‘The Essential New York Times Cookbook: The Recipes of Record,” by Amanda Hesser, is a 5 pound, 997 page colossus, featuring the best of the 150 years’ worth of recipes from the New York Times archives.
It is an update of the volume published in 2010, and the thousand-plus recipes includes 120 new ones (65 old ones were axed), more recipes from other countries, and correct attributions for recipes to give credit to the under-represented chefs or cultures that birthed them.
Each section is introduced by a page that divides the recipes that are to follow into segments. There are also informative and entertaining timelines in various sections, where you learn, for example, that salted and deviled almonds appeared in 1897 and no-knead bread in 2006.
There is an entire section on menu ideas. If you want to serve foods that first became popular in the 19th century, you’ll find the answer on page 922. Wondering what to serve for a kid’s birthday party or the best cookies for a bake sale? There is a list for those, and many more. Want to know what to serve with Chinese Barbecued Spareribs? Hesser has a note of suggestions at the end of many recipes.
I try one new recipe a week, so I have been referring to this tome often as of late. Sometimes I select a food I regularly make, in order to see if the New York Times recipe is an improvement. Which is how I learned I am going to stick to my old way of making challah, which is not as sweet. The book also did not convert me to the eight strand braid, which is near to impossible without a step-by-step illustration to guide you. (That is my only criticism of this heroic endeavor, that there are no photos or illustrations.)
Other times I look for a recipe for a food that I have enjoyed in restaurants but have been afraid to try at home. Enter butter chicken ... so many spices, so much time marinating in yogurt first. I assumed that my spice drawer would be sadly lacking in spices necessary for an Indian dish, but I was pleasantly surprised: all I needed to buy was some Anaheim chili and fresh ginger. The result was well worth the time and money. Now that I know that butter chicken is so easy to make, it will be making a regular appearance on our table.
One of my favorite things is to cook recipes from the past, and this book gives a ton of choices. I made a tomato soup recipe first published in 1877. The ingredients were simple: tomatoes, whole milk, unsalted butter, salt, pepper and five ground saltines. The process included scalding the milk. Reasons for scalding in the modern era include insuring that a yeast baked item will rise, since scalding affects whey in a way that makes it easier for yeast to work, and to increase the ability for flavorings such as herbs to release their flavors to the milk. While I might be willing to scald milk for certain baked goods, I am not going to dirty an extra pan for tomato soup, so I’ll stick to the easy, tasty recipe of my own.
History came calling again when I tried Eggs A’ La Lavalette, from 1878. Basically, you poach eggs in heavy cream. Author Amanda Hesser described it as “sublime.” My husband pronounced it greasy and slimy. I thought it was hardly worth the extra hardening of the arteries brought to you by a large dose of heavy cream; I’d rather have them threatening to slam shut because of a good burger.
Having spent hours reading it and cooking dozens of the recipes, some good and some not to my taste, what I do know is that it is a rich resource for any cook or baker. The new as well as the experienced will find plenty to chew on. (If you are interested in buying this as a gift, don’t let the list price of $55 scare you. You can find it much cheaper online, especially if you are willing to buy used. I have purchased many used books that are so immaculate you cannot tell them from new.)
If you want more information on the recipes mentioned above, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.