14 September 2008

On My Rickety Shelves: Simply Delicioso

Thanks to the lovely people at Random House Canada for providing this month's selection in my mailbox.

Simply Delicioso: a collection of everyday recipes with a Latin twist
By Ingrid Hoffmann with Raquel Pelzel
Clarkson Potter Publishers/Random House Canada
256 pages; $37.95

One of today’s problems/pleasures is that different and new-to-many cuisines arrive by way of fast fooderies, frozen dinners and homogenised chain restaurants that try too hard to be “authentic.” Take Mexican for example. My first taste was via a mall’s food court: plasticized, salinized and bereft of fresh flavours and varying textures. I was a teenager: I ordered. I paid. I ate. But that first taste provided glimmers of a hope of what could be a vibrant and absolutely delicious cuisine, and it began an on-again, off-again wistful search for good Mexican food and eventually tasty foods from Latin and South America: Yo quiero el buen alimento latinoamericano (thank you, Babelfish).

Ingrid Hoffmann’s Simply Delicioso hopes to tear people away from such corporate-ised Latin foods and convince them that tasty foods from Mexico, Central and South America are easily made in their home kitchens. Hoffman is a television chef, with shows on both Food Network and Galavision/Univision; her book takes its name from her Food Network show.

The book offers 11 chapters of foods and drinks ranging from breakfasts to appetisers to fish and meats, along with two sections on pantry staples. Every chapter is introduced by Hoffman, explaining the role of the following recipes in her family’s or a culture. Beautiful photographs punctuate the book—not every recipe has a photo (nor should they have). The instructions are clear and well-written, with many including “chica tips”—advice and suggestions about some ingredients. Some are helpful such as creating a whirlpool in simmering water to create “perfectly” poached eggs; some are banal such as liberally spraying baking trays with pan spray to avoid heavy duty scrubbing, while others read somewhat bizarrely for a cookery book such as combing mashed avocados through your hair and wrapping your head in cling film for 20 minutes before rinsing out the green goo. The last tip would have been fine if this was a health/beauty book or a treatise on avocadoes, but it’s not.

Now this segues nicely into what bugs me about this book. Most of the expositional writing is good, but it is littered with enough sugary cutsey-isms that turned my stomach. From “appeteasers” the interjections of “que rico” and “fantastico” the voice in my head quickly morphed from warm and friendly to slightly hyper and rather bubbleheaded. I’m sure Hoffman is a lovely and intelligent woman who obviously loves life and food. I can take her food seriously, but I can’t take her seriously. Add to this a niggling thought that if she were not a TV chef she probably would not have been given this book contract. It feels like part of a big marketing machine. She tells readers to go to her web site to get updates to pantry staples). There are unnecessary photographs of Hoffman—not showing a technique, nor her with the completed recipe (or at any stage of the recipe) but odd photos that have nothing to do with what’s on the page. Yes, she’s very pretty but…

Every recipe I tried worked really well (because of the machine behind her, I’d be surprised if they didn’t) and produced delicious foods (as promised in the book’s title).

Dad’s Absolutely Amazing Brandied Shrimp (p 118)
As long as you have thawed shrimp (and the other ingredients) you have an incredibly quick and delicious meal. It was so good I’ve made it twice in the past month…and may make it again tonight. She suggests pairing it with rice or pasta—I prefer it with crusty white bread to sop up the all the lovely saucy bits.

Eggs Benedict with Chipotle Hollandaise (p 32)
I’m an eggs benny fanatic—if I see it or a variant on a menu I’m compelled to order it. So when I saw this recipe, I knew I had to have it. Her hollandaise instructions were easy and produced a nicely spicy sauce which worked well with the oozy eggs. When added to the spicy slabs of bacon and I was a very happy girl.

Peanut-crusted Chicken Breasts (p 131)
As I’m not really a mayonnaisey person I chose to not serve it with the suggested chipotle mayo (besides, I’d made the hollandaise for the eggs benny and an aioli for another dish). As nicely spicy-crunchy as the chicken was, it probably would have benefitted from a squeeze of lime in lieu of the sauce.

Tropical Pineapple Gazpacho (p 91)
Wow: gorgeous colour and sweet-hot-sour tasty goodness. This was incredibly easy—my only wish was that I was more patient and didn’t let it sit long enough—the leftovers which I had the next day—were so incredibly delicious.

Simply Delicioso promises on its delivery of delicious and simply-prepared Latin and Latin-inspired foods.

So how does it rate?
Overall: 3.5/5

The breakdown:
Recipe Selection: 4/5
Writing: 2/5
Ease of use: 4/5
Yum factor: 4/5
Table-top test: Lies flat

Kitchen comfort-level: Novice
Pro: Allows home cooks to easily prepare delicious Latin and Latin-inspired food
Con: Don’t get caught up in the exposition.


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Deborah said...

I have to admit - I can't stand her on her tv show, so I've never even paid attention to her recipes. It's funny, because most people find Rachael Ray annoying, but I can watch her over and over, but I can't watch 5 minutes of Ingrid's show. But the food does look great - so maybe I should give that a try!

glamah16 said...

The book sounds great. Like Deborah I wasnt a fan per say. Didnt hate the show, didnt love her either.Too slick and sexy. But Im liking the look of these strong recipes.The pineapple gaz[acho lloks like heaven.

Peabody said...

I don't even really like Latin food (I am allergic to a lot of it) but some of those look so darn good that I am so going to check it out when I am at the bookstore next. That shrimp is seriously making me drool.