Jeff Smith has always been an influence on my cooking from the first time I saw him on television. I was very excited to get this book many, many years ago and it has been a staple in my kitchen ever since. This is a cookbook focused on using wine in virtually every recipe. That made it dear to my heart right away.
The book begins with an introduction where the author considers the properties of wine as food. He goes on to discuss romanticizing wine and concerns about alcohol. The introduction is, like all of Jeff Smith's writing, peppered (pun intended) with personal anecdotes that always bring a smile to the face.
The book then moves on to a section filled with cooking hints and tips. The author discusses various pieces of kitchen equipment, cooking terms and various definitions. A brief discussion of herbs follows, although I believe he could fill an entire book with this type of wisdom about the culinary use of herbs. The section is completed with information about the TV series and a few hints on entertaining.
The next chapter opens with another wonderful anecdote. Unlike many dry cookbooks, this one is filled with life and warm commentary. The author discusses wine and how it relates to history, theology, healing and cooking. This is no mere cookbook filled with indexed recipes and little else.
Finally, the recipes begin. The first section includes a variety of "tapas". 15 different tapa ideas are offered, although only 3 are actual recipes. 4 more appetizer recipes follow including a recipe for zucchini fritters that are simple and are simply out of this world.
A chapter on soups is next and opens with comments on adding wine. Simple instructions for making various stocks (without wine) are included. Mr. Smith includes a recipe for minestrone soup that, while challenging compared to many of the other recipes in the book, is beyond description. Recipes for various chowders and soups total 13 recipes in this chapter.
The next chapter deals with fish and shellfish and I must confess that I have rarely used recipes from this section. 11 recipes include one I have made. The scallops in cheese sauce was easy to make and tasted wonderful, although I was loathe to try it the first time.
The next chapter proves that wine and salad do 'go together'. A variety of simple dressing recipes even includes a recipe for mayonnaise. The 17 recipes include one for a tuna and potato salad in pesto that sounds odd but is delicious. A far cry from 'tuna helper'.
The next chapter moves through pasta, rice and dumplings. 12 pasta recipes and includes the sultry 'Hooker's Pasta'. Only 5 recipes wait in the rice section and the green rice recipe is a favorite at our table. Only 5 dumpling recipes follow but it was from this book that my dumpling making began. Semolina, polenta and German dumplings are all simple to make from the pages of this book.
Mr. Smith's well known love for poultry is well represented. Chicken is first with 10 recipes. I have used more than half of those recipes with some frequency. I think each recipe from this section has passed through my kitchen at one time. The 5 duck recipes have seen far less use. Duck is not popular in our house so it is hard to judge these recipes. Knowing Mr. Smith's talent I am certain they are perfect. Turkey rounds out the poultry with a single recipe I have yet to attempt.
The chapter on "confits" is next. Growing up we called this "potted meat". Only 6 recipes are offered, but they are in the true spirit of the 'frugal gourmet'.
Beef (8 recipes), pork (7 recipes), lamb (6 recipes, including 1 for curry powder) and even rabbit (5 recipes) are also covered. 4 marinades are offered. 8 recipes for sausage might not be the healthiest choice. Each recipe I have tried has been wonderful.
A small section about veggies includes 12 recipes. The carrots in vermouth is recommended by all of my friends. A short section about the eggplant includes 8 recipes. I would have easily ignored this section were it not for the television program that accompanied it. I was convinced to try something new and was rewarded with these recipes.
The next chapters deals with a topic near my stomach. The sauce recipes range from a basic brown sauce to a white cheese sauce that stirs my hunger even as I type. The tomato and garlic sauce is simple. It has served as the base for many other sauces I have created. 8 recipes in total offer sauces for most occasions.
4 recipes for "molded dishes" have held little interest for me, but the ice cream bombe is simple and fun. Never one to ignore simple aspects of life, Mr. Smith even includes 10 sandwich recipes and 3 for casseroles.
A short section on "tabletop cooking" (with 3 recipes) introduces a section on international cooking kicked off with China. The author introduces the basic concepts of the Chinese kitchen and the use of wine. The 10 recipes in the Chinese section are merely a prelude to the Chinese cooking series that was to come later.
A mere 6 recipes are found in the French section. That is surprising considering the wine theme. Perhaps so much had been said on the topic in other books. 10 recipes are found in the Italian section and the spareribs in gravy is recommended if you enjoy pork.
Though I am not a fan of Japanese food, I did find the 13 recipes interesting and have made several of the sauces from the book. A mere 4 Spanish recipes finish the international section.
10 recipes comprise the "wine specialties" sections. Such oddities as garlic wine and wine jellies are discussed. A section about coffee follows and includes 6 different recipes.
Finally desserts are discussed. After a two page discussion of the topic in general, the author dives in with 5 wine desserts and 6 ice cream recipes.
The conclusion of the book covers many aspects of wine selection, opening wine and other general wine tips. Although not a dedicated book about wine, some of the tips from this section were insightful.
My copy of this book is worn and dog eared which I consider a tribute to Mr. Smith's recipes and research. If you have never read a Jeff Smith book before, this is a perfect first choice. If you do not like wine you will still find many valuable ideas in the book. Those who do enjoy wine will find a new treat with every turn of the page.