by Sybil PrattDecember, 1999
Home for the holidays
Home is where the heart is, and home cooking is at the heart of the American home. To celebrate our rich and diverse culinary heritage, Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison have put together over 300 recipes in American Home Cooking. To the Jamisons, home cooking suggests simple, hearty, seasonal fare that can be made without an excess of energy, expense, and time. The question of what is American food is harder to define. We are, proudly, a land of immigrants, not only the proverbial melting pot of people, but a melting pot of ethnic cooking styles. The dishes included here may have foreign antecedents and deep regional roots, but they all speak with a distinctly American accent.
Nothing says American home cooking better than a big breakfast, and you may discover some fabulous new ways to start the day among the flapjacks, grits, and hash, not to mention the Santa-Fe Breakfast Burritos and the Baked Apples with Apple-Glazed Bacon. Breakfast is only the beginning; you'll find both the signature dishes of American cuisine (New England Clam Chowder, Crawfish Etouffee, Fried Green Tomatoes), and some lesser-known local creations (Salmon Poached in Hard Cider, Salted Green Soybeans, Maui Mango Bread) in the 16 chapters that follow, including a salute to the all-American sandwich. Garnished with cultural and historical background and preparation tips, this is a flavorful, practical, informative tribute to our national table.
THOMAS KELLER'S ODE TO EXCELLENCE
Vive la difference! For Thomas Keller, chef/owner of the renowned French Laundry in the Napa Valley and now author of The French Laundry Cookbook, expending energy, time and expense on food and its preparation is not only an everyday occurrence, it's an absolute necessity. His cooking is an ode to elegance, a lesson in luxurious dining, and his cookbook, with its grand proportions, choice paper, and lush color photography, is the perfect reflection of his culinary commitment and his passion for food. Keller's cooking is not about convenience; most of the recipes are time-consuming and require thought. Clearly, this is not fast food, it's not even four-star cooking simplified for the home cook (though there are some tips to make things easier for the non-professional). This is unabashed four-star cooking, exactly as it is done in this four-star restaurant. The recipes range from simple (well, simple on the Keller scale) to difficult: a pale-green Puree of English Pea Soup is pleasingly easy, while White Truffle Oil-Infused Custards with Black Truffle Ragout (baked in carefully severed eggshells) is, to put it mildly, Challenging with a capital C. Keller does take the time to describe and explain many food techniques; some are basic, such as braising and big pot blanching, and some, such as working with foie gras, reside in the realms of the rarefied and refined. Since many of Keller's inventive, signature dishes are composed of separate preparations, you can make just one part of a complex recipe a velvety polenta with mascarpone, sublime blini if the whole is a bit overwhelming. This is a chef's chef-d'oeuvre, a marvelous gift for any serious cook or for the many who prefer to take their cook's tour in the comfort of an armchair.
A SOUP-ER COOKBOOK FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY
Blue Moon Soup is a disarmingly charming collection of seasonal soup recipes ladled out by Gary Goss with whimsical watercolors by Jane Dyer. It's billed as a family cookbook, a marvelous magnet to pull children and adults together as they choose a soup to make for lunch or dinner, but it's kid-friendly enough to be used without much parental participation. If the kids can read well and are responsible enough to heed Gary's Rules of the Soup Kitchen, there's no reason why they can't whip up a warming pot of Ch-Ch-Chili in the winter or a chilled How Does Your Garden Grow Gazpacho in the summer, and an Ice Cream Soup that will bring cheer any time of year. A lovely, practical present for the holidays and beyond.