Review: Gourmet Today
Every other weekend, I review a cookbook in an attempt to lend some guidance in a field that has become overrun. These days everyone is writing cookbooks and it’s incredibly upsetting to buy a dud and have it sit on your shelf for years – staring at you, mocking your poor judgment.
When I received “Gourmet Today” as a Christmas gift (thanks Sis!), I actually thought it might be the Lord of the Rings Trilogy before I unwrapped it. That’s because it’s enormous. It’s over 1000 pages. That means your per page cost is about as good as it gets for a cookbook. But as we all know, size does not matter (ya-right), so let’s dive in and see what this tome is all about.
This book is edited by one of the best and most respected food writers in generations, Ruth Reichl. She was the editor of Gourmet Magazine for 10 years and, granted, Gourmet just went out of business, but it’s still an institution. And she’s won 4 James Beard Awards, so she knows a thing or two about food and cooking.
Ruth kind of won my heart over in the Introduction of this book because it turns out she has a son named Nick. And Nick used to be scared of food and cooking but now he loves everything food. He calls her constantly asking for cooking advice and recipe ideas. And in some ways, he was the motivation for this book.
As she says:
“I have learned as much from Nick as he has learned from me. Through his questions, I have come to realize how dramatically American food has changed. “I’m in the supermarket. What kind of rice should I buy for risotto? Arborio, basmati, jasmine, sushi…”
And that’s kind of the theme of this book. It’s filled with updated recipes that reflect not only the vast variety of food that available to people, but the recipes are also sensitive to the way people think about food. Again in Ruth’s words, “Even the most dedicated carnivore is forced to occasionally cook a vegetarian meal.” And trust me, that’s something that dedicated carnivores can struggle with.
Again, Ruth is trying to win my heart over by starting this book with 32 pages of delicious cocktails. There’s all the classics in this chapter and some new updated fun drinks like a Cucumber, Ginger, and Sake Sangria and a Rhubarb Collins. A lot of these drinks would be great to host a happy hour or even as a reference just in case you need to whip up some bloody marys. Good stuff Ruth.
Starters, Soups, and Salads
This wouldn’t be a comprehensive recipe book without 180 pages of starter dishes. When you take a look at the index for the Hors D’oeuvres you start to get an idea of the huge range of recipes that are going to be in this book. But the thing is, they are all very contemporary. It’s possible that there are recipes from each continent (except Antarctica). If you can’t find something you love in these chapters, you simply don’t love food. You must eat nothing but rice and drink nothing but water.
One thing I immediately liked about this book is that it will give people the tools to explore new foods and push their boundaries. I’m sure I’m not the only person that walks down some aisles in the store these days and sees all kinds of interesting foods and products. It seems like some of them were not even there a week ago.
Chayote? Ramps? Gravlax? These are all covered and so much more.
I think this chapter alone shows a few things. It shows that this book really is making an effort to modernize recipe books. It also shows that there is a need for a chapter like this. More people are eating more vegetables. Or possibly, more people are interested in eating more vegetables, but not always sure how to do it. This chapter is the ticket. Ruth says at the beginning of this chapter, “It seems to me that it is time to put the joy back into the act of eating vegetables.”
The thing about these main dishes is that they are all very strong on flavor. It seems like they were written and tested with the purpose of making a meat eater happy while respecting a vegetarian diet. And that’s awesome. In fact, I’m definitely going to be making some of these recipes. I’d say that the front runner right now is the Vegetable Enchiladas with Poblano Sauce. All the recipes sound excellent though.
Don’t Worry Carnivores
There are over 100 pages of wonderful meat recipes and there are lots of classics and lots of new stuff. The chapters are split up by meat type (fish, poultry, beef, etc.) and even organized by sub-categories (chicken, duck, turkey, etc). And again the contemporary feel of the recipes is amazing. It’s not that they are high-brow at all (although some of them are). The recipes are generally accessible, but they reflect what people can find in supermarkets these days which is a wide variety of different cuts and flavors.
The Sweet Life
I actually don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but there is plenty in this book for those of you that do. Over 200 pages to be exact. Everything from cookies and cakes to pies and pastries. This wasn’t my favorite part of the book, but I suspect that it would probably be the go-to section for a number of people.
Things I’ve made
I read a lot of cookbooks and I do my best to actually make a few of the recipes from each book I review. I intend to make more recipes from this book because there’s such a huge range of recipes. I feel like I could cook from this book everyday and not really get sick of it… which is the point.
I’m not really sure that this book got a lot of press when it came out. Maybe I just missed it, but I hadn’t even heard of it before it was gifted to me. In any event, I think “Gourmet Today” is a fantastic resource. I’ve already found that my copy is getting a bit tattered around the edges, which is always a good sign.