The Best of My Cookbooks

These days most of us don’t look to cookbooks when we’re thinking about dinner. We just google “pesto” or “Asian drumsticks” or whatever it is we want to cook and voilà ! In the blink of an eye we have a recipe. I do have quite a few books that I count on when I want to serve a better than average meal, though. Whether it’s American or international cuisine that I’m planning, these books always come through for me. (Unfortunately, most of them may be out of print, but are probably available secondhand on eBay or at Abe or Powell's Books, for example.)

First and foremost, I have to pay homage to one of my culinary heroes, Julia Child. I truly admire her for the role she played in changing the way Americans cook. Yet, I can never imagine being like the blogger in Julie & Julia who spent a year going through the entire two-volume Mastering the Art of French Cooking,
preparing all 524 entries! No, I prefer to find recipes that appeal to me and try them out. I have several of her cookbooks, including Julia and Jacques Cooking At Home, which I really like. But mainly I go to the first one I received from my husband, From Julia Child’s Kitchen. There are quite a few delicious international dishes here, like the fish in a creamy mushroom sauce, Filets de sole bonne femme (…which reminds me of the French saying “C’est la sauce qui fait passer le poisson”…“Sauce allows you to serve fish”!) Another favorite from this book is Médaillons de porc sauté à la crème. This simple main dish, also made with cream, combines slices of pork tenderloin with allspice and thyme, garlic, shallots, and white wine. So quick, easy, and delicious.

One of the books I bought for my children when they left home is the outstanding Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen. I’ve heard that his New Orleans restaurant is not that impressive, but that’s not the case here. Unlike some of his later cookbooks which require the purchase of his seasoning mixtures, these recipes call for herbs and spices that you probably have in your cupboard. Okay, so it’s Cajun cooking; that means that it’s spicy. I would encourage neophytes to halve the amount of white, black, and red pepper until your tongue builds up a tolerance. In some recipes, too, you might want to cut down on the butter. That said, we have not had a bad meal from this book! Trust me on this. The list of exceptional recipes includes: Seafood Crêpes (oh, là, là, how delightful!), Shrimp Diane, Barbecued Shrimp (which we had Saturday night and inspired this post!), Chicken Étouffée, Chicken and Tasso Jambalaya, Roasted Pork…and I could go on! If you love—or think you might like—Cajun food, this is a must.

Another purchase I felt I had to make for my boys is Eva Zane’s Greek Cooking for the Gods. Perhaps my Greek friends will disagree, but I think this is perfect for beginners in this type of cuisine. I have made very many of her recipes and love them all: her stuffed grape leaves, moussaka, pastitso, broiled lamb steaks, Greek salad with feta dressing...mmmmmm! Many of the stew-type entries, like stifado, are easily adaptable to the slow cooker, too.

Finally, there are the two Silver Palate series cookbooks, which I first heard about from a college friend of one of my sons. Luckily for me, at separate times both volumes were on the shelves of my local secondhand bookstore. You can find a bit of everything in the area of American classics from dips to soups and main dishes in these texts. Written by two women who got together to start a catering business, Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins, the recipes each seem to have a nice little twist, like egg salad with fresh dill and beef stew with cumin. Yummy!

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