Monday, June 6, 2011

Summer Reading - Cookbooks

Cookbooks aren’t really about cooking, and haven’t been since the advent of color photography and food stylists. They’re mostly lifestyle catalogs, aspirational instruction manuals for lives we’d like to live. Prose used to have to do the heavy lifting in this regard. No more. Now images implore us to cook, and it can take a toll on the reading.

AT ELIZABETH DAVID’S TABLE: Classic Recipes and Timeless Kitchen Wisdom

A collection of dozens and dozens of David’s simple, beautiful and bullet-proof recipes, tied together with a few essays and top-notes, it was compiled by Jill Norman and photographed by David Loftus.
Anyone who has spent time thumbing through the thin, smudged pages of a paperback edition of one of David’s books, looking for instruction and finding joy, will be shocked by the result. Absent are the spare pages gone yellow with age, the words ticking by beneath covers showing only a watercolor image, solid advice from this sensible, writerly woman, who died in 1992 at the age of 78.

River Cottage Every Day

This book is more reader-friendly and useful than some of Fearnley-­Whittingstall’s past River Cottage offerings, and the food is ace. Start with the chicken and mushroom casserole with cider for dinner, or a celery root Waldorf salad for lunch. There aren’t many days that can’t be served by the rest.

A reissue of Richard Olney’s 1970 classic, THE FRENCH MENU COOKBOOK is emphatically not for everyday use, as its Dickensian subtitle may attest: “The Food and Wine of France — Season by Delicious Season — in Beautifully Composed Menus for American Dining and Entertaining by an American Living in Paris and Provence.” But there are some excellent recipes in here all the same, for poached eggs and beef stew, stuffed artichoke bottoms and roast saddle of lamb, saffron rice with tomatoes, a pure and simple sauce ivoire. From the simple (peaches in red wine!) to the complex business of stuffing calves’ ears for service with béarnaise sauce, this is a project book, best for cooks seeking intermediate badges or ju=nior-pilot wings.

More accessible for the new cook and the exhausted, overworked experienced one alike is FRENCH CLASSICS MADE EASY by Richard Grausman. Also a reissue, from a 1988 original, it combines smart advice for streamlined versions of timeless French dishes with a simple, reader-friendly and ­Workman-specific layout and type style that will be familiar to anyone who has cooked from the Silver Palate cookbooks. Here’s a top-notch blanquette de veau darkened (to the good!) with morels, as well as fine instruction on making a truffled roast chicken, fast soufflés, all the great French egg-yolk sauces, an onion tart and crêpes suzette. For those interested in, if slightly intimidated by, the intricacies of French cuisine, this book will be a balm.

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