I’ve been to culinary school, profiled my share of cookbooks (including Party Nuts! & Loretta Lynn’s You’re Cookin’ It Country), even written encyclopedia entries on the historical uses of everything from beans to sarsaparilla. I’ve been undressed by kings, & I’ve seen some things that a woman ain’t supposed to see…oh, no, wait, that was Charlene. Damn. At any rate, obviously, nothing in my vast experience could have prepared me for the lessons of Basic Microwaving. Behold the porn dog.



I guess Charlene could have told me that wieners & frankfurters vary in size, but the fact that fat affects shrinkage…I’m thinking that’s got to be an eye-opener for all but a very narrow (er, as opposed to thin) segment of the population, no?

Anyway. Because BM brought out the scatological worst in me (as any BM worth the monogram tends to do), I feel compelled to lessen any possible offense I’ve caused by introducing those cookbooks that, idiosyncratic though they may be, have over the years brought out the best in me. Not the scatological best, either, just the regular best.

No. 3: Madhur Jaffrey’s Step-by-Step Cooking, Madhur Jaffrey


While it implies the book’s for novices, the compound adjective “step-by-step” more accurately indicates the geographical range of the recipes, crossing Asia from Jaffrey’s native India to Indonesia. They’re vibrant & pungent, easygoing & humble. Like me, heh.

Try: Vietnamese ca tim nuong (smoky eggplant & pork in lime sauce); Indian badami roghan josh (lamb in dark almond sauce)

No. 2: Tapas: The Little Dishes of Spain, Penelope Casas


Practically organized to reflect the concerns of a real-world host/hostess (sections include “cold tapas” and “tapas with some last-minute preparation”), Casas’s neoclassic covers the recipe spectrum from quick-&-easy to time-&-labor-intensive; either way, the results manage to impress.

Try: pastel de salmon ahumado (smoked salmon pâté—easier than its gorgeousness would suggest); addictive albóndigas Sant Climent (lamb meatballs in brandy sauce)

No. 1: Lettuce in Your Kitchen, Chris Schlesinger & John Willoughby


That’s right, my favorite cookbook in this whole wide world features salads. If you think there’s nothing to them but chopping, dressing & tossing, you’ve got a whole huge other think coming. Versatility, complexity, substance: these recipes boast them all.

Try: chicory with garlic pork, pickles & black-eyed peas in charred tomato dressing; Bibb lettuce with grilled scallops, sausage & pineapple in mango–black pepper dressing