“Gourmet Today” is a big book, topping 1,000 pages, giving the impression it will have everything. It doesn’t. There’s banana bread but no cranberry bread (unless you count the dried cranberries in Portuguese Honey Bread). No recipe for applesauce among the recipes I happened to recently be looking for.
But that’s not really a criticism, because I found plenty in this book to make me happy and to inspire me. There’s the pumpkin pie recipe I’d clipped from the magazine a few years back, and keep returning to, because the caramel sauce used in the custard gives the pie a deep flavor other recipes don’t match. The Balsamic-Glazed Pork Chops were a hit at dinner (sort of a “now that’s what I’m talking about” from my kids).
The book is not meant to be all-inclusive. It is meant to document the way people are eating today – lighter, using recipes that take less time and are easier to make – and inspire readers to take advantage of the huge array of ingredients available these days, writes Ruth Reichl, editor of the book and of the now-closed magazine. It’s a good gift for a cook who might be ready to break out a bit from Joy of Cooking.
For chicken alone, recipes include burritos; Chicken Stir-Fry with Shiitakes, Snow Peas and Watercress; Chicken Cacciatore; and Cajun Chicken Stew.
Ingredients and dishes from the world over are included, but so are the directions for clearing a consomme or making an omelet. And in recognition of the political decisions involved in buying food, there are discussions of “sustainable” caviar and seafood, and the environmental impacts of eating meat.
It’s a cinch to find dishes you’ll want to make: Easy Carrot Soup with Toasted Pecans – just 15 minutes of work. Maple Walnut Buche de Noel, with a line drawing demonstrating how to roll and cut the cake to fashion a log. The dozens of salads reflect a “versatile dish that can show up anytime, anywhere,” such as Thai-style Crab Salad in Papaya, Grilled Zucchini Salad with Purslane and Tomatoes, or Winter Tabbouleh that calls for fennel and cauliflower but no cucumber. There’s really easy Toasted Bread Crumb Topping for Pasta that can be frozen for up to three months and tastes ridiculously great, on pasta or roasted vegetables, considering how simple it is.
There are a bundle of short stories, explaining various kinds of greens and grains, how to cook a turkey, using a pressure cooker, a grilling primer and other useful background information. A sign of today’s styles is the chapter of vegetarian dishes, from tarts to enchiladas to stir fries and curries.
And truth be told, the demise of Gourmet magazine makes this cookbook that much more appealing. My copy has a sticker on the cover offering a free subscription with book purchase.
-- Mary MacVean
Gourmet Today, edited by Ruth Reichl, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $40. Jacket design by Stolze Design