03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Canal House Cookbooks: Great Home Cooking by Home Cooks for Home Cooks

When last we left Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton, they had triumphantly self-published Canal House Cooking Volume No. 1 -- and we had adopted it as our never-fail summer cookbook. Now our tans have faded, the leaves have fallen and they're back with Volume No. 2, the second of their three-times-yearly seasonal cookbooks.

I could not be more surprised.

For those just tuning in, the Hirsheimer/ Hamilton collaboration is a classic, on the order of Lennon/McCartney -- they're completely complementary talents. Hirsheimer's photographs are food porn of the highest order; on the side of her photography career, she was executive editor of Saveur and co-authored four cookbooks. Hamilton co-founded our favorite restaurant in Lambertville, New Jersey, and worked with Martha Stewart and Cook's Illustrated. In 2007, they acquired a red brick studio overlooking a canal in Lambertville -- just across the river from the artist-and-tourist colony of New Hope, Pennsylvania -- and became missionaries for a special brand of cookbook: "home cooking, by home cooks for home cooks."

In No. 1, the ingredients are few and the recipes are simple. With reason: They're working largely with vegetables in season. The surprise of No. 2 is that it's a seasonal book, and the season is filled with holidays -- Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's. And that calls for them to trade jeans for party frocks and get a little...fancy.

The good news: They have not forgotten their mantra. There may be more ingredients, there may be more steps in the preparation, but the results are out of all proportion to the effort. And there are plenty of entry-level recipes that are pure home cooking: turkey, cranberry sauce, sweet potato pie. Boeuf bourguignon becomes boeuf aux carottes, with vegetables strained at the end to make the sauce "smooth and silky" --- this will be in heavy demand chez nous very soon. And I see the family baker smearing the recipe for Chocolate Gingerbread with butter in the near future.

I don't need to say that the photographs will make you want to start cooking. Or that the writing is as warm and welcome as a just-made cheese puff. Or that No. 2 is the second reason these women are -- despite their make-do equipment in their off-the-beaten-track kitchen -- the hottest news in the cookbook trade.

Glazed Carrots
Makes 8 servings

3 pounds young carrots, peeled
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1/4 cup sherry
Salt and pepper, to taste

Cut the carrots into large pieces. Put them, along with the butter, brown sugar, sherry, and salt and pepper, into a medium, heavy-bottomed pot.

Cover and cook over medium heat until the carrots are just tender, about 20 minutes. Uncover and continue to cook until the sauce reduces a bit, about 10 minutes. Serve with a little chopped parsley, if you like.

Per serving: 131 calories, 2 grams protein, 20 grams carbohydrates, 11 grams sugar, 5 grams fat, 11 milligrams cholesterol, 150 milligrams sodium, 5 grams dietary fiber.

Pumpkin Soup with Pimenton and Preserved Lemon
Serves about 8

8-10 pound sturdy, thick-fleshed pumpkin, (preferably Rouge Vif d'Etampes, Cinderella, or Cheese)
Softened butter
Coarse salt and pepper
2 tablespoons pimenton
2 preserved lemon rinds, finely chopped
2 sliced garlic cloves
2 bay leaves
Chicken broth

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cut out a lid around the stem-end of the pumpkin and set aside. Scrape out and discard the seeds and strings.

Put pumpkin on a baking sheet along with the lid. Rub the pumpkin flesh with lots of softened butter. Rub in coarse salt and pepper, and 2 tablespoons pimenton. Add the finely chopped rinds of 2 preserved lemons, a coupe of sliced garlic cloves and 2 bay leaves.

Fill the pumpkin halfway full with a good broth. Roast until flesh is soft when pierced with a paring knife. Take care not to puncture the skin.

Replace lid for effect, if you like, and serve the pumpkin soup at the table, scraping the flesh from the bottom and sides into the broth then ladling it into bowls.

[cross-posted from]

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