Cookbook reviews: 'Seasons in the Wine Country,' 'Cooking for Two,' 'The Gourmet Vegetarian Slow Cooker'

TITLE: Seasons in the Wine Country: Recipes from the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone by Cate Conniff (Chronicle Books, 208 pages; $27.50)

Generally speaking: The photography alone will make you want to prepare the recipes, which are well written and easy to understand. Throughout the cookbook are wine lessons and techniques pages that offer good information.

For: Those looking to impress. These recipes are combinations that the average home cook would not necessarily put together (for example: sweet white corn soup with crab and chive oil, and chicken breasts in calvados sauce with fall panzanella salad in golden balsamic vinaigrette). That said, some ingredients may be expensive or difficult to find.

Recipes: Roasted Brussels sprouts with fennel seeds, steamed manila clams with romesco sauce, green mango salad with grilled beef, Greystone Gruyere onion soup and flourless chocolate cake with dried cherry-cabernet reduction sauce.

Don't be Intimidated: The titles to some recipes are long and could be intimidating. Most of those recipes are relatively easy to prepare, though some may have many steps.

TITLE: Cooking for Two 2010 by the Editors of America's Test Kitchen (Boston Common Press, 312 pages; $35)

Generally speaking: If you're looking for new and exciting recipes for two, you really won't find them here. There are a few interesting recipes, but this book focuses on paring down familiar recipes. You can expect well-written recipes and easy-to-follow directions typical in the America's Test Kitchen cookbooks.

For: As the title suggests, it's best for households of two. All the recipes serve two, and many, especially the dessert recipes, would be difficult to make for more people. (On the subject of dessert, a few of the recipes require special pans for smaller portions, such as a 6-inch cake pan or a 2-cup tube pan.)

Recipes: Simple roast chicken with garlic jus, chicken saltimbocca, miso glazed salmon, classic beef chili, and bold and spicy gingerbread cakes.

TITLE: The Gourmet Vegetarian Slow Cooker: Simple and Sophisticated Meals from Around the World by Lynn Alley (Ten Speed Press, 128 pages; $19.99)

Generally Speaking: With summer almost upon us, it's a good time to look for alternative cooking methods to heating up the kitchen with the oven. A slow cooker is a great option. Plus, most recipes require minimal effort. Some do require peeling and chopping, but plan well and do this work on the weekend. Some recipes call for ingredients that may not be in your pantry: miso paste, red curry paste and specialty spices like coriander seeds or cumin seeds.

For: Those who love using a slow cooker and are looking for worldly vegetarian meals. You'll find dishes that represent Mexico and the Southwest, Asia, Italy, the Middle East, India and Greece to name a few.

Recipes: Tuscan white beans with sage and garlic, soy braised potatoes, spiced basmati rice breakfast casserole and minted potato and chickpea curry.

>>EASY

Oven Roasted Brussels Sprouts

with Fennel Seeds

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

2 pounds Brussels sprouts, stemmed and cut in half

1 teaspoon sea salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

In a small skillet over medium-low heat, toast the fennel seeds until fragrant, shaking the pan almost constantly, about 2 minutes. Immediately pour the seeds onto a plate. Cool and then grind in a clean spice grinder to a powderlike consistency. Reserve until needed.

Remove any tough outer leaves from the Brussels sprouts. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Have a large bowl of ice water on hand. Add the Brussels sprouts to the boiling water and blanch for 1 minute. Drain and immediately place in the ice water until completely chilled. Drain again, then place on a baking dish or large platter lined with paper towels. Allow the Brussels sprouts to dry completely, then refrigerate if not using right away.

In a large mixing bowl, toss the Brussels sprouts with the salt, pepper, fennel seeds and olive oil. Transfer them to a baking sheet or large ovenproof skillet. Place in the hot oven and roast, shaking the pan occasionally, until the Brussels sprouts are tender and lightly charred, about 10 minutes. Serve immediately.

Serves 6.

Source: Seasons in the Wine Country: Recipes from the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone by Cate Conniff (Chronicle Books)

>>MODERATE

Steak Pizzaiola

2 (8-ounce) boneless strip steaks, about 1 inch thick

Salt and pepper

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided use

1 small onion, minced

3 ounces cremini mushrooms, quartered

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, rinsed, patted dry and minced

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

⅓ cup drained canned whole tomatoes (about 3 tomatoes), chopped medium, ⅓ cup juice reserved

2 ounces jarred roasted red peppers, drained, patted dry and chopped medium (about ¼ cup)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Pat the steaks dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat 2 teaspoons of the oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium high heat until just smoking. Brown the steaks well on both sides about 6 minutes, flipping them halfway through.

Transfer the steaks to a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet and roast until the steaks register 125 degrees on an instant read thermometer, about 10 minutes for medium-rare. Transfer steaks to a platter, tent loosely with foil, and let rest while preparing the sauce.

While the steaks are cooking add 2 teaspoons more oil, the onion, mushrooms and ⅛ teaspoon salt to the skillet and cook until the vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sun-dried tomatoes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the vinegar and cook until nearly evaporated, about 30 seconds. Transfer the mushroom mixture to a bowl.

Add the remaining 2 teaspoons oil and tomatoes to the skillet and cook over medium heat until the tomatoes begin to brown and stick to the pan, about 3 minutes. Stir in the reserved tomato juice, roasted peppers and mushroom mixture. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the sauce is slightly thickened, about 4 minutes.

Off the heat, stir in the basil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon the sauce over the steaks and serve.

Serves 2.

Source: Cooking for Two 2010 by the Editors of America's Test Kitchen (Boston Common Press)

>>EASY

Spaghetti Squash With Mexican Spices

1 spaghetti squash

1 cup water

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

4 whole cloves

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

⅛ teaspoon red pepper flakes

4 tablespoons unsalted butter or olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

Salt to taste

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

½ cup Mexican queso fresco or feta cheese

Wash the spaghetti squash, then place it in the slow cooker insert and add the water. Cover and cook on low for 5 to 6 hours or until the squash is tender when pierced with a fork.

Remove the squash from the slow cooker and allow it to cool slightly while you prepare the butter and spices.

Using an electric coffee mill or mortar and pestle, crush the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cloves, cinnamon and red pepper flakes together. Leave some texture to them rather than powdering them.

Melt the butter in the microwave or on the stove top. Using a garlic press, press the garlic into the butter. Stir in the spices and remove from the heat.

Carefully halve the squash lengthwise (it will give off steam) and remove and discard the seeds. Working over a bowl, scrape out the flesh with a fork, loosening and separating the strands as you remove them from the skin. Toss with the butter and spices and add salt to taste.

To serve, garnish each portion with cilantro and a sprinkle of cheese.

Makes 4 servings.

Source: The Gourmet Vegetarian Slow Cooker: Simple and Sophisticated Meals from Around the World by Lynn Alley (Ten Speed Press)

Cookbook reviews: 'Seasons in the Wine Country,' 'Cooking for Two,' 'The Gourmet Vegetarian Slow Cooker' 05/25/10 [Last modified: Monday, May 24, 2010 5:18pm]

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