Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Cookbook Reviews: Giada at Home and In the Sweet Kitchen

This is a great season for new releases, Giada De Laurentiis has come out with her new book, Giada at Home, released today, and Regan Daley's baking masterpiece In the Sweet Kitchen is now out in paperback.

Giada at Home
Family Recipes from Italy and California
Giada De Laurentiis
240 pages

Giada fans will need no prompting to pick up her latest book, her shows are immensely popular and her last four books were New York Times bestsellers. All for good reason; her style of combining Italian cooking with fresh, California style is appealing in a big way. Her instructions are clear and her dishes are delicious. As we shed our winter fare, Giada guides us through healthy and vibrant dishes to waken and please the palate and the senses. I was already a Giada fan, I was sold before I opened the book. But since cooking from it... even more so.

To toast the early spring we have been enjoying here, we had a Limoncello and Blueberry Cooler from the Brunch chapter. Simple and delicious, muddled mint is kissed with citrusy limoncello and topped with sparkling water as blueberries dance about in the glass. It is as much fun to drink as it is to make.

I could not resist making the Tomato and Basil Tartlets from the Bruschetta & Crostini chapter. Puff pastry, tapenade, fontina cheese, baby tomatoes and basil. These are all words of love to me and I showed my love to them by popping them into my mouth one at a time. These would be great to bring to a small potluck.. providing I can keep myself from eating them all before I get there.

I know, these are not much to look at. Indeed hubby looked none too excited when he saw them. But when he took a bite out of these Crispy Parmesan Biscuits he was amazed. "They are so light! And crispy on the outside! And airy in the inside! These are the best biscuits I have ever had." There you have it. Score another one for Giada. I think she just passed Ina as hubby's favourite chef.

Now that grilling season is here, I sent hubs out to grill some veggies for these Grilled Vegetable, Herb, and Goat Cheese Sandwiches from the Soups and Sandwiches chapter. I love grilled veggie sammies, and the goat cheese is delicious with it, but the real star of the show was the olive oil/sundried tomatoes/garlic/lotsa herbs sauce that is on both sides of the bread. I want to put it on everything I eat from now on.

What to do when you are over-run with zucchini this summer? (Besides give them to me..) How about a crispy and delicious Zucchini and Olive Pizza! I used the mandoline and sliced the zucchini very thin to layer on this pie. The crust and zucchini get pre-baked before the oregano, cheeses and olives go on. Outstanding. Next time I will season the zucchini before topping the pizza with it though.

In the Sweet Kitchen
The Definitive Baker's Companion
A Guide to Ingredients & Techniques with More Than 150 Simple and Seductive Recipes
Regan Daley
704 pages

Many bakers will already be familiar with this great book, it is as much baking encyclopedia as it is recipe book. Very detailed chapters are given to Tools and Techniques, and Ingredients, as well as Recipes. I can't think of any question about sweet baking that can't be answered in this book. No wonder it won Book of the Year and Best Cookbook in 2001. Now that it is in paperback, all that information is all the more affordable.

There are a lot of great cakes that I look forward to baking for birthdays and holidays, but I chose simpler options for this week. These White Chocolate Tropical Chunk Cookies are half way to being a granola bar, they are so packed with delicious and chewy dried apricots, coconut, and mango. The macadamias gave them a great, buttery crunch and reminded me of sunnier climes. Delicious.

Also thinking lunch box fare, I made the Orange, Dried Cranberry and Cornmeal Muffins with Millet. I loved the crunchy nuttiness that these have - they are very good warm with butter and also traveled well for hubby's lunch. Orange juice and orange zest make these muffins like a little burst of sunshine in the morning.

You must know by now that I have a serious love for rice pudding, so I had to make this Warm Sweet Risotto with Saffron and Dried Cherries. Rich adult flavours in a creamy and soothing pudding, there was also an alternative flavour - Moroccan-Spiced Rice Pudding with Dates. For the longest time I couldn't decide which one I wanted to try more, finally I chose the one with the dried cherries. I also learned this week just how expensive dried cherries are! Holy, there must be a national dried cherry shortage for the prices to be so steep. Didn't stop me though, my mind was made up. Brilliant flavours with the earthiness of the saffron, the perfume of the orange zest, and the tart burst from the cherries. It is also good cold.. for breakfast... :)

Saving the best for last, we have the Roasted Cinnamon Ice Cream. Deliciously creamy, a little goes a long way. I have never roasted cinnamon before and was thrilled at how rich and deep the flavour gets when properly heated up. Twice strained, this ice cream goes down like rich silk.

I had planned on making the Bananas in Phyllo Pastry with Dates, Pecans and Brown Sugar but I ran out of time. Soon though, I can't get them out of my mind. Maybe even with a scoop of Roasted Cinnamon Ice Cream...

Two great books to kick off your spring/summer reading. Happy Cooking!

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