Monthly Archives: December 2011

I’m In Love… With Two Cookbooks!


Every so often decisions are made almost effortlessly.

BUY IT - Plats du Jour; the girl & the fig's Journey Through the Seasons in Wine CountryBUY IT - The Family Meal: Home Cooking with Ferran Adria

Here’s the thing. I didn’t set out to write a “Best of” today. In fact, I had already resigned myself to the reality that the last thing the resource stretched internet bandwidth needed was another regurgitation of the same twenty cookbooks reorganized to suit my purposes and justify my tastes.

That was last week. The beginning of last week to be more specific. On Wednesday, all of that changed.

Spring Onions, Photo: Steven Krause

Wednesday was the day that the book arrived on my doorstep. Not a book, THE book. Plats du Jour; the girl & the fig’s Journey Through the Seasons in Wine Country. I had no idea just how stunning a cookbook could be. This culinary piece of work has so much going for it that you really have to sit down with a copy to have a full appreciation of its depth of subject matter.

It’s impossible to summarize all it has to offer in this space. Here are a few thoughts that spring immediately to mind. Images, stunning. Recipes, delicious. Concept, well executed. You could read it cover to cover, not cook a dish and still be thoroughly satisfied. That’s an achievement.

Finding anything that isn’t perfect with this book would be a challenge. The thing that puts Plats du Jour completely over the top for me is the following:

Laura Chenel Cabecou. Photo: Steven Krause

Cheese. I love cheese. It’s not obsession, but, if I didn’t watch myself it could be. And, it is well represented here. Useful cheese information is sprinkled liberally throughout this cookbook. Pairings, notes and detailed descriptions are all intertwined with mouthwatering seasonal recipes. Restaurateur Sondra Bernstein, has gone above and beyond to deliver a cookbook that will make you say WOW every time you open it.

Still doubting? Take a look at this amazing plate of winter squash.

Winter Squash. Photo: Steven Krause

I think you’re beginning to understand…

The second of my newfound loves has been a challenge since it hit my desk this summer. It has been peering at me from around the stack of other books wondering when I would get to it. I wasn’t sure what I could write that would do it justice. It is elBulli after all. I think I have solved that dilemma.

This books simple, understated elegance proves that a cookbook should be more than a compilation of instructions. It should have a soul. Of course I’m speaking of, The Family Meal: Home cooking with Ferran Adrià.

The Family Meal: Home cooking with Ferran Adrià. Image courtesy, Phaidon PublishingThe Family Meal: Home cooking with Ferran Adrià. Image courtesy, Phaidon Publishing

What is it like to eat a staff meal at the legendary elBulli? The Family Meal gives you a rare glimpse into what fuels the famed restaurant’s hard working staff. As much photo essay as cookbook, Adrià  shows you in a smart, step by step fashion how you can eat like someone on the inside.

The irony of this book is how strikingly simple the meals are to prepare. A far cry from the cuisine the restaurant served to its guests. The book takes you on a trip through a year of staff meals. The attention to detail is not a surprise given the author. But, what is incredible is how uncomplicated each of these recipes are when they are laid out in this fashion.

Caesar Salad. Image courtesy Phaidon Publishing

The fifteen images that make up the Caesar Salad recipe leave no doubt as to how this dish should be executed. Follow along, make an amazing Caesar, impress your guests.

Once you open the minimally designed cover be prepared to be lost in the “story”. Just as if you were reading a novel you couldn’t put down. It’s like having a window into a world that most of us living outside of the kitchen doors never have an opportunity to see. The Chef provides us with the hole in the fence for us to watch through. And, it’s hard not to stare.

I’m not exactly sure what 2012 has in store for the cookbook industry. My guess is there will be tons of new releases both in print and digitally. Some will be great, others will miss the mark. I’m already waiting to see if my feelings for these two amazing books is really love or just a passing infatuation. I believe it’s the former.

BUY IT - Plats du Jour; the girl & the fig's Journey Through the Seasons in Wine Country BUY IT - The Family Meal: Home cooking with Ferran Adrià


Green Onions, Laura Chenel Cabecou and Winter Squash, images courtesy: Steven Krause
The Family Table, images courtesy of Phaidon Publishing

For those of you who feel cheated by not having a true best of list to disagree with, here’s what appears to be the general consensus among people “in the know”.

In alphabetical order:

All About RoastingThe Family MealThe Food52 CookbookThe Food of SpainFrom the Ground UpHeartland: The CookbookHome MadeThe Homesick Texan CookbookJeni’s Spendid Ice Creams at HomeMission Street FoodMomofuku Milk BarThe Mozza CookbookPlentySuper Natural Everyday

Feel free to discuss.

Want to Throw A Dazzling Dinner? Help is Here


The difference between dull and dazzling can be a pretty fine line.

Table Ready For A Party

I’ve published my own book. It’s hard. There’s a BIG difference between something being “not easy” and something being “hard”. Self publishing is the latter.

The book I published wasn’t a cookbook. It wasn’t a tell all novel or a how to manual. It was 168 pages of restaurant and dining information for Sarasota Florida. It sounds relatively simple. I’m here to tell you it’s not.

Every month I get cookbooks from self publishers delivered to my door to take a look at. Every time I open the shipping envelope I have an appreciation for the hard work, sweat and worry that goes into the process of creating a book on your own.

I’m not here to try and convince you that cookbook authors and writers who have a deal with a publishing house have it easy. They don’t. Anytime you attempt to produce something original the process comes with it’s own unique set of problems. But, I am here to tell you that those challenges are far more difficult to overcome when you’re out there tackling them alone or with a partner and without a clue (as was my case).

I’ll admit it. I have a soft spot for those willing to go it alone to see their vision become a reality. When Billa Reiss Rubenstein contacted me this fall to have a peek at a book she had published with two friends, Luci Paul and Michele Salomon, how could I say no?

I like to entertain. And, their book, Dazzling Dinners: Recipes, Décor and More looked like a natural party throwing asset. It’s crammed full of menus, recipes and tips each designed around one holiday a month. It’s creative too.

Dazzling Dinners: Recipes, Decor and More. Complete Dinner Plans for Parties with WOW!

Some of the “holidays” highlighted here would never be associate with food, April Fool’s Day? I have never been even invited to an April Fool’s Day brunch. Maybe I have the wrong group of friends.

I was a little disappointed to see that July’s menu didn’t revolve around Pandemonium Day (July 14th), but, maybe it will get it’s moment in the spotlight in my proposed sequel, Dazzling Dinners: The Forgotten Celebrations. Or, maybe not.

This book is at it’s best when you’re searching for a new idea. Something fun and out of the ordinary (think Columbus Day). It’s always great to get friends and family together to enjoy some great food and fun. So, why not make a celebration out of it? In my view, that’s the beauty of this book.

Since we’re right at the start of our holiday season, we thought we would share a recipe from the December section. Plus, this recipe uses one of my favorite, old school kitchen toys…

Potato Masher

The much beloved potato masher!

Here’s How To Do It

Box of Gold (Yukon Gold and Sweet Potatoes)

1 large, sweet potato, diced 1 inch
3 lbs., Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, diced 1 inch
3 Tbsp., butter, melted
¼ cup, heavy cream
½ cup, sour cream
½ cup, Gruyere cheese, grated
1 Tbsp., orange zest
1 tsp., salt
¼ tsp., white pepper

Preheat oven to 350°. Butter a 8X12 casserole dish. Line the bottom of the dish with parchment paper.

Place both the sweet and Yukon Gold potatoes in a large pot. Cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat. When contents comes to a boil, reduce heat to medium. Cover and simmer 15-17 minutes or until potatoes are cooked through. When cooked, drain and return pot to heat. Cook for an additional minute or so to remove any excess moisture.

Put the cooked potatoes through a ricer or mash (see utensil above). Add butter, cream, sour cream, Gruyere. orange zest, salt and pepper. Mix well to achieve a consistent color. Spread the potatoes into the casserole dish. Cover with foil.

Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and rest covered for 5 minutes.

Using a sharp knife, divide into eight rectangular pieces. Remove each piece and serve.

Serves 8

Recipe, Box of Gold; Courtesy Dazzling Dinners, Luci Paul, Billa Reiss Rubenstein, Michelle Salomon, Three Fare Ladies 2011.

Sweet and Yukon Gold Potatoes

Just look at that photo. Cantaloupe and pineapple maybe? It’s amazing how similar some foods look when there is no context to them. It’s a bowl of Yukon Gold and sweet potatoes. I swear.

The Bottom Line.
It’s a unfair to compare Dazzling Dinners: Recipes, Décor and More to a cookbook that has been released by a major publishing company. The advantage of having a crew of editors, professional photographers and recipe testers is unimaginably huge.

What do you look for when you buy a cookbook? There are so many answers and yours is right for you. If you’re looking for a coffee table cookbook, this isn’t it. If you’re more interested in a book that will help you plan a party and maybe get your creative juices flowing then this is a great choice. I guarantee after you throw a Grandparent’s Day party your friends will look at your entertaining prowess in a whole new light.

Authors: Luci Paul, Billa Reiss Rubenstein, Michele Salomon
Paperback: 254 pages
Publisher: Dazzling Dinners
ISBN-10: 0615478697


Dazzling Dinners: Recipes, Decor and More. Complete Dinner Plans for Parties with WOW!