Picks and Pans Review: The Gourmet Cookbook
edited by Ruth Reichl
Launched in 1941, Gourmet magazine quickly became an institution among America's ambitious cooks, who filed their dog-eared issues next to copies of Irma Rombauer's The Joy of Cooking. Now culinary strivers can go straight to The Gourmet Cookbook, a 1,040-page volume destined to become a classic. Selected from more than 60,000 recipes, the 1,200 in this collection—from aioli to fried zucchini blossoms—are updates that won the exhaustive cook-offs in the magazine's test kitchens. (Just sifting through the chocolate cake recipes took weeks, according to editor-in-chief Ruth Reichl.) As always, Gourmet's directions are precise and give a clear sense of how time-consuming each dish is. The book's most appealing aspect, however, is its sensual tone—one that reflects Reichl's own approach to dining. Formerly the restaurant critic at The New York Times, she's a more intellectual version of Nigella Lawson. Pavlovas "feel like a miracle in the mouth" and Sweet Potato Chips are "a beautiful tangle of orange shards sprinkled with tart lime salt." Encyclopedic but not pedantic, this compendium includes authentic versions of ethnic foods (Moroccan preserved lemons, Vietnamese-style beef-noodle soup) as well as American regional favorites (Hoppin' John, a.k.a. black-eyed peas and rice). Perfect for armchair chefs as well as pros, it's a one-size-fits-all find.
Frank Stitt's Southern Table
Alabama native Frank Stitt prides himself on his connection to the land. At his Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, he cooks with organic produce from local farmers and delights in Gulf Coast delicacies such as Apalachicola flounder. His first cookbook is a paean to southern culinary culture: Accompanied by evocative photos of fishing excursions and field peas, it underscores the authenticity of dishes including Pork Chops with Creamy Grits, Lattice-Topped Blackberry Cobbler and Miss Verba's Pimiento Cheese. But Stitt's real strength is his creativity; he puts a modern spin on standbys like fried green tomatoes (pairing them with arugula salad) and he's not afraid of culinary heresy: The cornbread on page 26 gets turned into crostini on page 126. Like all true Southerners, Stitt is an original—and his cookbook is a gem.
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