If ever a cookbook belonged in a gift basket instead of in your kitchen library, Loaves, Cakes & Quiches (Hachette Illustrated, 2003, $9.95) is it.
Compiled by the monomial Ilona and beautifully illustrated with the photographs of Akiko Ida, it is a slim and pretty collection of recipes for desserts, breakfast breads and quiches, and the perfect addition to a shower or wedding present.
Though it includes some interesting variations - pumpkin-and-cheese quiche, Roquefort, pear and walnut loaf - and some old favorites - tarte tatin, strawberry and rhubarb tart - it is not comprehensive or well edited.
It includes some helpful hints, such as using bicarbonate of soda as a raising agent in sweet cakes, and an occasionally informative glossary of terms.
But the recipe for bacon, sausage and cheese loaf, which was a hit with my meat-and-potatoes crowd, did not specify whether the sausage and bacon called for was precooked weight or not.
I also chose to try the recipe for spinach-and-ricotta quiche and was glad I did. The ricotta and sour cream made the filling rich and smooth, not stringy the way quiche made with hard cheeses can be. It was delightful. (Shortcut: I used a store-bought pastry crust from the refrigerator section and my own quiche pan.)
The book is part of a new collection issued by a new publisher out of Great Britain whose parent company, France's Hachette, is known for its wine and food guides.
The other books in the "With Friends" collection include the equally slim and pretty Crepes, Blinis & Pancakes, Tartares & Carpaccios, Tiny Tastes & Mini Bites and Crumbles.
Put together or coupled with the kitchen utensils called for, these books make an attractive gift for a young couple whose first cooking adventures might be made in the name of entertaining. But they won't complete anybody's kitchen library.
Spinach-and- Ricotta Quiche
Makes 6 to 8 servings
2 cups all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
4 ounces unsalted butter, diced
1 teaspoon sour cream
1 pound fresh spinach
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
8-ounce tub ricotta
1/2 level-cup sour cream
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
salt and pepper
To make the crust: Put the flour and salt into a large bowl. Add the butter and with a knife cut it into the flour until evenly distributed. Then use your fingertips to rub the fat lightly into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Whisk together the egg and sour cream and add gradually to the crumb mixture (you may not need to use all of it).
Using a spatula or knife, work the mixture together, then use your fingers until you have a smooth dough. Shape into a ball, put into a plastic bag and refrigerate for 1 hour before using.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter a removable-bottom tart pan. Roll out the dough and use to line the pan. Prick all over with a fork. Refrigerate until needed.
To make the filling: Wash the spinach, remove the stems and pat dry. Heat the butter in a large pan. Add the spinach and cook for about 8 minutes. Transfer to a colander, drain thoroughly, and squeeze out as much water as possible, then chop coarsely.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, ricotta and sour cream. Stir in the spinach. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper.
Pour into the crust shell and bake for about 40 minutes until firm and golden. Let cool slightly before serving.
Per serving: 371 calories; 12 grams protein; 24 grams fat; 14 grams saturated fat; 28 grams carbohydrate; 1 gram fiber; 165 milligrams cholesterol; 132 milligrams sodium