As Easy as Piquant Pie
By Kate Astle
The Vineyard Cookbook” by Barbara Scott-Goodman is a great, accessible volume of basic, foolproof recipes, using recognizable ingredients and simple preparations. It’s a “make a good impression” cookbook for someone who’s capable in the kitchen, but not a gourmet. If one is a gourmet, it’s a good-read cookbook, and substitutions or additions to some of the recipes could ratchet up the dishes to unreal creations. In other words, each is like a career: you can get by and still impress, or you can get creative and rise to the top of the dinner party ladder. The photography is really good.
Each plate is paired with a wine, of course; where this book stands out is in providing price points. The recipes are coupled with three wines, each with a different dollar range, making it easy for the budget-minded to appropriately pair, and, alternatively, the cook with a cellar to showcase something that’s been put away for a special occasion.
Unfortunately, the notes are more about the wineries than the wines, but the sidebars sprinkled throughout the book explain to the novice a bit of the characteristics and the provence of particular grapes and styles. Willamette Valley, Benton-Lane, Cooper Mountain, Seven Hills and Hedges are featured Northwest bottles, but the book is heavy on Napa Wines. Good ones, but still—this a highly competitive region, so I was disappointed with the proportion of the PR.
Another feature that adds value is the author’s creation of entire menus for each season—winter menus, spring menus, and the like. Very farmers-market friendly. Each season has themes integrated as well: So you signed up for the wine and cheese part of a block dinner? Scott-Goodman has you covered. From descriptions of cheeses and recommendations to appropriate wines and accompaniments, the author makes you shine. There’s a “Holiday Open House” and a “Winter Comfort Food Supper” for the latter part of the year, a “Sunny Afternoon Picnic” and a “Summer Barbeque” for the upcoming months.
More about the food: the bachelor with a first-time “my place” dinner date (hide the girlie mags, guys, and vacuum the sofa so her black dress won’t be covered in dog hair) can easily impress, and he doesn’t have to be well versed in kitchen vocabulary. There’s no “julienne” to look up, no “chinois” required for a sauce, no fancy equipment to buy either. He needs to know how to chop, mince, thinly slice, peel and whisk.
Grilled tuna with mango salsa (page 73) will satisfy that manly grilling compulsion, and is a really solid recipe. Paired with the mixed green salad (page 125) and herbed vinigarette (I’d add shaved parmesan and walnuts to make it less ordinary), the meal will win points by paying attention to her low-carb ladylike self, and make him look like Emeril.
Or perhaps Grandma is meeting her grandson and fiancée for the first time and wants to be a bit modern. Pork loin with orange marmalade glaze will bridge the gap between old school and new. The ginger-orange snap peas that accompany this menu are simple to prepare and delicious (yes, I did.). The menu includes a roasted sweet potato and red onion dish that’s easy to prepare and smells fabulous in the roasting stage.
If I had to choose a menu for myself, the most appealing would be the “Welcome Spring” piece. Beginning with an oyster, scallion and watercress soup, the main dish, salmon steaks in orange-lime marinade would showcase the fish we’re so famous for. I’m thinking that marinating salmon in lime juice for 30 to 60 minutes, then grilling for six minutes per side would result in overcooked, at least for my taste, but I did not test this recipe.
Accompanied by the aforementioned chilled asparagus in vinaigrette and the orzo salad with fresh lemons and herbs, it’s truly a perfect, balanced, fresh and healthy meal. All the preparations are simple, the ingredients basic and easily available, and most of the prep work could be done considerably in advance, making it a great choice for entertaining.
But right now, I’m going to quit writing, make myself some ricotta and prosciutto crostini, and open a bottle of Drouhin to inspire me to slice bread. Any excuse is good enough for me. ◊
Kate Astle is a freelance writer living in Portland. She can be found at www.astleink.com .