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Wednesday, October 22, 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 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. 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 –
23. TODAY'S SPECIAL; a new take on bistro food (Quadrille Books, 2008;
distr. Ten Speed Press, 192 pages, ISBN 978-1-8440-614, $39.95 CAD,
hard covers) is by Anthony Demetre, co-owner and chef at the award-
winning Arbutus and Wild Honey restos in London. Indeed, these recipes
all come from those two restaurants, and it doesn't hurt to have Gordon
Ramsay as a log roller. This is basic bistro fare for weekdays and
casual entertaining on the weekend, but with contemporary viewpoints.
There are main courses intended as an entire meal without sides.
Chapters are by main food, such as fish, poultry, beef, lamb,
vegetables and pork, with wraparounds dealing with soups and desserts.
He uses "local", "seasonal" and cheaper cuts to produce the dishes.
Most of the intro matter and recipes listings are unreadable since they
are black type on dark coloured paper. But there is an index, and the
book starts out terrifically with chilled cucumber soup with smoked
salmon, mutton broth, roast saddle of rabbit with shoulder and leg
cottage pie, slow-cooked shin of veal with roast bone marrow, roast
peaches with lemon thyme and vanilla. Both avoirdupois and metric
measurements are used. Quality/Price rating: 85.

24. A16 FOOD + WINE (Ten Speed Press, 2008, 278 pages, ISBN 978-1-
58008-907-4, $35 US hard covers) is by Nate Applebaum (executive chef
of A16 and SPQR in San Francisco) and Shelley Lindgren (wine director
at A16 and SPQR). Kate Leahy, an editor at "Restaurants & Institutions"
magazine, provides writing clarity. Logrolling is especially heavy
here, with six endorsements from major wine and food people such as
Matt Kramer, Joe Bastianich, and Paul Bertolli. This award-winning
resto specializes in Southern Italian food, especially the flavours of
Campania. "A16" is the name of the highway that cuts across southern
Italy. Wines are from Southern Italy, and they are covered in the first
60 pages, with pairings for the food with the food recipe. The food
covers pizza from Naples, zuppa, pasta, seafood, poultry, beef,
veggies, and a separate chapter labeled "The Pig". There's a
bibliography and website listing for the wines, but the food resources
list is all US. Preps are all expressed in avoirdupois, but with no
metric equivalent table. Try summer vegetable cianfotta soup, borlotti
bean and mussel soup, coppa di testa headcheese, pork loin spiedino,
braised pork shoulder. Quality/Price rating: 87.

25. BRITISH SEASONAL FOOD (Quadrille, 2008, 240 pages, ISBN 978-1-
84400-622-9, $49.95 CAD hard covers) is by Mark Hix, who headed the
consortium that owned Le Caprice and other restos in trendy London, UK.
He has just opened Hix Oyster and Chophouse in the Smithfield market.
He's also a celebrated food writer ("The Independent") and cookbook
author, garnering several major awards for his latest book "British
Regional Food". Here he takes on seasonality, helped along by over 200
colour photos. This is a British book, so everything here is also local
in terms of the islands. The book is a month-by-month arrangement of
seasonal best foods, January to December. For January, there is mallard
game and Cornish cauliflowers, along with pennywort and Judas ear
fungus. February is gurnard. March is wild garlic leaves (not the whole
ramp, which kills the plant of course). April brings St. George's
Mushrooms, June has elderflowers, August has laver and sea trout,
October introduces a lot of fungus (puffball, beefsteak, hedgehog), and
December closes out with quince and salsify. Terrific recipes (using
both avoirdupois and metric measurements) but arcane. Quality/Price
rating: 85 (but higher if you are British).

26. ARTISANAL COCKTAILS; drinks inspired by the seasons from the bar at
Cyrus (Ten Speed Press, 2008, 150 pages, ISBN 978-1-58008-921-0, $24.95
US hard covers) is by Scott Beattie, who had worked at many San
Francisco bars before shaping the cocktail program at Cyrus in that
city. This is a unique book in that the 50 recipes use a variety of
organic or sustainable produce, handcrafted ingredients, and local
artisanal spirits. The recipes are also seasonal, with local fruits,
vegetables, herbs, flowers and spices as the calendar rolls along.
Beattie also has profiles of local Bay Area distillers and wine country
farmers. Advice includes proper juicing, spiced simple syrups, foams,
salted and sugared rims, pickling liquid, ice cubes, ginger beer,
verjus, tomato water, and dehydrating fruit. Try his take on lemoncello
with a variety of citrus fruit, gin kimchi, frondsong with pickled
fennel, rhubarbarella, or plum dandy. One drawback: the book is
extremely local (great for sales at the resto) and thus the ingredients
are virtually impossible for us to get in Canada – or anywhere else
outside California. But we can modify locally. Quality/Price rating:
27. MY FAVOURITE INGREDIENTS (Quadrille, 2008, 256 pages, ISBN 978-1-
84400-621-2, $49.95 CDN hard covers) is by Skye Gyngell, head chef at
Petersham Nurseries Café in the UK, and a food writer for the
Independent and for Vogue. Her first book in 2006 ("A Year in My
Kitchen") was named The Guild of Food Writers Cookery Book of the Year
in 2007. Here she presents about 100 recipes to take advantage of the
seasonal best produce in the UK. What does she favour? Try fish,
shellfish, cheese, nuts, pulses and grains, plus asparagus, cherries
and tomatoes. The orientation is distinctly British, and the price may
seem high because book originated in the UK. Metric measurements, of
course. Quality/Price rating: 84.

28. THINGS COOKS LOVE: implements, ingredients, recipes (Andrews
McMeel, 2008; distr. Simon & Schuster, 342 pages, ISBN 978-0-7407-6976-
4, $35 US) is from the gourmet mail-order firm in Seattle, Sur La
Table, which began in 1972. It now has 60 stores in the US. Food writer
Marie Simmons has pulled it all together. Notable log rollers include
Mario Batali, Marcella Hazan, and Jamie Oliver. It is a highly visual
book, with many photos of implements and ingredients. There are 100
recipes and 100 descriptions of kitchen implements. Emphasis seems to
be on Asian, Mexican, and Western Mediterranean foods and techniques.
Each recipe clearly shows equipment needs, as well as prep times,
cooking times, and serving portions. Substitutions for both ingredients
and equipment are spelled out. This book is just the first in a
promising series, and should sell well through its stores and website.
Try sausage-stuffed roasted artichokes, roasted boneless leg of lamb
with orange gremolata, Chinese five spice-smoked pork tenderloin, mango
and chipotle chile guacamole, oven-braised duck legs with toasted
pumpkin seed sauce. Quality/Price rating: 88.
29. ORGANIC MARIN; recipes from land to table (Andrews McMeel, 2008;
distr. Simon & Schuster, 192 pages, ISBN 978-0-7407-7314-3, $29.99 US
hard covers) is by Tim Porter, a photographer and writer, and Farina
Wong Kingsley, a San Francisco culinary consultant and teacher. A third
partner is "Marin Magazine" which serves the community of Marin County.
Notable log rollers include Alice Waters and Michael Pollan. This is a
regional organic book, with 16 organic farms telling their story, and
presenting 50 recipes from 25 of the San Francisco Bay Area's organic
restaurants. Proceeds from the book will support Marin Organic's school
lunch program, which serves over 12,000 lunches a week with food grown
in Marin County. Great photos throughout. The recipes are arranged by
season, beginning with Spring. Try (using your own local organic
ingredients) fava bean bruschetta, panna cotta with fresh strawberries,
chicken fra diavolo with fennel and dandelion salad, roasted butternut
squash soup, halibut with shrimp. Quality/Price rating: 86.

30. TAMALES (Gibbs Smith, 2008, 128 pages, ISBN 978-1-4236-0319-1,
$19.99 US hard covers) is by cooking personality Daniel Hoyer, an all-
round Southwestern US cuisine consultant and teacher at the Santa Fe
School of Cooking. Here he explores the single product "tamale" in 50
preparations. There are many styles of masas, fillings, sauces and
accompanying salsas. There are many, many possible flavour combos here.
The hardest part, for me, has always been finding banana leaves or corn
husks. The rest is a snap, since you can order masa by mail if your
town does not have any. Most natural food stores have masa. Hoyer has
pix illustrating assembly techniques and wrapping. Fillings include
pollo asado, machaca (shredded beef), al pastor (pork), pierno de cerdo
adobada (pork leg), red chile and pork tamales, and some dessert
tamales. Avoirdupois measurements are used, but there are conversion
charts. Quality/Price rating: 90.

world famous spa (Stewart Tabori & Chang, 2008, 206 pages, ISBN 978-
1584797098, $35 US hard covers) is by the two Deborahs, Szekely and
Schneider, along with Chef Jesus Gonzalez of a local cooking school, La
Cocina Que Canta. The ranch is a spa in Baja California. All the preps
are lightish in fats and carbos, but all are tasty. Szekely is a
pioneer of the resort spa, and Schneider is a chef and food writer.
Still, log rolling is needed from Alice Waters, Deborah Madison, and
Joan Nathan. The 120 preps are organized as a series of 19 seasonal
menus, from spring through winter. There's a lobster paella party, a
tecate sunshine event, New Year's Eve, a Solstice celebration, and Tres
Estrellas brunch – something for everyone. Informative sidebars and a
ten page spread on the spa itself complete the package. While
avoirdupois weights and measures are used in the recipes, there are no
conversion charts. Try a pink menu: sangria La Puerta, watermelon and
roasted beet salad, grilled yellowtail tuna, guava crème brule.
Quality/Price rating: 85.

32. GREAT CHEFS COOK VEGAN (Gibbs Smith, 2008; distr. Raincoast, 272
pages, ISBN 978-1-4236-0153-1, $35 US hard covers) has been pulled
together by Linda Long, who has been a vegan for the past 30 years. She
writes on food and nutritional topics. Log rolling comes from Charlie
Trotter, which is surprising since he is one of the contributing chefs.
This is a collection of recipes from 25 chefs, who also include Cat
Cora (Iron Chef), Daniel Boulud, Marcus Samuelsson, Thomas Keller, and
Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Vegan food, such as whole grains,
vegetables, fruits and beans, are low in fat, contain no cholesterol,
and are rich in fibre and nutrients. Here, each chef has contributed a
menu of three or four courses. The book is arranged by chef's first
name, which is standard in many restos: you have Chef Alex, Chef Floyd,
Chef Suzanne, etc. Just about all of these chefs are NOT totally vegan;
they also cook meats and dairy. But the conception is useful for
selling the book, and the preps are indeed tasty. Each chef gets about
n10 pages. There is a pix, a textual description of the chef's life,
and then the recipes. For Chef Anne (Quatrano), we learn that she is at
a top Atlanta resto, Baccanalia. She contributes a bruschetta  with
avocado and tomato, crispy fried okra and chiles, summer vegetable
pilaf, and cantaloupe truffle bar. This book can also be used by non-
vegans looking for something that is light and delicious. Avoirdupois
measurements are listed, but there are also conversion tables.
Quality/Price rating: 87.

33. THE ART & SOUL OF BAKING (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2008; distr.
Simon & Schuster, 454 pages, ISBN 978-0-7407-7334-1, $40 US hard
covers) is by Cindy Mushet, a pastry chef, baking instructor, and
cookbook author. This is another in the Sur La Table series, sponsored
by that gourmet retail store with sixty locations. The book weighs in
at 5.5 pounds (2.5 kilos). It's a quite hefty collection of some 275
recipes, as well as information on 100 popular baking ingredients and
about 50 baking implements (all available through Sur La Table). The
gamut is everything, from yeast breads through layered pastries, quick
breads, pies, tarts, cookies, cakes, custards, soufflés, and their
derivatives. There are some sidebars of useful data. The weights and
measures are all avoirdupois with NO metric conversion charts; at
least, in true baker style, all the ingredients are also scaled by
weight. Try chocolate napoleons with port-braised pears, cream cheese
pie dough, olive and thyme bread, braided Danish coffee cake, and
almond chocolate spritz cookies with orange blossom water.
Quality/Price rating: 86.

34. ALINEA (Ten Speed Press, 2008, 400 pages, ISBN 978-1-58008-928-9,
$50 US hard covers) is by Grant Achatz, who opened Alinea in 2005.
Before that, he was sous chef at The French Laundry and executive chef
at Trio in Chicago. Along the way he's picked up a three Beards,
including his latest in 2008 for Outstanding Chef in the US. Certainly,
this is the heaviest book I've reviewed this year: a whopping three
kilos (6.6 pounds). Achatz is at the front of the "molecular
gastronomy" movement, and here some of his secrets are revealed. This
book is not for the faint of heart or the weak (never mind the weight
of the book). There is some heavy duty construction here. The cookbook
features about 100 dishes, totaling some 600 recipes. And 400 colour
photos. There are essays about the restaurant by Michael Ruhlman and
Jeffrey Steingarten, plus one by Mark McClusky about the role of
technology in the kitchen – it goes beyond stainless steel surfaces.
Gourmet Magazine has called Alinea "the best in the country". I'm not
even going to tell you what preps to try: read the book. Buyers will
receive access to a website with video demos, interviews, and
interaction with the resto team. Quality/Price rating: 89.

35. CHEF JEFF COOKS; in the kitchen with America's inspirational new
culinary star (Scribner, 2008, 264 pages, ISBN 978-1-4165-7710-2, $30
US hard covers) is by Jeff Henderson, who eventually became Chef de
Cuisine at Caesars Palace and later executive chef at Café Bellagio.
This book rides on his Food Network show, "The Chef Jeff Project", a
reality series. Additional log rolling has been furnished by Paula
Deen. All courses are covered, with an emphasis on soul food and deep
south cooking. Every prep (of 150 recipes) comes with a story or
anecdote from his life (on the streets, in the prison kitchen,
motivational speaker) and how the food works in both that context and
currently. There's a short bibliography, and the index has a huge
typeface (great for easier retrieval). All weights and measures are in
avoirdupois, unfortunately with no metric conversion charts. Try
roasted Portobello sandwich, king crab gumbo, Sunday morning cinnamon
rolls, molasses braised beef short ribs, and sautéed striped sea bass.
Quality/Price rating: 85.

36. IL VIAGGIO DI VETRI; a culinary journey (Ten Speed Press, 2008, 289
pages, ISBN 978-1-58008-888-6, $40 US hard covers) is by Mark Vetri,
chef-owner of the eponymous Philadelphia resto. He also owns Osteria in
that same city. He has won awards from Beard, Food & Wine, and Gourmet
magazines. Log rolling comes from Mario Batali, Patricia Wells, and
Alan Richman. Here are 120 or so recipes plus 100 colour photos, done
up for Northern Italian cuisines. There are accompanying wine notes by
sommelier Jeff Benjamin, and some memoirish material by Vetri on his
Italian cooking career. As with most books of this nature, there are
far too many cute pix  of Vetri mugging. This eats up space. The other
photos are of plated dishes and instructional techniques. All courses
are covered, but there are separate chapters for cold and hot
appetizers. This is actually a perfect book for marketing at his two
restos: there are pix and the current staff are described. Try crostini
di fegatini di pollo, wild boar salami, mortadella-stuffed squid with
spring peas and pancetta, cialzon di frutta secca con salsa di foie
gras, smoked capon cannelloni, torrone semifreddo cannoli. Most of the
wine recommendations are Italian, although there are a few from the
rest of Europe. The book ends with a source list, which is all
American. All weights and measures are in avoirdupois, unfortunately
with no metric conversion charts. Quality/Price rating: 86.

37. OSTERIA; hearty Italian fare from Rick Tramonto's kitchen (Broadway
Books, 2008, 277 pages, ISBN 978-0-7679-2771-0, $35 US hard covers) is
by Tramonto, who owns and operates several restos in the Chicago area.
He opened Osteria di Tramonto in 2006. Log rolling on the book has been
provided by Emeril Lagasse, Alfred Portale, and Cat Cora, although I am
not sure why he needs them since he has written six other successful
cookbooks. Maybe they need him. These are all family style meals from
Italian experiences, and include breakfasts, lunches, and snacks. 150
recipes, all with avoirdupois measurements but no metric conversion
charts. There is a sources list for hard-to-find ingredients and
equipment, but it is all US. Typical dishes include ricotta pie,
peaches in red wine, frittatas, panini, faro salad with pork cheeks and
dates, pecorino cheese custard, tuna siciliana. Quality/Price rating:

38. DUCASSE MADE SIMPLE BY SOPHIE (Les Editions Alain Ducasse, 2008;
distr. Canadian Manda Group, 203 pages, ISBN 978-2-84844042-2 $35US
hard covers) is a collection of 100 recipes by Alain Ducasse, as
simplified for the home cook by Sophie Dudemaine, a best selling French
language chef and cookbook writer. Linda Dannenberg, a freelancer and
translator specializing in French cuisine, has adapted the recipes for
the North American market. The preps come from Ducasse's encyclopedic
"Grand Livre du Cuisine". Ducasse owns four renowned restos in Monaco,
in Paris, New York, and Tokyo. According to the publisher, the wide
range here covers classic French (but why bother?) to international
favourites (but again, why bother?). There's a listing of US sources
for food and kitchenware, plus some websites. Avoirdupois weights and
measures are used, but there are no metric conversion tables.
Arrangement is by course, and the layout is terrific with good clean
graphics and no gastroporn. Instead of the "classics" or
"international", try such rarities as chestnut bouillon, fried pumpkin
purses, herbed duck ravioli, fresh anchovy tart, and caramelized orange
tartlets. Quality/Price rating: 85.

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