Thursday, February 28, 2013

Chocolate Deserts by Pierre Hermé pt2

The test

There are many recipes in the book we didn't try.  There are three that we did and they all had fatal flaws.  If one of them had worked we might have tried again but we don't have the time or money for that and we expect you don't either.  Therefore, for all of our reviews, we take a 3 strikes and your out approach.  We bought this book with the hope of bringing at least a small amount of a desert masters influence into our kitchen. Instead, we essentially got a wall calender that's missing the useful bits and is far to heavy to stay pinned up.

Here are the three we tried:

Chocolate Rice Pudding

A good rice pudding is hard to come by much of the time.  A good rice pudding is something that has to be eaten to be believed.  A bad rice pudding is discouraging and faith killing.  This is a bad rice pudding.  The variation in cooking times of rice, and the range of what people will consider "simmering" can and does lead to one reducing the liquid in this recipe to the point of producing the opposite of pudding.  A solid, hard, slice-able mass of expensive chocolate and expensive rice.  Ridiculous.

Hazelnut Chocolate Sablés

This was one of the many times when confronted with a recipe that we just knew we should alter it.  We didn't for the sake of continuity and because we, at this point, still had faith that we wouldn't be lead astray.  Wrong again.  We should have added salt.  We knew we should have and we didn't.  The result was two professionals, one with years of pastry production experience, spending a harrowing afternoon off wrestling dough around and ending up with cute little squares of expensive tastelessness.  The texture was great, they would have been an absolute pleasure to eat had they had any flavor.

Moist and Nutty Brownies

The brownie.  An American classic.  Also, like many of life's great pleasures, exceedingly and essentially simple.  This "brownie" is neither simple nor pleasurable.  To much butter, not enough chocolate, and no salt.   Terrible.  We have no more to say.

Wrap up

"Chocolate Deserts by Pierre Hermé" is visually inspiring for anyone with even a remote interest in sweet, tasty looking things.  That unfortunately does not make up for the books lack of substance or the fact that it seems to be an advertisement for a very specific (and expensive) brand of chocolate.  We like expensive chocolate. Hell, we love expensive chocolate.  If you are going to recommend we buy expensive ingredients with witch to make one of your recipes though, we expect that recipe to deliver.  Something this book does not do.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Chocolate Deserts by Pierre Hermé pt1

Rating: Borrow It.

What is it?

Pierre Hermé is one of the all time pastry greats.  He is hailed as "inventive", "bold", and even "daring" by reviewers and journalists the world over.  I don't doubt that he is.  He has a line of what they call Hermé's "Fetish Flavors", flavor combinations he loves so much that they have their own names.  Names like Ispahan (rose, raspberry and lychee), Mogador (passion fruit and milk chocolate) and Sarah (green tea, chestnuts and passion fruit).  It is said that he is one of the only pastry chefs in the last 100 years to create truly new flavor combinations, combinations that have now become classic or even compulsory. This, however, isn't a review of one of his famous mocarons bought in one of his shops.  This is a review of a book of what are supposedly his chocolate deserts written/translated by Dorie Greenspan.  

The Good

It's a pretty book.  The pictures are appetizing and inspirational.  Within a few moments of flipping through the book you will begin to desire chocolate cake, or brownies, or pudding, or just pieces of chocolate. Or better yet, ALL of them, sitting in front of you, with no one around to cause you shame for what will surely be the best 10 minuets of your life.  Its definitely a well photographed book

It is also very inspiring.  The book does what all good cookbooks should do.  It makes you want to make something.  Not only do you want to eat the things it depicts, you want to produce them.  The recipes are laid out simply enough, though for some reason, like so many cookbooks, the base recipes (the things you probably need to have ready to even get started) are at the back. This is forgivable as it seems to be a standard format followed by most of the cookbook publishing world.

Unfortunately, that seems to be where the good stops.  That's it.  Its a nice book at which to look. 

Next time, we will share with you our frustration and down right anger at the books short comings with our recipe tests and hopefully prevent you from buying it for anything other than the photographers (Jean-Louis Bloch-Lainé) wonderful depictions of things you want to eat.

Industry Professional Interview Delayed

Sorry everyone, our first interview with a professional about their favorite cookbook has been re-scheduled. As a result we had to jump into testing for our next review, hence the delay in posts.  Stay on the line, here it comes...

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Family Meal: Home Cooking with Ferran Adria pt3

Rating: Buy it. Now

The Test

We have made a number of the dishes in this book but we won't bore you with the details of them all.  Instead we will talk a little about our two favorites, the Sofrito and the Noodles with Mussels, which uses the sofrito.


This is a recipe that may seem daunting at first as it requires a little time and some semi constant attention but once its done you will be grateful for the time spent.  Think of it like someone's grandmother's special tomato sauce.  Its amazing, you want to put it on everything, you want to bath in it but you won't because that would be a waste, and you cant imagine ever making it on your own. She must have super special cooking powers. She doesn't. What she has is patience and an understanding of a few simple fundamentals, and that makes all the difference. You can have those too. Taking the time to make this sauce will not only be rewarding to your belly, but also your skills in the kitchen.  Its amazing.

Noodle soup with mussels

We didn't have fish stock on hand to make this one so we used chicken stock instead.  That's OK.  You can do that with these recipes, they are exceedingly versatile.  It has gone straight into the top 5 on the List of Cooking Triumphs to come out of our home kitchen.  We have talked about it longingly ever since.  I have prepared hundreds and hundreds of mussels at work but for some reason, until this, never at home.  It seems like a big hurdle to leap at first. You have to talk to the fish guy at the store, clean them, soak them, then cook them and be confident that you did it right.  With the step by step pictures and advice, this book moves that hurdle right down to the ground.  You can cook mussels at home. Fantastic.

Wrap up

Buy "The Family Meal".  Buy it used, new, stolen, whatever.  It will make you a better cook and will be something you can go to and rely on for years to come.

Next time we will be talking to a chef you may not have heard of, but who deserves more attention, about their go to cookbook.  The book that's closest to their heart. See you then.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Family Meal: Home cooking with Ferran Adria pt 2

What's in it?

The book is separated into 3 sections.  We will go through them briefly, and in order.

"From elBulli to your kitchen"

This section includes an introduction, a little history, and many tips and suggestions for you from the elBulli kitchen.  There is a wonderful visual guide to the fish used in the book, which is an extremely good idea considering the same fish can go by as many different names as there are ways to cook it.

"Basic Recipes"

Here is where the good stuff starts.  This section is all the base recipes for stocks and sauces used in the rest of the book. These are the foundations on which most of the meals are built. 10 sauces and 4 stocks.  Each one alone good for making at least 10-15 things you've heard of and another 90 you haven't.  When you start combining them the stats get crazy.  Some of the recipes may take a little time but none are hard to complete or require hard to find ingredients. They all freeze well as well, so make some, use what you need for a meal, then freeze the rest to use tomorrow, or next week, or next month. Having just 2 of these 14 basics in your freezer can open up more possibility from whats in your pantry than you can imagine.

Your freezer could look like this!

"The meals"

Now that you have a freezer full of things you may not be sure how to use, the authors haven't just left you to figure out what goes where and with what else.  The meals are actually 3 course meals: appetizer, entree, desert. You can take each one as is, mix and match, or, if you're only feeling slightly hungry, just make desert.  Each meal starts with a gorgeous photo of all the required ingredients for each course, all laid out on a table to give you a visual idea of what your preparations should look like:

And all the individual recipes are laid out step by step with pictures and instructions:

No, not like that.  Like this.

These two HUGE details make every recipe in this book accessible, and takes the guess work out of trying to interpret an authors words into something edible. You already have an approximation of what each step of your cooking process should look like. How awesome is that?

Next time we will test a few of the dishes and we hope, finally convince you to get this book.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Family Meal: Home cooking with Ferran Adria

Rating: Buy it. Now.

What is it?

If you don't know who Ferran Adria is or what elBulli is that's OK.  Adria is widely considered the father, or at least most enterprising force, in molecular gastronomy and modern cuisine.  elBulli was his lab/restaurant/playground.  Its closed now, you cant go.  Now before you get scared or proud and move on,  this book isn't about how to use chemicals you haven't heard of or equipment you cant afford.  This is a record of the favorite "Family meals" of the staff of elBulli.  This is the food they cooked for each other before, or more likely after, service every night at the restaurant. Its real food, maybe even things you have made or had before, but as made by the chefs and cooks at one of the greatest restaurants in modern history.

"If we eat well, we cook well" - Ferran Adria
Next time we will get into the book, break down the sections, give you an idea of whats in it and why you should seriously consider owning "The Family Meal".