by Sybil PrattMay, 2003
A culinary couple savors the South
They're alike and they're unalike superb Southern chefs, but from very different Southern worlds. One is the grandchild of slaves who grew up in a self-sufficient community in north central Virginia; the other is white and comes from a small town in the southern reaches of Alabama. They are Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock, and what brought them together and binds them is their shared and total devotion to Southern cooking. The Gift of Southern Cooking, with 225 recipes and 80 photographs, is their gift to cooks everywhere. This is not meant to be a compendium of Southern cooking; these author/cooks focus on the foods they are passionate about and consider the staples of the Southern table, from spicy collards to creamy grits, crab cakes and cobblers. Some recipes are hers, some are his, but most are joint efforts. The complexly beautiful Turtle Soup with Dumpling is hers; Dorothy Peacock's Skillet Cornbread is, obviously, his; and Southern Pan-Fried Chicken is a blend of the best techniques from Virginia and Alabama. Roast Duckling Stuffed with Oysters and Red Rice is a collaboration to feast on, as is Catfish Stew, Shrimp and Jerusalem Artichoke Salad, Red Pepper Catsup and Angel Biscuits. Compendium or not, this loving celebration of Southern cooking is a ready-made classic.
Trusting in beginner's luck can be a tricky (sometimes icky) proposition for new cooks. A little guidance can go a long way in preventing inedible outcomes and dispiriting dinners. Even accomplished cooks often need a helping hand to buck up their confidence or get them out of a culinary crisis. According to James Peterson, a cook's cook, award-winning cookbook author and renowned culinary consultant, techniques, not "tyrannical" recipes, are the know-how you need the essentials. It took him two years to write and photograph Essentials of Cooking, an invaluable distillation of his 25 years working with food, now available in a sturdy, 9" x 10" paperback edition with more than 1,100 color photographs. One picture may be worth a thousand words, but sometimes even a million words won't get the technique across. Here, you get the visuals that make it happen julienning a beet, peeling a ripe tomato or plump pineapple, poaching a fish, determining the doneness of steak, trussing a chicken, carving a turkey, larding a roast, roasting a rack of lamb or plate of pears, steaming vegetables, making a roux or a souffle, even boiling an egg. Peterson shows you how to cook by teaching you the basic preparations. He calls his book a "kitchen companion," intended to supplement other cookbooks rather than replace them, but it does have enough info for you to cook nearly 150 dishes (sufficient for most of us) and extensive Kitchen Notes and Tips with suggestions for using the techniques to make many more. A gorgeous gift for cooks from novice to know-it-all.
Cooking up a courtship
She's cute, she's smart, she knows the way to a man's heart. It's the old-fashioned way, but even in this new century of a new millennium, the old adage still applies. For contemporary corroboration you have only to turn to Amanda Hesser's charming Cooking for Mr. Latte: A Food Lover's Courtship, with Recipes. Ms. Hesser, food reporter for the New York Times and author of the award-winning The Cook and the Gardener, did a daring thing: she documented her romance from first phone call to joyous wedding frenzy in her weekly columns in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. Ms. Hesser's recipes and her savvy, food-smart intros are always terrific, but as part of an unfolding love affair, they, and the column, took on added significance for thousands of Times readers. Collected here, her columns, with more than 100 recipes ranging from Roasted Guinea Hen and Haricots Verts with Walnuts and Walnut Oil (the first meal she cooked for him) and Puree of Peas and Watercress (from the first meal he cooked for her) to the Lobster Rolls they served at their wedding feast, are a treat whether brand new to you or an edible encore.