Review: Simple to Spectacular

Simple to Spectacular, Mark Bittman and Jean-Georges Vongerichten

The premise of this cookbook is to show how to build on a basic recipe to create more and more complex dishes. Each section begins with a very simple recipe that, in some cases, you may make all the time: scrambled eggs, butternut squash soup or vinaigrette, for example. In each successive iteration, the recipe is made more complex and thus more “spectacular.” In some cases, this is accomplished by varying the ingredients or adding more luxurious ingredients; in others, the technique itself is expanded and enhanced.

First, the good. This is a beautiful cookbook, with gorgeous photos, so if you like that sort of thing, this is a good cookbook to own. I made at least one version of almost every recipe, except for some of the meat and shellfish dishes, since we don’t eat a lot of meat and shellfish around here. The simple recipes are indeed very simple, and while I didn’t learn much new, a few additional techniques entered my repertoire by way of this cookbook, such as making a one-hour chicken stock and sauteing and pan-roasting chicken breasts.

However, many recipes did not turn out at all successfully for me. The spaetzle, slow-cooked salmon and chicken cooked in foil all did not work for me, even in their simplest incarnations. Also, I was not tempted to try very many of the more “spectacular” variations, particularly those that relied on ingredients we don’t normally buy, such as truffles, foie gras and caviar.

For me, Simple to Spectacular was a hit-or-miss cookbook that I probably enjoyed looking at more than I enjoyed cooking from.

Here are my favorite recipes (the “keepers”) from Simple to Spectacular:

  • Butternut Squash with Herbed Cheese Dumplings (actually more of a favorite of my husband than of mine)
  • Chicken Soup with Chicken Wontons
  • Tomato-Melon Gazpacho
  • Cannelloni with Potatoes
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