A Treasure of a Cookbook--Twelve Recipes by Cal Peternell

twelverecipes .jpgWinner of the International Association of Culinary Professionals Best General Cookbook! I am often asked about current food trends. My personal perception is that over the past few decades cooking has become increasingly complex, often sacrificing quality to "originality," and moving further and further away from the simple goodness I had so appreciated at the start of my love affair with food. I've begun to realize that I have enough recipes to last a lifetime, but what I value most are tips and techniques to improve them. When I read about the book Twelve Recipes, it rang a bell of familiarity and pleasure. Beautifully illustrated with photos and drawings, this book, by a former artist who has been a chef for two decades at the renowned Chez Panisse in Berkley, California, was inspired by his oldest son's move to college and his desire to be able to cook well for himself in the spirit to which he was accustomed. It is not surprising, therefore, that Chef Peternell's directions are clear and direct and his voice friendly, caring, honest, and down-to-earth helpful. Many years ago, at a lecture by Jacques Pepin at the French Culinary Institute, where he is one of the deans, I was stunned to hear him describe his philosophy on cooking in a way that exactly reflected my own. He said: "Get the best ingredients and try not to screw them up!" Cal, however, goes one step further: "It is an enduring truth that the best-tasting ingredients will yield the best-tasting dishes, but I believe as strongly that if you are missing things, or what you have is not the best, you should cook anyway. The ways in which various parts add up to the sum of a wonderful meal are many. The quality of the ingredients and the way they are prepared are important, sure, but so are the personalities of the group of eaters . . . their moods . . . the room . . . the occasion. The right equation will make the table a success even if the salad wilts, the meat is overcooked, or the cake falls." Cal admits that there are many more than twelve recipes in the book, including variations, but that if one were to cook one from each chapter, this would constitute a good basic repertoire. This special book is also filled with sunny humor and delightful anecdotes. I have not read my way through every page yet, but I fully intend to do so. Here is an example of just why I love this book so much: On ingredients: "Dried herbs are like dead flowers: if you can't bring them fresh, probably better to not bring them at all. Most dried herbs--parsley, basil, tarragon, and cilantro--are truly atrocious and can be ruinous, while others--thyme, rosemary, and sage--are grudgingly acceptable in certain applications. Dried oregano and bay leaves are the only ones that are really okay." Music to my ears! Twelve Recipes