LynnNYC, the thing about The Zuni Cafe Cookbook is that you really can't get a sense of it by flipping through it. When I first started work at Petersham Nurseries Cafe in London, Skye Gyngell plonked this book in front of me and said, Read it, from cover to cover. Don't skip a thing. She will tell you how to cook. And honestly, Skye's right.
I learnt so much when I first read this book it was overwhelming. Reading it is just the first task. Slowly, as the seasons cycle round and the ways I can apply and explore Judy Rogers' ideas have opened up, I return to it again and again, and find something new. Yes, little gems are buried everywhere in it. You really don't have to look to find them, you just need to return and return and return. I hope you do.
For a couple of years, I just admired and read through this beautiful, dense cookbook. I was a little afraid of disappointing Judy by attempting to cook out the book. Her tone and instructions are so concise and revelatory, I didn't want to mess up!
After going to Zuni for the first time for my 28th Birthday dinner and having one of the best meals I've ever eaten, I decided to start cooking out of it. Judy's recipe for polenta changed my life, as did recipe for tart dough and the Best Roast Chicken Method ever.
I'm writing out my thoughts rather tentatively, because I'm still so very much on the surface of this cookbook. I take to heart what thegoodsoup says about not skipping a thing, because I'll learn how to cook. I’ve heard that reading certain passages of the hefty introduction is like being in culinary school, and I’ve already learned quite a bit about seasoning, tasting and adjusting. She also recommends spending an extended amount of time with one recipe or one ingredient, so as to become well acquainted with its variations. So yes, I'm learning things, but there's still so much more. I will say that while reading along, I've learned that I'm a cut-to-the-chase kind of person. Some of the minutiae in the book I could very well do without, and would probably feel much less anxious. As the mother of a toddler and an infant, I have no intention of warming up any platter on which anything will be served! But still, I've loved this experience and intend to keep my library copy around for while.
Judy Rodgers teaches you to be a more intuitive, more natural, more effortless cook. Basically, a better cook. She tells you engage all five senses when cooking. This book emphasizes the importance of observing the ingredients at the market. Befriend the farmer, the butcher, the baker. Note how a perfect apple looks, smells, feels, how heavy it is, its color, its shape.
The most crucial lesson? Taste, taste, taste your food. Taste as much as possible (obviously we can't taste the seasoning on raw meat, although my grandmother would disagree). Taste often, after every major step, after every time you add seasoning. Before reading this book I would spend hours cooking something only to have to throw it away because it was inedible. How many times I could have transformed an insipid meal into an extraordinary one by tasting more.
Strangely, there's no recipe for bread even though many recipes, including the famed Bread Salad, call for a specific type of bread. However, David Tanis has a bread recipe that fits in one of his books.
Me three! I agree. It is a lovely gift book.
A few of my favorite recipes are for the Cornmeal Biscotti, Orange-Currant Scones and the Fruit Crostatas.
I bought this book, having read enthusiastic reports from cooks I admire. I love the way the book is written and agree with the comment that reading it from cover to cover reveals such a wealth of knowledge, so generously given.
I recently plucked up the courage to cook chicken the Zuni way, and now it is our favourite way to cook a small bird for Sunday lunch! So simple (although I think the recipe makes it look very complicated - which is why I only just got round to actually trying it!)
I'm so pleased to have come across this book.
I really like this cookbook. Although it doesn't have many photographs, it is rich with images and simple in language. The Arugula Salad with Raw Sweet Corn and Sweet 100 Tomatoes is refreshing, and the Arugula Salad with Cucumbers, Radishes, Cracker Bread, Feta, and Mint contains a complimentary combination of tastes and textures. I've also prepared the Butter Lettuce with Oranges, Avocado, and Shallot Vinaigrette -- good as well.
I'll be sitting this one out, but I was looking to see if I could find any of the recipes online, and I found this forum thread that contains several links to some of the book's recipes online in case you're like me and not interested enough to seek out the actual book... http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/355994 I make no claims as to whether the links actually work or whether the recipes were posted with permission, just thought I'm probably not the only one looking for links and wanted to share!
I agree with Heidi -- a wonderful book to give as a gift, but give it to yourself first! I especially like the vegetable recipes and the simple recipes for various pickled preserves: red onions, zucchini, etc. The range of recipes is very diverse.
To be fair, I don't own this book.
I made a tart crust a few weeks ago experimenting with a crust recipe from an on line site which referenced this book as her inspiration for the crust. The crust product was presented with such enthusiasm and explanation I decided to try it.
The crust in the Zuni book is essentially the recipe I used and it is awesom (as desscribed by lisap). I made fig tarts and apple tarts and they were the best ever. This crust has become my new crust first choice.
However, for me, the book was a disappointment. I consider myself an excellent reader of recipes. But this pastry recipe is burried in this book, I never would have tried it and it would have been a big miss. The recipe's significant benefits are not described. I have a perfectly satisfactory tart crust recipe that is easier, so why would I have tried it?
There may indeed be more gems burried in this book, but even with this new found sensitivity to the nature of recipe presentation in this book, my perusal at the book store did not reveal any recipes that made me want to purchase the book. I may need to revisit this decision as least with respect to corn polenta based on lisap's recommendation.
Presentation does not mean only pictures it means letting the reader know something special about the recipe--especially for basics like pastry crust and polenta.