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James McNair's Favorites Hardcover – August 1, 1999
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At a time when cookbook authors were covering great stretches of territory (China the Beautiful, say) or claiming entire landfalls of subject matter (Seafood the Beautiful, say), James McNair came along in the mid-1980s with slim volumes dedicated to single subjects and designed with an exacting eye. Beautiful books, really. And they were passive books in the sense that McNair was not out to assault anyone with his style or ideas, or with hundreds of recipes packed between covers. His intention was to share his enthusiasm for great food and beauty, but keep it light. Make it easy: see the picture; make the dish.
What we have here with James McNair's Favorites is the master of the single subject's first fat book, his compendium of greatest hits. This big boy is over 600 pages long. For the food archaeologist, it's the Rosetta Stone of American catering and upscale takeout, covering the last 15 years of the century. Press your nose to the glass of any chic deli, fresh pasta shop, or trendy market and you will find displayed some of the contents of this book. McNair's favorites are the comfort food for the end of the millennium.
Blueberry Corn Pancakes? Sunshine Granola? Any cookbook that starts with breakfast starts right. Then, and only then, he's on to appetizers. And this section, like the one on desserts, is indeed long. The message is graze first, then have dessert. Simple, no? McNair moves from Granny's Onion Dip to Chutney Glazed Cheese to Hummus to Seviche, Satay, and Thai Toast. Desserts start with Venetian Glazed Oranges and end with Passion Fruit Cake.
An über-chapter called "Moving On" includes sections on soups, salads, noodles, pasta, polenta, risotto, gnocchi, and pizza. You'll find Sichuan Hot and Sour Soup back to back with Louisiana Gumbo, Caesar Salad back to back with Panzanella, Thai Noodles vs. Spaghetti Carbonara--and a whole delicious world of food in between. The same is true for other chapters: you'll find fish, vegetable, meat, and poultry main dishes from all corners. The only criterion for inclusion is McNair's enthusiasm for a dish, and he has proved the value over the years of his Good Food Radar. There are sections on condiments and relishes, various breads, and all the basics such as stocks and classic sauces.
There is a selection of those famous, well-designed McNair food photos that can set the most unrepentant misanthrope to menu and party planning. But this is not only a book for special occasions. If McNair has one credo, it would seem to be Eat Great Food at Every Meal. And that includes breakfast. --Schuyler Ingle
LOS ANGELES TIMES
James McNair is the king of the pretty little book. Since 1985, he's written 28—thin glossy things, packed with beautiful photography and stylish recipes. Selling more than 3 million copies, they have made him a minor brand name, a less neurotic Martha Stewart. His latest, James McNair's Favorites, is a sort of greatest hits collection from those books, though it does include recipes that have not been previously published. McNair is a culinary popularizer, not an explorer. He specializes in carefully written, workable recipes from a wide range of cuisines. In Favorites, you'll find everything form a rustic Moroccan tagine to Cambodian rice flour crepes and, of course, a lot of Thai and what might be called modern Southern cooking in between—those seem to be his favorites.
James McNair's Favorites—is a compilation of his favorite recipes. These classics have been updated to reduce the fat without sacrificing the flavor. McNair includes recipes such as Pueblo Vegetable Stew, Maple Baby Back Ribs and Moroccan Tagine. In addition to the recipes, McNair includes instructions on how to make pasta, cook all types of grains and form the perfect pie crust.
Now, to the list of such star cookbook authors as James Beard, Julia Child, and Craig Claiborne, add James McNair. His contribution, James McNair's Favorites, beautifully reflects today's food trends.
Although he calls his upbringinghe's a Southerner-turned-Californiana major influence on both his cooking and storytelling skills, it's his West Coast connections that have put him in the right place at the right time to become a lasting part of our culinary firmament. Americans now look toward the Pacific Rim for lighter and fresher fare, and we like our food to be art-director beautiful as well as boldly prepared and flavored.
This well-crafted and handsomely designed book, with 350 recipes and 64 full-color illustrations is unquestionably the centerpiece of his cookbook offerings. His previous cookbooksslender, delicious single-subject volumeswere elegance personified and among the first of their kind. And since the publication of Favorites, he has authored yet another elegant book, The Sutter Home Napa Valley Cookbook, filled with new and classic recipes from California's wine country. Armed with Favorites, even novice cooks can create memorable meals, while more expert cooks will use the book as a springboard to other dishes.
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