A Bite Between the Covers
Cooking Secrets Mid-Atlantic & Chesapeake, by Kathleen Devanna Fish
reviewed by M.L. Faunce

Kathleen Fish can't keep a secret. And that's good news for those interested in learning what's behind menu specialties of selected "notable" restaurants and inns in our region. Included are signature and specialty dishes - not just for hard- or soft-shelled blue crab we're told, but oysters, fowl, meats and main courses from soup to desserts for final temptations.

What's mostly tempting about the 225 kitchen-tested recipes adapted for home use (and generally proportioned for four servings) from 58 "great chefs" is the relative simplicity of selections offered. The easy-to-use format includes preparation and cooking times.

The "whispered recipes" are of an appealing variety, reflecting of the region encompassing Maryland, Delaware, Washington, D.C., New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. It's not hard to tell where a few recipes hail from: peanut soup, sweet potato biscuits, German potato salad, pistachio-crusted soft-shell crab.

Many of the recipes served up from our "historically fertile area" sound more upscale continental than regional. Cooking Secrets takes us to Philadelphia for escargot in puff pastry with pernod, garlic and cream; to the District of Columbia for octopus and squid stew with tomato confit; to Maryland for caramelized onion and goat cheese tart with pear coulis; and on to New Jersey for another confit, this one haricots verts, endive and duck confit salad. You can travel up to Berkeley Springs, West Virginia for marinated portobello mushrooms.

Which proves that nowadays, you can think locally and eat globally right in our own backyard. And while some recipes may capture the "spirit of the region," they don't necessarily capture the local flavor, with the exception of the comforting and appealing breakfast, bread and soup offerings with familiar sounding names and ingredients.

Seven restaurants and 13 inns represent Maryland. They are mostly well-known establishments, a number from Baltimore and the Eastern Shore. As soon as persimmons are ripe, I'm making persimmon pudding as served by Loews Annapolis Hotel.

On the Eastern Shore, a Tilghman Island Inn is represented by crab and mango Napoleon with raspberry-horseradish jam; rockfish and corn chowder; and porcini-seared rack of lamb with wild mushroom risotto. If such recipes sound too urban and urbane for little Tilghman Island, just imagine you've died and gone to Europe, where fine cooking is as common in towns and the country as in cities. And yes, these are as good as they sound.

Two of my favorite things about this well-organized cookbook of favorite recipes of outstanding local chefs: One, the easy-to-follow format. Two, that it doubles as a guidebook to some of the better known inns and restaurants of the Middle Atlantic and that magic word, Chesapeake.

Of course, add the name Chesapeake to nearly any book title and you'll likely find a ready audience - and not just for those of us living happily in Bay Country. Information on the inns, including rates and description, and artists drawings are distinctive touches, and the small selection of photos of plated dishes is quite pretty.

Kathleen Fish has struck on a winning recipe in her Cooking Secrets series, proving she can't keep a secret about most places, which is more good news for us. She's revealed chefs' favorites from California, Cap Cod, Florida, the South, Louisiana, Monterey, New England, Pacific Northwest, San Francisco and Around the World. Fish doesn't discriminate where the palette is concerned.

Still, after reading the book, I wanted to know a little more about how the author selected the restaurants and inns she's "hand-picked." Has she personally visited the restaurants, or stayed at any of the inns, which generally are already known in their area? I wonder who adapted the recipes for home-use.

If you use this cookbook as a guidebook, you'll likely be knocking on their door for more of their favorite dishes.

Cooking Secrets Mid-Atlantic & Chesapeake: $19.95 at your local bookstore or order at 800/255-6734.

| Issue 44 |

Volume VII Number 44
November 4-10, 1999
New Bay Times

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