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COOKBOOK REVIEW

Same old chicken? No, better one.

Eggs, too, given some tasty variations

Author of “Chicken and Egg,’’ Janice Cole cooks the eggs from her own backyard birds. Author of “Chicken and Egg,’’ Janice Cole cooks the eggs from her own backyard birds.
By T. Susan Chang
Globe Correspondent / April 20, 2011

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My first ever cookbook was “365 Ways to Cook Chicken.’’ Since those days I have never lost my fondness for chicken cookbooks. And with the mania for backyard chicken farming only increasing from year to year, chicken memoirs and chicken cookbooks are headed for a resurgence.

In the case of former chef Janice Cole, the farming memoir and the cookbook come in one package. “Chicken and Egg’’ is not what you think, as she is quick to point out. She steadfastly vows not to eat her three pet birds, confining herself instead to their prized eggs.

But chickens were clearly eaten in abundance in the making of this book. The recipes rely heavily on standard parts, especially boneless breasts. Unlike other recent single-subject volumes in the meat department, this book is no beak-to-tail manifesto.

All of us have cooked dozens if not hundreds of chicken recipes, so it’s good to know that it is still possible to be pleasantly surprised by someone’s variations on familiar old themes. Roast chicken with crispy smashed potatoes is a case in point. It’s a fairly standard recipe (and slathering the outside of the chicken with butter works no better than it usually does). But halfway through the roasting, Cole calls for the chicken to be turned and the potatoes to be taken out, smashed, and re-buttered. The extra step makes a gilded, crusty accompaniment.

Crispy orange chicken with spring vegetables has every appearance of being a boring baked chicken breast recipe. But the orange zest-panko crust marries joyously with sauteed leeks, asparagus, and carrots. In the same way, sesame chicken with edamame-coconut rice appears at first glance to be a garden-variety, hoisin-flavored stir-fry. But the lingering aroma of the coconut rice infuses every bite with a Southeast Asian warmth and sweetness.

Tagliatelle with saffron chicken is oddly, but happily, reminiscent of a tikka masala — a Mediterranean one, with rosemary and parsley. And chicken couscous with pistachios, while earning no prizes in the originality department, has a winning combination of sharp, sweet, and salty elements.

Cole offers many ways around an egg, including a wide variety of breakfast variations which I skipped, since I already know a dozen ways to make morning eggs. If you need to warm yourself up for the cold weather’s last hurrah, try baked pasta carbonara, an old-fashioned casserole full of cheesy, bacony, eggy goodness that will have you averting your eyes from the scale for a week.

The author has a particular flair for egg desserts (especially those with chocolate), so we took one for the team and tested a couple. Double-yolk sour lemon bars are an extra-luscious version of the classic treat, while chocolate mousse bars have a particularly pleasing texture, halfway between cakey and fudgy, and ever so much lighter than a brownie.

Interspersed in “Chicken and Egg’’ are the adventures of Cole’s own birds Roxanne, Cleo, and Crazy Lulu, which makes this a charming book as well as a useful one. It’s always reassuring to hear that raising chickens is not all that hard. Yet after eating from this book for a week and never once having to hunt down a difficult ingredient, I found it reassuring to know that raising chickens is also, and probably always will be, strictly optional.

T. Susan Chang can be reached at admin@tsusanchang.com.

CHICKEN AND EGG: A Memoir of Suburban Homesteading With 125 Recipes By Janice Cole

Chronicle, 256 pp., $24.95