The Austin Chronicle

Mrs. Santa's Book Bag

By MM Pack, December 7, 2012, Food

CookFight: 2 Cooks, 12 Chal­lenges, 125 Recipes, An Epic Battle for Kitchen Dominance

by Kim Severson and Julia Moskin (Ecco Press, 320 pp., $29.99)

This is a lovable book with a dumb title. There's no fighting, no "epic battle for kitchen dominance" à la Food TV. It's simply a joint project of two New York Times food writers – colleagues, friends, and fellow cooks – who just happen to have very different culinary backgrounds and equally different approaches to food and cooking.

Moskin, a Manhattan native named for Julia Child, was raised by gastronomically sophisticated parents who took their children on regular eating adventures in Europe. Severson grew up in the Mid­west­ern suburbs in a family with Italian and Norwegi­an roots; her journalism career has taken her to Alaska, San Francisco, and Atlanta. Although they both are professional food journalists, they're also home cooks who love to eat, entertain, and feed their families. The book's recipes reflect this; they're practical, interesting, and – based on the ones I made – successful and delicious. Vegetable and dessert dishes are particularly wonderful.

In 2009, The New York Times ran a food feature where Moskin and Severson each prepared a dinner party for six people on a budget of $50. The two meals were totally different, but equally successful. From this experience, the book was conceived, with each author creating her own menu for 12 monthly meal concepts (24 menus total). In addition to the original Budget Challenge, there's the Children's Challenge, the Picnic Challenge, the Weekday Challenge, the Bake-Off Challenge, and so forth. The two authors write witty introductory essays about their approaches to each challenge, explaining their choices, philosophy, and where the recipes came from – families, food colleagues, and other cookbooks.

The book's organization presents a bit of a challenge of its own; because each separate chapter includes recipes from appetizers to sweets, there's no browsing, for instance, a salad or entrée section. Reading the challenge chapters is absorbing and great fun, but to locate a specific recipe, you must rely utterly on the index; fortunately, it's up to the mark, with entries listed by ingredient as well as recipe title.

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