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August 23, 2005 > Footnotes: Food for thought

Footnotes: Food for thought

For some people, one cookbook in the kitchen is enough but for me, they are chocolate chip cookies - hard to stop at one. I read cookbooks like novels - there are some terrible ones and a few great ones. I have 30 years worth in my home, starting with my first one, Practical Cookery, a now out-of- print bare bones book I used in college food science classes and still rely on. As I get more forgetful I depend on recipes even more to remind me of steps or ingredients. I use Post-it(tm) plastic page dividers to mark pages in order to remind me of the recipes I like or plan to try someday.

I look for clear, well-tested recipes with ingredients that are readily available. It's surprising how many cookbooks are just thrown together with errors. I always make notations on the recipes- date made, comments, any adjustments to the recipe, ones to avoid. Over time, I've noticed my palate has changed. Recipes I loved in my 20s just don't appeal to me now. Cookbooks have changed too. If you look at early versions of the classic Joy of Cooking, notice the use of convenience foods like canned soups and vegetables; the recipes are higher in fat and sugar. The recent versions of this all-American food bible include "foreign dishes" like Thai, Japanese, Mexican and more vegetarian meals and regional favorites. American cookbooks reflect our multicultural palate as well as the availability of formerly "exotic" ingredients in today's supermarket.

Gourmet Cookbook: More than 1000 recipes, edited by Ruth Reichl. If you have only one cookbook in your kitchen, the editors of Gourmet Magazine want this to be the one. It is a very complete collection but is sure to be missing some basic recipes. Beef Wellington (an expensive beef roast encased in a pastry) is included; though rarely made today, it is a classic American dish. Why did the editors decide on using hard to read yellow ink for the recipe titles? Between adjusting to far and near vision, I must be going colorblind. When you stuff this many recipes into a book, there are very few illustrations. This is a good reference book for any kitchen and a snapshot picture of American cuisine today. Houghton Mifflin hardback, $40.00.

America's Test Kitchen Live! 2005, The All-New Companion to America's Favorite Public Television Cooking Series from the editors of Cook's Illustrated Magazine. I enjoy watching a professional approach to cooking without the cook trying to be likeable. It took me a while to get into this show but as the show's cast became more comfortable in front of the camera, the banter has become more natural. This companion book lists all the recipes, the equipment and ingredient reviews for this season. To sample some of the recipes, you can check their website

The recipes are absolutely dummy-proof. Although ATK simplifies recipes, the dishes are still very involved. As they perfect the recipes, you understand why each step is necessary and the role of each ingredient. The scope of this book is limited - there aren't many recipes but all are worth trying. The background information and sidebars are worth the price of the book. Full-color photographs show you how the dish should look at the end. Unfortunately, nutritional information per serving is not provided. Cook's illustrated hardback, $29.95.

Mealtimes with Little Ones
How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food? written by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Mark Teague. Eating with young children is a challenge. Hard to believe that they will one day be socially acceptable adults, but it does happen.
How does a dinosaur eat all his food? Does he burp, belch, or make noises quite rude? Does he pick at his cereal, throw down his cup, hoping to make someone else pick it up? Just like kids, dinosaurs have a difficult time learning to behave at the table. However, with a little help from mom and dad, these young dinosaurs eat all before them with smiles and goodwill.

The latest version of Yolen and Teague's dinosaur tales continues with playful read-aloud verse and amusing pictures. Teague's wonderful illustrations perfectly match the text. His dinosaurs are funny, petulant, and adorable, just like most toddlers you know. Scholastic Press hardback, due September 2005 $15.99.

For more book reviews, see If you would like to suggest some good reads for our book group or wish to join, please let me know at

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