November 2008 COTM: Alice Waters - The Art of Simple Food [Any Post-Mortem Welcome]
November 2008 COTM:
Alice Waters - The Art of Simple Food
Welcome to the links thread for the November 2008 Cookbook of the Month. You may wish to bookmark this thread for future reference, as it contains links to all the other threads for this book.
Instead of having another thread for general discussion, recipe planning, links, and previous picks and pans, let's use this one. I'll copy over the links posted earlier, as well as some additional ones. Others are welcome of course to post more links.
Here are the links for the threads for the full length recipe reviews.
A Little Something & Sauces
Soups & Salads
Pasta, Bread & Grains
Eggs and Cheese
Poultry & Meat
Fish & Shellfish
Link to Announcement Thread:
Links posted by NYchowcook (thanks!!) to recipes:
Roast Pork Loin
(a good read, too
Green Beans with Toasted Almonds and Lemon
Winter Roasted Tomatoes
Chicken Legs Braised with Tomatoes, Onions & Garlic
Poached Egg with Curly Endive Salad
Brussels Sprouts Gratin
Marinated beet salad
Turnip and Turnip Greens Soup
Braised Duck Legs with Leeks and Green Olives
Onion Custard Pie
Cheese and Pasta Gratin (macaroni and cheese by another name
Alice Waters’ Four essential sauces:
Cauliflower Salad with Olives and Capers
Beef stew with black olives
Red Rice Pilaf
OK - I'll start.
As I've said several times during the month, although we mostly liked many recipes we made and actually did love a few, for the most part the end results were not as exciting as we thought they would be. Satisfying but just not thrilling. Sometimes it was too much liquid added to make a sauce vis a vis braising or not enough seasoning called for, although I loved the Braised Endive and the gratins. I enjoyed reading all Ms. Waters notes and variations and know I will be referring to this book in the future, not just for technique but for inspiration. Reviewing my notes, I see I made a few more dishes than I reported on....I'll try to catch up.
I really, really wanted to like this book. The book itself, was appealing to me. I liked the format and I liked Water's philosophy about food. But, the recipes, the few that I tried, were just ok. Nothing quite wowed me. Also, many of her techniques were just a bit too basic (roasting vegetables) or were similar to Zuni Cafe, but with inferior results.
But, the thing that really annoyed me was the lack of details in instructions. Specifically, how long something should cook or even just the final temperature of meat (thinking about the fried pork chops). When I'm making dinner, I don't want to look up in a different source an approximation as to how long it will take something to cook.
I think for a book like this (simple food using excellent ingredients with certain techniques), the Zuni Cafe Cookbook is far superior and with infinitely better results.
I agree with the criticism regarding the paucity of basic instructions (How long to cook this or that). I also found the book to be less than inspiring, containing as it does, so many basic recipes, techniques, suggestions, etc. that I already knew and had known for a long time. Perhaps it's because Waters has been so influential that most of us know her point of view and have adopted it.
What I DID love was something very simple that I had forgotten, i.e., putting a heavy pan on top of fish fillets so that they'd brown more evenly. I learned that frying chunks of potatoes in olive oil produces a lovely, crispy on the outside tender on the inside, chunk of spud.
We also loved her cauliflower salad with olives and capers. Very simple, but very delicious.
I agree, I wanted to like this book too. But it seemed to have both too much yet not enough information. Much of book seemed too basic for sophisticated cooks yet not detailed enough for novices. Not sure what audience it's suited for. Oh sure, there were good ideas here and there, reminders of this or that technique. But not enough to warrant a spot on my shelf.
I agree, more or less, with many of the comments so far. I, like others, have been disappointed with the lack of specific instruction in some sections (i.e., in one recipe for fish, I believe, the instruction was "cook until done"--well, yeah, that was my plan to cook it until "done"--could you be a wee bit more specific?), but, on the other hand, everything I cooked from it turned out nice: some dishes were real winners and some were just "pretty good." Nothing was awful.
I am entering a stage of my life where I'm looking for simple, healthy dishes, but still using high-quality ingredients, to throw together on weeknights. There don't seem to be a lot of cookbooks out there that meet these criteria (I'm not quite ready for Rachel Ray, I'm afraid...) and this book definitely supports that objective. The first time around with these recipes is a bit of a pain, because I do find myself running to another resource to look up an approximate cooking time, for instance, but with my trusty pencil I've made my own notes. I wish Ms. Waters had taken the extra step, but, oh well.
I do think there is a place on my bookshelf for this book because I want to like it enough to be willing to do the work. Also, I haven't really found another book that does this better.
I agree, though, that I don't understand who the target audience for this book is, aside from me. I had hoped to give this book to a beginner cook for Christmas this year and have decided against it due to the lack of specificity in various recipes: I have visions of many kitchen disasters or of general frustration.
I have given this book to a friend of mine who is a very experienced cook and is super pressed for time; she claims (but is perhaps is just being polite) to love it and has several "favorite" recipes from it already. I think this book is perhaps good for someone who doesn't cook as a means of entertainment (as we here in the COTM thread do), but for a confident cook who is just looking for new ideas for getting high quality meals on the table with minimal fuss and who already knows when fish is "done" or has ready access to other resources to find that out quickly.
If I didn't already own it would I buy it? Only if I were a real Alice Waters fan (as I am; my copy of the book is signed) and wanted to immerse myself in her philosophy or if I didn't mind spending the time the first time around with each recipe making my own notes in the book...
re: The Dairy Queen
Having been cooking both for entertainment and necessity for a very long time, I really didn't mind the bits of unspecified times and temps., etc. When confronted with a new recipe I read through it several times to make sure I understand the steps involved and what the final dish should be like. I visualize the process and make my own adjustments according to what I want from a recipe. So for me the recipes in this book are a simple guidline for what potentionaly could be some good eats.
I can see what you're saying, Karen S. I don't think this book is suited for a novice because the recipes are so loose and not detailed enough. There are also some blatant errors w/ timing or technique that a novice would not foresee which could lead to a poor result and/or frustration.
That said, I personally like the book and don't consider it as wasted space on my shelf. I enjoyed every recipe (to varying degrees) that I tried during the month. I consider myself to be a moderately experienced cook who doesn't like to follow recipes but rather use them as guidelines and inspiration. I also don't really care for elaborate recipes w/ lots of ingredients or fussy method, particularly for everyday cooking.
I also get a CSA box 9 months out of the year, so it's great to be able to look up an ingredient in the index and have ideas for a simple yet delicious recipe. Often times her recipes would use several items from my box. I'm generally a very spontaneous cook and am likely to have most ingredients in this book in my pantry or fridge. If the stated method looks a little off or the flavors need to be pumped up, then I'm confident that I can adjust to suit my tastes.
I do think that excellent ingredients are the most important element to success w/ these recipes. It's true that I don't have to do much to my CSA veggies to make them taste amazing.
While this book doesn't bill itself as vegetarian, most recipes are vegetarian-friendly and I haven't cooked one lick of meat or fish from it (although I must try the fish method and lamb shanks one day). I personally find it more inspiring than Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone for some reason that I can't quite pinpoint.
Thanks for another stimulating and fun month of cooking together, everyone!
In the end the library was only able to get me the book a few days ago. I have glanced through the book and did flag some recipes to try, but I never had the time -- or much inclination. I was first confused by the doubled up layout where the first section is devoted to techniques and goes from starters to desserts, and then a less detailed section with more recipes, less instructions. Nothing really caught my eye, I confess, nothing 'turned my crank'. Yeah, ok, simple, etc. but this is not a book I would purchase. Maybe this book works better in a Californian context with access to simple fresh produce year round?