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Monday, May 28th, 2001


Off the Eaten Path: Inspired Recipes for Adventurous Cooks


A review by Dave Weich

Cooking great food need not be a serious, straight-faced endeavor. Bob Blumer (a.k.a. The Surreal Gourmet) understands this basic truth.

Consider Blumer's "Slammin' Salmon Extravaganza," which begins with a raspberry martini and finishes with a grilled raisin bread, stilton & pear sandwich for dessert. In between, a sweet and fiery pepper-crusted maple-glazed salmon is supported by two delicious, talk-provoking sides: "gee, your beet smells terrific" and "(i can't believe it's not) creamed corn." Total prep time is two hours, the author tells us, with time off while the beets bake only twenty-five minutes of preparation once your guests arrive. For this meal and others in the chapter, Blumer recommends music to cook, dine, and wash by.

"Guests feed off your energy as much as your food," Blumer explained when he was in Portland last August. "I think that's always an important thing to remember. Sometimes people spend so much time worrying about making recipes or following recipes that they forget the vibe is really what makes or breaks the evening. Good food ups the ante on that they'll have that much more fun but it's really energy that people should be feeding off. At a good party, it is."

Toward that end, "Not Luck Dinners" offer a new take on the potluck: instead of each guest bringing a separate item, guests bring ingredients, elements of the host's menu. Ever helpful, Blumer batches ingredients so you can assign one to each guest. Few cost more than ten dollars. It's important that everyone brings a component of the meal, Blumer explains, "so that they feel they have a stake in the successful outcome of the evening."

Another chapter presents culinary accompaniments to great movies. "Cinematic Suppers," he calls them: five dinner-and-a-movie double features including Eat, Drink, Man, Woman and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.

Most of the meals in Off the Eaten Path are meant to be prepared in the kitchen, but in case you ever want to grill lemongrass shrimp under the hood of your car, Blumer shows you how. And in the event you wind up stuck in a motel without so much as a hot plate, you'll know how to make a quick, hot breakfast on your iron. The back of the book contains a guide to matching wine with food and a series of general cooking and entertaining tips. Blumer's unique brand of food art decorates the pages throughout.

It's rare to find a cookbook that's equal parts practical, entertaining, and drool-inducing; this one is.

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