The a.o.c. Cookbook
Great Recipes That Take Time
Is it an overstatement to say that cookbooks are a form of food porn? What does that say about me, because I love to look at them? I don’t just gaze at the pictures. I read the recipes too. In any event, in our food-obsessed society, cookbooks are proliferating like never before. I view cookbooks as both a guide and an inspiration. I’m interested in books about food that I want to eat, and might want to cook. They give me a sense of trends in food. The recipes have to be accurate and reliable, but they are a jumping-off point for me. That being said, if they are overly complicated or require restaurant equipment, I am not interested. Of all the cookbooks hyped at the end of 2013, Suzanne Goin’s the a.o.c. cookbook inspired me the most. Here’s why.
Suzanne Goin is a chef and restaurant owner in Los Angeles. She was trained in Paris. Her recipes are a mix of California freshness with French and Mediterranean cooking techniques. Each chapter (meat, fish, vegetables, etc.) is divided into seasons (although she lives in California, not Toronto, so not the same). For the mains, each recipe forms a complete course (multiple recipes in one) so there is no need to search for compatible recipes to create a meal. The recipes have interesting flavour combinations that just work – sweet, salty, sour and umami flavours and contrasting textures. Proteins, fruits and vegetables are emphasized, which makes the recipes easily adaptable to gluten-free and religious dietary restrictions, although not so vegetarian friendly.
Some of the most exciting dishes to me – beef brisket with slow-roasted romano beans and black olive aioli, grilled orata with cauliflower, fregola and persimmon pomegranate salsa, Alaskan halibut with carrot puree, asparagus and pistou. Suzanne Goin is a French-trained pastry chef and this comes through in her desserts, which are lovely but complex.
In addition to those listed above, I was intrigued by her recipe for sweet potatoes with bacon, spinach and romesco sauce. It did not disappoint. It was a mix of strong but complementary flavours. The potatoes were roasted with brown butter, sherry, brown sugar and thyme. The dish was outstanding.
My notes – the directions were accurate and easy to follow. The dish is very rich and is intended to be so, but the fat and sugar can be reduced without compromising the taste. I reduced the butter and olive oil and would reduce it further next time, along with the brown sugar.
The recipes in the cookbook are complex. They are not thirty minute meals. The cookbook was written after the chef had three children and is intended to be more geared towards home cooks than her previous books. She fully acknowledges that her recipes take time but takes the view that the results are worth it and the time spent cooking should be enjoyed. I agree (just not every night). Recommended? Absolutely, for those interested in spending some time in the kitchen.