Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The good, the bad, and the savory

Good: as in "good, solid traditional American cooking". When it was first published 60 years ago, James Beard's The Fireside Cook Book: a complete guide to fine cooking for beginner and expert was the go-to book for American women. The recipes can be a bit dated (does anyone really eat sweetbreads anymore, even if they are cooked 'en brochette'?), but this book is full of standards that can be hard to find in flashy modern cookbooks (like succotash or cherries jubilee). Besides, just because you don't enjoy tuna or chopped chicken suspended in gelatin and molded into decorative shapes, that doesn't mean your guests might not wolf it down. Here's my party idea for 2009: retro dinner night, with a menu of recipes from the pre-Kennedy years.
Bad: as in sinfully, delightfully, deliciously bad. BakeWise: the hows and whys of successful baking with over 200 magnificent recipes is the new book by Shirley O. Corriher. I'm a nut for photos, and they're a little sparse in this book, but the recipes are great because Corriher explains why things work the way they do. For instance, "a very wet dough makes more steam in a hot oven and creates a lighter scone" (from Shirley's not-so-sconey scones, pg. 155). Scrunch the scones together on the baking sheet so that they rise up, not out. In another life, I baked scones every morning for 8 years, and I never knew those tricks. What a great book!
Savory: as in a melange of tumeric, cumin, garlic, cilantro, tamarind, curry, ginger, lime powder, cinnamon and cardamom. Cardamom and Lime: recipes from the Arabian Gulf, by Sarah al-Hamad, introduces Western cooks to the scents and flavors of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain and the UAE. Centuries of trade and travel between these Gulf states and the coast of India has added the strong spices and curries to the menu. These are dishes that will liven up the cold winter months.

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