COOKBOOK REVIEW: Good eating, flavored with family memories

"Cook with Me: 150 Recipes for the Home Cook" by Alex Guarnaschelli (Potter, $35)
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"Cook with Me: 150 Recipes for the Home Cook" by Alex Guarnaschelli (Potter, $35)

‘Cook With Me: 150 Recipes for the Home Cook’ by Alex Guarnaschelli (Potter, $35)

“Some chefs choose their profession because they grew up in a house steeped in good cooking. Other chefs cook in reaction to bad cooking or limited variety. I would say I’m a mix of both,” writes Alex Guarnaschelli in “Cook With Me: 150 Recipes for the Home Cook” (Potter, $35).

As the daughter of the famed cookbook editor Maria Guarnaschelli, the New York chef and Food Network celebrity was weaned on recipe tests from the manuscripts of some of the country’s foremost cookbook authors. Her food-loving dad filled in with meals tapping into his Neapolitan roots.

No wonder, then, that she would eventually head to Paris for culinary training, before returning to New York to cook at some of the city’s top restaurants. Since then, she’s opened her own successful Manhattan restaurant, Butter, and several others, won an “Iron Chef” championship, and been a frequent host and judge on many other cooking programs.

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For years, she practically lived in the restaurants where she worked, rarely cooking anything for herself. Then her daughter, Ava, was born, and her nurturing instincts set in, inspiring her first cookbook, “Old School Comfort Food,” then a second: “The Home Cook.” Her latest endeavor reflects the way she cooks today, with the skills of a seasoned chef and the love of a parent of a 13-year-old showing signs of following in Mama’s footsteps.

Nostalgia figures big in these pages. A chapter devoted to “Red Sauce Recipes” includes Ninth Avenue Childhood Baked Ziti, a reenactment of the molten-topped favorite from a neighborhood joint. Orange Pound Cake riffs on her mom’s lemon-flavored version, cheffed up just a tad by charring orange slices first so the chewy bits are “pleasingly bitter, hyper-floral, and a little smoky, too.” Even Beet and Brown Rice Burgers, a more contemporary creation, are sandwiched on classic potato buns with homemade Thousand Island Dressing “to give that authentic burger feel.”

“Cook With Me” is both a mother’s love letter to a daughter, and an invitation to the rest of us to create the kind of food memories at our own tables for another generation to follow — and maybe even improve upon.

Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.

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