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New basics

(article, Megan Holden)

As a college sophomore, I cut my culinary teeth on The Silver Palate Cookbook. I fondly remember my first heady taste of pesto and our hardy group meals of Chicken Marbella (accompanied by Talking Heads and Rolling Rock). And I still rely on my dog-eared copy to check the proportions for “Our Favorite Vinaigrette.” 

All home cooks have revered “go-to” cookbooks — often, the first books from which we learned to navigate in the kitchen. Three new books easily fall into the go-to category: they're perfect references for beginning cooks and trustworthy companions for seasoned ones. Depending on your personality, any one of these books could become your tattered, gravy-stained treasury of recipes and food memories.

The pleasure of cooking, eating, and sharing meals is at the heart of Roy Finamore’s Tasty. Finamore serves up simple, delicious recipes that any novice cook could master. His informative, thoughtful recipes will surely build a beginner’s confidence and reinforce the noble idea that a meal doesn’t need to show off to be uncommonly good. As a former cookbook editor who published such influential authors as Diana Kennedy, Martha Stewart, and Ina Garten (The Barefoot Contessa), Finamore knows what makes a cookbook click. Tasty has it all: elegant page layout, legible typeface, enticing photographs, and sensible chapter headings.

Tasty is a cookbook for people who love comfort food and simple preparations. Chapters on weeknight dinners and weekend cooking provide the perfect reference for the time-crazed home cook. Fast, no—nonsense main dishes include family-friendly Chicken Milanese and Bluefish Dijonnaise, while his tantalizing weekend recipes will make you want to rearrange your Sunday to spend more time in the kitchen. 

Here, the crowning glory is Finamore's traditional Sunday Sauce, known as “gravy” in his grandma’s house. It is an all-day affair that feeds a crowd with meatballs, sausages, chicken, and Italian meat rolls all simmered in a tomato sauce that would make even Tony Soprano swoon.

For young cooks exposed to trendy international fare, but with little knowledge of classic American cookery, The Good Home Cookbook (edited by Richard Perry) provides a compass home. Perry presents 1,000 hearty dishes that were staples of American kitchens in the years after World War II. From its vintage graphics to its traditional organization, The Good Home Cookbook aspires to be Joy of Cooking for a new generation. 

What makes it unique is that every recipe was tested in home kitchens across the country, guaranteeing almost certain success in your own. What makes it useful — especially for the beginning cook — are the standards, from scrambled eggs to hamburgers, that every new cook must master. The Good Home Cookbook brims with classics, including Senate Navy Bean Soup and Creamed Onions. Reflecting an era when cooks had more time to be in the kitchen, many of these recipes require lengthy preparation. Fortunately, Perry has a snappy chapter on grilling to help those with less time during the week. 

Somewhere in between these two books lies Mitchell Davis’s Kitchen Sense. With 600 recipes, this book sets out to contain all you’d ever need to know to become a great home cook. This collection is the perfect gift, in particular, for someone learning how to cook today. Davis, whose day job is with the James Beard Foundation, mixes reliable fundamental recipes with more internationally inspired ingredients and creative preparations. In the chapter on grains, for instance, rice and polenta share the stage with kasha and quinoa. 


h1.Featured recipes


The real test, however, of a cookbook for the novice (one that my trusty Silver Palate actually failed) is its ability to teach cooking technique. Once mastered, a cooking skill (braising, frying, etc.) can be adapted to other ingredients. Kitchen Sense stands out for this emphasis on technique. In the vegetable chapter alone, a rookie could learn to roast root vegetables this winter and turn to sautéing tender greens in the spring, before heading outdoors to grill summer’s bounty. All cooks, even the most accomplished, could benefit from such a primer that marries the season’s harvest with culinary know-how.

Three great books with three different approaches. Roy Finamore’s Tasty is a bit quirky, with fewer recipes and a decidedly cheerful philosophy: “Good, simple food is meant to be shared and enjoyed. Cook often.” His cookbook — and his entertaining culinary opinions — charmed me from beginning to end. The Good Home Cookbook provides a perfect entrée into retro American comfort food. Finally, the comprehensive Kitchen Sense is stuffed with inviting foolproof recipes from American staples to international flavors. Invite one of these books into your kitchen and you’re sure to find a loyal friend — and your own “go-to” cookbook. 

p(bio). Megan Holden lives in Portland, Oregon, where she writes on topics ranging from legal history to home cooking.

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