When a chef cooks at homeMany of the super-successful genre of super-chef cookbooks are so awesome and haute that we mere mortals are better off as admiring, arm-chair browsers rather than wannabe emulators. But there is a growing sub-genre of chef-cooks-at-home books that are less formal and more accessible for all of us who scramble through time-challenged, over-scheduled workweeks.
Charlie Palmer's Casual Cooking: A Four-Star Chef Cooks for Family and Friends is a fine new example of this sensible category. Palmer, a well-known, award-winning chef and restaurateur, had to rethink his elegant, upscale style when he began cooking at home for his wife and four hungry little boys. What's the essence of home cooking? To Palmer, and many others, home cooking means comfort food. And what does a tony trendsetter do when comfort food is the craving du jour? Well, this one adjusts his culinary verve, putting his own stamp on old favorites and creating new dishes with ingredients that go together in a "comfortable way." Some of the recipes are quick and easy; others, well-suited for small dinner parties, take more time and effort, but all of them honor freshness, taste and texture. His "Cheez Sammiches" transport the good old American grilled variety to new heights; the Salmon Cakes are a long way from Mom's croquettes; richly intense Carrots in Guinness take this ordinary root up a few notches; his Perfect Roast Chicken is truly perfect; and the Lemon Meringue Pie, a Palmer family favorite, is lingeringly luscious. Chatty headnotes for each of the 125 recipes offer ingredient alternatives and great ideas that give leftovers superb second lives. Thanks Charlie, your homemade meals will become part of our homemade memories.
Sybil Pratt has been cooking up this column for more than five years.