In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite By Melissa Clark, Hyperion, 2010. Hardcover. $27.50; 444 pagesThis book reads like a series of funny, charming short stories, the recipes being a delicious bonus. Each recipe—there are 150 of them, a sound collection spanning weeknight and special-occasion cooking—is preceded by a narrative about how it came about, recounting Clark’s triumphs or trials and errors in developing the dish. Crispy Tofu with Chorizo and Shiitakes, found in the “I Never Was a Vegetarian” chapter, recounts the memory of an old boyfriend who made the best crispy tofu (sadly, not enough to make him a keeper). After years of unsuccessful attempts to re-create that crunchy-on-the-outside, creamy-on-the-inside texture, Clark learned the secret in Deborah Madison’s classic cookbook, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. It’s a secret we’re glad she shared, for the combo of crispy-creamy tofu, bold sausage, and smoky shiitake mushrooms is delicious. Wanting to quickly satisfy a craving for Moroccan braised chicken with preserved lemon, Clark innovated a technique that would save her a trip to the specialty market or a seven-day process to make preserved lemons: She blanched fresh lemon slices in salted water and tossed them into the dish. Quick-Braised Chicken with Moroccan Spices, Lemon, and Olives has the same bright, beautifully balanced, not-too-bitter qualities as the classic that inspired it but comes together in only about an hour. This no-nonsense cooking style pervades all the recipes—ingredient lists are typically short, there’s not a lot of work involved, and the results are consistently delicious.
GIVE THIS TO: Cooks who enjoy a good read as much as a good recipe. —Adam Hickman