Electric Review

Culture & Criticism Since 2003

On Food & Cooking

Eye On the Chef: Emeril Lagasse’s New Book A Keeper

EMERIL’S POTLUCK. Emeril Lagasse. William Morrow.

Make no mistake – this guy can cook! And this book — to borrow a line from his ever-popular Food Channel series — “kicks it up a notch.”

In the food world, Emeril’s recipes are some of the most classy things going. What’s really notable about his cooking technique (and attitude) is that he doesn’t feel guilty for liking food and making it taste good. Frankly, Emeril is not shy about using animal fat and slathering on the butter — to him, eating is an absolutely decadent and a soulful event.

And he lives it as such – sharing recipes from the heart, cooking as if life depended on it. Because in Emeril’s world, life does depend on it:

I look back at all these good times, and I am struck by the warmth. No, I’m not talking about that Louisiana heat! I am talking about the warmth that comes when you share with those you love. That is the very essence of the potluck tradition – sharing – and that is what I want to pass along to everyone, whether young or old, novice cook or seasoned veteran….”

– From the Introduction

Rather than creating big lumbering complicated entrees, Emeril’s is about simple and taste-driven dishes that will perfectly compliment the holiday party table. And since we’re on the cusp of the Christmas season, this book is quite timely – presenting some fine new ideas in an array of areas (including drinks, appetizers, salads, soups, casseroles, sides, breads and desserts).

We would literally be reproducing Emeril’s line for line if we tried to capture highlights, but some things do standout – for their twists of nuance and originality. Check out the Blue Cheese Dip recipe on page 30: the additions of cayenne pepper, hot sauce and minced garlic augment the bitter bite of the cheese splendidly – a depth of taste that is quite unique and absolutely addictive. Also Emeril’s Southwest Cheesecake (page 60), with its olive oil base and minced jalapenos, commands with a bright and intense flavor. Among breads/sides, the Prosciutto Breadsticks (page 254) are simply a treat — the salty ham tempered by the subtle grace of the partially dried dough makes for a perfect snack or salad companion.

Page by page, Emeril’s Potluck is the personification of Emeril the person — a wildly magnetic book of recipes/ideas that speak to potluck parties of yesteryear – “everybody bring a dish and we’ll share the table!” In the spirit of a good meal, this collection is meant to draw a long sigh amid a half-hidden smile, drawing hunger from the secret flesh.

by John Aiello

Notable Cookbooks

ON TOP OF SPAGHETTI. Johanne Killeen. George Germon. William Morrow.

Pasta has been a staple throughout the world for centuries – a nutrious and relatively quick way to create a meal that goes a long way on sparse dollars. In this new release from Killen and Germon (two restaurant veterans and award-winning food writers from Rhode Island), spaghetti is placed center-stage as we come to see just why it has been such a crowd-pleaser for so many years. On Top of Spaghetti examines pasta in comprehensive style, looking at the rich history of this culinary delight through myriad recipes both common and not-so-common. In essence, this book does a magnificent job at resurrecting the spaghetti entrée; in today’s world of fancy casseroles and calorie-conscious stir-fried veggies, pasta has been lost in the shuffle. Killeen and Germon are champion chefs with a real understanding of flavor, and this book is meant to show its readers that pasta doesn’t have to be a bore at all. Accordingly, these pages are filled with a blistering array of recipes that demonstrate how versatile pasta dishes can be. Here, we see the stately noodle paired with an endless assortment of ingredients and sauces meant to meet the tastes of hard-to-please eaters. Sound information on how to spruce up your sauces with capers and ground red pepper segues into the heart of the text – how to use various meats and vegetables to build hearty and delectable dishes. Standout recipes include a wonderful creation of Pasta Shells with Spicy Sausage Red Sauce – a dish that will appeal not only to old-time Sicilians but also to Americans who like a bit of sting with dinner. In addition, the recipes for Linguine with Classic Ligurian Pesto andRicotta Ravioli continue to stress the underlying theme of the story: That pasta dishes can dependable without being bland – the key is in building the menu around your family’s tastes and then using favorite ingredients to give a personal signature to the entrée. Beyond being master chefs, Killeen and Germon know how to write food, speaking in a style that is practical and inviting, never talking down to the audience from the kitchen pulpit. In an age when snobby-eyed cooking shows fill the airwaves, this book marks a refreshing return to times-past when communities were built around the recipes we shared.

With Christmas coming, On Top of Spaghetti would make an elegant and practical gift for both individuals and couples looking to forge some new roads in the kitchen. As readers of this text will soon learn, you don’t know as much about spaghetti as you think you do.

by John Aiello

Also from Morrow this Quarter:

THE IMPROVISATIONAL COOK. Sally Schneider. William Morrow.

Here, Sally Schneider – an author, journalist and former chef based in New York – has written a version of Jack Kerouac’s “The Essentials of Spontaneous Prose” as it relates to the cook in the kitchen. In some circles, cooking a meal has become this stilted regimen that must be followed at all costs. It is as if the creative idea behind the process has been lost, with little or no improvisation taking place at the stove. However, Sally Schneider is about changing that perspective, and to this end she has written a refreshing food book that bleats and bobs down its course like a jazz player on stage improvising through the transparent idea of his song. In Improvisational, Schneider seeks to free cooks from old shackles of fear and from the thought of “What if it all goes horribly wrong?” Instead, Schneider strives to instill in young chefs the idea that, once they understand how the flavors of ingredients build on one another, they will feel more comfortable improvising in order to create brand new dishes with greater bursts of flavor. In addition to being a book about how to cook and how to understand the construction of flavor and texture, Improvisational is also about understanding the call of the creative impulse, its premise to inspire us to not be afraid to branch out beyond the safety and routine that is the shape of the recipe on the printed page. In sum, Sally Schneider’s mission is to remind us that all recipes were written by someone long ago through a process of trial and error. This goes for every loaf of bread, every version of cookie, every scrumptious kind of cake we have since come to savor. Simply, these things were created because some pair of hands long ago and far away wasn’t afraid to fail.

To order go to amazon.com.

by John Aiello

ABOUT WINE. J. Patrick Henderson. Dellie Rex. Thomson-Delmar.

Thomson-Delmar Learning is known as an publisher of epic proportions, a leader in the publication of books for primary use in the academic and professional sectors. However, About Wine marks a slow step away from the normal course for Thomson, this book striking out into the realm of the culinary arts with innovation and precision.

Here, Henderson (Senior Winemaker, Kenwood Vineyards) and Rex (New England Culinary Institute) have created a textbook that is meant to guide its readers through the complicated webs of the wine industry.

About Wine takes a didactic approach to its subject, moving into the information in clear and concrete terms – ‘one step at the time.’ The authors begin with a survey of the basics, first defining what wine is and then moving through an interesting compilation of data on the history of the beverage.

At this point, we jump into ‘the vineyard’ as Henderson and Rex discuss how good wine is always born in exceptional grapes. In turn, exceptional grapes require a delicate balance of nutrient-rich soil and steady temperatures if they are to ripen and swell into their signature sweet-to-tart taste. Once versed in the basics, readers are equipped to investigate how wines are made in the winery (with sharp analysis on a fermentation process that includes barrel-aging and bottling).

After covering the fine-points of wine-making , Henderson and Rex offer some valuable guidelines for tasting and assessing this holy nectar of the grape, examining the art of the taste through a deep examination of the human senses – teaching us that one appreciates a good glass of wine with the wholeness of the body and not with just the tongue or mouth. In addition, comprehensive chapters review the major wine-producing regions of the world; the business side of wine production; and how to properly cellar and store these temperature-sensitive products.

Readers will find this text immediately accessible as Henderson and Rex have a gift for inviting their audience into themselves and their subject. Many times, food-based manuals suffer from a pretentious tone as the ‘expert’ talks down to his students from the high road of the podium. However, that doesn’t happen here. To the contrary, the authors are careful to build the information in a logical and cogent manner: The goal is for the reader to develop not only a keener understanding of the world of wine but a love for it as well.

Good writers like good chefs like good vintners are all passionate about their calling. And as the Henderson-Rex duo demonstrates through this brand new text, they don’t just sip and swallow – but instead live – the wines they drink.

This text is recommended to all culinary academies as a teaching text that provides an illuminating and exhaustive survey of wine-making (and use). Further recommended to all aspects of the hospitality industry, as the sections on wine-tasting, evaluation and storage will be particularly meaningful. Finally recommended to college-level libraries as a general reference text.


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This entry was posted on February 1, 2007 by in 2007, Books, February 2007, Quick Picks and tagged , , , , .
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