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Saturday, January 29, 2011

* THE RESTAURANT/CELEBRITY COOKBOOK... one of the hottest trends in cookbooks.
Actually, they've been around for many years, but never in such
proliferation. They are automatic sellers, since the book can be
flogged at the restaurant or TV show and since the chef ends up being a
celebrity somewhere, doing guest cooking or catering or even turning up
on the Food Network. Most of these books will certainly appeal to fans
of the chef and/or the restaurant and/or the media personality. Many of
the recipes in these books actually come off the menus of the
restaurants involved. Occasionally, there will be, in these books,
special notes or preps, or recipes for items no longer on the menu.
Stories or anecdotes will be related to the history of a dish. But
because most of these books are American, they use only US volume
measurements for the ingredients; sometimes there is a table of metric
equivalents, but more often there is not. I'll try to point this out.
The usual shtick is "favourite recipes made easy for everyday cooks".
There is also PR copy on "demystifying ethnic ingredients". PR bumpf
also includes much use of the magic phrase "mouth-watering recipes" as
if that is what it takes to sell such a book. I keep hearing from
readers, users, and other food writers that some restaurant recipes
(not necessarily from these books) don't seem to work, but how could
that be? They all claim to be kitchen tested for the home, and many
books identify the food researcher by name. Most books are loaded with
tips, techniques, and advice, as well as gregarious stories about life
in the restaurant world. Photos abound, usually of the chef bounding
about. The celebrity books, with well-known chefs or entertainers, seem
to have too much self-involvement and ego. And, of course, there are a
lot of food shots, verging on gastroporn. The endorsements are from
other celebrities in a magnificent case of logrolling. If resources are
cited, they are usually American mail order firms, with websites. Some
companies, though, will ship around the world, so don't ignore them
altogether. Here's a rundown on the latest crop of such books –
7. MY SWEET MEXICO; recipes for authentic pastries, breads, candies,
beverages, and frozen treats (Ten Speed Press, 2010, 217 pages, ISBN
978-1-58008-994-4, $30 US hard covers) is by pastry chef Fany Gerson, a
CIA grad who has worked in many Spanish and Mexican restos. She now
splits her time between NYC and Mexico; she also runs This cookbook, with log rolling from Bayless and
others, does give us a unique contribution in that it is solely devoted
to the desserts side of Mexican cuisine. It is part memoir as well as
culinary cultural history. She begins with bebidas (beverages), moving
on to sweets put together by nuns, and then to corn, heirloom sweets,
morning sweet breads, fruit, desserts, and frozen foods. There is also
a section on modern Mexico, with piloncillo-roasted pears with cheese
pastry, a passion fruit mexcal trifle, mango bread puddings with
tamarind sauce, an upside-down plantain cake, and a cheesecake with
spiced quince. Many indigenous ingredients are used, such as sweet
maguey plants, mesquite, honeys, and cacao. There's an all-US sources
list plus a bibliography. Preparations have their ingredients listed in
avoirdupois measurements, but there are metrics table of equivalents. A
very prominent contribution to culinary literature. Quality/Price
rating: 90.

8. THE OCEAN WISE COOKBOOK; seafood recipes that are good for the
planet (Whitecap, 2010, 322 pages, ISBN 978-1-77050-016-7, $34.95
Canadian paper covers) is a collection of preps from chefs and
restaurants from across Canada, although most of them are from the West
Coast. It's an accessible guide to sustainable seafood and freshwater
fish, which the index indicates ranges from abalone to yellow perch.
Some rarities include jellyfish, geoduck, and sea urchin. Jane Mundy, a
professional cook and writer, did the editorial work. Ocean Wise is a
nationwide conservation program created by the Vancouver Aquarium to
educate restaurants and consumers about the issues surrounding
sustainable seafood: it has over 200 members. 139 recipes feature about
45 types of seafood – and each prep is sourced as to chef. Preparations
have their ingredients listed in both metric and avoirdupois
measurements, but there is no table of equivalents. After a discussion
on sustainability, farmed versus wild, fresh versus frozen, and storage
for fish, the preps are listed in course order from apps to mains, with
chapters on "one-pots" and canned foods. But this is not all fin; some
fur is involved with an octopus and sausage prep, and a mussels and
sausage recipe. Try fish cakes with wasabi pea puree and wilted pea
shoot salad, or sake-marinated barramundi with ginger, or prosciutto
and rosemary-wrapped halibut, or coconut scallop bisque with prawns. A
very worthwhile book. Quality/price rating: 89.

9. THE GEOMETRY OF PASTA (Quirk Books, 2010; distr. Raincoast, 288
pages, ISBN 978-1-59474-495-2, $24.95 US hard covers) is by Jacob
Kenedy, co-owner of Bocca di Lupo in London, voted a best restaurant by
Time Out and the Evening Standard. Caz Hildebrand is well known as the
designer of best-selling cookbooks. Log rolling includes Nigella
Lawson. Their book pairs over 100 recipes from Kenedy with Hildebrand's
black-and-white designs. Kenedy describes each pasta shape (wheels,
tubes, fantasy, twists, folds, grooves) and then prepares some sauces
for them. He begins with agnolotti, which are raviolis made from one
piece of pasta folded in half. There's a dimensions panel, a list of
synonyms, and how the pasta was used historically. Then he tells how to
make it, and gives recipes for sauces. Here, he has a walnut sauce, but
one can also use a butter and sage sauce, do an "in brodo" or go with a
tomato sauce. And, of course, there's a nice silhouette pattern by
Hildebrand, which I assume some enterprising business will turn into a
patterned fabric. He ends with ziti, also known as candele, which can
be used in a timballo and in ziti lardati (both recipes given). Other
variations would include using ziti with ricotta and tomato, with a
Napoli ragu, with lentils, al forno, or even a arrabbiata sauce.
There's an index of sauces, in both Italian and English. Preparations
have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there is
no metric table of equivalents. This is a very useful reference book,
to both cooks and chefs alike. Quality/price rating: 89.

10. BAREFOOT CONTESSA, how easy is that (Clarkson Potter, 2010, 256
pages, ISBN 978-0-307-23876-4, $35 US hard covers) is by Ina Garten,
who has written six other cookbooks and hosts "Barefoot Contessa" on
Food Network plus writes a monthly column. It neatly continues the
parade of easy cooking books that promise quick and flavourful meals at
a low cost. This particular book is being promoted as "her easiest
recipes ever". It helps to have a mise en place, sharp knives, proper
equipment, and a cocktail before starting. Preparations have their
ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there is no metric
table of equivalents. The arrangement is by course, beginning with
starters, lunch, dinner, veggies, and dessert. There's about 100
recipes here, with variations. Simple preps include roasted figs and
prosciutto, chipotle and rosemary roasted nuts, beef barley soup,
herbed ricotta bruschettas, Greek panzanella, tuna and hummus
sandwiches, bangers and mustard mash. Nice large type with plenty of
leading so there are no excuses for home cook errors. Quality/price
rating: 84.
11. IN A PINCH; effortless cooking for today's gourmet (Whitecap, 2010,
204 pages, ISBN 978-1-77050-026-6, $29.95 paper covers) is by Caren
McSherry, owner of Vancouver's Gourmet Warehouse. She also appears on
Global TV every Saturday. The book promises that she "will show you how
to make a five-star meal in no time flat", which is an honourable
intention but only if you follow through on it. Log rolling comes from
fellow west-coasters such as John Bishop and Vikram Vij. So this
collection of gourmet secrets and shortcuts relies on planning, a mise
en place, and a pantry. Not to mention a cool demeanor. There's also
the matter of proper equipment and proper plates. The arrangement is by
course, apps to desserts, with a collection of resources from around
the world. Her pantry has 10 "must-have" ingredients; he kitchen has 11
utensils "I can't live without". Preparations have their ingredients
listed in both metric and avoirdupois measurements, but there is no
table of equivalents. Typical recipes include fresh fig and chevre
rolls, quick bouillabaisse [west coast], Reggiano cheese sticks,
zabaglione, BBQ duck pizza, chocolate coconut cups. Quality/price
rating: 85.
and behind-the-scenes stories from America's hottest chefs (Clarkson
Potter, 2010, 256 pages, ISBN 978-0-307-46016-5, $35 US hard covers)
has been collated by Lee Brian Schrager (founder of the festival) with
food writer and editor Julie Mautner. For one long weekend each year,
hot chefs drop in on South Beach to work one of the world's largest
kitchens. This cookbook features 100 recipes and stories about
celebrity chefs such as Bobby Flay, Paula Deen (double chocolate gooey
butter cake), Mario Batali, Rachael Ray (Cubano burger with mango
salsa), Martha Stewart (lobster roll), Alice Waters (grapefruit and
avocado salad), Rick Bayless (brava steak), Nigella Lawson (caramel
croissant pudding), and others. It's been a leading "meet and greet"
fundraiser function for a decade, and this book celebrates ten years
worth of preps (about ten recipes per year). Preparations have their
ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there is no metric
table of equivalents. And with an easy to read layout. Quality/Price
rating: 84.

13. THE VEGAN GIRL'S GUIDE TO LIFE; cruelty-free crafts, recipes,
beauty secrets and more (Skyhorse Publishing, 2010; distr. T. Allen,
224 pages, ISBN 978-1-61608-092-1 $21.50 CAD soft covers) is by
Melisser Elliott, founder of Sugar Beat Sweets Bakery, San Francisco's
first vegan bakery. She has also been featured in just about every
vegan lifestyle publication, as well as television. Here she gives us
the basics of vegan lifestyle, which includes clothes and cosmetics.
There are also recipes for foods as well as instructions for making
your own clothes. Preparations have their ingredients listed in
avoirdupois measurements, but there is no metric table of equivalents.
Try banana bread French toast, two-bean confetti hash, apple sage rice
stuffed acorn squash, almond-lime cake, purple cow cupcakes. The book
lacks an index, which I calculate to be a serious defect in the
retrieval of information. Otherwise, it is pretty nifty, with an
excellent chapter on transitioning to vegan. Quality/price rating: 80.

14. NEW ORLEANS KITCHENS; recipes from the Big Easy's best restaurants
(Gibbs Smith, 2010, 216 pages, ISBN 978-1-4236-1001-4, $30 US hard
covers) has been pulled together by Stacey Meyer (CIA grad now working
with Emeril Lagasse) and Troy Gilbert (free lance writer). It's a basic
New Orleans cookbook augmented not by photos of plated dishes but by
photos of themed Louisiana work from local artists. It's a lot like an
earlier series showcasing Santa Fe art and food. There are a few short
notes on New Orleans galleries and New Orleans food and chefs. Each
prep comes with a source, such as the white truffle bean dip from Tom
Wolfe of Peristyle, or smoked duck breast pain perdu with Fontina
cheese and cane syrup from Greg Poole of The Bistro at the Maison de
Ville, or shrimp remoulade from Brian Landry, executive chef of
Galatoire's. Another 25 recipes come from Stacey and/or her mother,
Mary Ann Meyer. Chefs, restaurants, museums, galleries, and artists are
also cited in the resources section, with addresses and websites and
phone numbers. Preparations have their ingredients listed in
avoirdupois measurements, but there is a metric table of equivalents.
Great photos of local art and a well-designed large typeface layout
completes the picture. Oh, yes: the recipes also include the basic po'
boys, jambalaya, gumbo, etouffee, and oysters. Quality/price rating:
15. SWALLOW THIS; the progressive approach to wine (20 Sips LLC, 2009;
distr. McArthur, 2010, 342 pages, ISBN 978-0-615-30209-6 $24.95 CAD
soft covers) is by celebrity television star wine taster Mark Phillips,
who had a PBS show (now on DVD) about wine tasting. In addition to this
book, he also has audio books and DVDs on how to taste. The Progressive
Approach is entertaining, although some wine people cringe. Yes, he
says that there is a time to microwave wine. Yes, he tells you which
wine is best for wild sex (but because he didn't do an index, you
cannot find out which wine goes with pussy unless you read it from
cover to cover). Yes, there is a time to freeze wine. No, don't buy any
expensive wines. But you can tell what wine tastes like before opening
it. No, different shapes of glasses will alter wines but one shape
seems to be best above all (he has done the research and sells the
glasses). So: No, you don't need a collection of different shapes
(waste of money). Wine ratings are silly. Describing wine is for geeks.
And on and on. As he pointedly says, "Wine just adds an emotional
component, a pure sensual aspect to whatever you're doing. It is a
bonding beverage." Just don't overdo it, for alcohol kills. This is a
good bedtime read, to relax. BUT IT DOES NEED AN INDEX. Quality/price
rating: 82, probably up to 88 with an index.

16. FLOUR; spectacular recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery + Café
(Chronicle Books, 2010, 320 pages, ISBN 978-0-8118-6944-7, $35 US hard
covers) is by owner Joanne Chang. She's also a food writer. Christie
Matheson is the focusing food editor. It's a basic book that can be
scooped up by her fans in the Boston area, or tourists who have visited
her place and want to replicate her foods in their own homes. There are
breakfast treats, cookies, cakes, pies, tarts, and breads – each with
its own chapter. The book opens with basic primer material plus her top
12 baking tips. These are so self-evident that they bear repeating
until they are drummed into everybody's head: preheat the oven, "mise"
everything, read the recipe, weigh your ingredients, toast your nuts,
roll out properly, make ahead, bake dough all the way through, and
others. Preparations have their ingredients listed in both metric and
avoirdupois measurements, but there is also a table of equivalents. One
discouraging note: I found the typeface too faint. Try buttermilk
biscuits, berry bread pudding, plum clafoutis, hazelnut-vanilla ice
milk, or the dacquoise. Quality/Price rating: 87.
Books, 2010; distr. T. Allen, 234 pages, ISBN 978-1-57965-415-3, $24.95
US hard covers) is by Frankie Falcinelli, Frank Castronovo and Peter
Meehan. The two Franks are co-chefs at Frankies Spuntino in New York
since it opened in 2004; spuntino means a casual Italian eatery. Log
rolling comes from Mario Batali, Paul Bocuse, and director Spike Jonze.
It is a good time, good feel book, with plenty of mozzarella and tomato
sauce. Italian cooking as we all used to know it. And there is lots of
memoir-type material here, with stories and photos of their lives and
the resto. It actually seems perfect as a guy's book since most of the
recipes are uncomplicated and reflective of grandmothers. Arrangement
is by course (antipasto to dolce). The appendices feature menus for
entertaining, pairing wines, cheeses, and how to fillet a sardine
(always useful). Preparations have their ingredients listed in
avoirdupois measurements, but there is no metric table of equivalents.
Try puntarelle with lemons, capers, anchovies, and pecorino romano. Or,
a sardine and blood orange salad, gnocchi marinara with fresh ricotta,
or linguine cacao e pepe. Quality/Price rating: 83.

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