So Much Goulash

Cookwise” is a mixed bag that tries to accomplish several goals at once. It’s part upscale cookbook, offering recipes for Hot Thai Curried Chicken with Coconut Milk and Avocados, Ring of the Sea Schrimp with Fish Market Sauce and Cherry-Chambord Butter; part basic cookbook that discusses making stock, omlets, vinaigrettes, biscuits, pie crusts and sauces; part trouble-shooting guide that explains which flours are appropriate for biscuits, pancakes and bread, how to beat egg whites so that they rise properly, and how to calculate the right amount of sugar for the perfect fruit ice; and sometimes part memoir. It’s a schitzophrentic book.

There’s no doubt that Shirley Corriher knows cooking like Dr. Stephen Hawking knows the cosmos. She came to the kitchen by a circuitous route, as a research biochemist at Vanderbilt University Medical School in Nashville. When her husband opened a boarding school in Atlanta, she was responsible for feeding 140 boys three meals a day. A winning entry in a grits recipe contest in the mid-1970s brought her cooking lessons with Nathalie Dupree, who was impressed with her pupil’s questions and knowledge.

Since then, the 63-year-old Corriher has built a career as a food consultant, working with restaurant chefs and food industry scientists, leading workshops, and writing articles. “Cookwise” is her first book, a decade in the making and, judging by the long list of people she thanks in the beginning, a number of editors, including top food editor Maria Guarnaschelli, who completed the makeover of the “Joy of Cooking” recently.

So there’s a lot of prime information tucked here and there among the 230-plus recipes. The problem is digging it all out. It took a number of readings to conclude that the editors of “Cookwise” thought the seven major chapters were too large to be digested, so they broke them up with recipes, smaller articles and cooking tips. The mix was sweetened with a hash of type fonts chosen more to create a visually appealing style than for clarity’s sake. The result is a cookbook with a steep learning curve that can be rewarding if you’re persistent.