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Front Burner | Cookbook Watch

The Coconut Cake Queen Goes Natural

January 16, 2002|BARBARA HANSEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In 1995, Anne Bunch wrote a little book called "Cooking With Garlic." At that time, Bunch, who lives in the Santa Ynez Valley, was cooking at a restaurant in Los Olivos called the Side Street Cafe. Customers flocked there for her versatile and imaginative dishes and raved about her desserts, including a luscious coconut cake filled with pastry cream and mascarpone cheese, frosted with whipped cream and coated with coconut. That recipe appeared in a Times Food section story about Bunch in 1996 and was voted one of the 10 best recipes printed during the year.

"Cooking With Garlic" is now out of print, but the coconut cake has survived. It is reprinted in Bunch's latest book, "A Muse Came to Dinner," along with a new group of recipes as thoughtfully composed as those in the prior book.

Bunch now cooks for the deli at New Frontiers Natural Foods in Solvang. Some of the recipes in "Muse" cater to vegans and people with special dietary needs; however, it is not a diet or vegetarian cookbook. The dessert chapter--one turns there immediately, thinking of the cake--starts with fudge brownies and includes a rich apple cranberry upside-down cake, raspberry hazelnut bars that take three sticks of butter and a triple chocolate cake, along with wheat- and dairy-free desserts.

Meat, poultry and fish appear in the main dishes, but Bunch's alternatives include a butternut squash and caramelized onion torte with an almond crust; a mushroom and goat cheese strudel; and a broccoli, mushroom and cheese quiche baked in a puff pastry crust.

The word "muse," meaning a guiding spirit, fits the book because Bunch has laced it with inspirational passages that apply to cooking as well as to personal challenges. The introduction is called "The Meditation of Cooking." Missy Collier of New Frontiers did the graphics and contributed some recipes, including cheesecake brownies. Betty Seaman was the illustrator. Photos of Bunch, her collaborators and recipes from the book, including a roasted beet and baby spinach salad, a cucumber feta salad and blackened salmon, are on the back cover.

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"A Muse Came to Dinner" can be ordered by mail. The price is $29.70, which includes California state tax, shipping and handling. Make checks payable to New Frontiers and send to 1984 Old Mission Drive, Suite A-7, Solvang, CA 93463.

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