I barely had time to glance at it before I left on a business trip. And, I'll be honest, I was skeptical. The book comes from Sur La Table (and is written by a lovely food writer named Marie Simmons) and is based around the gear you have in your kitchen. Hmmmm, Sur La Table puts out a a book whose recipes are based on cooking implements. I smelled a marketing ploy.And then I went to New Orleans for the International Association of Culinary Professionals conference and found myself on the very first night sitting next to Marie Simmons, the author of the book. She is absolutely delightful, extremely knowledgeable, and a great dinner companion. We both had that Speckled Trout Amandine.
I asked her point blank about my suspicions and she told me about how the book came to be, making me feel much better about the book.
It was of paramount importance to her that each recipe's implement suggestions included alternatives. Take, for example, the recipes for using a tagine. Simmons suggests a Dutch oven or a braiser. I might have gone even further to suggest any oven-safe pan covered tightly with foil. It was also critical, Marie told me, that they book not tout brand names. And it doesn't. Sure, most of what you find in the pages is available at Sur La Table.
Getting past the fraction of the book that is actually dedicated the kitchen implements, you'll find original recipes, tips on things like making bread crumbs, how to cut a mango (or read it here) and how to trim an artichoke, and a rundown on various ethnic pantries (The Mexican Pantry includes a list of all those confusing dried chile varieties).
This would be a great book to give a newlywed, or someone just starting their first kitchen who may be faced with gifts they don't necessarily know how to use. So, if you do find yourself owning a tagine, you at least can read about how to use and care for it before deciding to return it.
I might add that if you do decide to return that tagine and it came from a store that carries Things Cooks Love (like Sur La Table), get the book instead. Or come back on Thursday when we'll be giving away five copies.