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Alfred Portale Simple Pleasures: Home Cooking from the Gotham Bar and Grill's Acclaimed Chef    by Alfred Portale & Andrew Friedman order for
Alfred Portale Simple Pleasures
by Alfred Portale
Order:  USA  Can
William Morrow, 2004 (2004)

Read an Excerpt

* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The acclaimed Chef of the Gotham Bar and Grill, offers over a hundred recipes for home cooking in Alfred Portale Simple Pleasures. He tells us that they 'illustrate how much harmonious flavor can be produced by using just a few carefully selected and perpared ingredients.' His strategies for success? The Chef recommends the element of surprise, sums greater than their parts, and international ingredients. The cookbook is full of lovely color photographs that not only highlight recipes but also focus in on simple pleasures like a luscious watermelon.

A chapter on 'The Modern Pantry' introduces useful ingredients from Anchovies to Walnut Oil. Recommended 'Modern Equipment' includes a Japanese Mandoline and a Spice Grinder. Recipes themselves are gathered into the usual categories from Salads, Starters, and Small Plates to Desserts, each with an interesting introduction by the Chef, that emphasizes for example the strong seasonal statements that soups can make. Recipes often include a suggested Pairing with another in the cookbook. 'Variations' encourage substitutions for variety, or when ingredients can't be found. 'Flavor Building' recommendations can be used to spice up dishes and personalize them to individual tastes.

On to the recipes. Beet Salad with Feta, Orange and Mint adds color to any table. How about Mushroom Crostini with Thyme and Truffle Oil for starters? Israeli Couscous Salad with Grilled Summer Vegetables would make a meal in itself, as would a Spicy Shrimp Salad with Mango, Avocado, and Lime Vinaigrette. The Soups are all surprising, for example Celery Root and Caramelized Pear Soup or Wild Mushroom Minestrone. Grilled Vegetable, Arugula, and Fresh Mozarella Sandwich is already on my summer menu list, as are many of the varied Pastas presented here. My family enjoy Risottos and will try Shrimp Risotto with Sweet Peas, Leeks, and Chervil as well as Risotto with Sausage, Radicchio, and Pecorino Romano. Yumm!

I've always found flavoring Fish a challenge, but Roast Cod with Escargot Butter works for me. Chicken has been one of our family staples since cholesterol reared its ugly head, and I like the look of the selection here, especially Chicken Breasts Marinated with Lemon, Sage, and Aged Balsamic Vinegar. Portale's Roast Duck Chinois sounds like the next best thing to Peking Duck, and who wouldn't enjoy Filet Mignon with Madeira Sauce? Enticing Accompaniments include Creamed Spinach Custards with Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and Parmesan Cheese, or Wild Rice with Mushrooms, Cranberries, and Walnut Oil (I could eat that one right off the page!)

The Chef's Desserts include elegantly simple fruit presentations, including fresh fruit Popsicles! There's a dangerous (to the waistline) Chocolate-Grand Marnier Cake, delicious-looking Lime-Meringue Tarts, and a festive variation on my favorite Creme Caramel (Eggnog Panna Cotta with Caramel Sauce and Brandied Cherries), as well as a Mixed Nut Brittle that my father would have loved. Alfred Portale Simple Pleasures is a delectable cookbook, appealing to both inner and outer eye. Treat your family, and impress your guests with these deceptively simple dishes.

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