10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
I'd previously reviewed Tess Kiros's Falling Cloudberries: A World of Family Recipes, and in anticipation of a trip to Venice next year, I was anxious to explore her "Venezia: Food and Dreams." As another reviewer pointed out, this is a beautiful *coffee table* book; gilt edges, two black ribbon bookmarks sewn in, dramatic photographs, and metallic gold-on-white print (which makes it hard to read in bright light). The recipe introductions are written in italics, which also made it hard to read (the recipes themselves are in New Roman). As a cookbook, I don't see myself using this too often in the kitchen. Granted, Tess covers staples like polenta (several variations) and pasta, but many of the seafood dishes (which make up the bulk of the book) were too exotic for me (either in the preparation or the ingredients). The staples of Venice are all here, especially salted cod (baccala), pork with milk, brasato con amarone, and eel. Seafood examples include fish carpaccio (yes, like sashimi, these are ultra-thin slices of raw fish with pink peppercorns), eel, and preparations of baby octopus, along with clams, crab and squid. There are gnocchi and risottos (seafood, vegetable) and pastas (including squid ink, which I love from living in Spain), vegetable side dishes, and desserts. The recipes are arranged as in an Italian meal, starting with the Venetian equivalent of tapas (cicchetti), followed by antipasti, zuppa/pasta/gnocchi, risotto, secondi, contorni, and dolci. Several drink recipes (including the bellini, pomegranate, and Rossini) are also included.
Overall I kept feeling like the recipes were an afterthought to the reminiscences and glorious photos of Venice's Baroque decadence, which is unfortunate, since I loved "Falling Cloudberries" and have read many good reviews of Twelve: A Tuscan Cook Book. As a coffee table travel book, Tessa offers up romantic, dreamlike snippets that float alongside photos of men and women dressed in Baroque finery. The food is also beautifully shot, but the two subjects (Venice as beautiful, mysterious woman and her food) mixed like oil and water for me. I would have rather had the recipes in a separate section and the travel writing and photos in another rather than having them jumbled together.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on March 3, 2010
Venezia: Food & Dreams is a love letter to Venice. Reading it and cooking from it is a bit like looking at a Caravaggio painting. The dreamlike colors of the photos, the lovely setting of Venice, the simple yet forthright recipes. This book is written, photographed and designed in a dreamlike fashion; one that is so often associated with Venice. Tessa Kiros knows her subject well. In addition to the wonderful recipes, Kiros sprinkles in her thoughts, and comments; her experiences in the city in the form of poetic moments. Many of the photos are of the city itself and its citizens, or of the colorful buildings, or of Carnival; not only of food and recipes. This book is one of the most beautiful cookbooks I have come across in a long time. And the food and recipes, as I came to find out, are as delicious as the book is beautiful.
Kiros divides the book into sections that mirror an Italian menu: Antipasti, Zuppa/Pasta/Gnocchi, Risotto, Secondi, Contorni, and Dolci -- with additional sections on Essential Recipes and Cicchetti, small bites unique to Venice. As she unfolds the sections she weaves in her thoughts and comments about Venice, about a dish, a little history, or a moment in time. In one she describes trying to stand up in a gondola like the Venetians do; feet apart to steady yourself so you won't fall down. She mentions that a sure sign of a tourist is one who sits versus stands. Standing up allows more people to ride. I loved reading this. I laughed when I saw in the front of the book in the Essential Recipes section that the first entry is Polenta with recipes for both 'fast' (using instant) and 'slow' preparations. I like that it's the first thing you see and that she offers both ways of cooking the dish. It's a nice starting point. From there it's a slow, leisurely roller coaster ride through an Italian menu via the dishes of Venice. As Venice is known for its seafood many of the recipes have fish and seafood in them. Sardines, scampi, octopus, baccala, anchovies, clams, scallops, branzino, crab, calamari, appear in every other recipe. Dishes like Spaghetti al Nero de Seppie, (Spagehtti with Squid Ink) to a simple, ubiquitous Mista de Pesce (Mixed Grilled Fish). Other interludes involve her trying to get the locals to divulge their recipes; she writes that while Venetians offer up directions at the drop of a cappello, getting them to give up secrets to their cooking is not so easy.
Over a recent weekend I cooked several recipes from the book: Polpette di carne (Meatballs), Bigoili in salsa (Healthy pasta with anchovies & onions), Brasato con amarone di valpolicella (Braised beef with amarone), Radicchio al limone (Radicchio in lemon), Fast Polenta. I can say that they all worked beautifully and were huge hits with my dinner guests. At one meal we ate the braised beef, the raddichio and the polenta: the oohs and ahhs didn't stop until the last morsel was consumed. It was truly, restaurant outings included, the best thing I've made and eaten in a very long time. I chose the beef dish as I wanted to buy meat from a new local butcher McCall's Meat & Fish Co. located in the Loz Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles. The piece of chuck that butcher Nathan McCall sold me was perfection. Combined with the amazing recipe it was an incredible thing! A dish I will make again, and again, and one I highly recommend. And it couldn't have been easier to prepare. The radicchio (sautéed in olive oil, salt and pepper then simmered in lemon juice for ten minutes) was a beautiful combination of bitter plant, tart lemon juice, olive oil and saltiness: so simple yet so satisfying. The next night for Sunday dinner I made the meatballs and the pasta. The pasta dish was wonderful; a slight hint of the sea due to the anchovies, the cooked-down-to-sweetness onions a perfect compliment. This dish would be great for a light meal, add a green salad = perfetto! The meatball dish was the only one I had any trouble with but I think it may have had more to do with operator error than a flaw in the recipe. For some reason (my guesses: too much oil, not hot enough, meatballs not cold enough, pan too crowded, ratio of beef to potato wrong) I couldn't get the meatballs to stay together when I cooked them. I would have liked the recipe to offer a tad more guidance during the cooking process. That's my only critique. We still ate them, they were still very good.
I love this book. There are so many recipes I still want to try. Dishes I've eaten on my travels in Italy, or at restaurants here in the U.S. but have never made at home. I've never made anything with squid ink, I'd like to try Maiale al latte (Pork in milk) because I've heard of it before and it intrigues me, and I've never made a salt cod preparation at home either. So one day soon, back in the kitchen with Venezia: Food & Dreams, and more Venetian cooking, eating and dreaming.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on January 3, 2010
As noted in most other reviews for Venezia: Food and Dreams, this could make a splendid coffee table book that may not necessarily ever see the interior of a kitchen. But are the gold trimmed pages, gold text, silken bookmark, and pictures of costumed Venetians from the Carnevale di Venezia hallmarks of a "work of art" or just a bit of pretentious fluff? I'm not really sure.
As for its second purpose as an Venetian cookbook, I have not had the pleasure of traveling to Venice and have to accept the authenticity of the recipes presented, but a disappointing percentage of the included dishes either use ingredients that may be difficult to find in typical American markets (fresh anchovies, guinea fowl) and/or may not appeal to American tastes (squid stewed with ink, eel fillets, beef tongue). Now I don't mean to blame the author for the lack of variety in American supermarkets or the lack of curiosity of the typical American palate, but perhaps the author should have included reasonable substitutes for some of these ingredients. And when I have to search the internet to determine exactly what the author means by "peperoncino" (and I'm still not exactly sure what it is) then perhaps a better index or a glossary is in order.
But as I continue to peruse this book I do appreciate how the prominence of seafood makes this a good complement to the typical "Italian" dishes thought of by most people. In all Food and Dreams is not the best guidebook for Italian cooking, but does present an interesting regional variation, and if you desire, serve as a colorful book for one's table as well.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Some books just take a while to get into, just the same way as it sometimes takes a few tries to appreciate a new food.
I picked "Venezia" because I liked "Falling Cloudberries", which is a book I probably would have never gone near if I hadn't been a Vine member. Tessa Kiros is an unusual sort of cookbook writer because she goes for a very atmospheric feel; this isn't always the easiest thing to pull off (if you've tried to slog through the excessive floweriness of Marlena DiBlasi's books, you know how tiring it can get). But Kiros, I think, does a decent job of this, and "Venezia: Food and Dreams" might be the most daring attempt at it yet.
The recipes are generally good -- Venice has a curious culinary reputation of being the sort of place where you either get in good with a neighborhood joint or go back to land to someplace like Verona or Treviso to get a decent meal, because the obvious restaurants are usually indifferent tourist traps. That's not to say there is no good food in Venice though -- the many recipes in this book, written in a lively and animated fashion, and especially the risotti, prove otherwise. And yes, there is a lot of seafood in the book, but that's life on the Adriatic coast for you.
But the recipes are almost secondary to the book itself, and here's where the "Dream" part comes in. Away from the recipes, Kiros' writing, as well as the overall layout of the book itself (down to the weird but generally quite readable gold ink) takes on a spacey, stream-of-consciousness air that really takes a while to get into. The pictures are often random; though they consist primarily of architecture, food, and daily life, Kiros has also gone out of her way to portray the people of Venice, from vanilla to bizarre (I am haunted by a picture of an elderly man in a purple suit, who I think is a clown of some sort). The actual writing is in dribs and drabs, consisting mostly of random pithy observations. The chapter titles are clever and playful, and overall the "Food and Dreams" subtitle is well-earned, and pulled off with the sort of beauty that TVTropes contributors call "fridge brilliance".
I can't give it five stars, sadly; Kiros went way out on a limb in producing this and produces a result somewhat similar to, say, Andy Kaufman's comedy -- if you like it, you'll probably love it, but if you don't understand it, it will probably turn you off. The book is a very strange one, and intentionally so, but if you can get into it, you will almost certainly love it.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
In "Venezia: Food and Dreams," author Tessa Kiros describes her love for Venice, including anecdotes, photographs and 105 of her favorite Venetian recipes. The cookbook portion is well-constructed, following the progression of an Italian meal - starters, antipasti, primi (soup, pasta and gnocchi), with a second chapter on risotto; secondi (which included some nice vegetarian options), contorni (side dishes), and dolci (desserts). The vegetable dishes seem especially accessible and I am looking forward to artichoke season, so I can try some of her recipes.
The book itself is opulent and lovely, printed on thick, cream-colored paper, edged with gold and with a velvet page marker. The photographs are stunning and exquisite.
Unfortunately, the book had some issues which really worked to limit its appeal, from my point of view, at least. First of all, the font is scrolled, done in gold ink, and is extremely hard to read - impossible to read in the sun or bright light. The recipes are done in paragraph format, and really require deciphering, and, perhaps, copying well in advance, as no one would want to keep such a lovely volume in the kitchen, lest it attract spills. Ms. Kiros overuses the ampersand, so much so that it was distracting. Also, her recippes occasionally require uncommon ingredients (baby octopus, anyone?), without 1) suggesting alternatives, or 2) suggesting sources. The book itself is heavy and difficult to read and hold. Most frustrating of all, however, was that all of those wonderful photos had NO CAPTIONS! So, a traveler who falls in love with the locales and wants to see them must perform a time-consuming and frustrating detective game, rather than simply making a list.
The author seems much more interested on focusing on her own story than opening the world of Venice to her audience - she provides little or no context for her musings, no travel information, no progression of a visit or time spent abroad. This is a little frustrating in a book which is at least partly a travel memoir. In straddling so many different genres - memoir, travel guide, and cookbook - this book does all of them to an extent - but isn't really *superb* at any of them. It's a beautiful book with some delicious-sounding recipes, but with limited appeal. It could have been so much better.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Before I even talk about what's in this book, I had to mention what a beautiful book it is. It has a gorgeous cover picture, there's a black velvet ribbon to mark your page and there's gold edging on all the pages. This is a gift worthy book.
Onto the inside, this is a book about Venice and there are many beautiful pictures from all over the city.
The chapters are:
Eating in Venice
Cicchetti (small bites)
Secondi - which is the main course - fish, poultry, meat
Dolci (sweet things)
And an index
I've made the Zuppa di piselli spezzati (split pea soup) and the Coda di rospo al pomodoro (monkfish with tomato) and both were wonderful, with good directions. My only criticism is that not all of the recipes have pictures, but many do. And there are a lot of recipes here, and many more I plan to try.
If you want a tour through Venice, including recipes, while still sitting in your easy chair - this is the book for you.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Tessa Kiros's Venezia is without a doubt one of the most gorgeous cook/coffe table books to come out. Everything about it spells quality, from the beautiful dust jacket to the heavy lace-patterned end papers to the gold leaf pages and velvet ribbon marker to keep one's place.
But there's much, much more: wonderful photos of Venice, its foods and people and a commentary about both the city and the recipes. The recipes are laid out in groupings of Essential Recipes (think Polenta), Cicchetti (small bites, similar, as others have noted, to Spanish Tapas), Antipasti, Zuppa/Pasta/Gnocchi, Risotto, Secondi (the entree), Contorni (side dishes), and Dolci (dessert) with a two-page explanation of Eating in Venice.
Essential Recipes includes the ubiquitous Polenta, offering both a quick and a traditional method, a quince mustard, bread bangles and popular drinks. I tried the Spritz and found the Campari amount given a bit too much quinine flavor for my taste. The Prosecco-laced Rossini should be more to my liking.
The traditional trimmed white bread Italian sandwiches (Tramezzini) with their mounded stuffings of ham, artichokes and slatherings of mayonnaise look ever so inviting in the Cicchetti section, however, the Mozzarella in Carrozza-fried mozzarella toasts- will be next on my list of recipes to try. These are sandwich bread slices dipped in an egg and milk mixture, then in bread crumbs. When assembled with a ham and mozzarella filling and topped with bechamel sauce, they are breaded and fried in hot oil. Yum!
As one would expect in a seafaring locale, seafood plays an important role in Venetian cuisine. I found myself both fascinated and repelled by some of the ingredients. I consider myself an adventurous cook, but baby octopus, squid, snails and squid ink spaghetti are not top of the list items in my repertoire of culinary delicacies. Also, many of these ingredients may be difficult to find for most Americans not living on the coast. Still, the pictures are superb. I only wish they were identified as some would wish to see these sights on travels to Venice.
Kiros is a delightful author, mingling her personal journey and memoir of Venice with typical Venetian recipes. The sides and sweets are quite wonderful with specialties of roast winter squash with porcini mushrooms, an outstanding pepperonata platter and sauteed baby artichokes with garlic, lemon and parsley. Zabaione, Creme di Mascarpone, Amaretti Tart are a few of the desserts to savor.
This is a beautiful book, more for the coffee table than the kitchen. It would make a lovely gift, especially for someone familiar with, or longing to travel to, Venice. However, as a cookbook, I feel the unusual ingredients do not lend themselves to American kitchens as well as Kiros's previous book, Falling Cloudberries, which I also reviewed.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
In this culinary love letter to and about Venice, Tessa Kiros has gathered traditional Veneziani recipes for your delectation. Obviously, it's heavy on seafood, with many recipes for sardines, octopus, scampi, etc. The recipes are easy to follow, and before each she gives a little description of the dish or the process, or gives a serving suggestion. Her language is delightful; instead of telling you to cook the radicchio until it is soft, she says "until it surrenders its hardness".
Equal time must be given to the photographer and the book designer. The book is chockful of gorgeous color and black-and-white photographs of Venice and of the food. And, as an object, the book itself must be described. Heavy, with gilded edges and a wide black velvet book marker, it will definitely not be used in my kitchen. And that's one of the drawbacks. It's one thing to drip some oil or chocolate on my battered copy of Joy of Cooking or Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but this one is far to elaborate to expose to the vicissitudes of la cucina. In addition, the American cook will likely find it difficult to locate some of the ingredients. Even in Chicago, with a good produce store down the street, I can't recall ever having seen radicchio di Treviso.
But never mind. I shall curl up with this book and a glass of Prosecco from time to time, and dream of returning to Venice, and the best sea bass I've ever had.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Having just discovered Tessa Kiros in the last year or so, I was excited to dive into her newly released Venezia: Food & Dreams. And, in a way, I wasn't disappointed. This volume evokes, through beautifully moody pictures, recipes, and prose writing, a strong sense of place. Yet this place created was one of dreams, a vision, not a "real" place. After a lovely afternoon immersed in this vision, I emerged to consider how much I would actually use this book in the kitchen and I would have to agree with many other reviewers that it won't be that often. Many of the ingredients listed would be expensive or hard to come by, and most of the recipes aren't exactly practical for dinner on a wednesday night with two school aged children. This book reads more like a cultural journey, and less like a cookbook that will be stained with olive oil.
If you are interested learning the authentic food of a region, or love cookbooks to read (not cook from), then I think this book will satisfy. If you are looking to cook italian food for your family, I think there are better choices out there.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on November 19, 2009
The first thing I want to say about this book is that it is BEAUTIFUL. In terms of attractiveness. The pictures and the way she designed the book are EXTREMELY attractive. I loved the gold edges and the beautiful black velvet book marker, but the recipes inside the book are a little difficult to connect to. Only because a lot of the ingredients are not very common here. Some of the ingredients you can substitute for more common ingredients, but not sure if the recipes would turn out very good.
The vegetable recipes seem pretty good, but I felt like this book was more for reading, and not really cooking. It wasn't a book that I could look through and pick out a recipe and say "I really want to try that". So I don't know if I will use any of the recipes besides the vegetable ones. The fact that the instructions are in italic, makes it look a little complicated. She uses strange terms to explain how look to cook things as well. This is definitely not a book I would pass down to my daughter, because I know she would take one look at it and toss it aside and ask for something that is a little more simple for her. Other then that, it is a book I will put on my shelf and when I'm looking for something eccentric, I will reference this book.