Monday, May 10, 2010

A Deborah Madison Cookbook Review!

They say April showers bring May flowers, and we sure had enough rain in April this year! Something else those showers bring is fruit. Strawberry season is in full swing here and everything else is sure to follow. So, when I was asked to review the newest cookbook by Deborah Madison, well, let’s just say I was more than a little enthusiastic about the opportunity. To start with, its not often that I get asked to review cookbooks or food products (I’m not one of the big girls). I see lots of other bloggers getting offers on a regular basis, but I have not been as lucky.
I must say though, that this book was well worth the wait. When I was told I’d be receiving a book by Deborah Madison, I was both thrilled and intimidated. She is widely known for her vegetarian dishes. Which is great....for me. Cooking in a house full of picky eaters (read: won’t eat anything that has a color other than brown), I wasn’t sure how I was going to manage it.
Then, day of glorious days, I arrived home from work, opened the screen door, and PLOP! Out fell a fat shipping envelope. I was so anxious to tear it open that I nearly forgot my Little Man was trotting along behind me, pulling dandelions from the overgrown yard. I didn’t make it very far into the house before the treasure was revealed, however, and even Ty was echoing my “Ooohhh!” when he saw the cover and gingerly fingered the outline of the luscious raspberry tart depicted there.
To say the least, I was a tad distracted the rest of the evening. I situated myself on the sofa, with a glass of wine and a pad of purple Post-its, excitedly marking the pages displaying the recipes I was interested in trying.
The book soon resembled a peacock’s tail. Practically every other page, I was marking one recipe or another. I did have to eliminate a few simply because the fruits involved aren’t yet available in my area, but that didn’t slow me down for long.
After drooling over the pictures for an hour or so.....I sat down and actually READ. Madison’s writing style is as fresh as her recipes, sweet and simple. What I think I enjoyed most about Seasonal Fruit Desserts was that it was the most refreshingly welcoming cookbook I have held in a long time. Madison makes you want to run straight out to the nearest farmers market or berry farm and pick the freshest fruit available, at the same time, encouraging you to use what is readily available to you (minus the usual guilt that cookbook authors and chefs make me feel for not having the absolutely best ingredients available, which generally results in me NOT making the dish). Her instructions are casual and friendly, describing her own ingredient preferences while making you feel like you are in the kitchen with her, rinsing fresh berries, or rolling pastry while having a chat with an old friend.
As an extra bonus, I didn’t find a single recipe in this book whose instructions weren’t clear and manageable for even the most inexperienced cook. I found myself enthusing to friends and coworkers about how easy the recipes were when they gushed over the samples I brought them to taste.

Strawberries in Red Wine Syrup (page 64)
This was the first recipe I made, mainly because I had just opened a bottle of red wine. The berries are a luscious little summer treat by themselves, with a drizzle of cream, or as a topping for ice cream, pound cake....the bumper of a 1986 would make pretty much anything taste good.

Jam and Almond Tart or Bar (page 151)Figs are one of my all time favorite fruits, so this recipe jumped out at me immediately. Although my coworkers were a bit hesitant to try it, they were all pleasantly surprised to find such a familiar flavor hiding inside. This recipe couldn’t have been easier and the pan was empty before I could get a second helping for myself.

Chocolate Bark with Cardamom and Sea Salt, Apricots, and Pistachios (page 169), White Chocolate and Coconut Bark with Lavender and Tangerine Zest (page 170)Chocolate bark is a no-brainer, in my opinion. It is rather like a good pot of soup. You can put anything in it, but sometimes when you find just the right combinations of ingredients, it can border on a religious experience. The flavors in Madison’s versions here fit the bill wonderfully. Cardamom is a complex spice and it blended beautifully with the sea salt and the sweetness of the apricots. The lavender required a trip to Penzey’s (oh yes, it was a real trial for me to walk into that store....not) but it was well worth it. I admit that I have never liked the fragrance of lavender, but combine it with coconut and tangerine and it becomes the stuff dreams are made of.

Broken Jellied Wine with Summer Fruit (page 200)This recipe was, by far, the favorite among my guinea, I mean, friends.... What a surprise this was! It would never have occurred to me to use wine in this fashion, but now I’m going to have a hard time seeing it in any other way. I already have a second batch in the fridge, and one of my coworkers is headed home tonight to start a batch (I think she has a crush on this recipe). The book is worth buying for this recipe alone.

Dark Chocolate Pudding (page 186)This pudding was a spur of the moment choice. It seemed kind of average, conceptually. I mean, come on...its PUDDING. But the flavors infused in this version push it over into the “gorgeous” category. I topped mine with fresh berries.

Quinoa Pudding with Dried Cherries and Cranberries (page 177)The quinoa pudding was the odd man out in my list of “must try” recipes. I knew that my coworkers would be hesitant to try something they’ve never heard of, but it turns out that it won’t be a problem. Why? Because I plan to eat every last grain of this one myself. I’m not sharing. You can’t have any, so just keep your mitts off. I wasn’t very excited about this one, but I wanted to give it a chance because it was very “outside the box”. The list of ingredients is simple and I was worried about it being bland, but I needn’t have been concerned. Served warm, with a touch of heavy cream on top, it gives the impression of being a very rich dessert, but in actuality, was a healthful and satisfying breakfast for me. This was definitely the sleeper of the group, and one I will make again and again.
Yogurt-Honey Ice Cream (page 216) with Compote of Dried Farmers' Market Fruit (page 142)

Lastly, the Yogurt-Honey Ice cream. Run, don’t walk, to the nearest kitchen store and get an ice cream machine if you don’t have one. The hardest part about this will be waiting for my freezer canister to be ready to make another batch. I found myself standing in front of the freezer, with the door open and a spoon in hand, greedily spooning the creamy concoction into my mouth before it was even fully set. And returning to the scene of the crime again later in the evening for another helping. The dried fruit compote was a wonderful accompaniment, adding a certain sweetness to the dessert, but the ice cream can stand on its own with no trouble at all. My camera battery was threatening to die on me while I was getting this last shot, so I apologize for the poor view, you’ll just have to trust me on this one.

As you can see by the number of dishes I created, I was definitely inspired. This is not only a great reference for summer desserts, but has great information on serving suggestions and combinations, for fruits, nuts, cheeses and more. In addition, the wonderful photos would make Seasonal Fruit Desserts just as much at home on my coffee table as in my kitchen. This is definitely a “keeper” for my collection. I would love to hear from anyone else who picks this book up to see how many recipes you fall in love with!


Rachel said...

What an enthusiastic review. I love your tour of the various desserts. I almost made that chocolate bark duo too, and that broken wine jelly is on my to do list soon too! Great job!

Kim said...

Wow! This is a fabulous review Beth. You really cranked out some delicious looking recipes. I really like all of them, but I'd love to try the chocolate bark with the cardamom - yum!

Debinhawaii said...

Wow! You tried so many recipes--I am impressed. It is a fun book and I loved my Swedish Yogurt Creams. Now you have given me a bunch more to try! Great review.

Joanne said...

I can't believe how many of the recipes you made from this book! They all look delicious. I loved the coconut rice pudding cake but now I really can't wait to try more of them.