The self-published cookbook, whether by the Junior League, an aunt or a church congregation, has become a popular sight in the age of desktop publishing. At the other end of the spectrum are slick, thick chefs' cookbooks, focused on the restaurant fare of their celebrity digs -- think Mario Batali's Babbo or Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill.
Somewhere in between falls the handsome new cookbook from local restaurant The Blue Star. A collection of recipes by chef James Davis Jr., The Blue Star Cookbook: Try This at Home is illustrated with gorgeous color and black-and-white photographs by Don Goede and Mike Jackson.
Davis is a wonderful, imaginative chef, and that alone gives the book a strong kickstart. Anyone who has eaten regularly at The Blue Star will be delighted to have some of these recipes, tested at home by area cooks. Those who haven't eaten at The Blue Star certainly will want to after reading the book.
While some of the recipes are simple -- the carrot cumin soup and the grilled lamb loin, for example -- many are sophisticated and call for homemade stocks or infused oils. Davis provides recipes for these items in the front of the book and offers suggestions for substitutes where possible.
The book's success is owed largely to its design, for which local jack-of-all-trades Goede gets credit. The recipe instructions are in a generously large print, and each page is organized with simple, clear logic. The number of servings the dish will make is prominent, as are cooking times and any requisite special equipment.
Moreover, the shape of the book lends itself to real use in the kitchen. The heavy-stock pages are wide enough to stay flipped open on a flat surface, and convenient cover flaps can be used as bookmarks.
Co-author Molly Wingate also deserves kudos for taking on such an expansive editing and organizing project. In addition to the recipe section, The Blue Star Cookbook offers a section on where to find ingredients, a glossary of cooking terms (complete with pronunciation guide) and an index of beers and wines.
At the heart of the book is chef Davis' creativity and the willingness of Blue Star owner Joe Coleman to let him run with it. Among the more adventurous and original recipes are wild mushroom loops served with fresh asparagus and red burgundy gastrique, a sugar syrup reduction of red wine and red wine vinegar.
The loops are phyllo dough sheets filled with a rich mushroom, basil and scallion mixture and rolled, then shaped into loops and baked. Any cook looking for a knockout holiday dish could impress with this one.
Desserts deserve a special mention as well. Chocolate figures prominently (chocolate bread pudding, chocolate espresso lava cake, chocolate cheesecake), but for my holiday table, I'm planning to make the gingerbread cake with raspberry salsa and whipped ginger cream.
-- Kathryn Eastburn
The Blue Star Cookbook: Try This at Home
By James Davis Jr. with Molly Wingate
$28/paperback; call 632-1086 or visit thebluestar.net.