The Urge to Cook
Publishers are rushing their latest batch of cookbooks into position for the "Christmas shopping season," as salivating marketers like to call the last quarter of the year, when retailing fortunes are made or broken. Dish looks at a lot of these tomes, but has liked none more than the slender but lovely Bistro (Sunset Books), by Gerald Hirigoyen of Fringale. Like his great antecedents, Pierre Franey and Jacques Pepin, Hirigoyen makes French cooking less fearful to American essayists, while preserving the cuisine's low-key stylishness. (Hirigoyen was born in Bayonne, in the French Basque country, and many of his dishes have that culture's distinctive spin. He likes to use cayenne pepper, and even dishes that are predominantly sweet or earthy often leave a faint molten glow in the mouth.)
In one week Dish made four recipes from the book, and each turned out beautifully. The book generally doesn't call for exotic ingredients, and it also, in a determined but subtle way, manages to cut way back on fat and calories. Classic sabayon sauce, for instance, is lethally heavy on egg yolks, but Hirigoyen offers one made of potatoes and garlic -- rich and creamy, with virtually no fat. It's like Life cereal: You eat it because it tastes good, not because it's good for you. That's the chef's little secret.
You know you're working too hard (or spending too much time browsing the Web) if you don't even have time to make your own tuna salad -- the last refuge of undergraduates. Not to worry, because "Bumble Bee Seafoods Inc. solves your tuna blues with its new Bumble Bee Tuna Salad and Crackers, original and reduced fat versions."
Original? If they're both new products being introduced at the same time, aren't they both original? Why not cut the MBA euphemisms and tell it like it is? "Way Fat" or "Extra Fat" is what they mean. Whom do they think they're kidding?
Bonus: The can of tuna salad has a shelf life of a year and a half, making it a nifty addition to any earthquake/nuclear holocaust preparedness kit. (The crackers last only a year, though.)
Like many national restaurant chains, Houlihan's (headquartered in Kansas City) is trying to adapt to local tastes. Joining barbecued ribs on the menu are such new items as vegetable fajitas and shellfish linguine. Need to tipple? How about a Perfect Espresso Martini? (There's a nonalcoholic version available, but apparently no decaf.) Sounds vile -- like that beer with Starbucks coffee in it. Houlihan's industrious corporate chemists seem inclined to leave local wines alone. Let's hope so.