13 April 2009

On My Rickety Shelves: Gale Gand's Brunch

Thanks to the lovely people at Random House, a copy of this month's cookbook selection was delivered to my kitchen as part of Cookbook Spotlight.

Gale Gand’s Brunch!: 100 Fantastic recipes for the weekend’s best meal By Gale Gand with Christie Matheson
Clarkson Potter/Random House Canada
208 pages; $32

Each meal comes with its own baggage. Formal dinners evoke multiple courses of sometimes stodgy preparations, complete with esoteric place settings. Normal dinners—created under time constraints—may rarely see the entire family, together, at one sitting. Weekday lunches more often than not can be microwaved leftovers or unidentifiably consumables lifted from a frybasket hastily, wolfed in a cubicle while finishing up that report or this presentation. Breakfast (for those of us who care to break the fast) may be a quick pre-packaged grab-and-go affair or simply a highly caffeinated liquid meal.

And then there’s brunch.

Brunch: the hybrid early-ish meal that’s neither breakfast nor lunch. It combines languidness with occasion. Yes, I fully realise the oxymoronic overtones I imbue the meal, but it is a repast that can incite contrary behaviours. At a time when meals are increasingly solitary events, brunch gathers a crowd—whether it’s a crowd of two or 12. It’s celebratory and social. Those whose first instinct is to avoid a proper morning meal and quite possible treat the mid-day break as an opportunity for errand-running or brisk-walking will make time for a table featuring waffles and poached eggs, brown sugared bacon, tartlettes, light soups, pastries and grilled sandwiches.

It is, quite possibly, one of my favourite reasons to eat. As if I ever really need a reason to eat.

Gale Gand, James Beard Award-winner pastry chef, restauranteur and American TV personality, takes on brunch in her sixth cookery book Gale Gand’s Brunch! 100 Fantastic recipes for the weekend’s best meal. Her inspirations come from travelling Europe and the US, taking with her ideas rooted in “a hot milky cup of coffee served with warm butter pastries and intensely flavoured jams.” She presents it as a near-perfect entertaining meal, one that’s sweet and savoury, easy and relaxed.

Her recipes cover a number of topics, including drinks, eggs, breads, savouries, salads and condiments. Not all her recipes are photographed—and Ben Fink’s images are quite lovely—but as someone who rarely allows fripped imagery to sway a cooking decision, this doesn’t bother me (yet I suspect those who use images as a crutch to preparing new-to-them foods may see it as a detriment).

Apart from generally being clear and accessible, the recipes can offer inspiration beyond the same-old same old. Gand helps home cooks go beyond traditional and sometimes predictable flavours to delicious and sometimes inspired combinations, from ginger scones with peaches and cream to roasted pears and rhubarb with orange to watermelon gazpacho.

I think her strength is her ability to take something simple and with a little bit of zhuzhing, turn it to something slightly out of the ordinary. For example, from her basic omelette—seasoned eggs cooked in a pan—to easy and elegant fillings including tri-colour bell pepper, ham and cheddar; oven roasted tomatoes, scallion and goat cheese, and caviar with crème fraîche.

I tried to choose wisely in my recipe selection, by varying dishes as a good representation of what she offers: easy and involved, food and drink, as well as differing main focal ingredients. In general, the recipes I tried produced tasty foods, but in a couple of instances I thought were a little too fussed for me, or could have grabbed me more. I suppose if you are cooking to impress, then a certain amount of extra steps are necessary, but if I’m inviting you for brunch, my goal is not to impress. My goal is to visit with you and have a meal at the same time.

Baked eggs in ham cups (p68)
This is a fancy way of doing oeufs en cocotte. Here, I didn’t follow the recipe exactly as written: the ham I had wasn’t big enough for the muffin bowls I think Gand called for, so I prepared them in cupcake tins, which means I could only break one egg into the hammy bowl. I also didn’t have little tomatoes, so instead used a sundried tomato pesto, instead of basil pesto. It was tasty and relatively easy, but I think I’d prefer to do them in little ramekins and not deal with removing them from the cupcake tray.

Cranberry-Almond Granola (p102) This was a perfectly adequate breakfast cereal, but it was slightly lacking—I would remove some of the oatmeal and introduce sunflower seeds and perhaps some flax seeds to the mixture. I’ve had it for breakfast every day for a week, either with warmed milk or vanilla yoghurt, and haven’t tired of it.

Hot Cocoa with brown sugar (p22)
Quite honestly…once you try this, you’ll probably not go back to powdered mix again.

Torta Rustica (p65)
Augh. Maybe it was my mood, but this was fussier than it needed to be. AND it seemed to take a full afternoon to assemble. AND I could have done it with one sheet of puff pastry instead of two. It was very pretty when sliced—with strata of ingredients nearly perfectly set—and quite the tasty main dish. It would pair nicely with a green salad with balsamic vinaigrette.

Gand takes the home cook from basics and then with a few switches leads them through deliciously simple variations that will satisfy both the cook and guests alike

So how does it rate?
Overall: 3.75/5
The breakdown:
Recipe Selection: 4/5
Writing: 3.5/5
Ease of use: 3.5/5
Yum factor: 4/5
Table-top test: Lies flat

Kitchen comfort-level: Novice-intermediate
Pro: Solid basic recipes that can be tweaked to taste or adventure level.
Con: Just thinking of that torta makes me tired.


AddThis Social Bookmark Button


cath said...

Fantastic Jasmine! Okay, so now I know NOT to make that torta. Two babies -- already tired and not enough time. :-)

NKP said...

I am loving that shot of the hammy cup egg! So oozy, just calling out for a little toast corner to be dipped in it!

Dewi said...

Sounds really delicious idea for brunch.

Coco Bean said...

Oh I love Gale Gand. Great rundown of the book, I will have to look for it.

RC said...

It looks wonderful! I will have to look for it.

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

I see we feel the same about brunch.
Loved those baked eggs.

Rumela said...

Wow!! Your torta rustica came out beautiful. The colors look great. my mouth is watering looking at your pictures. I am going to make it for this holidays when my kids & my hubby will be at home. I'll be sure that what they are eating is healthy. thank you for shearing your post.