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Sunday, February 24, 2013

* 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 –

11. COOKING ITALIAN WITH THE CAKE BOSS; family favorites as
only Buddy can serve them up (Free Press, 2012; distr.
Simon & Schuster, 365 pages, ISBN 978-1-4516-7430-9, $30 US
hard covers) is by Buddy Valastro, celebrity chef on a TLC
TV series. His family owns Carlo's Bake Shop. These are his
family's fave preps, along with some memoirish material
about the food's history. Here are 100 recipes in the
Italian-Americano mode. Valastro is better known for his
baking, but at home he works with his family's recipes. So
we have the traditional from his grandmother, such as pasta
carbonara and eggplant parmesan, and some modern
contemporary dishes. There are indications of prep times
and cooking times. All courses are presented, from apps
through desserts, with salads, soups, pizzas, pasta, mains
and sides. There is even a chapter on Italian pantry
basics. Preparations have their ingredients listed in
avoirdupois measurements, but there is no table of metric
Quality/price rating: 84.
12. COOKING WITH LOVE; comfort food that hugs you (Free
Press, 2012; distr. Simon & Schuster, 311 pages, ISBN 978-
1-4516-6219-1, $30 US hard covers) is by Carla Hall, a co-
host on ABC and Bravo's cooking shows. She also runs an
artisanal cookie company in Washington, D.C. Here she is
assisted by Genevieve Ko a food writer and food editor.
This book has 100 preps in the comfort food mode, and
ranges from apps to desserts. Typical dishes are chicken
pot pie (with crust on the bottom), creamed chicken with
broccoli and mushrooms, southern fried catfish, beer-
braised pulled barbecue brisket, smashed herbed potatoes,
creamy mac and cheese – all the foods we grew up with.
Preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois
measurements, but there is no table of metric equivalents.
Quality/price rating: 84.

13. SECRETS OF THE BEST CHEFS; recipes, techniques, and
tricks from America's greatest cooks (Artisan,2012; distr.
T. Allen,386 pages, ISBN 978-1-57965-439-9, $27.95 US hard
covers) has been assembled by food blogger Adam Roberts who
also has hosted several shows for the Food Network plus
writing articles for online magazines. It comes with heavy
logrolling (Chang, Lee Brothers, Hesser, Lebovitz,
Andrews). It is a collection of preps from some US chefs
(the book was originally called "Great Chefs" but got
changed to "Best Chefs"…subtle). There are about three
recipes from each of 50: Alice Waters, Lidia Bastianich,
Sara Moulton, and Michael White – just to name a few. He's
got some basic stories about each of them, along with a
photo or two plus, of course, three recipes which he fine-
tuned for home kitchens. There's crostini with sugar snap
peas and radishes and anchovies, spinach calzone with
cheeses, scallop chowder, beet salad with pecans, chicken
liver mousse, and lentil soup with sausage. Eclectic, but
then that's what sells cookbooks. There's a resources list,
but do also look at his blog
Preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois
measurements, but there is no table of metric equivalents.
Quality/price rating: 88.
14. MY YEAR IN MEALS (Atria Books, 2012; distr. Simon &
Schuster, 310 pages, ISBN 978-1-4516-5972-6, $29.99 US hard
covers) is by Rachel Ray, TV celebrity chef and hostess.
She has more than 500 recipes for a year of cooking. It is
also a flip book with a smaller section by John Cusimano, a
musician and a producer with a flair for mixing drinks. His
part of the book (on the reverse) is only 57 pages long,
but covers 100 cocktail preps. The Gunga Din and Quince
Sling have been augmented by the Morning Glory Fizz,
Whiskey Rickey, and the Purple Plum. Ray's book is the more
compelling since many of her recipes are quite good and
unusual. There are ten smart tags to access digital
information such as videos on choosing seasonal
ingredients, Italy, holiday traditions, entertaining tips,
and some bonus recipes. The book itself is arranged by
month, from April to March (the fiscal year???). Dinners,
lunches, and breakfasts are laid out in a monthly calendar,
although there usually is only one or two meals a day
listed. The recipes have the ingredients highlighted in a
colour, which usually works as a standout until you get to
the pastel colours. Then it becomes hard to read. Try
dandelion greens with eggs and potatoes, mixed herb pesto
penne, chapata with manchego potatoes eggs and Serrano ham,
buffalo chicken meatballs, and lots of comfort food. But
will somebody please kill the references to EVOO? It's
evil. Preparations have their ingredients listed in
avoirdupois measurements, but there is no table of metric
equivalents. Quality/price rating: 85.
15. TACOS, TORTAS, AND TAMALES; flavors from the griddles,
pots and streetside kitchens of Mexico (John Wiley & Sons,
2012, 220 pages, ISBN 978-1-118-19020-3, $19.99 US hard
covers) is by Roberto Santibanez with J.J. Goode. The
former has written three Mexican food books, and currently
is the chef-owner of Fonda in New York City; the latter is
a professional writer and co-author of six cookbooks. They
show the variety of tacos in Mexico: fish tacos in Baja,
slow-cooked pork tacos in Yucatan, poblanos pepper tacos in
Mexico City. There are also Mexican sandwiches (torta) and
tamales. In addition, there are recipes for a variety of
mostly fresh salsas, fresh juices (aguas), margaritas and
desserts. The tortas chapter is really interesting: not
many Mexican cookbooks deal with tortas, but certainly they
are a viable street food component. Just not as exotic as
tacos or tamales. And of course, there are cold and hot
tortas, each with pronounced Mexican seasoning of some
kind. There are also many descriptions of food stands, with
photos, a glossary, and a list of websites to buy food not
locally available. Preparations have their ingredients listed in
avoirdupois measurements, but there is no table of metric equivalents.
Quality/price rating: 87.

16. THE BROWN BETTY COOKBOOK; modern vintage desserts and stories from
Philadelphia's best bakery (John Wiley & Sons, 2012, 192 pages, ISBN
978-1-118-14435-0, $22.99 US hardbound) is by Linda Hinton Brown and
Norrinda Brown Hayat. Linda grew up in a home where her mother, Betty,
regularly baked a collection of pies, cakes, and biscuits before church
on Sundays. Norrinda is Linda's daughter, and together they opened
Brown Betty Dessert Boutique in Philadelphia. There are only three
chapters here: pies, cakes and cookies. But liberally scattered
throughout are stories of home, making this a sort-of memoir cookbook
about home and the bakery. There are macadamia cookies, red velvet,
sour cream pound layer cake, sweet potato cake, rice pudding and s
strawberry letter. Preparations have their ingredients listed in
avoirdupois measurements, but there is no table of metric equivalents.
Quality/price rating: 87.

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