's second book, `Simply Ming', where every dish is described as an elaboration on some primary recipe. In Herr Puck's work virtually the only pantry recipes you really need to be concerned chicken stock, fresh pasta, and pizza dough. One thing that always impressed me about Wolfgang is his ability to stay on message, and this is the name of the game when it comes to evaluating books. In the recent new American Iron Chef episode where Wolfgang was battling Masaharu Morimoto with the theme of eggs, Morimoto was all over the map with his dishes while Wolfgang, with great help from his terrific pastry chef Sherry Yard, was dead on target with his use of eggs as the featured ingredient in his dishes. Sherry Yard is back, providing Wolfgang another assist with some of the pastry recipes in this book.
As Wolfgang points out, one should not be put off by the relatively long procedure recipes, as he is doing this to avoid a lot of page turning, enabling the amateur cook to follow a recipe from top to bottom. A lot of other cookbooks, especially one from Emeril on recipes from his various restaurants, seemed to make a point of creating modular recipes with lots of intermediate preparations. Reading his book felt like sitting through an Advent church service where the liturgy required changing pages about once every three minutes. Modular recipes are great for the professional or the amateur who cooks every day for a large family, but it is a waste for the busy person who enjoys putting their hair up in the kitchen now and then.
Wolfgang also comes through on his promise to avoid a lot of esoteric ingredients. This is not to say that one will have a much easier time with his recipes if you live near a megamart or gourmet store, but Wolf does avoid dependence on foie gras, truffles, porcini and other wild mushrooms, lemon grass, Aleppo pepper, and Kaffir lime leaves. Where exotic ingredients such as porcinis are specified, Wolf always gives a more common substitute such as cultivated shiitakes. Some ingredients may be viewed as `hard to get' by some such as duck legs, but these are really relatively uncommon in the book. On his relatively long pantry list of `kitchen helpers', I see nothing I have not found at my local megamart, although true Italian Fontina cheese took a little prodding before my Wegmans got it in stock.
Wolfgang also manages to keep unusual equipment to a minimum, but there is a chance he strays a bit here. Many of his recipes are described with an option to use a pressure cooker, which, I believe, is no longer a standard item in American kitchens. Wolfgang also gives lots of great recipes for paninis which require either a panini press or a double sided grill (read George Forman products). While I suspect a fairly sizable number of households have George Forman grills; I have read dim reviews of these products so I am not surprised that Wolfgang does not mention them by name. To Wolf's credit, as always, he provides an alternative with a common saute pan or indoor grill.
One of the very best things I found in this book is the number of unusual recipes for breakfast, brunch, and lunch, especially with the several Panini recipes. He also includes several relatively easy recipes for making bread from scratch, including a brioche recipe that does not require the overnight rise step you will find in most recipes from bread specialists. This is not to say Wolfgang's recipe is just as good, only that it will give you a really decent brioche you can brag came from a Wolfgang Puck / Sherry Yard recipe.
The thing which appealed most to me about this book is that Wolfgang took very few shortcuts in his exposition and included excellent series of photographs to explain more difficult procedures such as omelet and pasta making. Another aspect of the book I found very appealing was that his definitely minor publisher would support printing a book which was especially easy to read. You expect this treatment from Alfred A. Knopf. You are pleasantly surprised when a virtually unknown publisher delivers high quality book design. Makes you wonder how they slipped up on the yellow type in the big Gourmet book.
The appendix on kitchen equipment will not replace a book devoted to this topic, but it is better by far than most cookbook sections devoted to the topic.
Highly recommended for amateur cooks who like to cook well, but who don't do it too often.