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Tuesday, January 8, 2008


...are 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 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. 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 schtick 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. But 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 -

15. DISH ENTERTAINS; everyday simple to special occasions
(HarperCollins, 2007, 247 pages, ISBN 978-0-00-200772-6, $44.95 hard
covers) is by Trish Magwood, owner of dish cooking school and Food
Network chef. It comes with an endorsement by Linda Haynes, cofounder
of ACE Bakery.
This is basic stylish entertaining, with no sit down dinners. There are
two categories - everyday simple weekday, and special occasions. The
emphasis here is a collection of passarounds or buffets. She has a
tapas and cocktail party (with guidelines for quantities) and a family-
style dinner gathering from serving platters. She passes along many
caterer's tips and tricks, as well as time saving techniques. The range
is from appetizers to desserts, and many preps have been on her "Party
Dish" TV show. The 115 recipes call for special equipment that you may
not need to use otherwise, but if you are in the catering game, then
they are essential. Her dishes include balsamic pesto chicken, mocha
tortoni mousse, smoked trout and avocado, and soup shooters. But one of
her photos of pancetta looks suspiciously like prosciutto, and there is
a consistent misspelling of "hors d'oeuvre" - it's not pluralized. But
there are both Imperial and metric measurements used in the ingredients
listings, a plus. Her website is which has
Magwood's schedule and a bevy of other recipes. Quality/Price Rating:

16. CRESCENT CITY COOKING; unforgettable recipes from Susan Spicer's
New Orleans (Knopf, 2007, 405 pages, ISBN 978-1-4000-4389-7, $44 hard
covers) is from Chef Spicer who owns two restos in New Orleans: Bayona
(in the French Quarter) and Herbsaint (on St.Charles). Paula Disbrowe,
a chef and a food writer, is the focusing co-author. Notable log
rollers include Lidia Bastianich ("dazzles the palate"), Mario Batali
("sense of place and tradition"), and Daniel Boulud ("exciting and
original recipes"). This is Southern cooking meets Creole/Cajun,
expressed through 175 recipes. Most dishes come from her restaurants.
There is a sources list for mail orders (all US) and an extensive
index, with initial letters highlighted in red. Typical dishes include
pickled shrimp, Bayou chicken wings (actually, frog legs), Mexican
green gazpacho with shellfish, crayfish pies, and gumbos. There are
also quite a few "international dishes" (e.g. pork sate, Asian noodle
salad, and the like) that seem a bit out of place in a New Orleans
book. At the end, there is a large cocktail section. The recipes are
printed on coloured paper, which makes it difficult to photocopy, and
sometimes to even read. The ingredients are expressed in US volume
measurements, but there are no tables of metric equivalents.
Quality/Price Rating: 84.

17. ASIAN FLAVORS OF JEAN-GEORGES (Broadway Books, 2007, 290 pages,
ISBN 978-0-7679-1273-0, $50 hard covers) is by Jean-Georges
Vongerichten, founder of eponymous establishments such as JoJo and
Vong, Jean-Georges, plus several others such as Spice Market, Rama (in
London), more in Shanghai and Las Vegas. He spends most of his time
developing recipes and overseeing his empire of 18 restaurants. For
this book, to have more Asian credibility, log rollers include Asian
chefs Nobu Matsuhisa (owner of restos Nobu and Matsuhisa, "ingenious
combinations") and Toronto's own Susur Lee (owner of Susur and Lee,
"unique and nuanced food palette of taste sensations"). Hmmm...There
must be something about these chefs who name restos after all of their
first, middle (if any), and last names! His book is pan-Asian, and
reflects the recipes at Vong, 66, and Spice Market (the latter deals
with Asiatic street food). The 175 recipes are arranged from apps to
desserts: cold sesame noodles, lobster summer rolls, ribbons of tuna
with ginger marinade, corn and crab soup, avocado and radish salad with
onion tempura, squab with egg noodle pancake. The ingredients are
expressed in US volume measurements, but there are no tables of metric
equivalents. Quality/Price Rating: 86.

18. NIGELLA EXPRESS; good food fast (Knopf, 2007, 390 pages, ISBN 978-
0-676-97976-3, $50 hard covers) is by Nigella Lawson, a food goddess
with a popular series of TV shows and books ("Nigella Bites", "Feast",
"Forever Summer"). The bumpf alliteratively describes this book as
"featuring fabulous fast foods". There are the usual short cuts
(expressed with flair) and time-saving ideas. The basic rule for speedy
food is to make every single ingredient earn its place in the
composition: "minimize effort by maximizing taste". And, also, there is
minimum stress for maximum enjoyment (also, just turn off your cell
phone). The layout is superb, and thank God it has metric weights and
measures for the listed ingredients. There is material on party
presentations, speedy suppers, quick breakfasts, calming food, holiday
quickies, pantry and larder storage items. Basic quality stuff includes
only organic eggs, unsalted butter, fresh herbs, infused oils, and dark
70% chocolate. Try breakfast bruschetta, chopped ceviche, lamb shanks
with beans, butternut and sweet potato soup, and lamb tagine. It is
quality food in a quality book (it even comes with a ribbon
bookmarker!) but the price is sticky for a "fast food" book.
Quality/Price Rating: 83.

19. THE ART OF SIMPLE FOOD (Clarkson Potter, 2007, 406 pages, ISBN 978-
0-307-33679-8, $44 hard covers) is by Alice Waters of Chez Panisse
fame. She shares co-authorship with Patricia Curtan, Kelsie Kerr, and
Fritz Streiff, who are never actually identified in the book. Curtan is
given two credits: one for the illustrations, and one for the design.
There are 19 culinary "lessons" and foundation approaches for starting
from scratch (how to make fresh pasta, do a risotto, sauteeing,
grilling, making omelets, making custards, etc.). This is part one. The
second part is a collection of 250 recipes for cooking everyday
(sauces, salads, soup, pasta, breads, eggs, cheese, veggies, flesh, and
desserts). Her principles are simple, and have been influenced by
Richard Olney and Elizabeth David from the 1960s: eat locally, eat
sustainably, eat seasonally, shop at farmers' markets, plant a garden,
compost and recycle, cook simply, and others. Quality/Price Rating: 89.

20. CIOPPINO'S MEDITERRANEAN GRILL; a lifetime of excellence in the
kitchen (Douglas & McIntyre, 2007, 234 pages, ISBN 978-1-55365-251-9,
$60 hard covers) is by Pino Posteraro, owner-chef since 1999 of this
restaurant and Cioppino's Enoteca, both in Vancouver. These high end
restos emphasize Mediterranean fusion cuisine. The 100 recipes here
come from the restaurant, adapted for the home cook. The reference
section includes sauces, flavoured oils, pasta dough, confit vegetable
preps, and the like. The oversize book is very heavy, and you might
want to photocopy any recipes before rolling up your sleeves. There is
a memoir section (with photos) and a strange page about sous-vide
cooking (which he does in the restaurant), but then says no one should
do it at home. Yet the book is meant for home cooking. The term is not
indexed. Metric weights and measures are used throughout, which is an
excellent sign of a careful cook. Instructions are explicit, with
service and prep times. Suggested wines are mostly Pacific Northwest
and Italian, although there are some French and Chilean picks.
Unfortunately, he is quite explicit about label names and vintage
years, and only gives one wine per dish instead of a range of choices
to accommodate the reader's local market. Quality/Price Rating: 87.

21. PACIFIC NORTHWEST WINING AND DINING; the people, places, food, and
drink of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and British Columbia (John Wiley &
Sons, 2007, 270 pages, ISBN 978-0-471-74685-0, $41.99 hard covers) is
by Braiden Rex-Johnson, a food editor who has been writing about
Pacific Northwest food and wine for more than 15 years. Here, in this
part travel part cookbook, she takes us to a variety of restaurants,
arranged by region or state. The dedicated space is roughly a third
each for Washington, Oregon, and BC, with 15 pages on Idaho. There is a
listing of wine and food festivals in the area. The idea of Northwest
cuisine is basically paired with the wine culture. Seafood, lamb and
fruit play prominent roles. There is good material here on food and
wine matching. Recipes are cited as to source, with the names and
addresses and websites of the restos. The 113 recipes, even for BC,
have US volume measurements and no metric tables of equivalents. There
are really nice colour photos, including one of the dimples on the
outside of a stainless-steel wine tank. From BC, we have recipes from
Feenie's, Araxi, C, Sooke Harbour House, Tinhorn Creek, and others.
It's about time we had a book like this for the Niagara Frontier-Finger
Lakes regions. Quality/Price Rating: 89.

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