Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Cookbook Reviews: Bromberg Bros. Blue Ribbon Cookbook and Alice Waters' In the Green Kitchen

Bromberg Bros. Blue Ribbon Cookbook
Better Home Cooking
by Bruce Bromberg, Eric Bromberg
and Melissa Clark
256 pages

The Brothers Bromberg have a restaurant in Manhattan, the Blue Ribbon, that has become the go-to place for chefs, late-night foodies, regulars, locals, and celebs alike. They open late afternoon and stay open til the wee hours, offering great food deep into the night.
Born in New Jersey, trained in France, Bruce and Eric serve American food with a fun, upscale twist. These are fun dishes that satisfy, gourmet comfort food.

You know that if there is a bread in a book, I am making that first. The Bacon and Red Onion Flatbread did not disappoint. It was soft, chewy and gloriously bacony. Baconny? I am going to go with the first one, the double n makes it look less bacony.
Not one for restraint, I admit that much of this bread was eaten out of hand, as-is, but I did save some for a great sammie, further down.

I love a salad that is a meal in itself. No plate of lettuce for me, I opted for the Warm Eggplant and Asparagus Salad. The grilled veggies are given an Asian/Middle Eastern style dressing with rice wine vinegar and tahini and tossed with shaved parm and fresh parsley leaves. An unusual medley of flavours that just works. I ate it with my fingers. Personally I think salads taste better that way.

I made this for my husband, the Comforting Cream of Tomato Soup. What is it with men and cream-of soups? An easy to make version of the classic canned soup, you will be wondering why you never made it from scratch before. Trust me, this is the way you will make it from now on. Rich and velvety and quintessentially tomatoey. I am coining lots of good words today. This soup is perfect with a sammie.

With the Bacon and Red Onion Flatbread, I made "The Stanwich". Perfect for breakfast, lunch or dinner, this sammie has it all; grilled onions, bacon, cheesy eggs and hot sauce. Seriously satisfying, seriously filling. Next time I might share one with hubby. 60/40 of course.

My next favourite dish to look for in a cookbook, after the bread, is any type of condiment. Especially if it says "good for up to a year in the fridge". (Because really, who is going to use a condiment up in a week?) I am the condiment queen, my wish in life is to have a separate fridge just for all those jars and bottles. Right now they take up the lion's share of my kitchen fridge and I have been known to balance plates precariously on top of them for lack of space.
Where was I? Oh yes, the Blue Ribbon Hot Sauce. This delicious and very hot sauce - I put in the full amount of peppers - is given its body, colour, and subtle sweetness with cooked and puréed carrots. Genius! Now that I have made this recipe I feel confident that I can make any kind of hot sauce I dream up. Guess what everyone is getting for Christmas this year!

As you can see, the recipes I tried all go together in some way and indeed I made a heck of a holiday luncheon with them. Which is not to say that they make only lunch dishes, the book has some beautiful looking mains - such as Beef Marrow Bones with Oxtail Marmalade, Northern Fried Chicken, Seared Long Island Duck Breast with Orange-Cassis Sauce, Roasted Striped Bass with Red Wine Sauce and Paella Basquez.
Desserts include Banana Walnut Bread Pudding with Butterscotch-Banana Sauce, Profiteroles with Ice Cream and Hot Fudge, Baklava and Chocolate Bruno.

No wonder this is where the chefs go after work!


In the Green Kitchen
Techniques to Learn by Heart
Alice Waters
160 pages

Alice Waters is the Earth Mama of the foodie movement. She was the first, and loudest, to proclaim local, seasonal, sustainable and organic as the only way to go. Her Chez Panisse has spawned some of the world's best chefs and indeed they have started a foundation to teach newer generations to grow their own produce and cook healthy foods. This book is a fundraiser for that foundation, and includes all the kitchen basics to make you a competent and aware cook.

In The Green Kitchen starts off with Alice Waters' manifesto, and teaches you how to stock and maintain an Organic Pantry. Each subsequent chapter starts with a basic precept, such as Dressing a Salad, Simmering a Stock, Peeling Tomatoes, Wilting Greens or Baking Fruit. In each chapter is the introduction of one of the many chefs that have contributed to the book, quite a few that you will be familiar with, and a recipe or two with which to use the given techniques.

Back to my bread obsession, I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to try Jim Lahey's famous No-Knead Bread. This is the one that has the long ferment, at room temperature (thank goodness, who has fridge room for rising bread?), and bakes in a hot, lidded cast iron pot. I have always wanted to try this technique and the resulting bread is so gloriously crispy! The crust just sings when you remove it to cool. I am totally in love with this bread and will be buying Lahey's book soon too.

I decided to review this book for Easter dinner. Nothing like experimenting on family and friends! With a ham as a centerpiece, we had the Roasted Pepper Salad from the Skinning Peppers chapter. The technique is given for roasting and skinning the peppers and the resulting salad is delightfully bright and herbaceous.

We also tried the Cauliflower with Parsley & Vinegar from the Steaming Vegetables chapter. When making a big dinner, I totally embrace the room-temperature salads. I love a patient side that sits happily while I finish making dinner. The steamed cauliflower is given a light vinaigrette and topped with crispy baked breadcrumbs. I couldn't stop sneaking florets off of the platter and popping them in my mouth.

The classic Potato Gratin is perfect for the holiday table or even your Sunday night roast. (Do people still do that? Let's bring that back.) This one is from the Roasting Vegetables chapter and is perfectly balanced - not too heavy and lightly seasoned. Of course, the top is the best part. However as host it is considered in bad taste to serve yourself all of the crispy bits and the softer insides to your guests. Not that that stops me..

And for dessert we had the Apple Gallette from the Baking Fruit chapter. This is my favourite way to make pie - so rustic and easy and delicious. I love that this one is a simple celebration of apples with no spicing and little sugar to distract one from the baked apples' essential sweetness.

I love the idea of this book; that it teaches the basics, the fundamentals, that every good cook should know and live by, and that so many good people were involved in the making of the book, and that the proceeds go to a good cause. The only drawback in my opinion is that it is fairly brief. I would have liked more than the 50 recipes included. But that's just me, always hungry for more...

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