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What's to Read?

What follows are book profiles, too short to be reviews but hopefully informative enough to tilt your interest one way or the other.

So You Think You Have Been Using Quality EVOO?

Olive oil is as essential as salt. (There is a good book on salt in the biography.) This is a very good book about olive oil. And especially extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), which until reading this book, I thought was a tried and true product where difference in price equaled difference in quality. How naive.

It turns out that the olive oil industry that has been corrupt for a millennia. And still is. Doctoring good oil with cheap oil and labeling as EVOO is common practice world wide. Worse still, olive oil just north of lamp oil (lampante) is deodorized, degummed, bleached and then sold wholesale as "refined" olive oil where some of it is retailed as EVOO. So, what you see on the labels in the super market ain't what you get!

Bad oil has all but driven out good EVOO to the remarkable degree, says Mueller, that many consumers, even along the Mediterranean littoral, don't know the real stuff when they taste it, or worse, find its remarkable flavors off putting. Still, Mueller, assures us that high quality EVOO is out there and widely available. Fine EVOO is produced today not only along the littoral of the Med but in Australia, California, South Africa and Argentina by producers who are passionate about honest EVOO. Mueller takes the reader through history and describes the centrality of olive oil in the lives and commerce of human kind for two millennia. How the stuff is grown, harvested, processed and how those activities have changed through time also makes good reading. It's a good book and will surely be up for a culinary award next year.

A Scientist's Thoughts on Food and Health

Mike Gibney, the director of the Institute of Food and Health at University College Dublin, has written a brief book on the broad subject of the wholesomeness of the modern food chain and its effects on and inside the consumer. He sees food as a deeply important part of all cultures with heavy personal and political trimmings. His view of it all is from science, with prejudice.

Setting the stage, he writes: "Our relationship with our food is directly related to wealth. Those who struggle to find enough food to eat care little about any attribute other than its ability to sustain survival. At the opposite end of the spectrum where wealth abounds, we can get fussy about food." And we do, to the extremes where mistrust of agri-food science leads to a widespread fear of the modern food supply. He has little time for the anti-science and eco-fundamentalist foodies and agricultural romanticists.

Most popular media food issues are shot down when placed under the microscope of food science. He states, for example, that the only difference between synthetic and natural chemicals in food is that synthetic chemicals are subject to intensive testing while natural plant chemicals are not. In today's highly regulated world of food, there is zero risk to consumers from permitted food chemicals. He comes down hard against the organic food industry and the international anti-GM lobby as largely devoid of science and where "the villain is the food industry, always." On obesity, he states that genes certainly play a role as do "every food category." He laments the lack of political support by the suits in Washington and Europe for scientific agricultural investments in countries where malnutrition is wide spread. He says that in Africa, for example, the percentage of land irrigated is one-tenth that of Asia, at 4%. He concludes with the lamentation that food and health will always remain hot topics that attract an undue share of writers and opinion formers who have narrow agendas or a somewhat unscientific approach to the issues.

The Foodies' Bible

This is the fifth edition of this indispensable reference for food writers, menu writers and other foodies that want concise definitions and need the correct spelling and pronunciation of all things culinary. 916 pages. A bargain at $17US.

If You Were Brung up On Winter Veggies, Cabbage, Meat and Game Stews While Living Closer to Canada then Cuba . . .

Or If You're Polish . . .

You Might Like This Cookbook

Two local Washington DC political writers and home cooks, with ties to Poland and Eastern Europe, put together ninety recipes of classic Polish cuisine for the modern kitchen. All the usual suspects have been rounded up here: lots of cabbage, beets, veggie soups and salads; a nice collection of braised and potted chicken, pork, wild boar and venison dishes; an enticing chapter on Pierogi (Polish dumplings) and fillers; and desserts including five infused vodka recipes. All well edited with great photos on fine paper.

It's pretty good! It might even make the James Beard Foundation contender list for regional cookbook award.

I am looking for something in a pot to cook for Super Bowl Sunday. Since this has been an annual affair for years, another go at Roasted Game Hens, Cioppino, Pork Spare Ribs, Paella, Coq au Vin, or Chili is not getting me excited for the 2013 classic. So here we have Hunter's Stew with kraut, venison, beef, veal, kielbasa sausage, more cabbage, prunes and red wine. Kind of a Spanish paella with cabbage instead of bamba rice. I'll do it soon for a small test group and then for the big day--maybe.

Another Good Regional Cookbook

By a Local Chef Well Grounded in the Fundamentals

Chef/writer Hugh Acheson likes mushrooms, especially chanterelles. Reason enough to spend some time with his book. Other reasons are to be found in the basis of the subtitle Southern Flavors Reinvented for your Kitchen, namely Acheson's lengthy exposure to the fundamentals of French culinary techniques. So there is stock and lots of sauces, soups, braised dishes and vinaigrettes. The book is well edited, printed on fine paper with great photos. It won the 2012 James Beard Foundation 's American Cooking Award.

I got the book for all the above reasons, but especially because it is a rather broad presentation of Southern Cooking. From a southern Pimm's Cup, to a great deviled egg recipe, to cornbreads without sugar, stock without salt, a good skate and other fish recipes, lamb shanks with minted turnips, a shiitake salsa and a canonical peach pie (which I tried)--all nicely tied together with biographical and culinary musings. There are perhaps too many cookbooks around here to feed this Blog, but I am glad to have added this one.

A Sequel: Modernist Cuisine at Home (Update)

Since posting the below review of MC at Home, I've made their Pressure Cooked Garlic Confit (p 126), Pressure Caramelized Onions (p 127) and their Creamed Spinach (p 198). I needed the garlic to make the creamed spinach. All three recipes turned out great. (The Creamed Spinach is one of their signature recipes.) But what more can I do garlic confit? And it's a real confit, that is, a Mason jar half full of dark ominous looking well cooked garlic cloves below a layer of butter fat that will keep in the fridge for weeks.

Well, Sunday morning I made an omelet in a new cast iron pan from Japan (more about that later) and added 3T's of the onions. It made a nice omelete with a pronounced onion theme: unmistakable but not raw or overbearing (nothin like throwing in a few chopped shallots). Then tonight, I made shrimp and pasta and used the garlic confit thusly: the shrimp were sauteed in mached garlic cloves and garlic oil from the confit. The sauce was made with garlic oil from the confit, some butter and a generous tablespoon of drained capors. Then the shrimp and sauce went into a medium hot skillet followed by the fettuccine. Tossed and served into a heated Italian pasta bowl, with a dusting of freshly grated Comte cheese, left over from the creamed spinach recipe.

The point of all this is that the garlic confit, having been cooked under pressure for two hours, took on an intense garlic taste with great balance that only slow cooking can achieve. Maybe that's why confits and other slow cooked ingredients have been added to main dishes for over a century. Yes, today it is pretty much in the domain of multi-starred restaurants that have the will and the kitchen staff to make it, but give it a go at home. You'll taste the difference.


I read the five volumes of last year's Modernist Cuisine (MC) cover to cover and reviewed at length here. The whole work blew me away. Yes, for the Modernist stuff (I do sous vide often and have rediscovered the pressure cooker), but also its scope, originality, boldness, crisp writing, presentation, wonderful photography, and above all, the authors' respect for the basics (to which I will forever remain loyal). Despite its high cost ($460US discounted), it sold out, is in its second printing and has been translated into French, German and Spanish. It received best cookbook of the year award from the James Beard Foundation and two awards from the IACP.

MC changed the way I cook some things.


Now Nathan Myhrvold and his staff have come out with Modernist Cuisine at Home: A single volume (weighing 6.9 lbs.), a kitchen manual and a case--all in the same awesome format as the original. It is not a condensed version of its predecessor. Myhrvold's stated goal for 'at Home' is to "bring the Modernist revolution to an even wider audience of home cooks by developing less complex recipes that require less expensive equipment." Its stated focus is on cooking equipment, ingredients, techniques and recipes...all in 456 pages, 400 new recipes and variations and 1400 color photographs.

Well, I've finished reading it cover to cover. Bottom line: Myhrvold has met his stated goal of trying to bring the 'Modernist revolution' to a wider audience. The book is clearly a major contribution to the literature. Most of the recipes are quite approachable--certainly more, by percentage, than in the original five volumes. Still, you're in a world where xanthan gum, agar and Wondra flour are stock pantry items. And, while their sous vide recipes favor the use of Ziploc bags over an expensive vacuum sealer, you still need a sous vide setup. And a siphon, and a pressure cooker, and a high speed blender, and two digital scales that read in increments of .01 gram and 1 gram, respectively. I got all that. But most cooks at home don't and even more cooks don't want 'em. So, where's the audience for MC at Home? Who's going to shell out $120US (at Amazon) for it?

Professionals and foodies that bought the original will buy this one, as well. Why? For some it's a love affair. For others it's more of a very good thing that they have bought into and want to exploit further. On the other hand, those buying MC at Home as their first exposure to this Modernist thing will likely not buy MC. Nor do they need to. Here is one way to look at it: Modernist Cuisine at Home is to Modernist Cuisine as the movie War and Peace is to the book. More people sat through the long four star movie than plowed through the long book. "Did I miss something? Sure. . .but I got a whole lot out of the movie."

I lost count of how many recipes I marked as "to do" in MC at Home. For starters, I blended up their Raspberry Gazpacho and served it as soup shots for a small group. Terrific recipe, though the Peppadew's I used (see below) were much hotter than their's. How many of you have even heard of Raspberry Gazpacho? Not me . . .MC at Home is stuffed with goodies like Toasted Corn Stock, Redeye Gravy, Mac and Cheese (their signature dish), Fresh Egg Noodles, along with five pestos, marinades, pizza toppings, eight cream pies and whole chapters on steaks, cheeseburgers and carnitas. For the Mac and Cheese recipe, they replace traditional roux with a citric fruit emulsifier called sodium citrate--to avoid the flour taste and improve the texture. If it works, I can't wait to try sodium citrate in TLW's Chipped Beef on Toast, posted below. I'm also going to take the time to finally do their 72-hour sous vide Braised Beef Rib recipe, which appeared as well in the earlier work. It also has a eye opening chapter of microwave dishes--wildly innovative and all doable. So too with pizzas, custards and pies.

The recipes are accompanied by knowledgeable tutorials providing historical context, rationale for departures from the basics, new techniques and options regarding equipment and seasoning. As in the earlier work, the photos are spectacular and the whole book is a visual and textual delight--it's the ultimate coffee table book.

It is said that beauty wants to be shared. So I'd like to give this book to a niece and her husband who turn out great savories and pastries. Their kitchen is quipped with a standing mixer, food processor and a smoothie blender. And that likely is all they want. I thought hard about this and have decided that, even though they will not augment their kitchen appliances, they will get a lot out of this book since it is not all about equipment-dependant Modernist cooking. Rather, it is a refreshing tutorial for the experienced home cook who can appreciate the value of modern variations on old themes. With or without the gadgets, it will change the way they too cook some things. I hope I'm right and that they will enjoy it. We'll see . . .

Modernist Cuisine sold out and Modernist Cuisine at Home likely will too. It's another Wow.

Modernist Cuisine

Earlier, I wrote:

. . . On the other hand, sous vide is essentially a slow cooker.  A smart crock pot with water in it.  For us geezers who no longer leave home for work at 0700 to return 10 hours later, planned and slow cooking methods have lost their time saving attractiveness. (We haven't used our crock pot or an oven timer in years.) Which only leaves the culinary value of sous vide, which is substantial and attractive enough to the seasoned home cook that I'm writing about it. Sur la Table carries the SousVide Supreme and reportedly sold out their initial buy of a thousand units in two months.  I'm going to pass.

Well, having earlier considered sous vide, and after reading through Modernist Cuisine, and thinking about it all, and writing a short review, I decided to go sous vide.

Where to start? First and foremost, sous vide (French for under vacuum) is just another way to cook food. It is not a substitute for braising, grilling, boiling or crock potting. Rather, it is a technique that allows the experienced cook, in Thomas Keller's words, to "re-imagine countless traditional preparations." You don't need a sous vide recipe book.

Are those reasons enough to buy into it? First, the food to be cooked must be bagged and vacuum sealed--you need a machine for that. Secondly, the food is then cooked in a water bath at a low temperature, precisely controlled--you need a tub, water and a "circulator" that heats the water, circulates it and maintains a set temperature plus or minus a tenth of a degree (F or C). Third, you need to know (by tables and experience) how long to leave the food in the water--that requires some reading, some trial and error sous vide'ing, a timer, a good thermometer and some special 3M tape that sticks on the bag and allows a thermometer to be stuck through the bag and into the product and out again without creating a leak.

If you can get through all that, you have an expensive fool proof means to prepare food. All you need is the desired temperature of the water and the time of emersion--two numbers. The food comes out the same every time whether you pay attention to it or not: unburned, not ever over cooked, seasoned, without shrinkage or loss of moisture. Think of a whole tenderloin of beef cooked to your precise degree of doneness without having to watch it.

Here are some photos: First, the circulator and tub of water. Next, a halibut steak, vacuumed sealed with seasoning and a pad of butter (from the fridge or from the freezer (thawed). Next, a small rib eye steak ready for a bath. Next, determining the core temp of the steak with the aforementioned 3M tape (you should only need to do this once per product). Finally, the same steak dropped from the bag into a hot skillet and browned. Note that the doneness of the steak is the same from browned crust to crust--not over done at the surface nor under done in the center. (Therefore, FWIW, sous vide can cook the best well done steak on the planet: well done throughout, un-burned, un-shrunk and un-dried out.) Lamb chops come out rare from the surface to the bone, which cannot be done otherwise.

Oh, and are you worried about the raw eggs called for in the recently posted Caesar Salad? Pasteurize the eggs in a sous vide bath at 134.5F (57C) for 2 hours. They will be safe yet still raw.


So there you have it!

Modernist Cuisine 's Embarrassment

It turns out, now that the first printing of this book has been vetted by thousands of owner/readers, that the darn thing is riddled with typos and errors. 31 pages of corrections are yours for the downloading at their Web site. Good grief!

Well, after looking the whole mess over and giving it some thought, I've embarked on making corrections to the Kitchen Manual only (no mean task). The rationale is that I need the Kitchen Manual to be accurate since I use it--three recipes so far. Now that I have read through volumes 1 through 5, I don't think I again need them save for reference and amplification. Making these corrections is tedious and I feel like I'm an ensign in the navy again where this onerous task fell upon the most junior officers. Sigh . . .

Typical of Modernist Cuisine 's Outrageous Nostrums

The authors of MC devote a chapter to wine in Volume Four. They like the stuff but are skeptical of the aura that surrounds it. So they conducted and reported blind tests, which again confirmed that wine experts are much influenced by the situation, instant. But they bought the idea that aerating a just opened bottle of red wine improves the taste. So, decanting a bottle before serving is well worth the effort.

Being who they are, they thought that if aerating wine by poring it through some little plastic gadget did the job, why not really aerate it--- like in a blender at high speed for 30 seconds? "Hyperdecanting" results in "hyperoxigenation and outgassing." They say it works and in any case, it's worth a try in front of a crowd just to experience the gasps and vapors shed by the 'wine experts' attending.

So we tried it. With a group of five. I opened a 1992 Mondavi Cabernet mag, that was in the cellar. The wine was good and had not thrown any sediment over time. We set aside two test sample glasses and poured the rest into the VitaMix and spun it on high for 30 seconds.

The book is right: it frothed big time but then dissipated quickly. Result: our group, once recovered from the shock, agreed that 1) the blender trick did no harm and 2) the hyperdecanted wine was more balanced and pleasant than the withheld samples.

So, here you have it by the glass:

Modernist Cuisine has shown up. Now what ?

FINAL UPDATE: I've finished it! All five volumes. It's been quite a journey.

Nathan Myhrvold and his staff of sixty have labored in a high tech savory lab for four years to explore, learn and create a book that defines modernist cuisine within the grounded context of established culinary cooking techniques. It is a reasoned and organized exposition of other ways to cook the classic culinary repertoire. It is a work of major significance . . . of lasting value . . . a huge contribution to the literature.

SECOND UPDATE: Well, I just started Volume Four. The whole experience is like trying to take a drink from a fire hydrant. There is so much information presented here, even for the knowledgeable reader. For example: They use their vacuum machine for sous vide, but also to hasten marinating products. They also like the microwave as another good kitchen tool. Haven't tried it, but a nice trick is to vacuum bag an artichoke and then microwave it for 5-7 minutes--to doneness. Cool, if it works. Again: I learned in school that you need 25% fat in forcemeat preparation to "hold it all together." Wrong! Fat makes forcemeat tasty but hinders binding, which is done by protein molecules (myocin) that morph into gels when heated.

Here's how to read this thing: (With apologies to Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Book.

Rule Number One: Digest the first chapter of Volume One, as it sets the stage and presents the authors' biases and technical conventions.

Rule Number Two: As you read, don't look ahead since each page is a visual delight enhanced in the moment of a paged-turned discovery. Don't spoil the fun.

Rule Number Three: If you own it, mark it up as you go. It is so encyclopedic, that a discreet pencil mark here and there will serve later to find text that caught and held your attention the first time around.


BACKGROUND:Of course I ordered it! And did so in early February with a promised release date of 6 March. Then the release date was pushed back to 18 April.

A word of explanation is needed. Mr. Nathan Myhrvold, a chronic overachiever, is a retired MicroSoft chief technical officer who likes to cook and has gone at it with the intensity and thoroughness he has applied to all his previous endeavors. The result is a massive 6 volume, 2400 page cookbook, discounted at Amazon, for just under 20 cents a page! The tome represents about four years of research in a cost-be-damned savory lab manned by a brigade of well qualified cooks and techies. This is not a pioneer effort. He is receded by best selling food science writer Harold McGee. But early peek reviews

suggested that this effort is so over the top that it could be a watershed event sweeping away all before it. FIRST UPDATE:

The UPS guy showed up with a 46.3 pound box. Inside that box was another box and inside that were custom corner pads and multiple cushion pads--all layered. Inside it all: a massive slip case of 5/16th plexiglas, holding five books tightly fitted. And a 6th volume outside the slip case. Just unpacking this monster was a fun experience.

I decided first to flip through volume six, The Kitchen Manual. This volume gathers up the recipes found in the main texts. There are doable recipes here for the home cook. For example, I liked the section called Thickeners, which had quite a number of barbecue sauces and some emulsions. It also presents the many uses of sous vide. It was fun and informative. But it was also sort of out of context. It's always best to start at the beginning, "I gotta start reading Volume One."

But it is already clear that this tome is over the top and is a water shed culinary event. It's a publishing event, too. Brilliant photos on heavy paper. Endless text.

Who should buy it? Cooking schools offering professional courses, chefs and cooks of all sort who take food and its preparation seriously and, of course, affluent foodies. Best bet is to lobby your library to pop for a copy.

Is it practical? Hardly. Is it essential? Yes, within the trade. Is modernist cuisine a movement that will grow and endure? Maybe, but . . .

Bottom line: "Wow"

A Surprise James Beard Nominated Book

I was surprised to see this book on the JB Cookbook award nom's for this year.  There are a lot of Weber-based grill books out there.  This one is by Jamie Purviance and is published by Sunset Books, both good names.  At first glance, it looks like a good basic grilling 101 book.  It has great photos and layout, as one would expect from Sunset editors.  It does not have much on the Weber Bullet but what is has is good.  It has so many rubs, marinades and sauce recipes that it might be worth the price just for those. 

I read through this book and found it more substantive than at first appearance. Yes, it covers basic grilling for meats, fish and veggies.  But along the way, Purviance presents the reader with culinary how-to tutorials that border on the comprehensive.  This ain't Jacques Pepin's La Technique, but thorough enough that the editors made a index of techniques--there must be 400 of them, most with very useful photos!  Not just how to truss a boneless roast, but how to puree garlic and how to spatchcock a chicken.  Recipes too go beyond the basics--his bacon wrapped turkey breasts almost makes me want to buy the tasteless things and give them another go.  Sauces = 48; rubs = 20 and marinades = 27. Wow.

If your grill book is a third your age, toss it and start anew with this one, where you will learn a

thing or two and have recipes that are politically correct with lower salt and fat content. This book is a must gift to your son in law who char  burns most everything and for the grandchild who aspires to conquer the great American cook-out.

Sandwiches: Sixty -Eight Pictorial Recipes

Jon Chonko had a good idea and ran with it. Namely, since the assembly of a sandwich is intuitive, why not just present them in annotated photo format with some text added for local relevance. The result, in Chonko's words, is a celebration, a visual shorthand of what is most beautiful, unique, and enticing about sandwiches of all shapes and sizes. He apologizes afore hand if a reader finds a favorite sandwich missing, but the omission of the Monte Cristo sandwich is unforgivable. Still, the roster includes the BL&T, the PB&J, the Sub, the Phily Cheese steak, chicken and tuna sandwiches and others far less known. This a fun book with great photos. A nice Christmas present, perhaps . . .

This is a Cook's Cookbook
Would you believe that over 3200 cookbooks will be published this year, up from 2800 last year?  If there is any hidden meaning in that, it escapes me (recession, home vs restaurant, etc...., bah).  One of these cookbooks--forthcoming--looks promising. 

A young fellow named David Chang is a "hot chef" these days according to the foodie media. An early review of his forthcoming cookbook caught my attention because a) he's grounded in French technique, b) combines Asian with American, c) likes pork, d) hasn't dumbed down his recipes for a book contract and e) is a restaurant chef versed in that world's grueling work and not a TV star where line cooks do the mise off camera. (His penchant for profanity might  save him from TV fame.) 

He's cooked in Japan and in NYC where he opened his first restaurant, Momofuku Noodle Bar. Since, Momofuku Ssäm Bar and Momofuku Ko both high end restaurants have opened, with rave reviews.  Chang and his cookbook, of course named Momofuku,  got a nice enough review in the Wall Street Journal to prompt me to order it.  It's due out next week. 

So wait, there's more...
Got the book today, here's the photo (new camera: Canon G-11). At second glance:  well edited, good photography on coffee table grade paper, heavy on commentary regarding the art of cooking and the trauma of making it pay, with recipes at the margin--all very well written and nicely presented.  Awful introduction. Contents are organized by Chang's restaurants:  Noodle Bar, Ssäm Bar and Ko.

This is a French Laundry type cookbook that takes the reader into the head of another innovative chef  and his crew.  In the book at least, these concepts drive Chang: 

  • "Serve food with integrity at an affordable price.  That is, undersell, over deliver. 
  • not subscribe to the idea that there's one set of blueprints that everyone should follow.
  • . . . you take it, cook it, make it delicious . . . elevate it, honor it, lavish it with care and attention.
  • when you start to cook on autopilot, when you stop paying attention to details--not to mention big things like seasoning--no amount of press will make up for it. What is the point of cooking at all if you're not gonna do it right?" More than enough recipes here, and a lot of them have recipes inside of recipes or demand a commitment to Asian ingredients. As I read, I have a habit of pencil-checking recipes in cookbooks that are of interest to me, in theory or practice. Quite a few got a check--simple things, innovative ideas or old war horses cooked differently:  ginger scallion sauce and scallion infused oil, the whole section on pickling, maple syrup and yogurt, his fried chicken and pan-roasted rib eye, his bánh mì sandwich, fingerling potato chips and shaved frozen foie gras. 

This cookbook is an important addition to the literature and it's a fun read.

PS:  A reader asked where "Momofuku" came from?  Chang says that one of the most important events in the history of food was the invention of instant ramen by "Momofuku Ando."  Best read the book for the origins of  Ssäm and Ko.

Finally Bought a Chinese Cookbook

Update: Won the James Beard Award for International Cooking

We have a so-called round bottom iron "pow" wok, which works restaurant-great on our Blue Star 22K burners, where it rests and fires up securely without the need of a wok ring. The wok is, among many other things, a great saute pan for cooking for one or two. So it is time I explore the finer points of cooking in it, beyond its intuitive use by any experienced cook.

Grace Young is an award winning cookbook writer. This is her third book and could be her magnum opus. With over 100 recipes and great photos, it's well designed and edited. I bought the book in search of a comprehensive tutorial on how to properly use the wok. It does that rather nicely.

As a practical operations analyst, I discovered long ago that cooking is an operational sequence--a process from start to finish--a method--generally agreed upon steps, in seriatim, needed to create a dish. So, what I was looking for in this book was the sequence of wok stir fry cooking. Young lays it out in a two page spread under the title of "Basic Steps For Stir Frying."

I knew going in, that wok cooking is synonymous with high heat cooking. This means that it all happens very fast. This means it requires your full attention. This means that you must have your mise en place together or the results will be catastrophic or worse, a panic grab of the kitchen fire extinguisher. From there, according to Grace Young, all ingredients should be cut bite sized. All protein (meat and fish) must be marinated. Whatever the marinade, it always includes cornstarch. Whatever the veggies, they must be dry. And finally, high heat must be maintained: you gotta hear the constant sizzle of stir frying not the sonorous hum of braising.

Briefly then, the operational sequence for wok stir frying is as follows: (read the book, then cross-check 'wok technique' on google)

1) Preheat the wok dry to very hot. 2) Add some oil and swirl it about (carefully). 3) Add and roast the dry aromatics: spices, herbs and the like. 4) Push the aromatics up the side of the wok, add the protein(s) and stir fry to about three-quarters done. Then transfer the aromatics and proteins to a warm plate. 5) Add and heat more oil, add the veggies and stir fry to about three-quarters done. 6) Return the aromatics and protein to the wok and then drizzle in the liquid ingredients and remaining seasoning, deglaze, BTB and stir fry until the protein is done and the veggies are crisp. 7) Serve immediately on heated plates or in heated bowls.

So, give it a go!

This is a very good book with inviting recipes, clear tutorials and local color stories. It is a welcomed contribution of the culinary literature. A good choice if you want to have or want to give "one Chinese cookbook."


Harold McGee has a new book out: Keys to Good Cooking-A Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes. This work is a practical application of his canonical The Science of Cooking. This is not a recipe book but rather, in his words "a constructively critical companion to your recipe collection.

I would call it a primer. A go-to-first book for the aspiring cook intent on expanding their need-to-know base before diving into more serious savory and pastry recipes. As in, "I really would like to know more about what's important to know about eggs since I want to start baking." Or "My friend says that working with chocolate requires professional tutorials, but I'm going to read McGee and decide." [Well, your friends right, though McGee doesn't admit it.]

This is a good book to give to a grand kid with an accelerating interest in food preparation. Each chapter provides a pretty good foundation of what's essential without going into the science or lengthy explanations. And since we know that McGee has done the research for his earlier books, the reader of this one can accept McGee's take on these matters ex cathedra. Still, this in not a book for the experienced home cook.


Another book is Deborah Krasner's Good Meat. I have stated many times on this Web site that I am unimpressed with organic produce and will not pay the added price for it. Well husbanded meat on the other hand, is worth an added price. Last summer's smoked pork shoulder, turkey and the three beef briskets--all from the local butcher, were as if from another time and place compared to supermarket fare.

This book is about what is called sustainable agriculture, specifically meat and poultry humanly raised and slaughtered on local, well husbanded farms with minimum ecological damage to the environment. Sustainable farming is a foodie movement that champions putting meat and poultry on the table that is accessible, healthful and affordable. Krasner says that bypassing the industrial food system benefits all of us. I find that to be a real stretch: Let's say there are seven billion of us on Planet Earth. If we all eat one ounce of meat, poultry or fish every day the industrial food system has to bring to market roughly three thousand tons a day. There is much to admire but nothing sustainable about Farmer John's spread north of town. He produces an elitist product.

Still, there is a lot to like is this book. It covers beef, lamb, pork, poultry, rabbit and eggs--all raised at one time or another on the author's ranch. Each section starts with a very informative anatomy tutorial showing primal, sub primal and retail cuts of each critter, complete with tables and photos. Neato! Almost worth the price of the book. Recipes abound: a 68 page presentation for beef as well as for pork, 47 for poultry, 35 lamb and 13 rabbit and 17 pages of egg recipes. All of them are on the practical side well within the the realm of home cookery. I especially want to get into the rabbit recipes, which are very inviting if you like rabbit and I do (I did braised rabbit as my final school demonstration).

The minute I open the pork section, I wanted to read Krasner's take on the increased danger of trichinosis and salmonella contamination of pastured pigs. The trichina worm is found in contaminated raw meat that the pig might find and eat on the pasture (rats, mice, etc.). While the risk can be minimized by husbanding the pig pasture to reduce rodents. The risk is still there and it's still dangerous. The author prefers to condemn the industrial food system as even more unhealthful. But that doesn't cut it. If you eat pastured pork you must cook it to 144F minimum. No thanks.

I still like this book. The tutorials are great, the recipes read well and the photos are beautiful. If you are an untroubled carnivore and can shake off Krasner's advocacy, this book is very informative and a nice compliment alongside H.F. Whittingsall's The River Cottage Meat Book.


Finally, we have The Essential New York Times Cookbook. This is not an update of Craig Claiborne's 1961 New York Times Cookbook. My copy of that book, still cherished, stained and with a broken back is still used. At first glance, I thought that this new NYT cookbook and The Gourmet Cookbook of 2004 might be all a home cook needs for a complete library.

Well, upon reading through it, this is not a go-to cookbook and is not a companion to the The Gourmet Cookbook. Nor is it encyclopedic, despite its size and weight. Rather, it stands as a well researched, nostalgic historic tour through the 150 year culinary archive of the New York Times, from which the author has pulled out and tested 1400 recipes to present to today's reader along with informative commentary and anecdotes that lend fun and context to it all. That ain 't all bad.

If you are into presentism this is not a cookbook for you, as only the copyright date is relevant. Yet Hesser's thesis is so unique and the NYT data base so impressive that the whole thing works.

The book is organized into 19 sections: from cocktails and hors d'oeuvres to soups, veggies, meat , poultry and menus. It has great breakfast and dessert sections and interesting menus, but don't look for a classic French onion soup, a Monte Cristo sandwich, cioppino or a representative array of classic savory sauces.

This book is clearly a contribution to the culinary literature. But how to use it? Well I bought copies of it as Christmas presents for two experienced home cooks who I think will enjoy the recipes and the anecdotes in the intended context of the author. Myself: I spun the blender eggnog (p. 44) in the Vitamix on Christmas day. Not bad--a little thin.

While I wouldn't wrap fish to today's NYT, it was once a great newspaper, and over the decades has had the vision and financial strength to hire good people to write about food in America and in the process influence what we prepared and served.

Great data base: pretty good book.

As for your presentist grand children: forget it.


I read about Phaidon coming out with a series of translated foreign national cookbooks, such as this French classic now in English.  First impressions are that the switch from metric to US units of measure results in strange inconsistencies (such as X ounces of bacon in one veal recipe and X slices in another). Since this is a French home cookbook, its recipe for onion soup is a must check. Would you believe that Mathiot makes onion soup with 6+ cups of stock and 9 ounces of onion for 6 servings?  That's only one large onion! Something is wrong here. 

The food photos are practical and unpretentious.  The illustrations, throughout the book and on the inside of the dust cover, are delightful.  The dust cover is reversible. So if you can't stand pink, reverse it to present a nice untitled culinary illustration. Neato.

The sections on sauces, eggs, game and veal dishes are so thorough that the book might hold its own as a useful reference, even in a rather complete culinary library.   However, most readers of this Web site, with their life-long experience in home cooking, will find this book more curious than practical. But, should you blow thirty bucks and give this book to your grand child?  Well, if grand son or daughter has the kitchen basics down pretty well, loves and uses at least two cookbooks, wants to "cook different things," and looks at things European now and then, this big, heavy, encyclopedic "go to" book would be very welcomed and likely used. 

Beyond Barbecue?
Just got this book on wood fire cookery and it looks rather far out, but with recipes that are unique and interesting, such as Beef and Potato Pie, Pork Tenderloin with Burnt Brown Sugar, Orange Confit & Thyme, Patagonian Potato Gelette and Smashed Potatoes w/ Tapenade Crust.  The author is a famous Argentine chef/owner, restaurateur and TV showman. 

After reading through the book and walking my mind through quite a number of the recipes, I announced to TLW that "this is a guy's book." "Oh, I don't know about that," she said, "I'm going to make the empanadas and the beef and potato pie, for sure. And, if it's a guy's book, why did our house guest copy two recipes out of it?" OK, it's a recipe book, written by a chef who, upon hearing the siren of a fire engine, is likely to chase it--not to help put out the fire but to cook on it. That's a guy thing!

Mallman cooks on seven fires (hence the title) all big, all wood and all outdoors. The fires are grate, griddle, opposing griddles, oven, ember mounded, fire pit with rack and Dutch oven cauldron. He describes each with its Argentine setting and then goes about pairing recipes to the fires. So, for starters, if you have an outdoor fire pit or the like, this is a must read.  If you don't, but are going to cook his meat recipes indoors, you will need a very good vented range and oven. That said, many if not most of the recipes are indoor friendly and do not require high heat and venting.

Mallman is French trained and cooked for years in the urban setting as chef/owner before giving himself over to country culinary pyromancy.  At the outset, Mallman puts forth his "one unbreakable rule" when cooking with high heat:  "You must wait; Leave it alone; Don't touch it; Don't move it; and above all, Don't flip it." Blessings upon Francis Mallman for getting this straight, putting it up front and restating it in recipes throughout the book. I won't harp on this subject further than to suggest you buy this book for your best grilling friend who plays with burgers.   He also offers good advice on how hot fires should be and how to judge their temperature.

This is one of the best recipe books I've read in some time.  Notwithstanding that I write more recipes than I read, I can't wait to get into it.  21 appetizers, 13 beef and veal, 13 lamb, pork and poultry, 9 fish, 11 veggies, 18 light fare, 8 desserts, 8 breads and 20+ sauces and such.  The recipes include a lot of high carbon burnt veggies and crisps meats.  There are three or four whole carcass recipes that can be fired and plated in a mere day or so of attentive fire tending. 

Seven Fires, Grilling the Argentine Way is worth your consideration as a grilling and regional cuisine book with inventive and approachable recipes. It is a substantive contribution to the literature and surely will be an IACP and James Beard Book Award contender.

Still in Print

We joined a dinner party with old friends last night, where the host had earlier been thinning out her basement book racks.  She presented me with this aged and musty 1978 first edition of the paperback version of this 1976 classic.  It's still in print and for good reason.  Just short of a cooking course in one book, it covers over 150 basic techniques with 1500 black and white photos that define the preparation of fish, veggies, meat, desserts, carving and other knife work. 

I first used this book at school.  Paging through it now, I have renewed admiration for La Academie de Cuisine in that there is little presented by Jacques Pepin in La Technique that was not presented to us over the one year course of instruction. In fact, I cannot find an unfamiliar page! If you have grandchildren aspiring to things culinary, this classic would be a fine addition to their growing library.

Another Food Science Book


I just got a copy of this big glossy, Canadian published paperback and I am having a lot of fun paging through it.  So, first off: it's an attractive book with lots of whimsical color photos and reader friendly formatting.  At issue, however, is the publisher's claim that this book is the "ultimate reference of how cooking works."  That's a bit much since the bibliography cites McGee, Corriher, Wolke and others who, up to now, own the subject. (Of note to readers:  Of the fifty or so books referenced by Joachim and Schloss in their bibliography, I have ten of them and have previewed all but one on this Web site.)  Still, I guess, there's room for more.  I'm not yet sure that this book is a contribution to the literature...stay tuned. 

Well, it is!  This is a most reader-friendly food science book.  Three headings describe each of the 1600 entries: what it is, what it does and how it works.  "How it works" entries are science-based: chemical, molecular, biological, etc.. Cross referencing is so omnipresent that it invites the reader to flip back and forth through the book over and over again.  Tables abound, text size and shadings are used generously, photos appear on about every three pages--with the result that the book is a visual delight, front to back-- much more approachable that McGee and more thorough than Corriher or Wolke.  It's quite complete, too.  I looked for descriptions of a few arcane subjects--such as the Maillard Effect--and found them.  I noted too, with pleasure, that the authors avoided dating the book with foodie political views, du jour.

It's a winner and bound to be recognized as such by the IACP and/or the James Beard Foundation.  If you are looking for a reference book for an in-law or grand kid who shows promise in the kitchen, this tome will prove to be a valued selection.  You might like it too.  Or, lobby your librarian to get it.

No Surprise:  Meat  Wins The 2008 James Beard Foundation's Cookbook of The Year and  Single Subject Cookbook Awards
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (HFW) is well known in Great Britain 

as a farmer, TV teaching chef, advocate and food writer.  This guy loves meat and is unapologetic about it.  His heartburn is over what he describes as the badly raised, processed, marketed and prepared meat products that dominate big agriculture and pervade the market place worldwide.   In the opening pages of this beautifully produced book,   HFW puts forth his "meat manifesto" the gist of which is that there is a "moral dimension" in our dealings with meat that centers upon, or should center upon, good husbandry and respect for the animals from which our meat comes and extends to how it is prepared for market and how we prepare it for our table.  My views on good husbandry and respect a little later ...

So, is HFW another urban  political foodie elitist running against the wind?  Yes, but it is hard to blow off the idea that man has responsibilities regarding the raising and slaughter of animals for food and, therefore, that we have options (albeit within our means) to buy meat that reflects these responsibilities.  "Buy better: eat less" is the operative mantra.

HFW devotes the first part of his book to understanding meat, wherein he defines "good meat" and then applies it to the purchase and preparation of beef, veal, lamb, mutton, pork, poultry and game.  Part two is about classic cooking methods--roasting, slow and fast cooking, barbecuing and the preparation of forcemeats--with recipes.  In all, HFW is well schooled, trained and informed.  And since he's British, the American reader will find his take on things refreshing and innovative.  For example, his recipe for Boston Baked Beans and the accompanying photo remove all doubt that the British have forgiven us for the Boston Tea Party.

This is an important book about food and a virtual manifesto about meat that challenges the way we go about provisioning our table  Yet it is light hearted enough to be fun to read.  Not to mention its lush photos and recipes too. 

To my observation, the idea of good husbandry is impossible to fault on its own merits.  Read about the "good" farms in Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma (see below) or the critical control points of basic good husbandry in the slaughterhouse in Grandin's Animals in Translation.  Further, in my view, respect for food and its preparation is an implicit fundamental of good cooking. Without respect for food deeply embedded or pounded into you through training with good teachers (be they moms or chefs), you can't be a good cook.  At best, you're just a participant in a refereed food fight.

Lobby your librarian or buy the book.

I Swear This Is The Last Review Of A PC Foodie Book
Michael Pollan has another best seller following The Omnivore's Dilemma.  In this short book, Pollan takes on "Nutritionism" i.e., the now established belief that the key to understanding foods is to identify their nutrients. "Foods are essentially the sum of their nutritional parts." For decades, nutritionists have woven a complex web of confusing science much exploited by the food industry, which has filled the super markets with nutrient modified foods.  Consumers, none the wiser, are eating some pretty awful stuff instead of real food that comes from good ground.  It's a good story, with lots of villains and victims. 

It's rather convincing too.  With this book in hand, I remembered my Aunt Pauline who was the dietitian, in the 40s and 50s, at the city hospital in Indianapolis.  But there are no dietitians today.  They have morphed into nutritionists. Pollen's right, the whole profession went from macroanalysis to microanalysis, from diet profiles of whole foods to fat, carbo and protein counts in whatever food carries them. 

Pollan's mantra is on the cover and the first page of the book.  "Eat food, not too much.  Mostly plants."  Here he joins Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's buy better:eat less.  Both authors are preaching to the choir of food phobics and wellness hypocondriacs who love to worry about their food.  Indeed, Pollan identifies this anxious and worrisome cohort as "orthorexics."  An new eating disorder, ripe for medical intervention. 

But there is something more here, or I wouldn't waste your time with these books.  It's obvious if you think about it:  Buy, prepare and eat good food.  Work that out however you like.  But give it a go.  These books might help.

I put off reading this for four weeks . . .
A dear neighbor laid this book upon me undoubtedly without malice, but one look at the cover and flaps gave me the quaking dreadfuls.  Good grief, another book by an elite urban food phobic undoubtedly reveling in advanced wellness hypochondria, I assumed.  Well, Pollan is an elite urban writer.  No doubt about that.  What more damning proof could possibly trump his resume, which states he writes for the NYT and lectures at Berkeley. So, the tome languished on the desk for a month moved only by the cleaning lady.  Finally, professional curiosity compelled me to pick the darn thing up and start reading it.  What a surprise--20 pages into the book and not a politically correct whine, whimper or preachment, albeit I detected unstated assumptions of the author's superior ways and advanced thinking. But what the hey, press on regardless. 

I learned a lot in the first and second part of the book:  about big corn and its industrial food chain;  about a "grass farmer" down the road from us here in Virginia running an intense operation raising grass fed critters for market;  about the canonical evils of McDonalds but also their good influences in the slaughter house; about Whole Foods and the industrial organic food chain--now a $20B industry.  Interlaced in all this are the author's thoughts on the killing of animals for food, on vegetarianism, on animal rights, on animal welfare and the realities of feeding the multitudes --all with a measured and thoughtful hand.

I'm at peace with all this on the basis that there is, without exception, death in dinner.  Be it bacteria swallowed into an acid bath as one drinks water, munching a carrot or dining on a grilled chicken.  I once observed four boxwoods, planted in April, shut down and appear dead in the dry heat of August only to come alive the following spring--all four of them.  Do boxwoods communicate?  By extension, who is to say that there is not some primordial scream from a carrot as it is ripped from its earth womb? 

I enjoyed the book, the banner of this Web site notwithstanding.  But don't log in every week waiting for my first vegetarian menu.

More Mediterranean Fare From The Meghreb 
Braising is the favored cooking method all along the Mediterranean littoral.  Only the spices change.  I first started singing the praises of the tagine as a braising "Dutch oven for two" over five years ago on this Web site.  So, when Sur La Table ran a catalog feature on tagines and featured this book, I got it in hopes of getting some new tagine ideas.  M'Souli offers but four tagine recipes, all very nice, but a disappointment nonetheless.  Ah, but there's more.

The book, gorgeously photographed, is filled with quite simple recipes for many light dishes and sides.  Dressings, tapenades, dips, sauces, glazes, salads --all infused with the spices of Morocco, such as his Moroccan Glazed Carrot Salad.  Savory dishes feature lamb, chicken and fish.  How about his Cilantro Chicken with Crispy Cumin Potato Skins?  The grain of choice, of course, is couscous prepared by M'Souli in the same manner as I was taught in school (sans couscoussier) by our French-Algerian master chef.  We love couscous and look forward to preparing it with Hassan's couscous recipes for salad, lamb, chicken, seafood and even dessert. The book has a nice functional introduction on spices and ingredients endemic to Moroccan cooking.  The informed reader can make the case that Paula Wolfert's books are more authoritative, but M'Souli's Moroccan Modern is more fun, more approachable and a visual delight.  The Little Woman already has marked five recipes as "must trys."  This is a very inviting  tour of Moroccan cuisine.  It's hard to put down. 

A New Edition Of The Canonical Food Reference Book
The Food Lover's Companion, first published in 1990, and now in its fourth edition, with 6700 entries from abalone to zwieback, has become the reference book for foodies.  It is encyclopedic but brief, it is the spelling reference for food and menu writers, its entries include description, origin, current relevance and often cooking conventions.  The 57 page appendix is quite inclusive from substitution charts to seasoning suggestions.  The author, Sharon Herbst, died last February, so this edition is co-authored with her husband.  It is indeed my companion--the only book on my desk (other than a copy of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America).  Come to think of it, they're sort of in the same league.  Well, not really, but . . .

A Very Good Single Subject Cookbook
We stumbled upon the Emeril Lagasse Show on TV one evening where he had a guest chef stirring up some crab cakes, with a coconut/panko crust, while also making an interesting tomatillo salsa to go with the cakes.  It all looked familiar but interesting.  Familiar, because we have crab cakes every six weeks or so, following a trip to Costco, where I always pick up a can of crab meat.  Interesting, because it turned out that the guest chef, Tom Douglas, was really on the show to plug his new cookbook, I Love Crab Cakes!.   Well, we do too (my own recipe is posted (here). So, I really don't need a book on crab cakes. 

Nonetheless, I poked about on, found the book and its table of contents.  I discovered that this guy not only shares my view that canned crab meat is OK, he even has a recipe entitled "Costco Quickie."  He also likes to use Panko, tomatillos and lots of cilantro.  My kind of cook!  So why not help him out and buy his book? 

Glad I did.  Douglas's book plan was to call every chef he knew and ask each for their signature crab cake recipe.  As a result, the book covers the subject thoroughly from American classics to Asian and European variations;  from crab cakes for dinner to breakfast to brunch;  from hot to cold with, of course, crab cake sandwiches. Included are eighteen sauces and salsas.  A lot of good ideas in this book.  The recipes read well and the photos are great. 

A Very Useful and User-Friendly Reference Book
Culinary reference books, such as this one, Schneider's Vegetables From Amaranth to Zucchini and Dornburg and Page's Culinary Artistry enable the curious, bold, adventurous or just plain bored-over-the-years cook to explore the origin of culinary ingredients and get some fresh ideas on how to use them and what to use them with.  Ian Hemphil and family are Australia's counterpart to our Pensey family, that is, folks in the spice trade for generations.  This paperback includes information on more than 100 spices and herbs.  Each entry includes origin, buying and storage, uses and combinations, suggested quantities and a recipe or two.  Spices are grouped as sweet, pungent, tangy, hot and amalgamating, which is nice to know when you need to do a substitution or want  to mix things together. To that end, Hemphill provides a very useful "Spice and Herb Combination Pyramid" as a preface to listing the ingredients of 35 traditional spice blends, such as Fines Herbes, Ras el Hanout, Garam Masala and, of course, Aussie Bush Pepper Mix.  Not that you will spend a Saturday afternoon mixing your own spice blends, but knowing what's in them will enable the experienced cook to refine seasoned dishes. The introduction provides a nice history of the spice trade and national preferences, as well as a few tidbits, such as the observation that:  "Some cooks may incorrectly tell you that roasting spices brings out the flavor.  Roasting spices changes the flavor."  Curiously, information on spice and herb storage does not include vacuum sealing, a most effective method, now widely available in commercial and home kitchens. The book is a co-winner of the reference book of the year, awarded by IACP

At Last, a Sequel to The French Laundry Cookbook?
I just received this cookbook and its similarity to Thomas Keller's The French Laundry Cookbook is striking.  The books are identical in size, weight and paper quality, the  photography is spectacular, tutorials are revealing and the scope is broad. The foreword by Keller, makes the connection unmistakable.  So we have another cookbook for chefs and experienced home cooks.  But second glance suggests that Happy in the Kitchen has recipes that are more approachable. To that end, Michel Richard has added a 13 page "basics" section that presents stocks, dressings, dough, and other mise en place.He also prefaces the book with a "tool box" section of all of his kitchen gadgets. 

A Sequel to a Good Book
Robert Wolke is a retired university chemistry professor who around 1998, morphed into a food chemistry columnist for The Washington Post.  His award winning column, Food 101, makes for good reading--educational and as well as entertaining, as they say. Since the Post is my local paper, I've been reading his stuff from day one.  The first book and this sequel are essentially compilations of his articles.  Volume 2 is bigger, more broad in scope and, in the author's own words: ". . .somewhat deeper and richer in science than the previous one, in recognition of the growing appetite for science among foodies, both avocation and professional." 
I liked the first book and this one even more.  While Harold McGee remains the essential reference on kitchen science for the professional, Wolke's two volumes represent a significant contribution to the literature. "Wolke 2" is very approachable, humorous and makes for great reading, while waiting for the dough to rise or the pot to boil. 

Molly Steven's All About Braising
Another James Beard Foundation and IACP Winning Cookbook

We had a memorable long weekend with friends in Knoxville, Tennessee awhile back and, since they served a delicious braised veal dish, we thought this book might give them more ideas and inspirations.

Braising is cooking with wet heat, low and slow.  Food products are placed in a heavy pot with a small amount of liquid, covered tightly and then cooked at low temperature for a long time. The method is "uncomplicated" and produces marvelous commingled flavors while tenderizing everything in the pot. 

Stevens devotes the first 32 pages of this book to the braising process and it's place in the culinary world, which makes All About Braising a good choice for the aspiring home cook wondering what to do with the huge Dutch oven Aunt Lucille gave them for a wedding present.  There are creative veggie dishes, rolled and stuffed dishes  and some innovative beef, veal and chicken dishes along with the more traditional preparations of pork and lamb. There are also a few braised fish recipes. "OK, so you can braise fish, but why?"  Well, there is a tendency of single subject cookbook writers  to stretch the limits. 

You all have a Dutch oven and some readers have the Le Creuset Tagine.  My real purpose in buying this book was to see if Stevens had recipes that could be modified for the tagine, which is really a Dutch oven for two.  Most all of the veggie dishes can be cut down to fit the tagine, as well as the poultry recipes calling for thighs, legs and breasts.  The stuffed beef and veal recipes should work well in the tagine, too.   In all, the book includes 150 recipes within 479 pages of text.  It reads well and the photos are good.  Before mailing it off to Knoxville, I copied seven recipes of interest and best of show, viz., Braised Green Cabbage, Quick Lemony Chicken with Prunes & Green Olives, Goan Chicken, Chicken and Pork Adobado, Braised Duck Legs, Caribbean Pork Shoulder and Cabbage Rolls with Pork and Sauerkraut. 

Braising is really basic and can put a lot of food on the table with little fuss.  It's a must learn and here's how.

Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking, the Science and Lore of the Kitchen

Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking, the Science and Lore of the Kitchen.  2005 winner of both the IACP and The James Beard Foundation "Reference Cookbook "of the Year Awards.  It's a nice coincidence that the 20th year revision of this classic comes out about the same time as The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, profiled below.  While the Oxford chronicles food and drink on the table and how it got there, McGee lifts the lid off the pot, pokes and probes and tells us where foods come from (overlapping a bit with Oxford's historical approach), what they are made of, and how they respond to cooking processes. 

If you are with a crowd of foodies and see a few roll their eyes in hopeless despair when some TV chef again tells an audience that he is now “searing in the flavors” in a hot skillet, you'll know that they have read McGee and have been initiated into the mysteries of “Maillard Reactions” and how, when and why non-sugar foods brown and form a crust. 

This science stuff can get heavy (the book even has a chemistry primer as an appendix), but McGee has made it all quite readable, at least for the determined.  I bought the original when in school and read it through.  Since then, I have used it for reference both as a cook, as a food writer, and as the standard to judge other books with a science perspective—such as How to Read a French Fry and What Einstein Told His Cook, both previously profiled.

If the science side of food is of interest to you, get a copy of McGee’s revised masterpiece.  His articles are short, with lots of paragraph headers, which makes it all quite digestible.

Santa brought me the newly published two-volume set of Andrew Smith's, The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, comprised of 770 articles on personalities, inventions, methodologies, brands, regional histories and movements attending American tastes, preparation and consumption of food and drink.  From Arbuckles to Zombies, with sidebars from Elsie the Cow to The Rise of Restaurants, and with personalities from Philip Danforth Armour to Alice Waters, the books presents a compelling and rather complete view of food and drink in the United States through history:  Rather complete, but still eclectic. 

Projects of this type and breadth invite criticism not only about what's in and what's not but also the weight given to entries. For example, James Beard and Julia Childs each get a column and a half, but so does Rick Bayless--a young and trendy chef of Mexican cuisine.  The late Jean Louis Paladin (arguably the most creative cook of our time) gets nary a mention.  French-, Mexican- and Italian-American foods are each summed up in 6 to 8 informative pages, while Native American Foods goes on and on, from acorns and ashes to insects and indian pudding, for 42 pages--the longest article in the set. 

This is a well researched effort by a long list of established foodie academics and writers. It is a substantive contribution to the culinary literature. As a bonus, Volume Two concludes with bibliographies of food and drink, lists of food periodicals,  food-related Web sites, museums and organizations and a great list of food festivals in the United States. 

At a street price of about $145, this set is expensive. You might lobby your library board to purchase it as a worthy aid to young scholars struggling through their school projects and for the curious in need of authoritative answers to many food and drink questions.   Nice gift too. Otherwise I would not rush out and buy this set unless you are a culinary professional of some sort, or an aspiring Native American cook. 

Patrick O'Connell's Refined American Cuisine is another "great chef/fine restaurant" cookbook.  O'Connell is a local hero as chef and half-owner of The Inn at Little Washington, a restaurant that has garnered just about every top award in the industry.  As expected of type, it's a beautiful book. What's different is that the recipes are quite approachable, in contrast to, say, Keller's The French Laundry Cookbook

For example, on Christmas day, we had six over for a prime standing rib of beef, au jus, with a side of sour cream laced with horseradish.  Along with sautéed green beans with roasted red pepper strips, The Little Woman wanted a potato gratin dish. That was fine with me but not if prepared with garlic, since garlic clashes with horseradish.  To the rescue came O'Connell's Potato Gratin with Parsnips and Carrots (page 168).  This a simple dish and the instructions were straight forward.  It called for heavy cream infused with a little freshly ground nutmeg, which worked fine.  Not able to leave well enough alone, I added a topping of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.  The recipe is representative of others in this book:  good American food, refined by a pro and well presented.

I am very confident that you will find the recipes in Refined American Cuisine to be "bomb proof,"  that is thoroughly tested and clearly described.  Here's why:  In the acknowledgments, O"Connell has this to say:  "The manuscript might still be unfinished if it weren't for Bonnie Moore, my former sous chef and current projects manager, who kept the book on track while a thousand other things were happening . . ." 

After cooking at The Inn at Little Washington, Bonnie was an instructor chef at La Academie de Cuisine, when I was there as a student.  She then moved on to be executive chef and food director at, where I worked as her extern for six months.  I have great professional regard for  Bonnie Moore-- a chef who's knowledgeable, thorough and not given to compromise. 

She vetted this book and it shows.

Ruth Reichl, ed. The Gourmet Cookbook

If we can leave aside the yellow type headers, which are unreadable under all but optimum lighting, this is an extraordinary cookbook.  It is the new magnum opus of Gourmet magazine. With over 1000 recipes, I was not surprised to find one for nearly each of my recipes on this Web site.  It even has a couple of tagine recipes. 

Last Saturday night, we had a dinner for eight.  We decided to do Cioppino and had all but filled out our event planner, when The Little Woman saw a write-up on paella in the current Williams-Sonoma catalog.  "You've done cioppino to death, why not do paella?"  "Why not," said I.  (Besides, I thought, maybe I can go buy a paella pan.)  The Little Woman read my thoughts again as she said, "You can use the big roaster pan in the garage instead of one of those special paella pans, which I don't even want to hear about."  So, paella was the dish for Saturday night.  Not having made it at home, I dug out recipes from four books (Peterson, McClane, Wolfert and Labensky) and bounced them against the school recipe in my Chef's Companion.  Paella, by the way, is a rice dish with meat, fish, shellfish and short grain rice seasoned with paprika and saffron--all cooked and presented in a round shallow pan. 

I then paid special attention to the Seafood Paella recipe in the The Gourmet Cookbook (page 349). The instructions read well.  Indeed, the whole article was attractive—the best, by far, of my five references.  It started out with: "True, [paella] is a somewhat daunting project, but you are making a feast," and went on to sing paella's praises. So, while composing my own ingredients list, I decided to follow Gourmet'sinstructions as a means to judge at least one of its recipes--and a complex one, at that. 

I found the instructions for this dish to be descriptive and detailed.  For example, when boiling the rice on the stovetop prior to baking it in the oven, it said to do so "until the rice appears on the surface about 6 minutes," and then added "spoon should leave a path exposing bottom of pan when pulled through center of rice." I did exactly that:  boiled the rice at high heat for 6 minutes and, lo and behold, the spoon left a nice wide trace on the bottom of my new paella pan.   It called for 5.5 cups of broth for 3 cups of short grain rice, which was right on.  However, I found the recommended baking time to be about 20% short. 

Other recipe articles appear equally attractive—all suggesting thorough research and appreciation for the dish and its ingredients. This is a great cookbook to give to grandchildren who have learned their way around the kitchen.  If you have a copy of the old red Gourmet cookbook, or boxes of the magazine in the basement, get this book and toss the old stuff.  I look forward to using this cookbook: a canonical addition to culinary  literature. 

Madhur Jaffrey's From Curries to Kebobs From The Indian Spice Trail. 
This book won the James Beard International Cookbook Award this year, beating out Wolfert's The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen, which won the IACP International Cookbook Award this year. Like Wolfert, Jaffrey has been around for a long time.  I  have been reading them for a long time, as well.  These books represent their best work and each is the culmination of the author's life time of food research and writing.  That's why I bought them.

The Little Woman treasures Jeffrey's earlier work,  An Invitation to Indian Cooking, which came out in 1973. She has prepared Jaffrey's Pork Chops With Whole Spices and Tamarind Juice many times.  That book and my Navy experience with curries got us started. 

I like Indian food, or more precisely, I like Indian spices and condiments.  How I use them to season Mediterranean, Mexican and American dishes (from lamb shanks tagine to pork barbecued ribs) probably gives my Indian readers the vapors (and there are quite a few regular readers from India--thank you very much).  But this book may reform the Geezer since we are intrigued by many of the recipes, especially the curries and veggies, and are anxious to try them as written. 

About half of the book is concerned with the history of Indian cooking, its influence worldwide and the regional origin of each dish presented.  It's all quite readable and thorough enough to serve as a valuable reference and recipe source for those who wish to explore Indian cuisine.  Jaffrey, of course, encourages the reader to make her dishes from scratch, but she does write about the Japanese curry sauce mixes that are available worldwide.  She describes these packaged mixes as curry roux and rightly states that "...they lie at the heart of the curry most Japanese eat."  Readers will remember that I use curry roux from my Curry in a Hurry.

With apologies to Jaffrey and with her book in hand and not much time to get a dinner together a couple Friday's ago, I made Shrimp Curry.  I selected the mild version of curry roux and "cherry picked" ingredients from Jaffrey's Shrimp Curry with Roasted Spices recipe. 

  1. The packaged curry roux calls for 2.5 cups of water. Following Jaffrey, substitute a 14 oz can of coconut milk for a like quantity of water and mix all well. 
  2. Sauté about 20 large shrimp, in peanut or grapeseed oil, in a shallow pan and set them aside underdone
  3. In a medium sized chef's pan, sauté a couple sliced shallots to translucent and then toss in a stalk of fresh lemon grass ( I used 1 teaspoon of dried ground lemongrass). 
  4. Then add the thoroughly mixed roux, water and coconut, bring to a boil, immediately reduce the heat to simmer.

  5. Toss in the shrimp, simmer for a minute until they are pink and serve over basmati rice.

The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen

Awhile back, Paula Wolfert gave a demonstration at a culinary professional gathering in Washington DC and I volunteered as her assistant.  Earlier, I had discovered couscous at L' Acadamie and bought her Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco, which she wrote in 1973.  It's a classic.  Her latest book is up for top international cookbook awards at both Beard and the IACP and for good reason.  Wolfert gathers together a wonderful array of authentic savory dishes prepared in heavy pots, tagines and on low temperature fires in homes and restaurants along the littoral of the Mediterranean.  Lots of chicken and lamb dishes here.  I marked a half a dozen of them (and five or so more throughout the book) as very attractive and worth doing because they called for ingredients that should go very well together and because they read well.  That is, the recipe procedures are consistent with good cooking practices.  I was a bit put off by Wolfert's persistent nudges to buy expensive organic products (though it's now a foodie icon and probably a requirement if you want to get published these days).

This is a very good cookbook.   Its loaded with baked, braised and roasted dishes of ancient origins, all thoughtfully tailored by the author. Wolfert has spent a lot of time "in the Med."  She knows her subject.  I bought the book. And a month later it won the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) award for best International cookbook for 2003.

Sweet, sour, bitter and salt are the tastes that have specially designed receptor cells in the human mouth.  These tastes go from the palette to the brain without going through the olfactory sensors. There has been much talk of late of a fifth taste, as pure as the four.  Unfortunately, there is no consensus among food writers on what exactly this fifth taste is or how it should be described.  Since both the taste and description of sweet, sour, bitter and salt are straightforward to the point of being intuitive, I, for one, remain unconvinced that the fifth taste, be it called umami or savory, is in the same league with the canonical four.

Unfortunately, Sybil Kapoor, a respected British food writer, is as confused as many others.  Here we have a book about taste that includes umami with a lengthy description.  But the cover of her book includes lovely photos of sweet, sour, bitter, salt, chili and flavors.  Where's umami? 

It is not until page 48 that we are told that umami is so often found in salty or cured foods, such as Parma ham, that Kapoor has elected to cover umami  in the chapter on salt.  So for Kapoor, umami is but fat and salt.  Left less explained are the separate chapters on chili and flavors. I was also annoyed by the author's call for free range organic chicken as the bird of choice for chicken stock.  Come on, after two hours of simmering and after discarding the bird, who's to know?  A complete waste of money and a good bird.  PC amuck in the UK.

This is a curious cookbook, albeit beautifully presented with great photos. 

Got a surprise package from awhile back.  A book on salt and a note from my illustrious nephew, and his wife, in Minneapolis.

"Dear Uncle Chic:  We thought of you and your admonishment to not fear salt while cooking! 

How thoughtful of them to send the geezer something foodie to read and write about.  How nice they remembered the admonition.

In Salt, A World History, Mark Kurlansky takes us from one end of the globe to the other and from ancient times and cultures to the present telling us the same story.  Salt's influence on mankind is pervasive.  And that, "Fixing the value of salt, one of earth's most accessible commodities, has never been easy."  The harvesters of salt deposits founded villages, developed markets and trade routes.  Governments taxed the stuff from earliest times to build cities and empires and to fund armies to trash other cities and empires.  The salting of fish and meats, to prolong preservation, was a major contribution toward reliable food supplies in a starving world.  The simple processes of adding salt to cod, herring, beef and pork, to preserve them, has endured but also evolved over the millennia into complex salt-curing regimens for fish, meats and cheeses that have created food products of great value (caviar and parma hams, for example).  He notes, at the very end of the book that  "Fashionable people are now divided into two camps.  One is passionate about being healthy and eating less salt, the other is passionate about salt."  He votes (without passion) for moderation saying that the body needs salt, but that clinical evidence shows that people who consume large quantities of it are not as healthy as those who don't.

And what of my admonition to the Minneapolis nephew?   It's been some time since they visited our kitchen but I'm sure that I expressed my firm conviction that salt is an essential ingredient to good cooking.  Indeed, as an experienced culinary wag said many years ago,  "Cooking is all about hard work and salt."

If your doctor has told to you to severely reduce your salt intake, then do so.  If not . . . 

There are few household kitchens in the US, inhabited by home cooks our age, that don't have a Bundt Pan.  They've been around for fifty years. It's a heavy cast aluminum cake pan with a metal tube in the center, which promotes more even baking.  Nordic Ware, the manufacturer of the Nordic Ware Bundt Pan (a registered name), admits that the idea originated in Europe where "bund cakes" have been baked for special occasions for generations.  The classic round and rectangular pans have been joined, of late, by some really neat designs (see photo), the products, I'm sure, of computer design technology. 

Along comes a little wire-binded book, Bundt Classics, by Dorothy Dalquist, published by the Nordic Ware people, that collects and updates all the cakes they have promoted over the years.  Quite a few:  92 cakes and desserts, supported by 19 glazes, sauces and syrups. There are also 31 bread recipes and even a dozen savory dishes -- all written to be prepared in a Bundt Pan of one shape or another.  From Apple Streusel to Walnut-Bourbon Pound Cake, the list is a trip through days of  yore.  However, getting a cake out of a Bundt Pan, in one piece, is a challenge as old as the pans themselves.  The secret is to meticulously coat the inside of the pan with unsalted butter and a dusting of flour. One cannot spend too much time in preparing a cake pan.  "Prepare in haste, repent at leisure," as our master pastry chef instructed.

Anyhow, the book is inviting and reasonable in price.  The Little Woman is anxious to try some of the old recipes again "for the first time."

I just got a copy of The Flavors of Olive Oil, A Tasting Guide and Cookbook, by Deborah Krasner.  Though it is an award-winning book (James Beard Foundation 2002 award for single subject), there is not much to it.  A good 50 page tutorial on olive oil, followed by 17 pages of useful tasting notes and then 147 pages of recipes.  Still, the tasting notes section is current, as is the resource section in back of the book, both with a lot of Web site addresses. These pages alone are worth your attention. Note the bottle in the photo.  Krasner rates Costco's Kirkland Signature Extra Virgin Tuscano as "one of the great bargains in olive oil."  I agree.  I saw the stuff in the local Costco a couple of months ago and was impressed by the label and packaging.  It is indeed good and at a very good price.  I'm on my second bottle with two more bottles in the pantry. 

Mediterranean Street Food by Anissa Helou.  Anissa Helou, born in Lebanon and living in London, is an experienced culinary writer who appears regularly on British TV and writes a column for the Financial Times.  She is also a photographer and the book is nicely composed and presented with her black and white photos throughout.  Helou states in her introduction that as a kid in Beirut she was never allowed to eat street food in as much as 
“ . . . girls from good families don't.”  That set the stage for her enduring fascination with street food vendors and their dishes. 

As I read on, I began to wonder if she was going to address the health risks of non-natives eating street food.  (I ate the stuff without regret in Japan and Hong Kong, as a young dashing naval officer, but I doubt if I would do it now.)  She views a perceived lack of hygiene as often more apparent than real, and leaves it at that—save for a note to herself to carry her own cutlery when next in Cairo. Mmmm.

If you give a thought to what street food in all about (quick and/or uncomplicated), the chapter headings here are intuitive, namely soups, snacks-salads-dips, breads and pizzas, sandwiches, BBQs, one-pot meals, sweets, desserts and drinks.  She presents about 135 recipes, most capable of being prepared quickly without the need of much more than fire, a pan, product, spices and oil.

Readers of Wright’s A Mediterranean Feast or Wolfert’s Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco will find much familiar here.  If you have prepared some of Wolfert’s dishes or my tagine dishes you have the pantry and spice rack to tackle Helou’s Mediterranean street food.

We did her Moroccan Eggplant Salad the other night following the recipe, which was straightforward.  It was delicious, though a bit too oily.  This led me to check her other recipes to determine if Helou is a bit heavy on the olive oil.  She is, at least in her salads.  So, as you should do with all recipes, mark them up to your liking after following the author's recipe.  Fair enough.  Next time I do this dish, I’ll cut the oil by 20%. 

We'll try, I'm sure, some of the snacks, salads and dips as well as the kebab BBQ’s.  Her one-pot meal recipes look good and I should try one or two as quick-prep variants of the more elaborate lamb dishes that I favor.  But, given the cost of fresh lamb shanks, maybe I won't. 

I bought the book because I liked the concept.  You might too.  It's a welcome addition to the two related books, aforementioned.

What Einstein Told His Cook, by Robert L. Wolke.  As one who has read and profiled quite a number of science and cooking books, I learned a few things from this one (the potential use of citric acid “sour salts,” for example).  So up front, I will say that Wolke is worth the read.  Not as thorough as McKee or as applicable as Corriher but Wolke’s article format and light style—he writes for the Washington Post—makes his stuff more fun to read and the book easy to set down and pick up again.  All the usual subjects are covered here, fats, sugars, chemical reactions, calories, acids and the like, along with a recipe or two to make a point.  His chapter on Tools and Technology is current and especially good regarding microwave ovens, irradiation and the worried illiterate.

Readers can expect writers of kitchen science books to delight in debunking old cooking fictions and deflating the exaggerations of both consumer and industry advocates.  Wolke is no exception and the results are right up there with McKee and Corriher.  Concerning what I consider the hallmarks of the food phobics and wellness hypochondriacs, he says, “I hate warnings without reasons . . . [and] anxiety without information.” 

I found but one lapse.  Regarding the thawing of frozen products, Wolke fails to mention thawing under potable running cold water, which is the only in-kitchen method approved by the FDA.

I've stated before and hold to it that Shirley Corriher’s Cookwise is the most useful of the “here's why” books.  What Einstein Told His Cook is also worth your time, in contrast to How to Read a French Fry, which is trashed in a profile on this page, below.

The Fourth Star, by Leslie Brenner.  This book chronicles a year (2000) behind the scenes at Daniel, Chef Daniel Boulud's New York City restaurant.  Brenner, a food writer, observes restaurant operations for endless hours as Boulud and his staff of 140 work for endless hours to create and sustain a successful French restaurant.  Upon opening in 1999, the New York Times gave Daniel only 3 stars.  Hurt and miffed, Boulud broods silently as all under his employ know that getting the deserved fourth star is what the year 2000 is going to be all about.   Of course, they succeed. 

Two other restaurant books are reviewed on this page.  The kitchen scenes at Daniel are at another, higher, level than those portrayed by Bourdain in Kitchen Confidential, and Brenner's narrative lays waste the dismal title of Patric Kuh’s The Last Days of Haute Cuisine. Fine dining is alive and well.  Still, the three books are of a piece.  A dark side of Kitchen Confidential is here too, where cooks at Daniel, albeit in a prize kitchen, endure long hours, low pay, burn out and high turnover.  Front of the house operations at Daniel are apace with those described historically by Kuh.  Brenner documents the key requisites of success in today's restaurant world:  culinary flair, command leadership and marketing genius. Daniel Boulud has all three.  If your interest in fine dining includes diners as well as restaurant operations, Brenner portrays them--the regulars and VIPS--as quirky yet lovingly catered to by Boulud who recognizes them as vital to the success of his restaurant.  A lot of pointers are provided here for the eccentric diner.

Baking by Flavor, by Lisa Yockelson.  We spent a lot of time at school learning the correct techniques for baking the classic repertoire of cakes and tarts, along with icings and fillings; and an equal amount of time devoted to pastries—probably six weeks in all.  I survived and even enjoyed it, my strong preference to savory cooking notwithstanding.  Yockelson is well known to readers of the food section of the Washington Post.  She has published extensively.  Her signature is “flavor-accenting baked goods.”  I remembered that getting my lemon-sugar cookie to where I liked it was all about enhancing flavors.  So, maybe it was time to pick up a tome on baked desserts and see what a current master baker is up to. 

To get a feel for the level of detail and soundness of techniques, I baked her lemon tart, which called for using cookie dough instead of pate sucrée to make the tart shell.  Her instructions are clear and very detailed.  Laborious in fact (she takes two paragraphs to tell the reader how to “blind bake” a tart shell without ever using the technical term).  The ‘by flavor’ organization of the book is as inviting as it is innovative.  An average of 22 pages is devoted to each of 13 flavors (chocolate gets 35). If, like the Little Woman, you don't like almond, you can flip past it with the assurance that you will not see it again. 

Yockelson knows her subject.  She presents all the classics here, updated and inspired.  If you do not have a confectionery baked goods cookbook, Baking by Flavor is well worth a look.  For sure¸ this book will win an award next year.

¡Ceviche!  The little woman loves ceviche.  Our favorite Mexican restaurant is our most frequented restaurant because they make a great ceviche and have it on the menu most nights.  It's so good I consulted the chef there before preparing it for 200 as a demonstration dish at school.

Well, along comes a single subject cookbook on ceviche.  Better still, the book has been nominated for a James Beard Foundation book award this year.  “Got to buy this one,” says I. “ No need to look at it at the bookstore, just go Amazon.” 

¡Ceviche! by chef Guillermo Pernot and Aliza Green, offers 48 ceviche recipes—and everything you need to know about this little side dish—along with chapters on salsas, salads and cocktails—all tied together with extraordinary full-page color photographs. That's the good news.  The bad news is that ingredients called for in most of the recipes are not readily available.  To their credit, the authors have a chapter on special ingredients and sources, as well as a glossary of 54 entries pulled out of the recipes.  Nonetheless, to make the dishes in this book requires a commitment to shop for and stock the pantry with niche spices, condiments, veggies, fruits and booze.  The material on escabeches, salads, salsas, vinaigrettes, garnishes and cocktails is more user friendly, but even here the ingredient requirements are daunting. 

The book is impressive from the culinary point of view.  Pernot’s techniques are well grounded.  The text is to the point and fun to read.  His interest in Japanese fresh fish cuisine influences his ceviche creations in inventive and delightful ways.  The food presentation, serving dishes and settings for the photos are terrific.  In all, Pernot presents an in-depth look at ceviche. 

No, there is more to this book.  Upon reflection in the process of selecting some recipes that I might use in class, I now conclude (a week or so after writing the above) that Pernot takes civiche to new and creative heights.  This book is "way out there," in the manner of The French Laundry.  It is full of ideas that experienced cooks will ponder and use.  Which, come to think of it, is a desired outcome of reading any cookbook.  Few chef/authors, however, reach this level of creative substance.

Vegetables from Amaranth to ZucchiniI've had a copy of Elizabeth Schneider’s Uncommon Fruits & Vegetables for about three years and refer to it quite often.  Flipping through the book, I note page markings for arugula, cilantro, spaghetti squash, mangoes, radish sprouts, Swiss chard, Chinese cabbage, tomatillos and others.  When published in 1986, most of these items were hard to find “curiosities.” Schneider’s book is recognized today as a classic that influenced not only cooks but also the produce market. 

Now, 15 years later, Schneider has produced an updated and upscale version of the 1986 book.  In Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini, she has dropped the fruits and winnowed out the veggies.  Cilantro and other “spice” type veggies are not in the new book.  Sprouts, squash and other single items in the old book are presented now within generic headings.  Hugely informative, more fun to read and with lots of new material, the format and presentation of the new book—with large heavy weight glossy paper, 275 superb photos, 500 meat and meatless recipes and 220 more pages—is as elegant as the old book is text bookish.  The 1996 reprint of Uncommon Fruits costs 28 dollars; Vegetables goes for $60!  If I had neither and wanted a book on veggies, I would go Vegetables, price notwithstanding.  Schneider has been writing for 30 years.  Quite likely, this book is her magnum opus.  It is a 2001 nominee for a James Beard Foundation book award. 

The Last Days of Haute Cuisine, by Patric Kuh, traces the evolution of fine dining from the opening of Le Pavillon in 1941 to the present time.  Kuh has written a nostalgic essay wrapped around Henri Soulé, the maître d’hôtel of Le Pavillon, portrayed to excess in mythic aura.  The rise and fall of great restaurants across the land and the influences of iconic foodies—chefs and writers—are woven into this very readable narrative.  This book is essential reading for high-end restaurant goers, studious foodies and ambitious chefs.  It has been nominated for a 2001 James Beard Foundation book award.  If you read Kitchen Confidential, cleanse your pallet with The Last Days of Haute Cuisine.



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