What’s Cooking

Here is an ideal cookbook for anyone who wants to prepare unusual dishes without spending hours in the kitchen. Virtually all the recipes take up less than a page, and most require no more than five steps, all of them concisely but completely explained. Many offer time-saving tips: using canned cannelini rather than fresh or dried beans, Wolf reduces the preparation time of Tuscan Bean Soup by several hours. His buttercream icing requires no syrup heated to the soft-ball stage; for fish stock in shrimp bisque, he mixes twelve ounces of bottled clam juice with an equal amount of water.

Wolf has collected dishes from around the world, offering Danish Meatballs, Calcutta Chicken Curry, Sienna Summer Salad, and Oriental Imperial Steak. He also includes numerous helpful hints, such as how to store garlic, choose oranges, or determine how much time is required to cook a piece of fish. Much interesting lore appears in this cookbook, too. One will learn the origin of V-8 and Tabasco, the reason for the expression “as cool as a cucumber” (the inside of a cucumber remains cooler than ambient temperature), and the nutritional benefit of cooking with cast iron (it adds traces of iron to the diet).

Despite its vast fund of information, Wolf’s book is not the best choice for a first cookbook because it omits many of the standard recipes--apple pie, chicken soup, chicken supreme, baked chicken. As a supplement to a basic work like THE JOY OF COOKING, though, it is perfect. When one tires of meatloaf or beef stew, one can make some Alamo Burgers of Pepper Steak and so beguile the tastebuds.