Thursday, April 24, 2008

Cookbooks: Postcards from Portugal by Tessa Kiros

If I were going to dream up a an author of rich and gorgeous cookbooks with international flair, her background would look just like this: I’d have her born in London, for the flavors you can find there. (So many. And from everywhere.) I’d stick needles in a globe and say her mother should be from Finland and her father? Let’s make him a Greek-Cypriot. Then, when she was just a little kid, I’d have the whole family pack and move to… let’s say South Africa, just to blend still more flavors into the mix.

Tessa Kiros is, of course, the author described. She is at an early point in her career. Three previous books have been well received and widely acclaimed: Twelve, Falling Cloudberries and Apples for Jam. But Postcards from Portugal (Whitecap) is showstopping and though we’re only in the four month of 2008, I can’t imagine that it won’t be one of my picks for best of the year.

This is the whole package: a literary visit to a country via wonderful photos, a talented author’s carefully crafted musings and -- most important in a cookbook -- well considered recipes across the full table spectrum -- from essential basics of the cuisine to appetizers to dessert after a wonderful meal -- brilliantly photographed and shared with us in a way that is clear and easy to follow.

Highlights for me: the Coffee Steak is so simple, anyone could prepare it. But the balance of flavors make for a memorable meal, especially with Batatas A Murro (squashed potatoes) on the side. I adored the Gratineed Mussels and think they may well become one of my cocktail party standards. (Elegant, relatively easy and inexpensive, even for a crowd.) And the Tuna or Sardine Pate, which I initially thought fairly bizarre, but now can’t get enough of.

In all ways, Tessa Kiros’ Postcards from Portugal meets my criteria for a truly successful cookbook.

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