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Cookbook, Summer 1976

ISSUE:  Summer 1976

A rare gem, this handsome book is for all those who seek to master the art of French cooking but have never been clearly told how to do it. What Descartes did for philosophy, the author has done for sauces, the soul of French cooking. If you do not understand sauces, you cannot make French dishes. Here all the classic French sauces are presented in a logical and orderly manner so that, in the end, they become simple. Each sauce is followed by an excellent dish in which it is used. You begin with a 40-quart stock pot, the best idea in the book. Witty and wise, this will remain the classic book on sauces. We are lucky to have it.

A French Chef Cooks at Home, by Jacques Pepin. Simon & Schuster $9.95

This is the best of the new cookbooks we have seen of late. The recipes are original, clearly presented, and very good. Every dish looks so attractive and so simple that you feel you cannot wait until you try them all. The most experienced cooks will be delighted with recipes so logical that they will wonder why they never thought of them. Pommes Savonnettes, for example, solves the dilemma of how to present good roast potatoes in this country. Inexperienced cooks will find that they can prepare excellent dishes with no more trouble and time than they devote to their old favorites. Anyone frustrated with Julia Child’s French cookbooks will discover here that simple French cooking is simple and delicious. Most of the recipes call for ingredients ready to hand. We have tried many dishes from the book, some of them seemingly complicated like Jambon en Croute au Madere, and they proved, without difficulty, to be excellent. The fish fumet is one of the best we have seen. Pepin’s icing recipes are perfect. The suggested menus and general advice about cooking are very good. Highly recommended.

From Julia Child’s Kitchen, by Julia Childs. Knopf $15

This is an excellent beginner’s cookbook. If new cooks will read and master this book they will know what cooking is about. The book has the virtue of opening doors of possibility as it presents a limited number of recipes and explains how they can be modified or even transformed. For example, Mrs. Childs gives the recipe for Coq au Vin and Chicken Fricassee side by side. She explains how they become totally different when the cook varies the ingredients, red wine in one, white in the other. Because she shares here all her secrets and extensive knowledge of food preparation, this book should precede her volumes on French cooking. See, for example, the section on chocolate. We felt, however, that in spite of the long and careful instructions the presentation of the recipes was not always clear. If you wish to prepare her braised stuffed flank steak, you will be hard put to find the liquid to braise it in unless you backtrack for three days of other preparation. One is tempted to say that everything, the list of other cook-books, the basic preparations, and so on, is good except the recipes, which are in no way remarkable.

The Cook’s Catalog, edited by James Beard and Associates. Harper & Row $15.95

Probably the best book for cooks published recently is not a cookbook but this illustrated catalog of 4000 different items for the kitchen. Introductions to the various sections tell you all you need to know about knives, pots, and the like. The entries for each item are helpful and candid. Each piece of equipment is illustrated, discussed, and evaluated. The book gives the price of each object and the name and address of the dealer who can provide it by mail. From measuring cups to temperature controlled wine vaults you can compare what is offered and select what is best suited to your needs. It is a wonderful book to browse through, as you can imagine. The idle reader is rewarded along the way with quotations about food from famous authors and an excellent selection of recipes drawn from the best cookbooks of the last century. A splendid bargain at the price and a necessity for everyone who cares about the preparation of food.

Italianissimo. Italian Cooking at Its Best, by Pellegrino Artusi, translated by Elisabeth Abbott. Liveright $12.50

Called the Joy of Cooking of Italy, the book does offer great variety and an unusually large number of recipes. Unfortunately, few persons will be able to use it because the recipes are too vague. From time to time fairly precise measurements and directions are given, but for the most part no effort has been made to provide usable measures. This may well be faithful to the original; to provide measures would double the length of a book already over 500 pages long. As it is you can use it for some carefree kitchen adventures. Conservative cooks will probably stick with Marcella Hazan’s The Classic Italian Cook Book or Elizabeth David’s Italian Food.

The Classic Italian Cook Book, by Marcella Hazan. Knopf $12.95

This already famous cookbook has been reissued in an attractive new format. The book has great virtues. It contains a large number of recipes, and the directions are very precise and easy to follow. Readers should understand that the dishes are popular, not refined, ones. It is, really, the Italian Joy of Cooking. The only weakness in the recipes is the overuse of oil and butter which makes the dishes too oily for most tastes. Compare the “Scalopine with Lemon Sauce” with the “Veal Piccata with Lemon” offered in Craig Claiborne’s Favorites. He replaces the cooked oil with a touch of white wine to make the dish lighter. If you like native Italian cooking, Mrs. Kazan’s book belongs in your kitchen.

Craig Claiborne’s Favorites, by Craig Claiborne. Quadrangle $10

All cooks will be grateful for this collection of the author’s 1974 N. Y. Times columns. Here is a wonderful book filled with valuable information for everyone interested in cooking. There are more than 250 recipes from appetizers to desserts, all of them good. Dishes from around the world, rearranged by the taste of the author, are exotic and tempting. Puff pastry is presented clearly, and there are wise suggestions about the preparation of other “difficult” dishes. For travelers, there are notes on restaurants from Tokyo to Paris. Few would have believed Claiborne could have bettered his great N. Y. Times Cookbook(Harper and Row, $12,50) but now that this has appeared, we have to have both. There is good reason to hope that it will be followed by another collection before long.

Regional Cooking of China, by Margaret Gin and Alfred E. Castle. 101 Productions $4,95

Also attractive in format is this, the best book on Chinese cooking to appear in a long time. The recipes are original, simple to prepare, and uniformly good. There are 24 chicken dishes, including one which employs an ingenious method for smoking the meat. Shrimp in Hot and Sour Sauce is a refreshing change both from the usual sweet and sour flavor and from Szechuan Shrimp. We found it delicate and pleasant when served warm, equally good when presented cold. Each recipe will usually serve two persons easily. Old China hands will season with salt and soy. The introduction has excellent comments on China and its cooking. A lovely little book and a good bargain.

The Illustrated Step by Step Chinese Cookbook, by Paul C. Huang. Simon & Schuster $9.95

If you are uneasy or confused about Chinese cooking procedures, or know someone who is, this book will solve the problem. A number of excellent Chinese recipes are illustrated with handsome drawings in exquisite color. The steps are shown so clearly that a child could follow them. You can learn as well how to hold chop sticks and to cook rice the Chinese way. Very useful and attractive.

Twenty-Two Authentic Banquets from India, compiled by Robert H. Christie. Dover $2.50

Enthusiasts will be happy to learn that this modest classic is again available. There are more than 200 recipes drawn from all the Indian states and Burma and Afghanistan. The menus and dishes are splendid, but the measures are British and the ingredients are not always easy to obtain. There are excellent hot curries and delicate sherbets.

The Book of Coffee and Tea, by Joel David, and Karl Schapira. St. Martins $8.95

This is a wonderful, comprehensive book full of all you could ever wish to know about coffee and tea. It is the only place we know of beside the 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica which gives detailed information on planting and cultivating the tea plant. The origins of coffee and tea, their cultivation around the world, processing, and varieties are presented along with sound advice on selecting, blending, and preparing both to your taste. Some very good recipes that use coffee and tea are also given, and there is an interesting section on herbal teas. The narrative is clear, intelligent, and pleasant. An excellent book for reference and for reading.

Brandies and Liqueurs of the World, by Hurst Hannum and Robert S. Blumberg. Doubleday $12.50

This sound and comprehensive study includes the history of these liquors, a detailed account of where they come from and how they are made, candid evaluations of major brands, and advice on how each should be served. Surely everything you might wish to know on this subject is included. The recipes for dishes which use these spirits were too few and uneven, but this is of little importance to the general study, which is first rate.

The Old Fashioned Cookbook, by Jan McBride Carlton. Holt, Rinehart, and Winston $12.95

The jacket tells us that “years of research went into assembling this anthology of American folk fare.” It must have, for the first recipe we turned to was for Masgouf Fish (Iraqi Broiled Fish). And so it goes. Food from every possible minority group is presented. This would be all very well except that the recipes are far from old-fashioned; every dish has been so altered for fast food preparation that few even resemble their originals. The Remoulade, whose base is hot mustard, horseradish, and vinegar, is given here a base of mayonnaise. So that no palate will be offended, everything is adulterated in flavor. The Brunswick Stew lacks meat variety, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, and sugar. The basic book for anyone who wants to pay a culinary tribute to the 50 states in 1976 with a minimum of time in the kitchen.

The Game and Fish Cookbook, by Harriet and James Barnett. Viking /Compass $2.95

We were surprised at the excellence of this little book. The authors obviously know a great deal about cooking, and they present here mostly American recipes for game and fish which are usually good. The introduction is a fine simple preliminary lesson in game cooking. There are clear directions for all the basic sauces and a list of the equipment needed. This is essentially a game cookbook. The fish section, devoted only to fresh-water fish, is rather short. Pleasantly printed and illustrated, it belongs on the shelf of every cook fortunate enough to have access to duck, grouse, quail, deer, trout, and salmon.

Mary’s Bread Basket and Soup Kettle, by Mary Gubser. Morrow $8,95

The idea of putting breads and soups together is a very good one. If you enjoy making your own bread and soups, you will find this book helpful and stimulating. If you don’t, this book can help you to begin to discover how good these things can be when you do them yourself. A great many recipes are given. There is a Mulligatawny and a Senegalese, which too often in other books are confounded. The Watercress Cream and the French Onion Soup recipes are the classic ones. Very useful.

Waste Not Want Not, by Helen McCully. Random House $8.95

The great merit of this book is that it teaches people that leftovers can be made into attractive dishes. Each chapter starts with a valuable section on how to buy and store food so that you can use it as its best and stretch it as far as it will go.

The Microwave Cook Book, by Jehane Benoit. McGraw-Hill $10

While the proposition that one can cook with a microwave oven is not convincing, it is true that a wide variety of agreeable dishes can be prepared with it. If your grandmother gave you one of these gadgets for Christmas, you certainly should have this book with its many recipes at hand.

The Chef’s Dessert Cookbook, by Dominique D’Ermo. Atheneum $12.50

Popular cakes, pies, tarts, cookies, and breads are followed by more complicated European dishes, the great cakes and mousses. There are good chapters on frozen and fruit desserts and a serious section on low-calorie sweet dishes that still have flavor, The author, former head pastry chef at Pere Bise, has inclined the recipes to the American taste.

Le Cookbook, compiled and edited by Elizabeth W. Esterling. Saturday Review Press $7.50

A benefit book for the American Hospital in Paris, the collection contains contributions from many Americans and some French people living in Paris. The recipes are uneven and derivative but they are printed both in French and English with metric and American measures. You can use it to perfect your French if not your cooking.

The Cook’s Bookshelf

Here we seek to present those books that have endured the test of time, those that good cooks turn to again and again for superior dishes. One of the most quoted cooks in The Cook’s Catalog is Elizabeth David. An excellent English cook, she has adapted the recipes of France with great skill and sensitivity. Cooks should have her French Provincial Cooking (Penguin Books $2.95). Try the Cream of Pumpkin and Shrimp soup. French Country Cooking (Penguin Books $2.95) is also first-rate. Penguin offers a boxed set of her books. It is well worth having.


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