Buy it on Amazon.
I have had a ridiculous crush on Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer for two decades, and I have reviewed seven of their books, and each time I say “This one is the best,” so there is absolutely no reason to believe me when I say “Canal House: Cook Something: Recipes to Rely On” is their best book and the book you will want to give to new marrieds, recent graduates, clueless millennials, divorced men, and that you, veteran cook that you are, ought to get a copy for yourself, because even though your shelves are groaning with the weight of your cookbook collection, you still find yourself saying “What’s for dinner?” and “I’m having friends for dinner, and I don’t know…”
300 recipes. Christopher Hirsheimer’s impeccable photographs, often in paint-by-numbers sequences — just look. Indeed, everything in these pages is human-scaled, sensible, helpful:
Everyone needs a small repertoire of classic recipes—everyday recipes, weekend meals (when you have a little more time to cook), some special dishes for those big deal dinners, and of course, a way to tackle a turkey for the holidays. But they also need a helping hand to guide them through the process. Home cooking should be simple, but for too many people (especially too many young people) it seems intimidating. We are accomplished cooks who love to share our kitchen knowledge. In fact, both of us have daughters, nephews and nieces, and many friends, young and old, who ask us kitchen/cooking questions all the time. We always stop, dry our hands, and answer them. We want to pass along what we have learned. We want to encourage them to cook—it is our mission. We believe the everyday practice of simple cooking and the enjoyment of feeding yourself and others are two of the greatest pleasures in life — Eat Well & Be Happy.
The Canal House cooks are democratic, in the best way. We were giving a dinner for an Important Person, so we made up a guest list of friends we regard as Important. Of course, we invited Melissa and Christopher. We decided to give him an All-American meal: Sloppy Joes and Mac & Cheese. Naturally, both recipes had been personalized. Christopher noticed. The cook-in-residence explained: “Before I sprinkle buttered breadcrumbs on top of the macaroni, I put on slices of American cheese.” Christopher had an admission of her own — there’s a brick of Velveeta in her refrigerator.
And they are wise:
Home cooking should be simple, but for too many people (especially too many young people) it seems intimidating. We are accomplished cooks who love to share our kitchen knowledge. In fact, both of us have daughters, nephews and nieces, and many friends, young and old, who ask us kitchen/cooking questions all the time. We always stop, dry our hands, and answer them. We want to pass along what we have learned. We want to encourage them to cook — it is our mission.
And they keep their eyes, palates and hearts open:
Once in Burgundy we stopped at a two-star auberge for lunch. We were led to a sunny terrace where they poured us glasses of champagne. The only hors d’oeuvre was a bowl of just-picked cherry tomatoes with flaked salt crystals clinging to their wet skins. First a sip of the cold bubbles, then a bite of the sun-warmed, salted, sweet tomatoes — still a vivid memory years later. To understand the beauty and complexity of something so simple, you have to know a great deal. We are still learning.
And they’re funny. “Thirteen was of looking at chicken” ends with a story about taking a break from chicken and buying a ham. They cook it for dinner. Of course there are leftovers. They eat ham three times a day for days. The punch line: “Don’t tell chicken.”
And they’re completely human. As they explained to The New York Times:
“I think people don’t picture women sitting around drinking together,” Hirsheimer said. “But we love the flavors, the ritual, the little bite of something at that time of the day.” Hamilton interjected: “I don’t mind the buzz.”
Most of all, they’re on your side:
Have confidence and have fun. Even if everything goes wrong with a dessert, just put it on a plate and cover it with whipped cream.
Oh yes, the cookbook itself. As they write, “We wake up in the morning and start planning dinner.” They’re global cooks; the recipes cover all the major cuisines. And they share tips that even gourmets may not know. Poaching eggs for more than 2 people? Poach them ahead of time for 2-3 minutes, refrigerate in cold water, and just before serving slip them into barely simmering water for 1-2 minutes. Picture-perfect fried eggs? Crack them into a sieve to drain the clear liquid.
The only flaw of this book — the photos make you want to cook every single recipe… today. If only!
Recipes? Here are two. They seem small-ish. But they suggest how completely Hamilton and Hirsheimer have reimagined even the smallest aspects of basic dishes.
2 lemons 4 anchovy filets packed in oil, drained and finely chopped
1⁄2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1⁄4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper
Using a sharp knife, cut off and discard all the peel and white pith from the lemons. Working over a medium bowl, cut lemons along sides of membranes to release the segments into the bowl. Squeeze the juice from the membranes into the bowl, and discard the membranes.
Stir in the anchovies, oil, and red pepper flakes, breaking up the lemon segments against the side of the bowl with a spoon. Season with salt and pepper to taste
TOMATO BUTTER FOR ROAST CHICKEN
Roast chicken… again? This tomato butter adds a new dimension. When you’re ready to use it, don’t warm it up, just slather it on the roasted chicken and let it melt.
2 anchovy filets packed in oil, drained and finely chopped
6 sprigs fresh thyme
¾ cup dry sherry
2 big tablespoons tomato paste
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold butter, cut into 8 pieces
Put the anchovies, thyme and sherry in as heavy medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain the sherry through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Discard the solids. Return the sherry to the pan. Boil over medium-high heat until the sherry has reduced to ¼ cup. Whisk in the tomato paste. Add the butter one piece at a time, whisking until it has melted before adding the next piece. Whisk until all the butter has melted and the sauce is smooth. Remove the pan from the head and cover to keep the tomato butter warm.
But wait! There’s more. Hamilton and Hirsheimer now have a restaurant, Canal House Station. It’s in Milford, New Jersey. Open Wednesday through Saturday 8 AM to 4 PM, Sunday noon to 4. Here’s the menu. For reservations, call 908.995.7200 or click here.
This article originally appeared on The Head Butler.
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