...is 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 –
12.ANNE BYRN SAVES THE DAY! COOKBOOK (Workman Publishing, 2014, 360 pages, ISBN 978-0-7611-7610-7, $18.965 US paper covers) is by, well, Anne Byrn, an extremely popular writer on food with a Doctor series and extensive TV promotion. Here are 125 "guaranteed-to-please" go-to recipes to rescue any occasion. These are also her top picks for food anytime and anywhere, such as bacon and cheddar torte, stuffed peppers, shrimp and cheese grits, sweet and sour brisket. They can all be done in about a half an hour or so. But of course they only work if you have the ingredients at hand. Shrimp and grits may be hard to come by in Canadian homes, but they are standard in Nashville where she lives. All courses are covered, and it is loaded with tips. Preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there are conversion tables. Quality/price rating: 85.
13.THE NORTH AMERICAN WHISKEY GUIDE FROM BEHIND THE BAR (Page Street, 2014, 192 pages, ISBN 978-1-62414-076-1, $21.99 US hard covers) is by Chad Berkey and Jeremy LeBlanc. Berkey is head bartender at Aero Club Bar in San Diego (with over 900 different whiskies); Jeremy LeBlanc bartends at Parq in San Diego, and has authored Best Craft Cocktails. The brown spirits category has soared lately, and this is but one of the latest score of books on whiskies. Here are 250 reviews of American and Canadian whiskeys from real bartenders, and provides expert guidance. There are also 30 cocktail recipes. Covered are bourbons, ryes, American malts, Canadian and Tennessee whiskey, blends, and cigar pairing. Each has a descriptive summary, a fun fact, directory type data (variety/style/barrel-type/age/origin/ABV/price), and some related bottles to enjoy. There is also a bottle photo shot and some comments from local bartenders. The type size is very tiny, so a lot is packed in. Not for reading in a dimly lit bar...Cocktails have their ingredients listed in both metric and avoirdupois measurements. Quality/price rating: 88.
14.TAMALES (Ten Speed Press, 2014, 139 pages, ISBN 978-1-60774-596-9, $18.99 US hard covers) is by Alice Guadalupe Tapp, co-owner of Tamara's Tamales in Los Angeles (Marina del Rey area). They have been in business for about two decades, and always feature some 30 different kinds of tamales, In 2002 she authored Tamales 101. The current batch here are from her restaurant, and are arranged by shape or course: inside-out tamales, meat tamales, nose-to-tail tamales, vegetarian and vegan tamales, and dessert tamales. So long as you stick with masa then the tamale will be gluten-free (just watch out for outside thickeners). She opens with a huge section on sauces and salsas, followed by tamale wrapping styles in the assembly (all illustrated with line drawings). Try her tuna inside-out tamale or the ratatouille inside-out. The nose-to-tail section includes beef cheeks, pork blood tamales, bone marrow, pigtail, lamb head, tongue – a generous selection of the more offal cuts. Preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there are conversion tables. Quality/price rating: 89.
15.IKARIA (Rodale, 2014, 306 pages, ISBN 978-1-62336-295-9, $35 US hard covers) is by Diane Kochilas, an NYC chef (Molyvos) with a TV cooking show, a cooking school on Ikaria, and an IACP award winning cookbook author of some 18 titles. Ikaria is an island where longevity rules. Her book is part cookbook, part travelogue, with photos, preps, interviews with locals, and reasons why people live so long (there's a 101-year-old weaver who cooks combinations of herbs). Kocilas covers breads, savoury pies, bean dishes, and seafood (which is remarkable). Arrangement is by course (mezedes, salads, soups, savoury pies, veggies, legumes, pasta/rice, seafood, some meat, and desserts. She's also got a resources list and a bibliography. Preparations have their ingredients listed mostly in avoirdupois measurements, but there are tables of metric equivalents. Quality/price rating: 88.
16.INSIDE THE TEST KITCHEN (Clarkson Potter, 2014, 256 pages, ISBN 978-0-385-34455-5, $35 US hard covers) is by Tyler Florence, a Food Network chef, author of twelve books, product designer, and the chef-owner of Wayfare Tavern in San Francisco and El Paseo in Mill Valley, California. He also produces wines, and will open the Tyler Florence Test Kitchen, a culinary laboratory, think tank, and event space, in late 2014. This book is part of that Test Kitchen experience. He has 120 recipes which he claims are "perfected" – but first he gives us the testing portion for each prep. His chapters include BBQ, meatloaf, fresh cheeses, chicken, eggs, baking mixes, pasta, pork chops, pork carnitas tacos, potatoes. risotto and veggies. For each he starts with the process and the basics, and then discusses the "failures" or the wannabes he creates. He's pushing the envelope here, with onion rings and French fries, a stretchy cheese for mac and cheese, and new tricks for everything. There are a lot of photos with handwritten notes (which also intermittently appear as pop ups). A good book for the millennials since it attracts ADHD. This could be a fun book. Preparations have their ingredients listed in American avoirdupois measurements, but there is no table of metric equivalents. Quality/price rating: 87.
17.PRUNE (Random House, 2014, 568 pages, ISBN 978-0-8129-9409-4, $45 US hard covers) is by Gabrielle Hamilton, chef-owner of Prune in NYC and author of Blood, Bones and Butter. She's a Beard Award winner and a major food writer. The book is a history of her restaurant since it opened in 1999, beginning with the first prep (canned sardines with triscuits) in her first chapter (bar snacks). Other chapters cover small plates at dinner, mains, vegetable sides, desserts, lunches, brunches, cocktails and family meals. The book also comes complete with more photographs than you could ever think possible, driving up the weight. She's got pop up written comments everywhere, plus hand-written recipe titles. Generous typeface size and white space plus leading adds to its appeal for those older folks who can lift the book. Otherwise, a cookbook stand is needed. She concludes with a forbidden list of foods for family meals (mostly because of the expense), and an employee manifest going back to 1999. Preparations have their ingredients listed in American avoirdupois measurements, but there is no table of metric equivalents. Quality/price rating: 87.
18.THE MEAT HOOK MEAT BOOK (Artisan, 2014, 312 pages, ISBN 978-1-57965-527-3, $37.50 US hard covers) is by Tom Mylan, executive chef and co-owner of The Meat Hook (2009) in Brooklyn. He concentrates on sustainable local meats. His book is a good guide to naturally grown meat, a cookbook, an instruction manual, and a butchering handbook. The least expensive form of meat acquisition is to buy large unbutchered pieces of meat from a local farm or butcher shop. You don't need to buy a side, and you can start with small animals such as lamb (as we do). You get the meat you want, and with a few simple cuts you can break down some elements into stew, ground, chops, small roasts, etc. We usually get one lamb a year, quartered, and then break it down ourselves. The same with chicken. Mylan has about 67 recipes arranged by animal beginning with beef (first hundred pages), then pork, lamb, sausage, chicken, turkey, duck, and rabbit. His primer deals with cooking styles (grill, roast, braise, smoke, fry, sous-vide) plus bones and fat. He's even got a section on pasture breeds for beef, lamb, and pigs, followed by a resources list for further reading and supplies. Try cumin lamb stir-fry, lamb belly pancetta, meat hook chili, or scrapple. Lots of instructional photos and drawings of techniques makes this book a worthwhile purchase for the meat eater. Preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there is no table of metric equivalents. Quality/price rating: 88.
19.BAR TARTINE (Chronicle Books, 2014, 368 pages, ISBN 978-1-4521-2646-3, $40 US hard covers) is by Nicolaus Balla and Cortney Burns, co-chefs of the eponymous restaurant that is a sister to Tartine Bakery. It is a record of their restaurant involvement from their arrival in mid-February 2011 through February 2014 when they turned in the manuscript after three years. So it has everything in it: experiments, frustrations, memoir stories, successes, and recipes. Part one is devoted to techniques in how they do things: drying assorted herbs, alliums, peppers, spice mixes, fruits and meats; dairy; sprouting and soaking; oils and animal fats; vinegars,; pickles and preserves; syrups and beverages; and stocks. Part two are the preps, arranged by soups, salads, mains, and sweets. Gorgeous photos, large typeface, and sufficient white space for reading and viewing. Preparations have their ingredients listed in both metric and avoirdupois measurements, but there is no table of equivalents. Quality/price rating: 89.
20.THE PIZZA BIBLE (Ten Speed Press, 2014, 312 pages, ISBN 978-1-60774-605-8, $29.99 US hard covers) is by Tony Gemignani, chef-owner of seven restaurants, mainly in San Francisco. He's been making pizza for over two decades, and is 11-time World Pizza Champ. He's assisted here by Susie Heller and Steve Siegelman. He describes the book as a collection of the world's fave pizza styles, from Neapolitasn, deep-dish, wood-fired, Sicilian, calzones and focaccia to New York, New Haven, Detroit – and more! There's almost 100 recipes here, divided by region or style. First up is regional American (Chicago, Sicilian, California, Napoletana) followed by regional Italian (Lucca, Rimini, Calabrese, and others) and pizzas found in Barcelona, Munich, Dublin, Paris and Greece. There's a separate chapter on grilled pizza, another on wrapped and rolled, and then focaccia and bread. He's got baker's percentages charts and conversion charts: everything here is scaled. Preparations have their ingredients listed in both metric and avoirdupois measurements. Try his version of the New York-New Jersey tomato sauce, Italian beef, guanciale and quail egg, or margherita extra. Quality/price rating: 89.
21.IT AIN'T SAUCE, IT'S GRAVY (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014, 178 pages, ISBN 978-0-385-34989-5, $27.95 US hard covers) is by Steve Martorano, a real celebrity – he owns five Cafe Martoranos in Florida, Las Vegas, and Atlantic City, he owns a wine label, a line of pasta sauces, and a line of clothing. He even had a TV show. His log rollers (at least 10) include actors and NFL quarterbacks. He began by selling sandwiches made in his mother's basement. It is a book with preps about macaroni, home-style cheesesteaks, meatballs, and "how food saved my life". Michael Rubino is the focusing food writer. The 78 preps come from the restaurant, and include arugula watermelon salad, grilled octopus, stuffed hot peppers, bucatini carbonara, and pork chop martorano. A good read, and nicely laid out with large typeface and white space. Preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there is no table of metric equivalents. Quality/price rating: 87.