Some of the new cookbooks have taken over a job we all thought would reach its peak with television - cooking lessons in your own home, by watching. These new cookbooks have step-by-step photographs that combine with concise words to show the reader exactly what to do.
One in particular is outstanding among several. It's Beverly Cox's new Cooking Techniques, How to Do Anything a Recipe Tells You to Do (Little Brown, $ 24.95 to Dec. 31, then $29.95). It was written with Joan Whitman with the all-important photographs by Steven Mays.
This is a book of techniques and pictures, not recipes. It is amazing how much you can learn just by looking at this volume, rather than reading hundreds of words of text.
It is not only excellent in physical makeup. It is an unusually complete and easy-to-follow guide for mastering all the basic essential cooking techniques, from the proper cutting and preparing of vegetables and fruits to highly professional techniques.
It sounds redundant to say it is easy to learn from these photos, but I think it is a most rewarding book for most people who want to cook more easily.
There are photos showing exactly how to butterfly a leg of lamb, pictures of exactly how to put together and tie up a bouquet garni, photos of peeling peppers over a gas flame, step-by-step pictures of preparing and handling artichokes, and all the steps of assembling a bouquet of crudites and shaping tomato roses.
Forming a caramel cage of sugar syrup, mastering the difficult technique of puff pastry, turning out Peking Duck, boning and carving meats, and making decorative molds, tortillas, even peeling and seeding a tomato, are a few more of the procedures that are explained with words and photographs.
The pastry section starts with pictures of how to make basic piecrust, tarts, and quiches and goes on to lining the pie tin, decorating the crust, using a lattice crust, and lining and filling the tart and quiche pastry.
Ms. Cox has a fine background in food training and experience, for she studied with Maple de Toulouse-Lautrec in Paris, apprenticed with Gaston Lenotre in France, and then worked for Lenotre when he came to New York City.
Her grandfather was a restaurateur in Chicago and her mother an excellent cook and hostess who liked food always to look pretty, which probably gave her an early appreciation of food presentation.
After growing up on a ranch in Wyoming, Beverly went to Spain to study fashion design, then later to Paris, where she switched careers and acquired a Grand Diplome from the Cordon Bleu.
She has since operated a catering service in Washington and is the author of three cookbooks.
The large, clear photos are excellent, and a spectacular color section dramatizes special dishes for buffet and serving platters as well as individual dinners.
The book shows how to handle a ham with a heavy rind and cloth covering, how to prepare it for baking, how to score and to carve it. It includes directions for serving ham sliced and re-formed, for a buffet or special party.
Guests don't need plates and forks when the ham is presented in this manner, since toothpicks will do. Buffet Sliced Ham
1. Slice a boneless cooked ham in uniform one-half-inch-thick slices.
2. Stack them in the order they are sliced and match sides so it looks like the original ham.
3. When you get to the bottom of the ham, place it flat and slice parallel to the bone. Keep a slice about 11/2 inches thick for the top.
4. Spread bottom piece with a mixture of butter and Dijon mustard. This will be the base of the re-formed ham.
5. Cut next slice into bite-size cubes.
6. With a spatula, lift cubes and place them on the base.
7. Spread mustard butter over cubed slice. Continue until all slices are cut into bite-size pieces and spread with mustard butter.
8. Put on top piece and brush with several layers of aspic. Chill each layer before brushing with another layer.
9. With spatula, transfer ham to a serving platter.
10. Decorate with a tomato rose or kumquats with leaves. To serve, lift off top and let guests remove pieces of seasoned ham with toothpicks. Aspic Glaze
1 tablespoon gelatin
2 cups clarified meat or vegetable stock
Soak gelatin in 1/2 cup stock, then dissolve over hot water. Add remaining stock. Season mildly.
Chill until it thickens somewhat. Be sure utensils and food to be glazed are well chilled.
Apply a thin, even coat of aspic which has started to thicken. Chill the food. Repeat, if needed, with another layer and chill again. Tomato Rose
This tomato rose is pretty and decorative as a garnish. It is easy to do with a sharp knife and is good for salads or hors d'oeuvres platters. Several made at one time can be frozen and used later to garnish ham or other cold meat.
1. Cut a slice from the bottom without severing it from the tomato.
2. Continue from the base, cut a thin strip in one piece all around the tomato. The strip should be about three-quarters of an inch wide.
3. Carefully scrape off any excess flesh from the long strip.
4. Start rolling the strip from the top, skin side down. Use your fingers to keep the center from popping out.
5. Place the rolled strip on the bottom slice and it will open naturally into a flower.