Tuesday, June 12, 2012
I'm pretty sure I received this copy of The Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook from my mother years ago, possibly when I was living in a studio in the West Village. (I'm mostly certain I didn't "borrow" it from her, and if I did, I'm sorry Mom.) My mother, who is a native of Northern California has been a fan of Alice Waters from the start and has all of her cookbooks. For many years, it seemed like an intimidating tome with its elaborate menus and hard-to-find ingredients, like duck fat and lamb kidneys. I used to read this book more like a novel than a cookbook, imagining what it would have been like to be at Jeanne-Pierre's Birthday at which roast squab was server in a Sauternes sauce.
Lately, I've come to discover that there are many simple, hardworking recipes in this book. You don't need to make the seven dishes for the "picnic" menu to enjoy Waters' smart suggestions for durable, portable salads, and it would be a shame if you were scared away from the excellent and simple suggestion for a fennel and red onion salad included in her menu. However, I may take the liberty to adapt some of Waters's recipes from 1982 -- for example, I skipped the recommended bouquet garni that I was meant to cook into some lentils, and they tasted just fine without it. I think even Waters herself would make some of her recipes simpler 30 years down the road. I'll be cooking more out of this book now that I've discovered its charms.