Pros: Delicious flavors; easy recipes; no problems; beautiful results
Rating: 5 out of 5
First published 2/17/2005
Review copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster
Recently I reviewed Carolyn Miller’s upcoming “Seafood” cookbook. I was quite pleased with it but had some minor quibbles over the details. This time I’m reviewing her 2004 Williams-Sonoma “Christmas” cookbook, and I have to say she bowled me over.
Knocking my socks off
There are a number of recipes that I love in theory and usually only like in practice. These recipes involve ingredients and concepts that I find very appealing, but there’s just something about the way the individual recipes get executed that leaves something to be desired. Stuffed mushrooms fall into this category. Recipes like this make great test recipes when I’m evaluating a cookbook because usually their quality is highly dependent on a careful balance of flavors, good technique, and adequate kitchen-testing. So, naturally, one of the recipes we made from this cookbook was the stuffed mushroom recipe. It turned out to be the best stuffed mushroom recipe I’ve ever had–everything that I’ve always felt stuffed mushrooms ought to be but rarely were. They were buttery, slightly crispy, flavorful, easy-to-make, and absolutely delightful.
My only reservation, and it’s a tiny one, is that the cookbook sometimes sticks with older, stodgier techniques when newer, faster ones do the job just as well. I’m sure it would stick in many chefs’ throats to suggest that you could spray the mushrooms with olive oil cooking spray instead of painstakingly brushing them with olive oil using a pastry brush, but I did half of the mushrooms one way and half the other and honestly couldn’t tell which mushrooms were which–there were no identifiable differences in the finished product.
Trying new things
Roast with Yorkshire Pudding is one of those things I’ve always heard of but never tried. I wasn’t sure how I’d like it, but it’s a big traditional thing, so it made sense to use it as one of the test recipes when trying out a Christmas cookbook. We made it last night, in fact. The roast was a perfect medium-rare, juicy, flavorful and delicious. The accompanying sauce, involving cream, parsley, creme fraiche, and some seasonings, was surprisingly delightful. The Yorkshire Pudding most surprised me–I couldn’t stop myself from having several helpings.
Delightful twists on old favorites
I love a good cream of mushroom soup, and the sight of a cream of mushroom soup topped with puff pastry made me swoon. There was no way we were getting through the testing of this cookbook without making this recipe. It turned out to be every bit as stunning as we’d hoped, although I do have one suggestion. We ended up getting puff pastry shells since we couldn’t find plain old frozen puff pastry dough. This actually turned out to be much easier. There’s no rolling out or cutting out of dough–you just bake up the shells and split them in half. Oh, and if you have leftover puff pastry shells you can serve them with the compote from the fruit desserts cookbook I’ll be reviewing in a day or two.
Okay, not everything was new or surprising
I couldn’t quite help making the sausage and cornbread stuffing, just because I love sausage stuffings so much. It was a very homey and traditional version, and had the feeling of good old-fashioned comfort food.
The full-color photographs that go with the recipes are simple, elegant and lovely. The layout is easy to understand, with the different elements of the recipes set off visually from one another and the instructions broken into bite-sized chunks. The recipes are surprisingly uncomplicated, although as mentioned in some places they could be even simpler; certainly for elegant holiday fare this is easy cooking.
The point is, no matter what I pulled from this cookbook–new, old, doubtful, sure thing–it rose to the occasion. Every single recipe delighted us. Each one left us sighing with happiness. So whether you want to make crab bisque this Christmas (or Thanksgiving, or Easter, or New Year’s, or other holiday of your choice), butternut squash and apple soup, rack of lamb with cranberry-chile relish, brisket braised in red wine, wild rice pilaf with dried cranberries and pecans, chocolate mousse cake, chicken hash, panettone French toast, gougeres, eggnog, or even chocolate truffles, I highly recommend picking up a copy of this cookbook. It’s definitely worthy of any special occasion you might wish to celebrate.