Cooks? Get books!

There are three more days of Chanukah and 20 shopping days until Christmas. In other words, time to shop, if you haven’t already.

The new crop of autumn cookbooks has been abundant and dazzling. In my more than 20 years as a restaurant critic and food columnist, I cannot recall a time when so many new cookbook titles have hit bookstores and the Internet. It seems the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, continues to compel many people to cook from scratch.

Here are my recommendations for all the cooks on your list and for you, too.

The Automat: The History and Allure of Horn & Hardart’s Masterpiece, by Lorraine B. Diehl and Marianne Hardart ($18, Clarkson Potter, hardbound, black and white photographs), is a nostalgic tribute to the H&H; Automat.

The first Automat opened at 818 Chestnut St. in Philadelphia on June 9, 1902. By the time the Automats, restaurants and retail stores throughout Philadelphia and New York closed, America had become a fast-food nation — even though the wholesome, nutritious and delicious fare, which sat in windows encased in art-deco glass and chrome, ready for a handful of nickels, was the original fast food. The book is filled with recipes, photos from American movies where the Automat was the place for lunch or dinner, and quotes from Woody Allen, Dick Clark, South Philadelphia-born James Darren and many others.

The newest Jewish cookbook is called The Mensch Chef: Or Why Delicious Jewish Food Isn’t an Oxymoron, by Mitchell Davis (Clarkson Potter, $18.95, paperback). The book also could be called When A Nice Jewish Boy Cooks, since Davis, who is director of publications at the James Beard Foundation, has peppered his words and recipes with old-fashioned Borscht Belt humor and family memories.

Davis will be dispensing Jewish lore and latkes tonight at The London Grill, where owners Terry Berch McNally and chef Michael McNally team up each December for "newish" Jewish latkes. The feast, which is more than just latkes, is $45 per person. For information, call 215-978-4545.

Published just in time for winter is Hot Toddies: Mulled Wine, Buttered Rum, Spiced Cider and Other Soul-Warming Winter Drinks, by Christopher B. O’Hara ($16.95, Clarkson Potter, hardbound, full color photos). The book gives recipes for grogs, egg nog, seasonal cocktails and more.

And speaking of cocktails, the newest bible is The Craft of the Cocktail: Everything You Need to Know to be a Master Bartender, With 500 Recipes, by Dale Degroff ($35, Clarkson Potter, hardbound, full color photographs). In 1987, Degroff was responsible for creating the list of classic cocktails when the Rainbow Room reopened. He has done a splendid job explaining how certain cocktails received their names, and gives you everything you need to know to prepare perfect drinks.

It took Crescent Dragonwagon 10 years to research and write her 1,100-page Passionate Vegetarian ($24.95, Workman Publishing, paperback). It is filled with more than 1,000 international recipes for appetizers, soups, salads, entr�es and desserts. "You don’t have to be a vegetarian to love this food any more than you have to be Italian to love Italian food," said Dragonwagon, who also writes children’s books (and thus, she explains, her name is a children’s book name, like Dr. Seuss).

Although it is not a cookbook per se, It Must’ve Been Something I Ate: The Return of the Man Who Ate Everything, by Jeffrey Steingarten ($27.50, Alfred A. Knopf, hardbound), contains recipes. Steingarten, whose witty columns filled with humor and bon mots run in Vogue magazine, has his culinary eye trained on the world. He takes on chic expensive salt at $25 per pound, the "calamari index" — why the squid became all the rage in the ’80s and stills reigns king on restaurant menus — and the delightful The Man Who Cooked for His Dog. This collection of 38 essays is a must for everyone who enjoys a good culinary read.

Here are selected recipes.

Horn & Hardart Baked Beans
From The Automat


1 pound dried navy beans, rinsed
1 large yellow onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
4 slices bacon, diced
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2/3 cup molasses
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1-1/2 cups tomato juice
Salt to taste


Place the beans in a large saucepot and cover with cold water. Let stand overnight at room temperature.

Drain, place in an 8-quart saucepot, add fresh water to cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until the beans are almost tender, 45 minutes to an hour. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid.

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.

Return the beans with the remaining ingredients and the 1 cup of reserved cooking liquid to the pot. Mix to combine. Pour into a 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking pan or Dutch oven. Bake, uncovered, until very tender, approximately four hours. Check the beans occasionally while baking and add water if necessary to prevent the mixture from drying out.

Season with salt and let cool five to 10 minutes before serving.

Serves eight to 10.

Note from Phyllis: H&H; always served its baked beans in individual brown earthenware pots and topped each portion with a crisp bit of bacon.

Sardine Spread
From The Mensch Chef


4 (6.5-ounce) cans skinless and boneless sardines packed in olive oil, drained
6 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 small shallot or a small piece of onion, minced (about 3 tablespoons)
Juice of 1 lemon (about 3 tablespoons)


Place the drained sardines and cream cheese in a bowl and mix with a wooden spoon until evenly combined. Add the shallot or onion and lemon juice and continue mixing until blended. Chill before using.

Makes 1-1/2 cups.

Note from Phyllis: Use this spread on canap�s, mini bagels or bagel chips.

Pita Bread Toasts
From Passionate Vegetarian


3 whole-wheat pita breads, plain or with sesame seeds
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cut around the edge of a pita bread with a knife, pulling it gently into two circles. Brush the insides of the pita lightly with olive oil. Repeat with the rest of the bread.

Stack all the circles and cut them into eighths, as if you were cutting them into miniature wedges of pie. Arrange the pita triangles in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Bake for eight to 12 minutes until golden.

Serve warm or cool thoroughly and store in a tightly sealed container. Use within a day or two.

Makes 24 triangles.

Note from Phyllis: The sardine spread would be delicious on these pita toasts.