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Cookbook, Autumn 1977

ISSUE:  Autumn 1977

Wonderful. This should be in every kitchen. It is meant for the single person who wishes to eat well, “artists, poets, lazy people, secretaries,” but who do not wish to be burdened with long preparations for a brief, good meal. All these recipes can be cooked in ten minutes, though the preparation for some of them may take a bit longer. All the dishes are good, a far cry from anything you can obtain in a fast food restaurant, and a good deal cheaper. Pomiane understands the chemistry of cooking. In the “Scampi American Style,” a greatly abbreviated version of the famous recipes, “a 1’ Americaine,” he replaces the long simmering fumet by the use of Madeira. It works. The soups call for “a few small pieces of crust from stale bread,” rather than croutons. This is not three-star cooking, but it is light, excellent, and very rewarding for the cook who wishes to spend as much time enjoying a meal as preparing it. The modern introduction is uneven; the suggestions for wine for cooking are good. The understanding of the stove is rather dim. The book was first published in 1930. We are lucky to have it again. It is a boon to all tired, untried, amateur, and real cooks.

COOKBOOKSCOOKBOOKSMichel Guerard’s Cuisine Minceur, by Michel Guerard. Morrow $12.95

If every person who cooks in this country could have this book, the nation’s diet, food industry, and general health would be improved in a very short time. This is the first truly modern cookbook, one that moves beyond the classic tradition. The methods of cooking are different. All the basic preparations—frying, sautéing, roasting—are highly refined. If you must deep fry, instructions are provided for the kind of oil to use, the exact temperature, and the technique. The goal is to impart fresh and delicate flavor to food without burdening it with unneeded additions. To do this, Guérard will steam a dish over a “tea” of herbs; he replaces the classic sauce bindings with a delicate mixture of vegetable purées. In the same spirit, he discards a dough base for one of spinach or cabbage leaves for his vegetable pies. Here, as always, the result is as pretty as it is good—a constant hallmark of Guerard’s cooking. The recipes are clearly presented. They even include the utensils required for each dish. This very delicate cuisine depends upon perfectly fresh ingredients of the first quality, and it requires much more time, expense, and skill than most cooks will devote to a meal. From scratch, the “stuffed chicken drumsticks steamed over vapor of marjoram,” a dish we like, would take a full day of preparation. If you have the various stocks and vegetable purees prepared ahead of time and stored in your freezer, as you should, you can finish the dish in two hours. Some dishes are simpler: the “braised veal with oranges,” (The “chicken stuffed with parsley,” the “sweetbread ragoût.” Others, many of them easy and attractive, are difficult to prepare here either because the ingredients are hard to find—”truffle salad with parsley”—or expensive—”oysters baked in champagne.” If you do not follow any of these recipes, but merely read the book, especially the first part, very carefully, you will discover that your whole attitude toward the preparation of food will have changed, and for the better. We were amused to discover, once again, how great is the debt of the present to the past. The Chinese were already steaming their food during the Shang dynasty, medieval cooks bound their sauces with nut paste and vegetable purees, and Careme used the “garnitures de petits légumes.” Guérard’s great virtue is his blending of the best of the past with the great tradition of French cooking.

COOKBOOKSCOOKBOOKSGourmet Minceur, by Beverly Cox. Vanguard $6.95

This elegant little book presents a week’s menus based on the new taste in French cooking. The recipes are clearly presented and easy to prepare and assemble. Calorie and carbohydrate counts are given for each dish, For those who are serious about their diets but who still wish to have something agreeable to eat, this is excellent. The week’s course may be followed or a menu used from time to time as need arises. In fact, these dishes are so attractive that all cooks will find this useful, especially for light but satisfying summer meals. While not three-star cooking, the book’s menus are refined and varied enough to please a gourmet. The presentation is refreshingly unpretentious.

COOKBOOKSCOOKBOOKSSomeone Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe, by Nan and Ivan Lyons. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich $7.95

This is great fun, and it contains some good recipes. Along the way it presents the best diet we have ever read. For example, “Dinner (797 cal.): one cup asparagus consomme, 4 oz. venison au poivre, 8 oz. sauteed mushrooms, 1 cup fresh raspberries with 3 tablespoons creme fratche, 6 oz. La TSche 1961.” The plot, a good one, centers on the publisher of a gourmet magazine, four great chefs, including a sexy American girl, and a lot of good food. The best we’ve seen since Rex Stout’s Too Many Cooks.

COOKBOOKSCOOKBOOKSRevolutionizing French Cooking, by Roy Andries deGroot. McGraw-Hill $15.95

The author has visited the great restaurants of France. All the great new chefs have discussed their recipes and cooking techniques with him. He calls them all by their first names, and he relates his experiences in a way that tends to center on his thoughts and interests rather than theirs. In spite of this unattractive beginning, we read on to discover how these young chefs would succeed in eliminating the “over aromatic and over rich” cuisine of the past. The author says that he presents the best recipes of these great cooks.”In my translations and adaptions I have tried to be true to the personal methods of each chef . . . Deliberately, I have not superimposed my own uniformity on the healthy variety of these recipes.” As we studied the recipes carefully, we discovered that, in fact, the author is not at all presenting the original recipes. He presents instead distorted versions of them very much influenced by his own taste. A few examples. His basic stock made with both beef and chicken includes macadamia nuts, garlic, lemon juice and rind, whole coriander seeds, turmeric, fresh ginger root, and salt (which never belongs in any stock). We wonder, among other things, whether this might not be over aromatic. His fish court-bouillon is flavored with kelp sea weed, dry shavings of tuna, and both garlic and tarragon. This may be a good Oriental soup, but it cannot work as a base for delicate cooking. With basic ingredients like these, one might expect, or hope, that no further additions would appear in the recipes. Let’s see what he does to Bocuse’s “Soupe de Courge,” Bocuse uses six ingredients—pumpkin, cream, Swiss cheese, salt and pepper, and croutons. He describes his recipe in nine lines.deGroot starts with his beef stock and uses thirteen other ingredients, among them yellow onions, two kinds of cheese, watercress, parsley, and paprika. He begins a day ahead and by the time he has finished he has gone through two-and-a-half long pages of preparation. Guerard makes a bitter chocolate “granité” with milk, cocoa, sugar, vanilla, cream, and eight lines of explanation.deGroot’s adaptation adds champagne, an egg, coffee, and crystallized violets. It takes two pages and, again, two days. Some of deGroot’s recipes are interesting, some even good. Why pretend they are creations of more illustrious colleagues?

COOKBOOKSCOOKBOOKSThe Theory and Practice of Good Cooking, by James Beard. Knopf $12.95

This is for those who have become serious enough about cooking to want to understand a bit more about what happens during the various stages of food preparation than most recipe books offer. It is not highly technical, nor is it a basic or systematic approach to the chemistry of cooking. It is a personal, chatty, and often useful commentary obviously developed from the author’s long experience as a teacher of cooking. For this reason, you must read beyond the basic introductions to the various techniques. The recipes which follow contain as much information as the summaries. This book must be read patiently from beginning to end to be useful. It is not intended for the cook in a hurry. One might wish it were more accessible. Like most of the new wave of technique books, it is organized around different procedures, not around ingredients, so that it is difficult to compare preparations. The drawings, if artistic, are not very helpful. The recipes are simple and well designed to demonstrate the technique involved. On the whole, however, they are not Beard’s best and they vary enormously. The “Estouffat de Noel,” a variation on the classic braised beef but now flavored with Armagnac is unusually good. The brown stock and brown sauce are rudimentary and disappointing. Probably the best chapter in the book is the concluding “Concordance.” It is a fairly complete glossary of produce, staples, meat and so on. Each is described with its particular properties, flavors, and seasons. In spite of its highly personal approach, which is sometimes idiosyncratic, and its defects, this is still an excellent book to offer to a beginner.

COOKBOOKSCOOKBOOKSLa Technique, by Jacques Pepin. Quadrangle $20

After some experience at the stove, many people will begin to believe, whether they say so or not, that they know how to cook. This book is the perfect medicine for that kind of fantasy. Never before has the idea that basic preparation and presentation of food are vital to a good dish been so clearly presented. There are many excellent cookbooks, and thousands of excellent recipes. But we see here that unless we are willing to discipline ourselves in the proper selection and preparation of food in our own kitchen these recipes cannot yield their potential. Pepin is a chef. What he describes in this book is the training of a chef, clearly and simply. You begin by learning to use your knife. The decorated potatoes and tomatoes seem extravagant until you realize that no chef would be allowed to touch chicken, meat, or fish until he had mastered the use of the knife, And so it goes. Basic, crucial steps in the preparation of all foods are presented. One feels humble when one finally understands how essential to good cooking these steps are and when one realizes that no apprentice would be allowed near a stove until he has mastered them. The recipes illustrating the basic techniques are good. Pepin does not tell you how to make the sacrosanct espagnole or half glaze because you can find these in other recipe books. He shows you how to make a perfect consomme with an ordinary beef stock, a sophisticated preparation which too many people confound with the original broth. The chapters on meat, bought untrimmed in this country, are invaluable. We trimmed and prepared properly a whole leg of lamb with ease, thanks to the clear directions and many illustrations. Pastry, always difficult, now becomes possible. Most impressive is the insistence upon finish; the cut of meat or fish, the presentation of the mayonnaise or the genoise is one and the same. Nothing like this book exists. It is certainly the most important publication for all who cook we’ve seen in a long while.

COOKBOOKSCOOKBOOKSCooking for the Professional Chef, by Kenneth C. Wolfe. Van Nostrand Reinhold $11.95

We were eager to see this because, so far, no book in English offers the cook a basic, clear, systematic approach to the preparation of food. This text, directed to those who wish to enter the “food business,” does its job reasonably well. The instructions are clear. A good deal of excellent and useful information, especially about the buying of meat and produce, unavailable in most cookbooks, is presented. Difficulties arise in an understanding of certain fixed points in the heritage of cooking. A Porterhouse steak is suddenly the same as a T-Bone steak. Worse, a fish fumet is confounded with court-bouillon. Still, for beginners, for those who want a serious start, and for those interested in opening a restaurant, it is worthwhile. For the housewife, or the gourmet, the Pepin, La Technique, will be more useful.

COOKBOOKSCOOKBOOKSPleyn Delit, Medieval Cookery for Modem Cooks, by Constance B. Hieatt and Sharon Butler. Toronto $9.95

A handsome, intelligent, and fascinating book, it begins with a first-rate introduction which clarifies many misconceptions and provides a balanced view of the subject. There are also a bibliography and a glossary. This cooking obviously relies heavily on spice: cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and surprisingly saffron and turmeric. The constant use of wine and stock without flour and of fresh fruits and seasonings makes these dishes rather modern in taste and very appealing. The use of ground almond paste to thicken sauces is presented here, a practice similar to ones without flour recently rediscovered by modern French cooks. The refinement of these dishes is suggested by the recipe for fish which, among other things, calls for four red roses. Probably the best of this year’s bumper crop of historical cookbooks.

COOKBOOKSCOOKBOOKSSallets, Humbles, and Shrewsbery Cakes, by Ruth Anne Beebe. Godine $12.50

Elegantly illustrated with English woodcuts of the period, in red, the book is most attractive. It is so handsome that one is almost surprised to discover that the Renaissance recipes are good as well. The author has wisely avoided extravagant dishes in favor of simple ones that can be done easily. The spices required are at hand on everyone’s shelf. Saffron, a favorite of the time, is seldom used. The sallets (salads) are enticing and surprising; many of them, however, require periwinkle. Thankfully, the recipes are given in their original texts followed by a modern version. The original texts are sometimes better. See the excellent “to fry bakon.” The modern version of hare will be overcooked, but the lamb stew is different and extremely good.

COOKBOOKSCOOKBOOKSDining With William Shakespeare, by Madge Lorwin. Atheneum $14.95

Carefully produced and with many illustrations, this specialized cookbook will be of more interest to Shakespeare buffs than gourmets. All the recipes are anchored in contemporary sources, all of them are clearly presented and easy to follow. We were particularly interested in the wealth of information on food and eating habits in Elizabethan times. True to the period, all the dishes are almost always seasoned with the same spices—mace, cinnamon, ginger, citrons, saffron, and herbs including, of course, rosemary. With this book, you can present, at last, an authentic English Renaissance meal and know what you are doing and why. The recipes are presented in coherent menus arranged around Shakespearian themes with full details about the food and contemporary attitudes toward preparation, serving, and appreciation. The fare will seem, to most modern cooks, limited. It is. But it is interesting.

COOKBOOKSCOOKBOOKSThe Northern Italian Cookbook, by Teresa Candler. McGraw-Hill $9.95

The author, who comes from a distinguished family of cooks, knows her business. The recipes are presented simply and briefly. The preparation for most of the dishes is quite easy and can be accomplished in less than 30 minutes. The ingredients required are usually to be found in every kitchen. This cuisine is refreshingly different from that of Southern Italy, which is more familiar in this country. Rice and polenta are on the table more often than pastas; the herbs used are more delicate in flavor. We were delighted to discover an excellent choice of cold dishes in every section of the book. Some of them combine interesting flavors in new ways, like the “Chilled Chicken with Tuna Sauce.” Many recipes are delicately flavored with local wines and truffles. The desserts, most of them based on fruit, are light, appealing, and original. The pie pastry recipe is excellent. This book seems, to our taste, to offer the best of Italian cooking, classic and refined.

COOKBOOKSCOOKBOOKSThe Festive Famularo Kitchen, by Joe Famularo and Louise Imperiale. Atheneum $15

The Famularo tribe obviously adores to cook and to eat. Their collection seeks to gather the family recipes and, further, to propose other dishes based on new combinations of flavors. It ends by being a hit-and-miss proposition. Some dishes are first-rate, others are ordinary or give the feeling of having been so hastily assembled that some of the ingredients and procedures have been left out. Still others begin with promise but fail when they are overwhelmed with the wrong ingredients or preparation. We tried “Chicken Stew in the French Style,” which is excellent. On the other hand, the “Chicken Breasts in Champagne Sauce” suffers because the sauce is cooked apart from the chicken. The same error occurs in the “Sole Mousse with Truffles,” which contains more bread crumbs than truffles. The accounts of “discoveries” of new combinations of flavors are very charming. These range from accidentally putting basil in tomato soup to the new, to them, idea of serving smoked salmon, smoked turkey, caviar, and champagne together. Still there are nuggets here and there. The “Beef Birds in Marsala sauce stuffed with orange zest” is original and uncommonly good. Such gems will amuse and reward those patient enough to find them in this exuberant book.

COOKBOOKSCOOKBOOKSThe Time-Life International Cookbook, by the editors of Time-Life books. Holt, Rinehart & Winston, $12.95

This is most interesting. The Time-Life collections, if a touch uneven, have generally been of high quality. To gather the best from this large archive and to present it at a reasonable price is an excellent idea. We have here a book with more than 500 recipes at a fair price. But what about these dishes? We have studied the volume with care and discovered, to our surprise, that most of the difficult, refined, and interesting recipes from each country have been eliminated. Worse, care has been taken to disguise the origin of the dishes. Their names are given in the native tongue, but few of us know all the languages in the world. Most people, we think, would be grateful for a country-by-country listing so they could try a “Danish” or “Portuguese” dish as their tastes suggested. No such list is presented, and the index falters badly on this point. The editors appear to have sought diversity rather than quality. Many of these are familiar American dishes. Others, oddly, like the traditional “Jambon Braise au Bourgogne,” have suddenly become “Schinken en Burgunder” Why? Only “Beef Stroganoff” has a note about its origin. All the recipes are clearly presented. Those requiring more skill than usual are illustrated. Good, but marred by the ascendancy of commerce over good taste. Anybody for “Yemarina Yewotet Dabo”?

COOKBOOKSCOOKBOOKSThe Pleasures of Seafood, by Rima and Richard Collin. Holt, Rinehart & Winston $12.95

This has the merit of calling our attention to the great variety and pleasures of seafood. Yet the book fails in its purpose, which we assume is to tell people how to prepare fish properly. There is no recipe for fish fumet. This obliges the use of chicken stock from time to time, or dictates the abominable practice of setting a cooked fish aside in a warm oven to dry out for an hour while a suitable sauce can be made up from the cooking liquid. The basic chapters are poor. Why devote 24 pages to the broiling of various fish, when the technique and sauce are always the same? Only the timing varies. Why praise the importance of cooking a fish perfectly if it is to serve it with a blender-made be’arnaise or hollandaise, a method which will never yield a really decent dish? This is not serious cooking. The authors’ taste about fish is about as refined as that displayed in their New Orleans Underground Gourmet, which badly needs revision by anyone who knows how to eat. But let’s be fair. When they do not try to be classical, they can be good. The chapter on curries is first rate. Those on soups and one-dish meals are unusually interesting. The last section on how to buy seafood is useful. It includes a list of the best seafood markets in America’s principal cities.

COOKBOOKSCOOKBOOKSThe Chinese Cookbook, by Craig Claiborne and Virginia Lee. Lippincott $5.95 paper

This book quickly became a favorite because of its excellent recipes and clear directions. Although a great many Chinese cookbooks have appeared since it was first published, it is still one of the best. Many persons will welcome its availability now in a paper edition at a popular price.

COOKBOOKSCOOKBOOKSRecipes from San Francisco’s Great Chinese Restaurants, by Jinx Morgan.

A great idea for a book but, in this case, a failure. We were recently in San Francisco and had an opportunity to check some of the recipes in the book against the way they are served in the restaurants. What is printed here is only “like” what is served there. Refined Chinese cooking calls for a good deal of skill and intelligence. The notion that you can just jump in and do it is absured.


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