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Get back to culinary basics with new cookbooks

Published July 21. 2010 05:00PM

Whether you're woefully inadequate in the kitchen or an accomplished culinatrix looking for new challenges, some not-so-light summer reading will help you recapture the lost kitchen arts.

Start with "The Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook," which sounds like the kind of thing new brides were given circa 1950. For years, an earlier edition has been my go-to source for sour cream pound cake, macaroni and cheese, casseroles with condensed soup (yes, really) and other traditional American fare.

The new 15th edition features 1,200 recipes - including more than 750 new ones - that put more emphasis on modern palates and busy lifestyles. A new chapter on convenience cooking offers healthy, economical weeknight meals, while new breakfast options include 10 different smoothies, from peanut butter to pomegranate.

A new "Make-It-Mine" feature suggests jazzing up those fuddy-duddy casseroles with kalamata olives, panko or mostaccioli pasta instead of plain egg noodles. A perfect book for beginners, it's also a handy reference for accomplished cooks.

For cooks who've mastered everything from chicken cordon bleu to chicken enchiladas, there's "The Lost Art of Real Cooking" by Ken Albala and Rosanna Nafziger. Styled as a 19th century journal, the deceptively diminutive book boasts that its techniques are "laborious and inconvenient." To wit: there are directions for making butter.

Written by a blogger and a history professor, "The Lost Art" offers not recipes, but rather guidelines for adventures like making pasta, preserving lemons, brewing beer, or "catching" yeast to create sourdough starter. A fun read full of interesting digressions and recipes in 17th century English, but somewhat impractical.

Darina Allen has been called "the Julia Child of Ireland" and her book "Forgotten Skills of Cooking" is devoted to helping you master the art of eating from the land.

Chapters on foraging, preserving, and dairy guide passionate cooks in reconnecting with the edibles under their noses. She encourages cooks to take on the tasks usually left to others, like harvesting wild greens, smoking fish or turning milk into cheese (or, yes, butter again).

Gorgeous photos mingle with 700 recipes, including elderflower fritters, ketchup and hand-made sausages.

Traditional fare like roast chicken stuffed with herb-seasoned bread sidles up alongside pheasant braised with Cork gin or duck gizzards sizzled in duck fat. A useful, beautiful and inspiring book for accomplished cooks who want to take their skills and appreciation further.

"The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion and Cooking Manual" by Frank Falcinelli, Frank Castronovo and Peter Meehan uses simple Italian fare to reinforce the importance of excellent, basic ingredients and the need to get back in touch with them.

Make your own pasta. Like, with your hands. Taste your pasta boiling water to see whether it is salty, rather than relying on measurements. And throw out those jars of sauce; making your own requires only five ingredients.

Written in an easy, conversational style, the book offers an accessible, sensible guide to making fresh, straightforward food. Cook, taste, eat.

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