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Eat & Drink » Wine

Cookbook Reviews

Three master chefs offer winning cookbooks, while two local college-themed collections should stay on the practice field.


In this day and age, with millions of recipes available on the Internet, why would anyone bother to spend hard-earned money on cookbooks? Well for me, there’s the endless cycle of addiction: Buy a cookbook, try out some recipes, get bored with the cookbook, and buy a new cookbook. In an attempt to break that cycle, however, lately I’ve been trying to purchase only cookbooks that have something more than mere recipes to offer. When I pick up a cookbook, I want to learn something, whether it’s the history or culture of a particular dish or food item, a valuable technique or skill, or if it is a recipe, one so solid that I’ll be coming back to it for decades. Three books I recently purchased fit the bill. Two others, not so much.

Culinary saint Alice Waters has a new book called In the Green Kitchen: Techniques to Learn by Heart. This is a valuable book, especially to beginner or intermediate cooks who might benefit from some solid grounding. Waters’ green kitchen manifesto includes the following suggestions: “Delicious, affordable, wholesome food is the goal of the green kitchen. Cooking and shopping for food brings rhythm and meaning to our lives. Simple cooking techniques can be learned by heart. A garden brings life and beauty to the table. Setting the table and eating together teaches essential values to our children.”

In the book In the Green Kitchen, Waters shares basic techniques such as poaching an egg, roasting vegetables, filleting a fish, shucking corn, toasting bread, wilting greens and so on with readers, and then reinforces the lesson with time-tested recipes from well-known chefs. Thus, along with learning essential techniques for roasting a chicken, you also get Thomas Keller’s excellent one-pot roast chicken recipe. The lesson on learning to boil pasta takes you to Lidia Bastianich’s simple and delicious recipe for aio e oio—pasta with garlic, parsley and olive oil. The technique for peeling tomatoes leads to Charlie Trotter’s raw tomato soup. This is a cookbook for the ages. By the way, proceeds from In the Green Kitchen benefit the Chez Panisse Foundation in support of Edible Education, a national movement to change the way children eat and learn about food in the public schools.

Julia Child was a cook and cooking teacher for the ages. And one of her best works was the slim volume Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom: Essential Techniques and Recipes from a Lifetime of Cooking, which was recently released in a new edition. This small book is jam-packed with useful information and recipes. According to Child’s introduction, the book “began as my loose-leaf kitchen reference guide gradually compiled from my own trials, remedies, and errors—corrected as I’ve cooked my way through the years.” The book is organized according to large food categories such as soups, eggs, bread and such, with an emphasis on technique. That’s because, as Childs writes, “Whether a cr%uFFFDpe is rolled with mushrooms for a main course or with strawberries for dessert, all cr%uFFFDpe dishes are made in much the same way.”

As with Waters’ book, in Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom, a lesson can lead to lunch. Learn how to sauté and you’ll soon be cooking up Childs’ versions of sautéed sea scallops, beef steaks, boneless chicken breasts, veal scallops, shrimp and more. Truly practical instructions on everything from folding eggs and how to skim fat to making fresh bread crumbs and clarifying butter can help prepare the reader for a lifetime of success in the kitchen. And, the chapter on egg cookery and Child’s master recipe for the French omelet is alone worth the price if this terrific little book.

Sara Moulton has long been one of my favorite cooks and TV chefs. She’s the antiRachael Ray. She’s also a working mother who cooks for her husband and kids most nights. Hence, her new cookbook: Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners. In addition to some 200 recipes, Moulton’s book is peppered with really interesting, useful information answering questions such as “What are chipotles? What is kielbasa? What is sriracha? What is the best way to chill a big pot of soup?” Asian-style pork sliders, picadillo sloppy Joes, chicken bouillabaisse with rouille and hot banana split cr%uFFFDpes are just a smattering of the terrific recipes to be found in this worthy cookbook.

With collegiate football in the air, it was inevitable that some marketing genius would come up with this idea: College-themed cookbooks. Specifically, University of Utah Utes Cookbook and Brigham Young University Cougars Cookbook, both by Jenny Ahlstrom Stanger. The spiral-bound books each contain 30 recipes designed to bring out the athletic supporter in every cook.

The Utes Cookbook, predictably, serves up recipes for dishes that, largely, incorporate the color red in them. So, you’ll find BLT red potato salad, red-and-white yogurt parfaits, red cream soda float, true red velvet cupcakes and red rock chili cheese dogs. The recipes are simple to follow, the directions rudimentary, and the results predictable: no touchdowns here.

The same formula is followed in the Cougars Cookbook. Although, since there are fewer blue foods than red, Cougar fans might throw penalty flags for having to cook up red dishes like holy war hot dogs, Mountain West meatballs or Brigham’s BBQ beans. However, there are blue sprinkles in the creamery cookies and cream cake, blue food coloring in the true blue Snickers salad, blueberry pie filling in FHE mini fruit pizzas, blue cheese in the hot wings and blue M&Ms in the popcorn popping balls. Yawn.