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Charlie Trotter's Vegetables Hardcover – July 1, 1996
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There has never been a more sensuous vegetarian cookbook than this one. The food is photographed so as to accentuate its color and texture, and you'll want to dive naked into the Chilled Yellow Taxi Tomato Soup with Avocado-Coriander Sorbet and take a little swim. The wine notes that accompany each recipe are thoughtful and sensible, a valuable addition to this amazingly beautiful book. Charlie Trotter, who owns the eponymous five-star Chicago restaurant, says: "I just happen to be in love with the experience of touching, cooking, and eating the multitude of vegetables, fruits, legumes, and grains. It is sincerely one of the most sensual joys of my life."
From Publishers Weekly
Chef Trotter's fancy, multi-ingredient, almost-vegetarian dishes are as rich and extravagant?and as fussy and specialized?as those featured in his renowned Chicago restaurant and presented in his first book, Charlie Trotter's (1994). The 82 recipes here are arranged by month, and in name alone, the recipes are a mouthful: January leads off with Baby Carrot Terrine with Shiitake Mushroom Salad, Carrot Juice Reduction, Dill Oil, and 50-Year-Old Balsamic Vinegar. The preparation of Arugula Noodles with Smoked Yellow Tomato Sauce, Black Olives, and Roasted Garlic Puree requires the cook to make arugula pasta and arugula oil and, for the sauce, to smoke the tomatoes over hickory chips lit with a propane torch. Wine Notes for each recipe are helpful, as is a glossary that defines terms like "kashi" (it's the mixture of seven specific grains called for in Cold Kashi Salad with Dried Cranberries, Celery, White Pumpkin, Pumpkin Seeds and Pumpkin Seed Oil). While a few suggestions for substitutions would have allowed the home cook some welcome flexibility, flexibility is not in the exacting spirit of this chef. Trotter offers highly specific instructions (even to calling for hazelnuts from a certain farm in Oregon) for constructing complexly flavored, architecturally beautiful dishes. So long as readers are not misled, this volume, which is expensive in both in price and effort, delivers.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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If that's your idea of fun as much as it is mine, you will enjoy this book.
But the eye-opening part of this book for me was all the techniques for drawing the essence out of vegetables. And the way he will use different preparations of the same ingredient in one dish - fennel upon fennel upon fennel. Though there are several recipes that take a surprisingly short amount of time - someone else mentioned the soups, but there are others - they draw out the flavor of just a few ingredients in unexpected (at least for me) ways.
A couple reviews here claim that Trotter calls for expensive, obscure ingredients and doesn't offer substitutions. I find that claim silly. In many of the recipes that call for, say, fresh porcini mushrooms he says to substitute if you want, but just in general, he assumes that the reader is a fairly accomplished home cook who knows that he's laying out a style of cooking to learn from, not a prescription to be followed robotically.
That said, the style found here is a little dated. I'm sure if Trotter were writing this (or cooking!) today, he would choose a different arsenal of tricks. Not being a professional chef myself, I struggle to explain what is not modern about these recipes, but I can tell you that I feel like my creativity in the kitchen was expanded for having cooked a few of these meals, and that's plenty for me to recommend a cookbook. And I plan to cook more!
Since then, the book has grown on me, and I've grown with it. His approach to food has opened a new chapter in my efforts to become an excellent chef, and his vision has gripped me with a mania that borders on the religious. Coming up to speed with his culinary style takes a lot of work and a lot of money, but once I found sources for the necessary ingredients, and stocked up my freezer with preparations like fennel oil, pinot noir reduction, and cubes of sauteed black chanterelle mushrooms, I am able to whip up a three-course Trotteresque dinner in just a few hours. Notably, I have never followed one of his recipes literally; it is impossible. Instead, you must draw from his techniques and improvise, using whatever excellent ingredients are available in your area at that time.
In short, this is a landmark book that has completely changed the way I approach food. It is NOT for the casual chef, however. His cuisine should be approached with the kind of practice and discipline one might apply to, say, learning to play the piano. The path is long and hard, but the results are worth it.
If you care - REALLY care - about becoming a truly great chef, then buy this book. If not, it's still worth it just to drool over the pictures.
I bought this use, and recommend you do the same, you will not be disappointed.
The food is glorious once made, but I honestly doubt that many people will actually make more than one or two of these items. And then, with only even odds of success.
Instead, the book will be gazed at with lustful eyes. Perhaps on your coffee table rather than your kitchen table.