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The New California Cook
Diane Rossen Worthington
Chronicle Books, 2006
ISBN 0811849015
Review By William I. Lengeman III

California is a state of mind, or at least California cooking is, as author Worthington says early on in this updated version of her own work, The California Cook, "You don't have to live in California to be a California cook." Worthington says. "What you do need is a California spirit."

Other key aspects of being a California cook, according to the author, are "having a sense of adventure about food, an appreciation of the freshest seasonal ingredients, and a desire to reinterpret familiar dishes with unexpected twists."

Worthington elaborates further on this style of cooking, "California Cuisine was a movement towards freshness, simplicity and originality, defined by the use of the freshest local produce, herbs, fish, and dairy products. Grilling, marinades, and California wines were key elements in the evolving style."

Worthington, who also wrote The Cuisine of California, has gathered together more than 200 recipes here, with Anthony Dias Blue on hand to suggest a wine to go with each one.

As for the recipes themselves, they run the gamut form appetizers to desserts. Among the Appetizers and First Courses, a Shrimp Salsa that's a variation on the author's own Guacamole Salsa. Grilled Artichoke Halves with Red Pepper Aioli make use of a product - the artichoke - that's grown in the United States in only five California counties. Worthington also includes a Green Olive Tapenade and a reminder that California produces 99% of U.S. table olives.

Some of the highlights of the Soup chapter are the Sweet Potato-Jalapeno Soup with Tomatillo Cream and a very Californian Cucumber-Avocado Gazpacho. Among the more noteworthy salads are a La Scala Chopped Salad, devised in honor of the Beverly Hills restaurant and a Blood Orange, Mushroom and Avocado Salad, which uses a tasty fruit I'd never even heard of until I spent a few years living in California.

Pasta, Pizza, Polenta, Risotto and Eggs features a total of 21 recipes in all, among them Ricotta Pancakes with Sautéed Spiced Pears, a Holiday Lasagne with Roasted Vegetables and Pesto and Two-Mushroom Barley Risotto. Featured seafood dishes included Baked Salmon with Red Onion Sauce and West Coast Crab Cakes with Grapefruit Sauce.

Poultry and meat selections take up two chapters, with the latter covering beef, lamb, veal and pork dishes. Noteworthy recipes here include one for a Turkey Vegetable Cobbler, which is reminiscent of pot pie, and Lamb Stew with Dates and Zinfandel.

Among the many notable side dishes offered are a Cauliflower Puree with Two Cheeses, which the author says is a good substitute for mashed potatoes. Also, an Onion, Dried Plum, and Chestnut Compote.

There's also a chapter on Breads and an extensive array of Desserts that covers everything from an Exotic Mixed Fruit Gazpacho and a Peach Melba Buckle (think cobbler) to Banana Split Ice Cream Torte and Chocolate Freakout. The latter is "an intense chocolate dessert [that] falls somewhere between a cake, a torte and a cheesecake."

Worthington wraps it all up with a chapter on Basics, such as stocks, sauces, salsas and so on and there's also a small assortment of suggested menus. Also worthy of mentioning are the many informative sidebars the author scatters throughout the text, including ones on balsamic vinegar, olive oil, lentils, avocados, risotto and Parmesan cheese.

One thing this book lacks are the many full-color, full-page photographs that are standard operating procedure for so many Chronicle books. But Worthington presents such an extensive treatment of her topic that I was finished exploring the text and writing this review that before I even noticed their absence.

William I. Lengeman III is a food writer, book reviewer and publisher of Tea Guy Speaks.

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