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Cookbook, Spring 1983

ISSUE:  Spring 1983

Richard Sax is a typical New Cookbook author. American, young, trained here and abroad, he turns his back resolutely on obvious food, blends all the knowledge he has acquired here and there, seasons it with his own taste, and prepares simple, delicious meals in a jiffy. With his book, one can eat well every day instead of making an occasion of it. We tried the Steaks au Poivre Vert one hurried evening. They were done in 15 minutes and were excellent. The Chicken Curry, very easy to prepare when all the ingredients are at hand, is absolutely outstanding, and the Simplified Choucroute Garnie is so simple indeed that this hearty dish is now back on our dinner table. The best of the book, perhaps, is its “Basic Procedures” section, which, when understood, allows the reader to make his own variations on any given recipe. A good example is the basic method for soups made from leftover meat. It is a treasure. M. F. K. Fisher, who does not pay compliments to the unworthy, has written the introduction to this book.

Cooking with Cornelius, by Cornelius O’Donnell. Random House $13.95

We do not usually review cookbooks put out by corporations. But this Corning Ware side product is too good to be ignored. The author, a plump, jovial fellow, knows what America likes to eat. Yet he also believes that everyday food should be imaginative and tasty, even when it is simple. The result is a collection of 200 excellent recipes, which, to our delight, includes the so often ignored old-fashioned poultry hash and turkey croquettes. Both are very good. We tried with equal success the Classic Meatballs and Spaghetti, the Cucumber Vichyssoise, and the Summer Squash Skillet. The 14 pages devoted to the introduction, cooking tips, and to microwave cooking are full of good sense and good advice. One of the few points on which we disagree with the author is his cooking times. These tend to be a touch too long, expecially with eggs. His baked Frittatas, a perfect accommodation for leftovers, are better when briefly cooked on top of the stove.

Jean Anderson Cooks, by Jean Anderson. Morrow $19.95

Mrs. Anderson is a proven cook, with a number of acclaimed books to her credit. Why she has chosen to publish a whole new volume now is not clear. The presentation of food is original. Starting with meat, followed by seafood and vegetables, the author offers for each item a decent amount of information and a handful of recipes. The reader will learn which cut of beef is most advantageous, the quantity to buy, per serving, for each cut, the best techniques to cook it, how to store it fresh or frozen, and the like. Oddly enough, in this health-conscious time, the author does not give the nutritional and caloric value of each item, and there is not even a single page devoted to fruit. The recipes are foolproof and agreeable. We ate the old-fashioned fricassee of chicken with pleasure. This first part is followed by a good chapter on baking and then by a collection of Mrs. Andersons favorite recipes, where her taste for German and Nordic preparations prevails. A hidden treasure lies at the end of the book: there is a thorough, complete table of metric equivalents to American weights, temperatures, measures, can sizes, and fluid ounces. At last!

Fearless Cooking against the Clock, by Michele Evans. Simon & Schuster $17.50

Mrs. Evans is an esteemed cook and gourmet and a popular one too. Why do we find the latest volume in the “Fearless Cooking” series somewhat dull? It may be because the 250 complete meals she offers here are fast ones, and she is obliged to use over and again ingredients and condiments that quickly release their flavors in the pan. Lemon juice, garlic, herbs, cheeses, mustard, honey, fruit are on every page. In the end, one gets tired of the Chicken Sautéed in Orange Sauce (with Strawberries), the Sautéed Flounder (with Bananas), or the Sautéed Tournedos of Pork (with Prunes), recipes which otherwise are simple and healthy. One also has the impression that this is city cooking with all its fads. Where will we find the fresh swordfish, the mangoes, the brioche, the marrons glacés, the goat cheese which goes with the seedless grapes, or the kiwi which goes with the brie? We probably should put this book aside until we are compelled to diet or are overcome by summer heat. Then we would probably appreciate much more the light and refreshing menus offered by Mrs. Evans.

Favorite Meals From Williamsburg, by Donna C. Sheppard, general editor. Holt, Rinehart & Winston $10

The mere name Williamsburg evokes great feasts in the lavish Tidewater tradition: Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner tables covered with hams, oyster dressing, candied yams, roasted birds, and endless relishes and sweetmeats. Recipes for all these are here, gathered by menus. And this book also offers less known recipes, like the excellent Pâté Maison, meant for a picnic on the James River, a quiche made with Virginia ham, or Josiah Chowning’s Chicken Salad, which is not distressed by too much celery. The book, printed in two tones, is absolutely lovely, and at its modest price it makes an outstanding present.

The Yankee Magazine Cookbook, by the editors of Yankee magazine. Harper & Row $15.95

If any real WASPs still exist, this cookbook is for them. Illustrated with Victorian vignettes, scattered with discreetly humorous anecdotes, printed in a hue of brown reminiscent of old mahogany, it has the charm of an old New England yacht club. The recipes, collected from past issues of Yankee magazine, are for “the finest plain cooking in the world.” Plain they are. The Old English Steak and Onion Pie is made of dredged stew beef and sautéed onions, with nothing else to grace it under its equally simple suet crust. Most of the recipes are, like this one, inspired by English food. As one would expect, there is an excellent preparation for baked beans—not Boston’s but Lake Monomonac’s. Aside from the recipes, it is charming to read.

The Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook, by Alice Waters. Random House $16.95

Mrs. Waters is an inspiring cook. It is difficult to read her book without jumping into the kitchen and wanting to start cooking right away. Like most other contemporary cooks, she requires that her readers use only the freshest and best of ingredients, preferably when they are at their seasonal peak. She is right, of course. The Red Onion Tarts she serves with duck, and which are cleverly enhanced, both in their color and taste, by a dollop of cassis, would not be so delicate if made with old, sulphuric onions. Her Spring Lamb Ragoût would lose some of its delicacy if the vegetables were not tender and new. The book offers only a limited number of recipes. Its greatest value lies in the author’s approach to food. Mrs. Waters has been deeply influenced by the cooking of France, especially that of Provence, with its aromas of fresh herbs, garlic, and wild lettuce. But after assimilating all this, she has evolved a very personal taste, which appears both in her light techniques and in her original combinations of food. Who else would have married leek and goat cheese in a tart or served small sausages perfumed with champagne with oysters on the half shell? No wonder the restaurant she runs in Berkeley, Chez Panisse, has acquired such fame. It seems well deserved.

Glorious Food, by Christopher Idone. Stewart Tabori & Chang $40

First, the bad news. This glorious book is printed in sans serif, an abominable type face, which looks like a computer printout and is almost impossible to read. Second, the good news. It is on every page of this how-to-entertain compendium presented by the most famous caterers of New York. They have gathered their excellent recipes in 43 menus for every occasion: the wedding party, corporate breakfast, children’s Halloween, boat picnic, and lunch for one. There is no overwhelming originality here. The Cold Mussel Soup, the Chicken Breast with Lemon-Mustard Sauce, the Chocolate Mousse Légère, and the Orange Brûlé, are all well-known, popular dishes. More imaginative are the lavish use of fruit and the salad mixtures. What makes this book so distinctive are the remarkable color illustrations. They will give the hostess scores of ideas on how to decorate the table and how to present food so beautifully that its taste will hardly matter.

The Foods & Wines of Spain, by Penelope Casas. Knopf $17.95

The best culinary surprise of the year comes from Spain. This beautiful country with a remarkable religious heritage is not renowned for its food. In the twenties, AliBab regretfully noted in his Gastronomie that Spanish cooking was “very mediocre, to say the least.” Times have changed. It seems that Iberian cooks have regained the talent they possessed in the 16th and 17th centuries. Mrs. Casas in her carefully researched book offers the usual chapters on soups, meals-in-a-pot, poultry, and vegetables. We find here earthy flavors one would expect from Spain: mixtures of meat and fish, or stews supported by garbanzo and other local beans, seasoned with garlic, homemade pimento, and slices of the famous local dry-cured ham. Less known are refined combinations of ingredients inherited from the Moors: in the Polio en Pepitoria, for example, the chicken is flavored with saffron and almonds, among other things; and the delicious Chicken with Figs has a touch of cinnamon. Game and fish have always been a staple in the peninsula, and Mrs. Casas offers scores of excellent recipes for both. They range from simple preparations for cod or rabbit enjoyed by fishermen and farmers to sophisticated dishes of crustaceans or quail and include some of the best known Spanish dishes, such as the marvelous and extravagant Roast Pheasant of Alcantara—a dish we plan to try the day we are offered “two dozen small truffles.” Two chapters we particularly enjoyed are those devoted to tapas, the savory snacks enjoyed on the Spanish version of the pub crawl, and to sausages, patés, and savory pies, which make unusual and excellent hors d’oeuvres. Mrs. Casas concludes with a thorough survey of the wines of Spain, which are gaining in popularity here. We have put her book on our shelf beside the basic works of Mrs. Kuo (China), Mrs. Hazan (Italy), Mrs. Sahni (India), and Mrs. Bach Ngo (Vietnam).

The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking, by Barbara Tropp. Morrow $24.95

The worst zealots can be neophytes. This huge book certainly proves the point. The author, a Chinese scholar turned cook and a vegetarian converted to meat, has a bright mind and an enthusiasm which make the chatty parts of her book rather enjoyable. But the recipes of this heralded “long awaited masterpiece” lack finesse, that most eminent Chinese quality. “My favorite aromatic foursome,” she writes, “are ginger, garlic, scallion, and red pepper flakes.” In many classic recipes, like the Mu-Shu Pork, she doubles or trebles the usual amount of soy sauce and rice wine, while omitting the lightening stock. In her own inventions, like the Fried Oysters and Spinach, she uses so much strong spice that the taste of the main ingredients is lost. The recipes are long, which makes them tedious to follow. We tried a few dishes without being convinced that this is the ultimate book on Chinese cooking. Perhaps it is our taste that is amiss.

The Three-Star Recipes of Alain Senderens, by Alain Senderens. Morrow $22.50

This latest volume in Morrow’s series of cookbooks from three-star chefs is one of the best. We expected unusual dishes from the inventor of the famous Roast Lobster with Vanilla Sauce, and there are enough here to satisfy the epicure. But we also find in Mr. Senderens’ book many easy preparations which are mostly delicious. We liked the Hot Fish Terrine, the Mussels with Tomato Sauce and Basil, the Cold Cucumber Soup, and the simple salads of lentils or oxtail, among others. As is sometimes the case in Nouvelle Cuisine, which excels in first courses, seafood, and vegetables, we were not as satisfied with the meat recipes. The lime and ginger sauce accompanying some veal cutlets is a touch déjà vu; the tea sauce and cucumbers adorning another veal dish were slightly disappointing; the lamb stew and curry are both on the bland side, expecially when cooked with average supermarket vegetables. Pork, which absorbs flavors so well, is well treated here, as in the delicious Pork with Orange and Lemon Sauce, as are poultry and game. To end a great dinner properly, Senderens offers delicious desserts often made with fruit. Throughout, the cooking is light, delicate. It is interesting to compare some recipes with previous versions, three or four years old. Cream and fish stock are now replaced by white wine and foamy butter, as in the Lobster with Vanilla Sauce; common herbs like chervil, chives, and parsley now accompany less usual ones. Tender hearts will be happy to see that Mr. Senderens now plunges his live lobsters into boiling water. He used to start them in cold. A fine book, well translated, and quite foolproof.

Paul Bocuse in Your Kitchen, by Paul Bocuse. Pantheon $18.95

Despite his stars and his fame, Bocuse has never turned his back on the country dishes he enjoyed when he was a child. When it comes to everyday cooking, the recipes he offers are simple, hearty, and full of provincial flavors. This modest collection may be the best he has published so far: most dishes can be prepared for family dinners or served to gourmet friends. To list our favorites would take the whole page: the classic Mackerels Marinated in Wine Vinegar, Partridges (or pigeons) with Cabbage, Stuffed Zucchini, or French Shepherd’s Pie, all of which we remember from our youth, are done here to perfection. Unfortunately, though, the editing is not perfect. But, as a bonus, Bocuse has asked his wine supplier to provide ten very clear and useful pages on how to choose and serve wine. They make a fine conclusion to this excellent book.

The Great Book of French Cuisine, by Henri Paul Pellaprat. Vendome Press $37.50

The great “Pellaprat” used to sit in my mother’s kitchen, where it was seldom used, being too “formidable.” We applaud the idea of keeping it in print. It is an acknowledged classic. But this revised edition is still “formidable,” even though the editors have dropped some old-fashioned preparations. Gone are the delectable Artichoke Bottoms Barigoule, one of the first dishes we ever prepared. Gone is the great classic sauce Poivrade, even though the Medallions of Venison Madame Lacroix requires one cup of it. The Duck Brigarrade loses a few feathers: now there is no duck stock in the sauce; it is a quickie. More than enough is left to put on 20 pounds, though, and there are gorgeous illustrations of food in Sunday’s clothes.

Everyday Cooking with Jacques Pépin, by Jacques Pépin. Harper & Row $19.95 cloth, $10.95 paper

When a talented chef like Pépin cooks for his or your family, he does what most of us tend to do: to recapture the past and try to recreate what were childhood favorites. This new collection of recipes is very French in its inspiration but with the simplicity of country cooking. His Vegetable Soup, which simmers every day on most French stoves, should become a mainstay here. His Mackerel in Vinaigrette, his Sausage and Potato Stew, his Boulettes of (leftover) Beef are all easy to assemble and delicious to eat. His hearty Cassoulet is made quickly and cheaply with chicken backs, necks, gizzards, wings, “or whatever is least expensive.” The excellent desserts will not frighten a novice. Regrettably, the publisher has decided to present the recipes exactly as in the now famous Technique and Methode. The result is that it is quite difficult, at first glance, to see where one starts or ends and what is optional or essential. Still, this is a rewarding book for the home cook.

A Celebration of Soups, by Robert Ackart. Doubleday $19.95

We like soup. Nothing is more refreshing than a cold cream of fresh vegetable in summer or more heart warming than a bowl of thick, meaty soup eaten by the fire on a chilly night. We were therefore delighted to receive this collection of more than 250 recipes, or variations on recipes, for potages, gumbos, bufgoos, borschts, and bisques. All are easy to follow and to prepare, and all are good. Mr. Ackart offers, obviously, many classic preparations from all over the world, including a remarkable array of bean soups. But he also presents his own inventions, which we found excellent. His chilled Cream of Basil is exquisite, and his fresh Tomato Soup is as good as it can be. Mr. Ackart is also practical: his preparations usually yield two to three quarts, most of which can be frozen for later use. To all his suggestions, for he encourages the reader to be inventive, we would add one: that instead of bacon, the cook use, when needed, dry-cured pork side, which now has a much better taste.

A World of Salads, by Rosalie Swedlin. Holt, Rinehart & Winston $9.95 paper

Unpretentious and clearly written, this book offers nearly 200 recipes for the most refreshing course of the meal. The largest chapter is titled “Single-Vegetable Salads (A to Z).” Do not be deceived: most recipes here call for more than one main ingredient. A delicious Spinach Salad, for example, requires a pound of mussels. The excellent Moroccan Green Pepper Salad contains as many tomatoes as peppers. And so on. We particularly liked the beans, pasta, and rice salads, which make ideal summer luncheons. So would the seafood salads, but we were disappointed by Mrs. Swedlin’s recipes. She uses mostly heavy, oily fish, like mackerel or tuna, instead of more refined white, light fish. Her Tahitian I’A Oa preparation, requiring the wrong fish, also omits an essential ingredient, coconut milk. But there are enough good recipes here to make up for these flaws.

The Complete Book of Pastry, by Bernard Clayton, Jr. Simon & Schuster $17.95

Pastry chefs, like most other experts, can sometimes be vague and fastidious. When teaching puff pastry, for example, they usually recommend that one beat the butter with the rolling pin “until it reaches the right temperature,” and then they insist that the dough be rolled out on a cold slab of marble. Mr. Clayton, who is merely a gifted amateur, kindly tells his reader that the proper temperature of the butter is 60 degrees, and then he rolls out his dough on the hard-maple top of his kitchen counter. These are directions we can follow, and the results are very satisfactory. The author, whose previous Complete Book of Breads was widely acclaimed, organizes this very clear volume into chapters, each devoted to one basic dough recipe and its various applications. In the chapter on Turnovers, for example, he explains how to make five classic and related basic doughs. Then he teaches us how to turn them into Cornish Pasties, delicious Calzoni, and excellent Apple Turnovers. His chapters on pies, cream puff pastry, Danish pastry, or strudel dough are equally well presented and easy to follow. Obviously, Mr. Clay ton knows that the novice, and even the experienced cook, can get cold feet in the middle of an intimidating preparation. He has a way of taking him gently but firmly by the hand and leading him out of trouble, for which we are very grateful.

Unforbidden Sweets, by Jean Anderson. Arbor House $15

Dieters who cannot survive without chocolate éclairs will be delighted by this book. Mrs. Anderson relies on proven substitutes to cut calories down drastically: for example, pure cocoa powder, which contains no fat, instead of chocolate, and cornstarch in lieu of flour. Her real innovation is in the use of sweetener. Instead of the abominable saccharin, she advocates “aspartame,” which, we discovered, is sold in health food stores under the name of Equal. The resulting éclairs? They are light and satisfying. Her best recipes are those for mousses, like the peach and rum one, and for other fruit preparations. Her Fresh Orange Sauce should become a stapple of the dieter.

The La Varenne Cooking Course, by Anne Willan. Morrow $34.95

This large, luxurious-looking book is supposed to bring the well-known La Varenne cooking school into your own kitchen. Master the chapters—lessons, writes director Anne Willan—and you could qualify for the “grand diplôme.” Thus warned, we settled in our kitchen ready to master lesson 1 on sautéing. The beginning general instructions are clear, as are the illustrated instructions on how to cut up poultry.

Indeed, the whole book is very clearly printed and eminently readable. After three pages of good reading come five recipes; four of them require chicken, veal, or brown stock, preparations that are taught in chapter-lesson 9, a hundred pages further along. The second lesson is devoted to roasting. Here, the first application is a Stuffed Turkey, which again requires stock, and braised chestnuts (chapter 3). All the recipes are quite good, although a bit plain. It would have been a useful and simple matter to rate each one by the level of skill required. After 10 basic chapters on real food comes what La Varenne is best at: sweets, from cakes to petits fours, to which no fewer than 11 chapters (out of 35) are devoted. After that we return to sobering soups, salads, and eggs, and are finally taught how to make a vinaigrette and a mayonnaise. The ground is covered at last but in a “show off” way which makes this book the perfect wedding gift for the ex-débutante of the year.

The Book of Bread, by Judith and Evan Jones. Harper & Row $15.95

We have confessed before that baking is not our forte, far from it. So, after reading through this thorough book, we considered passing it along to a baking friend for testing. But courage prevailed. We baked some biscuits, which we thought were decent. Unfortunately, and God knows why, we offered some to friends who are real Southerners. They were extremely intrigued, but they did not ask for the recipe. On the other hand, we tried the brioche with great success, letting our food processor do half the job. After that, making the Pâté en Brioche was a breeze. This is a lovely dish to serve to anyone, from the South or the North.


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