Vermont and the Caribbean island of Anguilla may not seem to have much in common. One is cold in winter and has lots of sheep, the other is a remote strip of land with beaches and tropical weather. But Melinda and Robert Blanchard will tell you the two are quite similar. There’s a simplicity to both places, they write in “At Blanchard’s Table” (Clarkson Potter, $32.50), and it’s their love for both that led to this book.
Subtitled “A Trip to the Beach Cookbook,” this full-color, somewhat slim collection of recipes is the companion piece to their first book, “A Trip to the Beach,” which told the story of how they fulfilled a dream of opening a Caribbean island restaurant.
You might not know of their other book as you pick this one up, which fairly jumps off the shelf into your hands with its good-looking color cover of some kind of glazed chicken. And because of its subtitle, you might expect a lot of sunny food. But the book has such a strongly split personality, it might have been better as two.
Vermont Cheddar soup, Vermont chicken and biscuits and hot chocolate share space with rum coladas, sweet potato soup and coconut curried chicken. On one page is a write-up “Beyond Maple Syrup” detailing food in Vermont; a couple of pages later is a full-page photo of staffer Clinton at the Anguilla restaurant.
It’s fine that the Blanchards can’t confine themselves to Anguilla because they’re so addicted to Vermont (or is it the other way around?) and that they’ve been lucky to have two places to call home. It just gets a little confusing for the reader, who might wonder why the book mingles what they cook in New England with their Caribbean restaurant food.
That’s not to say that the book doesn’t work, if -- like a movie with a silly premise -- you’re willing to just go with it. There’s greater variety among the recipes than you would expect in a “beach” cookbook, and there are recipes that would fit in anywhere. Oddly, the mix seems to work.
Anyone anywhere could make roasted beet salad with cranberry vinaigrette and blue cheese, shepherd’s pie or spaghetti with chicken, lemon and mushrooms. Presented in an appealing, friendly style, with easy-to-read type, the recipes just sound good. The book’s introduction says the recipes -- the Blanchards’ favorites from the restaurant and their life in Vermont -- are “similar in many ways to the people in those two places we love so much: honest, straightforward and easy to get along with.”
We won’t quibble with that. Gingerbread with warm cinnamon bananas and rum is terrific comfort food, with its sliced bananas in a rum sauce poured over the cake. And Caribbean cornbread with pineapple is one of the better cornbreads we’ve baked.
A few of the recipes gave us a little trouble, such as Blanchard’s signature lobster cakes, which had a wet, floury texture. And pan-roasted chicken with lemon, olives and rosemary wound up awash in thin sauce -- the chicken is simmered, rather than roasted.
What’s odd is that you’re left to guess where many of the recipes originated. Of course some are obviously from New England, and some are from the restaurant, where hummus is as typical of the menu as grilled lobster.
But it’s too bad the authors didn’t focus on what it’s like to run a restaurant on an island where all the food must be flown in.