Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Book Review: Let's Dish Up a Dinner Party

A Book You Can Buy From Me

Book Title: Let's Dish Up a Dinner Party

Author: Nelson Aspen

Author's web site:

Publisher: Kensington Books

Date: 2004

ISBN: 0758206976

Length: 176 pages

Illustrations: lots of small black-and-white drawings, most from Havana Street

Quote: "I think at-home entertainment should be gay all the way!"

That's pretty much what you'll like--or dislike--about this book. That's probably not sufficient reason to buy a book, so why would you buy it?

One reason: celebrity gossip. "Mindy Sterling is one of those delicate dieters who told me, 'I hqave to find out what they are having ahead of time or eat before I go.'" "Norma Vally [and Aspen]...have...the same passion for fried artichokes." "Cindy Margolis, 'the most downloaded woman on the Internet,' is known best for her sexy swimsuit spreads...Her husband, Guy Starkman, owns Jerry's Famous Deli."

Another reason: quips and quotes...ideal for times when, "Like Dolly Parton says, 'It's better to choose what you say, than say what you choose!'" On tedious in-laws: "'His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork.'--Mae West." On the importance of food at a party: "'A man seldom thinks with more earnestness of anything thanhe does of his own dinner.'--Samuel Johnson." These tidbits are scattered randomly throughout the book. Some pages contain two, some none; sometimes they seem immediately relevant, sometimes thrown in just for fun.

And, of course: recipes--all with goofy names, many expensive and faddy, some delicious.

No particular effort has been made to select recipes that are "free" from anything, and editing the recipes to suit dietary needs may or may not have satisfactory results. You could, for example, make "Louan's Cheesy Spinach Balls" gluten- and dairy-free, by baking two cups of cornmeal with only leavening, salt, water, enough oil to lubricate the pan, and a little sage and thyme if you like, in place of the stuffing mix, and omitting the butter and cheese, and baking them as muffins rather than "balls." I've tried this. It's frugal, healthy, vegetarian, and delicious; and if you don't want to heat up the oven, you could even fry it, in small amounts, like pancakes or waffles. But it won't have enough gluten and saturated fat to form cutesy-wutesy little "balls" you can serve on toothpicks. It will need to be eaten from a plate, with a fork.

Some other recipes just felicitously happen to be "free" from whatever you might want to avoid; lots of Aspen's trendy friends are avoiding something or other. "Luscious Lentil Soup" is definitely a main course; gluten-free, dairy-free, and easily made vegan and yeast-and-alcohol free. "Unbeatable Black Bean Salad" is pure veg and seasonings, rich in protein. "Perfect Paella" is gluten-free, dairy-free, and introduced as "easy to adjust for vegetarians." And so on.

For all but the trendiest parties, this book offers a nice mix of plain and posh, health-conscious and death-defying, simple and elaborate, frugal and pricey, and sweet and savory recipes. "Let's Dish" isn't my dish, even as TV goes (I'm so clueless about current TV that I bought this book to find out what "Let's Dish" was all about), but Let's Dish Up a Dinner Party is adequate for a mini-cookbook.

Price: $5 for a clean copy, $5 for shipping, and out of this we'll send Aspen $1, if you click on Less than $1 for my copy (although, so far as I can tell, it's still clean) if you buy it locally.