Book Review: The Zuni Cafe Cookbook

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The Zuni Cafe Cookbook has quickly become a classic in our kitchen, and we know that it is in many of yours as well. After we mentioned Judy Rodgers' granitas last week we thought it would be good, though, to spotlight this book for those of you who have never picked it up.

Rodgers acquired her training in France and later at Chez Panisse. She's now the chef-owner of the Zuni Cafe in San Francisco, where she's become known for her own signature dishes in the seasonal California style. Rodgers' tone is gentle yet masterful; she's an excellent writer with a keen eye for detail in the kitchen, and she communicates her wealth of experience in these details without overwhelming.

The book is an excellent fusion between classic French technique and style, California ingredients, and Rodgers' own good sense for what people want to eat. Even though the book demands attention and care for its sometimes lengthy recipes, they don't feel fussy or overdone.

The recipes rely, of course, on fresh ingredients of the highest quality, and they have been good inspiration and an education in taste as well as practical. Rodgers spends quite a bit of time on technique and basic building block recipes too, with a whole section on the stocks that make up their soups and sauces. She gives lessons in sausage making, shares stories of her time as a young student at a three-star restaurant in France, and offers an entire chapter on eggs. She also endorses simple desserts; we've tried her oranges in a honey syrup with rosemary and it's a great way to finish off a heavy meal.

Her most famous dish is the Zuni roasted chicken and bread salad, and she gives the recipe here in full; it's fantastic and worth the price of the book. Even without the Zuni Cafe wood oven it's possible to make a really fantastic roast chicken; we've settled on this recipe as our favorite out of all the many we've tried.

We always learn something, cooking from this beautiful book! Do you have this? What do you like to cook from it?