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Friday, December 19, 2014

My annual Holiday Cookbook/Winebook Gift article -- part three -- stocking stuffers

Stocking stuffers are at the top of everybody's gift list: something affordable from under $10
up to $25, and that can also double as a host gift, being something small and lightweight. Most of
the books here are paperbacks. And of course, they can stuff an adult stocking.
Typical for food are:
--PIMENTO CHEESE; THE COOKBOOK (St. Martin's Press, 2014, 138 pages, $24.99 CAN hard covers) is by Perre Coleman Magness. It has about 50 recipes covering pimento cheese, ranging from snacks to mains. Most are classic Southern US faves – they go ape over pimento cheeses in the Deep South. Try popovers, cheese waffles, pimento romesco, pimento shrimp.
--PICK A PICKLE (Clarkson Potter, 2014,  $17.95 CAN) is by Hugh Acheson, a Beard Award chef. It is a fun book of 50 recipes, a pullout shape of classics, contemporary spins, and whatever on pickles, condiments, relishes, and fermented foods.
--THE HEALTHY LUNCH BOX (Grub Street, 2014, 64 pages, $14 CAN soft covers)  is by Fiona Beckett, who's got some ideas for preparing a kid's school lunchbox so it could be high in fruit, veggies, and protein, but low in fat, sugar and salt. There's some practical tips and hints, as well as a Top Ten Themed series of lunchboxes for diets, budgets, ethical considerations, fussy eaters, and so forth.
--THE EASY KITCHEN: PASTA SAUCES (Ryland Peters & Small, 2014, 144 pages, $24.95 CAN soft covers)  has 65 preps and has the usual tomato-based sauces. But also included are cream sauces, herb and oil sauces,  and seafood sauces for extra excitement at the novice level.
--THE EASY KITCHEN: ASIAN FOOD (Ryland Peters & Small, 2014, 144 pages, $24.95 CAN soft covers) has a huge assortment of recipes – 110 for quick dishes such as satays, soups, noodles, pad Thai, bibimbap, spring rolls, and the usual items found in a quick service Oriental restaurant. .
--AMAZING FOOD HACKS (Clarkson Potter, 2014; distr. Random House Canada, 67 pages, ISBN 978-0-7704-3441-0, $19.99 US boards) is by Peggy Wang, founding editor of, which deals with celebrity-based lifestyle social media news. Here she gives us 75 easy tips, tricks and recipes to ramp up the flavours of foods – and in line with newtalk, she calls them "food hacks". To me, a food hack is actually cutting up a raw chicken or fish, spiraling through the bones. For her, pancakes are popular, as are Greek yogurt preps, breakfast pops, siracha popcorn, crunchy edamame, taco wontons, and more.
--THE DRUNKEN COOKBOOK (Clarkson Potter, 2014, 128 pages, $12 CAN hard covers) was originally published in the UK. It's by Milton Crawford, who has quick and easy cooking with food and wine pairing – without sharp or dangerous implements (e.g., no knives). The recipes are tailored to your level of tipsiness. It's available also as an ebook but I'm not sure how you can access it if you are drunk.
--MY DRUNKEN KITCHEN (Dog 'n' Bone, 2014, 128 pages, $20.95 CAN hard covers) is by British food writer Helen Graves; it is similar to THE DRUNKEN COOKBOOK (what is it with these Brits and drink?). Here are 45 recipes inspired by, including, and accompanied with a good shot of alcohol. Chapters cover all occasions which you are likely to imbibe, alone or with family or with guests. Most drinks are meant to sample as you cook. There is a section on using alcohol as an ingredient and stuff about hangovers.
--LAST SUPPERS (Dog 'n' Bone, 2014, 128 pages, $18.95 CAN paper) is a miscellany collection of last meals enjoyed by about 60 famous and notorious people before they died – death by misadventures, overdoses,  passing away in one's sleep, death row, etc. Includes Elvis, the Titanic, and other trivia stuff to surprise you. Look at Jimi Hendrix's tuna fish sandwich, or Mama Cass' ham sandwich. Even Elvis' peanut butter sandwich. Who would have thought that pop music stars had such plebeian tastes?  Good stocking stuffer.
Academia Barilla from Italy has launched a fun series of special die-cut cookbooks, and these make excellent stuffers or host gifts. Each is on a theme (e.g., PIZZA, CUPCAKES, JAMS & PRESERVES, BARBECUE) uniformly priced at $18.95, 128 pages with 50 easy recipes apiece, 7" x 9" in size. Everything is Italian-influenced, even the BBQ.
But the mother lode of small stuffers must be Ryland Peters & Small. All of their small gift
books are hard covers, usually line priced at $20.95 with 64 pages each. Some of the latest  include BAKING MASH-UP by UK cakemaker Victoria Glass emphasizes "chownies", "tiramuffins", "pretzants", "sneezecake" and other hybrids. There are 30 here that re-invent and merge cakes and bakes. CREAM PUFFS by Hannah Miles deals with the single product using flour, butter and eggs, plus other materials for the fillings. Classics include Gateau St. Honore, chocolate eclairs, coffee religieuse, choux pate, profiteroles, strudel – 25 recipes in all. GRILLED CHEESE by Laura Washburn covers meatballs and garlic and tomato sauce with fontina, and Philly cheese steak sandwich, among 28 recipes. PERFECTLY DRESSED SALAD  by Louise Pickford has a generous 55 recipes, and emphasizes herbs, oils, creamy, and fruit versatility. BURLESQUE BAKING by Charlotte White is mainly about decadent decorating for cakes and cookies; it has 25 recipes. FOR THE LOVE OF OATS by Amy Ruth Finegold has 30 preps for breakfasts, snacks, toasted treats and even drinks: hot, cold, raw and baked. GLUTEN-FREE HOLIDAY by Hannah Miles gives the celiac sufferers a chance to celebrate holidays. Party food here includes blinis for caviar and smoked salmon, salted caramel tarts, pecan chiffon pie, yule log, and what's needed for a gluten-free stuffing to accompany the big bird.
Other little books, for beverages, include those on wine and spirits:
First up, wine –
(both Ten Speed Press, 2010, 2014, 242 pages $23.99 CAN each paper covers) are by Tilar Mazzeo. There are about 70 or so wineries in each, mostly family run and off the beaten path. The latest edition has new wineries, restaurants and local attractions. There are maps and full colour photos. Both are arranged by AVA to make itinerary planning easy. Many of these wineries never export to Ontario, so if you want the wine, you've got to go there or try some bigger store in New York state. Not much in the way of tasting notes.
--INSTANT EXPERT: CHAMPAGNE (Princeton Architectural Press, 2014, 144 pages, $19.95 CAN paper covers) is a pocket sized handbook by Giles Fallowfield and W. Craig Cooper. It is all you basically need to know about Champagne, with a directory of the larger houses. It's got travel destinations, US bars serving lots of champagnes, cocktail recipes, and champagne pairing with food.
Next up, beer and cocktail books (many this year) --
--99 WAYS TO OPEN A BEER BOTTLE WITHOUT A BOTTLE OPENER (Chronicle Books, 2014, 104 pages, $11.95 CAN paper covers) is by Brett Stern who provides photos of techniques. Okay, you can use your belt buckle, video remote control, wheel chair, chain-link fence, ski binding, and others. The best one is to use a "vice" because it is actually "vise" misspelled. Each is rated as per difficulty, and there is an index by method.
--MAKING CRAFT BEER AT HOME (Shire Publications, 2014, 112 pages, $14.95 CAN paperback) is by Gretchen Schmidhausler, who has made small batch beer for the past two decades (she currently owns and brews at Little Dog Brewing Co. In New Jersey). It is fairly comprehensive, and provides background of ingredients and equipment for the step-by-step home-brew experience. It is extremely well-illustrated, with both contemporary and classic photos and adverts.
--THE ESSENTIAL BAR BOOK (Ten Speed Press, 2014, 327 pages, $23.99 CAN)  is by Jennifer Fiedler; it is an A-Z guide to spirits, cocktails and wine, with related drink recipes. There is an explanation for all kinds of drinks plus 115 preps. All of the preps are in photocopy-unfriendly white on dark blue. Still, with the Internet you can get a recipe and just read the prep she has in the too.
--THE BAR HOPPER HANDBOOK (Chronicle Books, 2014, 112 pages, $13.95 CAN) tells you how to scam a drink, score a date, and rule the night. It's by Ben Applebaum and Dan Disorbo. There are schemes for scoring free drinks (although I am not sure if these work in Canada), tips for becoming a karaokegod, toasts, and dance floor domination.
--COCKTAILS FOR BOOK LOVERS (Sourcebooks, 2014, 136 pages, $14.99 CAN hard back) is by Tessa Smith McGovern and is all about cocktails inspired by fave authors such as Bronte, Fitzgerald, O'Connor, Woolf, Dorothy Parker, Hemingway – 50 in all. Leading to 50 recipes and literary references.
--101 SHOTS (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014, 128 pages, $20.99 hard covers) is by Kim Haasarud. She's written other 101 drink books (Martinis, Margaritas, Tropical Drinks). Here it is all about shooters with various adjuncts, such as fresh  fruit purees, Guinness, Tabasco and smoked paprika, cider, and gelees.
--SHOTS & SHOOTERS (Dog 'n' Bone, 2014, 64 pages, $19.95 CAN paper covers) is by Michael Butt, and is quite similar to 101 SHOTS. But there are only 50 drinks here, including the classics, and there is an emphasis on the traditions of neat drinking and games, such as Shot Russian Roulette.
--COCKTAILS FOR THE HOLIDAYS (Chronicle Books, 2014, 120 pages,  $23.95 CAN) comes from Imbibe magazine. These are 50 festive drinks to celebrate the season, contributed by North American and Australian bartenders. For example, gin has a cranberry smash, a merry rose, and northern lights. Each has a pix, description, a source, tool list, glass size to use, and suggested garnish.
--THE OLD FASHIONED (Ten Speed Prerss, 2014, 168 pages, $21.99 CAN) is by Robert Simonson. It's the story of the world's first classic cocktail, with recipes and lore. He's got a history of a cocktail in 65 pages, and 50 recipes (indexed) in 90 pages. It is just a matter of whiskey, bitters, sugar and ice. But which brand? In what proportions? And with what garnishes? One for the Old Fashioned lover.
And for no alcohol, consider...
– MODERN TEA (Chronicle Books, 2014, 164 pages, $19.95US)  by LisaBoalt Richardson, a certified tea specialist. It is a basic book covering tea history, definitions, terroirs, types, shopping, storing, steeping, tasting, and health remedies. She's also got pairing with foods, cocktails, caffeine data, sustainability, and its relation to coffee.
--AFTERNOON TEA WITH BEA (Ryland Peters & Small, 2014, 64 pages, $9.95 CAN hard covers) comes from a 2011 book I mentioned a few years back. There are some 28 recipes for cookies, bars, scones, and cakes – all on the sweet side (no sandwiches or other savouries). Some notes on teas and coffees..and away you go for a tea party!
Annual calendars are always monster hits and are often appreciated, both the wall and the
desk type. The best of the desk are the "page-a-day" (PAD) calendars from Workman.  A
YEAR OF GOOD BEER 2015 (Workman, 2014, $16.99 CAN) has a combined Saturday and
Sunday page. Most of the beers appear as imports in Canada, but otherwise there are few
Canadian brews included. Lights, wheat, lagers, ales, porters, stouts, seasonal beers, and
lambrics – they're all here, 165 craft beers. Check out Brew Dog's The End of History at
55% ABV. Other material in this PAD includes beer festivals, beer facts, food and beer pairing, tasting notes, label lore, trivia, and vocabulary. There are also "must-try" beer recommendations. If you buy any of the PAD calendars, then you can go online to the website and pick up other, free stuff,
For wall calendars, there is THE OLD FARMER'S ALMANC 2015 RECIPES  CALENDAR (Yankee Publishing, 2014, $9.99 CAN plus HST) which gives one illustrated recipe a month this is easy and delicious. In this year we have purple cauliflower, figs, strawberries, honey whole wheat bread – all at the appropriate seasonal time of year.
And for other non-book items, there have been a whack of  cards and blanks this year. For the Home Brewer, there is, naturally, THE HOME BREWER'S LAB BOOK (Chronicle Books, 168 pages, $24.95 CAN), a guided journal with two pages devoted to each of your home brews, with check boxes, fill-in-the-blanks, and free space to detail everything  that factors into the final product (temperatures, ingredients, yeasts used, SG, storing, aging, tasting notes). It can be accompanied (as a separate purchase) by HOME BREWER'S LABELS (Chronicle Books, 40 pages, $16.95 CAN). The 160 stickers cover 40 or so bottles, and include space for the name, beer type, and date brewed. Or, since that works out to 40 cents a bottle (raising the per bottle price dramatically), you can photocopy the material and craft your own labels.
POCKET BEER GUIDE 2015 (Firefly Books, 2014, 320 pages, $19.95 CAN soft covers) organizes 3500 beers (500 more than the previous edition) by 65 countries. Canadian Stephen Beaumont and Tim Webb (UK)  are the authors, along with a team of international beer experts. Webb is a specialist in Belgian beers. This is a huge database of beers, and for the price, well worth acquiring.
Staying with non-alcoholic beverages, there is COFFEE NOTES (Chronicle Books, 2014, $12.95 CAN), a collection of cards and a coffee cup shaped note pad of 220 sheets for ideas or notes inspired by the caffeine hit. There's a CHOCOLATE TASTING KIT (Chronicle Books, 2014, $28.95 CAN) by Vancouver choco-blogger Eagranie Yuh which contains a 48 page booklet with profiles of flavours and people and types of chocolates,  tasting notepads (100 sheets), and 12 tasting flash cards of flavours, with an envelope for storage of chocolate wrappers (sorry, chocolate is not included). Or, for half the price, there is CHOCOLATE NOTEBOOK COLLECTION (Chronicle Books, 2014, $15 CAN) which collates three notebooks, one gridded, one lined, and one unlined, all with some chocolate information. Turning now to real food, there is FOOD GAZING (Chronicle Books, 2014, $19.95 CAN) a set of 20 notecards with envelopes (10 designs repeating 2 times). Each has a watercolour illustration reflecting the harvest (e.g., star fruit, artichoke, peach, pomegranate, etc.). This can be followed by DOUGHNOTES (Chronicle Books, 2014, $16.95), a set of 12 cards and glassine envelopes with address labels. The cards are in the shape of doughnuts. Others: CHEERS (Chronicle Books, 2014, $16.95) with 12 notecards of 6 designs (repeated twice) and envelopes and a sticker sheet. These are for invites, thank you notes, happy birthdays (but nothing serious); SAVOR & SEND (Chronicle Books, 2014, $16.95 CAN) has 12 recipe cards (4 designs) and envelopes for sharing fave recipes with friends and family; and CHEESE PAPERS (Chronicle Books, 2014, $19.95 CAN) a set of 18 sheets (3 designs of linen, dots, flowers) to wrap cheese for gifts. Sheets are 11 x 14 inches. There are also 44 closure stickers and labels.
And so on to the wine annuals. The two international leaders are HUGH JOHNSON'S
POCKET WINE BOOK 2015 (Mitchell Beazley, 2014, 336 pages, $18.99 CAD hard
bound) and OZ CLARKE'S POCKET WINE GUIDE 2015 (Pavilion, 2014, 368 pages,
$15.95 CAD hardbound). Both are guides to wines from all around the world, not just to
the "best" wines. Similarities: Johnson claims more than 6000 wines and growers are
listed, while Clarke says more than 7000 wines, but then recommends 4000 producers.
News, vintage charts and data, glossaries, best value wines, and what to drink now are in
both books. The major differences: Johnson has been at it longer – this is his 38th edition
(Clarke is celebrating his 24th anniversary) -- and has more respect from erudite readers
for his exactitude and scholarship. His book is arranged by region; Clarke's book is in
dictionary, A – Z form (about 1600 main entries). It is really six of one, or half a dozen of
another which one to use. This year, though, the Clarke book is a couple bucks cheaper.
Apparently, Amazon.Com reports that many people buy both, for about $20 US total.
Both books have notes on the 2013 vintage and some details about the potential of 2014, along
with a closer look at the 2012. It is fun to look at these and find out where they
diverge. Johnson and Oz are moving more into food: there is a 13 page
section on food and wine matching in the former, while Oz has 6 pages. Johnson also has
a listing of his personal 200 fave wines. Both books could profit from online accessibility
or a CD-ROM production. What I don't like about both books is that they come out too
early. Johnson was available September 2, while Clarke was released on October 28. I guess
this gets them off the hook about having to comment on the 2014 harvest and vintage
in the Northern hemisphere!
Other wine annuals deal with "recommended" wines, not all of
the wines in the world. They can afford the space for more in-depth tasting notes (TNs)
of what they actually do cover (usually just wines available in their local marketplace).
In the US, there is   WINE WINE GUIDE 2015 (American Express Publishing, 2014, 320 pages, $15.95 CAN paper covers) , now in its 17th edition. It comes, naturally, from Food & Wine magazine. They have 500 of the most reliable US wineries, and include recommended bottles from each of the producers. Other highlights include data about the major US wine regions, wine and food pairings, some wine-friendly food recipes, and strategies for buying the best bottle. There is also FOOD & WINE COCKTAILS 2014 (American Express Publishing, 2014, 224 pages, $18.95 CAN paper covers) which is the 10th edition. It is a guide to contemporary and classic cocktails. Here there are 150 recipes, arranged by spirit, with bar food suggestions and preps for tapas and small plates to do at home. Also covered are about 100 US bars and a barware guide.
In Canada, we have  THE 500 BEST-VALUE WINES IN THE LCBO 2015
(Whitecap, 2014, 256 pages, $19.95 CAN paper back) takes a run at the wines at the
LCBO. This seventh edition by Rod Phillips (wine writer for the Ottawa Citizen) has wines
arranged by wine colour and then by region/country with price and CSPC number. Each
value wine gets a rating (the basic is now 3.5  stars out of five; there have not been any 3 star wines since 2011), and there is an indication of food pairings. A good guidebook, but I'm afraid most people will just look through it for the 5 star selections and leave it at that. Turnover in Ontario occurs regularly as quotas are unmet or prices rise or the producer decides it is time for a change; there are over 100 new entries this year, which is about a third of the book. Coverage is limited to LCBO General Purchase wines and LCBO Vintages Essentials, the wines that are available (if only by
special internal order) in every LCBO store. Phillips has also included the
LCBO perceived sweetness notations rather than the older Sugar Codes. HAD A GLASS
2015; top 100 wines under $20 (Appetite by Random House, 2014, 179 pages, $19.95
CAN paper covers) is by James Nevison, the co-author of Have a Glass; a modern guide
to wine. He reports regularly at Had a Glass showcases top
inexpensive wines available with national distribution. He tries to pick wines available to
match any occasion, and along the way he provides tips on food and wine pairing and
stemware. The first forty pages present all the basics. I am not sure why the basics are
here since the book is really about the top 100 wines. Most readers/buyers will head
straight for the listings which follow, one per page, for whites, roses, reds, aperitifs,
dessert wines and sparklers. New this year is a section on cocktails which use wines. Also new  is material on cask and boxed wines, not many of which are available in Canada (why waste space on these?). In view of rising prices, he also covers some "splurge"
wines. For Ontario, this is just at the very time that the LCBO is concentrating on the $15
to $19.95 spread. There are indexes by countries and by wine/variety. Tasting notes are
pretty bare bones, but each wine does have a label, description of the product, a price, and
some food matches.


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