I hadn't heard of Sheila Lukins' passing until I received the latest issue of Time Magazine. There she was, sharing a page with longtime Vanity Fair writer Dominick Dunne, having left us way too soon.
My dear friends Candy and Michael gave us New Basics for a wedding present on August 26th, 1990. It rapidly went from a "this is cool, I'll have to try some of these," to my most revered cookbook. I've amassed dozens (more than that, I must confess) cookbooks over the two decades since, but it's still the most used book in my collection, by far. What Joy of Cooking and of course Julia Childs' early cooking bibles provided for the last generation, New Basics did for those of us who got into cooking in the 1980's. Their first book, The Silver Palate Cookbook was a huge success, but my first introduction to Sheila and Julee was New Basics.
Several huge sections of my 850 page copy, have literally fallen away from the binding. Dozens of pages are "dog-eared" for easy reference, and the most used recipe pages have blotches and stains from the ingredients in the dishes. It's likely a mini-biohazard in the making, with things like chocolate, eggs, clam juice, gravy, tomatoes, chicken, and who knows what else ... gracing the pages of my beloved guide to culinary secrets.
The 50 page index will give you an idea of the depth of the recipes and techniques contained in New Basics. From Abalone to Zucchini Blossoms, all things meat, fish, and poultry, desserts to please the most demanding home cook, amazing vegetable and side dishes, and techniques that most of us likely never knew of before digging into this book. It's the source for so many things that have become regulars on my table. Sauces, subtleties, sweets, and everything in between, presented in an easy to understand everyday language that encourages the most timid of wanna-be home chefs to experiment and push the envelope on their own personal culinary comfort zone.
Sheila will be missed. She was such a huge influence on my generation of cooks. And at 66, she's left us way too young. Fortunately we have her books and her recipes, which were magical. She's left behind a legacy that will most certainly live on, and continue to inspire the hidden chefs in all of us.