Best Cookbooks, Part Deux: Rediscoveries
Following up on my last post, here are five favorites I return to time and time again. All are reliable sources for good eating!
The novelist Laurie Colwin wrote playful, funny novels (Goodbye without Leaving is my favorite) about complicated characters, and also wrote straightforwardly about everyday cooking, the kind that sustains body and soul. Home Cooking, the first collection of her pieces from Gourmet and elsewhere, includes the often-anthologized essay “Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant,” where she describes cooking on a hotplate in her first New York apartment, which was barely seven feet wide. Also great in this book are the Beef, Leek, and Barley Soup and her Baked Chicken with Garlic and Apples, which doesn’t use salt. More Home Cooking includes, duh, more of the same. Both volumes are informed by Colwin’s warm and funny voice, as in the chapter called "Repulsive Dinners: A Memoir."
No Need to Knead by Suzanne Dunaway
Shortly after I discovered the painless no-knead bread-making method in last year’s New York Times, a friend introduced me to this book, which is full of low-stress bread recipes from the creator of L.A.’s Buona Forchetta. Mostly Italian in origin, these breads are easy to make; I especially like the breadsticks. Unfortunately, No Need to Knead is out of print and hard to find; I paid about $30 a year ago via Amazon’s second-hand partners; now the minimum price is up to almost $60.
Sophie’s Table by Sophie Grigson
The first book, originally published in 1990, by the daughter of British cookery giant Jane Grigson, Sophie’s Table includes a wide variety of ingenious recipes from around the world. Grigson has the same creative hand with vegetables that her mother had (surely you have Jane’s Grigson’s Vegetable Book?). Sophie’s Chocolate Chip Oat Biscuits, with oatmeal and no flour (and hence no gluten), have already made me many new friends. Sophie’s Table is available secondhand in the U.S. (I found my copy at The Cook’s Library on Third Street).
Creative Chinese food and how to roast a beast, after the jump.
China Moon Cookbook by Barbara Tropp
In its decade of existence, San Francisco’s China Moon Café served Chinese-inspired food that was light, fresh, and creative. Tropp, who started out as a scholar of Chinese literature, set down her recipes in this book. The stir-fries require lots of chopping – Tropp doesn’t stint on the vegetables, preferring a broad variety in each dish – but are worth the work. Some of the less complex but no less tasty recipes include Wok-Seared Tuna and Wok-Seared New Potatoes, both of which are quite spicy, and Gold Coin Crabcakes, jazzed up with coconut milk and cilantro. The Strange Flavor Eggplant, a sweet-and-hot spread, has become a favorite with cocktails.
Culinary Classics & Improvisations by Michael Field
Ever wonder how to roast beef, or chicken, or lamb, poach an entire salmon, or deal with the inevitable leftovers? Field, a piano prodigy and authority on food, wrote this volume, originally published in 1967, that addresses all of these questions. Just the basics, with some very sophisticated variations (the “improvisations” are what you do with leftovers). The recipes are simple to follow; this book is a real resource when Thanksgiving or some other family holiday that requires roast beast rolls around. This is another book that seems to be out of print, but I have recently seen copies at The Cook's Library.