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Holiday Cookbooks

Stoveside Reading

December 19, 1996|RUSS PARSONS

In last week's issue of Food, we described our favorite cookbooks of the year. But that list left out several excellent books. Here are a few more good books for giving--and for keeping.

--LAURIE OCHOA

*

"Cheese Primer," by Steve Jenkins (Workman, $16.95).

Here's my prediction: The next big thing among American foodies will be artisanal cheeses. Of course, they've been around for thousands of years, and if you look hard enough, there are places you can find some, the way you could find hearth breads five years ago. But I think good cheese is ready to go mainstream, and if I prove to be right, it will in no small part be because of the efforts of Steve Jenkins, the first American to become a member of the French order of Chevaliers du Taste-Fromage.

He is responsible for the quality of the cheese counters at Dean & DeLuca, Fairway Market and Balducci's--all of which, you will note, are in New York City. When the time comes that you can walk into any good market in Los Angeles and find a choice of four or five truly good handmade cheeses, this is the book you'll want to help you decide. Opinionated and informative, Jenkins is a cheese-head among cheese-heads. (That, by the way, is a good thing.)

*

"Stand Facing the Stove," by Anne Mendelson (Henry Holt, $29.95).

"The Joy of Cooking" was arguably the first modern American cookbook, in that it was written by an enlightened home cook for others who shared her passion, rather than being a training manual for immigrants and hired help. Anne Mendelson, who writes occasionally for The Times, brings the story of its creation and of its two remarkable authors to vivid life in what is probably the most important book on American food published this year. Irma Rombauer and her daughter, Marion Rombauer Becker, were products of their respective times and, in examining their stories, Mendelson adroitly strings together an enlightening cultural history of American women in the 20th century. (The title comes from Rombauer's response to a young woman asking about the most important thing to know about becoming a good cook.)

*

"The Art of Eating Well," by Pellegrino Artusi, translated by Kyle Phillips (Random House, $27.50).

At a time when it seems every other cookbook published has Tuscan in the title, it's a wonder no one before bothered with a really good translation of Pellegrino Artusi's Italian classic. Originally published in 1891, the book quickly became the culinary bible of central Italy. The food is rather simple and rather plain--as it frequently is in areas with really good ingredients. That also might make it difficult to get the full effect when trying the recipes in modern-day Los Angeles.

The book also could have been better if Phillips had freed himself from the strict role of translator enough to give us the kind of contextual background (both in the kitchen and out) that M.F.K. Fisher provided with Brillat-Savarin's "Physiology of Taste." But let's be thankful for what we have, which is aphorisms like: "Giusti says that if you can, you should invite [a few close friends to dinner] every now and again to grease their whiskers at your table. I'm of the same opinion, even if some of the guests then complain to others about the treatment they received at your hands, as will no doubt happen."

*

"Baking With Julia," written by Dorie Greenspan (William Morrow, $40).

It's a mark of Julia Child's generosity that this book is billed as it is. This is a terrific book, one any writer would be proud to take credit for. It's the accompanying volume to Child's new television series--she acted as facilitator, bringing people together and acting as on-air host. Greenspan wrote the book, which is a perfect primer for both would-be and moderately accomplished bakers of both bread and pastry. It draws recipes from many of America's top cooking teachers; you'll find everything from a Persian naan from Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid to buttermilk scones from Marion Cunningham to pecan sticky buns from Nancy Silverton and puff pastry from Michel Richard. There's even a wedding cake by Martha Stewart. Instructions are uniformly clear and detailed and the color photographs are so natural they're almost edible.

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