Recipes 1-2-3 Menu Cookbook: Morning, Noon, and Night
by Rozanne Gold

1998. 310 pages, 360 recipes.

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"Menus have alwas been for me a deliciouskind of poetry, indelibly fixing a pleasurable moment in time. For after the meal is over, the menu remains." - Rozanne Gold

Roasted Beet Soup with Pickled Beet Greens

Chicken with Walnuts and Pomegranate Molasses

-Eggplant Flan

-Lemon Yellow Beans

-Butternut Squash with Leek Cream

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There's this mystique about French women and their sense of style, that with only a few well-made garments in their armoires they can create a wardrobe that radiates an enviable je ne sais quoi. I've always admired this sort of disciplined creativity, but I've never been able to pull it off.

Rozanne does with food what I wish I could do with clothes. She puts together brilliant creations from a few choice components: "fabulous food using only three ingredients". I first discovered Gold and her philosophy a few years ago when she published Recipes1-2-3. (see my review of it in the Cravings archives).

When I saw her new Recipes 1-2-3 Menu Cookbook, I couldn't wait to find out what new magical minimalism she could perform. She applies a finely tuned artistry to the task of menu composing that is way beyond the culinary imagination of most of us. (When was the last time you put together a menu keeping in mind "elements of flavor, texture, and weight" as well as its "emotive" qualities?) Each of her menus is inspired by a theme, "a narrative", such as "Lunch with Picasso", "A Poem for Autumn", "Unexpected Pleasures", and "In Honor of James Beard". She divides the book into three categories: breakfast, lunch, and dinner with multi-course menus for each meal (although all the lunches could fit into the dinner category).

This is definitely a book you want to have on hand when you're planning a dinner party. You've got an inspired menu already laid out for you (along with detailed wine recommendations); you've got a shopping list that will speed you right through the express line at Safeway; you're not stuck in the kitchen cooking all day. How great is that?

The Middle Eastern Dinner menu I made for company was a wonderful progression of exotic, stimulating courses; the Eggplant Flan and the Chicken with Walnuts and Pomegranate Molasses will become permanent dishes in my repertoire. (I think Gold is at her best when she's playing with Middle-Eastern flavors.) After such a shining success, the Dinner of Aromatics was a let down. This intriguing Indian-flavored menu was marred by the fact that the yogurt-marinated broiled butterflied leg of lamb was tough. As I was vigorously sawing through my portion of meat, I noticed my kind-hearted guests were trying not to show their own exertions with the task at hand. The meun's recipe for grilled goat cheese with mint was a refreshing twist on the usual goat cheese with baby lettuce salad....but I needed twice as much mint than the one cup the recipe called for. Over all, there are so many interesting hits in Recipes 1-2-3 Menus Cookbook, the rare misses are easy to forgive.

By limiting herself to three ingredients Gold abdicates the luxury of relying on multiple seasonings as flavor boosters. Instead she wrests every ounce of potential out of each ingredient by employing the perfect cooking technique and/or making brilliant matches with other ingredients. With the Roasted Beet Soup, Gold pumps up every single part of this humble root: the beets are roasted to enrich the flavor; the greens become delicious pickled accents and the pureed stems add body to the stock; the addition of buttermilk makes a perfect tangy counterpoint. I didn't have great expectations for the Lemon Yellow Beans (how great can wax beans with lemon juice and olive oil be?). Something about the way she balanced these simple elements made this unassuming side dish a favorite, even with my father who has rarely been known to comment on a vegetable.

Sometimes when I'm flipping through cookbooks in a store I'm muttering "same old, same old" when I come across so many recipes that looking dull or familiar (or both). I rarely feel that way when I'm reading Recipes 1-2-3 Menus; Gold's ingenuity, simplicity, and cooking wisdom is inspiring.