by Sybill PrattMarch, 2009
Good food in bad times
In culinary terms, the upside of the economic downturn may be that more people will cook at home. When eating out (or take-out) strains budgets, making meals and choosing menus can become a rediscovered joy and a boon to over-stressed pocketbooks. Though we haven’t been deluged with “recession cuisine” yet, it’s bound to happen. Before the flood and before you go whole hog for stay-at-home splendor, you might want to consider a kitchen know-how refresher course. Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom: Essential Techniques and Recipes from a Lifetime of Cooking by the incomparable Julia Child, now in its eighth printing, is exactly what you need. It began as Julia’s own kitchen reference, filled with reminders and remedies compiled as she cooked her way through the years—a “mini aide-memoire,” as she calls it, for home cookery. As Julia moves through the menu categories—soups and sauces to sweets—she emphasizes basic, necessary techniques that work for many different main ingredients, offering a classic “master recipe” that morphs, for instance, from Beef Bourguignon to Chicken Fricassée and Osso Buco, or Génoise Cake to apricot jelly roll and chocolate almond cake. Her wisdom is delivered with her signature comforting casualness and forthright flair. Oh, where would we be without Julia? I hate to even think of it.
Cooking with a Latina accent
Michelle Bernstein grew up with a “built-in comfort level with cuisines that were foreign to most American palates,” eating the food her Argentinean mother cooked and the tempting Cuban fare available everywhere in her native Miami. She learned classic French technique in cooking school, honed it during her apprenticeship, but missed the excitement of Latin cooking. So, she traveled in Central and South America, letting the vibrant Latin dishes seep into her repertoire. With three successful restaurants, including Michy’s in Miami, to her credit, Michelle shares her take on Latin flavors and more in Cuisine à Latina. With her expert guidance, you too can zing up your cooking with Peruvian seafood ceviche, so fresh and simple to prepare; Orange and Avocado Salad; a fantastic linguine with clams, crème fraîche and fennel; Mojo-Marinated Cornish Hens; Chimichurri sauces for steak—or anything else. Packed with tips, Cuisine à Latina can make Michy’s magic your own.
Elevate the everyday
Charlie Trotter, renowned, award-winning (including eight James Beard awards!) chef/owner of his eponymous Chicago restaurant, plus three others, believes that “great food doesn’t have to entail frantic foraging for ingredients or performing Herculean tasks in the kitchen.” What home cooks do need is a “touch of bravado” and the 130 recipes in this newly designed second edition of Home Cooking with Charlie Trotter serve up just that, along with the solid, detailed directions to turn out flavor-loaded dishes and memorable meals. His goal is to “elevate everyday cuisine to a higher level of sophistication.” He knows, too, that planning multicourse meals for entertaining can tax the already overtaxed, time-challenged cook. Charlie proffers his ideas on how to orchestrate a flawless meal and avoid those too-often attendant panic attacks. He advises that you serve delicate before strongly flavored, cold before hot, suggests textures that contrast, and adds a caveat to beware of ethnic clashes. His starters set the scene—simple shrimp revved up with Spicy Fruit Salsa, Braised Leek Soup with Sautéed Oyster Mushrooms, Shaved Fennel and Haricots Verts (now at Costco) with Mustard Vinaigrette. Elegant entrées follow—easy-on-the-purse Sautéed Catfish with Caramelized Risotto, Cumin-Garlic Rubbed Cornish Hens with Potato-Parmesan Pavé (well worth the effort), Red Wine-Braised Short Ribs with Garlic Mashed Potatoes. For dessert, Warm Berry Compote with Vanilla Frozen Yogurt or show-stopping Plum-Pistachio Trifle. Live it up at home!