by Sybil PrattOctober, 1999
We all love lists, especially lists of the best. Now, thanks to the meticulous work of two talented culinary experts, we have The Best American Recipes 1999: The Year's Top 100 from Books, Magazines, Newspapers, and the Internet more than a list by a long shot. What does it take to pick the year's best recipes? Ask editors Fran McCullough and Suzanne Hamlin, and they'll tell you that it takes searching, sorting, and sifting through towering stacks of candidates culled from every possible source. This dedicated team of food scene observers readily admits that they may be quirky, and a different team might come up with a different list, but even a quick perusal of their picks will assure you that these recipes have what it takes to be tops.
Best doesn't mean complicated or overly elaborate: Marion Cunningham's Buttermilk Pancakes are fast and featherlight; Salmon in Sweet Red Curry is both easy and exotic; and Cider-Cured Pork Chops are as trendy as they are tender. Starting with Starters and Drinks and ending with an ample array of desserts (and two surprise creations for coddled canines), there are soups, stews, salads, main dishes, and more. Every recipe is introduced, its source identified, and accompanied by Cook's Notes serving suggestions and pointers that give you the super-savvy tips and know-how that can save time and save you from mealtime mistakes. The 1999 collection is the first in this fabulous series, and though it's hard to imagine a more enticing effort, I'm sure the editors would borrow a bit from baseball and say, Wait 'til next year.
More of the best
I received a copy of Craig Claiborne's first cookbook as a wedding present, and, lo these many years, it has remained a true and treasured resource. Next to that tattered, bespattered volume are many more of his excellent books and a fat file of yellowing clips from his food columns in the New York Times. Claiborne was the food editor of the Times from the late 1950s through the late '80s and, with renowned chef Pierre Franey as a cooking mate, he guided more than a generation of cooks, sharing his sophistication, his ceaseless culinary curiosity, and his profound love of good food. For those who are too young to have been influenced directly, The Best of Craig Claiborne: More Than 1000 Recipes from His Cooking Columns in The New York Times, edited by Joan Whitman with an introduction by Paul Prudhomme, will be a welcome revelation. For those of us who loved his books and read his columns, it's like welcoming this beloved master chef back into our kitchens. Based on The New York Times Cookbook, published 20 years ago, the scope is international, including seasonal, regional, ethnic, and haute dishes reproduced for the home cook. There's enough variety here to satisfy a convoy of connoisseurs or simply feed family and friends the finest. It's a pleasure to see you again, Craig.
Finger food fit for a feast
As we move ever closer to 2000, visions of millennium-marking parties dance in our heads and we all know that great parties start with great appetizers, and may even end there. Hors D'Oeuvres by Eric Treuille and Victoria Blashford-Snell sumptuously illustrated with color photos, is a practical, foolproof guide to the fabulous firsts that set the tone for a casual gathering, a formal affair, and everything in between. More than 250 recipes are divided into five categories, and a special chapter devoted to techniques for the basic building blocks is inspiringly informative. Nibbles, Dips and Dippers leads off with crisps, puffs, sticks, and bowls of flavorsome mixtures. There are luscious little pancakes, fritters, shortbreads, tartlets, and more, capped with savory and sweet combos in Tops and Bottoms. Doers of skewers will delight in sticking shrimp and scallops, or brochetting beef, chicken, veggies, and fruit. Wraps and Rolls rock with international flavors from sushi to wontons to phyllo filled with minted feta. And you'll find mini muffins, mini burgers, baby bagels, cucumber barquettes, radish cups and their equally succulent sisters in Stacks and Cases. If you're pressed for time (and who isn't?) check the Think Ahead tips that follow every tasty tidbit. You'll be able to figure out what can be stored, refrigerated, or frozen, and you'll be a happy, rather than a harried, host. After all, it's a party!
Sybil Pratt is an avid cook.