Cookbook Roundup From Basics to Bouillabaisse

For the toque-topped chef or the nervous novice trying to figure how long to boil a three-minute egg, there are lessons to learn.


By Jerome Assire


192 pp., $45


By Patricia Wells


349 pp., $40


By Bo Friberg

Van Nostrand Reinhold

1,154 pp., $59.95


By Dorie Greenspan

William Morrow & Co.

481 pp., $40


By Christopher Kimball

Little, Brown & Co.

443 pp., $29.95


By David Rosengarten with Joel Dean and Giorgio DeLuca

Random House

563 pp., $35


By Charlie Trotter

Ten Speed Press

239 pp., $50


By Karen Gantz Zahler

John Wiley & Sons

208 pp., $37.50


By Jeni Wright


96 pp., $19.95


By Emily Luchetti


252 pp., $32.50


By Janeen A. Sarlin and Diane Porter


294 pp., $25.00


Edited by Chuck Williams

Time-Life Books

108 pp., $18.95


By Joyce Jue

Sunset Publishing

128 pp., $19.95


By Joyce Goldstein

Sunset Publishing

128 pp., $19.95


By Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken

Sunset Publishing

128 pp., $19.95

Just when it seems as though every cookbook concept has been overdone, a new twist on a theme pops up to intrigue the curious palate.

This year's crop brings topics ranging from ancient Mediterranean cuisine to postmodern vegetable art. Out of a proverbial bouillabaisse two divergent trends seem to have emerged.

The first group involves complicated dishes for the gourmet who has a great deal of time to shop, chop, and create, or for those armchair cooks who fantasize about preparing such luxuriant repasts.

Minimalism, the other trend, may have come about as a reaction to the aforementioned quest for indulgence.

Virtually hundreds of cookbooks this year abandoned embellishment by embracing "comfort food," old world cooking methods, and cooking basics.

Collectively, this latter group seems to be saying, forget celeriac, confit, and salsify; this year, the key ingredient is simplicity.

The Book of Bread, by Jrome Assire, is more a food book than a cookbook. Its selection of photos and illustrations from various eras in culinary history and its well-researched chronology of breadmaking amounts to a sort of illuminated manuscript for bakers.

Although the book contains no recipes for home use, the passionate descriptions of the staff of life from around the world will surely inspire young and old alike all to discover (or rediscover) the art of baking bread.

Perhaps the highest praise for Patricia Wells at Home in Provence comes from George Germon and Johanne Killeen of Al Forno restaurant in Providence, R.I., who agree that the book "would not be out of place on a bedside table for those of us who enjoy a good love story at bedtime."

Indeed, the home-and-hearth warmth of Patricia Wells's country cooking reflects not only the author's love of food, but also her love of all things Provenal.

Rather than showing the reader portraits of finished products, Wells favors photos depicting recipes in varying stages of preparation that transport the reader directly to the French countryside.

Borrowing discreetly from her neighbors, Wells incorporates the cuisine of Spain (Scrubbed Toast, Tuna Daube, and Fish Encased in Salt) and North Africa (Harissa and Couscous), while acknowledging the connection between Italian and French cuisine. Like its Italian counterpart of Tuscany, Provence takes advantage of abundant harvests, proving that freshness can make the simple sublime.

When you stumble on a bread basket in the Basic Doughs section of The Professional Pastry Chef and realize that it's not a basket for bread but a basket made of bread, you will then have a feel for the scope of Bo Friberg's latest dessert guide.

Prepare to be wowed by Blueberry Pirouettes, Forbidden Peach and, of course, the obligatory Chocolate Decadence Cake. Clever twists on familiar cookies and pastries convert the easiest baking tasks into spectacles.

As if self-conscious of its own estimable girth, this edition includes a chapter on "light" desserts. Unlike so many others, this book lives up to its name by stressing fresh fruit and fat-free meringues. Day-to-day cooks and bakers will appreciate the book's encyclopedic scope. Even Fido can benefit from Friberg's simple recipe for dog biscuits.

As one might expect, Julia Child's latest tome, Baking with Julia, takes the reader deep into the art of baking. Step-by-step procedures are often accompanied by explanations of ingredients, subcomponents, dos and don'ts and oodles of handy tips that only Julia and her friends could muster.

Twenty-seven bakers contributed recipe ideas to the book, making it something of a landmark collaboration in its genre.

Exhaustive testing led to The Cook's Bible: The Best of American Home Cooking, by Christopher Kimball, the editor of Cook's Illustrated magazine.

A meat glossary spells out most of the basic cuts available, and other helpful graphics define pertinent ingredients and procedures.

Rather than carving cooking times and details in stone, Kimball has included "Kitchen Test" boxes that list various cooking times and the results of each for the reader to choose from.

Another sidebar labeled "Science of Cooking" addresses common questions like "What is Crisco?" and "Why do flour and cornstarch thicken sauces?" and delves into the molecular properties of egg yolks.

A chapter entitled "Thirteen Common Vegetables and How to Prepare Them" reveals such confessions as "I used to prefer my corn steamed until I did a blind tasting of boiled versus steamed and couldn't tell the difference. Now I just boil it."

One gets the impression that Kimball has spent more time in the kitchen than most professional chefs and that every minute of his testing time went toward saving home cooks theirs.

In the first chapter of The Dean & Deluca Cookbook, by David Rosengarten with Joel Dean and Giorgio DeLuca, the co-authors and co-founders of Dean & DeLuca supermarkets take a bow for having "helped set the tone for the emerging conflation in this country of food and art."

Referring to the modest 1977 beginnings of the now-famous market in New York's SoHo, this brash statement also applies to the book, which celebrates many of the foods the authors claim to have introduced to American chefs.

The braggadocio here seems justified, as each page - without the aid of photos or illustrations - educates and indulges readers in exacting descriptions of rare and common ingredients.

Where other cookbooks like "The Cook's Bible" (reviewed above) tend to dissect procedure, this is a cookbook about ingredients.

A spartan all-white cover with a tiny garnish of blue-green thyme belies the thoroughness of the book's content, yet suggests that, inside, readers will learn to exalt and respect the power of freshness. Or perhaps the solitary sprig advertises the cookbook's expensive portrayal of savory dishes to the exclusion of sweets and desserts.

Any given page of Charlie Trotter's Vegetables will scream at the reader in one of two ways. Recipes are elegant, surreal and humbling - pure Trotter - but volumes are spoken with the photo images that match the dramatic titles.

If there is a fine line between presentation and pretentiousness, Trotter - top on the list of chefs who combine visual and culinary arts - teeters on it.

Although, as the title suggests, recipes do not stray beyond the vegetal world, ingredient lists of over 20 items abound.

Grammar is stretched to its limits and amended in some cases, with recipes such as Brown Turkey Figs, French Melon, and Persimmon with Arugula, Wild Watercress, and Black Pepper - Vanilla Bean Vinaigrette and Eggplant and Potato "Cannelloni" with Wilted Spinach and Cardamom-Carrot Juice.

Like many of Trotter's concoctions, the latter is a fairly diminutive salad that takes much more time to pronounce than it does to eat.

Together, Trotter and his pantheon of American culinary heroes have brought the concept of celebrity chefs across the Atlantic in Superchefs: Signature Recipes from America's New Royalty.

So it is ironic that Trotter himself has contributed to the only cookbook that could rival his own for surreal complexity.

Superchefs manages to unearth such previously coveted secrets as Wolfgang Puck's pizza crust, Dan Fearing's flour tortillas, Douglas Rodriguez's ceviche and Todd English's Falling Chocolate Cake. Readers may challenge the list of heavy hitters in this book, but most of the usual suspects rear their toques at least once.

Unusual recipes like Jim Cohen's Squab with Grits and Bradley Ogden's Southern Fried Chicken Salad will inspire readers who are looking for new twists on American cuisine.

Despite a few typos and inevitable outdated references, the book should be applauded for bringing "superchefs" into mild-mannered kitchens everywhere.

Sensational Soups by Jeni Wright is a collection of 50 recipes that could easily have been as mundane as its cover. It is not so much the cover photo of minestrone that misleads as the inset which reads "EASY AS ... 1 2 3," that implies the soups can be prepared in a three simple steps. Not so. Some recipes clearly require more effort than others.

All the staples - Cream of Broccoli, Borscht, French Onion, - are in there, but such surprising rarities as Island Crab and Spinach, Jamaican Beef Pepperpot and Singapore Laksa also made the cut, adding depth and diversity to the basics.

Author Wright has distilled the soup-making process quite well, whittling away unnecessary ingredients where possible and focusing on producing brilliant, basic soups from pure ingredients.

Emily Luchetti, renowned former pastry chef of Stars in San Francisco, has produced Four Star Desserts, a sequel that may well overshadow her first cookbook, the secret-unveiling masterpiece "Stars Desserts".

Some 150 voluptuous dessert recipes are each meticulously explicated in simple English, cram the pages of this deceiving volume. Although a capricious tartlet topped with huddled meringue pyramids grace the book cover, such relatively simple recipes as Blueberry Pie and flameproof Cherries Jubilee lie within.

Together with such delicacies as Pumpkin Souffle with Apple Caramel Sauce and Australian Hummingbird Cake, these recipes forge a book as dense and delicious as a flourless torte.

Easy to read and follow, The New Meat Lover's Cookbook by Janin A. Sarlin takes a no-nonsense approach to the carnivorous canvas with "Over 150 Mouthwatering Recipes for Today's Leaner Cuts." The introduction reveals one author's reaction to a health-maniacal world that shuns and fears meat.

This book leans toward the flavors and techniques of the American Southwest, although recipes ranging from Old-fashioned Brisket to New York City Venison Stew round out a good variety of meats and methods for all you unembarrassed meat-eaters still out there.

Other cookbooks worth mentioning include some "anthologies" released in 1996 that deserve credit and defy the singling out of any one book from their ranks.

With a little support from Time-Life Books, Williams-Sonoma has published a comprehensive cookbook series simply designated "Kitchen Library." The series exhausts a single ingredient or food type - such as Shellfish, Fruit Desserts, Breads, Ice Creams & Sorbets, and Vegetarian - in each volume.

An introductory cookbook entitled Cooking Basics makes a great starter gift for all those aspiring beginner chefs. Sunset Magazine's affiliate, Sunset Books, went the ethnic route, bringing in a number of expert American chefs to write or co-write volumes in their particular area of global concentration.

Joyce Jue's Far East Cafe pairs brilliant Asian recipes with mouth-watering photography, while Joyce Goldstein's Taverna pays a worthy tribute to the Mediterranean.

Sue Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken's Cantina brings to life the simple but festive pleasures of authentic Mexican cuisine.

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