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`Dave's Dinners' by second string Food Network cooking show teacher, Dave Lieberman is an improvement over his first book, `Young & Hungary', since it discards any pretense of dealing with `economical' meals and does an earnest effort to focus almost exclusively on dinners, hence, the title of the book. This is one of those times when I wish Amazon would let me give four and a half stars, since:
1. I gave four stars to the first book and... this is better.
2. It is better in some ways than similar Food Network personality Tyler Florence's books, but not by much, and I've given them four and five stars.
3. It is not as good as Ted Allen's excellent `The Food You Want to Eat', which would seem to be addressed to a very similar audience.
One comment (not at all a criticism) I must make is that the facet of Lieberman's career which shows through in this book is not his TV persona as an economical cook, but rather his `day job' practice as a personal chef, where this job is primarily to make exciting and unusual dishes for people who either entertain a lot, or have very busy careers, and like to come home to a meal which is comparable to what they may find at an upscale restaurant, but without astronomical prices. So, the `true' theme of the book is fancy entertaining dinner dishes which will not be cheap, but which will not require taking out a loan on the house.
One thing I especially like about Lieberman's book (especially when compared to Florence's oeuvre) is its simple layout, to match its simple subject. Lieberman went with the `cutsie' organization in his first book. I am happy he has simplified things. The chapters are:
Drinks and Finger Foods, featuring five preparations for fancy homemade mixed drinks and 25 recipes for appetizers.
Salads, with 10 recipes with heavy French and Italian tastes and combinations.
Soups, with 7 recipes including a few from Southeast Asia and a simple clam chowder.
Poultry, with 10 recipes plus recipes for sauces and dressings. Two inexpensive turkey recipes.
Fish, with 8 recipes with new ideas for some very old French and Italian taste combinations.
Pasta, with 10 relatively conventional recipes, including baked dishes and a risotto.
Meat, with 15 beef, pork, and lamb dishes including North African tastes and techniques
Desserts, with 20 recipes, including some traditional Jewish favorites.
The high number of starter and dessert recipes confirms the notion that this book is a good source of ideas for dinner parties. This is highlighted by the fact that there are better than average photographs of about a third of the 60 main dishes and about a quarter of the 45 starter and dessert recipes.
This is an excellent book for someone who has no more than a dog-eared copy of `The Joy of Cooking' or a copy of Mark Bittman's `How to Cook Everything', and who has a reasonably well-equipped kitchen and confident skills with a knife and measuring tools. This last condition is that, unlike the previously mentioned book by Ted Allen, Lieberman gives relatively few hints and details about basic cooking technique. On the other hand, the recipes rely on the great wealth of French and Italian prepared foods such as wines, vinegars, cheeses, cured meats, pasta, and that great staple, bread. They also do not involve the kind of heavy lifting we find in Patricia Wells' latest book, `Vegetable Harvest' requiring food mills, china caps, mandolines, and large saute pans. But then, Wells' book is aimed at a different audience, which it addresses very well.
Lieberman's book also has a strong affinity to some aspects of Ina Garten's books, as Garten's main sub-theme is entertaining at home. But, `Dave's Dinners' is more modestly priced and has a greater respect for its readers to pick quality ingredients.
The person which will not get much from this book is the foodie who already owns twenty books of French cuisine, especially those from Wells, thirty books on Italian cuisine, two or more books from Martha Stewart and company on `Entertaining', and subscriptions to `Gourmet' or `Bon Appetit'. While Lieberman's recipes are all bright and delicious, they are not as original as one may think. I have seen several of the same general ideas in books by Wells, Lidia Bastianich, Gennaro Contaldo, and Giada DeLaurentiis. The advantage is that with Lieberman, we get many of these ideas from different cuisines in a single, reasonably priced book.
I would really look forward to a next book from Lieberman which was even more strongly focused on recipes for entertaining, possibly including menus.