Every Christmas, I get cookbooks, but the two food books I’m already enjoying, really quite wonderful, aren’t cookbooks at all. The surprising one is called Notes on Cooking, by Lauren Braun Costello and Russell Reich (RCR Creative Press, $21.95). Ms. Costello was one of the team who revised the 75th Anniversary edition of “The Joy of Cooking” (as I was, though we never met). It’s a
book of precepts about cooking, 217 of them, deceptively simple but indispensable culinary truths that we tend to forget, each presented with reassuring commonsense amplifications. For example, the first three notes are “Read the recipe,” “Read it again,” and “Read three similar recipes,” each with a wise, explanatory paragraph (and I really like the fourth note: “If it’s in the title, leave it alone.”). There are several appendixes, on classical food combinations, cooking essentials, and even an index. Besides being amusing, sensible, and very readable, it will make all of us, whatever our skill level, better cooks.
The other book is a special kind of journey: Far Flung and Well Fed collects some of the food writing of R.W. Apple Jr. (St. Martin’s Press, $26.99). The late “Johnny” Apple was a reporter and correspondent for The New York Times for more than 40 years, one of the best political writers around; he was also an enthusiastic food-lover, and combined a newshound’s zeal for a good story with an epicure’s try-anything good appetite. This collection features food and restaurants and anecdotes and history, and a few recipes, from America, Europe, Asia and Australia; reading it is like enjoying a good dinner with your favorite uncle—if he were a great storyteller.