Sheila Lukins, co-author of the Silver Palate cookbooks, died on Sunday in Manhattan at the age of 66. Lukins was a huge influence on American cooking, and the cookbooks she wrote, many with Julee Russo, sold millions of copies and were instrumental in teaching a generation (maybe two) of Americans how to cook. The Silver Palate Cookbook grew out of the food shop, also called the Silver Palate, that Lukins opened in 1977 in New York City's Upper West Side. A 25th Anniversary edition of the book was published in 2007.

The New Basics Cookbook, which Lukins also wrote with Russo, sold more than 1.8 million copies, and was as much of a mainstay in many American kitchens as was Mastering the Art of French Cooking. More accessible than many of Julia Childs' more classical recipes, its 875 recipes are straightforward yet playful, the cookbook's pages filled with cooking tips, seasoning charts, suggested menus, quotes and engaging illustrations (which were drawn by Lukins). If your copy of Childs' books are worn and tattered, spilled with beurre blanc and veal demiglace, it's the copy of The New Basics Cookbook that's really a mess. Mine lost its spine in the mid-90's, and now probably contains more tomato sauce than my actual pantry. If that's not proof of a good cookbook, I don't know what is.

The New Basics Cookbook: by Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins. Workman Publishing; New York. 1989.

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