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In Dining

Milwaukee author Linda Linda Mutschler and her book "Fast Track to Fine Dining."

New local cookbook is the ultimate fine dining guide

To a lot of people, Linda Mutschler's job as an equity analyst on Wall Street sounds intimidating -- the complex number crunching, the risky portfolio advice, the long hours.

But it wasn't until she retired from her career in 2005 and moved back to Milwaukee that she says the real challenge began.

"I didn't know how to cook, at all," says the wife and mother of two who was ranked the No. 1 wireless services analyst for Merrill Lynch in the U.S.

Defining her four major food groups as "pizza, spaghetti, microwave popcorn and Cheerios," Mutschler was starting from scratch in the kitchen, and if she wanted to invite guests to her table, she was going to need a full-fledged gastronomy guide.

When her search for said guide fell short, she decided she'd write it herself.

This, of course, would take practice.

"I started cooking four or five things a day," she says. She also registered for wine tastings, collected feedback from friends and neighbors and sent her husband to flower arranging classes.

"I constantly cooked," she says of her three-year test and trial period. "In 2007 we had 30 dinner parties, which is about one every 12 days."

Her do-it-yourself approach eventually morphed into meal mastery. This January, her book "Fast Track to Fine Dining: A Step by Step Guide to Planning a Dinner Party" hit the shelves at several Milwaukee-area independent bookstores and cooking supply stores.

It's far more than just a collection of relished recipes; it's a whole-picture look at everything it takes to make a meal a success on every level. This extremely well organized hardcover book features 16 menus, which are divided up among the four seasons. Each is then flushed out with everything you need to know to pull it off: a detailed shopping list, wine pairing suggestions, decoration tips for that added curb appeal and -- most importantly -- a timeline to keep you on track.

"I never knew how you make it all happen at the right time," she says. Her timeline begins with the basics -- shower and dress -- and walks you through starting, finishing and serving times to execute a practically flawless presentation.

The meals sound and look sophisticated -- lamb tagine, rustic seafood bake and marinated flank steak, for example -- but Mutschler says all her recipes remain accessible for anyone who wants to cook at home, regardless of skill level.

"It does take time," she says. "If you make all six courses, it'll take you five to six hours, but it's spread out over a few days. Being prepared and doing as much as you can in advance is probably my best tip."

She doesn't claim it's going to be easier than popping in a frozen pizza, but promises that if you can follow directions, you can through a fabulous dinner party.

"Fast Track to Fine Dining" is $38.95 and is available at the lemon tree (Mequon), Past Basket, Giraffe, Sendik's (Downer Ave.), Paperwork, Little Read Book (Wauwatosa) and Grand Gourmet (Brookfield).


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