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Gourmet Cooking For Dummies

by Charlie Trotter with Judi Carle and Sari Zernich
Photography by Tim Turner
Foreword by Emeril Lagasse

390 pages, trade paperback, IDG Books; $19.95
ISBN: 0-76455-029-2
Reviewed by by Paul Etcheverry

From the pages of Epicurean

Charlie Trotter's cuisine makes me recall an afternoon I spent making cookies. As fate would have it, a friend gifted in creating homemade beverages - his ginger/lime and pomegranate meads are nectars of the gods - just happened to be visiting as I was blithely blending the sweet buttery batter. He noticed a bottle of rum perched innocently on the kitchen counter (well, not that innocently, it was for the cook's medicinal purposes) and immediately suggested I fortify the cookie dough with the infamous dark Jamaican elixir. I did, enthusiastically, and soon had an exceptional batch of oatmeal-rum-raisin cookies on my hands.

Why does this anecdote bring to mind the celebrated and ubiquitous chef? Because for chef Trotter, I think, it's all about following that delicious moment of culinary invention to a tasty conclusion. He has pursued the inspired hunch beyond the nth degree, building many successful operations from this foundation. One is the series of cookbooks he co-writes with Judi Carle and Sari Zernich, of which Gourmet Cooking For Dummies may arguably be the most fun and information-packed.

The book's mission, if we choose to accept it: learn the basics outlined to become one serious kick-derriere cook. Along the way, Messrs. Trotter, Carle and Zernich present 188 recipes, from soup to sushi to nuts. The 57 dessert recipes in themselves offer persuasive incentive to venture beyond the comfy confines of Pillsbury Doughboy cuisine.

In the first quarter of Gourmet Cooking For Dummies, the reader gets a whirlwind run through the culinary ABCs: cookware, spices, terminology, methodology (dry and moist cooking), produce evaluation, the fundamentals of creating stocks, sauces, oils and relishes. So the plentiful how-to material will be accessible to novices, intermediate and experienced cooks, Trotter, Carle and Zernich have given the step-by-step instructions an informal and conversational tone.

Next up is a cornucopia of helpful information about vegetables, legumes, pastas, seafood and meats. After breezy but detailed instruction in creating homemade pastas and maki rolls, the authors plunge into a very extensive discussion of seafood, poultry and beef. Topics run the gamut: storing, carving, selecting, boning, equipment (meat thermometers, you name it. The poultry primer covers how mass-produced and free-range birds differ and typifies the book's thorough approach: tips on cooking turkey are side-by-side with a recipe for Grilled Thai Barbecue Squab Breasts with Soy-Bacon Braised Collard Greens.

The authors then examine the "gourmet" part of the equation - cuisine as art and architecture - while describing traditional luxury foods (caviar, diver scallops, foie gras, truffles). In some respects, this is a continuation of the previous section's look at venison, squab, duck, goose and other meats not found on a sesame seed bun.

Completing the book are "Menus For Every Occasion" - thirteen full dinners for real-life scenarios, complete with planning and preparation times - plus a quick run-through on cheeses, surefire food and wine pairings and a list of outstanding restaurants and food product purveyors in the U.S. of A.

A short review doesn't really do this book justice; Gourmet Cooking For Dummies condenses a remarkable quantity of information in a clear, concise and entertaining manner. Suffice to say that regardless of how many well-worn copies of JOY OF COOKING you've gone through, this is a very worthy addition to your library.

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