Book Review

Recipes from the Vineyards of Northern California

by Leslie Mansfield

Celestial Arts, P.O. Box 7123, Berkeley, CA 94707. 1999.
Appetizers: $9.95, paper, 128 pages, ISBN 0-89087-899-0.
Main Courses: $9.95, paper, 128 pages, ISBN 0-89087-891-1.
Desserts: $9.95, paper, 128 pages, ISBN 0-89087-892-7.
Or, buy these books now from Amazon.com: Appetizers Main Courses Desserts
(Price/availability info may have changed since original publication of review.)

Reviewed by Bob Allen (11/1999)

As the "Year of the Grape" draws to a close, the recent three-volume series of excellent cookbooks (under the collective name "Recipes from the Vineyards of Northern California" but each sold separately), offers a true taste of the California wine country. They should appeal to readers interested in pairing food with wine, and the format of three separate volumes lends itself to gift-giving for the holiday season. An accomplished chef and graduate of the acclaimed Ecole de Gastronomie Francaise Escoffier in Paris, Leslie Mansfield has written several cookbooks and lives with her winemaker husband in the Napa Valley. Each book in this series is a compilation of about forty of the favorite recipes contributed by many people associated with the wineries. Approximately one-half of the recipes use wine as an ingredient. For the others, a wine is suggested to accompany the dish.

Fruits used in the "Appetizer" recipes include apricots, fresh figs, mangoes, oranges, avocados, pink grapefruits, dried figs, and dried pears. There are dips, stuffed figs, stuffed mushrooms, quesadillas, tarts, grilled prawns, salads, and soups.

The "Main Courses" use the following fruits: papaya, pear, mango, kiwi, pineapple, and peach. Blackberry jam and peach chutney add to the "panoply of complex flavors" in the recipe for "Wild Duck with Port Sauce." Blackberry jam combines with orange juice, soy sauce and other ingredients in "Spicy Blackberry and Ginger Chicken," paired with Parducci Wine Estates Zinfandel.

The "Desserts" recipes are the most varied, with 25 different wines suggested in 44 dishes. Included are late-harvest dessert wines, fortified wines, dinner wines (both red and white), champagne, and liqueurs. Two recipes that I found particularly appealing are "Raspberry and Zinfandel Poached Pears" and "Plum and Raspberry Sorbet." Both of these linked beautifully with my own use of raspberries this summer, in combination with peaches (the classic Peach Melba idea), with plums, and with pluots -- those wonderful hybrids of plums and apricots.

This is an important point in the use of these recipes: they provide a great starting place for further experimentation. For example, you may not have the specific wine mentioned, or you may wish to omit the wine altogether. Substitutions of ingredients in these basically simple recipes should lead to tasty results.

My only criticism of these books is that the information on the suggested wines could be more detailed. The wine novice (and expert) will find many unfamiliar wines, and perhaps this is the way the author intended it. With these books in hand, inquisitive cooks will surely expand their knowledge of the wines of California. We raise our glass to toast the "Year of the Grape."


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