CHOICE CUTS 2010: Amanda Hesser’s Essential New York Times Cookbook

The Essential New York Times Cook Book,Essential NYT

Classic Recipes for a New Century

Amanda Hesser

Here’s another title that we consider a great choice for a holiday gift. The earlier New York Times Cookbooks are well loved classics. Mostly edited by the great Craig Claiborne, they are a fantastic record of a particular moment in culinary history.  This new book, compiled and annotated with great vigor by Amanda Hesser, food columnist and editor at the New York Times, takes a broader sweep through the archives. A grand behemoth of a project, Hesser dug deep in The Times’ stacks and worked through the entire history of the paper’s food coverage. Here you find recipes from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. The recipe for Bouillabaise from 1904 is followed by a WWII era recipe for Curried Oysters. Morley Safer’s Grilled Leg of Lamb shares a page with Chris Schlesinger’s Orange-Braised Short Ribs. The array of cuisines is remarkable.

The introduction shares a time line of important moments in American food history reported in the pages of the paper. Hesser’s voice is clear throughout, encouraging the cook to try dishes that were a hit in the 1980’s and the 1880’s.  Because the source material for this book is such a venerable institution, based in one of (if not the) greatest food cities in the world, there is food from some of the world’s greatest chefs.  You also have dishes from greats like Marion Burros, Craig Claiborne and the contemporary master Mark Bittman. And then there are all those fantastic chefs of the greater world who contributed to the paper: Eric Ripert; Julia Child; Daniel Boulud; Judy Rodgers; Paula Wolfert; Fergus Henderson; Lidia Bastianich and on and on.  It’s a marvelous meld of high cuisine and weekday dinners.

Each chapter has an index up front, a specific time line and highlights from Hesser.  The back of the book has a great section of menus, from the 19th century to winter brunch ideas. The endpapers are full of useful conversion charts.  And then there are Hesser’s stories.  Some cookbooks are good for reading.  Some are good for cooking.  This one is really good for both. It is sure to please even the most jaded of cookbook collectors.

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