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The Olive and the Caper: Adventures in Greek Cooking Paperback – August 1, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
Traditional Greek cuisine favors sour tastes: lemons, capers, vinegar, wild herbs. Cooking with these pungent ingredients takes a sure hand or, failing that, a good recipe. Hoffman's book supplies the latter in abundance; it attempts nothing less than to capture the whole of Greek food culture between covers. That includes side notes on language, myth, literature and botany; details of regional specialties; lists of native greens; and an explanation of why we say "Greek" instead of "Hellenic." Like many warm-weather cuisines, Greek food relies on an abundance of grilled meats and fish and dressed greens. Hoffman presents them in dazzling variety, alongside familiar exports like Dolmadakia (stuffed grape leaves) and Tzatziki. Hoffman, an anthropologist and cook, includes recipes that might be challenging or improbable for American home cooks: Retsina-Pickled Octopus, Thyme-Fed Snails and "Greek-inspired ice creams" made with mastic or olive oil. There are labor-intensive recipes, too, showing how to make filo pastry and homemade sourdough noodles. Desserts—Semolina Custard Pie; Yogurt Cake with Ouzo-Lemon Syrup—go far beyond Baklava. With its fascinating trove of information, this work will please armchair cooks and traveling foodies. For those willing to surrender to its searingly bright palate of flavors, it's a boon to the kitchen, too. Photos, illus.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Below are notes on the 3 recipes I have done so far:
Roasted Lamb Shanks p.387 Not happy with this. Recipe intro speaks of "long, slow roasting...glossy meat fallimg off the bone"...permeated with seasonings and garlic reduced to a "soft, sweet pulp"
Recipe calls for roasting at 375 degrees, hardly what I would call slow roasting. Against my better judgement, I followed the instructions and ended up with tight, hard meat that was anything but "falling off the bone". The garlic was still hard and quite harsh.
If I had made this recipe to eat as is, I would have been EXTREMELY disappointed. As it was, I made it as the first step for the lamb pie on page 106
Lamb Pie p.106 Not thrilled with this one either. The orange zest was so overpowering it was basically all we could taste. The trouble and expense of buying and roasting the lamb shanks was entirely wasted--could have saved a lot of money, time and effort simply by making the recipe with ground beef. I would like to try this again--with ground beef and about half the orange zest. Maybe then it could be really good.
Winter Vegetable Soup p.167 An OK soup. I found it rather frugal and meager. The recipe called for a small, 12 oz cabbage. The smallest I could find was about 28 oz, so I used half. Honestly, I really should have used the entire cabbage, it would have added more much needed substance to what should IMHO be a hearty winter soup. Same goes for the leek. It calles for a medium leek--what's a medium leek? The leeks I typically see in the market are about 2 inches in diameter with a usable section maybe 6-8 inches long. I found a bunch of 4 small leeks that were about half the usual size, a scant 1" in diameter with maybe a usable length of 4". I used one. Honestly, in retrospect I probably should have used all 4. I used the optional beans--without them the soup really would have been too meager. I bought a small can of tomato paste, used half and threw the rest away--I should have used the whole thing. I made it without the optional salami garnish. The best I can say about this soup is it is a healthful, light meal with a pleasantly different flavor because of the wine. I was pleased with the way the red wine mellowed in the cooking. I would like to do it again, beefing up the vegetable content to give the soup more substance, and definitely adding the salami for some much needed savoriness and depth of flavor.
Judging a book on just 3 recipes may not be fair, but OTOH I've had experience with other cookbooks where the first several recipes I tried were all winners. I'm still going to continue using this book in the hope that other recipes will prove to be much better. I like the supplemental information the author incorporated into the book and I respect the time she spent researching the subject in Greece. In short--I want to like this book and have not yet given up hope on it. I will add to this review in several months after trying more recipes.
So far the book is a great success. I've only made two of the recipes, but each has been easy and very good. I've got a list of about six more dishes that I'll cook in the next couple of weeks, which puts "The Olive and the Caper" head and shoulders above the other Mediterranean cookbooks I've recently bought.
Aside from the recipes, the book is great fun to read, chock-full of information about Greece and its culture of food.
No regrets here. Can't wait for the weekend so I can crack it open again.
Kudos to the designer for crafting a layout as wonderful to look at as an art book as it is useful as a cookbook. This is one of those kitchen musts for people who love to cook, or for people who love to read cookbooks.