The Panel: Suzanne Podhaizer and Alice Levitt
The Book: All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking, by Molly Stevens. 481 pages. 150 recipes.
Suzanne - Creamy Braised Brussels Sprouts, Savoy Cabbage Gratin with Saint-Marcellin, Zinfandel Pot Roast with Glazed Carrots & Fresh Sage, Osso Buco alla Milanese
Alice - World's Best Braised Green Cabbage, Chicken & Dumplings
Suzanne - Before I discovered Stevens' book, I'd braise meat in a combination of broth and wine with aromatics, and would reduce the pan juices right before serving to make a rich sauce. In these recipes, though, the braising liquid is reduced before the pot is placed in the oven. That way, the ingredients are bathed in deeper flavor the entire time. I'll be doing it her way from now on.
Alice - I'm usually a little stingy with the salt when cooking at home, but Stevens' instructions to season at every step forced me to pile it on, and rightly so.
What Went Wrong?
Suzanne - Nothing, actually. I made the Brussels sprouts on Christmas, and my family demanded a repeat performance the next day. The Osso Buco and Savoy Cabbage were bigs hits. The pot roast was very nice, although it didn't stand out as much as the other dishes. I am not sure that the average American cook would consider this cooking "uncomplicated," though.
Alice - While the low-maintenance cabbage presented no problems, the chicken and dumplings was another matter entirely. I kept my stove at the heats that Stevens indicated, but still had too little braising liquid left at the end. Halfway through poaching my dumplings, they had absorbed it all save a few droplets. The recipe called for adding the sauce to a liaison, but I was forced to just throw in the cream and egg mix on its own, producing a skimpy sauce, which didn't even cover the chicken and dumplings.
Suzanne - I appreciate that Stevens gives certain measurements by volume and by weight, so that cooks with kitchen scales get a chance to use them. The recipes, many of which are lengthy, are divided into steps, which make them easy to follow. The chapters are organized by ingredient: vegetables, seafood, poultry & game, etc., which I prefer.
Alice - Amounts of ingredients were very clear and broken down into the sections of the recipe in which they were used. I took issue, however, with the fact that the recipes disclose how long it takes to doing the braising, but not the prep. When I made the chicken and dumplings, I ended up doing nearly an hour of work before placing the chicken in the pan and another half hour after removing.
Mix of Recipes:
Suzanne - I adore cooking big cuts of local meat for hours, until they're falling-off-the-bone tender. This book will keep me cooking all winter long.
Alice - The book is absolutely full of things I would like to cook. It took me and Suzanne ages to decide on who would make what when we went over the treasure-trove of recipes.