Most helpful positive review
61 of 64 people found the following review helpful
Great source for appetizers and a nice read. Buy It.
on August 18, 2006
`Big Small Plates' by northern California restauranteur / chef / cookbook writer, Cindy Pawlcyn, assisted by her restaurant co-owners and co-chefs, brothers Pablo Jacinto and Erasto Jacinto needs just a little explanation on its title and contents. The contradiction in the `Big Small' is explained by substituting `seriously delicious' for `Big' and `appetizers' or `hors `d'ourves' for `Small'. `Plates' obviously doesn't mean crockery, it meats a dish of food.
On reading the introduction, I was looking forward to a book on the Mexican analogues to the Mediterranean `little dishes' or tapas from Spain, `hors'd'ourves' and `amuse bouche' from France, anti-pasto from Italy, and Meze from Greece and Turkey. It turns out that over half of the dishes in this book are from this very same Mediterranean `appetizer central', augmented by a number of dishes from south Asia (India), southeast Asia, (Thailand and Vietnam), and east Asia (China and Japan). When the dust settles, the Mexican dishes are in a distinct minority.
This does not mean this is a weak book! It only means that if your bookshelves are already creaking under the weight of cookbooks from the Mediterranean and the Pacific rim, there may be less new material here than you may expect. On balance, I suggest that no matter how many Italian, French, Spanish, Indian, Thai, Chinese, and Japanese cookbooks you already have, if you do not have a `go to' book on appetizers, this volume may be your answer.
Another thing is that this is definitely a foodie book. There is not even the pretense of `fast' or `easy' or `cheap' cooking here. Since these are `starters', few of the dishes are difficult, but virtually all of them, except for some of the desserts, require some definitely serious culinary skills with techniques such as grilling, deep-frying and dough making. A second symptom that this is a foodie book is the number of unusual ingredients called for in many of the recipes. Over half of the recipes will require a trip to the Latin American, East Indian, or Chinese grocery store or a very well stocked megamart. Most of these unusual ingredients such as lemongrass are becoming more familiar, but others such as Kaffir Lime leaves are still very hard to find. I was just a bit disappointed with the list of sources, as almost all of them are in or around Napa Valley. Of course, all do Internet or Mail Order business, but still, the author could have been just a bit less Napa-centric.
Very important is the fact that this book has that ephemeral quality so eloquently described in `Cook What You Love' by Bob and Melinda Blanchard. The authors are totally in love with what they are doing, and they succeed in passing that enthusiasm on to the reader. That means the book is simply fun to read, which makes it that much more fun to look for interesting recipes.
Since the book is all about appetizer recipes, the organization is a bit unusual, dividing the dishes up into the means by which these little bites would be eaten. The chapter headings are:
Chapter 1. Sticks, Picks, and with Fingers (obvious enough)
Chapter 2. Dressed, Not Naked (Salads and dressings)
Chapter 3. Bowls and Spoons (Soups, nicht wahr)
Chapter 4. On a Raft (Crostini, Bruschetta, Biscuits, and other bready platforms)
Chapter 5. Knife and Fork (or things needing end-user cutting)
Chapter 6. Something Sweet (largely `assembled' quick desserts).
The book has one of my favorite features for a 200-recipe book. That is, it's table of contents gives all the titles of all the recipes right up there in the beginning of the book. That, combined with the organization, makes a perfect way of picking three dishes with the right combination of eating techniques.
One does need to know, however, that hidden among these `main' recipes are quite a few supplementary recipes for things such as aioli, tartar sauce, and miscellaneous other condiments. A separate chapter for these is the usual way to go, but that can be annoying too. Good compromise may have been a supplementary listing of supporting recipes.
This book also has the distinction of being the very first one I have found which uses corn mold as a recipe ingredient. I became aware of this while watching the very first `Iron Chef America' match between Bobby Flay and Rick Bayless, when Bayless pulled it out of his wrapping of day-old `Chicago Tribune' pages. The authors say one can find this stuff in Mexican groceries. I leave it to you, fair reader, to try this one out and report back!
As `restaurant books' go, this one is superior to most as both a good read and a good source of very well-written recipes for entertaining, although you will not, as in a Thomas Keller book, be treated to a lot of teaching on new techniques. Rather, it will be up to you to know your way around the kitchen and a well-stocked pantry.