Cooking up some great summer reading and recipes

Now that summer is officially here, there’s nothing like finally having the time to make a new recipe. The season offers so many tempting new cookbooks it’s hard to choose among them, but a few beckoned to me a little more than the rest.

Done A Cook GuideDone: A Cook’s Guide to Knowing When Food is Perfectly Cooked by James Peterson (Chronicle)

The book’s premise is simple—so simple you might wonder what the point is. But let’s face it: the lure of convenience food and appliances has left us with an unintended consequence: rusty cooking skills. This is ironic, because at the same time our obsession with food and our appetite for new and adventurous eating experiences has never been greater. We’ve become a nation that can talk about the delights of, say, Korean bulgogi, but we’re not quite sure when to take the chicken off the grill.

It’s a wonder we haven’t seen a slew of books like this one. That Peterson has stepped into the breach is a good thing; as the author of 15 books and winner of seven James Beard Awards, he is among the most knowledgeable and uncompromising of food writers. This book is full of professional tips to help us know when, in his words, “to stop cooking.”

Peterson instructs us to use all five senses to check for doneness of various foods and tells how different cooking methods require different kinds of doneness checks. His description of how the subtleties of meat juices on a roast can signal different degrees of doneness should be required reading for anyone who fires up an oven or grill. The rest of the book is organized into traditional chapters on seafood, poultry, beef, etc., and each is accompanied by useful photos of how the food looks at various stages of cooking.

Peterson, like many a chef, prefers his food a bit less done than is recommended by the food safety folks. And though he does show how to make your burger well done, he doesn’t really address food safety concerns or suggest that there might be a valid reason for cooking some food beyond rare.

Frenchie CoverFrenchie: New Bistro Cooking by Greg Marchand (Artisan)

Greg Marchand is one of the hottest young chefs in Paris, with a handful of restaurants and bars whose names are based on the nickname he acquired while working in London: Frenchie. His new book is a collection of his recipes. It’s interesting to see how far the pendulum of the food world has swung. Marchand’s food is not the haute cuisine that dominated global food scene for so long—or even a modern take on nouvelle cuisine. (Time out for a foodie joke about parsimonious nouvelle portions: Waiter: “How did you find your steak?” Diner: “I looked under a French fry.”)

Although there are certainly French ingredients and techniques throughout, they’re mingled with the styles of farm-to-table and contemporary fusion cuisine that we see here in the United States. His experience cooking in the orphanage in Nantes, where he grew up; and later on in Hong Kong (under Jean-Georges Vongerichten); at a beach resort in Andalusia; with Jamie Oliver in London, and at Gramercy Tavern in New York have clearly influenced his approach to food. (I don’t think I ever saw an avocado or a kaffir lime on a bistro menu during the time I was in cooking school in France in the 1990s, but they appear in Marchand’s recipes—in mouthwatering form.)

The book is organized around the seasons, and Marchand credits Oliver’s “less is more” philosophy with influencing his style. His reliance on seasonal produce and the lightness and freshness his recipes embody as a result make this a wonderful book for summer—and a good one for all year round, too.

30 Years at Ballymaloe by Darina Allen (Kyle Books)

The past 30 years, give or take, have seen the rise of the culinary school in all its iterations—professional, avocational, corporate bonding vehicle and vacation attraction. One of the standouts has to be the Ballymaloe Cooking School in Shangarry, County Cork, Ireland. I must admit that attending cooking school in a faraway land is my idea of heaven and I’ve always dreamed of getting to Ballymaloe. For now, founder Darina Allen’s anniversary tome is as close as I’ll get—and that’s more than fine by me. Allen’s book is the kind of food book I love: part memoir, part travelogue, part culinary history and part cookbook, with beautiful photos of the Irish countryside as a bonus.

Allen recounts how she came to work at the Ballymaloe House, a restaurant located on a family farm. Restaurateur Myrtle Allen was a practitioner of seasonal, farm-to-table cooking at a time when daily menu changes were unheard of—but were only natural for a traditional farm wife. Darina wound up marrying Myrtle’s son, Tim, and her mother-in-law encouraged her to take charge of the restaurant’s occasional cooking classes. Darina gradually built Ballymaloe into one of the world’s leading destination cooking schools, and at the same time became the ambassador of Irish foodways to the world. With many books, articles, and appearances all over the globe, she became the smiling face of Irish cuisine.

This book not only tells her story but details her thoughts on—make that passion for— good stewardship of the land, there are also chapters on the people who run Ballymaloe, as well as top food personalities who have visited—all complete with recipes. Until I get to Ireland, I’ll drool over 30 Years at Ballymaloe.



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Karen Berman is a writer and editor who specializes in food and lifestyle topics. Her books include Friday Night Bites: Kick Off the Weekend with Recipes and Crafts for the Whole Family and Easy-Peasy Recipes: Snacks and Treats to Make and Eat. She has worked as an editor on some 35 cookbooks and written more articles than she can count. She holds a certificate in cuisine from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, and her culinary travels have taken her as far as the Thai House Cooking School in Thonburri, Thailand. Among her current titles are senior content editor of and managing editor of NYFoodstory: The Journal of the Culinary Historians of New York. She is mom to daughter Jessica, her best food critic.