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Cookbook, Spring 1986


ISSUE:  Spring 1986

In our present world of decadent cuisine—too much of the exquisite over too little of the indispensable—it is a joy to find that Mrs. Kamman is still an artist at mixing both in admirable proportions. She has known the indispensable since she worked in her aunt’s two-star restaurant in France and has enlarged her knowledge to masterful proportions. Her introduction to pates and terrines, for example, the proportions of the meats used, the way to adjust their texture and flavor, and all the other necessary information, are actually all one needs to know, and ever will, not only to follow any recipe for pâtés but also to create one’s own. The same can be said for her general comments on sauces, what they were and what they should be today—including some sharp criticism on young French chefs pouring “acid sauces” on duck breast scallops (“magrets”), and others. As for the exquisite, Mrs. Kamman has what must be called a natural genius to deal with it. Consider her Duck Consommé (for which we stored leftover duck carcasses and giblets in the freezer until we had enough), her Mousselines of Smoked Salmon in Red Wine, her Veal Roast with Garlic and Thyme, her Timbales of Asparagus with Onion Cream, her Lavender, Thyme, and Honey Ice-Cream—or, better, do not consider but cook it. You will have an incomparable meal. All the way Mrs. Kamman leads you with a firm hand and adds all she knows about choosing the ingredients, storing them before and after, and absolutely everything else you need to know, including when you must use your own good sense or taste. For the timid, Mrs. Kamman has just published Madeleine Cooks (Morrow $17.95), based on her television series. Preparations here are necessarily shorter and simpler, although excellent. It is a convenient book but should not be on the cook’s shelf without In Madeleine’s Kitchen.

The Enlightened Cuisine, by René Verdon. Macmillan $19.95

Escoffier is too often dismissed, today, as a man of the past, the chronicler of a defunct, so-called heavy, “bourgeoise” cuisine. Well, look at what is going on in San-Francisco. A renowned chef called René Verdon, famous for having cooked for the Kennedys and then the Johnsons at the White House, has been steadily serving “Dodine de Faisant” in his restaurant for 13 years, and customers are still asking for more. Mr. Verdon was trained in the tradition set by Escoffier and, even more important, by the great Edouard Nignon. This tradition calls for hours of scrupulously making fragrant stocks, boning birds and fish, slicing and puréeing vegetables, preparing puff pastry or genoise before actually starting to prepare a meal. Now, after many years in this country, Mr. Verdon has lightened his preparations and adapted his repertoire to American food. We find here a very tempting Abalone and Scallops with Calvados, delicious Noisettes of Lamb with Yogurt, a very fresh Cold Cucumber Soup, Poussin with Ewe cheese, and even two fruit soups. But it is when he offers us his versions of the classics that chef Verdon really shines. We could give an endless list, from Bordelaise Sauce, Crayfish Butter (the first working recipe we have!), or Champagne Sauce—foolproof at last—to Semolina Dumplings, excellent Lamb Chops Champvallon, delicious Rabbit Roasted with Herbs, Garlic, and Shallots, and, of course, the Dodine, not to mention the superb desserts. We have only one complaint about this book. It is the thorough presentation of 12 cooking classes Mr. Verdon gives in his kitchen. It does include, therefore, the chefs hints and comments; but since each lesson is centered on a theme, or technique, it is necessarily limited. We want more!

American Feasts, by Sallie Y. Williams. Morrow $22.95

Having lived several years abroad (in Paris, where she became associate director of the LaVarenne Cooking School), Mrs. Williams knows which truly American dishes the expatriate is longing for. Indeed, in this unpretentious but pretty volume, she has assembled the most authentic collection of American recipes to be published recently. Red Flannel Hash, refried beans, chowders, and grits, Ozark Pudding and Ambrosia, Yankee Pot Roast and Caesar Salad—they all are here. Moreover, the recipes for these preparations are precise and concise, at times a little too much so. We discovered that the Squash Medley was more tender if steamed five minutes before being sautéed, and we added a few spices, including juniper berries, to the marinade of the otherwise excellent Venison Bourguignon. Unfortunately, Mrs. Williams has not been well served by her editor, in two ways. The first part of the book is devoted entirely to a brief description of each region of the United States, with menus and bright photographs; this is a little thin. The text should be more instructive or the section shorter (and, by the way, West Virginia, altogether forgotten from the maps, should be readmitted into the Union). Worse, the chapters in the second section, devoted to the recipes, are in a terrible disarray. In the vegetable chapter, for instance, the recipes for beans, say, or squash are scattered throughout between the preparations for corn or tomatoes. In the chapter on sauces, the Strawberry Sauce is sandwiched between the Tomato Pickle and the Northwestern Barbecue Sauce. This is unforgivable. But it should not deter the reader in search of honesty and authenticity.

An American Folklife Cookbook, by Joan Nathan. Schocken $18.95

Ms. Nathan was one of the first cookbook writers to catch on to the latest American food fad. But instead of giving us her own rewriting of recipes devised all around the country, or her own compilation of regional cookbooks, she decided to go on the road and see what folks are actually cooking. The result is unusual, remarkably eclectic, and it gives us a revealing glimpse of what is simmering on the back burner. The Cajuns Mrs. Nathan met do, indeed, cook Cajun food, and their recipes are what we expect them to be. But on Martha’s Vineyard, between bites of bluefish prepared in many different ways, our wandering author discovered a strong Portuguese inheritance, preserved by descendants of transatlantic fishermen. Amongst samples of their recipes, she offers us an excellent dish of fava beans and a typical fish marinade. By the time we reach Chicago’s firehouses, we are deep in ethnic-nostalgia cooking: French Toast, Polish Stuffed Cabbage, Lithuanian Turkey Stuffing, and . . . Irish Goulash. After an introductory chapter devoted to the cookery of Thomas Jefferson (the most widely quoted person in the past year’s crop of cookbooks), each of the following 22 chapters revolves around a traditional family or a group of people closely related through their church, their common heritage, or their everyday life. By choosing these people judiciously, Mrs. Nathan assembles a collection of vignettes and recipes which may give us the truest picture of the Americans á table today.

Glorious American Food, by Christopher Idone. Random House $50

Glorious turns out to be a rather modest adjective for this book. Either on this side of the looking glass or on the other, it certainly deserves to be called at least outstanding. Not because of the food, mind you, but because of the quality of the book and its 250 breathtaking, beautiful color illustrations by photographer Tom Eckerle. Whether they are a still life of game or fruit, a table setting in a secret garden, or a peaceful meadow or a fishing scene, they all make this volume worthy of representing the American Dream abroad. Now for the food—if you ever dare to take this book to the kitchen. It is at its best when the author simply follows worn paths, as he does with a classic chili. It is quite disappointing when Mr. Idone adds his own glorious touch, as when he pours all the cream in the world in his Creole or Cajun dishes. The recipes are brief, with some side preparations sometimes simply omitted. But each regional introduction is well researched and pleasantly written. If you have some relatives living in one of those (glorious) English country houses, this year’s fad number two after American cuisine, by all means send them this book. Since they won’t cook the food, they might at last feel jealous.

The California-American Cookbook, by Jeannette Ferrary and Louise Fiszer. Simon & Schuster $16.95

We had a faint hope when we received this book that at last we were going to discover what, exactly, is California Cuisine. The title should have given us pause. California-American. Hum. Can something be Californian without being American? We are told that it may be so. Can a dish be American without being Californian? Not quite, think the authors. Food in the 49 other states is just a hodge-podge of things brought in from all over the world by various people or ethnic groups. Only when it comes to California to be rediscovered, reseasoned, rejuvenated, does food become cuisine. It is Born Again Food, the L.A. way—a way paved with sun-dried tomatoes, exotic mushrooms, and golden caviar; a way edged with borders of fresh coriander (or cilantro) and fresh sprigs of dill; a way sprinkled with Zinfandel, a dash of Pernod, and crème fraîche, of course. Despite the presence here of a few decent dishes, it is also a way which leads nowhere.

You’ve Got it Made, by Marian Burros. Morrow $13.95

According to its jacket, this book should help the cook to be ready to put up meals for family or friends in a minute less than no time. According to its inside, the book is mostly designed to force the cook to follow the official “Dietary Guidelines for the United States.” Mrs. Burros, in other words, wants us to run off and slim down. We have no objection, if the food is good. But it is not. The 43 family menus are dull to start with, relying mostly on “sour” herbs and spices like cumin, paprika, cilantro, or dill, for a bit of whim. When frozen and reheated (yes, this is the “short cut”: cook it ahead, freeze; then serve it in 30 minutes.), chicken breasts tend to taste like airline food, and most spices loose some punch. The menus for gatherings of friends are worse: all these occasions are meant to be “cooperative dinners,” where each guest brings a dish “coordinated” by the hostess—usually a total of eight courses, each seasoned with cumin, paprika, etc. . ., and none going terribly well with the others. This volume is “an amalgamation of two of (my) previous books,” writes the author. Let us hope she will not amalgamate this one with any other.

New Processor Cooking, by Jean Anderson. Morrow $17.50

We used to see a lot of books on high-pressure cooking, cooking in clay, and others, which are now more commonly found in rummage sales. Today we are supposed to process everything and then microwave-cook it, all of this, of course, in about 30 seconds. How many books do we need to persuade us that this is the way, and to teach us how to do it? Mrs. Anderson offers us, here, an expansive and very well-researched chapter on how to process each and every ingredient we might use in cooking. Yet in each of the recipes she devotes one paragraph to describe how we should slice our potatoes or hash our turkey. What a waste of ink. The recipes are decent, of course; Mrs. Anderson is a pro. But we did not find much originality in her Beef Stroganoff or her vegetable soups. Here and there we found a dish with more zest, like her good Boudin Blanc (which we baked in ramekins) and her excellent Malabari Chicken Piri. We should get more from a book which is nearly 500 pages long.

The New McCall’s Cookbook, by The Food Editors of McCall’s. Random House $17.95

The problem with the updated McCall’s is that its editors have been thinking too hard. They have grouped their recipes in alphabetically arranged chapters. The results can be rather annoying, as when one finds the pies (sweet) between the meat and the poultry; quite annoying, when one discovers the Stir-fried Pork and Pineapple not in the international chapter, but in Reduced-Calories cooking; and exceedingly annoying when one stumbles over a nice recipe for Chicken Veronique in the microwave section (one having no microwave). It is too bad because the preparations are on the whole sensible. We liked the Pork Chops in Orange Sauce and the easy curries we made. Several bean dishes are just excellent, and the desserts scattered throughout the book are rather light and pleasant. But where can the Shrimp Gumbo be found? We won’t tell you. That is the surprise du chef.

Professional Cooking, by Wayne Gisslen. Wiley’s $29.95

A great many chefs today are riding high on the crest of the latest craze: the nouvelle classic american cuisine. They grate a little ginger over their parsnips, add a dash of saffron to their dill weed soup, and are instantly “recognized for their inventiveness and their freshness.” Alas, they often ignore the basics of cooking. Professional Cooking, a masterly volume, could tell them all they need to know—kitchen organization, planning, and buying, and then all the hows and whys of cooking, illustrated by more than 800 classic recipes. The proportions are given mostly for 24 servings but can be altered following the foolproof guidelines offered all along.

Ice Cream, by Hilary Walden. Fireside Books (Simon & Schuster) $12.95

This delectable book should make an ice-cream fan of whoever is not yet an addict. Between a few concise introductory chapters on techniques, ingredients, and the like, and a final short section on creating your own desserts, the author is simply, and wisely, presenting all her recipes and their variations by alphabetically listed flavors. All in all, we are offered more than 400 recipes here, for Mrs. Walden instructs us in preparing sherbets, frozen mousses and cakes, toppings, and even low-calory and tofu iced desserts. Each recipe is clear, and most are quite easy to prepare even without the help of a machine. We particularly loved the section devoted to warm-climate fruits, which are becoming more and more available in the supermarket. They make exquisite sherbets.

Tapas, by Penelope Casas. Knopf $22.95 cloth, $12.95 paper

Unlike their Russian and Scandinavian cousins—the zakuski and the smorgasbord—the tapas of Spain are not only finger food. Some, bathed in aromatic sauces, like the Stuffed Pork Loin or the Barcelona Rice Salad, would indeed make a perfect main course for a summer luncheon. But that would take the fun out of the tapas: they should be mixed and matched, the raw with the fried, the marinated with the stuffed, the canapés with the croquettes, and so on. And what a choice we are offered in this book! Mrs. Casas has not overlooked any possible ingredient, be it vegetable or cheese, meat, offalls, venison, or seafood, which is very abundant and varied in Spain. We read that tapas bars are already opening in some large American cities. We would not be surprised to hear that this wonderful book is bringing a Spanish revolution to the traditional American buffet party.

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