With a subtitle that says, “Big-time home cooking for family and friends” you can’t say that you haven’t been warned. Tom Douglas, with his wife Jackie Cross, is the owner of several restaurants in Seattle one of which, Etta’s Seafood, I’ve heard about for years from a friend that worked there some time ago. As is evident from the cover photograph, he’s a big man with a big appetite – the kind of chef that, in short, you’d trust to cook you dinner or to tell you how to cook your own dinner. Don’t go looking for any nouvelle cuisine in this book ‘cos you ain’t gonna find it. What you will find, however, are plenty of recipes that will make you want to march right into that kitchen of yours and start cooking for crowds.
Douglas writes by menu and the book has a total of thirteen adaptable menus for every (American) occasion, including Puget Sound Crab Feed, Screen Door Barbeque, Kat and Clay’s Merlot Release Picnic and Christmas Eve with the Dows. There are no dinners à deux here; rather this is a book to arrange events by. Plan your own adaptation of Pop Pop’s Winter Solstice, get half-a-dozen people over for A Chinese Feast or figure out where your local market is so that you can organise a Pike Place Market Menu.
Each menu starts off with a creative cocktail, a most civilised way to start a meal, and Douglas also gives suggestions on appropriate wines to go with the food. There are tips in the side margins and explanations of ingredients and techniques. After years of seeing kosher salt recommended in American recipes I now know why (because it tastes less harsh taste and salty than table salt) and how to make reductions to add intensity to the dishes I cook. One of the best things about this book is Douglas’ A Step Ahead section in each recipe where he details anything that you can prepare in advance – something I wish more cookbook writers would make use of.
Douglas is a proud champion of the best of local food producers and this book will be a wealth of information to anyone based in and around Seattle. The rest of us will have to settle for trying a glass of his Homemade Bianco on the Rocks with a Twist followed by – to do a little menu mixing – some Sweet and Hot Fried Almonds, Spring Chickens with Green Marinade and Sweet Pea Risotto, topped off with Bitter Orange Chocolate Mousse. What’s not to like?
Tom’s Big Dinners by Tom Douglas is published by Morrow Cookbooks.