Ever feel like a kitchen klutz, a food fixin' fool? Well, who hasn't and who, novice or old hand, wouldn't like some simple, solid seminars to smarten up? Voila! Those seminars are here, offered up to wise you up by Pam Anderson, food columnist for USA Weekend, cookbook author and former executive editor of Cook's Illustrated, in CookSmart: Perfect Recipes for Every Day. Nowadays, most recipes have headnotes little intros that explain origins, provenance, assembly and accompaniment advice but Pam goes one better and bigger. She calls her intros essays I call them seminars. She explains how she put each recipe together, why she designed this particular recipe in this particular way, what worked and what didn't, where the pitfalls may lie, what is important about certain ingredients and not so important about others. In reading through her whys and wherefores you get a real feel for the recipe you're going to prepare and an understanding of techniques you can use over and over again. I have no doubt that, following Pam's procedures, you'll find your way to Great Gazpacho, Ribs That Taste Like You Slaved All Day, Crab Cakes Worth the Price, Simple, Scrumptious Caesar Salad, Waffles Crisp to the Last Bite, Chocolate Cake That's Got It All and more. Pam's main aim is no-nonsense perfection for everyday and special occasion dishes. For her, that perfection often means reducing time and effort, fat and calories and always making a dish the best it can be and isn't that an aim we all share?

Chez Panisse on fruit
Alice Waters, iconic chef, founder and owner of the famed Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, helped revolutionize the way Americans consider the food they eat at home and in restaurants. She's the one who made us realize that good food depends almost entirely upon good ingredients, the one who begs us to buck the values of this fast food nation and seek out the best produce in farmers' markets, farm stands, even the local supermarket.

In the eighth Chez Panisse cookbook, the focus is fruit. Chez Panisse Fruit by Alice Waters and the cooks of Chez Panisse in collaboration with Alan Tangren and Fritz Streiff is a celebration and album of possibilities drawn from the daily repertoire at Chez Panisse. Each of the 40-plus fruits included are given thorough biographies along with sage advice on choosing, handling and storing. And the recipes, as we've come to expect, are sublime, from easy Applesauce and Stuffed Dates to Caramelized Red Banana Tartlets and Tangerine and Chocolate Semifreddo. Nature's bounty has never been better served.

Southern cooking today
Damon Lee Fowler loves Southern cooking and loves its history, as his three earlier cookbooks prove. His latest and most personal is aptly titled Damon Lee Fowler's New Southern Kitchen: Traditional Flavors for Contemporary Cooks. Though he has delved deep into the heart of Southern cuisine, Fowler doesn't dwell on the rights and wrongs of interpretation, tracing origins or authentic execution; he focuses on flavor Southern flavor as he knows it.

Here, he takes us into his own kitchen and shares his traditions, wisdom and expertise, his singular take on the long, complex continuum that makes up Southern cooking.

A stop in Fowler's New Southern Pantry is de riguer before we move on. Advice on basics and beyond abounds, including Homemade Bourbon Vanilla (a fabulous find), Pepper Vinegar and Peach Chutney. Then come the recipes, 135 dishes that make you want to stop whatever you're doing and cook. Start with Pecan-Crusted Goat Cheese with Warm Peach Chutney or savory, spring-like Asparagus Shortcake, then ladle out silken Lowcountry Shrimp Bisque, serve up salt-water-soaked Buttermilk Fried Chicken, Fresh Corn Cakes, Butter Bean and Okra Ragout and Tomato and Vidalia Onion Salad, finish it all off with luscious Lemon Pecan Pie and don't forget the biscuits!

Sybill Pratt has been cooking up this column for more than seven years.

 

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