Inn at Little Washington Cookbook: A Consuming Passion


This cookbook is the distillation of a life's work by a self-taught American chef who learned to cook by reading cookbooks and went on to become one of the world's most renowned chefs. O'Connell began his career with a catering business in an old farmhouse, cooking on a wood stove with an electric frying pan purchased for $1.49 at a garage sale. (The pan was used for boiling, sautéeing and deep frying for parties of up to 300 guests.) This experience sharpened his awareness of how much could be done with very ...

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The Inn at Little Washington Cookbook: A Consuming Passion

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This cookbook is the distillation of a life's work by a self-taught American chef who learned to cook by reading cookbooks and went on to become one of the world's most renowned chefs. O'Connell began his career with a catering business in an old farmhouse, cooking on a wood stove with an electric frying pan purchased for $1.49 at a garage sale. (The pan was used for boiling, sautéeing and deep frying for parties of up to 300 guests.) This experience sharpened his awareness of how much could be done with very little. The catering business evolved into a country restaurant and Inn which opened in 1978 in a defunct garage and which is now America's only 5 star Inn.  Craig Claiborne raves, "the most magnificent inn I've ever seen, in this country or Europe, where I had the most fantastic meal of my life."

This is not a typical "Chef's Cookbook" filled with esoteric, egomanical, and impossibly complicated recipes which only a wizard with a staff of eighty would ever attempt to produce. Rather, the recipes assembled here make up a practiced, finely honed repertoire of elegant, simple and straight-forward dishes. Everyday ingredients are elevated to new heights through surprising combinations and seductive presentations. []A Consuming Passion[] propels the home cook into a new world of American Haute Cuisine and provides the formulas for reproducing it at home. Careful and detailed instructions, all written by the author, assure success.

Tim Turner's luscious photographs capture the playful but elegant spirit of the food and introduce the reader to some of the charming local characters who provide products for the Inn's kitchen as well as taking the reader on a delightful and romantic culinary journey throughout the Virginia countryside surrounding the small town affectionately known as "Little" Washington and reveals an America we thought was lost forever.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
A Cooking Class with Patrick O'Connell

After watching Patrick O'Connell regale the audience at New York cooking school De Gustibus at Macy's with hilarious stories from his childhood and from his two decades running The Inn at Little Washington with partner Reinhardt Lynch, no one was surprised when he revealed that he grew up wanting to become an actor.

Great Pee-Wee Herman imitation notwithstanding, it's lucky for lovers of great food everywhere that his drama career was sidetracked by the catering business he started in the Shenandoah Valley, which eventually evolved into the sublime establishment known to its many devotees simply as The Inn. But even more entertaining than O'Connell's anecdotes to the audience of gourmands at De Gustibus were the fabulous dishes he demonstrated from his new book, The Inn at Little Washington Cookbook.

About Patrick O'Connell and The Inn at Little Washington Cookbook

Anyone who's tasted O'Connell's complex, impeccably fresh cooking will find it hard to believe he wasn't formally trained. "I learned to cook from books," he said. Now he's written his own. The Inn at Little Washington Cookbook is one of the most beautiful cookbooks to be released in recent years—it was nominated this year for a James Beard Award for Best Food Photography. Stunning images not only of the finished dishes but also of the Shenandoah countryside and of the fruits and vegetables from the Inn's gardens and nearby farms grace every page.

It's a pleasure to browse through, but cooking from it is even more satisfying. Though there are plenty of simple recipes, many of the dishes are challenging for the home cook; O'Connell's food is refined, with many layers of flavors, and the dishes are always beautifully garnished and presented. O'Connell deliberately wrote the book this way: "I think too many chefs' cookbooks are oversimplified," he said. "It's disappointing when you eat at a wonderful restaurant and you want to replicate a dish you loved exactly. It's impossible to do if it's been simplified too far in a book." So he's taken a different approach for the home cook. Each recipe is broken down into sections, or segments, so that you can do as much or as little as you want. "If you don't want to do the garnish, you can skip it," O'Connell said, "or do just one sauce instead of two. It's really very approachable...even for the novice cook."

About the Menu

O'Connell began the demonstration with a simple but delicious recipe for spiced pecans, which were used to garnish the cheese-course salads that followed the entrée. They were crisp and addictive, seasoned with cumin, brown sugar, and a hint of cayenne. "If they're too spicy for you," he said, "just cut down on the cayenne. It's a matter of taste. There's never any right or wrong about taste." The Miniature Caramelized Onion Tartlets were made with a heavenly croissant dough and filled with savory custard and caramelized onions cooked down nearly to jam. We drank a dry and refreshing sparkling wine, the Domaine Carneros Brut from the French producer Taittinger's vineyard in the Napa Valley, as we nibbled on the pecans and the tartlets. A lovely herbal Sauvignon Blanc from Napa's Cakebread Cellars was poured with the entrée, an elegant grilled poussin served over a lacy potato galette, accompanied by thin green beans dressed simply with nutty browned butter. Marinated in vinegar steeped with blackberries, the flesh of the little chickens had turned a gorgeous purply blue and was full of succulent flavor.

The poussin was followed by what O'Connell called the cheese course: the Miniature "Croque Monsieur" on Field Greens. It turned out to be an incredible dish—a small wedge of Brie that had been wrapped in filo dough and sautéed until crisp on the outside and deliciously runny within, contrasting perfectly with the cool, lightly dressed fresh greens. The spicy pecans were sprinkled atop. The dessert took the prize for the most visually arresting dish of the evening: the Rhubarb Pizza consisted of a round of flaky, sweet dough topped with sauce (rhubarb/raspberry puree in place of tomato) and thin strips of rhubarb, decorated with thin slices of strawberry to mock pepperoni, dried cherries instead of black olives, and toasted pistachios for green olives. O'Connell suggests bringing the pizza to the table hot, and offering guests a sprinkle of "Parmesan" (really grated white chocolate) as the final touch. Then he slices up the pizza in wedges, just like the real thing, and serves it with a lovely ginger ice cream.

Tips from Patrick O'Connell

  • An elegant idea for serving soup from The Inn at Little Washington: a demitasse espresso cup. "We offer a demitasse of soup to begin every meal at the restaurant. It's a wonderful way to get just a taste but to not take the place of a more complex appetizer," O'Connell explained. "I love the idea, and I always like to pass it along to others. It works well for cocktail parties, also: Bring out a tray with little demitasse cups and saucers with a beautiful seasonal soup—hot, cold, whatever. People can sip it and put it down. It's just the right amount."
  • A small bird like a poussin, quail, or game hen is particularly elegant when it's completely deboned first: "You can serve it with a knife and a fork and cut right through it-- people are so delightfully surprised," O'Connell said. Poultry shears and a small sharp knife are the best tools for this delicate job. Lay the bird breast side down and first snip off the wing tips at the second joint. Then use the shears to cut along both sides of the backbone to remove it completely. Flip the bird over, and with the knife, make a small incision along the center of the breastbone, and then remove the breastbone with your fingers. Remove the rib bones from the breast meat by gently running the knife point under the bones. Do the same thing with the thigh bone, keeping the knife point against the bone. You can leave the very last bone in the leg in place. "Your butcher can do this for you too," O'Connell said. The deboned birds lay completely flat, so they cook very quickly and burn easily. O'Connell advises "par-grilling:" grilling briefly to crisp the skin, then finishing in the oven.
  • Don't forget to take the time to appreciate the pleasures of working with food. "Food is therapeutic," O'Connell said. "All you have to do when you're having a bad day is touch food—grab some dough, or take the advice of a ladies' magazine that once said what to do if you're feeling suicidal: bake cookies. When you finish, you will be reconnected, you will feel like a productive human being. You will have basically performed a miracle—that's what the joy of it is."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679447368
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/28/1996
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 395,793
  • Product dimensions: 9.39 (w) x 11.79 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

A native of Washington D.C., Patrick O'Connell began his culinary career at the age of fifteen, working in a neighborhood restaurant after school. As a drama student at Catholic University of America, he financed his education working as a waiter. In 1972, together with Reinhardt Lynch, O'Connell began a catering enterprise in the Shenandoah Valley that eventually evolved into The Inn at Little Washington.

A member of the prestigious Paris-based Relais and Chateau Association, The Inn received the first perfect score in the history of the Zagat rating system. The James Beard Awards named Patrick O'Connell Best Chef of the Mid-Atlantic region in 1993 and selected The Inn at Little Washington as Restaurant of the Year. O'Connell was one of the original inductees into "Who's Who of Food and Beverage in America." He lives in Washington, Virginia.

Tim Turner is a preeminent food photographer. His previous books include Charlie Trotter's and Vegetables also by Charlie Trotter. His photographs have appeared in Food and Wine, Bon Appetit and Ladies' Home Journal, among other publications, as well as numerous advertisements.

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A Recipe from The Inn at Little Washington Cookbook

My Grandmother's Rhubarb Pizza with Ginger Ice Cream

Serves 6

Although my grandmother did have a rhubarb patch, she wasn't into making pizzas. But if she had been, they probably would have tasted something like these. (A chef has to take a little poetic license once in a while to keep his clients intrigued.)

In the restaurant, we use a flaky croissant dough for the crust, and you may too. But here we're calling for purchased puff pastry. The pizzas may be completely assembled well in advance and baked just before serving.

1 package puff pastry
8 thick stalks red rhubarb
1 quart water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup Raspberry Puree (recipe follows)
Nonstick cooking spray
1/4 cup sugar (combined with 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon)

Ginger Ice Cream

[Optional garnishes: sliced strawberries, dried cherries, toasted green pistachios, and grated white chocolate]

On a floured board, roll the pastry out 1/8 inch thick. Lay a bowl about 5 inches in diameter upside down on the dough and cut out 6 circles with a sharp paring knife. Place the pastry rounds between sheets of waxed paper and refrigerate.

Wash the rhubarb and trim off any leaves, cutting off any brown or bruised spots. Using a very sharp knife, slice 6 stalks on the bias about 1/8 inch thick. Roughly chop the remaining 2 stalks and keep separate.

In a 4-quart saucepan, combine the water, sugar, and Raspberry Puree over medium heat. Bring just to a boil.

Place the rhubarb slices in a stainless steel bowl and carefully pour the hot liquid over them just to cover, leaving about 2 cups liquid in the pan.

Add the chopped rhubarb to the liquid left in the pan and simmer until very soft. Remove from the heat. Strain, reserving the liquid, and puree the rhubarb in a food processor or blender until smooth.

Return the liquid to the stove and simmer until reduced to a syrupy consistency.

To Assemble:

Preheat the oven to 375°.

Remove the pizza rounds from the refrigerator. Spray several baking sheets with nonstick spray and lay the rounds on them. Spread about 1 tablespoon of the rhubarb puree evenly over each round. Lift the rhubarb slices out of their liquid and arrange on top of the puree in concentric circles.

Bake in the lower half of the oven for 6 to 8 minutes, or until the pastry is crisp and golden brown. Remove from oven and brush with the rhubarb syrup.

To Serve:

Sprinkle each of 6 serving plates lightly with cinnamon sugar in a ribbon-like pattern.

Place a warm, glazed pizza on each plate and top with a small scoop of Ginger Ice Cream.

[Editor's note: At the restaurant, Patrick O'Connell often serves the pizzas plain. If you'd like to decorate them the way he did at the class, decorate with sliced strawberries, dried cherries, toasted pistachios, and then sprinkle grated white chocolate over the pizzas when they are (ot out of the oven—it will melt like cheese.]

Raspberry Puree

Makes 1 cup

3 pints fresh raspberries

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

3 to 4 tablespoons sugar

Puree the berries in a food processor. Strain through a fine strainer to remove all the seeds, pressing hard on the solids with a rubber spatula to extract all the liquid.

Add the lemon juice and mix well.

Add the sugar 1 tablespoon at a time, tasting after each addition, until the desired sweetness is obtained.

Note: You may substitute frozen raspberries, but reduce the sugar by one-half.

Excerpted from The Inn at Little Washington Cookbook, copyright © 1996 by Patrick O'Connell. Published by Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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  • Posted October 1, 2011

    Must buy two - one for a gift and one for yourself

    A friend gave me the book as a long time no see gift. This book is delightful, I bought it for our son and his wife, they were engaged there thirteen years ago. It is one of their favorite restaurants in the Washington area. Anyone who is interested in fine food, and travels to the Washington area would love this book. It has everything, great pictures, fine recipes and the history of the Inn by the chef Patrick O'Connell. The ideal gift for someone who is hard to buy for.

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    Posted April 17, 2011

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