I have been following the Food52 website for a while now and my favorite part of the site is the genius recipe section. Here are unique recipes that transcend the normal. In here is the amazing Mushroom Bourguignon from Deb Perlman's The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, the inspiration for my Mushroom Cacciatore. Catching my eye was Shrimp Grits from Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock, a unique spin on shrimp and grits. There is an interesting article on the technique for creating poached scrambled eggs by Daniel Patterson. One of most amazing soups that I have ever had is Paul Bertolli's Cauliflower Soup which I have added to my repertoire. The ingredient list is simple, olive oil, onion, cauliflower, water seasoned with salt and pepper but the result is truly restaurant quality. With my wife urging me to add more veggies to my diet, there are a lot of options - I am going to try the Onion Carbonara from Michel Richard next. It looks great! Pick it up, you won't be sorry.
I have stated before that I do not buy cookbooks just for the recipes; this book is the exception. I was searching through the internet for a vegetarian recipe that would satisfy even the most die-hard carnivore. My wife was insisting we eat less meat and have more vegetarian meals. In the genius recipe section of the Food52 website I found a recipe for mushroom bourguinon that even Julia Child would love. That led me to Deb Perelman's well visited blog The Smitten Kitchen. This one recipe encouraged me to order "the smitten kitchen cookbook." There are more great vegetarian recipes but it doesn't end there; there are sections for breakfast (try the maple bacon biscuits), salads, sandwiches, tarts and pizzas, and also seafood, poultry and meat. Also there are sections for party snacks and drinks plus a great section just on sweets.
This is the fourth book I have from Fuchsia Dunlop. The first, "Land of Plenty 2001)" chronicled her experiences as the first foreign student to study at the state run cooking school in the Chinese province of Sichuan. This time around she gives us a look into a number of Chinese home kitchens, introducing typical home dishes from various regions of China. I am always amazed how Chinese cooks take basic grains and vegetables and limited amounts of meat and creatively use spices and seasoning to make the most amazing dishes. This is the true Chinese comfort food, the food prepared by mother and grandmother passed down from mother to daughter. Once I experienced this food, typical American restaurant fare pales in comparison and seems out of place. Traditional Chinese food is eaten not just for sustenance but as an important part of an individual's health. Chinese medical practice uses food as a treatment for many common conditions. If I had any complaint, it would be to have more concise directions for the recipes. I made the red-braised pork but wasn't clear whether the pork needed to be stir-fried until there was color but the flavors were there. I did add some dried orange peel and Sichuan peppercorns to give a tingle on the palette and a deeper depth of flavor. I also used the recipe for stir-fried eggs with tomatoes as a starting point for a breakfast dish which will be added soon.
When Karen Page and Andrew Dornenberg updated the well received "Culinary Artistry" and brought out "The Flavor Bible", I was first in line to get a copy. As I have stated before I am not drawn towards cookbooks with just recipes. I expect a lot more, an insight into the creative process, a introduction to an new cuisine, a new and exciting insight into technique, or in this case a indispensable reference tool. No matter how much experience you have, any good chef will benefit with a reference that lists flavor affinities with other ingredients and cuisines. Each section starts with a short section detailing the seasonality of the ingredient, taste, weight, volume and cooking techniques. Following is a section of ingredients and/or cuisines that identify typical pairings, with bold and uppercase signifying a stronger affinity. At the end of the section there may be a listing of flavor affinities detailing possible flavor profiles and suggestions for dishes by well-known chefs. Also there may be quotes by well known chef offering advice on the ingredient under discussion. I like to first research an ingredient taking under advisement the flavor affinities section, then studying the dishes section. When I look for possible ideas, I note the differences with the affinities list and the dishes section, to get ideas how to bridge items together on a plate. This is one book I keep on going back to formulate new ideas. It deserves a place on any serious chef's book shelf.