Cooking New American
by Fine Cooking Magazine
Published by The Tanton Press
240 pages, 2004
A Matter of Taste
by Lucy Waverman and James Chatto
Published by HarperCollins Canada
368 pages, 2004
The Essential Eating Well Cookbook
edited by Patsy Jamieson
Published by The Countryan Press
416 pages, 2004
Reviewed by Monica Stark
It never fails. No sooner are the jack o'lanterns, costumes and mini chocolate bars of Halloween behind us and -- seemingly without warning -- suddenly the holiday season isn't even around any corner: it's here. This brings different feelings from everyone.
People will give you lots of opinions on what the holidays mean to them. Chances are, though, they'll either be wrong or lying. No matter what anyone says, in the western hemisphere, the holiday season is about food.
Think about it: no matter what your religious background, your basic skin tone or the configuration of your family, it's likely that some of your strongest holiday-time memories center around food. The Thanksgiving turkey. The raisin challah of Rosh Hashanah. The Christmas cake. And so much more: for many of us these are the tastes of family, the smells of togetherness, the bite, the odor, the nibble of home, no matter where home might be.
As adults, recreating the wonder of those memorable seasonal childhood meals can be a challenge. Sure, we want to eat mince meat, but do we really want all the fat found in the original? And potatoes mashed in cream? Sure, those were great, but if you're planning on drowning them in turkey gravy anyway, is the added fat of the cream really necessary? And what about that gravy? Sure: mom's was good. But can we make it just as good, or almost so, without punishing our hearts and our thighs?
Though Cooking New American doesn't address holiday cooking exclusively, it approaches the whole idea of "American" food from the enlightened position of the 21st century.
From the editors of Fine Cooking Magazine, editor Martha Holmberg says that Cooking New American is "a perfect reflection of the way good home cooks like to cook today. This is a book you'll pick up over and over, whether you're looking for a quick answer to 'what's for dinner tonight?' or you want to dream about what to serve at your next party."
Cooking New American is the type of beautiful, carefully planned book that the average home chef will find infinitely useful. The photography is gorgeous, the writing -- as expected from Fine Cooking -- concise yet informative and the recipes included are a wide and wonderful cross-section of what North American chefs enjoy cooking here at the beginning of the 21st century.
A Matter of Taste by Lucy Waverman and James Chatto is a whole different proposition. This is every day food done to the nines: but with panache and in a way that even the most basic of chefs will find accessible. The introduction gives a clue:
This is a book about pleasure -- the pleasure we find in cooking and eating wonderful food paired with well-chosen wine and spirits. It might be the seductive rendezvous of slow-roasted shoulder and rack of lamb with a dashing Italian cult red Sagrantino. It could be the way of juicy fillet of cod with a Romesco sauce dances so elegantly with a fragrant, fruity Spanish rosado.
The same might be said for A Matter of Taste itself. More than a cookbook. More than a wine and spirit guide. A Matter of Taste is like a complete tour of delights for the palate. And, in post-modern cookbook style, the writing here is spare, the instructions clear, the photography and food styling just as it should be.
A Matter of Taste is certainly one of the best cookbooks to come out of 2004.
For those with a serious eye on their personal bottom line, The Essential Eating Well Cookbook covers all the bases. Like Cooking New American, The Essential Eating Well Cookbook comes from the kitchen of a highly thought of magazine, in this case Eating Well. From the introduction:
As the recipes in this collection will attest, Eating Well lives and cooks at the intersection where the culinary world meets the realm of nutritional wellness.
Nothing here will make you flabby or aggravate your gout. Recipes for flabless favorites like Spice-Crusted Tofu, Pecan and Mushroom Burgers and Quinoa & Spinach Stuffed Peppers sit comfortably alongside heart-smart versions of North American classics like Chocolate-Hazelnut Cake, Wine-Braised Beef Stew and Spiral Stuffed Turkey Breast with Cider Gravy.
A quibble: though The Essential Eating Well Cookbook is well-produced and has lots of lovely color photos, it's one of those books with a thick center section where those photos can be found. If you're a chef who likes to look at the photo of what you're making while you cook, this is something you won't enjoy. Personally, I'd rather producers of cookbooks stopped doing this altogether. It would, I think, be better if they left the color photos out and dropped the price of the book accordingly.
However, none of this detracts from the actual useability of this book. For those making a serious commitment to more healthy cooking, you couldn't go far wrong with The Essential Eating Well Cookbook. | November 2004
Monica Stark is a January Magazine contributing editor.