My most recent review published at Wheatfoods.org.
Melissa Clark, Food Columnist, New York Times Dining Section
The good news is, Melissa Clark’s cooking is wonderfully accessible and enticing. You will want to cook everything in her new book now! The bad news is, this is a celebration of seasonal cooking and you will have to wait for just that, the seasons, and all the bounty of each, in turn.
Long before Cook This Now made its way to my kitchen, as a regular Times reader I was a fan of Ms. Clark’s recipes. She apparently preaches what she practices, and I have made a practice of following her lead. Seasonal, available, simple, splashy but unfussy…If these descriptors excite you, you are her made-to-order cooking demographic. Count me as one of her sheep.
Bear in mind that Ms. Clark’s farmer’s market and pantry is all of Manhattan, making nearly any ingredient available at one time or another. Those of us in other parts of the country, or world, may not be so fortunate. In just the first three recipes I tried, I hit ingredient stumbling blocks – pea shoots, fresh shell peas and raw pistachios – none of them available to me. I soldiered on, made substitutions and loved the results. Which is saying something. Her recipes are wonderful. While I may not reach her bar, I am inspired to aim for it.
Something as seemingly plebian as matzo brei becomes a revelation as “Savory Matzo Brei with Black Pepper and Honey”. My son and I made it two nights in a row and fought over the last tidbits. “Bulgur Pilaf with Swiss Chard and Dried Apricots” put a sophisticated spin on a staff-of-life food, adding sour, spicy and sweet notes, and the crunch of unexpected pistachios. It was a surprise-in-every-bite meal in a bowl.
Pushing the seasons a bit – shame on me – I indulged in “Clams with Peas, Pea Shoots, and Israeli Couscous.” Pow! Mint, loads of garlic – green is recommended but was, alas, unavailable – butter and shallots rounded out the flavors, or sharpened them, to be more accurate. This dish could not have taken more than 15 minutes to prepare, including the couscous. Thankfully, I did not have more time than that to let my appetite sharpen. As it was, I ate the entire dish, intended for two, myself.
With her typically personal, and charmingly iconoclastic approach, Ms. Clark’s book is organized month by month. Each and every recipe includes a beautiful page of prose as introduction. Once read, you will want to dive into the cooking.
The bonus “What Else” section at the close of each recipe is the friend at your elbow, the smart, capable cook who knows what to do with the leftovers, just how to execute uncommon techniques, what will work in place of the peaches you did not have, how to customize the recipe to suit your particular family and so on. The “What Else” section is where the rubber meets the road, where you stop doggedly following a recipe and start becoming a real cook. And, if that is not enough, “A Dish by Another Name” is the wagging tail at the end of many recipes, offering still more ways to make Ms. Clark’s cooking your own.
Cook This Now travels all around the world, season in and season out, day in and day out, breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert. From the four ingredient, sublimely simple “A Perfect Tomato Sandwich” – the introduction is twice as lengthy as the recipe – to the supreme decadence of “Spiced Maple Pecan Pie with Star Anise,” I want to try everything. Twice!