Thursday, January 6, 2011

Cookbook Corner: The Essential New York Times Cookbook

Every year, I always ask for, hope for, and receive, at least two new cookbooks for Christmas.  One of my favorite Christmas moments is sitting in front of the tree and the crumbled up pile of wrapping paper, flipping through my new cookbooks.  This year, my husband spoiled me with three new books and I've been devouring them all ever since.  I'll tell you about the other two soon enough, but today it's all about The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century by Amanda Hesser.

This book is massive.  It's the kind of book that, like the Joy of Cooking or our family-favorite Southern Living Cookbook, will surely become a go-to reference for me when I'm searching for the best way to make a well-known dish.  Some books you get for their inspiration through innovation and originality, this one...provide inspiration based on tradition.  The recipes in this book may not be groundbreaking, but they're sturdy, thoughtful, and they beg to be made.

What to expect: A whole freaking lot of recipes (no, that's not a technical term!).  The book contains tons of recipes, with chapters ranging from Drinks, Cocktails, Punches and Glog, Sandwiches, and Pizzas, and Savory Pies, to Poultry and Game, to Pies, Tarts, and Other Desserts, and everything in between.  This is a big book that requires the owner to sit down and read it.  Sure, you could flip to the back of the index to look up a particular recipe, but if you want a big book all about cooking, take the time to read the book and enjoy it.  No, I am not saying you need to read every chapter and every word, but spending time visiting with this book is time well spent.

Best recipes:  This book weighs in at 4 pounds 9 ounces according to my kitchen scale (yes, I did weigh it!) and it contains more than 1,400 recipes.  It's made up of all the best recipes from the past 150 years that have appeared in the New York Times.  There are some interesting recipes in here--ones that I would never make and others that I can't wait to try out.  I've only gone through this book twice (and have listed several dozen recipes I'm dying to make), but here are my top 5 so far:
  • Spicy, Lemony Clams with Pasta (pg. 336)
  • Crab Cakes, Baltimore Style (pg. 407)
  • Chicken Canzanes (pg. 458)
  • Flemish Beef and Onion Stew (pg. 515)
  • Dijon and Cognac Beef Stew (pg. 561)
Complaints: This is not a complaint of mine, but some may miss photos.  Others may find this book too large and overwhelming.  I've read a complaint that Amanda Hesser provides too much commentary.  I love commentary in a cookbook, so I don't give that complaint much merit.  So far, my only complaints are this:
  • Recipes are not arranged in an orderly fashion. For example, in the fish and seafood chapter, recipes are arranged by type.  Shrimp recipes are mixed with fish on the same page, then you'll go several pages without any fish recipes, then you're back to fish later in the chapter.
  • I haven't had enough time to sit down and really, really examine this book as much as I'd like.  That's more a complaint about me, but I had to list something...right?
Deliciousness scale: 5 spoonfuls of yum out of 5.

Details: This review is based on the 2010 edition of The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century by Amanda Hesser; ISBN 0393061035

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