Monday, November 10, 2008

Review: Menu del Dia

I recently received an email from a Simon & Schuster staffer offering me a review copy of Menu del Dia: More Than 100 Classic Authentic Recipes From Across Spain by Rohan Daft. Being a mooch, I gladly accepted. I got buried in some personal drama and forgot all about it, until last Friday this little pouch arrived from the postal carrier. It came right in the middle of lunch prep (just like the Alinea book did), and so it got tossed to the catch-all chair on the side wall. At some point Tyler opened it (if he were a cat, his curiousity...) and flashed me the cover.

Now, over in eG-land (not to be confused with eGland), I've participated in many discussions about what makes a good cookbook. I have a well formulated opinion on the matter that starts with my arbritary decision that there are three types of cookbooks. First is the coffee table book. The photos are gorgeous, but who gives a rat's butt if you'll cook out of it. Those books are just for inspiration and dreaming. (I've heard many say that Alinea falls in that category - not for me.) Second is the over-the-top-too-technical-too-many-ingredients-too-many-steps cookbooks that we all want to enjoy, but simply can't or won't. (I've heard many say that Alinea falls in that category - not for me.) These books often have wonderful photography and can easily be the must have/must use book for a particular chef. And finally, there is the humble, low-budget cookbooks with sketches (not photographs), and no-frills, lets get down to cooking, stylings. These books are starting the race with one leg tied behind their backs. I would put my beloved Amernick Art of Dessert book in this category. Clearly the publisher is saying, "We like the book, but we don't really know if this author can sell, so let's put as little money into this as we can and watch what happens." And so they did - Menu del Dia falls into this category.

Please don't confuse my comments. A book in this latter category is probably never going to get noticed, nor sell well, but that doesn't mean it isn't a great book. I checked Amazon this morning to see how Mr. Daft was doing, and unfortunately not well. But it was telling that there were no reviews on Amazon yet (come on Mr. Daft, that's what family and friends are for!). That told me that the uninspiring cover just wasn't drawing them in. I also should note that this $25US book is already available for $8 used (hence the publisher sending them to bloggers to grab some attention and try to recoupe some of the investment.)

"Rob!" you say, "Don't shoot yourself in the foot by bad-mouthing the publisher. You'll never get another free book again." You know what? My guess is that some recipients will blow sunshine up our culinary asses about this book to stay on the good list, but ultimately not sell any books. Then there are those who get so many books that the book is forced onto the "To be read" pile and never gets read. But, I live with an author. I will give this book its time. Over the next month or so I will be making as many recipes as I can to test them and see if the book is worth the investment (hopefully more than the investment since it's already discounted).

And just as a quick pre-note, last night we had nothing to prepare for dinner. Tyler was rushing out the door for an activity, and I said I would make dinner - one of my Hail Mary dinners from no ingredients. My first thought, "Let's see what Mr. Daft would do." I had some tilapia (nasty, dirty fish) and onion...that was about it, but being the owner of a specialty food store, I had pretty much any spice imagineable. Page 104 opened wide: Alubias Blancas con Almejas (White beans with clams). Mind you, I didn't have white beans nor clams, but I had that tilapia and a can of black eyed peas. I learned about picada (bread crumb/nut mixtures) used to flavor and thicken soups. And I ended up with a very good soup that was fast and simple.

Not being a slave to recipes, this was a good start. Mr. Daft even made tilapia taste good! We'll be working a slew of recipes into our menus and I might even make Spanish my weekly special at the cafè to give it a more public testing (my customers trust me). So stay tuned and let's give this book its due.


Manggy said...

Ah, so let me get this straight-- there is no book that has too many steps or too many ingredients for you ;)
Actually Flo Braker books are to be included in the third category (I mean, her latest book has color plates. What is this, the 60's?!) but man, is it full of great stuff for the home baker. As far as I know, they don't do badly sales-wise. Maybe they wanted to keep the price manageable.
I hope the book ultimately proves to be a great one. But actually, I think the humble Tilapia is not a bad fish at all to cook with :)

Gfron1 said...

I hope so too - we can use a dietary shake-up. Of course it is seafood intensive so we'll have to pass on most of those recipes. And as for tilapia...its a flavorless, dirty little fish. Nasty creatures really. But, we still eat it when we have to since we have a case in the home freezer (I booted it out of the cafè).

Manggy said...

I hope they are not skinless fillets. That would be pointless! To have a whole fish sprinkled with rock salt and deep-fried until crispy all over is a treat. Dipping sauce is soy sauce with calamansi/lemon and a crushed chili pepper, or UFC Banana Ketchup. Simple joys :)

Of course, the gill/lateral fin area tastes pretty gross. I always avoid it, ha ha ha.

Lorraine E said...

That's brilliant that they are asking you to review their book. I think more publishers should ask bloggers, after all we're the ones most likely to actually road test a recipe on our blogs.

Gfron1 said...

I agree that blogging is a great way to get your book out there, but think about some of the blogs you visit. There are many that, while I enjoy reading, I wouldn't trust to review a book. I'm honored to be include, and now I feel a responsibility. Not a responsibility to Simon & Schuster, but to the author who put his time and talents into the book. Again, it comes from having an author spouse. Anyway....I'll have fun testing out this book. (he says remembering that manggy never bought the Amernick book that I spent disproportionate time glowing over.)

Manggy said...

Haha! Never you mind, Rob. The price of TAOTD here was decreased from an astronomical $42 to $38. Yay? For the original price of TAOTD I might as well get Alinea! I usually wait for the price to get much, much lower before I buy it. (i.e., with a big sale or if I spot it in damaged goods) Doesn't mean I still don't want to try Amernick's recipes... Eventually. Will be much easier when I have a job, lol.