Sunday, October 9, 2011

Charlie Trotter Takes on the Dummies

Browsing through the cookbooks in the local library this week, I happened across Gourmet Cooking for Dummies and was startled to see that the author is innovative Chicago chef Charlie Trotter. I've seen Charlie on TV a number of times, and I was frankly skeptical that he could "dumb down" his recipes enough for an average cook.  I checked the book out but expected it to be so full of esoteric ingredients and complicated procedures as to be virtually useless.  Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised.  This is possibly the most accessible gourmet cookbook I've ever read.

The book starts with a brief discussion of the differences between regular cooking and gourmet cooking - in short, better ingredients, more interesting flavor combinations, and more attractive presentation.  Trotter also discusses the must-have and nice-to-have equipment for gourmet cooking and the gourmet staples to stock in one's pantry and refrigerator.  Later sections of the book cover cooking techniques; choosing produce, meat, and seafood; making desserts; and building a complete gourmet menu.  Resources include buying guides for gourmet food products and equipment, suggested food and wine pairings, gourmet restaurants to visit for "research," and other helpful books on food and wine.

The language throughout is clear and direct - this may be due to co-authors Judi Carle and Sari Zernich - and many of the recipes are much easier than I had anticipated.  In addition, Trotter encourages his readers to innovate and explains how to successfully substitute ingredients if they don't have everything for a given recipe on hand.  The heat wave has finally broken here in Arizona  (this Thursday was the first day this fall my air conditioner didn't run at all), so I'm ready to fire up the stove and the oven and try the yummy-looking Caramelized Onion Tart with Sweet Curry Crust or the Grilled Beef Teriyaki with Sesame Seeds and Spicy Soy Mustard.  Who knows - if these recipes taste as good as they look in the color photo inserts, I may finally commit to spending the four hours it takes to make beef stock from scratch.  Since the price from Amazon for this book is only $13.99 new, I've already ordered a copy of my very own.

"Despite its bare-bones demeanor, Trotter's book stands equally alongside the works of Julia Child and James Beard." ~Library Journal review of Gourmet Cooking for Dummies

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