What is American cooking? According to James Beard's foreword, it is simply ""something with which we grew up."" Nelson, who grew up on a South Dakota ranch, adds that the ""keynote is simplicity, good basic ingredients properly cooked without any unnecessary seasonings or sauces."" Beyond that, ""this is a book of the food I love to cook."" It's a hefty collection and includes a number of Italian dishes, some of them only recently popular in America, plus such long-standard imports as beef stroganov and quiche Lorraine--as well as the traditionally American pumpkin soup, New York Steak with mushrooms, chicken pot pie (""don't use leftover chicken; you'll ruin the dish""), deviled crab (""This has to be my most favorite dish""), Vermont baked beans with maple syrup, several fruit cobblers, and many corn breads. (""If I were told that I could only have one staple food from now on, I would choose cornmeal without a second thought."") For the most part, Nelson shuns the new, light style and gives us lots of beef and lamb (the latter ""heresy"" to his cattle-rancher forebears), as well as lots of seafood. He also tends to do more to his vegetables than we've become accustomed to, but what he does is usually superb: consider the grated carrot pudding, carrots and leeks Vichy, cauliflower mousse with Mornay sauce, puree of chick peas. . .and that's only a sampling from the c's. You may question his concept of curry (a standard mixture to keep on hand, though he'd have you mix your own), his fondness for catsup, and a few other retrograde whims; but you'll never doubt that these are the foods Nelson loves to cook--and that his enthusiasm is grounded in sound good taste. You can also rely on him to take care that you will get the same gratifying results.