Thursday, December 1, 2016

New Book Review: Dutch Oven Obsession

Yesterday I received three shiny-new review copies of cookbooks. (I need more cookbooks like I need more holes in my head, but then again a bookseller can't be said to have too many books as long as the bookseller can walk through the racks and stacks...these are cute, trendy, appetizing new cookbooks any foodie is sure to enjoy.) After yesterday's observation of how hasty a publisher was to write off a new novel before I could rack up enough points at low-paying web sites to pay for a copy, this morning I'm rescheduling the reviews of my books that were meant to go live in the next few days so youall can read about these new cookbooks fast

Title:  Dutch Oven Obsession

Author: Robin Donovan

Date: 2016

Publisher: Sonoma

ISBN: 978-1-943451-50-0

Length: 213 pages plus 12-page index

Illustrations: color photos

Quote: “Dutch ovens are the original slow cookers.”

A Dutch Oven, or French Oven, or Cocotte, is a big heavy pot with a cover. (Differences among pots marketed under each of these names are discussed in the introduction.) If you don't own a stove, you could set a Dutch oven in the coals to bake things; hence its name. These days Dutch ovens aren't widely marketed for camp or off-the-grid open-fire cooking, which can be hard on the pretty enamel finish, but if you want to sacrifice your pot's looks it will work over (or in) an open fire. Of course, Dutch ovens also work for stovetop cooking. Cookbooks most often recommend using your Dutch oven for bringing things to a boil on the stove and then slowly stewing them on lower heat. In this book, Robin Donovan’s goal is to show that this versatile pot works for baking and frying, too.

Donovan calls it “the only pot you’ll  ever need.” True? Definitely true if you cook a lot of full-size family-type dishes. Then again, that’s actually an efficient way some urban singles like to cook…a few big meals on the weekly or biweekly cooking day, and lots of leftovers stored in serving portions in the freezer. It's worth keeping a one-quart saucepan and/or microwave dish--"A little pot is soon hot" when you just want to heat up a serving portion. However, the case can be made that, for one or two people just building their very first nest, the Dutch oven may be the most valuable pot to buy first...especially if they have this book.

That being the case, though, this book is not really written with students and newlyweds in mind. Donovan has written other cookbooks and is addressing an audience of foodies and cookbook collectors who are looking for novelties. That audience won't be bored with explanations of how to cook plain rice, scrambled eggs, or stir-fried veg in Dutch Oven Obsession. If you buy this book along with a Dutch oven for a first-apartment-warming party gift, you might want to add something for the first-time cook to the package.

A Dutch oven is basically a big casserole, so naturally a lot of Donovan’s recipes are for casseroles. They start with “French Toast casserole” and “Bread Pudding,” which are almost the same thing—dried bread, reconstituted with nutritious milk and eggs, and flavored with fruit (and sugar, vanilla, rum, cinnamon, etc.).  Other breakfast alternatives to whip up in your Dutch oven include baked coffee cakes, savory egg “strata” casseroles, deep-fried fritters, quiche, egg frittatas, and chilaquiles.

Side dishes can be prepared in “mini-cocottes” (smaller baking dishes that nestle inside the Dutch oven), or just baked, fried, or stewed like main dishes. Again, Donovan highlights the Dutch oven’s versatility with a wide assortment of fairly large and elaborate recipes, including a big batch of Bourbon-Spiked Cranberry Sauce recommended for Thanksgiving feasts.

After a chapter full of soup and stew recipes, the main dish recipes begin refreshingly with vegetarian ideas including pasta, shakshuka, ratatouille,  tikka masala, risotto, cassoulet…and lasagna. That’s a trendy Butternut Squash Lasagna with Spinach B├ęchamel—Donovan assumes you know how to adapt the technique to your favorite traditional tomato-sauce-flavored lasagna recipes. There’s also a recipe for the latest thing in trendy supermarkets, smoked tofu (with a corn-enhanced chili).

Seafood options include a Dutch oven Clam Bake as well as the predictable stews, poached fish, fried fish, and roasted fish dishes. Poultry recipes include a relatively basic chicken and rice, braised chicken, chicken tagine, and duck cassoulet, but also fried chicken, chicken potpie, Turkey Shepherd’s Pie, and roasted whole chicken.  Red meat recipes likewise include the pot roast, stuffed cabbage, jambalaya, and braised meats you’d expect, plus tacos.

You might not have tried actually baking in a Dutch oven, but Donovan offers recipes for crusty loaf breads, fruit-nut breads, pull-apart bread, biscuits, cornbread, rolls, and scones. She also offers recipes for making jam in the Dutch oven. Finally, desserts include the bread pudding and rice pudding you probably expected, but also cake, clafouti, beignets, and custard.

Donovan’s taste runs to the trendy and pricey, and she’s partial to flavoring things with substances recovering alcoholics should not keep in the house. If you’re enough of a “foodie” to want to try these experiments, you’re probably enough of a “foodie” to know what you can simplify and substitute without feeling that all the fun has gone out of a new recipe.

If you’re looking for new-and-different recipes to impress your friends (or your children), and not looking for a new, elaborate, or noisy kitchen gadget, here’s a selection of unusual ways to have fun with a basic kitchen item you probably already own.

If you’re on a restricted diet, you should find plenty of things you can eat here. Most recipes call for milk, egg, cheese, wheat, meats, sugar, or other ingredients many people need to avoid, but no recipe calls for all of them and each chapter offers a couple of recipes that don’t include any one specific ingredient you might want to avoid. Frankly, the hardest diet to cook for, with these recipes, would be a low-calorie diet. The proportion of butter, oil, and meat grease to grains, veg, lean meat, or fruit is lower than it would have been fifty years ago, but the Dutch oven does call for fairly generous lubrication, and these are not low-calorie or low-carb recipes either.

If you like having to wash only one pot per cooking spree, this cookbook is for you. Five stars.