Thursday, December 31, 2009


"Every foodie worth his or her salt must know how to roast a good chicken.
No, I'm not talking about just simply knowing how to cook a chicken. I
mean roasting it properly, to the crisp skin and golden glory of it all."

"I believe you become a true foodie when you stop buying bottled salad dressing."

"Frankly, I don't take people seriously when they tell me they can't bake."

These sage words come from Pim Techamuanvivit, author of the very successful food blog, Chez Pim, who has also written THE FOODIE HANDBOOK: The (Almost) Definitive Guide to Gastronomy (Chronicle Books; October, 2009; ISBN: 978-0-8118-6853-2). I put this beguiling book on my list of best cookbooks of 2009 because here is a smart, savvy, immensely commonsensical guide that demystifies food, placing it squarely where it belongs--in the center of our lives.

My first reaction when the book arrived on my doorstep was wariness. "Uh oh, that title sounds so pretentious." I had survived nearly four decades of the worst food disease of all--New York Foodies. You know you're in trouble when you open the food pages of The New York Times and read a serious report on three different restaurants serving a hamburger composed of Kobe beef and fois gras, and priced well north of $60. There are people there with such empty lives that being the first to blog about some hot new restaurant that will invariably appeal only to young financial turks with too much money in their pockets, is considered worthy of profiling in New York Magazine. Graydon Carter, for god's sake, has a clubby Village restaurant where virtually nobody but a celebrity can get a reservation. So you will pardon my digression when I tell you the word Foodie brings up bad associations for me.

Fortunately Pim (I hope she won't mind me placing her on a first-name basis. The warm and conspiratorial tone of her book makes me feel like I'm a friend), hasn't a pretentious bone in her body. She's a genuine, well-traveled and experienced food enthusiast who wants everyone to come to the party. And she's knowledgeable enough to show you how to spot a fraud, what to avoid, how to cook it, order it, eat it, quaff it, and make the whole culinary thrill of it become a part of you.

The publisher tells us that Pim's blog receives 10,000 hits a week. I believe it. Lots of people are intimidated about dining in fine restaurants. They feel helpless when confronted with a wine list in a foreign language. "Going to a sushi bar is such a mythical, foreign experience fraught with peril--or at least potential embarrassments," she admits. But it is Pim who will help the neophyte to relax, enjoy, ask questions without fear of humiliation, follow your instincts, so that the experience is pleasurable enough to want to enjoy again and again.

This inclusiveness extends to cooking for family and friends at home. There is a superb Bread and Onion Soup that is simplicity itself and beyond delicious. Her adaptation of Joel Robuchon's Roast Chicken is so good, you won't want to share it with anybody! I never thought about making Pad Thai at home. I will now. Her generous observations and clearly written recipes extend to helping you confidently cook fish, rack of lamb, flaky pastry dough, and much more.

I especially enjoyed her chapter on how not to be a wine geek, with uncomplicated advice on how to learn about wines, retailers, producers and importers. Establishing trust and turning to sommeliers for real advice instead of asking them to select for you, Pim insists, will result in new discoveries and fewer unpleasant surprises. She is right. I once told a sommelier in a fancy New York restaurant that I was looking for a medium-bodied red wine at about $60. She returned a few minutes later with a wonderful Vino Nobile di Multepulciano and a fascinating story about how the restaurant discovered it. Pim made friends with the owner of her local cheese shop, a good thing to do when you are facing an enormous selection of cheese. Not only will you taste a lot of great cheese, but you'll get to find out where it comes from, the differences between cow's milk and sheep's milk (and goat's milk too).

I read THE FOODIE HANDBOOK in one sitting. I took it with me to my local pizza joint (where the pizza is just amazing). I was by myself, and despite the fact that the joint was jumping that evening, I was oblivious. Pim's food reporting was riveting and I was thoroughly entertained and even learned a few things (that sushi chapter will make my next visit to a sushi restaurant far less mysterious). That's what a terrific book should do for you, and THE FOODIE HANDBOOK is a terrific book. The next day I made the Bread and Onion Soup (recipe included). I'm now a devoted Chez Pim reader.

Simple Bread and Onion Soup

1 1/2 cups stale bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 cups milk
1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
3 cups thinly sliced onions
1 cup water
1/2 to 1 tablespoon salt
black pepper

To garnish: Dollop of crème fraîche and a sprinkling of chopped chives
Equipment: Regular blender or an immersion blender.

Toast the bread cubes until brown on all sides in a toaster oven or simply toss them in a pan over medium heat. When the bread cubes are well browned, transfer them to a medium-sized bowl and pour in the milk. Set aside to soak while you cook the onions.

Melt the butter in a large frying pan over low to medium heat. Add the onion slices and stir occasionally for about 20 to 30 minutes. The goal is to caramelize the onions but not burn them. If the pan gets too hot and the onions begin to burn too quickly, sprinkle a bit of water over them, lower the heat, and continue to cook until they are well caramelized.

When the onions are done, add them, with the milk and bread, to a medium saucepan. (If you plan to use an immersion blender to blend the soup later, make sure you use a large saucepan so the content does not spill over when blending). Add the water, half a tablespoon of salt, two turns of the peppermill and cook over medium heat until boiling. Lower the heat to simmer and let it cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until the bread cubes are completely soft.

Blend the content until smooth, with an immersion blender directly in the pan, or transfer the content into a regular stand blender. (If using the regular stand blender, once the soup is smooth pour it back into the pan). Check the seasonings and add more salt or pepper as needed. If you find the soup on the sweet side from the caramelized onions, add a bit more salt to correct it.

Serve the soup in a bowl or a cute coffee mug. Just before serving, drop in a dollop of crème fraîche and sprinkle over finely chopped chives.

Monday, December 21, 2009


"A generation has passed since I wrote The Cake Bible," says Rose Levy Beranbaum in the introduction to her second and newest collection devoted to this popular dessert, ROSE'S HEAVENLY CAKES (Wiley; ISBN: 978-0-471-78173-8). Rose has been busy ever since, writing other books on pies, bread, Christmas cookies, etc. But the book we've all been waiting for, panting for and praying for is a new cake collection, and thumbing through this gorgeous and profusely illustrated book convinces me that ROSE'S HEAVENLY CAKES won't disappoint. The demand for this book has meant that it has been difficult to get a copy and it has already sold through at least its first printing. My copy just arrived, so I haven't been able to bake anything yet. But after the holidays are over, the first cake I'm rolling up my sleeves for is the Sicilian Pistachio Cake. Or will it be the Sticky Toffee "Pudding". Maybe the Chocolate-Covered Strawberry Cake. No, I'm certain it will be the Double Chocolate Valentine with its brilliant blanket of raspberries. So many great choices, so little time!

What has happened since The Cake Bible is a lifetime of added experience, accumulated wisdom and science, Rose's meticulous eye for detail and her ability to insure that with her techniques, you will become an outstanding baker. Got an ambitious cake baker on your holiday list? Look no further. From the simple goodness of Apple-Cinnamon Crumb Coffee Cake to towering Wedding Cupcakes, ROSE'S HEAVENLY CAKES is the new standard. Long may it wave. I'll have a lot more to say about this book in the new year, but in the meantime, stay up-to-date with Rose at her blog,

A One-Stop Cookbook for the Omnivores, Vegetarians, and Vegans at Your Table

More and more we're finding that today's families are mix-diet oriented with those who will eat meat and those who won't. This puts stress on the cook who has to make separate meals for the omnivores, vegetarians, or vegans in their families. Ivy Manning, a Portland-based chef, food writer and blogger, is an enthusiastic omnivore married to a vegetarian. Drawing on her considerable culinary skills Manning has written THE ADAPTABLE FEAST: Satisfying Meals for the Vegetarian Vegans, and Omnivores at Your Table (Sasquatch Books; ISBN 978-1-57061-538-2) which provides many tasty solutions to feeding your mix-diet family, without resorting to separate recipes.

Manning artfully writes her recipes in the standard way found in most cookbooks but with one difference. "At some point in the instructions while you are chopping, stirring and prepping each meal," she writes, "you'll come across a step or steps marked Vegetarian. The instructions that follow (set in bold type) will be specifically for the vegetarian or vegan portion of the recipe so you will know when you are cooking that something should remain meat-free." I discovered this when I decided to make her delicious Picadillo Empanadas for a cocktail party I recently hosted in my home. In step three, the cook sautes soy crumbles, ahead of her instructions for sauteing ground beef. This can be done in the same pan, because the vegetarian/vegan component has been cooked first. You then proceed with the recipe, using the meat portion for part of the empanadas and the soy crumbles for the vegetarian component. Both versions of the empanadas were a big hit with my guests for their authentic flavors.

THE ADAPTABLE FEAST provides information on setting up a mix-diet pantry, a primer on alternative proteins, before proceeding with the recipes, which offer plenty of choices for every dietary need. I liked both versions of the Spaghetti Carbonara (serving 1 vegetarian and three omnivores) which had plenty of thick-cut bacon added at the end for that familiar Carbonara taste, but also with plenty of tasty vegetables for added flavor. In the Stuffed Chicken Breasts (serves 1 to 2 vegetarians and 3 omnivores), portabello mushrooms hold the stuffing for those not eating chicken providing an excellent version for each eater. There's even a Cassoulet for the Whole Crowd (serves 2 vegetarians and four omnivores).

"It's been five years now, and Mr. Tofu and I are married (against some friend's bets) and cooking mixed-diet meals is now second nature to me," says Manning in THE ADAPTABLE FEAST. "My husband appreciates that I no longer plead with him to try a bit of chicken, and I love that I can have my old familiar favorites with a bit of sustainably raised meat in them. Plus, I've become more open-minded and have learned to love tofu, seitan, and other vegetarian proteins. We're living proof that harmony can happen; it just takes an open mind and an adventurous spirit in the kitchen to make it work." Manning's husband, Gregor Torrence, provided the excellent photographs that illustrate the book.

Of course you don't have to be an omnivore or vegetarian to enjoy this lovely collection, and I'll continue to dip into this beautifully crafted cookbook often. Here's the cookbook with the flexibility to deal with everyone's nutritional needs with great recipes for everyday meals as well as feasts fit for finicky company too!

Ivy Manning, who is also the author of The Farm to Table Cookbook: The Art of Eating Locally, is part of a growing pool of outstanding food talent found to be found in Portland these days. In addition to her food articles for the Oregonian, you'll find more of Manning's entertaining and wise food writing at her blog:

Monday, December 14, 2009


For someone who grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, it's shocking that I've never spent time in Big Sur, that breathtaking region of the central California coast with dramatic views of the Pacific. Since the late 1940s, Big Sur has attracted an artistic crowd of writers (Henry Miller, Richard Brautigan, Jack Kerouac) and other creative people. The wild beauty of this rugged coastline also attracted film stars. Orson Welles bought a cabin for his then wife, Rita Hayworth, which they intended to use as a getaway home from the pressures of Hollywood. They never actually moved in. And in 1947, Bill and Lolly Fassett, a young California couple purchased the cabin and surrounding grounds from Hayworth and built a restaurant on the sight of the original cabin. Nepthene was primarily Lolly Fasset's vision--a gathering place and focal point for bohemian America. Over the next sixty years, Nepenthe, attracted large and loyal family as Big Sur evolved into one of California's most idealized tourist destinations. Celebrated for it's spectacular views, its delicious and unpretentious food, and convivial atmosphere, Nepenthe came of age in the counter-culture of the 60s. Stars such as Kim Novak and Steve McQueen could be seen in its dining room alongside beat artists, poets, painters and other colorful personalities of the era. The restaurant was often the site of folk dancing, fashion shows, poetry readings, concerts and other activities. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton filmed a scene from The Sand Piper at Nepenthe, which only added to its cache. Romney Steele, is a food writer, cook and food stylist. She is also the granddaughter of Lolly and Bill Fassett. She witnessed the flowering of Nepenthe's success first-hand, growing up there. She later launched Café Kevah, on Nepenthe's grounds. She has created MY NEPENTHE: Bohemian Tales of Food, Family, and Big Sur (Andrews McMeel). Part memoir, part cookbook, this visually appealing book is loaded with vintage black and white photos and many color shots that evokes the special history of the California coast and the many events hosted by an extraordinary couple who created a popular destination restaurant that has endured for more than six decades.

Imagine creating a rustic retreat perched on the edge of the California coastline with jaw-dropping views, sipping a cocktail on its broad terrace or digging into one of Nepenthe's popular menu offeringss such as the Ambrosia Burger with Golden Plumes (French fries) or Lolly's Roast Chicken with Sage Stuffing, or Nepenthe's Triple-Berry Pie. The spectacular setting features the architecture of Rowan Maiden, a former student of Frank Lloyd Wright. Steele recounts the colorful history of the restaurants, it's patrons and friends. The spirit of her grandmother presides over the restaurant's evolution. This generous spirited woman raised her family, manning the stove and day-today operations of Nepenthe with her husband. At the same time, Lolly Fassett kept guests, family and staff fed and provided many of the restaurant's personnel with staff members with housing, and acted as hostess to the artistic events hosted there. All of their stories and recipes are here.

Of the 85 enticing recipes, I chose Peanut Butter Cookies, which are a childhood favorite I hadn’t made in years, and Café Benedict, a superior version of Eggs Benedict, which adds sliced avocado to the classic preparation and substitutes multi-grain English muffins for the standard muffins. The cookies are not too sweet and have a deep peanut flavor and a tender crumb. The egg preparation is sumptuous with the addition of ripe avocado and the chewy, flavorsome wheat in the muffins nicely offsets this popular brunch entrée’s richness.

MY NEPENTHE makes me want to get to Big Sur as soon as possible, but in the meantime, this lovely book makes me almost feel like I’ve been there before.

Friday, December 4, 2009

COOKBOOKS: The Year's Best

Is there any better gift to give at Christmas time than a book? Yes--a cookbook. Most people are compiling their best of lists and I am no exception. I didn't set out to make a ten-best list. I had six and then I remembered a seventh, and checked on the books I'd reviewed already and found a 8th and 9th and then I remembered the 10 anniversary edition of America's Test Kitchen which I hadn't reviewed, but had recently arrived and qualifies as a new book this year, and just had to add it to the list, and voila!--I have ten. 2009 was a terrific year for cookbooks, with many published that I admired. Let me start with a book that I bought earlier this year and thoroughly loved before I launched

WHAT WE EAT WHEN WE EAT ALONE: Stories and 100 Recipes by Deborah Madison and Patrick McFarlin (Gibbs Smith). Deborah Madison's books have always held a pride-of-place position in my cookbook collection. She is a wonderfully inventive creator of delicious recipes, and an elegant writer. WHAT WE EAT WHEN WE EAT ALONE is a charming, unscientific investigation of the things we consume when nobody is looking. Madison uncovers some hilariously awful bad meals such as a mustard sandwich with reworked coffee, or boiled pork rinds mixed with fried onions and scrambled eggs and then put in a hot tortilla. She found that people loved telling her stories about the strange and creative things they prepared to eat while standing over the kitchen sink or sitting down to a solitary yet formally set dinner table. In between Madison offers a selection of recipe fixes for some of these bizarre combinations such as Spaghetti with Tuna and Capers, or Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Goat Cheese. The is a delightful book to read as well as cook from and Madison is superbly abetted by her husband Patrick McFarlin's humorous drawings. This is the best armchair book about food since David Kamp's The United States of Arugula.

RUSTIC FRUIT DESSERTS: Crumbles, Buckles, Cobbles, Pandowdies, and More by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson (10 Speed Press). I launched this blog with this wonderful cookbook. Fruit desserts are amongst my very favorite sweet pastimes, and I predict you will want to bake everything here. I loved making the Upside-Down Pear Chocolate Cake as much as I enjoyed eating it. The recipes are clearly written and well within the baker's ability from beginner to expert. Another favorite was Caramel Peach Grunt.

NEW AMERICAN TABLE by Marcus Samuelsson (Wiley). To my mind, this is the most exciting cookbook published this year. Samuelsson surveys the incredible fusion of ethnic and modern foods in this country and has created in this large, overflowing volume many spicy, sweet, sour, pungent, hot, salty, tangy, and immensely satisfying dishes. Try the Lobster Orzo or Lentil Soup with Pork and Lamb Meatballs, and you'll see what I mean.

GOURMET TODAY edited by Ruth Reichl (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Published just weeks before Conde Nast closed down this beloved culinary magazine, GOURMET TODAY received an ironic shot of publicity that made the book a national bestseller. I'm a sucker for big, all-purpose cookbooks and this one now goes to the head of the class as one of the best all-purpose cookbooks available. Gemelli with Mushrooms with Parmesan Crumb Topping and Seared Scallops with Brussels Sprouts and Bacon are just two of the flavorful recipes that just might make it into your regular repertoire of favorite recipes.

SLOW: Life in a Tuscan Town by Douglas Gayeton (Welcome Books). Not a cookbook, but an art book about food that qualifies as the most beautiful book published this year. Gayeton, a documentary film maker was asked by PBS to do a film about the slow food movement in Italy. He decided on Pistoia, a Tuscan village town where he lived, and a place were every citizen knows exactly where their food comes from. The film never got made, but Gayeton's camera evocatively captures the hunters, foragers, wine producers, olive growers, cheesemakers, butchers, bakers, and other personalities who created and cultivated the foods enjoyed by this town's citizens. The glorious sepia-tone photo montages are enlivened by Gayeton's elegantly written perspectives on many of the images created here.

660 CURRIES by Raghavan Iyer (Workman). Here's another book that I purchased before I launched StoveTopReadings. Iyer, a Minneapolis-based cooking teacher and a fine cookbook writer broke through this year with this hefty tome. It's a great introduction to the art of curries and to judge from Iyer's expert excavation, the subject is as vast as the regions from which these dishes come from. Workman has always found those cookbooks that define a cateory such as Steve Raichlen's barbecue books or the Silver Palate ladies. Demystifying a great cuisine is always difficult and often it takes time to make a splash. 660 CURRIES definitely does. Curries are organized here by category such as beef, lamb and pork, or shellfish and other seafood, or by beans or vegetables. Try New Potatoes and Spinach in a Garlic-Red Chile Sauce or Beginner Almond Shrimp with Tomatoes. This book is an culinary adventure you'll want to return to again and again.

THE FOODIE HANDBOOK: The (Almost) Definitive Guide to Gastronomy by Pim Techamuanvivit (Chronicle Books). I was prepared to be put off by this title. Foodie sounds so cliquish, something this warm, funny and very readable books is not. The author of Chez Pim, a very popular food blog, Ms. Techamuanvivit's mission is for you to stop worrying about how to order foreign cuisine in a restaurant, pilot your way through a wine list, demystifies sushi, all while getting in touch with your inner foodie. She offers examples of shams, and other signs of culinary mediocrity. I'm going to quote one of my favorite lines in the book: "Frankly, I don't take people seriously when they tell me they can't bake." I wholeheartedly agree and Ms. Techamuanvivit sets about teaching the insecure baker how to make basic tart dough. The book is filled with wonderful recipes and the author is a confident-enough cook to offer her own improvements of a roast chicken recipe from none other than Joel Robochon. Simple Bread and Onion Soup is an astounding creation. I'll have more to say about this entertaining and encouraging book in the next few weeks.

THE COMPLETE AMERICA'S TEST KITCHEN TV SHOW COOKBOOK: 2001-2010. Remember I said I love big cookbook collections? I cannot resist any episode of America's Test Kitchen and have been an avid fan for years. Even when I know I'm not going to make a recipe they are featuring, I won't skip an opportunity to find out about new equipment and learn new techniques. They rate products they have tested as well, so you find out who makes the best peanut butter or which cake mix produces the finest results. I gave away my individual yearly collections when this big survey arrived at my door. The Simple Roast Chicken is beyond dependable and utterly delicious. Brining ensures will emerge tender and juicy instead of the tough shoe leather frying on top of the stove invariably produces. This big book features popular daily fare from soup to desserts and everything is reliably tasty.

LIDIA COOKS FROM THE HEART OF ITALY: A Feast of 175 Regional Recipes (Knopf) by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich. My favorite TV chef has a new companion book to her PBS series, and as usual with this great teacher and food personality, it' a winner. Lidia is so consistent and always manages to provide a great sampling of recipes featuring everyone's favorite cuisine (or should I say, cucina?). Try the Lamb Chunks with Olives, a savory dish that is quite simple to make and addictive. Celery Steamed in a Skillet is a delicious way to finally liberate this vegetable from supporting player in salads, soups an stews, to "a grand side dish for grilled fish or chicken." There are always new things to discover in a book by Lidia and this outstanding new one is no exception.

THE COCKTAIL PRIMER: All You Need to Know to Make the Perfect Drink (Andrews McMeel Publishing) by Eben Klemm. A master mixologist distills the wisdom accumulated through his years overseeing and creating the cocktail menus of some of New York's most popular restaurants. This book doesn't seek to turn you into a bartender. But it will show you how to make outstanding versions of cocktails you will most likely make at home such as Martini's, Manhattan's, Sidecars, Mojitos, Margaritas, Sazeracs and a True Sour. Rather than being an encyclopedic survey of cocktails, this book entertainingly explores the nuances of mixing, stirring, pouring and enjoying. It's also a great-looking book to give this holiday season.

All these wonderful cookbooks are available at your local bookstore, or on or other websites.

THE COCKTAIL PRIMER: The Only Source You Need

Did you know that if you stir your gin or vodka martini, rather than shake it, your cocktail will have "a light-catching diamond" clarity that you'll never see in a shaken version. This advice comes from Eben Klemm, a master mixologist and author of a lively and spirited new drink guide entitled THE COCKTAIL PRIMER: All You Need to Know to Make the Perfect Drink (Andrews McMeel Publishing, December 2009). I've tried it twice with a vodka martini and once with a vodka gimlet, and it works. There's a cloudy, unappealing quality to the shaken martini, and the author further states that if you give your martini a moment to settle down in the ice while you fetch your glass, or garnish, the "pause in the midst of stirring a drink somehow ties it together." After reading through this attractively designed book, you'll never think about cocktails in quite the same way.

I had my first GIN martini at the age of 20 (no, I will not tell you when that was!). My great-aunt drank two gin martinis every day of her adult life and lived to the age of 94. That martini was delicious, but at 20 I wasn't ready for that adult a drinking experience and I allowed myself to be lulled into having a second. I have no memory of getting home that night and for about two years I drank a lot of gin martinis with the old girl. But one night I got so soused that I gave them up permanently. Gin and I were never to be on intimate terms again. For the next twenty years, scotch and wine were my preferred drinks. Then sometime in the 90s, I got the cocktail bug, and started to imbibe such wonderful concoctions as Martinis (vodka this time), Gimlets, Whiskey Sours, Manhattans, Old Fashions, Sazeracs (now that's a cocktail) and even the ultimate girly drink--the Cosmopolitan. To help me create these cocktails at home, I have the Mr. Boston guide, but this new guide was the first time I have looked at the art of the cocktail as seriously as I look at cookbooks. Klemm has a considerable amount to say about this subject, which he takes very seriously. And if you make cocktails at home, so should you.

After years of wine dominance, the cocktail has risen Phoenix-like as a serious beginning to a night out at a good restaurant or in the home as a prelude to a great meal. Klemm, studied biology at Cornell, honed his bartending skills in New York City to "pay the rent." But his fascination with the cocktail culture has endured and today he oversees the cocktail program and creates signature drinks for B.R. Guest Restaurant's, which include the enduringly popular Water Grill, Dos Caminos, Wildwood Barbecue, and many others.

THE COCKTAIL PRIMER is now my preferred go-to-guide for thinking about, and re-creating great cocktails. It doesn't seek to be encyclopedic. Klemm imparts the significance of techniques such as pouring, shaking, stirring and muddling. He groups his drink recipes around around a specific spirit. Best of all, Klemm removes himself from the laboratory of his working life to "create variations or develop complex infusions or foams because I have all the resources and equipment at my fingertips." In short, THE COCKTAIL PRIMER is an elegantly pared down reference of the essential cocktails you'll want to create at home. Yes you will learn how to set up a bar, but you'll also know why he considers the Sidecar as "perhaps the most important cocktail of all time." He explores the key distinction between wine-based, fruit-based, herb-based and sweet-based spirits. In his chapter on bar essential equipment, Klemm outlines only what you need. I didn’t know you could make your own cocktail cherries. He provides an interesting recipe.

The cocktail recipes themselves offer fascinating reading. Under the Martini section alone, Klemm presents "Martini's children," which includes the Martinez (London-style gin, sweet vermouth, maraschino liquor and orange bitters) the Old-Time Martini (a mixture of equal parts gin and vermouth plus angostura bitters) a 1930s Dry Martini (2/3 gin, 1/3 vermouth, lemon peel or green olives) and today's New-Time Dry Martini (vodka or gin, a dash of vermouth lemon peel or olives. Then there are the vodka-derived versions, which include the Vesper and Negroni. Each subsequent chapter is grouped by Manhattans, Simple Sours (Gimlet, Fizz) Complex Sours (Sidecar, Muddled Drinks (Mojito) and Highballs (Perfect Harvest). Most interesting to me is Klemm's breakdown of each grouping in which he lists the makeup of the category plus its complexity, sweetness, acidity, strength and level of refreshment. This inspires you to think about the components of a drink. And without an A-to-Z book of every drink including all the exotic drinks available in bars and restaurants, which most people are not likely to want to mix at home, you'll be able to concentrate on a focused variety of outstanding classic cocktails that have stood the test of time with a few new classics-to-be.

THE COCKTAIL PRIMER is a great-looking book. I wanted to sample every cocktail beautifully photographed here. And if you’re looking a great gift for the holidays, I highly recommend this handsome and sleek volume. So let me close by describing the martini I prepared with vodka in the picture here: a slightly thickened crystal elixir that is pungent, elegant—an adult tasting drink. As I slowly sip my way to the bottom of the glass, my brain feels a bit lulled but my taste buds are demanding my dinner. Maybe it’s time to give gin another try.