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Tom's Big Dinners

Big Time Home Cooking for Family and Friends
by Tom Douglas
(With Ed Levine, Shelley Lance, and Jackie Cross)

Tom's Big Dinners: Big Time Home Cooking for Family and Friends

Seattle is a great restaurant town. There's always somewhere new to try, where you can get creative, unpretentious food, backed by strong culinary talent. Tom Douglas is a big player up there. He and his wife, Jackie Cross, own and operate three consistently top-rated restaurants: Dahlia Lounge, Etta's Seafood, and Palace Kitchen. A few years ago, he captured the Seattle food experience in his first cookbook, Tom Douglas' Seattle Kitchen. Now, Douglas (with Ed Levine, Shelley Lance, and Jackie Cross) gives us something new to appreciate with Tom's Big Dinners: Big Time Home Cooking for Family and Friends.

Depending on your frame of mind, Tom's Big Dinners is either an incentive or easy excuse to eat big and often with plenty of friends and family around the table. Douglas should know. He grew up in a large family, with plenty of noise, house rules and three square homemade meals every day. Food and conversation were plentiful, and it's clear that he loved it enough to capture it in a cookbook. Like Marion Cunningham (Lost Recipes), he advocates slowing down and appreciating life, with food as the impetus. And that's exactly what Tom's Big Dinners celebrates in 13 large-meal-oriented chapters.

Tom's Big Dinners opens with a heartwarming introduction and a simple discussion of basics, including instructions for making Chicken Stock and Chicken Demiglace. Douglas then launches into a full menu for a Chinook Salmon Roast. It starts with Mom's Crab Dip on Russet Potato Chips, followed by Whole Salmon on the Grill Stuffed with Sea Salt, Lemon, and Onion; Hazelnut Rice Salad with Parsley and Artichokes; and a toothsome Butternut Squash Gingerbread. This menu, as are all throughout the book, is balanced with wine pairings that lean heavily in the direction of Washington State.

Next is A Chinese Feast—just how you would want to eat in Chinatown, with lots of intensely flavored bites to sample. Try a taste of everything including Sticky-Finger Ribs, Wok-Fried Clams with Chinese Black Beans, and Five-Spice Roast Chicken. It's neither challenging to find the ingredients nor difficult to prepare.

Tom's Big Dinners continues with 11 more clever, family-style meals. They're diverse, interesting and fun. A Wine Cellar Dinner starts with Goat Cheese Fondue with Toasted Bread and Apples, and ends with Chocolate Crêpes with Gewürztraminer Syrup. Columbia Crest provides the wine for each course. A vibrant ethnic meal can be found in Grandpa Louie's Dream Greek Vacation, and there's a nice surprise in the Czech-inspired Remembering Labuznik. How about Slow-Roasted Pork with Caraway Onion Gravy, and Bitter Orange Chocolate Mousse for Dessert?

Douglas sets out a compelling vegetarian meal in the Pike Place Market Menu, and its antithesis appears in the down-home Screen Door Barbecue. Dinner with Dale Chihuly is rustic and sophisticated, yet completely accessible-from Olive-Stuffed Flank Steak, and Wilted Escarole and Garlic-Fried Garbanzo Beans, to a Pine Nut Marzipan Tart.

Tom's Big Dinners is also big on clear cooking instruction, useful advice, helpful tips, food sources and wine suggestions. It's easy to follow and fun to read. While most recipes yield six to eight servings, don't pass on Tom's Big Dinners if there are only two at the table. Don't scale down the recipes, either. Eat well tonight and share the leftovers tomorrow.


Reviewed by Kevin Schoeler

(Updated: 01/08/09 SB)

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