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The Perfect Gift For The Cook On Your List.
By Rebecca Cook
DECEMBER 7, 1999: RECOMMENDING COOKBOOKS for holiday gifts is one of my favorite things about this time of year. With 1999's multitude of winning titles, the challenge has been trimming the list to a manageable size. Cooks and foodies are sure to delight in any of the following.
American Home Cooking: Over 300 Spirited Recipes Celebrating Our Rich Traditions of Home Cooking by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison (Broadway Books, $30). Cookbook aficionados may remember the Jamisons as the authors of two other popular cookbooks, The Border Cookbook and Smoke and Spice. Their latest endeavor is no less impressive, a book entirely devoted to the craft and ingenuity of American cooks from the Maine woods to the Hawaiian Islands. Despite overwhelming trends towards packaged and freeze-dried foods, quick meal fixes and drive-by eating, the art of American regional cuisine has survived. Here you'll find recipes for buttermilk-bathed pan-fried chicken, crawfish etoufée, blackberry cobbler, New Mexico calabacitas and Honolulu poke. American Home Cooking reads like a collection of recipes from everybody's favorite grandmother.
Chez Panisse Café Cookbook by Alice Waters (HarperCollins Publishers, $34). When the push towards quick cuisine threatened to take over the hearts and souls of America, the Jamisons credit a few restaurateurs with helping to keep the notions of seasonality and regionality alive. Alice Waters, chef and owner of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, was one of the keepers of this flame, and her new cookbook reaffirms her commitment to ingredient-driven cuisine. Menus for her restaurant are never formulated until the chefs have visited the local farmer's markets to see what's available that day. This revolving door of tastes is the key to the restaurant's continued success and remarkable influence on an entire generation of new chefs. Beautifully designed and illustrated, Chez Panisse Café Cookbook contains 140 inspired recipes, from soupe au pistou with lamb shanks to Meyer lemon eclairs. Waters' cuisine embraces a Mediterranean sensibility with a distinct California twist. The result is heavenly.
Red Sage: Contemporary Western Cuisine by Mark Miller (Ten Speed Press, $40). Another guru the Jamisons paid homage to is Mark Miller, best known for his Coyote Café cookbook. In this newest tome, Miller continues his love affair with the West, although this time he is ironically lifting up the image of the branding, boots and sagebrush from the kitchen of his renowned Washington D.C. restaurant, The Red Sage. Leafing through this gorgeous cookbook, however, it becomes clear why so many politicos find their way to the restaurant. Interspersed with stories of the culinary legends and lore of the Wild West are recipes for sweet corn and mushroom-sweet pepper tamales, huckleberry bread pudding with maple custard sauce, smoked cheddar-jalapeño ranch meat loaf and barbecued red snapper with yellow mole and tobacco onion rings.
Weber's Art of the Grill: Recipes for Outdoor Living by Jamie Purviance (Chronicle Books, $35). Another mouthwatering read is this collection of recipes celebrating the craft of outdoor grilling. Forget about grungy barbecues and foil-wrapped potatoes thrown directly into the coals; this book is about classy gourmet grilling. After a brief overview of the different cooking techniques used on the grill, Purviance discusses such delicacies as cedar-planked salmon, apple-brined and hickory-smoked turkey, smoked corn chowder and fettuccine with grilled radicchio and Roquefort cheese.
The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook: Secrets from the East Hampton Specialty Food Store for Simple Food and Party Platters You Can Make At Home by Ina Garten (Clarkson Potter, $32.50). Popular with Long Island residents for the last few decades, The Barefoot Contessa is also a must-stop for any devoted foodies within a 50-mile radius. Garten, who formerly worked as a White House advisor on nuclear energy policy, made a grand return to her first love of cooking and now shares her considerable knowledge about making food that is simple, lovely to look at and absolutely delicious. Written with the idea that cooks cook for other people, Garten says, "Food is not about impressing people. It's about making them feel comfortable." Imagine getting cozy with roasted tomato-basil soup, lobster potpie or maple-oatmeal scones. The Barefoot Contessa reminds us that cooking, as well as eating, should be a joy.
Simply Sensational Desserts: 140 Classics for the Home Baker from New York's Famous Patisserie and Bistro by Francois Payard (Broadway Books, $35). Throughout New York, the sweet delicacies of Payard Patisserie & Bistro are legendary. Inundated with requests for his recipes, Monsieur Payard compiled them in a beautiful cookbook, one which divulges the secrets of making such confections as hazelnut torte with chocolate chantilly cream, baked pears in phyllo, and pink champagne and raspberry granite. The surprising and reassuring thing is how relatively easy many of these dishes are to prepare. Payard is a master at reducing the complex to more easily understood and manageable terms, all of which encourage home cooks to attempt some of the masterpieces.
The Italian Country Table: Home Cooking from Italy's Farmhouse Kitchens by Lynne Rossetto Kasper (Scribner, $35). Following the pattern of a traditional Italian meal, Kasper includes 200 recipes along with tips on shopping for various ingredients, special cooking techniques and anecdotes about the people and customs that make the Italian countryside loom so large in the popular imagination. The volume is both cookbook and travelogue. With Kasper as tour guide, the home cook need only travel to the kitchen to savor Italian classics such as Nonna's home-style lasagne, wine-glazed chicken, Vicenza sweet-pea soup or risotto with sea scallops and balsamic vinegar. Cheaper than a plane ticket, this book provides the means for a transportive culinary experience.
Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian: More Than 750 Meatless Recipes from Around the Globe by Madhur Jaffrey (Clarkson Potter, $40). The queen of Indian cuisine takes a global view while ferreting out some classic and innovative vegetarian fare. With detailed sections including dried legumes and nuts, vegetables, dairy, soups, salads and sauces, Jaffrey tirelessly explores the many ways meatless dishes are prepared throughout the world. You'll find the formula for peas and mushrooms in green curry sauce, polenta with Tex-Mex chili, Persian pilaf with lime and green beans and everyday Moroccan bread. It's food that would appeal to any epicure, whether vegetarian or meat-eater.
The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen: Classic Family Recipes for Celebration and Healing by Grace Young (Simon & Schuster Editions, $27.50). Like most Chinese-American youth, Grace Young didn't much appreciate the Cantonese culinary traditions of her parents and elders, preferring to munch on McDonald's rather than stir-fry. But, as she grew up, Young came to realize how priceless and irreplaceable this tradition was, as her mother and others cooked strictly from instinct. Invoking the Chinese custom of honoring ancestors, Young offers her book as an example of modern-day filial piety. Writing down what she sees in her mother's and aunts' kitchens, she also learned a great deal about her family history, and she shares this knowledge along with a host of recipes. Young also touches upon the healing properties of food, prescribing her family's kitchen approach to various ailments. Described by some reviewers as part Amy Tan and part cookbook, Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen makes an enjoyable cover-to-cover read.
The Cook and the Gardener: A Year of Recipes and Writings from the French Countryside by Amanda Hesser (W.W. Norton & Co., $32.50). Hesser's year in Burgundy is the backdrop for this exquisite story about an endangered way of life and the hearty souls that maintain its traditions. Paramount in Hesser's own education is the surly gardener Monsieur Milbert, whose contempt for the young American woman initially poses an enormous barrier to any kind of foreign exchange. Eventually though, Milbert begins to share his knowledge of the region's plants and idiosyncrasies, and Hesser finds herself living a life dependent on the land and the seasons. Hesser includes several recipes throughout this fascinating story.
Consuming Passions: A Food-Obsessed Life by Michael Lee West (HarperCollins, $25). Finally, no collection would be complete without something that's just plain fun. Written by the same author of Crazy Ladies and She Flew the Coop, Consuming Passions is a food memoir with a liberal dose of humor and heartfelt goodwill. Southern to the core, West describes the code of Dixie this way: "Live and learn. Die and get good food. That's the Southern way." Recalling a host of colorful characters and relatives, the bottom line here is always good eating, irreverent gossip and convivial companionship. The recipes and uproarious stories are some of the tastiest reading you're likely to encounter this season.
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