Over the last 6 months or so my mother and I have both become quite taken with British Chef Gordon Ramsay. It seems that he has a permanent Monday night residency on FOX and I for one am -not- complaining (don’t judge me! :)) Realizing that if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, J has surprised me with not one, but two, of Ramsay’s publications! Ramsay’s Best Menus (which I’ll be reviewing in this post) and Healthy Appetite (which I’ll cover in the future). Both books feature easy to prepare, surprisingly delicately flavoured results (you’d think with such a potty mouth Ramsay would be prone to bold flavours, but it’s quite the opposite!).
Ramsay’s Best Menus features his favourite dishes from Italian, French, Spanish, Mediterranean, British, Chinese, Thai, SE Asian, Indian, Moroccan, Mexican and Middle Eastern cuisines. Can someone please give this man some good Caribbean food? But I digress 52 Menus are featured in the book, each consisting of a starter, main course and dessert, however they are presented in an innovative sliced page format which allows the reader to further reinterpret the offerings by mixing and matching, while keeping all the recipes on the ‘same page’ visually!
Here, I have kept the Thai menu’s menu course, but have decided to pick a different starter and dessert. See how everything stays on the same page. Innovative! (p.s. if, like me, you don’t eat crab, you can get a great default vegetarian filling for spring rolls, pows etc. here ;))
This formatting approach, while gorgeous and infinitely helpful when cooking, does present some challenges however, mainly navigation. Each recipe is numbered separately, in a downward vertical manner. This means that for a recipe numbered as say #27 in the index, you have to then figure out which ‘slice’ it falls in. This can get frustrating when dealing with little slivers of paper that are only ring-bound. Being mathematically challenged I have pretty much been able to determine that if the number is divisible by 3 (like our #27 example) that means I only have to search in the lower 3rd segment (desserts). As each segment represents either a starter, main course, or dessert, one can also shorten the search if the title of the recipe makes it obvious which section to flip through (Salmon with Pak Choi & Shiitake is an obvious main course, Broccoli Soup an obvious starter).
In addition to grouping the menus by region, Ramsay has also organized them by ‘seasonal’ appropriateness. Though this may be a helpful tool for those in temperate climates, fortunately for those of us in the tropics, the text designating each recipe’s calendar association is relatively small and unobtrusive.
One of the reasons that I adore Ramsay’s recipes is their simplicity. He reminds me a lot of Mario Batali in that respect. It does not hit you at first, but one of the reasons, three recipes can fit on a single page of Ramsay’s Best Menus is because his recipes are so concise. Ingredient lists are short and the steps are usually around 5. It’s a case where less is really more, and the technique will determine the final result. There is no hiding behind excessive sauces, sugars, or creams. This makes each dish even more exciting for me as I love a challenge!
So far every recipe that I have prepared from Ramsay’s Best Menus has been a huge hit and I really appreciate the international approach which he has taken without much reinterpretation or bastardization. That isn’t to say that I don’t then apply my own remix (so to speak). Where he uses nectarines, I may use mangoes for example. Use what’s fresh and on hand is my approach, and one that you shouldn’t be afraid to adopt either One caveat though, for vegetarian/vegan followers you will not find many main courses that are easy to adapt. The starters, though more customizable, are not enough to warrant the investment (in my opinion). Gluten-free cooks however will be glad to know that many permissible desserts, mains and starters are included
If you have avoided Gordon Ramsay because his manner/approach has not been to your liking I definitely recommend that you give Ramsay’s Best Menus a look through. You will be pleasantly surprised. Not just at the range of recipes which are presented, but their simplicity, and even more importantly the way he makes creating a mouthwatering dish with finesse and subtleties of depth almost effortless from start to finish.
My Verdict: Ramsay’s Best Menus – 3.5/5 (1.5 points deducted for confusing navigation, lack of vegetarian friendly recipes)
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