Martha Stewart's Cooking School: Lessons and Recipes for the Home Cook dropped this week, providing a much-needed little pocket of fresh air. With her typically gentle, informative tone, Stewart draws on the inspiration of a beloved elementary school teacher to present to her loyal followers her first step-by-step how-to manual for mastering the basics of everyday cooking. Flipping through useful advice with invigorating style, it was hard to believe that just four years ago Stewart was the celebrity face of drug company ImClone's messy insider trading debacle. It's also hard to believe that that company's corruption woes dominated the mainstream economic news.
During the investigation and trial of those involved, much like we the people today, Stewart's true level of deserved blame remained ambiguous amidst her persistent reinforcement of her own innocence. Regardless, since her conviction and subsequent prison time for conspiracy, fraud and obstruction of justice, Stewart has maintained a coveted lifestyle, rebounding with the Daytime Emmy-nominated Martha Stewart Show, Martha Stewart Apprentice, Martha Stewart Living Radio on Sirius Satellite Radio, Martha Stewart Living and Martha Stewart Weddings magazines and billion-dollar ventures with K-mart while forging Martha Stewart Furniture with Bernhardt; Martha Stewart-designed homes and communities with KB Home; Martha Stewart cards; Martha Stewart Rugs with Safavieh; the Martha Stewart Collection of products for the home at Macy's and most recently, the expansion of Martha Stewart Crafts with Wal-mart. Maybe we should play a drinking game. Every time I say Martha Stewart...
Such a comeback should serve as a beacon of hope to all of us now rehabilitating from a credit addiction that turned out to be as American as apple pie, or, say, Martha Stewart. With her foray into culinary education, the woman who fleetingly teetered on the brink of possible disgrace and lived to stage a tremendously profitable comeback even now, with merchandising sustenance and possible growth saving some recent dips in advertising sales for her print publications, has once again produced greatness with a smile.
Take comfort from the downturn, for the moment, in Martha Stewart's Cooking School. This is a hardcover version of the perfect mother, a comprehensive encyclopedia poised to become your apartment's version of those dirty old red and white tomes touting butter and beef Wellington that punctuated the holidays of youth. The Cooking School's clear and useful checklists encourage us towards good habits, from adopting mise en place, a practice of the French wherein the stage is set completely before any preparation begins, to thoughtful methods of developing a personal entertaining style and planning a smart kitchen space.
Glossaries of herbs, spices, root vegetables and other nuts and bolts come with excellent photography (hooray!), including a round-up of equipment that ranges from handy staples to stock up on (wok, colander, meat thermometer) to the slightly more ambitious (potato ricer, fluted tart pan). Fluted tart pan?! I couldn't wait to read on. The visual tutorials continue throughout to navigate each step of a bouillabaisse, the three different measurements of dicing, perfecting risotto and carving a turkey, while cuts of meat and types of pie are painstakingly diagrammed for quick and easy reference. As usual, Stewart is the real deal, never sacrificing the essential, if not overly sexy, fundamentals of making stock, boiling an egg and adhering to good washing skills. A true melting pot-modern approach to cooking, recipes and methods derive from classical French training and European influences infused with impeccable Japanese culinary benchmarks and American adaptations.
It's almost as if, somewhat paradoxically, Martha Stewart gets what this concept of "Main Street" is all about. With an inclusive world view and tried-and-true traditions, passed down through generations, the Cooking School offers a back-to-basics approach that serves well the ranks of home cooks honing their skills or reexamining their mastery while maneuvering consumption in the face of potential economic recession. Even prior to the current money mess, Americans were beginning to trend towards home-cooking while "local fresh" replaced "fancy exotic" with good old American gusto. Down home went downtown desirable and those who wanted in on the movement, but perhaps couldn't access or afford the organic grass-fed newborn suckling pig plucked from the fields of their neighborhood farm sought out methods to kill two birds with one stone and eat haute at home. Enter, naturally, gracefully, politely, Mme Martha with a simple, informative, biblical kitchen book.
All that said, perhaps we should look to the queen of all things domestic to publish a primer on bouncing back or at the very least, not going for broke. Sure, Martha's stamina for survival would surely lap our own in spades, but with the right curriculum, I suppose anyone can save their soufflé.