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Approachable recipes, blessed with tasty little twists and turns

Family Table: Favorite Staff Meals from Our Restaurants to Your HomeBy Michael Romano and Karen StabinerHoughton Mifflin Harcourt, $35; 336 pages

This isn't the first behind-the-scenes cookbook to offer recipes for the meals that restaurant staffs eat before they serve customers lunch and dinner—the so-called family meals. Spanish super-chef Ferran Adrià published a rather odd, cold volume called The Family Meal in 2011. But anyone who has been to a Danny Meyer restaurant—Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern, Blue Smoke barbecue, or even a Shake Shack burger joint—will warm right up to the idea, because Meyer and his lead chef Michael Romano specialize, above all else, in a welcoming grace and tone. It's easy to imagine, when you're happily eating in the front room at Union Square Cafe, that the staff got to enjoy some mighty good stuff in the back before the kitchens heated up. Here's that stuff, and it is, indeed, good.

Family Table gets the mouth watering at first read: Here are recipes that are approachable but blessed with little twists and turns to pique the palate. Yellow Bell Pepper Panzanella swaps skillet-softened peppers for tomatoes in a salad dotted with capers and balanced with white balsamic vinegar. Pushcart Chicken is a delicious version of the New York City food-cart specialty that some locals are a bit leery about trying on the street; its 12-ingredient spice paste produces a gorgeously aromatic, juicy bird. And I loved Slow-Cooked Green Beans, a dish that reminds us of a too-often-overlooked truth: Beyond al dente lies, for some vegetables (like asparagus), a beautiful, soft, succulent texture that in no way can be called overcooked; these lemony beans are dusted with toasted breadcrumbs and black pepper.

The recipes, Romano writes, come from almost 50 contributors, "from sous chefs to prep cooks to porters." The qualities a recipe needs to have to make it into the book? "Enthusiasm and a tasty idea." Hear, hear.