Bromberg Bros. Blue Ribbon Cookbook: Better Home Cooking
For any cookbook author, figuring out your audience can be tricky. When you’re writing a book of restaurant recipes, you may assume the audience is people who love your food—but what can you tell about how well they can cook?
This seems to be one of the dilemmas for the authors of Bromberg Bros. Blue Ribbon Cookbook, which is filled with recipes from the brothers’ nine restaurants. A quick first flip through the book may have readers questioning why anyone needs a recipe for sweet potato purée (ingredients: sweet potatoes and butter) or sautéed spinach (spinach, butter, salt, and pepper). For readers who do need that basic cooking guidance, what will they make of recipes for beef marrow bones, served with an oxtail marmalade, or a pupu platter that requires grilling ribs, making deep-fried pierogi from scratch, and deep-frying egg rolls and chicken skewers?
To those who love the restaurants, the seeming hodgepodge of recipes will make some sense: They want the book to divulge the secrets of their favorite dishes, no matter their difficulty. For other readers, if they can get past the too-easy or flavor-challenged choices, this book provides a few good recipes.
There is a lot to skip: Recipes for hummus, cream of tomato soup, profiteroles, strawberry sundaes, and almonds roasted with cumin offer little new inspiration. And a few recipes don’t make sense, such as the Braised Beef Short Ribs with Succotash. The short ribs, as the authors rightly note, would be perfect for a cold winter night. Where, though, on that chilly evening would a home cook find fresh fava beans and ears of corn worth cooking for a summery succotash?
Some recipe details seem off. Directions in the scookies recipe (a cookie-like scone) call for forming dough into a 2-inch-thick circle that should be 8 inches in diameter. At best, this amount of dough yields a 6-inch round that’s 1 inch thick. (The recipe also called for a surprisingly large range in baking time, from 15 to 25 minutes.) The fried chicken recipe calls for 6 cups of oil, to measure 3 inches deep in a large pot. Without calling for a specific pot, this is tricky; better to call for a range of oil (a test of the recipe took 8 cups and still wasn’t 3 inches deep, but it was enough to fry). And the egg roll recipe calls for wonton wrappers. Typical wonton skins are too small; these needed egg roll wrappers.
Some recipes, though they worked, left diners wanting more. Those egg rolls desperately needed a vegetable to lighten the chicken filling, along with more than ½ tablespoon each of hoisin sauce and sesame oil for flavor. (This recipe also called for 2 tablespoons of chopped celery leaves; are average cooks really going to buy a bunch–or two–of celery just for that?) Their pupu-platter partner, chicken skewers, cried out for flavor. A brushing of underwhelming barbecue sauce just didn’t do it, despite the beer, ketchup, maple syrup, and honey in the sauce. (And again, the sauce called for ¼ cup cola. Does a cook really need to buy a can of soda just for that? Its contribution to the taste seemed scant at best.)
An eggplant and asparagus salad provided more punch, but from an overly oily dressing. The fried chicken, which uses matzo meal for crunch, proved somewhat better, though the dried spices sprinkled on after frying, tasted raw and were tough to distribute evenly (cooks will have a hard time “coating” eight chicken pieces with 1 teaspoon of seasoning). The buttermilk pancakes don’t break any new ground, but they worked fine.
After so many recipe let-downs, the baklava came as a happy success. Kataifi (finely shredded phyllo) gave a crunch that standard phyllo sheets can’t, and the citrus-scented honey syrup finally provided full flavor, without baklava’s usual toothache-inducing sweetness.
With more than 100 recipes, this book will work best for experienced cooks who can skip the easiest recipes and adjust others to their liking. Everyone else may want to stick to eating at the restaurants. Sharon Kebschull Barrett is a food writer and the author of Desserts From an Herb Garden and Morning Glories (St. Martin’s Press). She is also the owner of Dessert First, a custom bakehouse.