06/27/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

In 'Canal House Cooking,' Two Cooks Have Self-Published Books That Make Meals Simple and Smart

Canal House Cooking, Volume No. 3 arrived the other day, and we greeted it like a visit from an old friend who shows up just as you're starting to miss her.

Two years ago, when we first encountered Canal House Cooking, Volume No. 1, we had no idea that we were entering a relationship. Oh, we loved the book -- how could you not? For one thing, it was short: just 60 recipes, presented in a well-bound paperback. These recipes offered the unique tastes of the authors' "signature" dishes. Best of all, they were easy to make. Very quickly, this became our summer cookbook, the one culinary guide we took to the beach house we rented that was not in the Hamptons.

Canal House Cooking, Volume No. 2
arrived in November, 2009. It was, true to the Canal House mantra, a seasonal book. This time around, Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer defined winter as Thanksgiving and Christmas. Neither is a favorite holiday in this house -- our families don't gather, they disperse -- but we found many recipes that sustained us through the cold and the bleak.

By then, we were grooved -- we'll be grabbing these publications as long as Hirsheimer and Hamilton put them out. Because, three issues in, you could see this is a collaboration 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, New Jersey -- 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."

Canal House Cooking, Volume No. 3 is a hymn to Spring. We're just starting to cook our way through it, but already it feels like the best edition so far. Hirsheimer's photographs leap off the page; you feel if you squeezed her shot of an orange, you'd get juice. Their range has expanded. They've always been fans of a drink at the end of the workday; now, in addition to cocktail recipes, they've had eight chefs and wine experts suggest wines that are overlooked and affordable.

As ever, they're into Real Food, generously offered. (Chicken Liver Pâté: "Don't hold back on the butter.") The Orange Marmalade looks addictive. The French Onion Soup "tastes like it has been simmered for days." Roasted Root Vegetable Stew just might get me off meat/fish/chicken one night a week. Rise E Bisi -- fresh peas, short rice, parmesan and chicken stock -- is an easier-to-prepare risotto. The lamb shanks recipe better be doubled; it's that simple, that good.

Chicken Poached with Ham and Oxtails will replace the chicken soup that got us through the winter. Slow Roasted Pork Shoulder and Beef Stew are modest twists on classic recipes, and that's the good news -- who wanted them re-invented? How about Butternut Squash and Candied Bacon as a first course? And Roasted Rhubarb as a dessert?

Many recipes come with stories. One was so affecting -- and watercress is such a harbinger of spring -- that I decided it's the recipe to share.

Serves 4-6

2 bunches watercress, stems and leaves separated
8 cups rich chicken stock
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 waxy potato, peeled and diced
1 handful fresh parsley leaves, chopped
salt and pepper

Gently simmer watercress stems in the stock in a medium pot for 15-20 minutes. Melt butter and oil in another pot over medium-low heat. Add onions and cook until soft. Add the potatoes.

Strain the stock into the pot with the potatoes and onions; discard stems. Cook over medium heat until the potatoes are tender, 10-15 minutes.

Finely chop the watercress leaves and add them to the stock along with the parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer the soup for just a few minutes, then remove it from the heat.

Serve the soup garnished with a knob of butter, a spoonful of heavy cream, or a dollop of creme fraiche or sour cream.

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