It’s been over a year since the extraordinary and strikingly red (!) Essential New York Times Cookbook was released. Amanda Hesser, the author and exceptionally talented cook, recipe and prose writer, and personal mentor of mine, spent 6 years compiling and testing recipes to then write one of the most extensive and all-encompassing cookbooks of my generation thus far. A new-age Joy Of Cooking if you will. For this, a book with such expanse cannot be properly reviewed for critique in its bookshelf infancy—but rather, a gastronomical encyclopedia such as this should be talked about only after splotches of jus blur the lines of recipes, page corners suffer third degree burns, and dog ears thicken the book’s profile.
Hesser, a long-time food writer for The New York Times newspaper and Magazine, took it upon herself to filter through the entire recipe archive since the paper’s beginnings in the 1850’s. She tested over 1,400 of these recipes ranging from the downright obscure, to the utmost divine. Each is presented with an opening descriptor, marking Hesser’s personal ties to the dish or drink. These recipe notes detail Hesser’s craftsmanship as well as provide useful and often humorous foreknowledge.
Readers can whip up age-old favorites that were perhaps a grandmother’s staple, or divulge into a more edgy, contemporary dish. Either tactic, there is a recipe solution to any cooking occasion. Her mother-in-law’s Ginger Duck recipe (p.480) got me through a tightly scheduled holiday party, her Pepper Cumin Cookies (p.695) brought me to whole new revelations about sweet/savory combos, and her Swedish Glögg (p.22) made for a recipe friends have begged me to email.
For me this book is not just about cooking from it—I have spent countless nights with a petite verre du vin in one hand while the fingers of the other flip through pages of old, really old, as well as modern recipes. The book is a work of art that can even be enjoyed for its descriptions, layout, or simply for inspiration during times of culinary blocks.
The adventure of compiling this book didn’t end with its publication. Hesser and friend Merrill Stubbs grew a close, culinary connection having spent hundreds of hours testing the book’s recipes together. With much input from home cooks on their favorite New York Times recipes, Stubbs and Hesser found a need to connect and give voice to all the talented home cooks out there. Their creation: Food52.com—a crowd-sourced recipe database from home cooks around the globe. Recipes, drawn from weekly culinary contests, combine to create an annual cookbook of the winning recipes from each week, hence the 52. I spent last summer interning for this fresh and creative start-up meanwhile getting to know a true journalistic idol.
The site is taking off, so jump on board this exciting and bubbling network, logon, create an account, and begin cooking. Who knows, maybe your winning recipe will make it into the next published Food52 cookbook.