Bride & Groom: First and Forever Cookbook

by Mary Corpening Barber and Sara Corpening Whiteford

Published by Chronicle Books

272 pages, 2003




To Love, Honor and Chop With

Reviewed by Linda L. Richards


While the concept -- and, initially, even the delivery -- seem a bit smarmy, Bride & Groom: First and Forever Cookbook goes far beyond what the reader might expect. Intended to be a wedding-gift-in-a-book for those newly setting up house together, Bride & Groom is the sort of book that the home chef -- both novice and more advanced -- will find themselves referring to again and again.

Authors Mary Corpening Barber and Sara Corpening Whiteford are twin sisters and, judging from both their author photo and the way they've chosen to blend their lives together, they are as alike as two green beans on the vine. Bride & Groom is their fifth cookbook undertaking and, in large format, hardcover and with 272 pages, their most ambitious. However, Bride & Groom succeeds on all fronts. The book manages to be simultaneously elegant and casual, and filled with recipes to meet very many needs: from elegant dinners au deux, to hurried work-night meals on the run to party food for a crowd.

Though it sounds dreadfully cliché and perhaps offends some schism, the successful blend of the elegant and the casual in Bride & Groom -- not to mention the reminder of the narrow escape of smarminess -- seems due, at least in part, to the background of these twin Southern belles. Who, for instance, but a Southern woman could in 2003 write the line: "Perfect for a ladies' lunch, this salad puts the light, bright feel of the tropics on the plate" and not only get away with it, but make it sound inviting? (This about Butter Lettuce with Mango, Goat Cheese, and Mighty Mint Vinaigrette.) Or, as a preface to their Classic Lasagna: "Southern hospitality is all we've ever known. No baby was born, friend hospitalized, or out-of-town guest in for the weekend without our mother whipping up something yummy to congratulate, soothe, or welcome."

Throughout Bride & Groom Barber and Whiteford manage to combine this small town warmth with a very schooled and international knowledge of food. The result is splendid, a book that is beautiful and accessible, with recipes that are simple and sophisticated, that reflect the whole culinary world and keep home close at hand.

Chapter One delivers "Kitchen Basics" and takes the novice through the elemental steps of choosing cook and bakeware, utensils, appliances and so on. Continuing with the instructing neophytes thread, Chapter Two is called "The Global Pantry" and deals with kitchen essentials -- as viewed by the authors -- from the spice rack, to canned goods, baking needs and even beverages (alcoholic and non). Chapter Three, "Basics and Beyond," deals with the "basic culinary building blocks" and includes recipes for various stocks, basic sauces, doughs, salad dressings, dipping sauces and other elemental foods on which recipes can be built.

By Chapter Four, "Appetizer: Finger Food & Snacks." the basics are behind us and we're into the grown-up stuff. As the authors are former caterers as well as chefs, their party food chapter rocks. I especially like the Caramelized Onion, Gruyère, and Olive Tarts (incredibly elegant, startlingly simple) and the Goat Cheese, Sun-Dried Tomato, and Pesto Torta. This last is a revelation: a recipe I anticipate using a lot for entertaining. And, as the authors instruct, "When we have leftovers, we toss the torta with pasta ... dollop on baked potatoes, or spread onto focaccia and top with grilled vegetables." Lovely.

Like that torta, subsequent chapters build on this foundation: Soups and Salads; Classics and All-Time Favorites; Entrées, Side Dishes; Breakfast & Brunch; Sweets; The Global Bar; Dinners & Desserts in a Dash.

Two chapters very near the end of the book take us beyond the realm of mere cookbook and either of them could, in fact, happily be expanded to book-length all by themselves.

"Cooking Side-by-Side" introduces the concept of cooking with your mate, not for him or her.

Like a challenging bike ride, a hike up a mountain, or a relaxing vacation, cooking in tandem can be a bonding experience for you and your mate.

This chapter includes three menus with his and her directions for Breakfast in Bed; Elegant Supper for Two and Romantic Picnic. The instructions follow the cooking together game plan:

11. She warms the Canadian bacon in a large nonstick skillet.

12: He places 2 toasted English muffin halves on each of 2 warmed plates.

13. She puts the Canadian bacon on the muffin halves.

And so on. Here again, smarmy is close, but never quite reached and if you could ever actually talk anyone into doing this with you, it could be pretty fun.

Chapter 13 includes menus for "holidays and special occasions" and while a lot of cookbooks do this, few add the sort of caterers' triage included here with instructions for what to do a week ahead, 2 days ahead, 1 day ahead, eight hours ahead -- and so on to mealtime -- before an interesting array of special occasions from Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas, through to Superbowl, Valentine's Day and the Fourth of July.

Bride & Groom is a beautiful and useful book. It might, however, be a difficult gift: I can't imagine wanting to give it away. | May 2003


Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine.