After home cooks get past their fear of frying -- and sauteing, and broiling, and roux-making -- that's when the real fun starts.
Once they graduate from rookie stage and earn confidence, becoming adept at turning chosen recipes into dinner without much stress, they turn their minds to menus. That's where a certain breed of cookbook comes in handy.
"The Cook's Book of Intense Flavors" can give cooks who have mastered the basicsenough ideas for a year's worth of dinner parties. Written by Robert and Molly Krause, a husband-and-wife culinary team who ran a much-lauded Kansas restaurant, this is a cookbook that will make you stop flipping pages and find a pencil, to take notes.
"Intense" doesn't have to mean "over the top"; here, it seems to signal a bent away from comfort food and toward interesting combinations you probably never have tried. The book offers more than 100 recipes and useful techniques, but its most important contribution to your shelf could be as a framework for improvisation. Its main unit is the flavor trio, like asparagus-nut-cheese or berry-citrus-cheese. Each trio is illustrated in a recipe, with variations.
Those trios are grouped into seven sections, each labeled for the general sensation you would like the eater to experience. "The chapters try to cluster flavor profiles to evoke a sense of taste that can often be hard to describe," the introduction says.
Dishes in the "Timeless with a twist" section tweak established flavor pairings, like adding vanilla to apple and horseradish for a creamy horseradish-spiked apple sauce, scented with vanilla bean, for pork or chicken.
Browse through "Unexpected Pleasures" (tomato, brown sugar, coffee, OK; chestnut, miso, orange -- really?). "Complex Connections" are more traditional, like blue cheese, pear, nut, or the lobster, cream, smoked paprika in Deconstructed Lobster Bisque.
"Bright and Light" offers ideas for fresh tastes (a salad of apple, fennel, lemon; apricots simmered in honey and thyme). "Sweet and Sour" draws on both international tastes (tea, lime, sugar in Tea-and-Lime Cured Salmon) and homey tastes (bean, bacon, vinegar as Kicked-Up Navy Beans).
"Exotic Flavors" offers samples of well-enjoyed combinations from around the globe. Sumac, sesame and thyme are the backbone of the Za'atar Roasted Chicken, a nod to the classic Lebanese spice blend, while pumpkin seed, chile pepper and garlic power a Mexican Pumpkin Seed Salsa.
The book finishes with "Decidedly Decadent," combinations and dishes that offer the "biggest, richest flavor possible." Pumpkin, foie gras and truffle end up as Foie Gras Stuffed Pumpkin with Truffled Toast. Whether you would want to serve a whole foie gras as an appetizer is open to question -- but there is no doubt it is intense.
The Cook's Book of Intense Flavors
By Robert and Molly Krause
Fair Winds Press
288 pages, $26