Saturday, October 16, 2010

Cookbooks: The Comfort of Apples by Philip and Lauren Rubin

It’s possible I’d like The Comfort of Apples (Lyons Press) a whole lot better had it been given a different title. As things are, the title of this homespun apple cookbook is a little too close to food maven Ruth Reichl’s fabulous 2001 memoir, Comfort Me With Apples. The books could not be more unalike. Still, it’s difficult to not make the connection, like calling a book Peace of War or Punishment with Crime. It’s not the same thing at all, but the resonance is unmistakable.

Unsurprisingly for a book with a title this derivative, The Comfort of Apples is not as wonderful as one might expect. For a book that focuses on that most common of fruit, The Comfort of Apples features a surprising number of recipes that include meat and a surprising number of these recipes don’t include apples at all. For instance Crispy Duck and Egg Scramble doesn’t even sound good -- at least, not to me -- and the apple shows up in the form of two cups of cider which you reduce to a syrup. The whole production seems a little contrived and over the top for what is, essentially, scrambled eggs.

Like that earlier dish, Miso and Apple-Marinated Hangar Steak is too fussy and contrived, and the apple portion of the recipe seems like an afterthought. Seriously: does anyone at all think that a cauliflower-apple puree served with chimichrri sauce sounds like a good idea for a perfectly innocent piece of beef? And does Smoked Trout Mashed Potatoes sound good to you? Even with -- especially with? -- cider, there are certain simple things best left simple. Fish mashed potatoes would seem to me to be one of those.

Unsurprisingly, the non-savory offerings in The Comfort of Apples are far superior to those offering strange combinations of potatoes, apples, fish and meat. French Toast Tarte Tatin, for example, is a wonderful idea even if, here again, a simple thing is made to be quite complicated. German Apple Pancakes and Apple Pancakes are both tried and true combinations, actually quite well described here and the Potato and Apple Latkes almost make the whole endeavor worthwhile.

Overall, though, The Comfort of Apples was a disappointment to me. The best recipes were competent versions of standards I’ve seen described just as well in other books. For the most part, though, the book offers complicated preparations of recipes I can’t imagine anyone would ever want to make: Crostini with Clams, Bacon, and Apples. Tea-Steamed Duck with Cool Cucumber. Apple Risotto and one of the most complicated-looking recipes for gnocchi I’ve ever seen.

Hobby farmers with bushels of apples that they need to figure out what to do with might find recipes of use here but, for most of us, there are better and easier books. ◊

Aaron Blanton is a contributing editor to January Magazine. He’s currently working on a book based on his experiences as an American living abroad.

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Anonymous phil said...

Of course I disagree-I co-wrote the book. My issues with your review are many, but I'll just stick with the gnocchi comment: if you can find a simpler gnocchi recipe I'm happy to take a look-ours is as basic as it gets. Anyone who calls that complicated shouldn't be reviewing cookbooks.

Friday, October 22, 2010 at 9:42:00 AM PDT  

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