April 2004

Tom Bernard


Cookslut Classic: The Moosewood Cookbook

There are a few things I always make sure I keep on the shelves, staples I can use as the foundation of anything from a quick dose of comfort food to a romantic dinner for two. Kosher salt (1001 uses). Crushed tomatoes (the basis of pizza and pasta sauces). Chocolate chips (for cookie making and out of the bag snacking). Dry pasta, many styles (I have a five year old, and as anyone with kids knows, pasta is a quick, easy, and above all, tantrum-immune meal choice). Peanut butter (forced to choose one and only one food to eat for the rest of my life, Iíd almost certainly make PB -- specifically chunky, all natural peanut butter; Iím partial to the stuff from Whole Foods, but I canít overlook the regional charms of Teddie brand -- my impulsive choice. I might live to regret it, but it would take a good long while). And so on.

Similarly, I keep a small supply of go to cookbooks close to hand at all times. I may occasionally enter into impulsive flings with the Emerils, Marios, Jamies and Nigellas of the culinary world, but I always return to my classics when it really matters. The Joy of Cooking and How to Cook Everything, which I discussed in an earlier column. The Cookís Bible, which I mention here by way of a teaser for a possible future column. Dadís Own Cook Book, because, you know, Iíve got this pesky Y chromosome, and therefore need cooking advice directly from one of my similarly afflicted brethren. Besides, Bob Sloan knows his way around meatloaf and meatballs. Granted, theyíre essentially the same recipe, but theyíre also foolproof and fantastic.

Finally, thereís The Moosewood Cookbook, that hoary gold standard of meatless cooking and borderline fetishistic accessory of both the aging hippies whoíve been eating this way since before my snarky ass was born and the urban hipsters for many of whom the book is a requisite item on the First Apartment Checklist.

Thereís a reason itís such a good Welcome to the Real World book. Thereís something homey and comforting about the hand-written and illustrated pages that make the recipes feel like something Mom used to make, even when the ingredients and the end product seem anything but familiar.

Itís also a book that encourages experimentation, something else that can be a hallmark of being on oneís own for the first time. This is especially true -- although perhaps less so today than it was during my nascent adulthood back in the late 20th century -- for people who come from places without terribly diverse dining options. I suspect that as global cuisine, especially Indian and Thai, has become more ubiquitous, itís no longer quite so true that words like moussaka and samosa read like the passwords to some Ali Baba Ganoujís cave of gastronomic wonders.

Over the years, the book has spawned a litter of sequels under both original Moosewood writer Mollie Katzenís byline and the Moosewood masthead. Still Life With Menu. The New Enchanted Broccoli Forest. Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home . Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites , the original bookís butter, oil and cream-intensive recipes making it anything but Lite cooking. Indeed, my unreconstructed carnivoreís soul harbors the fantasy that someday the Moosewood crew will snap and publish a book called Ah, Fuck It; We Looooooove MEAT!!!

Despite the descendants, imitators and pretenders to the throne, The Moosewood Cookbook, in either its original configuration or the more recent, slimmed down for a healthier lifestyle New Moosewood edition remains the undisputed heavyweight champion. The writing style is clear and engaging, if occasionally more bliss-followingly airy than I tend to enjoy. By the same token, I lack the patience required to achieve inner peace, so Iím perhaps not the ideal audience for this book. The recipes are straightforward and easy to prepare. The food is flavorful, filling and satisfying, even for those who look askance at the idea of a meal that strays from the meat and potatoes model.

Thereís a reason certain books become classics. It has to do with making an impression. Works of fiction and scholarship do this by changing the way people think and respond to the ideas in the text. In contrast, cookbooks forego the strategy of winning hearts and minds and go straight for the gut. We return to great -- or favorite -- books over and over again, poring over the words, folding over page corner after page corner, underlining key passages and making marginal notes to reinforce our understanding. Itís the same with cookbooks, only with the addition of random ingredient dribbles and sauce stains supplementing our other forms of commemoration.

Ultimately, like all cookbooks, users of the Moosewood tend to gravitate to a handful of favorite recipes. The Lovely Wife, for example, is a fan of their mushroom-barley, lentil, and carrot soups, as well as the Moosewood lasagna. Me, Iím quite partial to the Brazilian black bean soup, and to the aforementioned samosas, which recipe requires us to own both the classic original Moosewood, and the New Moosewood, as the original doesnít include the recipe for the dipping sauce that is such an integral part of the Samosa Experience. While we occasionally try something new, we always return to our comfort zone, knowing that pretty much everything we need to make one of our favorite recipes is right there on the shelf.

The New Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen
Ten Speed Press
ISBN: 1580081304