Can a great chef's cookbook feel loose, almost laid-back? It can if its author is Jonathan Waxman, a "founding chef" at Alice Water's Chez Panisse and proprietor of Jams and Barbuto in Manhattan. His A Great American Cook--a collection of 100-plus recipes for the likes of Sea Scallop Fettuccine, Pork Shoulder with Mole Sauce, and Curried Catfish with Apple-Corn Fritters--shows a master in top form, blending global cooking traditions to produce uniquely American food, homey yet refined. His dishes are accessible to all cooks willing to cull the necessary (sometimes pricey) ingredients and spend a bit of time in the kitchen.
Following an idiosyncratic take on ingredients and techniques (on bacon: "OK--I love bacon--and yeah, I'm from a Jewish household") the book explores, in addition to the usual course stops, sandwiches like Shrimp BLT and pizzas, as well as desserts, including Angel Food Cake with Toffee Crunch and Flourless Chocolate Espresso Tart. Of top interest are Waxman's grilling how-to's and other technical insights (for example, to dress a salad properly, add the vinegar first). Seafood, and salmon in particular, receives expert attention. Here is one man's soul cooking of a high yet relaxed order that readers will happily embrace. --Arthur Boehm
Widely recognized as one of the fathers of New American cuisine, Jonathan Waxman became a mentor to hundreds of chefs on both coasts. Here he shows you how to flex your culinary muscles while having fun in the kitchen. A Great American Cook presents Waxman's finest dishes the way he makes them at home. They include the Red Pepper Pancakes with Corn and Caviar that he created when he ran the kitchen of Alice Waters's Chez Panisse, his famous Grilled Chicken with JW Fries, and a homey Pizza with Bacon, Scallions, Parmesan, and Tomato that's a family weeknight favorite. His combinations are simple but unexpected, exuberant but down to earth. Many of the dishes juxtapose contrasting flavors and textures, pairing cool beef carpaccio with warm potato salad, soft crab cakes with crunchy slaw, or whole wheat pasta with spicy clams. Other recipes, such as Shrimp BLT, Crispy Chicken and Goat Cheese Burritos, and Gingerbread with Brandied Plums, are free-spirited plays on classics. Waxman shows how to produce magnificent food from just a few ingredients, roasting eggplants and red peppers for a forcefully flavored soup or tossing asparagus with oranges and hazelnuts for a refreshing first course. He repeatedly demonstrates his philosophy of "less is more" with suppers like flash-seared scallops on caramelized onions and chicken cooked under a brick with a sauce of rosé wine, bacon, and peas. In the best American tradition, his vision is bold but strikingly unpretentious. From a versatile vegetable dish that goes with nearly every main course to handmade pastas with delicate sauces to a foolproof way to cook salmon, Waxman gives you all the techniques and recipes to make you a great American cook in your own right. His invigorating message throughout: Let your ingredients do the talking. Lighten up! Enjoy yourself!
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