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The America’s Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook is a book to use. It is exactly the style of recipe book that can stay in the kitchen, will lay flat on the counter and provide recipes that won’t break the bank – and that’s important in these gloomy times.
This ring-bound and chunky folder offers more than 750 recipes that can be ready in 45 minutes or less. It takes advantage of fresh ingredients as well as some convenience products available across the US, but its strength lies in providing the inspiration to actually get into the kitchen to cook.
There is a page of ‘Putting Precooked Rice to Work’. There are packets of ready-cooked rice commercially available, but if you don’t have access to such products then just make extra rice when you are doing your regular cooking and put 2 cups-worth into bags and freeze them. The suggestions here are for Chicken Divan Rice Casserole, Asian-Inspired Chicken and Rice, and several others that take advantage of the aforementioned rice along with left-over chicken. Practical, fast, inexpensive and delicious meals for a family of four.
Salmon is a good buy these days and can be found in freezer cabinets: then it’s on hand when you have little time. Choose the best quality you can find. The America’s Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook has Honey-Lime Glazed Salmon, but then it goes on to offer several variations, as with many recipes here.
Fish of every kind is quick to cook and you will be blessed if your homeward commute takes you via a good fishmonger or fresh-fish counter in your supermarket. Try Sesame-Crusted Tuna with Wasabi Dressing – you could serve this with rice or a salad. Very smart and very healthy.
The America’s Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook is a one-stop every-day recipe book that doesn’t expect the user to know anything about cooking. It has a wealth of recipes that are simple to follow and step-by-step pictures to help the novice – soups, pasta, fish, meat, desserts – everything you will need to feed your family. This isn’t extravagant cooking but some of the dishes are stylish enough to serve to dinner-party guests. Every course is considered and 750 recipes will go a long way to providing plenty of choice for even those picky eaters at your dinner table. And it’s The America’s Test Kitchen, so you know those recipes will work. Great value for money.
The America’s Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook
Publisher: America's Test Kitchen
Plank grilling is the technique of cooking food on wood platters and it’s believed to have originated in the Pacific Northwest of North America where the native population pioneered the art of roasting fish and game on wood planks. The Haida and other native people are well-known as skilled artisans of wood. The extensive forests of cedar and spruce where the Haida live have given them the planks for this unique form of cooking. They slow-roasted their freshly caught fish, pinned to the wood above fire pits. This infused the natural oils and moisture found in the wood into the fish, thus subtly changing the flavour.
The earliest written recipe for plank cooking appeared in the Boston Cooking School Cookbook of 1911 and was written by the celebrated author, Fannie Farmer. This recipe wasn’t for the traditional salmon but was for chicken and potatoes. The choice of wood is just as important as the food to be cooked. North Americans are practised plank users and have the choice of Cedar, Alder, Sugar Maple, Hickory and Mesquite and now so do we, from specialist suppliers. Fruit woods work well, but avoid any wood from the pine family or anything that has resin.
There are two methods of plank cooking: grilling and oven baking. Both approaches impart infused flavours. They each have advantages for the home cook: if you don’t have a garden then the oven will be your preferred method – your food will cook evenly and there is less chance of flames; the outdoor barbecue grill has elements of theatre and the food, if one is using wood chips, has an additional taste note of smoke.
There is nothing too complicated in this plank-cooking process. Just follow a few simple steps and you’ll realise why this has become such a popular mode of food preparation:
Prepare the plank by soaking it for several hours in a bucket of water. This prevents the wood from burning when you’re cooking.
Add 1 tablespoon of salt or 1 cup of wine or fruit juice to the soaking water to add extra flavour to the wood.
The first time you use a plank, season it by placing it on a preheated grill for a couple of minutes, turning once, or in an oven heated to high. This will intensify the flavour and prevent the plank warping.
Place marinated fish, meat or vegetables on the plank. If using a barbecue keep the grill's lid closed as much as possible to maintain temperature and maximize smoking. Keep a spray bottle of water at hand to douse any flames that might flare on the wood.
When cooked, remove the plank from the grill and put the food on a serving platter. Put the hot plank into a bucket of water, rinse the wood with fresh water and let it dry; store it in a dry place.
Planks can be used two or three times depending on the thickness of the original wood. The burnt and diminished planks can be used as fuel for your next barbecue.
So you have your barbecue and you have your wooden shingles, but you’ll need some recipes written by a veteran planker. Napoleon make Gourmet Grills and barbecue accessories in Canada but they are available worldwide. They have presented Chef Ted Reader with a platform for his delicious planked foods. Everyday Gourmet Plank Grilling is a gift-quality volume that is ideal for any barbecue aficionado who you thought had everything. It has step-by-step instructions to give him or her some confidence and then it’s onto the recipes to give them some inspiration.
I realised with some surprise that barbecue plank grilling is for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Bacon and Egg Breakfast Burger would constitute a hearty start to the day but how special that breakfast would be when presented to a group of weekend guests who are staying over during fine summer weather. Sitting outside sipping fruit juice and coffee while waiting for your delicious breakfast – very stylish. Present these burgers on toasted buns with a serving of Sunday papers on the side.
The classic plank food is salmon and it’s the most simple to prepare. Use the recipes for various seasoning blends to add interest but then make the recipe your own by using your preferred herbs and spices. It’s the cooking process that makes this dish exceptional. A memorable summer lunch and all done in a quarter of an hour.
Plank grilling isn’t just for light summer fare; it’s versatile and appropriate for every season. Planked Venison Tenderloin with Raspberry Glazing Syrup constitutes a substantial meal. Freeze a stock of fruit so you can make this dish at any time. The meat takes less than 20 minutes to cook and makes a smart yet healthy dinner party dish that looks as good as it tastes.
Everyday Gourmet Plank Grilling is large-format and striking, a marvellous introduction to plank grilling, but many of the recipes would work well without the wood. It’s true that the flavour will not be the same but they would be worthwhile cooking anyway. It should be on the wish-list of any outdoor cook.
Cookbook review: Everyday Gourmet Plank Grilling
Author: Ted Reader
Published by: Key Porter Books
Alice Waters was born in 1944, in New Jersey. She graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1967 with a degree in French Cultural Studies. She trained at the Montessori School in London before spending a year travelling in France.
Alice opened her restaurant Chez Panisse in California in 1971, serving a fixed-price menu that changes daily. The set menu format remains key to Alice's philosophy of serving only seasonal and fresh produce. The upstairs café at Chez Panisse opened in 1980 with an open kitchen, a wood-burning pizza oven, and an à la carte menu. Café Fanny, named after Alice’s daughter, serves breakfast and lunch, and opened 1984.
The Art of Simple Food is a book that has its entire focus on good ingredients, prepared without fuss. Alice starts with the basics but never confuses the reader with complicated cooking methods. It’s truly simple food but that’s not to say it’s bland or uninteresting. The dishes range from family fare to the more exotic Bagna Cauda.
The recipes, although good, solid and mostly familiar, have a Californian flavour that makes The Art of Simple Food an interesting read. It represents the style of food served in Alice’s restaurant and reminds us of trips to the Napa Valley. Quesadillas, Frittata, Pumpkin Pie all help to convince you that this isn’t a reprint of your grandmother’s cookbook.
Among the cake recipes is Cranberry Upside-Down Cake which has a real American feel and will be an ideal Christmas dessert. It’s an alternative to the classic apple Tarte Tatin and has the advantage of being less sweet and a bit more colourful.
Apart from the Californian slant there is plenty here to suggest that Alice Waters paid attention to her time in France. There are several Provencal dishes including the ubiquitous Ratatouille and Nicoise Salad.
The Art of Simple Food is an ideal cookbook for those who want a single volume that covers every aspect of cooking. Nothing is daunting for the novice and there are plenty of new dishes for the more experienced home cook.
The Art of Simple Food
Author: Alice Waters
Published by: Michael Joseph, Penguin
If you are a lover of historic cookbooks you will be enchanted by this volume. The recipes are family recipes which often give an indication of the roots of those farmers or their interest in faraway places. There are Cornish pasties, Guernsey Gash, Sally Lunn, Southern Apple Dumplings and Raleigh Cake. The farmer’s wife took great pride in her baked goods which were appreciated by husbands and children who all worked hard to make a success of the farm.
Lela Nagri, the editor of The Farmer’s Wife Baking Cookbook, has tampered with the original recipes as little as possible. She has done some helpful conversions from archaic measurements such as gills to ounces but the words of these ladies have been preserved.
The most marvellous illustration of rich and colourful language can be found in the Quick Breads chapter. A contributor from Wisconsin writes “Make a stiffish paste with flour and lard and a pinch of salt, not no baking powder. Wet it up with milk if you got it, water if you ab’n got it....The children so dearly like it, and they say currans be full of the new fangled “vitamines” the Doctors be always ordering, they ought to be good for ‘em. If you get tired of currans you can make a “Figgy” wan fer a change. Figs is just Cornish for raisins”.
The Farmer’s Wife Baking Cookbook isn’t an out-moded recipes book. The cakes and pastries here are good solid fare that will be enjoyed by you and your family in the 21st century just as much as those folks back at the start of the 20th.
There are lots of recipes here that will be familiar to those who have been fortunate enough to find an authentic American diner. Cream Pies are a simple, cheap and delicious dessert and there are several in this book. Favourite Pie dates from 1913 and is a rich apple tart topped with meringue. These might not be exotic but they are authentically American and still worth making.
The Farmer’s Wife Baking Cookbook is probably a book for the more confident cook who already has a feel for baking. It has 300 or so recipes so there are plenty to get your culinary teeth into. I think it’s a winner and a volume that I’ll be using often.
The Farmer’s Wife Baking Cookbook
Editor: Lela Nagri
Published by: Voyageur Press
ISBN -13: 978-0-7603-2903-8
David Rosengarten (see my interview with him) has produced this weighty tome of a cookbook to complement Dean & Deluca products. Now, my American audience is leafing through the phone book to find the nearest store or considering an internet purchase. Their store in SoHo, New York, is a must-see for any visiting foodie, but listen, my European readers, this book is packed with lovely deli-type recipes that you can use without buying a trans-Atlantic ticket.
The recipes are international so they will be interesting to anyone with access to a good grocers with a deli section. There are plenty of descriptions about ingredients and histories but I feel that this is more of a recipe book than a food encyclopaedia.
David has a conversational style of writing that is witty and informative. There is a strong North American bias, as you would expect, but the text is relevant to the European reader and there are very few products that would be either unfamiliar or unavailable.
Mussels and Chorizo in Saffron-Garlic Broth is an example of a truly delicious and international recipe but all the ingredients are readily available in the UK High Street. As David Rosengarten is a lover of all thing French (food, that is) he has a good selection of classic French recipes, but he manages to slip in a few good ol’ American favourites like Buffalo Wings and Louisiana Red Beans and Rice.
The Dean & Deluca Cookbook is for the more serious cooks. It doesn’t have a lot of pictures – in fact it has none – but its recipes are broad-based and well-chosen to give balance and interest to this well-written volume.
The Dean and Deluca Cookbook
Author: David Rosengarten
Published by: Ebury