There once was a time that all cookbooks were created, give or take, equal. Sure, different author credentials, various specialties, diverse geography and whatnot, but on the same playing field. There was usually some mention of the author/cook/chef's "direction", ideals, "inspiration", some sort of appetizers, soups, salads, entrées/sauces, desserts and 'helpful hints' you know the blurb on household hints, substitutions or convenient ways to remove red wine stains from silk shirts. Then something happened. Maybe it was Julia's volume on Eggs. Or Thomas' volume on Vegetables. But, you see, cookbooks became less about the entire meal and more about one course or (gasp) one specific ingredient. I curmudgeonously look at single-ingredient books often the author is very opinionated about the proper way to prepare the particular item they are discussing. And if that all-knowing author is not so all-knowing, resourceful and married to the ingredient they are expounding, you end up with a tank full of opinion and maybe (gasp, gasp) mis-information. That said, we have collected some great volumes on Soufflés, Shellfish and Garlic. We have also amassed dust on our volumes of Beans, Exotic Fruit and Cheese.
Alas, some guy from Chicago that thinks he knows a lot started to publish some big, BIG books that focused on desserts, fish and vegetables. Each coffee table sized, picture-laden tome studied some wild ingredients with meticulous detail and with great reverence. He came off knowledgeable about those beyond exotic ingredients, showed how to use them if not at home, then in the restaurant. And judging by a reservation waiting list that stretches across Chicago, he must know what he is talking about. But, I stray. Why the commotion about those unique ingredients when we tried to sweep item-centric books under the kitchen table? Why the fuss about exotic ingredients? Well, Charlie Trotter delivers some of those unique ingredients, minus some of the involved preparation to your house. Charlie Trotter Cooks at Home (available from www.ChefTalkStore.com) from the ubiquitous culinary guru of Chicago, and beyond, delivers his namesake cuisine in a tidy volume. Do not confuse tidy with simple. There are fewer ingredients composing each of the dishes, yes. And he guides us with menus, thankfully. But his signature style is omnipresent. He delicately incorporates that trademark style without the whisk around the world to gather beyond-specialty-store-ingredients. Noticeably, Trotter plans each dish with pleasantly contrasting flavors in lieu of alien ingredients. And for the home cook that would not attempt a hubris attempt at conquering Trotter cuisine, we now have a shot at cooking like 'the man' if not cooking like him at Trotter's restaurant, than cooking like him at Trotter's home.
Herb crusted pork tenderloin does not sound foreign, nor does mushroom barley soup. They are neither scary nor far-fetched. It is Trotter's deliveries that make the dishes. Poached beef tenderloin sounds interesting. Again, Trotter serves a dish that is not from halfway around the world, but he adds his technique, his method (his madness), to, thankfully, commonplace items. A welcome repast to when a separate cookbook was not necessary for each course or each ingredient. Cooks at Home is for the uninspired, just beyond novice as much as it is for the well seasoned 'weekend warrior'. You can prepare grilled shrimp and vegetables with linguine for the home team tonight. Then you can prepare whole roasted Vidalia onions stuffed with braised lamb shank and roasted parsnips followed by chocolate pecan pie for the boss this weekend. How refreshing to do all of this from one book.