The Gourmet Cookbookedited by Ruth Reichl
Houghton Mifflin, 1,056 pp., $40
My parents began subscribing to Gourmet in the Seventies, and my first forays into fancy cooking came between the pages of these impossibly glamorous pages. In those days, it seemed as if the magazine deliberately tried to make reproducing the dishes a Herculean feat. The recipe format listed ingredients as they were required within the flowery prose of the paragraphs. Nothing, but nothing, wasn't from scratch, so, if you substituted bottled mayo or canned broth, you knew the gravity of your sin. Still, I persevered, and can vividly remember spending hours making a Fresh Fruit Treasure Chest (a pound cake painstakingly hollowed out and filled with currant glazed fruit with the top reattached to resemble a chest) and Asparagus Salad Bowl (just try getting asparagus stalks to stand upright along the edge of a trifle bowl while you toss a butter leaf salad inside!). Today, the magazine is a much more practical, if just as adventurous, publication. This outstanding book takes the best from the magazine's 60 years and updates the recipes, making them relevant to today's cook. It's a compilation that belongs on every shelf right next to The Joy of Cooking and Julia Child's The Way to Cook. Longtime Gourmet readers will be delighted to find many of their favorites here, which is a blessing for some yellowed, dog-eared magazines. Novice cooks needn't be intimidated, either; for every Beef Wellington (an opulent dish of beef tenderloin topped with walnut/cilantro filling and encased in pastry) there is a Buttered Baby Spinach (bagged baby spinach wilted in some hot butter). One complaint: The recipe titles are printed with yellow ink on white paper, making them all but invisible in some lights. An outline of black would have made them infinitely more readable. Otherwise, Reichl has done the magazine proud with this book that illustrates what has made Gourmet great in the past, and why it's still setting the standard today.
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