Originally created 11/28/01

Small portions



Cookbook goofs

December's Issue of Consumer Reports magazine carries the headline: "Do cookbooks measure up?" about the all-too-common phenomenon of published recipes ending in failure.

The reason, the piece goes on to say, is that many best-selling cookbooks are not well tested before publication.

The magazine enlisted staff at the Institute of Culinary Education to review eight top-selling cookbooks. Only two measured up.

It found no suspect recipes in Jamie Oliver's The Naked Chef (Hyperion, $35) or in Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home (Knopf, $40) by Julia Child and Jacque Pepin.

Flaws were found in Prime Time Emeril (Morrow, $30) by Emeril Lagasse and Simple Italian Food by Mario Batali (Crown, $33). Even The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook (Crown, $35) was missing a step when making a risotto.

The magazine suggests the following for judging cookbooks:

Look for thorough testing by authors obsessed with accuracy, such as Julia Child.

Be wary of first printings.

Tap knowledgeable advisers such as friends who love to cook and gourmet shop owners.

Include classics in your collections, such as The New Joy of Cooking (Scribner, $35) by Irma S. Rombauer and The Fannie Farmer Cookbook (Knopf, $30) by Marion Cunningham.

Look for detail and clarity.

Cookie costumes

Mr. Blackwell has his annual best-dressed picks, and now Baker's Joy is looking for "America's Best Dressed Gingerbread Person." The top prize is $1,500.

Mailed entries must be postmarked by Dec. 14. Contest rules are posted online at www.bestdressed.bigstep.com.

Or send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Best Dressed Rules, c/o The Londre Co., 3365 Barham Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90068.

Seasoning a pan

It is essential that cast-iron cooking equipment be "seasoned" before use. Seasoning a pan is very easy, and the rewards are great because this technique, when done properly, gives the surface a slick finish. To season a pan, rub a generous film of solid vegetable shortening over the inner-cooking surface of the pan. Bake in the center of the oven for two hours at 250 degrees. Remove the pan from the oven and pour off any excess shortening. Cool the pan and rub it well with a clean towel. Repeated use improves the seasoning on the pan, making it virtually nonstick, and new pans, which are grayish, will get the traditional black patina of a well-used skillet.

Rare-animal crackers

uf1colstd]These aren't just any animal crackers. Leicester longwool sheep, American milking red Devon cows, American cream draft horses, Canadian horses and Hamburg roosters and chickens, though popular and plentiful in 18th-century America, now have dwindling populations. These Rare Breed Animal Cookies benefit the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation's program to save unusual breeds. A package of six 2-ounce boxes costs $7.50 plus shipping at www.williamsburgmarketplace.com. (Click on "special occasions," then "holiday.")

Bread watching

A standard procedure when making breads is for the dough to be set aside for an hour or more, covered, until doubled in size. In a busy kitchen it is easy to forget the initial size and the time the bread started proofing. A good way to remember is to cover the bowl with plastic wrap and, with a marking-style penm make an outline of the dough on the plastic and note the time. An appropriately warm place to proof a bread, free of drafts, is in a turned off oven.