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Cookbook, Spring 1977

ISSUE:  Spring 1977

Bocuse, the spokesman for a new generation of French cooks, has become the best-known cook in the world. The publication of his cookbook—a long awaited event—is not a disappointment. This massive volume of 500 pages is a complete treatise on cooking. It seems, at first glance, another “classic” French cookbook. All the familiar recipes are here. But the reader will notice at once the remarkable changes in preparation. These recipes are simpler, tastier, and more refined. The reasons? Bocuse’s introduction, which is excellent and a concise manifesto of the nouvelle cuisine, stresses that one must use only the best food obtainable. Hence, the title of the book. You should shop to discover the finest food available and then decide how to prepare it, not select a recipe and then seek ingredients which might not that day be at their best. A second basic rule is that one should leave the table “still feeling slightly hungry.” This, of course, should only be an impression imparted by the lightness of the menu. Finally, Bocuse is an advocate of idiosyncrasy. The quantities given in the recipes are only approximate; your taste should be the final judge. Only the timing is fixed. With this approach, it is little wonder that Bocuse has found around the world ways to bring together flavors he believes are superior to the traditional ones. He changed his way of cooking vegetables after a visit to China; his garnish for a beef rump comes from Mexico. Many of these remarkable recipes are adapted from great masters like Careme and Lucas-Carton. Others, among those most simple and refined, are from his family. His recipes for stocks are quite simple, a far cry from Escoffier, and excellent. His fresh tomato souffle is a pure jewel. This simple dish was, characteristically, seryed at a famous dinner with truffle soup. This is the book of a chef. His simple recipes for family cooking are easy to follow. The more complicated dishes will be understood only by very experienced cooks. All of them, however, contain tips which are invaluable. “In cooking,” says Bocuse, “one does not invent anything.” If he has not, he has certainly, with this book, carried French cooking to a new and attainable height. It was not turned out in a hurry to appeal to fashion. Nor will it be easy to translate properly.

When French Women Cook, by Madeleine Kamman. Atheneum $13.95

This book firmly establishes the origins of the “new wave” of French cooking everybody is talking about. It is really the simple country cooking of inventive French women of the last two generations, the “mothers” of the now famous chefs. In fact, the book is dedicated in part to Paul Bocuse’s grandmother and mother, and the recipes in it are closer to the nouvelle cuisine than those in Bocuse’s own book. Mrs. Kamman relies more heavily on fresh seasonal produce than he, in spite of the title of his collection. The recipes presented here are truly remarkable; they bring unexpected flavors together beautifully. For example, see the duck stuffed with fresh figs and served in lemon sauce. There are also many recipes which use the simple common ingredients used by peasants for centuries. What elevates these dishes is the refinement of preparation, a result of generations of experiments. Inexperienced cooks will find the recipes clearly presented. There are notes on cost, skill required, and the amount of time needed for each dish. The author also indicates the season of the year when the ingredients for the dish will be at their best, wines to accompany them, and how to choose properly the food required, offering, where possible, substitutes for things difficult to find. The recipes are easy to follow and, we think, foolproof. They are taken from eight different regions of France and offer one a splendid gastronomic tour. Unusually good.

The Art of Eating in France, by Jean-Paul Aron. Harper if Row $10.95

This is a serious and fascinating study of cooking and eating in France from the French revolution up to the end of the 19th century. While the focus is on Paris and the gradual evolution of its great restaurants, much attention is given to the dark use of food as power and the terrible disparity between the diets of the rich and the poor. We find here the origins of most of our practices of table setting, service, and presentation. Great chefs and magnificent menus, gourmets and epicures are one side of the picture. The horrible “recycling” of food from greater restaurants to lesser ones, senseless deprivation and starvation are the other. It is not always a pretty story, but it is an important one. The bias of the narrative is more than compensated for by the wealth of information the book contains.

Encyclopedia of Wine (Sixth new revised edition), by Frank Schoonmaker. Hastings House $9.95

This is really a dictionary of wine, a reference book that should be on the shelf of everybody with an interest in the subject. It provides quick access to any kind of information you might wish about most of the wines of the world, including accurate appraisals of the quality of vintage years in European wines. There is also a good section on California wines, one that makes them much more understandable. Very little has slipped through his net; we note only the omission of Chateau Spleen, an excellent Bordeaux. And Vergelesse, a wine that has come into its own recently, merits more attention than it is given here. There are many maps, and they are quite useful. The handiest book on the subject for beginners and the experienced alike.

The Game of Wine, by Forest Wallace and Gilbert Cross. Doubleday $12.50

At first sight this seems confusing, but if you will read it from first to last you will know a great deal about wine. This is perfect for anybody who enjoys reading about wine or for the beginner who really wants to get into the subject. It is attractively produced with excellent maps and many illustrations of labels. California wines are discussed along with those from Europe. Appendixes include descriptions of the wine cellars of Craig Claiborne and Paul and Julia Childs. What is missing is a sincere appreciation of the simple charm of wine. In the end, the book, while nice, is an amateur affair, as might be guessed from the title. The food selected to accompany the great wines is rudimentary at best, and the whole approach is boyish and impatient.

The World of Cheese, by Evan Jones. Knopf $12.50

This is a handsome and very useful book for people who like cheese but know little about it. The author obviously is in love with his subject and has a pleasant way of presenting it. Here you will find how cheese is made, how it should be served and with which wines, even how to make it yourself. There is a good cheese recipe section which includes the basic cheese souffle properly done. The final section, a lexicon of cheeses, permits the reader to find his way quickly around the vast world of cheese.

The Complete Encyclopedia of French Cheese, by Pierre Androuet. Harpers Magazine Press $4.95 paper

The author owns the most famous cheese shop in Paris. It is said that if you can eat a portion of each of the 300 or so cheeses always in stock you will not be presented with a bill. Androuet knows cheese, and, as might be expected, the book, after a charming introduction, is complete and concise. It tells how to buy cheeses and when and how to serve them, and, of course, suggests accompanying wines. This has the most complete dictionary of French cheeses we’ve seen, with a few pages on foreign cheeses. We especially liked the cheese tours of France presented at the end of the book. Local specialities are supplied along with invaluable notes on unknown local “little wines.” A must for the connoisseur.

Craig Claiborne’s Favorites—Volume Two, by Craig Claiborne. Quadrangle $12.50

Claiborne fans will be delighted with this second collection of his columns. As before, there are notes on kitchen equipment, travel, and innumerable tips for all cooks. And, as usual, a generous harvest of excellent recipes. Claiborne has said that he rarely eats a dish twice unless it is a favorite like chili or caviar. As a result, his taste has gradually become more international. Of interest is his account of his visit to Guerard’s restaurant in France and a full report on his famous “dinner for two in Paris,” made around nine prestigious wines. The place: Chez Denis. The bill: $4.000. Russell Baker’s response is also reprinted here and should not be missed. The book is a must, of course. The index is keyed to this and the previous volume.

Clancy’s Oven Cookery, by John Clancy and Frances Field. Delacorte $8.95

This is a deceptive book and one rather hard to describe. The authors have read a good deal, and they have gathered here a good collection of recipes. The notion is that they can all be cooked in the oven, an idea which will appeal to people who love casseroles. While the results are far superior to casserole cooking, some of these dishes lose a great deal from this kind of treatment. For example, no serious cook would consider making a stock by having his pot boil full blast in a hot oven for two and a half hours. A perfect beef broth must never be boiled. In the same way, we do not believe a good leek and potato soup can be prepared without first steaming the leeks to bring out their flavor. The meat dishes here all tend to be cooked too hot and too fast. The fish and poultry ones are attractively original and much better. As would be expected from an author who is at heart a baker, the breads and cakes are superb. Each recipe includes useful hints and, when possible, directions for storage. Not a bad book for those looking for some new ideas.

The Taste of Country Cooking, by Edna Lewis. Knopf $15, $4.95 paper.

An unusually handsome and attractive book, it is part memoir but mostly the best recipe book for Southern dishes we’ve seen. The author, a former chef at Nicolson’s, presents the cuisine of the black farm community of her childhood, and she has brought it to perfection. The brief list of ingredients for these dishes, always easily obtainable, attests to the authenticity of the recipes. They have not been complicated by additions or unneeded ingredients in an effort to make them “different.” The directions for cooking are very clear, very good, and should be followed closely. Her approach is to make the most of ingredients at hand, and so the book is logically divided into sections by season. Each of these is highlighted by festivities—revivals, races, harvests—for which Mrs. Lewis gives traditional menus. As can be expected, there are more recipes for baking than for meat. The vegetables are unusually good; there are recipes for wild watercress, persimmons, and the like, as well as accurate directions for traditional and familiar dishes. Utterly without pretension and a milestone in the history of American cooking, the book is simply excellent.

The Garden to Table Cookbook, introduced by James Beard. McGraw-Hill $15

By far and away the clearest and best of the grow-it-yourself books. The first section tells you how to grow vegetables, fruits, and herbs. This is a complete and very good garden book for beginners in itself. There is a comprehensive alphabet of plants which sums up planting, growing, and harvesting information along with tips on the best varieties and problems that may be encountered. The second section presents all one needs to know about preserving one’s harvest, from canning to freezing, with jams and pickles. It provides as well a concise summary on how to preserve each kind of produce. Recipes form the final section. All of them are vegetarian dishes based on the plants grown and preserved in the first part of this book. We were delighted to find, at last, directions for “cornichons” or French sour gherkins. They work. Some of the recipes, like Golden Squash and Citrus Marmalade, are inventive; all are good. With this book, you will find a use for everything you can grow in your garden. No more awkward trips to the neighbors with the overflow.

Thomas Jefferson’s Cookbook, by Marie Kimball. Virginia $7.50

This book, long out of print, has been reissued with a new essay on Jefferson as gourmet by Helen Bullock. The introductions tell us a great deal about Jefferson’s preferences for different kinds of food and wines and about 18th-century cooking and dining. His taste seems to have been divided between French cooking on the one hand and American Southern on the other. His recipes and those of the family are presented here in versions modified for preparation in today’s kitchens. The basic book on the subject.

The American Regional Cookbook, by Nancy and Authur Hawkins. Prentice-Hall $10.95

While the search for a truly great American regional cookbook continues, this Bicentennial effort makes a solid contribution. The recipes are clear and easy to follow, just right for the cook who wishes to experiment occasionally with a different dish. The introductions to the various regions are not comprehensive, but they are intelligent and interesting. Sections of the book vary, of course. Oddly, the section on Southern cooking is one of the weakest while that on dishes from the Gulf Coast is one of the best. Drinks are included along with recipes for complete menus from each region.

Two Hundred Years of Charleston Cooking, by Rhett, Gay, Woodward, and Hamilton. South Carolina $7.95 cloth, $3.95 paper

First published in 1930 and an instant success, this has recently been reissued. Of course, it invites comparison at once with the highly successful Charleston Receipts. The reprint has great charm. There are stories with most of the recipes, but, more important, the dishes have all been tested in a modern kitchen and are much more precise than those offered in the newer book. The rice pilaus are not overcooked, for example, nor is the fish—a common tendency in Charleston Receipts. We like the reprint because it is closer to the past and more authentic. It uses nutmeg, mace, and allspice rather than Worcestershire sauce and chopped vegetables. The book does not have as many recipes as the other, but all these are good. Real cooks will want both books so they can compare dishes and adjust their preparations between the two.

The New Orleans Restaurant Cookbook,by Deirdre Stanforth. Doubleday $9.95

This is a most welcome revised new edition of what has become, over the years, almost the standard work on the subject. There is now a chapter on Le Ruth’s, as well as a generous sampling of recipes from Galatoire’s, the Pontchartrain, Antoine’s, and the other famous restaurants of the crescent city. The most useful feature of the book is the presentation of two or three versions of the same dish so that they can be compared. We disliked the snub given Tujague’s, the only real old-fashioned restaurant of quality left in the town.

Mrs. Chiang’s Szechwan Cookbook by Ellen Schrecker with John Schrecker. Harper if Row $12.95

This has some faults but enormous virtues. Some cooks may find it difficult to follow the preparation of these dishes, which are presented in a lengthy and rambling fashion. On the other hand, this is the first authentic Szechwan cook book we’ve seen. The recipes are inventive, tasty, excellent. The long introduction points out correctly that “Szechwanese food can be dangerous, since when you are addicted to it everything else seems pallid.” There are first-rate sections on regional cooking, vegetables, and bean curd. One word of warning, Beginners may wish to cut the red pepper seasoning in these recipes by half. These dishes are hot; we wonder how anybody could take them full strength. Celery and other original ingredients make these dishes, seasoned to your taste, exquisite. Highly recommended.

Chinese Cooking on Next to Nothing by Kenneth H. C. Lo. Pantheon $8.95

Here is a gem of a little book that accomplishes all it sets out to do. This is not a gourmet cook book; it is a practical, day-to-day, recipe guide for attractive, flavorful, and inexpensive dishes. The author has taken his Chinese background for granted and sensibly uses, when they work, available western ingredients and utensils. A wok is not required. As much care is taken with the taste of the food as its balance and nutritional value. The chapter on cooking with soy sauce is very revealing and useful. The chapter on Lu dishes, the first we’ve seen on this, will repay careful reading by anyone interested in Chinese cooking.

Chinese Cooking for the American Kitchen, by Karen Lee. Atheneum $12.95

The introduction is splendid, one of the best we’ve seen. It covers most of what you need to know before you begin Chinese cooking, including eleven pages on cutting techniques, the standard text on this. The recipes are well chosen and clearly presented. Each one is followed by valuable comments on preparation. We found these very useful and unavailable elsewhere. The final part of the book, devoted to larger dinner parties, includes low cholesterol dishes and a brilliantly organized party for 40. If you will take time to master this book, you will know a great deal about Chinese cooking.

The Chinese Menu Cookbook, by Joanne Hush and Peter Wong. Holt, Rinehart and Winston $9.95

We are now in the second generation of Chinese cookbooks. The first wave of all-purpose books has begun to yield to more specialized titles. This one is an excellent beginner’s cookbook. It has a useful and simple introduction on ingredients, equipment, and techniques. Another virtue is a three-page discussion of the differences in cooking in the regions of China, which is excellent. Each recipe is denoted by region of origin. The book is well organized and proceeds from simple menus for dinner for two to a superb dinner of Peking Duck. The preparations are clearly presented; the cook should have no problems following them. A good first book on the subject.

The Classic Chinese Cook Book by Mai Leung. Harper’s Magazine Press $12.95

This has great virtues and serious faults. The recipes are the most clearly presented of all the Chinese cookbooks now available. There are a great many recipes from all the regions of China although there are not many for vegetables or bean curd. The great attraction of these dishes is that they, for once, taste like food served in the Orient. The trouble is that the author is too heavy handed with the Chinese seasonings most available here: ground bean sauce, black soy sauce, Chinese wine, ginger, garlic, and spices. In the end, all the dishes are so much alike that they become tiresome. Still, because of the presentation and the initial impact of flavor, this is an excellent book for anyone involved in Chinese cooking.

The Bengal Lancers Indian Cookbook by Mohan Chablani and Brahm N. Dixit. Regnery $5.95 paper

Thanks to this book, Indian cooking has been our culinary discovery of the year. To begin, throw away all your cans of “curry,” add a new shelf for spices, learn to open a coconut, and be prepared for something very different and very good.

The recipes for curries in this book can be either hot or cool, and they are fun to make. The book offers a wide choice of poultry and seafood dishes while, for obvious reasons, beef dishes are few. Anyone willing to try Chicken Tandoori will at once grasp the point of this kind of cooking. There are, as well, excellent recipes for vegetables, fresh and dried, and for rise. If you think rice is rice, try the Biryani, a Mogul dish. It is a feast and a meal in itself. The recipes and cooking instructions are clear and brief. Most include a note about the origins of the dish. Only the desserts, which are sweet and heavy, are weak. A fresh fruit or sherbet does very well after an Indian dinner.

The Complete Asian Cookbook, by Charmaine Solomon. McGraw-Hill $15.95

This is a coffee table cookbook with beautiful full-page color illustrations. It looks worth twice the price and obviously would be an excellent gift. For all who seek exotic dishes, it is a treasure. It covers Asian cuisine from Pakistan through Burma to the Philippines. Because of its scope it will, of course, suffer in comparison with specialized texts on the cooking in these regions. The Vietnam section, for example, does not very well represent the very refined cooking of that country. The sections on Pakistan, India, and Siri Lanka are probably the best. Each region is introduced with a useful discussion of local cuisine, meals, utensils, and ingredients. There is also an excellent glossary as an appendix.

The Food and Drink of Mexico by George C. Booth. Dover $2.50 paper

This is an informed and comprehensive Mexican cookbook at a most reasonable price. It should meet the needs of all but the most demanding cooks. There are good soups, vegetable dishes, and economical main dishes, all of them properly flavored. In all, there are almost 200 recipes. The drinks are a bit unusual and may not suit all tastes. Good for reference.

The Food of the Western World, by Theodora FitzGibbon. Quadrangle $25

This is a large, handsome, and surprisingly useful book. It is not a dictionary but a concise Larousse of all Western cooking. There are interesting notes on the origins of different foods and dishes as well as correct and clear descriptions of basic techniques and sauces. A great many of us never knew the difference, perhaps, between “kokkelipiima” and “viilipiima,” but that is noted here. The accent is definitely English throughout. For all those interested in cooking

The Slim Gourmet Cookbook, by Barbara Gibbons. Harper & Row, $12.95

You know where you are when you read in the introduction that this has been written for women who “hate being fat” because “it means wearing dresses.” We are in the land of doubleknit and maraschino cherries. Yet, if the Chicken Jubile which “cries for candles” is not gourmet, it is slim. For the great many Americans who eat prepared foods, frozen foods, and canned things, this book could be an eye-opener. The vegetable section, 15 pages, wisely suggests that people should cook fresh vegetables. The author’s constant use of arrowroot to bind sauces rather than starch and butter is a habit we should all follow. But the recipes will starve you to death. Mrs. Gibbons serves a two-pound fryer as dinner for six. The result is that all her daily menus include snacks. This, we think, is nonsense. The first and best way to lose fat is to eat well at the table, never, ever, between meals. All slim gourmets will agree.

The Cook’s Bookshelf

As a basic all-purpose guide to the preparation of food we have found, over the years, that The James Beard Cookbook (Dutton $7.95) is the best. The more cook books we read the more we admire his simplicity, thoroughness, and good taste. This should be the first book for every beginner; experienced cooks will continue to consult it frequently.


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