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`Rose's Celebrations' by noted author of authoritative `Bibles' on baking cakes, pastries, and bread, Rose Levy Beranbaum has all the appearances of a `throwaway book, given its picture laden cover, oversized format, and the author's aforementioned expertise in baking rather than in savory cooking.
While the book has some limitations as a source of savory recipes, it has many virtues that should appeal to most foodies and amateur cooks.
The very first virtue is Ms. Beranbaum's enthusiasm for cooking and baking of all sorts. Her genuine love of culinary arts and her ability to communicate this passion in words is unmatched, in my opinion, by all but Julia Child, Rick Bayless (see `Rick and Lanie's Excellent Kitchen Adventures'), and Grace Young (see `Breath of a Wok'). I'm not saying there are not lots of great cookbook writers, it's just that Ms. Beranbaum seems to be able to draw one into her culinary world with an unrivaled attraction. For starters, she has one of the very best descriptions of the differences between baking and savory cooking. Everyone who has read a book on baking knows that measurements are much more important in baking than in savory cooking. What is less evident is that this doesn't mean savory cooking is easier. It means that the skills of constant triage needed to monitor the progress of savory cooking require just as much, if not more practical experience to get right. Add to this the variability of meats and vegetables when compared to the high level of uniformity among flours, sugars, butter, and eggs and you start to see that there is more to expert savory cooking than may meet the eye. And this from a baker.
The ability to share her enthusiasm is oddly paired with a highly technical approach to recipes, both savory and baked. As with her baking recipes, many measurements are given in multiple units, by volume, by metric weight, and by Imperial units' weight. This means that the units most familiar to the average amateur are here, but if you happen to be in a position where you have to multiply a recipe by two or four or eight, the weights make this very easy. I also give Ms. Beranbaum high marks for admitting to rounding off the Imperial to metric conversions. I have seen very good cookbook writers have close to 20% discrepancies between Imperial and metric weights or volumes with nary a word of warning.
This level of detail in various units means that this is an excellent book for a caterer. As it happens to be a series of recipes for holidays, the utility to caterers and large-scale entertainers is doubled. This is the only book other than Martha Stewart's classic `Entertaining' which gives good resources for cooking for a crowd of any size. That is, this is the only non-baking book for the amateur that fits this bill. I have seen expensive books for professionals which do this, but they are expensive and not friendly to a non-professional reader.
This book is divided into the four seasons and within each season there are sets of recipes for entertaining various events.
The major events for Winter are New Year's Eve, Washington's Birthday (dessert only), Winter Dinner for Friends and St. Patrick's Day. Spring events are Easter, Passover, and Mother's Day plus miscellaneous dishes for a spring luncheon and a wedding shower. Summer events are Father's Day, Fourth of July, Birthdays, and Labor Day. Fall events are Columbus Day, Halloween (dessert only), Election Day (dessert only), Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas. A very special bonus is recipes for Glace de Viande and Glace de Volaille (Beef and Poultry Essences or glazes).
The book also contains an alternate table of dishes by type / principle ingredient which identifies dishes of Beverages, Breads, Soups and Stocks, Sauces, Beef, Lamb, Poultry and so on. You get the idea.
If, like me, your main interest is simply collecting good cookbooks and gleaning good ideas from them, this book is definitely a winner. One of the more interesting items I found was a merging of the principles of a court bouillon and a buerre blanc. Ms Beranbaum poached fish in a simple wine, vinegar, shallots, herbs, and oyster liqueur bouillon, then reduced the poaching liquid and added butter to create the buerre blanc. I may want to ask Miss Rose if she possibly forgot to mention anything about straining the chopped shallots from the reduction before adding the butter, but the idea is still a great `two birds with one stone' method.
In looking over her Italian based recipes, you may not want to discard your Marcella Hazan or Mario Batali recipes for these, but they do have some novel ideas, such as the addition of Angostura bitters to the spaghetti (tomato) sauce.
If you are especially fond of formal entertaining more than four people at a time, this may be the best source of recipes you will find. It does not cover as broad a range of events as, for example, Sheila Lukins' `Celebrate', but the recipes are much more impressive for formal occasions.
To make the book a really good resource, it probably should have been about twice this size with better coverage of many events, but at a list price of only $25 and the likelihood of a good discount, I recommend this book as a great `sleeper' find for foodies, culinary readers, and entertainers.