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The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution Hardcover – Oct 2 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. The delicious dishes described in the latest cookbook from Chez Panisse founder Waters, such as a four-ingredient Soda Bread and Cauliflower Salad with Olives and Capers, are simple indeed, though the book's structure is complex, if intuitive. After a useful discussion of ingredients and equipment come chapters on techniques, such as making broth and soup. Each of these includes three or four recipes that rely on the technique described, which can lead to repetition (still preferable to a lack of guidance): a chapter on roasting contains two pages of instructions on roasting a chicken (including a hint to salt it a day in advance for juicy results), followed by a recipe for Roast Chicken that is simply an abbreviated version of those two pages. The final third of the book divides many more recipes traditionally into salads, pasta and so forth. Waters taps an almost endless supply of ideas for appealing and fresh yet low-stress dishes: Zucchini Ragout with Bacon and Tomato, Onion Custard Pie, Chocolate Crackle Cookies with almonds and a little brandy. Whether explaining why salting food properly is key or describing the steps to creating the ideal Grilled Cheese Sandwich, she continues to prove herself one of our best modern-day food writers. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
She continues to prove herself one of our best modern-day food writers. Publishers Weekly --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.See all Product Description
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For those of you who don't know, Alice Waters's restaurant, Chez Panisse, is probably the most important American restaurant in the past forty years. Waters pioneered the use of high quality, local ingredients. The restaurant itself is delightful; they've served some of the best food I've ever eaten. In the Bay area, where I live, farmers and artisans at local markets often proudly claim that their food is served at her restaurant.
Waters begins the book by extolling her philosophy: buy local, high quality ingredients, and cook them simply. (Of course, simple for a professional chef is different than simple for a home chef. I consider 6 ingredients to be pretty complicated, especially if they are all fresh ingredients.) She then proceeds to give very explicit directions on how to cook things: roasts, vegetables, baked goods, reminiscent of the explicit directions given by Julia Child in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume One, or by Maida Heatter in Maida Heatter'S Book Of Great Desserts. Finally, she gives lists of recipes for many dishes.
What makes her recipes unique are the variations that she provides for each recipe. Here's one simple example: for a chard frittata, she recommends substituting other greens, such as collards, rapini, or stinging nettles (I have alway wondered what to do with stinging nettles). Or, in a recipe for pancakes, she says to add one cup of whole grain flours, telling you to mix multiple grains including spelt, wheat, corn, or whatever else you feel like adding. (She does note that you need to use a minimum amount of whole wheat flour for the gluten to bind it all together.) I've seen other books that tried to teach you how to vary recipes (for example, Cookwise: The Secrets of Cooking Revealed), but this one does a very good job of explaining where you should improvise and where you should not. Most importantly, this book gives you a real feeling of why each dish is great, and really captures the soul of each recipe. I've never seen another cookbook that had this much discussion of each recipe.
This is a very good book about food. It's similar to other introductory cookbooks like The New Basics Cookbook, or The New Best Recipe: All-New Edition with 1,000 Recipes, but I think Alice Waters does a much better job explaining how to cook. (For example, I like the two pages she devotes to pan-frying pork chops. That recipe, incidentally, has four ingredients: chops, oil, salt, pepper.) She is not as good a writer as, say, Jeffrey Steingarden (author of The Man Who Ate Everything), but I don't expect her to be. (This is more of a cookbook than a book of essays.) Honestly, I have dozens of books that cover the same set of recipes as this book, but I have no other book that makes me want to cook every recipe. I would recommend this book to anyone who cares seriously about food.
[Update on 8/1/2008. I've now tried a number of recipes from this book, including the short ribs, apricot jam, many of the salads, pork chops, and sauerkraut. Every recipe I've tied has worked, and most of them have been very straightforward. This has become my "desert island" cookbook; it's the first place I turn when I don't know how to make something. I strongly recommend this book to anyone, experienced or not.]
I have been cooking exclusively from this book for the past two weeks. Everything, absolutely everything I have made has been stellar! First, there was the minestrone, which included homemade chicken stock and beans cooked from scratch. I have made both for years, but was never really satisfied, and more recently have relied on boxed broths and canned beans. No longer. The chicken stock was not over-powered by too many vegetables as recommended in other recipes, the beans were tender and held together, and they were seasoned to perfection with Alice's direction to taste and salt along the way. This resulted in a minstrone that was as near to perfection as I have ever tasted. I added kale to mine, which added great color.
As I write this review, I am eating my lunch, which is the Polenta Torta, which I made two days ago. It is still as fabulous as it was then. First, Alice directs us to cook the polenta for one hour - yes, one hour. I thought to myself, oh, I don't need to do that; 30 minutes will suffice. I had the time, so I let the polenta cook quietly on the back burner for the entire hour. What a difference! Unbelievable taste and consistency! I layered this goodness with the Simple Tomato Sauce and added a layer of sauteed mushrooms and a separate layer of sauteed zucchini. This is comfort food at its best!
In addition, I've made the scones - light, sweet, but not cloying; the Bean Gratin, which I served alongside plain ploenta - great taste and texture combination; and the peach crisp - a juxtaposition of texture, with the soft peaches and raspberries contrasted with the crunchy topping (I used slivered almonds, which I chopped and toasted in a dry skillet. I also added the zest of an orange - an Ina Garten trick.)
Tonight, I can't wait to get home to cook the Braised Chicken Legs with Tomato and Garlic. I've been cooking avidly and passionately for a long time, and I haven't been this inspired by a single cookbook for a while. It's great to get the spark back. Thank you, Alice.
I've eaten in the Chez Panisse Cafe and Cafe Fanny (the breakfast bar) every time I get to Berkely. Someday, I will get to eat Downstairs. Until then, I'll just have to be content with this most treasured tome.
The start is nice, in that she lays out what ingredients (herbs, for instance) and equipment should be on hand for effective cooking. One simple example: the author's emphasis at several points on the value of a good supply of fresh aromatic foods to enhance flavors in a recipe (e.g., onions, carrots, and celery). Then, she discusses how to plan menus and entertain friends for dinner. Not recipes, but useful context.
The recipe sections begin with a rendering of how to make several essential sauces, including vinaigrette, salsa verde, aioli, and herb butter. None of the recipes calls for rocket science knowledge, but they are well explained and doable. One nice feature--some possible variations on the recipe. E.g., with vinaigrette, she notes that one variation could be to beat in a bit of mustard before you add the oil; alternatively, she suggests that one could a fresh nut oil for the olive oil.
There is a nice discussion of sautéing as a technique, with a nice example immediately thereafter (sautéed cauliflower). Another example of technique--poaching. Following the general discussion, she uses an example quite familiar to me: poaching salmon. I have a handful of recipes featuring poached salmon (the fish cooks through, satisfying my family, and still stays moist, satisfying me).
There are a sampling of recipes for poultry, fish/seafood, meat, etc. While the recipes are nice, I wish that there had been more. One thing I like in cookbooks is abundant choice!
Anyhow, this is a nice reference for those who enjoy cooking; it's probably also apt to be useful to those who don't like much cooking but want some doable and good recipes when called upon to fix up a meal. Worth taking a look at.