'Menus for Entertaining' by premier American cuisine writer, James Beard is a rich source of something rare in culinary books today, the no nonsense reference for people who already know how to cook, but need a wide variety of options for putting together interesting menus for entertaining. This may be the very best possible companion to Martha Stewart's classic 'Entertaining' book, which deals with just about everything else.
I say this book is for people who already know how to cook in that virtually all the recipes give the essentials, with none of the copious sidebars or headnotes so familiar in books today. This is the Joe Friday of cookbooks. We want 'just the facts, Mame'. While Beard avoids no subject, from classic French sauces to Pennsylvania Dutch specialities such as Shoo fly pie and pickled eggs, he gives everything straight up, with few frills. That is not to say he takes shortcuts. The brioche recipe is shorter than most, but it does not abbreviate the need to let brioche dough raise overnight. On the other hand, the recipe for 'beurre blanc' is much shorter than the recipe in James Patterson's classic 'Sauces', leaving out several of the niceities, such as straining the shallots out of the sauce to give us a velvety smooth result.
The very best thing about Beard's work is that it covers so many different practical situations, including over a dozen different kinds of breakfasts and 'mid-day' meals (he distains the term 'brunch'). There is also rich information on both wines and cordials.
One nice thing about the book is that it almost seems to be an MS from a bygone day, where people commonly entertained with breakfast, lunch, and dinner parties, at least in the fantasy world of Noel Coward plays.
Beard's advice on general planning is excellent. Like Stewart, Beard also started out as a caterer, although he moved on to writing after only a year or so, but he was also an inveterate entertainer himself, and he did it with practically no help in the kitchen.
This book may be worth any three 'Gourmet' annual 'Best of' books, at a sixth of the price.