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Cookbook Reviews

by Elizabeth Parson
Copyright © 2000 by Elizabeth Parson

The New England Cookbook, by Brooke Dojny (the Harvard Common Press, 1999)

Last summer, I had the pleasure of meeting Brooke Dojny, the author of The New England Cookbook. In my work as a full-time freelance book indexer, specializing in cookbooks, I had accepted an assignment to index the manuscript for this book in June. The manuscript accompanied me on vacation to a small town on the coast of Maine. Brooke happened to be spending her summer just a few miles down the road from where I was. We met, I showed her the index-in-progress, and we talked about the book, her research for the book, the publishing world, and how wonderful it was to be on the coast of Maine. Obviously, I am biased in favor of the book, having met the author, spent hours on creating the index, and being a New Englander myself. However, all bias aside, this is a wonderful book to own and I highly recommend it for a number of reasons. Not only is it packed with loads of history, anecdotes, and unusual culinary trivia, but it also has over 350 recipes gathered from both well-known and obscure dining establishments and locally famous home cooks throughout the six New England states. Nearly every page has side text ranging from Stephen King's favorite recipe to make at home, to the origins of the Fluffernutter sandwich, to the dishes served at a typical New England Italian-American Christmas Eve celebration.

My task of cookbook indexer requires, in my mind, testing recipes from the book's manuscript. I tested over a dozen and all were well-presented, easy to follow, used easily accessible ingredients, and were delicious. If you like sardines, Sardine Pasta with Fresh Parsley was a knockout for bold, fresh flavor. Down East Bouillabaisse with Dried Cranberry Rouille was extravagant, yet despite the long list of ingredients, was simple to prepare and impressive to serve. The Famous New Haven White Clam Pizza, made famous from the pizzeria in New Haven called Pepe's, earned its "best in the world" reputation. This cookbook is a worthy addition to anyone's cookbook library.

The Cook's Illustrated Complete Book of Poultry, by the editors of Cook's Illustrated (Clarkson Potter, 1999)

I admit it. I am intimately familiar with this book, too, having indexed it. That admission aside, this book, which appeared on the bookshelves last fall, has to be the most authoritative book on the subject of poultry. The book is big—over 470 pages—devoted to the very best methods of preparing chicken, turkey, goose, squab, duck, quail, and pheasant. There are lots of illustrated step-by-step instructions for cutting up, de-boning, skinning, and carving poultry, as well as instructions for preparing poultry for stir-fries, for roasting, for skewering, and even preparing duck for air-drying for the Peking Duck recipe. The book is very well-organized, and the table of contents alone can direct you easily to whatever you are looking for. (There is even a chapter devoted to leftover chicken and turkey recipes, which is useful to many of us, I'm sure, especially around Thanksgiving.) The pages in the beginning of each chapter discuss all the kitchen tests that led up to the best cooking technique described in the chapter, and why. The editors then present "Master Recipes" after the cooking technique is described, followed by variations on the master recipe. This book is for serious cooks, who may have wondered why roasted chicken breasts taste better in a chicken salad than poached chicken breasts. It's all here. Recipe testing proved to be a wonderful pastime. Recipes range from more well-known offerings such as Spring Vegetable and Chicken Pot Pie with Herb biscuit Topping, to the more adventurous Sautéed Duck Breasts with Asian Flavors. Sautéed Turkey Cutlets with Caper-Anchovy Sauce was easy to make and packed a punch with assertive flavors. Chicken Salad with Chipotle Vinaigrette was again, a straightforward dish to prepare, with just enough variation to make it seem striking and new. I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to improve their culinary skills and find many new and creative ways to prepare all kinds of poultry.

Those who have enjoyed The Cook's Illustrated Complete Book of Poultry will have to keep their eyes peeled this fall for the upcoming The Cook's Illustrated Complete Book of Pasta and Noodles (Clarkson Potter, 2000). I am in the process of indexing this manuscript, and it is just as thorough, intelligent, and educational on the subject of pasta as the previous book is on poultry. Without revealing too much, it is THE reference book for all kinds of pasta and noodles. The book follows the same format—chapters devoted to a single topic within the broader book topic—with testing techniques and "Master Recipes" followed by variations on those master recipes. There are even full, descriptive chapters on Asian noodles—soba, somen, ramen, Chinese wheat noodles, rice noodles, and udon noodles. It is like having several cookbooks within one big book. This is one that I insisted on receiving a courtesy copy of when accepting the project!

Review author: Elizabeth Parson