Pros: Good, reasonable dishes
Cons: Everything came out just… average
Rating: 3 out of 5
First published 3/17/2001
When I think of this cookbook, I think… average. Nothing dazzling. Nothing bad. It’s good, solid food. I guess I’m spoiled; I like to see more than that. Most cookbooks have at least a few truly wonderful recipes in them–otherwise, why spend money on them?
The index is reasonable but not great. There are 127 pages of recipes; most come with nice, full-color photos (again, good but not mouth-wateringly delightful). There are some very brief informational sections toward the beginning, on things like choosing a grill pan. This section mostly consisted of informing us about the wide range of shapes and sizes out there, which is not particularly useful. It also says to pick a pan of a size that suits your family size, and to get one that’s heavy. Okay, I guess that last suggestion was useful if you don’t know much about cookware already.
There are bits on cooking with a grill pan (read the instructions that come with the pan, for example – I think we could have figured that out). Make sure the outside of the food is sealed through high heat before turning down the heat for long-term cooking. There’s caring for your pan, cooking techniques, and a few notes on ingredients. These present the same mix of “duh” and “okay, I guess that’s useful” information. Layout is fairly clean and easy. Recipes are generally one-page affairs, easy to make sense out of.
The chapters are divided into Fish & Shellfish, Beef, Lamb, Pork, Poultry, Vegetables, and Desserts. Yes, desserts! Most of the recipes in this book are fairly simple. Fish steaks are marinated and grilled; occasionally they’re served with a simple sauce. The plum sauce that goes with the red mullet looks quite good: plums, brown sugar, garlic, lemon zest, and cinnamon. The seafood kabobs are served with a cucumber and yogurt dip. The recipes often have serving suggestions for what sort of side dish you might want to serve with them; we usually ignore these because they haven’t inspired us particularly. There are Seafood Tikka Kabobs, Lobster Tails with Lemon and Tarragon Mayonnaise (yum!), and Grilled Sardines with Ginger and Mint Butter. The recipes sound so delicious, that I’m continually surprised by the “good but not great” nature of the food once it’s cooked.
The beef chapter includes Balsamic Fillet Steaks, with a shallot-and-caper butter. There’s Garlic Steak Fajitas with Red Onion Salsa, and “The Perfect Hamburger.” (While quite good, I wouldn’t call it perfect. It’s just ground beef with a few extras in it like shallots, horseradish sauce, parsley, salt, and pepper.) There’s also Thai Beef Kabobs, and Beef Paupiettes.
Seasoning to Taste
A brief complaint: this cookbook does not like to provide amounts when telling you to add pepper and salt. While this is fine in situations where you can taste as you add these ingredients, it is not fine when you’re adding it to, oh, say, raw hamburger meat. The “perfect hamburger” recipe even says “seasoning to taste.” I would not recommend this, due to bacterial worries, and the author should have known better too. At that point the trick is to provide a basic, minimal measurement of salt and pepper to put into the raw recipe, and then give the instruction to add more to taste once cooked. Or, to give a basic, minimal measurement and to recommend adjusting to taste once familiar with the recipes in relation to your own salt tastes.
Back to the Recipes…
The lamb chapter includes Skewered Lamb with Red Currant Coulis (yes, a few recipes call for potentially difficult-to-find ingredients), Lamb Brochettes with Mushroom and Basil Sauce, Lamb with Apricot Relish, Lamb Steaks with Ginger and Cilantro, and Herbed Lamb and Mustard Burgers. Then you’ll find Seville-Marinated Pork, Oriental-Style Pork Bites, Almond-Stuffed Pork, and Pan-Fried Pork with Charred Apple Relish. There’s a Caribbean Chicken with Warm Fruit Salsa, Hoison Rock Cornish Hens, Maple-Glazed Turkey, Duck Breasts with Warm Mango Salsa, and Turkey Mole Kabobs. This last dish, with its slightly-sweet sauce involving chocolate, cinnamon, garlic, tomatoes, chilies, and more, is the best of the dishes we’ve made from this cookbook, and the only one that approached spectacular. The Chicken and Tarragon Burgers were good, but not great – a little too bland for our tastes.
The vegetables chapter includes Chargrilled Vegetables with Green Olives, Polenta and Pepper Squares, Sweet Potato and Garbanazo Burgers, and Grape Leaf and Havarti Parcels. The desserts chapter looks like one of the best chapters in the book: Rum-Flambeed Pineapple, for example, and Bananas with Cinnamon Mascarpone. Certainly these are more original than many of the other recipes. The Calvados Apples look amazing, as does the Warm Bananas with Chocolate Cream. While the Fruit and Marshmallow Kabobs look fantastic, however, we found it nigh-impossible to get the marshmallows to blacken at all before simply melting (contrary to the artful picture).
This is an average cookbook. Nothing we’ve made out of it has been bad; everything has been reasonably good. I’m used to seeing a higher ratio of very good recipes. I want directions that don’t imply that I should be tasting raw hamburger for its salt content. I want “helpful” information that doesn’t make me say “uh, yeah? So what? Where’s the useful stuff?” We’ll certainly make use of this cookbook and I marginally recommend it, but it won’t be one of our dog-eared, well-worn cookbooks.