May 31, 2009
By Chris Tan
This week, find out how some of the best things in life come in small packages.
By Jose Marechal
Murdoch Books/$37.95/ Borders Books
A prominent restaurant trend in recent years has been the presenting of small, jewel-like dishes in little glasses or bowls. Verrines uses this framing idea to display a side of modern French cuisine that readers seldom see - no-fuss, quick- chic Parisian home entertaining.
The result is a smashing primer for the novice cook on how simple but wise combinations of ingredients can add up to more than their elements.
Strawberries, limoncello and fresh basil? Dangerously, aromatically addictive - next time I have to make a triple quantity. Hummus layered with carrot puree and topped with corn chips? A savvy juxtaposition of three kinds of vegetable sweetness and very more-ish. Salmon tartare with green apple, redcurrants and shallots? Little bursts of tartness ornament the rich fish.
Not all the recipes walk on the safe side. Consider blood sausage with butter-fried bananas and crushed spice biscuits, or a savoury 'milkshake' of celeriac with crispy bacon and breadsticks, or quinoa layered with rocket pesto and salmon roe.
Along with full recipes, there are also brief suggestions for items you can put together quickly with pantry ingredients, for example flaked smoked fish with potato cubes and creme fraiche, or cubed fruit 'kebabs' skewered with Pocky pretzel sticks (called Mikado in France), plus chocolate sauce for dipping. You will be dipping into this book often, I promise.
By Gerald Hirigoyen
with Lisa Weiss
Ten Speed Press/ $45.95/Borders Books
This is a beautiful, eloquent illustration of why Spanish cuisine is simultaneously so very good and so very difficult to export, namely because it rests on a foundational fanaticism about good ingredients.
This is straightforward, often very simple soul food but because of their sheer guilelessness, many recipes are not worth making if you have anything less than stellar produce. For instance, caramelised pearl onions skewered with cubes of idiazabal cheese, or young spring fava beans with creme fraiche, mint and lemon, or morcilla blood sausage braised in cider.
Fortunately, not everything is beyond reach. I made pan-seared and braised chicken in a 'Basque ketchup' of tomatoes, peppers, onions and sherry vinegar, which was finger-licking, bowl-scraping good. A wondrously refreshing lychee gazpacho is cannily paired with seared scallops but it would suit almost any shellfish and I would happily drink it by the pint.
I love how the chapters are divided quirkily but perfectly in context: beans, innards, fried bites, things on bread and so on. The mostly Basque or Basque-spirited repertoire is given an occasional Californian touch by San Francisco-based chef-restaurateur Hirigoyen, hence a panko-breaded-chicken sandwich and lamb 'slider' burgers. Each recipe is accompanied by sensible, concise advice on wine pairing and the glossary is an excellent practical guide to Spanish ingredients.
Dessert Fourplay: Sweet Quartets From A Four-Star Pastry Chef
By Johnny Iuzzini
and Roy Finamore
Clarkson Potter/$70.90/ Borders Books
This fourplay should be attempted only by those in committed relationships, with their suppliers of kitchen equipment, gourmet grocers and, possibly, their junior college chemistry teachers.
However, despite his frequent calls for foam canisters, Silpats, calcium lactate and such, James Beard Award-winner Johnny Iuzzini has crafted a surprisingly winsome book.
Its main conceit is the construction of desserts comprising four variations on a theme.
For instance, strawberry, citrus, 'exotic chocolate' - each of which you could also make as a larger single dessert in its own right.
He has some great ideas, such as a spice-infused apple soup with apple tempura and sweet potato gnocchi, or a simple salad of sliced peaches with farmer cheese and candied pistachios.
He loves to play with textures in a way that would be exhilarating in a restaurant but is downright exhausting in your kitchen.
After much page-thumbing to find something I could make with my low-tech equipment, I baked the pumpkin and pine nut cake.
Studded with boozy prunes, it had a richly complex flavour that was let down by a stodgey crumb and a flourless streusel topping that looked not at all like the photograph.
Chocolate spaetzle, a dessert version of the German dumplings, turned out better, delicious little melt-in-the- mouth bites of bittersweet cocoa touched with olive oil and salt.
These did look like the photograph, but unfortunately, also like something your dog might decorate a pavement with.
This is infectiously enthusiastic reading for those wanting sweet inspiration or for home cooks wanting to make the leap into pro-level contemporary patisserie. Just make sure you have energy drinks on hand.