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Cookbook, Spring 1984

ISSUE:  Spring 1984

A book we rely on, winter and summer, is Alex D. Hawkes’ The Flavors of the Caribbean and Latin America (Viking, 1978). There is, quite simply, no better comprehensive book on this interesting cuisine in English. If Hawkes’ recollections of these lands now seem somewhat distant, his dishes, chosen with exquisite taste, are undiminished in flavor and excellence. Surprises abound. We find, for example, the Pato Brasileiro (Brazilian Duck) as agreeable as Duck Bigarrade.

Culture and Cuisine: A Journey through the History of Food, by Jean-Francois Revel, translated by Helen R. Lane. Doubleday $24.95

It takes the author a chapter or two to start his engine, but after that we are given a splendid account of the history of cuisine. Ancient Greek and Roman cooking practices are examined at length, and this discussion reveals that very little “progress” in taste has been achieved in the past 2,000 years. An extensive account of bread and wine leads into a surprisingly interesting survey of the cuisine of the Middle Ages, with its marvelous variety of game and fruit. Manners became more refined, pastry appeared with more balanced menus, and Taillevent presented his famous recipes for sauces and his refinements to long-existing dishes. Cuisine changed little until the 17th century, when a greater range of food, particularly vegetables, began to alter taste. The book ends with the invention of the stove in the 18th century, which made possible the modern simultaneous preparation of complex sauces and dishes at different temperatures. These possibilities were realized by Carême, whom the author characterizes, probably correctly, as the greatest single figure in the history of cooking. Along with a wide range of recipes from all ages, the text is filled with a great deal of useful historical data that brings the past to life. Vate, for example, was never a chef. As the officier de bouche of the Prince de Conde, he was in charge of organizing meals and obtaining supplies for him. When the fish did not arrive, the author says that Vate would have been put to death in the normal course of things had he not committed suicide. The many illustrations for the book are fresh and thoughtfully chosen. They enhance one of the most fascinating books on food that we have ever read. One wishes only that the author had continued his history to include the massive intrusion of “bourgeois” cooking into haute cuisine begun by Gouffe, refined and perfected by Tendret, Nignon, and Ali Bab, and finally codified by Escoffier.

Classics from a French Kitchen, by Eliane Aimé-Leroy Carley. Crown $19.95

This has to be the most “retro” book of the season. While everybody is on “nouvelle,” “California,” “slim,” or “quick,” Mrs. Carley resolutely delves into her past. Her family was quintessentially “Grand Bourgeois,” studded with cabinet members, ambassadors, or professors, all of whom had cooks and loved food. What they ate and what Mrs. Carley remembers so well was very much what would have been served at Proust’s grandmother’s table: the Velouté à la Reine, the Sole Dugléré, the Boeuf à la Mode, the Salade Parisienne, which requires three live lobsters and a can of truffles (optional). These grand dishes are presented here simply; there is no fuss but no short cuts either, for which we are grateful. The most fascinating part of the book, and what makes it so special, is that Mrs. Carley as a youngster was also told the story of the food she savored, and she has dotted her book with those memories. We learn here that the Egyptians were the first to force-feed geese for “foie gras,” and that when coffee became very chic Madame du Barry’s little dog sipped some every day from a golden saucer. Beyond this wonderful historical background, Mrs. Carley also offers a bibliography which is the best classical one we have ever seen.

Colette’s Slim Cuisine, by Colette Rossant. Morrow $14.95

Pity the poor gourmet. After James Beard, Craig Claiborne, and scores of others, it is Mrs. Rossant’s turn to go on a diet. Like her predecessors, she makes the most of it. She turns her imaginative mind to different flavorings and new combinations of ingredients. The result is a clear, good-looking volume full of delightful recipes. The patés and terrines are still there, but more often than not they are based on fish and vegetables. The Small Shrimp Patés (580 calories, 6 servings) are simply delicious, and the good Vegetable Terrine could not be easier to prepare. Aside from these nearly classic preparations, Mrs. Rossant offers extremely original interpretations of well-known dishes. She makes her Spring Rolls with cabbage leaves, and steams them instead of frying; she flavors fish steak with orange and lime peel, and pours a pomegranate sauce over basic poached chicken breasts. Her menu is light, fresh, tasty—and slimming. A word of warning: she is not on a salt-free diet, and some seasonings, like anchovies, should be omitted by those who are.

Cucina e Nostalgia, by Alfredo Viazzi. Random House $17.95

Mr. Viazzi has found a charming way to offer another collection of excellent recipes to his fans. He has gathered some notable memories of his past, mostly from Italy, and has written about them with charm and wit. Since every encounter in his life eventually started or ended with a meal, each anecdote is merely the introduction to one or several menus, accompanied by the proper recipes. Here we find the delicious Fettucelle del Pozzo that he ate in Florence where he eloped, at 14, to become a great painter. There we are treated to Figs Stuffed with Goat Cheese and a beautiful salad, “Villa Sorriso,” which were served to young Viazzi by three Sicilian ladies during the war. Later we share the wonderful secrets of chef Ratti who cooked for Lucky Luciano before being hired by Viazzi. His little Rolls of Stuffed Cabbage and his Tripe Soup are masterpieces. At the end of the volume, Mr. Viazzi has added some excellent tips on how to buy ingredients for Italian cooking. He also offers a list of his favorite eating places here and abroad. That alone shows what a great epicure he is.

Chinese Technique, by Kim Horn. Simon & Schuster $16.95

Mr. Horn, like Jacques Pepin, is not only an acclaimed cook but a scholar and a well-traveled man with many interests, especially photography. It is no wonder, then, that he decided to emulate the famous La Technique of Pepin and to provide a clear, illustrated, step-by-step guide to Chinese cooking. The result is a large-format, comprehensive book of outstanding merit. Extravagant recipes, such as the famous Peking Duck, which require extremely careful reading in other cookbooks, are understood at a glance, and look as simple as they really are. More important, the cook who hardly has a second or two between each stir-frying step to check the next procedure does not lose precious time by having to read a whole paragraph: here each step is illustrated by a photograph, and the accompanying caption, clearly and briefly written, is printed in large type. Mr. Horn’s recipes are mostly classical and among the best. We loved his Shrimps in Lobster Sauce, his Stuffed Bean Curd, and his Braised Egg Dumplings. Unfortunately, the pictures are not always as clear as they should be. Some look slightly blurred; others, like the photographs illustrating most poultry boning procedures, seem confusing and sometimes lack sharpness. It is too bad that, being the cook, Mr. Horn could not also be the photographer.

Chinese Delights, by Lisa Kinsman and Christine Hanscomb. Atheneum $14.95

This lovely book is the product of a friendship between two talented young women: a designer born in Hong Kong, Lisa Kinsman, and a very successful photographer who specializes in still life, Christine Hanscomb. It offers only some 50 recipes, but each dish is well chosen, clearly explained, easy to prepare, and, in the end, light and delicious. We enjoyed the classical Chicken in Plum Sauce and the Deep-Fried Spicy Rolls (for which we used ordinary won-ton wraps rather than the hard to find Spring-Roll paper). We also liked the unusual Smoked Quail and Smoked Halibut, and Mrs. Kinsman’s lovely presentation of Steamed Mullet, a preparation we used for bass. Each recipe is faced by a full-page color photograph. Because it is unpretentious, simple, and pretty, Chinese Delights is a perfect present to offer a would-be Chinese cook.

The English Biscuit and Cookie Book, by Sonia Allison. St. Martin’s $6.95

One of the most charming cookbooks published recently, this small volume has two plain brown cardboard biscuits for covers, on which the title is spelled with risen dough. That is enough to make it a perfect little house present. Better yet, the 80 recipes presented by Mrs. Allison are sound and rather easy to prepare. Besides English Classics, such as Digestive Biscuits or Shrewsbury Eastertide “Cakes,” one finds here some Italianate Cheese and Walnut Biscuits perfect to accompany drinks, and enough Danish Biscuits to follow up the trend. The best present around for the cookie nut.

The Soho Charcuterie Cookbook, by Francine Scherer and Madeline Poley. Morrow $17.50

From two young talented women in New York comes what is the East Coast answer to Alice Waters’s Chez Panisse Cookbook. These women share the same experience: they run small restaurants that have become famous across the nation. They have evolved highly personal recipes, relying on their own taste and the public’s new inclination toward light, elegant dishes. In other words, they all have been instrumental in the elaboration of what is becoming the American New Cuisine. Mrs. Scherer and Poley offer here a remarkable array of preparations for the best American light meal, the brunch. We could not resist their Poached Eggs with Oyster Cream Sauce or their Capellini Salad with Chêvre Dressing. We loved the typical American dishes, such as Purée of Acorn Squash Soup and the Gumbos. We were reassured to see that they do pay tribute to Nouvelle Cuisine, with such dishes as Pear Soup with Fresh Ginger. And we found the foreword on wines, by Alexis Bespaloff, as well as the chapter devoted to party planning simply excellent. A grand book for the chic hostess.

Main-Course Soups & Stews, by Dorothy Ivens. Harper & Row $15.95

Some cookbooks come out rather unheralded and do not attract much space in cooking columns. Yet they have won a solid place on the kitchen shelf by the time some glamorous publications have come— and gone—to oblivion. Such is Mrs. Ivens’ new book. During the coldest weeks of the winter, we prepared her recipes one after the other, serving half of each one evening, freezing the other half, following her instructions, for another occasion. The preparations proved to be good, as in the Pork and Lima Bean Stew; very good, as in the unusual Javanese Lamb Stew; or excellent, as in the Lapin aux Prunes, and the Lamb Pilaf, Besides dishes from all over the world, Mrs. Ivens offers a wide selection of American chowders, jambalayas, stews, gumbos, and chilies. The recipes are very clear; each is accompanied by serving suggestions, advice on accompanying drinks, and side dish preparations when needed. This a book to go back to, over and again. Like a soup or a stew, it only grows better with age.

Seasonal Gifts from the Kitchen, by Emily Crumpacker. Morrow $10.95

This lovely book is the answer to the cook’s prayer. Here at last, collected by a professional with excellent taste, are some 50 recipes for preparations which make the most personal gifts for real friends. Some are simple but very elegant, like the Marinated Goat Cheese or the Chocolate Chestnut Truffles. Others, like Jerusalem-Artichoke Relish, are more time-consuming, and some are even a touch extravagant, like the Rose Petal Jam which requires 20 sweet-scented red and pink flowers. The recipes are organized by seasons, and abundantly illustrated with charming water colors by Vivienne Flesher. Again, this book would make a perfect house gift or Christmas stocking stuffer.

Adam’s Luxury and Eve’s Cookery. Prospect Books, Virginia $22.50

This reprinting in facsimile of the original 1744 edition will delight everyone who might wish to know what life was like in rural England in the 18th century. The first part of the book contains careful instructions for planting and maintaining, month by month, a year-round garden of 60 fruits, herbs, and vegetables. This section is excellent and as useful today as it was 250 years ago. The second part is a collection of recipes and preparations for food from the garden. These are amusing to read, and we were tempted by a number of them, including Apple Pancakes or Fritters, which were excellent. The preservation of garden products was considered important in those days, as now, and this, too, is given due attention here.

The Dictionary of American Food & Drink, by John F. Mariani. Ticknor & Fields $19.95

From Abalone (derived from the Spanish) to Zwieback (derived from the German), this highly interesting book takes the reader through every aspect of the American food culture. We find here what no other encyclopedia ever told us. Anecdotes: what is a “big antelope” or where did Harvard beets actually get their name? Nomenclatures: what are, or have been, the 23 most popular candy bars in the U.S.A—where we discover that the Babe Ruth was not named for you know whom, but for Baby Ruth Cleveland, daughter of the President. History: Prohibition, of course; how and when tomatoes or milkshakes or doughnuts were introduced in this country. And so on. Mr. Mariani, who also provides well-chosen recipes, has done a fascinating job, quick and bright, and we cannot imagine any cook in this country who would not wish to have this book at hand.

The Simon and Schuster Pocket Guide to Spanish Wines, by Jan Read. Simon & Schuster $6.95

This guide is excellent. Those of us who are aware that Spanish wine can be superb but who lack the knowledge or experience to make an educated selection will welcome this book. The 12 wine regions of the country are described in detail with maps. Local wines are discussed and rated, and the names of producers and exporters are provided. Travelers fortunate enough to visit these areas will find a Spanish-English glossary of wine terms, suggested travel routes, a discussion of regional specialties, and a list of the best restaurants where they may be obtained. If you are buying Spanish wine here, the index will lead you quickly to an evaluation of the bottle presented. We are glad to add this to our shelf of useful reference books.


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