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Thursday, January 29, 2015

* 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 best 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 at home, but how could that be? The books 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 photo shots, verging on gastroporn. There are endorsements from other celebrities in magnificent cases 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.AT HOME IN THE WHOLE FOOD KITCHEN (Roost Books, 2014; distr. Random House Canada, 386 pages, ISBN 978-1-61180-085-2, $35 US hard covers) is by Amy Chaplin, once executive chef of the vegan Angelica Kitchen in NYC. She has also cheffed around the world and contributes frequently to all the leading magazines and to the Food Network. Here she's got some heavy duty logrolling from Deborah Madison and Natalie Portman (a client). She works from scratch, from a pantry, which is all explained in part one of over 120 pages. She's got basic recipes in this part of the book. The other preps are arranged by course, such as breakfast, soups, salads, snacks, meals, and desserts. This is followed by a short section on the benefits of tea, cleansing, and organics. She's got a resources list and bibliography at the finish. If you are a vegan, you can cook nearly every recipe. Some of the print is a tad too small for me, yet there is plenty of white space. Try eggplant curry with cardamom-infused basmati rice, roasted acorn and delicata  squash salad with wheat berries and bitter greens, pumpkin bread with toasted walnut cinnamon swirl, red lentil soup with spinach, or a black sesame flax dressing. Preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there is no table of metric equivalents. Quality/price rating: 87.
12.THE GREAT LOBSTER COOKBOOK (Appetite by Random House, 2014, 206 pages, ISBN 978-0-449-01628-2, $29.95 paper covers) is by Matt Dean Pettit, the owner of Rock Lobster Food Co., a restaurant and food company that deals almost exclusively with lobster. The firm started as a pop-up food truck, but now has several locations in downtown Toronto. Here he's got 100 or so simple but tempting recipes, including some dishes from other Toronto chefs (McEwan, Aprile, Gentile, Agostino, et al). All courses are covered, so you might want to try lobster eggs benny, lobster bacon hash, lobster cappucino bisque, tequila lime lobster taquitos, lobster lasagne – if you can cook it, you can also add lobster meat to it. And, of course, all parts of the lobster meat are used. Preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there is no table of metric equivalents. He's also got a primer for basic lobster data (glossary, anatomy, buying and storing, basic cooking). A lovely single ingredient cookbook. Quality/price rating: 88.
13.VANILLA (Ryland Peters & Small, 2014, 160 pages, ISBN 978-1-84975-566-5, $24.95 US hard covers) is by Janet Sawyer, founder of Little Pod, a vanilla company in the UK. Most of the preps use her vanilla paste as a source of vanilla, but she does share a recipe for making it yourself. The only question is the time involved: yours vs. the bottle. It's arranged by all forms of baking: cookies, cakes, puddings, creams, custards, brunches, confections, beverages, and some savouries as well. There is a winter salad, truffled sweetcorn chowder, butternut squash soup, eggnog, sikarni, and gluten-free chocolate muffins. Preparations have their ingredients listed in some metric and avoirdupois measurements, but there is no table of metric equivalents. Quality/price rating: 85.
14.THE CUBAN TABLE (St. Martin's Press, 2014, 324 pages, ISBN 978-1-250-03608-7, $35 US hard covers) is by Ana Sofia Pelaez, an award-winning food blogger (Hungry Sofia) personality who has appeared on television and writes for many online publications, such as Huffington Post. It comes with advanced log rolling by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Naomi Duguid and Julia Turshen. There are some nifty photos on location shot by Ellen Silverman. And as well there is also memoirish material (indexed, too). The arrangement is by course, from soups and stews through beans and rice, chicken, meats, fish, veggies, and desserts. Plus, of course, cocktails. There is material about the Cuban pantry and a glossary, as well as a resources list. You might want to try rabo encendido (fiery oxtail), black rice with squid, red beans and rice, moros y cristianos, or black-eyed pea fritters. There are lots to choose from here. Preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there is no table of metric equivalents. Quality/price rating: 87.
15.MAKE IT AHEAD (Clarkson Potter, 2014, 272 pages, ISBN 978-0-307-46488-0, $35 US hard covers) is by Ina Garten, who needs no introduction, but I'll do it anyway: Barefoot Contessa in the Kitchen. She's also a best selling author based on her TV show; this is her ninth book. It is, of course, all about making meals ahead. It is now apparently the number one question she is always asked. So this collection of preps is arranged by course, beginning with cocktails (both beverages and foods to have with them), and then moving to apps, lunch, dinner, veggies, dessert, and then breakfast (why so late in the sequence?). She's also got some make-ahead menus, but only 8 of them. She could use a few more, say a couple of dozen. If home cooks really want a lot of make ahead meals, then they will also want some menus so that they won't have to think. None of her menu items have page references, but there is a recipe index at the far back arranged by chapter heading. As with most American cookbooks, preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there is no table of metric equivalents. Try her dark chocolate terrine with orange sauce, asparagus and prosciutto bundles, peas and pancetta, ham and leek empanadas, or summer paella salad. Good spacing and large typeface fonts are winners with me. Quality/price rating: 85.
16.FLAVOR FLOURS (Artisan, 2014; distr. T. Allen, 368 pages, ISBN 978-1-57965-513-6, $35 US hard covers) is by renowned baker Alice Medrich who owned Chocolat in Berkeley. She doesn't need any log rolling, but gets it anyway, with such as David Lebovitz. With this book, gluten-free flours have gone mainstream. But these are the more flavoursome ones such as teff, buckwheat, and sorghum. She's got other whole and ancient grains, coconut flour, and nut flours. The 125 preps here are all gluten-free. The arrangement is by flour, beginning with rice, moving on to oat, corn, buckwheat, chestnut, teff, sorghum, nut and coconut. Each chapter opens with a primer on that type of flour. At the beginning of the book, she discusses waffles, pancakes and crepes as the ultimate platform that uses any kind of combo of flours. Toppings pf course can be regular, such as maple syrups, jams, whipped cream, fruits, etc. Hey, at our house, this alone can replace breakfast and even some lunches...Try some chocolate fudge cupcakes, buckwheat sponge cake, chestnut sponge cake with figs, peach crumble, nutty oat sables, carrot spice cake, and more. Preparations have their ingredients listed in both metric and avoirdupois measurements, and even include scaling. There are also tables of conversions and equivalents on the last page. Quality/price rating: 89.
17.CHOCOLATE AT HOME (Ryland Peters & Small, 2014, 176 pages, ISBN 978-1-84975-573-3, $27.95 US hard covers) is by the UK's Will Torrent, a multiple award-winning chef now a consultant pastry chef to Waitrose and others, specializing in chocolate. He wants you to try your hand at melting, tempering, and moulding chocolate truffles at home. He's got some 80 recipes, all illustrated, and with techniques to inspire the home cook. He opens with the primer and the basic steps, followed by chapters on truffles, cookies, desserts and puddings, ice creams, and even mixed items such as champagne truffles, Aztec hot chocolate, and other exotic sinfully rich items. Try pistachio stracciatella gelato, billionaire's shortbread, spiced white chocolate and blackcurrant crumble cake, and milk chocolate and cardamom sables. Preparations have their ingredients listed in both metric and avoirdupois measurements with scaling, but there is no table of equivalents. Quality/price rating: 87.
18.HAROLD DIETERLE'S KITCHEN NOTBOOK (Grand Central Life & Style, 2014, 382 pages, ISBN 978-1-4555-2863-9, $32 US hard covers) is by the co-owner of Perilla and Kin Shop in New York City. He was also the inaugural winner of the Top Chef TV series. He's got logrolling from Michael Symon, Michael White, and Jonathan Waxman. The influences in this book are eclectic: contemporary, Italian, Thai, and German. These are preps and notes from his Kitchen Notebook, arranged by course (salads, starters, soups, pasta and risotto, seafood, poultry, meats, desserts, with appendices of basic techniques and basic recipes followed by mail-order resources. There are about 100 different notebook subjects, ranging from artichokes to white beans, and including deep-fried eggs, duck fat, eggplant-basil combinations, lychees, jerk marinade, and other items. And of course there is also the recipe index itself. Do try the braised veal and polenta, roasted tilefish with sweetbreads, grilled branzino and spicy cumin lamb with water chestnuts, or the salted caramel apple crisp with dried cranberri4s, almond streusel and vanilla bean ice cream. He's a busy man. But like most American cookbooks, preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there is no table of metric equivalents. Quality/price rating: 88.
19.AMERICA – FARM TO TABLE (Grand Central Life & Style, 2014, 352 pages, ISBN 978-1-4555-8468-0, $35 US hard covers) is by Mario Batali, with Jim Webster (a newspaperman familiar with food). I half-expected some log rolling by Mario himself, but then – wait a minute – it is his own book!! Still, the publisher did manage to extract two paragraphs from his own signed Introduction. It is basically an information package, not a Batali cookbook. He and Webster had asked some chef friends across the US to tell them who their fave farmers were. These farmers shared their personal stories and products with them. It is a farm-to-table book, with Webster doing the digging with the chefs and the farmers and Batali doing the home recipes using the best ingredients. It does work rather well; there are 100 recipes here, arranged by appetizer, soups, salads, sandwiches, etc. through to desserts. There is a chef from each city who works with a farmer. Thus, from Austin Chef Bryce Gilmore works with Farmer Nathan Heath. There are seven preps here from Batali on the main ingredient of carrots and roots: carrot frittelle with feta cheese, beet salad with baby spinach and goat cheese, etc. And from Rockland Maine, the chef I am best familiar with is Chef Melissa Kelly from Primo Restaurant, and Farmer Jeff McKeen who does oysters. So there are eight oyster preps from Maine. Two questions: why is there nobody from Portland, the hotbed/cutting edge of American food? And why did Batali not do New York City for himself? I'm just curious. Other cities include Chicago, Las Vegas, Nashville, San Francisco – 14 in all. Preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there is no table of metric equivalents. Quality/price rating: 87.
20.MARCUS OFF DUTY (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014, 352 pages, ISBN 978-0-470-94058-7, $35 US hard covers) is by Marcus Samuelsson, the youngest chef ever to win two 3 stars from the NY Times, and five-time Beard Award winner, and now also a TV host along with the Red Rooster restaurant in Harlem. These are dishes that he makes at home for his wife, family and friends. It is an eclectic culinary mix of Ethiopian, Swedish, Mexican, Caribbean, Italian and Deep South soul. It is also largely casual food, with dill-spiced salmon and coconut-lime curried chicken. There are some children's dishes too. The book comes complete with log rolling from Anthony Bourdain, Zarela Martinez, and Jonathan Waxman. Along with music selections, this is a pretty good introduction to home cooking. Try habesha lamb chops with apple-mango chutney (Africa), androuille sausage with red shrimp and spicy grits, bourbon shrimp with baby spinach, parsnip soup with walnuts, or the marvelous three-shades-of-green vegetable broth. As with most American cookbooks, preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there is no table of metric equivalents. Quality/price rating: 89.

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