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Cookbook, Spring 1982

ISSUE:  Spring 1982

Waverley Root’s great erudition and talent have won him, in the hearts of food lovers, a place by M. F. K. Fisher. His Food of Italy, Food of France, (Knopf) and Eating in America, (Morrow, $16.95) are classics. So should be his two latest volumes. Food (Simon and Schuster, $24.95) is the author’s personnal promenade through the alphabet. Like Alexandre Dumas’ Dictionnaire de Cuisine, it is witty, idiosyncratic, and highly enjoyable. Herbs and Spice (McGraw-Hill, $19.95), a visually gorgeous book, teaches us everything about the history, geography, growing, processing, and use of every flavorful seed or grass. Because many authors have contributed to it, there are minor inconsistencies. All make superb gifts.

A Short-Title Catalogue of Household and Cookery Books published in the English Tongue 1701—1800, by Virginia Maclean. Prospect Books $40

Most bibliographies of cookery and the household arts have relied in the past on private collections. Prospect Books, with this, inaugurates a series of modern bibliographies, that is, ones for which the author has systematically studied the contents of all the important libraries in the United States as well as in Great Britain. Mrs. Maclean’s work is thorough and accurate. The text, handsomely set, is embellished with reproductions of title pages and with old cookbook illustrations. An important book for librarians and collectors.

After—Five Gourmet, by Colette Rossant. Random House $15.50

The author, who works full-time in New York, buys food on her way home. Then she quickly prepares dinners, which such acclaimed gourmets as Calvin Trillin and Craig Claiborne find extraordinary. Her secret? Skill, of course, but, even more, imagination and a great freedom in her approach to food. Because she imprudently bought 10 pounds of garlic one day Mrs. Rossant “had to” invent her marvelous recipe for Roast Garlic Buds, which makes a perfect accompaniment for lamb and most meats. Nearly all of the 350 recipes offered here have been invented by the author, who is highly professional. The result is a feast. The Pears and Kiwis with Prosciutto (which can be replaced by country cured ham) make a lovely appetizer. In winter, try the Hot Prosciutto, with a Tarragon and Shallot sauce which could be used as well for fish, or the never-ever seen before Snail Stew with Walnuts. Mrs. Rossant’s main dishes, from meat to shell fish, are simple to prepare, original, and delicious. She enhances her beef with quickly made attractive sauces, or judiciously chosen fruits or herbs, which share their flavor with the meat while it roasts. Or she wraps a chicken overnight with pine needles before roasting it with juniper berries, which is an extraordinary tour de force. Some dishes require more time to prepare and cook, like the hearty Potée, a country soup which is a meal in itself. What is left can be reheated for an effortless meal. The chapter on desserts is rather short; they seem to be mostly for company. In a short introduction, Mrs. Rossant offers a table of food listed on a time-preparation basis. She also presents various menus and gives for each a working timetable. This is one of the best cookbooks of the season. With it, cooking can never be dull again.

Entertainments, by Judith Olney. Barren’s $19.95

We are not sure whether this is about decorating or cooking. In a dazzling presentation of 20 feasts, each inspired by a theme, Mrs. Olney decorates everything— the food, the table, and the dining room— to set her guests in the proper atmosphere. The results range from the hilarious, as in the Surreal Fantasy, to the exquisite, as in the Dinner of Seduction or the Dim Sun Parlor. Mrs. Olney’s recipes for these “fetes” are, as usual, imaginative and good. Most of them are also inexpensive, but they will require some patience to prepare. They are also somewhat overwhelmed by the superb illustrations and the author’s humorous introduction to each meal. No one should ever again plan a stunning party without reading Mrs. Olney.

The Park Avenue Cookbook, by Sara Stamm. Doubleday $19.95

The menus presented in this handsome book are its greatest treasure. Elegant, and subtly understated, they are simply smart. It is clear that Mrs. Stamm has been eating very well all her life, and that she expects every meal, from a simple luncheon to the Derby Day Party, to be just right. To avoid disasters, she keeps most of her recipes simple. Her Cucumber and Yoghurt Soup, flavored with chives, is delicious. The Hash à la Ritz is light and delicate, and the Puree of Lima Beans and Watercress is surprisingly original. A good book for the refined hostess.

The Book of Great Hors d’Oeuvres, by Terence Janericco. CBI $15.95

Do not run to the grocery store when you decide to entertain friends on the spur of the moment. Whatever you have on hand, Mr. Jane Ricco will transform into a palatable niblet. With the help of a food processor, this can be done in a minute less than no time—from the simple curried Crab Pate to classic Swedish Meatballs, for which there are three recipes, or the more elaborate Bouchées aux Moules. We found all these preparations easy to assemble and delicious. Most of them are also economical. With its hundreds of recipes, this book is a must for the host and hostess.

Practical Guide to Cooking, Entertaining and Household Management, by Pamela Harlech. Atheneum $16.95

This odd book is supposed to tell the hostess absolutely everything she needs to know, including the number of towels required for the bathroom. But it reads much more like someone’s personal collection of newspaper clippings, from Polly’s Pointers to the weekly food section. It is no better, and even less likely to please the reader’s taste. At least, this time, Mrs. Harlech gives us her sources of knowledge in two full pages of bibliography.

Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Chocolate Desserts, by Maida Heatter. Knopf $15

This is a dangerous book. No one with a French liver should read it. Most of us will love it, for Mrs. Heatter offers excellent, well-tested recipes which are, quite simply, addictive. Prudently, we tried the chocolate-filled Florentines and the Positively-the-Absolute-Best-Chocolate-Chip Cookies, hoping the children would eat them all. But we could not resist eating more than our share. Mrs. Heatter’s own Chocolate Mousse is properly made, without cream, and the result is light and delicious. The Chocolate Butter Cream she spreads on her Cocoa Sponge Cake is simple and excellent. Obviously she favors the Austrian way with chocolate over the French one, The latter uses less whipping cream, gelatin, and other heavy ingredients. This book is for the chocolate buff. If he gets a French liver, well, we warned him.

Cuisine of France, by Danielle Ancelet. St. Martins $15.95

Simple, attractive, genuine: the 300 recipes offered in this well-illustrated book present real French everyday cooking. We tried with success a Cream of Sorrel Soup, which we prepared in only 10 minutes, as stated by the author. The Pork Chops Charcutière, were tender and “piquantes,” and the large Apple Pancake delicious. There is a good representative collection of desserts served by the French, who seldom eat cake. Each of the 13 delicious salads makes a summer meal in itself. Unfortunately, the translator does not offer substitutes for the game and poultry recipes—chicken in lieu of rabbit, Cornish hens for small birds, marinated pork for wild boar. The wise cook will use his own tricks.

The New James Beard, by James Beard. Knopf $16.95

This is James Beard Revisited. The old master’s touch is still there. He cooks his peas 6 minutes in one recipe, 10 minutes in another, and not, unlike the others, “until they are tender,” one of the most aggravating expressions the novice finds in cookbooks. But his taste is lighter now, and more refined, even though his preparations are kept simple, He offers a delicious Shrimp en Papillote, seasoned with herbs and lemon, but wrap it in foil rather than in hard-to-work-with parchment paper. Still a great lover of pork, Beard turns his attention today to the light loin meat, for which he gives a handful of excellent preparations. We particularly enjoyed the Pork Loin roasted with Green Peppercorns, a perfect combination. The section devoted to Bread and Cookies is short, for most cooks have the Beard on Bread on their shelf. The desserts, well chosen, are mostly based on fruit, which we love. This book does not. replace the old James Beard’s Cookbook: it complements it.

The Great Year-Round Turkey Cookbook, by Anita Borghese. Stein & Day $12.95

The author is not a turkey nut but a very sensible person who has discovered that yesterday’s Christmas treat is, today, the best value in the meat department, both economically and nutritionally. The trick is to cut it (or have it cut by the butcher) and freeze it in portions so that the four or six meals yielded by the bird do not have to be served within one week. Of course, turkey parts are available today, and despite their higher price they are still ahead of chicken. With this approach, Mrs. Borghese offers chapters devoted to each section of the bird. Then comes the Thanksgiving section, where we find, besides all we wish to know about roasting the turkey, ten traditional or very imaginative menus, as well as recipes for each side dish, from first course to dessert. This is followed by an excellent chapter on leftovers and recipes for soups and cold dishes. We liked the Turkey Marsala with two kinds of mushrooms, were impressed by the “French Thanksgiving dinner,” and enjoyed our leftovers in a cardamom-yoghurt sauce. A very modern approach to an old problem.

Cooking by Degrees, edited by Laura Fried and Terence Janericco. CBI $15.95

This compendium of recipes provided by Boston University alumni is really an educated Junior League Cookbook. It has the same merits. Most preparations are foolproof. They do not require too much time, and many being “family favorites,” like Isaac Asimov’s meat loaf, are very good. It also has the same defects. The taste of the authors is obviously eclectic. Besides an excellent ham Jambalaya, for example, the cook will find a rather heavy ham loaf with mustard. Our favorite: the recipe contributed, tongue in cheek, by a professor of biology, which requires three buckets of Mnemiopsis. They are, he notes, “succulent ctenophores.”

The Campus Survival Cookbook No. 2, by Jacqueline Wood and Joelyn Scott Gilchrist. Morrow $5.95 paper

Presented as a basic book for “educated people” who do not know how to cook, and, besides, lack time and money, this witty small volume will, indeed, help those persons who have never before ventured into the kitchen. The simple recipes, arranged by menu, could be prepared by a child. Unfortunately, too many of the ingredients are processed ones—the veggies are frozen, the juices canned, and the mixes rely on Bisquick. Still, the authors use them with some taste. The best chapter is devoted to one-meal salads for the “Summer Session,” A good gift for the Starving Single.

Seasonings Cookbook for Quantity Cuisine, by Jule Wilkinson. CBI $22.50

This is not a gourmet’s Bible, but a serious attempt to help institutional cooks to put a little whim into their pots. There are a lot of various extracts, Worcestershire sauce, and onion flakes, in this handy volume, but there are as well cardamom, mace, or quatre epices. The recipes, which yield 48 portions, are all simple, rather quick to prepare, and often exotic without being chi-chi. We tried, reduced to four portions, the Veal with Green Peppercorns, the Ethiopian Chicken, and the Shahi Kofta (ground lamb kebabs). They were all much better than what can be found in 99 percent of most local restaurants and clubs.

Keep it Simple, by Marian Burros. Fast and Fresh, by Julie Dannenbaum. Morrow $11.95, Harper & Row $13.95

The more we look at one, the more we like the other. Both, organized around quick menus, are written for the woman who does not want to spoil her smart little frock while cooking. We would rather put on our vast, worn, old apron and proceed to serious matters.

McClane’s North American Fish Cookery, by A. J. McClane. Holt, Rinehart & Winston $22.95

Encouraged by the great, and just, success of his famous Encyclopedia of Fish, McClane offers us a collection of recipes gleaned from coast to coast. An epicure as well as a fisherman, the author does not believe that the best fish is sautéed simply in butter. His favorite recipes rely heavily on sauces and stuffing. The mussels he proposes, for example, are stuffed with a mixture of fruit, spice, and rice, or they accompany a seviche of scallops adorned with a vinaigrette made with 15 ingredients. The recipes we prefer are the simplest: the delicious Crab Meat Parfait, the Baked Salmon with Asparagus, and the Pickled Red Snapper, a perfect dish for summer. Each recipe is illustrated by a full-page photograph by Arie de Zanger, and each is a masterpiece.

North Atlantic Seafood, by Alan Davidson. Viking $15.95

The erudition of the author makes this guide indispensable for any cook who prepares fish or shellfish from the East Coast. This is the only book where we found how safely to clean a blowfish, or puffer, that cousin of the deadly Japanese Fugu, the one and unfortunately only time our fishmonger offered it to us. It is also the only book which told us exactly what is a monk-fish, now quite popular in fish markets, and one of the best fish available in the East. The first part of the book is a precise, illustrated, encyclopedia of North Atlantic fish, shellfish, and even edible seaweeds. The second part is devoted to recipes arranged by countries, from Canada to U. S. S. R. through Iceland. Most are exotic; a nice change from classic fish cookbooks. The fisherman will also find this of immense value.

The Complete Cookbook of American Fish and Shellfish, by Jean Nicolas. CBI $29.95

Even before reading the jacket, the cook will know this book is written by a professional. Each unadorned, but clear and precise recipe is offered for 6 and 24 portions. The more than 200 recipes for fish do not rely on fantasy. They have been perfected by a highly trained chef. Along with the perfectly simple Cold Striped Bass with Mayonnaise, one finds a Bass Steamed in Seaweeds directly adapted from Michel Guérard’s marvelous recipe, and a Striped Bass Sainte Alliance, good enough for a king. The chapter devoted to more than 150 sauces is a treasury. Mr. Nicolas, who has been chef at the Dorchester in London, also offers a section describing the fish and shellfish most usually found in American markets, their basic preparations, and the techniques for cooking them. A serious book for the serious cook.

Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art, by Shizuo Tsuji. Kodansha International $14.95

Slightly awed by this highly acclaimed and handsome book, we asked our Most Expert Asia-Buff Friend to comment. “On the whole,” said our Expert, “the book is excellent.” “Well,” asked we, “are the recipes one-star or three-star?” Answer: “Mr. Tsuji’s Beef Shabushabu is fit for a daimyo. On the other hand, he gives some idea of simple, inexpensive dishes, like the preparation of ginko nuts, which can be gathered under the tree.” “One cannot grade the food of Japan,” continued our Expert. “The level of the dishes is solely determined by their appearance, to such an extent that at the most refined dinner party, exquisitely presented food is shown, but it is not eaten.” A bit taken aback, we wondered how do the Japanese survive? “Simple,” said our Most Esteemed Friend: “they all go to Chinese restaurants.” M. F. K. Fisher, who does go to Japanese restaurants and loves them, has written an enlightening preface to this ultimate book on the Japanese Art of Cooking.

Mrs. Ma’s Japanese Cooking, by Nancy Chih Ma, Sachiko Ma, Helen Ma Yamawaki. Japan Publication $15.95

We did not find much inspiration in this new product of the Ma family’s cooking enterprises. The abundant illustrations are a great help in the lengthy and minute preparation of the food. But the dishes were quite disappointing, as in the dry, heavy Deep-Fried-Chicken or the Beefand-Onion Topping, which had no originality at all. Obviously, the lack of proper ingredients, unavailable in most American cities, may have prevented us from trying the most interesting recipes.

The Complete Curry Cookbook, by Charmaine and Reuben Solomon. McGraw-Hill $11.95

Too many people dislike curries because these dishes, in the West, are always prepared with the same commercial powder. Mrs. Solomon, the remarkable cook who wrote The Complete Asian Cookbook, and her husband, who is a curry addict, would throw that kind of powder out of their house. So will the Western cook after trying their aromatic Hot Chicken Curry from Burma or their fascinating Moslem Beef Curry from Thailand. Another Thai dish, the Chicken with Coconut and Laos Powder, has become one of our favorites, although it is not exactly a curry. Since these dishes, in the East, are mostly a condiment used over staple food, the Solomons also offer recipes for breads and rices, as well as for the usual side dishes of chutneys and sambals. There are also more than a dozen recipes for basic curry pastes or powders which can be stored and used as needed. A warning: “chili powder” is powdered chili pepper, not the American mixture. A highly flavored and useful cookbook.

The Original Thai Cookbook, by Jennifer Brennan. Marek $12.95

Addicted as we are to the cooking of Southeast Asia, we were impatient to try some of the 140 recipes presented by Mrs. Brennan. We were not disappointed. Her Princess’s Curry, beautifully seasoned with citrus-like flavors and coconut milk, is outstanding. The Korat Marinated Shrimps was a triumph. We tried many more, all of them very clearly presented, and enjoyed them all. The main reason for this success, we think, is that the author wisely decided to offer her readers the authentic recipes of Thailand, She does not advise one on how to substitute lemon zest for lemon grass. With so many Oriental grocery stores around, it is possible to find the right ingredients. The author’s introduction, where she describes Thai cooking and dining habits, is unpretentious and informative. An excellent book, which we recommend highly to the adventurous cook.

The Indonesian Kitchen, by Copeland Marks with Mintari Soeharjo. Atheneum $12.95

Indonesian cookery, with its deep historical background, is one of Asis’s most interesting. Light herbs are sometimes combined with hot chilies: the result, as in the Meatballs in Coconut Sauce, is both fresh and fiery. In other original preparations, like the excellent Chicken Leaves, local strong spices, nutmeg, and cloves, are mixed with traditional Oriental bases, soy sauce, and ketchup. The satays, or local barbecues, are very appealing, and, to our taste, they make perfect summer dinners. The section devoted to vegetables is outstanding. This authentic and easy to follow cookbook is the best introduction to Indonesian cooking.

Betty Cracker’s Chinese Cookbook. Random House $7.95

Betty Crocker is not Chinese. Here she uses more baking soda and flour than was ever milled in the Celestial Empire. But, being decidedly American, she knows very well what the girls are going to find on the supermarket shelves. Therefore, she restrains her use of spices to five-spice powder and boldly makes her plum sauce with orange marmalade when need be. The results are surprisingly agreeable. Her Sweet and Sour Beef is exactly what Middle-America expects it to be. The wontons and rolls are good.

Mexican Cookery, by Barbara Hansen. HP Books $7.95 paper

Pretty, well presented, and inexpensive, this book is a good introduction to Mexican hot stuff. The author does not waste time in discussing a dozen different chilies used by Mexican cooks and unobtainable here. She simply lists common peppers, with their uses. Her whole approach to over-the-border cooking shows the same no-nonsense intelligence. The recipes, simple and very good, are easy to prepare. We particularly liked her sauces, including the delicious Avocado Sauce served over a poached snapper. The Huevos Motulenos, Fried Eggs with Tomato Sauce, Corn Tortillas, and various garnishes make a perfect winter brunch. A word of warning though: three of us ate the Enchiladas de Queso which Mrs. Hansen serves to six. Perhaps they were too good.

Savoring Mexico: A Travel Cookbook, by Sharon Cadwallader. McGraw-Hill $7.95 paper

Of some interest to the traveler, this book does not offer much to the cook. Many cookbooks about Mexican and regional Mexican cuisine have been published recently. Here we find recipes that we have already encountered many times, like the Huevos Rancheros, the Enchiladas Verdes, or the Chayotes Hellenes. A few good original preparations, like the Polio in Cebolla, which requires a whole grated nutmeg and fresh cilantro, cannot save the book.


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