Cook the Book: 'The Essential New York Times Cookbook'

20110103-130523-The-Essential-New-York-Times-Cookbook.jpgIf you've poked around the cookbook section of your local bookshop recently, chances are you've seen Amanda Hesser's The Essential New York Times Cookbook displayed prominently in all of its hulking, red jacketed glory. It's a truly incredible collection of over 1,400 recipes from the newspaper's past 150 years, lovingly assembled, tested, and curated by Hesser. And it's precisely the kind of impressive, exciting, get-into-the-kitchen-and-start-cooking cookbook perfect for starting out a new year.

In the intro to The Essential New York Times Cookbook Hesser is quick to point out that hers is not an updated version of Craig Claiborne's 1961 cookbook. By sourcing favorite recipes from Times readers, Hesser came up with a cross section of the most popular and well-loved dishes to have graced the pages of the dining section, namely lots of chicken, dessert, and Mark Bittman recipes.

But these reader sourced recipes only make up a part of The Essential New York Times Cookbook. The book also features a wealth of pre-1950s recipes, a time when the dining section was known as "The Household," where homemakers would write in with housekeeping tips, remedies for common illnesses, and of course, plenty of recipes. These recipes came from a time when recipes were written in a brief, not very descriptive manner, under the assumption that the cook had the skills to put the pieces together.

This selection of recipes required more than a little writing, testing, and modernization, but gives the cookbook a unique look at the country's historical relationship with food. The result is a cookbook that will keep you well fed, entertained, and busy in the kitchen for a long time, well into 2012.

I used New Year's Eve as a chance to test out recipes from here and have to say, every one I tried was better than the last. This week I'll be sharing my menu of Gougères, Smoked Mackerel on Toast, and Potato, Ham and Piquillo Pepper Croquetas, all simple, elegant, and ideal for entertaining any night of the upcoming year.

Win 'The Essential New York Times Cookbook'

Thanks to the generous folks over at W.W. Norton, we are giving away five (5) copies of The Essential New York Times Cookbook this week. All you have to do is tell us about the cookbook that gets the most milage in your kitchen in the comments section below.

The standard Serious Eats contest rules apply.