Thursday, July 9, 2015

Twenty Dinners by Ithai Schori & Chris Taylor

Seasonal cookbooks seem to be all the rage these days but what does it really mean for the home cook? Well, it means a focus on quality. It also means an attempt to put together recipes that are appropriate for the season - lighter fare and grilling options for summer, homey comfort foods for winter - all taking advantage of items that are in season and at their peak in terms of flavor and abundance. As someone who lives in an area with a thriving community of farmers' markets and a real focus on seasonal produce, that means more fun for me in the kitchen!

Twenty Dinners by friends Ithai Schori and Chris Taylor, a photographer and musician (respectively), is not only a seasonally built cookbook but it's one focused on dinners for sharing. Most have an appetizer or side, a main, and dessert or drink and include a wide range of types of dishes and proteins, all thoughtfully paired and arranged. The photography is amazing (as would be expected) and the recipes are detailed and easy to follow. All pluses for any good cookbook.

But wait. You might be wondering if this mean that you have to stick to their particular meal plan of Roasted Lamb Chops with Sauteed Ramps, Spiced Carrots and Harissa Yogurt, and Mina's Olive Oil-Walnut Cake (dinner 14) exclusively? Not at all! In fact the authors make a point of stating:

"...take a dish from one menu and serve it with one from another or borrow a component from one dish and put it on another... Cooking isn't about following directions to the letter..."

Using this cookbook to the max takes a bit of creativity, I think. Sure you can follow each dinner to the T and get lots of enjoyment out of the recipes. But to do what the authors really hope you'll do, you need to feel confident to play around with the recipes. This is perfect for someone like me. As I noted above, I do have access to a lot of produce during the summer. The proteins featured in the book, though, are a different matter. My local grocery store might not carry branzino, but trout is abundant in Colorado and makes a fair substitution for the Seared Branzino with Pancetta and Potato Panzanella. I'm also not likely to be roasting an entire pig any time soon but the authors have taken that into account as well, offering up a note on adapting the Whole Spit-Roasted Pig with Mustard Greens using a reasonably sized loin instead.

In my opinion, this is not a cookbook for the unadventurous home cook. Nor is it the right fit for someone looking for quick and easy recipes as whole (though there are definitely some quick and easy dishes featured in the book). But if you're not afraid to cater a recipe to your personal preferences or substitute according to what's available to you, Twenty Dinners is great inspiration in the kitchen.

Rating: 4/5

Per Blogging for Books requirements: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

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