What happens when a world-class chef--Jean Georges Vongerichten, to be exact--writes a cookbook with a culinary minimalist, the New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman? The answer is Simple to Spectacular, a book that presents more than 250 recipes in a unique way. Here's the drill: a few-ingredient "core" recipe is offered, followed by formulas for four increasingly sophisticated (though not necessarily more taxing) variations. Chicken Breasts in Foil with Rosemary and Olive Oil, for example, yields to recipes for the breasts with tomatoes, olives, and Parmesan; with mushrooms, shallots, and sherry; Thai style; and, finally, with foie gras and porcini mushroom. In hands other than the authors', the dishes could be banal or overwrought. Vongerichten and Bittman triumph, however, presenting richly imagined yet straightforward fare whose preparation almost all cooks can manage.
Dish categories range from soups, salads, and entrees to seasonings, sauces, and desserts. In a number of cases, a particular ingredient, such as pasta, or a technique, such as vegetable roasting, is explored (the authors offer recipes for making plain pasta flavored with curry, for example). The sauce section is particularly useful and provides interesting theme-and-variation recipes for vinaigrettes and mayonnaises. Desserts, including Roasted Almond Ice Cream, Butter-Poached Pears with Praline, and Chocolate Tart in a Chocolate Crust, should please all sweet lovers. With 80 color photos, useful tips, and notes on food and equipment, Simple to Spectacular offers an original premise that will stimulate thought as well as great cooking. --Arthur Boehm
From Publishers Weekly
Following their James Beard Award- winning collaboration, Jean-Georges: Cooking at Home with a Four-Star Chef, Vongerichten and New York Times food columnist Bittman (The Minimalist) team up again, this time ingeniously leading home cooks from simple to spectacular dishes. "A mastery of basic recipes and an idea of how to vary them leads to almost limitless options," writes Bittman. They emphasize time-saving techniques and offer an intriguing range of flavor possibilities. An excellent section on seasonings and sauces introduces innovative flavor-enhancers such as Citrus Salt, Mint-Licorice Spice Mix and Lobster Oil Mayonnaise. The authors expertly marry an updated French culinary sensibility with Asian-inspired influences, gradually transforming one basic recipe into four increasingly sophisticated dishes by adding luxury ingredients (e.g., truffles, caviar) or unusual seasonings (like harissa or pistachio oil), or by incorporating more advanced techniques (such as making beurre noisette). Among the mouthwatering permutations on French-bistro basics, One-Hour Chicken Stock morphs into Rich Chicken Soup with Chestnuts and Mushrooms; Best Scrambled Eggs is elevated to Oeufs au Caviar; and Tuna Tartare takes a fancy turn as Tuna Spring Roll with Soybean Coulis. Clean, pared-down prose, helpful "Keys to Success" sidebars and clear recipe instructions ably guide both novice and seasoned cooks. With a masterful understanding of today's global pantry, the authors have produced a modern classic. (Oct.)
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