Charlie Palmer's Casual Cooking
of Form and Function
Charlie Palmer with Judith Choate, William Morrow
table cookbooks are high risk. They're typically driven
by big names and built for looks. It's rare to find one
that does a masterful job of combining form and function.
They're usually beautiful and aesthetically mouthwatering
with a handful of realistic, do-able recipes (if you're
lucky). And, they're expensive for both publisher and purchaser.
So, congratulations to any of those large-scale books that
successfully combine awesome looks with a great cooking
what, then, inspired us to look back more than three years
Palmer's Casual Cooking?" We were trying to understand
what happened with his most recent effort, one of these
so-called coffee table cookbooks entitled "The
Art of Aureole" (released at the end of
2003). How could one book ("Charlie Palmer's Casual
Cooking") written by the same magnificent talent (Palmer
and co-author Judith Choate) win us over so completely,
while the other ("The Art of Aureole") had us
grasping for kind words.
talk about the good things first. "Charlie Palmer's
Casual Cooking" is something you'll want to keep handy
for everyday delicious cooking. Mega-chef/restaurateur Palmer's
introduction reveals that family life, including four sons,
led him to develop this sensible book filled with updated
comfort and bistro-style foods that lend themselves to everyday
cooking. Dishes are at once bold, sophisticated, impressive
and uncomplicated. Best of all, they taste great, they're
easy to prepare and respectful of hectic schedules and fresh
The Art of Aureole
By Charlie Palmer with Judith
Choate, Ten Speed Press
is Charlie Palmer's definition of "casual cooking?"
How about a collection of flawless soups like Charlie's
Famous Corn Chowder, The Best Butternut Squash Soup, and
a toothsome, dairy-less Mushroom Soup. You may see no reason
to venture further when a loaf of good bread and a bowl
of soup is enough. But salads are perfect companions when
they're Roasted Wild Mushroom Salad with shavings of ricotta
salata, or Composed Salad of Fennel, Oven-Dried Pears, and
Maytag Blue Cheese dressed with nothing more than olive
oil and balsamic vinegar. Waldorf Salad is often dismissed
and underappreciated. Palmer's is memorable.
Sandwiches are all fun: Tomato-Goat
Cheese Melts, an exquisite Lobster Club Sandwich, Crispy
Oysters and Citrus Mayonnaise on a Bulkie (that's
a roll)...Tuna Melts. We didn't find a recipe that
didn't sound or taste delicious. Palmer's Vegetables
and Sides are big and bright, like Roasted Beets and Garlic,
or Carrots in Guinness. They are decadent, like Corn Pudding
with Chanterelles and Shaved Parmesan, and they are hearty
and rustic, like Cider-Baked Winter Squash and Apples.
may be completely full by the time you reach the main meals:
pastas, poultry, seafoods, and meats; but don't skip
them over. Palmer provides plenty of accessible entrées
for any night of the week, and for any finicky palate. If
you're not suited for Linguine with Eggplant Ragu,
try Baked Lemon Chicken, a Perfect Pot Roast, or Lamb Shanks
with Tomato, Lentils, and Olives. Stuffed Roasted Pork Loin
with Spicy Applesauce is filled with everything you love,
like apples, butternut squash and pistachios, and it makes
Fish dishes range from Whole Roasted
Salmon with New Potatoes and Leeks, to Sautéed Soft-Shell
Crabs with Brown Butter. If you've never attempted
pan-roasted lobster, try Palmer's version, served
with an aromatic, spiced basmati and quinoa pilaf.
You can guess what's on the
dessert list. Lemon Meringue Pie, Fresh Fruit Cobbler, Strawberry
Shortcake…Pineapple Upside-down Cake. These are good,
solid recipes worth holding onto.
this is how a chef like Charlie Palmer dines at the home
table. And it was kind of him to help us out with our own
regular cooking challenges. There's nothing here out of
reach or beyond reason—"Charlie Palmer's Casual
Cooking" is a strong, everyday cookbook that makes
home cooking fun again.
brings us back to Palmer's coffee table book, "The
Art of Aureole": the reason we happily opened
"Charlie Palmer's Casual Cooking." "The
Art of Aureole" contains "50 innovative
recipes showcased in glorious double-page photographs and
an equally effusive design." That may be true, but
there are a few details to consider. The 50 recipes are
superimposed on black and white negative backgrounds of
food shots. The recipes are printed in white and tilted
diagonally across the pages. The effect is so jarring and
disorienting that, frankly, the food is no fun. It is hard
work to find anything, let alone follow ingredient lists
and instructions. The color photos are indeed glorious.
It's just that the food itself is strewn about haphazardly,
on such a scale that it is rendered ugly.
Such a shame when you realize there
are treasures you might be inclined to pursue if the difficult
were not rendered impossible in the text. These are not
easy recipes to begin with—Shiitake Veloute with Peanut
Sabayon, Truffled Chicken for Two with Truffled Gnocchi,
Halibut Cheeks with Beluga Lentils and Sorrell Puree, and
Five-Spice Langoustines with Roasted Watermelon. These are
esoteric compositions that deserve to be taught with a little
kindness, and presented with care.
as the book states in the introduction, ""The
Art of Aureole" focuses on portraits of food
from a conceptual viewpoint." If only these portraits
deserved time in your kitchen, or space on your coffee table.
The beauty is all in "Charlie Palmer's Casual Cooking."
by Kevin Schoeler