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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Book Reviews: Restaurant Cookbooks for April 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. SIMPLY DELICIOSO; a collection of everyday recipes with a Latin
twist (Clarkson Potter, 2008, 256 pages, ISBN 978-0-307-34734-3,
$32.50US hard covers) is by Food Network star Ingrid Hoffmann, who once
owned a resto and catering firm. The book is named after her TV series.
She's also got a cooking show on Spanish TV as well, and writes a
monthly cooking feature for Buen Hogar magazine (Good Housekeeping).
This is a modern take on classic Latin food, emphasizing bright bold
new flavours. And, of course, you'll need a pantry (as she explains it
all). The 125 recipes include her take on mole, adobo, sofrito, homey
changua, eggs benedict with chipotle hollandaise, avocado and arugula
salad, chipotle and black-eyed pea soup, Cuban burgers, rancheros, and
many meats. The whole book is bright and tries to be sexy ("carne
knowledge"? "pillow talk"? personal life?). She's the leading candidate
for hot kitchen babe of the year... US measurements are employed, but
there is no table of metric equivalents. Quality/Price rating: 84.

16. DOLCE ITALIANO; desserts from the Babbo kitchen (W.W. Norton, 2007,
302 pages, ISBN 978-0-393-06100-0, $35 US hard covers) is by Gina
DePalma, who has worked for Mario Batali at Babbo as his pastry chef
since 1998. It comes endorsed with 9 log rollers, including Bourdain,
De Laurentiis, Bastianich, and Lynne Rossetto Kasper. And a foreword by
Mario himself. She works from an Italian background, and like the
resto, everything is simple and fresh in season. There are wine
pairings that often accompany the recipes, and she lists ten essential
ingredients for making Italian desserts. These are ricotta, mascarpone,
honey, EVOO, lemons (and/or oranges), polenta, nuts, amaretti biscuits,
grappa, and sweet wines. She covers biscotti, cakes, spoon desserts,
tarts, gelati and variations, tutti fritti (fried), and fruit. There
are plenty of cook's notes and advisements. Some preps include honey
clouds, yogurt cheesecake, mocha-cinnamon boney, chocolate and polenta
tart, cassata alla siciliana, lemon ricotta fritters, and pannacotta
with vincotta. First rate job. Quality/Price rating: 90.

17. THE SPLENDID TABLE'S HOW TO EAT SUPPER; recipes, stories, and
opinions from Public Radio's award-winning food show (Clarkson Potter,
2008, 338 pages, ISBN 978-0-307-34671-1, $35US hard covers) is by Lynne
Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift. Kasper is host and major writer for
"The Splendid Table", a national US food radio show produced by
American Public Media. It has been running for more than 20 years, and
has garnered a James Beard award. Swift is co-creator and managing
producer of that show. Rossetto also writes the syndicated column "Ask
the Splendid Table", read in over 400 newspapers. Her first book "The
Splendid Table" won both a Beard and an IACP award for "Book of the
Year". Here, the team grapples with weeknight dinners and timelines for
the busy home cook. There are more than 100 recipes, with menus listed
on the end pages (a distinctive innovation: thank you!!) – and the
menus have page references to the recipes. The authors attempt to
deconstruct recipes to their simple forms, and then create new ones
quickly. The taste emphasis is on "savoury" and "international
flavours". Like the show itself (which you can hear via the Internet or
on NPR if you are near the US Border) the book contains trivia,
nutrition, advice, culinary bits of fun facts, and the like. There are
multiple larger type fonts and use of bold typefaces and colour in the
recipes. Most of the preps come from the show and her columns, but
there are a few others written – and credited – to additional food
writers. Arrangement is by course progression, and the only major
disappointment is that while US weights and measures are used, there
are NO tables of equivalencies. Try Dressing-in-a-bowl supper salad
(which calls for improvising), Tortilla eggs with avocado and lime,
Chinese noodles with four flavors, Sweet yams in ginger-stick curry,
and Farmhouse panna cotta. Quality/Price rating: 90.
18. FEASTING ON ASPHALT; the river run (Stewart, Chang & Tabori, 2008;
distr. Canadian Manda, 207 pages, ISBN 978-1-58479-681-7, $27.50 hard
covers) is by Alton Brown, a writer-director-host for the Food Network.
Catch him on "Good Eats" (which won a Peabody in 2007) and "Iron Chef
America". He also writes cookbooks ("I'm Just Here for the Food" won a
Beard in 2004). This celebrity cook motorbikes its way through the
Mississippi, beginning on the Gulf of Mexico and ending up near the
headwaters in Minnesota. He tries to get the best roadside food, and to
tell the stories about the people who prepare and serve it. This book
is a companion to the six-part series which aired in fall 2007. His
itinerary is listed, so you too can stay where he stayed, eat where he
ate, and talk to the same people. He did it in 26 days or so, and he
provides pages of road tips. All 41 recipes are sourced as to the
diner/restaurant. Try BBQ pork ribs, bread pudding, head cheese, Cherry
Joe, fried morels. General index and recipe index are both folded in
together. There is also a road map poster. But there are too many pix
of Brown. Quality/Price rating: 86.

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