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From Barnes & NobleOur Review
If you can boil lentils or roast a chicken, you can make Terrine of Lentils and Squab and Roast Chicken with Truffles. That's the promise of Simple to Spectacular, the second collaboration by New York Times "The Minimalist" columnist Mark Bittman (Mr. Simple) and celebrated chef and restaurateur Jean-Georges Vongerichten (Mr. Spectacular). They provide definitive recipes for such standbys as chicken stock, scrambled eggs, seared tenderloin, and poached pears -- plus some you may not have in your repertoire, like buckwheat crepes and rabbit. Each basic recipe is followed by a handful of variations and elaborations that transform it into a dish that would be at home in one of Vongerichten's restaurants.
It's such a brilliant premise that it's amazing no one has used it to organize a whole cookbook before. It puts the emphasis on the foundation of simply prepared seasonal vegetables and meats and builds upon what it teaches. A recipe for salmon cooked in a low oven, for example, lends itself to versions with lemongrass; fresh horseradish; herbs, mushrooms, and tomato fondue; culminating in Slow-Cooked Salmon with Mussels and Coriander. Many of the "spectacular" dishes take no more time than the dish in its purest form. The four variations on Chicken Breasts in Foil with Rosemary and Olive Oil, for example -- even the luxurious one with foie gras and porcini -- all share a speedy 20-minute prep time.
The book is a reminder that even the fanciest food often comes down to straightforward cooking. It emphasizes the continuity between home cooking and sophisticated restaurant food; simple and spectacular aren't opposites here, just the different forms that good food can take. I was pleasantly surprised by how little effort yielded unusually flavorful dishes. The roasted vegetables and the Roast Tomatoes Stuffed with Bitter Greens were excellent, and the recipe headnotes unfailingly helpful and to the point. The focus isn't quick meals, but when you can make Skate with Sesame Beurre Noisette or Steak au Poivre with Mustard Sauce in 20 minutes, who needs to eat lackluster food to save time?
I've heard that most people have a repertoire of five or six different dinners, which they more or less rotate. If this is true, Simple to Spectacular really speaks to how people cook. Once becoming comfortable with a dish, it's easy to throw a spin on it with a variation, or make a more involved version for company using the same basic technique. And the format makes it appealing to cooks at any level of expertise. This felicitous collaboration between two of America's most talented chefs earns its shelf space several times over.