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A Season for Cooking

By Heather Irwin

Right now there's a bumper crop of fresh new cookbooks from rising chefs and writers whose varied personalities, styles and use of ingredients bring together international flavors and fresh, local foods. Here are some favorites.

The peak of produce season is fast approaching—the few months each year when market baskets runneth over with local fruits and vegetables. It’s awe-inspiring to walk through the farmer’s markets pinching, sniffing and savoring the abundance. But sometimes too much of a good thing is…well, too much of a good thing. Especially when a refrigerator full of carefully selected produce starts wilting before you eyes because you have no idea what to do with the five ears of corn, two pounds of zucchini and half a lamb you’ve just bought.

That’s where a carefully selected library of useful cookbooks comes in handy. With a little inspiration, you can put at least some of the season’s bounty to good use, not to mention creating meals that will have everyone from the kids to the boss clamoring for the dinner table.

We’ve put together some of the best, based on different cooking personalities and styles that will have you skipping happily to the market this weekend—and into the kitchen soon after.

Cookbook basics: Every aspiring cook needs a “go to” book that explains béchamel as clearly as a simply as blackberry cobbler. How to Cook Everything (Mark Bittman, $35, Wiley Publishers) includes 1500 recipes with many illustrated instructions in a conversational, breezy manner and goes one step further with frequent “variations” on recipes that suggest different ingredient lineups to subtly change flavors (such as a polenta version of basic pancakes). Every serious kitchen, of course, also needs advice from Saint Julia (Childs, that is), and The Way to Cook is one of her most inspirational tomes on French cooking for the home chef. Though much of the food looks trapped in a 1950s time warp, Julia is the definitive voice on everything from mirepoix to steak tartar and (urp) aspic and chicken liver mousse.

The Farmgirl Cook: Mary Jane Butters raised two kids, mostly alone, on a farm in Idaho without indoor toilets. So, to say she’s got some farmgirl moxie is to put it mildly. The writer/organic foods guru recently released MaryJane’s Ideabook, Cookbook, Lifebook ($35, Clarkson Potter) with a mess of down-home recipes (crackly Pear Cake, Roast Chicken, homemade gelatin molds) as well as instructions on building a semi-permanent residence, stitching, animal care and…well just about anything else you’d need to live on a farm. Inspiring, if nothing else.

Where’s the kitchen? Feeding one’s self for the first time away from mom’s ever-stocked kitchen can be a rude awakening. Where’s Mom Now that I Need Her? by Kent Frandsen ($16.95, Aspen West Publishing) includes hundreds of simple, no-nonsense recipes in addition to nutritional advice that explains why eating Ramen for three weeks in a row might be a bad idea.

The Scientific Cook: Food Network personality Alton Brown’s I’m Just Here for the Food ($32.50, Stewart, Tabori & Chang) series goes into painstaking detail (with lab-worthy illustrations) to explain why certain pans work better for cooking eggs or how fond (the crusty stuff left in the pan after searing meat) can create cream sauce, a wine-herb sauce or a butter sauce…all from the same drippings—assuming you care, and you cook with fond.

Food without Cooking: Raw food is the new, well, cooked food, it seems. With an ever-growing list of raw foods recipes and ideas, Raw Food/Real World, 100 Recipes to Get the Glow (Matthew Kenney and Sarma Melnagailis, $34.95, Regan Publishers) stands out as more than just ideas on how to use almond milk and raw coconut. The book goes into exhaustive detail on why raw foods are a good idea, how to find some of the more exotic ingredients (agave nectar, coconut butter or Stevia—a very sweet South American herb) and how to use them effectively. For the less extreme, Heidi Swanson’s Cook 1.0 ($27.50, Stewart, Tabori & Chang) is a simple, beautifully photographed guide to making basic, fresh vegetarian food with straightforward ingredients.

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