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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Cookbooks as Gifts for the Holidays

Actually, these might be the best books to give a loved one (or
yourself, since you are your own best loved one), because most are
going to cost you an arm and a leg, even at a discount. Books for the
coffee table have their place in the gift scheme: just about every such
book is only bought as a gift! And don't let the prices daunt you. Most
such art books are available at a discount from Amazon.Ca. The books
here are mainly wine and travel books, with some elements of food
and/or wine…

DINING AT DELMONICO'S; the story of America's oldest restaurant
(Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 2008, 224 pages, $45 hard covers) is an
oversized book authored by Judith Choate and James Canora (he's the
current chef at Delmonico's). This oversized book is a tribute to the
resto which turned 170 years old in 2007. The work is filled with
nostalgic photos, anecdotes, and food patterns of early New York. The
80 recipes are standard preps for their famous signature dishes, many
of them original: lobster Newburg, Manhattan clam chowder, baked
Alaska, eggs benedict. Also, of course, Delmonico's Steak, a 20-ounce
prime rib eye, grilled ands topped with herb butter. They claim to be
the first US resto to offer tablecloths, private dining rooms, separate
wine lists, admission of women, and more.

FOOD FESTIVALS OF ITALY; celebrated recipes from 50 food fairs (Gibbs
Smith, 2008, 256 pages, $35 hard covers) is by Leonardo Curti, who
opened and chefed at Trattoria Grappolo bistro in Santa Ynez,
California, in 1997, and by travel and food writer, James O. Fraioli.
There are 100 preps, about two related to each festival. Thus, there
are sections on garlic festivals, pasta, lentils, fruits and nuts, with
a region indicated. It is arranged by course, from antipasti (artichoke
in Marche) to primi to secondi (asparagus, dried cod) to dolci (Vin
Santo festival). For example, the watermelon festival in Campania is in
August, and there are recipes for watermelon granita and Macedonia
d'arancia rossa. Excellent photos.

FRUIT; edible, inedible, incredible (Firefly Books, 264 pages, $60 CAD
hardcover) is by Wolfgang Stuppy and Rob Kesseler, and the Royal
Botanic Gardens at Kew. Previously, the RBG at Kew had come up with the
lavish books "Seeds" and "Pollen". Here, the authors provide a
scientific reference work with a strong art bent. There is an
examination of plant reproduction, with many upfront and stunning
photos (using special light and scanning electron microscopy). Cross-
sections show interiors and pods, pouches, and nuts. The curious will
be amazed to discover that a citrus fruit is actually an armoured
berry. The close-up photos are artworks in themselves, such as the
raspberry photo. No recipes, but a good book for the committed foodie.

TURQUOISE; a chef's travels in Turkey (Chronicle Books, 2008, 356
pages, $50 hard covers) is by Greg and Lucy Malouf, owners of MoMo in
Melbourne. They also wrote "Saha" about arabesque and Moorish food.
This current book is a landscaped sized production, very heavy, and
with both classic and contemporary recipes. Included in the book are
spice markets, soup kitchens, the Bosphorus, and teahouses. A lot of
the book is travelogue (hundreds of photos), but the recipes deal
nicely with Middle Eastern food and variations, such as barberry pilaf
stuffing and pistachio halva ice cream.

MAGGIE'S HARVEST (Penguin Books, 2008, 736 pages, $75 CAD hard covers)
brings together about 350 of Maggie Beer's recipes. She's the author of
four farmhouse cookbooks (Maggie's Farm, Maggie's Orchard, Cooking with
Verjuice, and Maggie's Table). This is Barossa Valley cooking, and the
book is arranged by the seasons. Part memoir, part travelogue, part
cookbook – the work is a summary of her life since she closed her
restaurant in 1993. Good recipes for both figs and chestnuts.
Enhancements to the book include an embroidered fabric cover, and you
should note that the whole production (on excellent paper stock) weighs
in at 5.75 pounds.

PIERRE GAGNAIRE; reinventing French cuisine (Stewart, Tabori and Chang,
2008, 200 pages, $60 US hard covers), first published in France in
2006, is about a chef considered one of the finest in the world. Two of
his restos have three Michelin stars. He reflects on his 40-year
career. Although there are only 40 recipes here, they are detailed,
sometimes convoluted, and illustrated with photographs. In fact, the
book is a model for food styling photos. Typical recipes: oyster jelly
and duck foie gras, grilled coffee and cardamom veal sweetbreads, and
pompadour potatoes with androuillette. The book is organized
chronologically, and the recipes from every stage of his life.

WILLIAM YEOWARD ON ENTERTAINING (Cico Books, 2008, 176 pages, $40 hard
covers) is by a designer renowned world wide for his tableware. Here he
weighs in on entertaining, stressing table settings (of course). There
are 25 occasions here, each with table settings and menus. Topics
include wedding buffets, a Christmas luncheon, a boating lunch, several
buffets, a winegrower's picnic, and more. The book is oversized and
heavy, perfect as a coffee table book. 

NIGELLA CHRISTMAS (Alfred Knopf Canada, 2008, 278 pages, $50 CAD hard
covers) is by Nigella Lawson, the diva of British cookbooks. Her fans
have apparently been after her for years to do this sort of book. The
usual stress is on fun and festivities for family and friends over the
holiday period, with a healthy dose of quick and easy and advanced
preps. My own advice: get people, especially your kids, to help you in
this "communal" season…Her three-part Christmas special will air on the
Food Network Canada via cable; this book has been co-published with
Chatto and Windus in the UK. Ingredients are listed in metric, and the
cuisine is international. It is all here: party apps, cocktails,
Christmas cakes (shouldn't you have started this in May?), homemade
presents (again, do this in early Fall when the harvest comes in),
edible tree-decorations, yule logs, trifles, and those fab cookies.
There are alternative main events beyond the turkey: goose, rib of
beef, stuffed rolled pork, vegetarian (roast stuffed pumpkin), even
lamb tagine (but not the joint). I hope you like looking at Nigella,
because there are a lot of pix of her puttering about.

For the more literate person, there are the "memoirs" of writers,
chefs, and wine people. Some have called these memoirs "creative non-
fiction", suffering from embellishments and gilding. And also suffering
from a lack of indexing, which makes it difficult to find what the
writer said about another person or subject. But this also avoids the
potential for lawsuits and disjointed noses. Nevertheless, they are
rewarding to read. Who cares about poetic license? Here then are some
that stood out from last year's run, and any of them would make great
gifts for the reader. Here we go, in no particular order…

THE SHAMELESS CARNIVORE; a manifesto for meat lovers (Broadway Books, 
2008, 355 pages, $24.95US hard covers) is by Scott Gold, who has worked
in publishing. In 2005, he set up, which
forms the basis for this book. The average American consumes 218.3
pounds of meat every year. Gold wants to explore this further, in a
fast-paced writing style, especially ethical issues and dietary
findings. He tries to answer "can staying carnivorous be more healthful
than going vegetarian? What qualities should you look for in a butcher?
(to which I would add: can you still find a butcher?). There is a
hilarious chapter on eating 31 different meats (including some recipes)
in 31 days, hunting squirrels in Louisiana, and being a vegetarian for
a painful week.

SERVE THE PEOPLE; a stir-fried journey through China (Harcourt, 2008,
341 pages, $24 US hard covers) is by Jen Lin-Liu, a freelance food
writer and Beijing cooking school owner. This is a cook's journey and
tour through cooking school to street food to dumpling house to intern
cook at a high end Chinese restaurant. Thus, it is a story of her and
the people she meets along the way. For some reason, there is excessive
log rolling: nine people, including Jan Wong and the Zagats. In the
book there are 29 recipes for basic dishes. Well-worth a read.
EAT ME; the food and philosophy of Kenny Shopsin (Knopf, 2008, 288
pages, $24.95 US hard covers) is by Shopsin with assistance from
Carolynn Carreno. Shopsin (an obviously made up name, linking "shop"
and "sin") is an eccentric, and chef-owner of Shopsin's in Greenwich
Village. It has been around since 1971. The foreword by Calvin Trillin
has also been around, since and article in the New Yorker magazine in
2002. This collection of profane rants can be mitigated by the 150
recipes (albeit with NO index: that's the ultimate insult). This is
diner food and comfort food, with basics such as cornmeal-fried green
tomatoes and bean polenta melt. He has renamed his luxury pancakes Ho
Cakes and Slutty Cakes…

WHERE SHALL WE GO FOR DINNER? A food romance (Weidenfeld & Nicolson,
2007, 281 pages, $37.95 hard covers) is by Tamasin Day-Lewis, UK food
writer and TV food host. She wrote a weekly food column for 6 years for
the Daily Telegraph; now, she's a magazine free lance writer. Here are
29 recipes, mainly Italian-inspired. This "food romance" was written
with her boy friend Rob Kaufelt of Murray's Cheese in NYC. They search
for the best and unusual food of the regions of the earth. They go to
different countries and uncover some gems, meanwhile discoursing on the
role of food in their lives. It is part memoir, part love story, with
travels to Italy, New York, San Francisco, Ireland, Pyrenees, and the
UK. There is also an interesting chapter on boarding school food.

WRESTLING WITH GRAVY (Random House, 2008, 352 pages, $16 US soft
covers) is a reissue of a 2006 book by Jonathan Reynolds. For five
years he write a monthly food column for the NYT Magazine. This is a
collection of 39 columns (about three years worth) from that time
period. These are all short chapters on life with a recipe or two. No
index, so it is hard to retrieve the recipes.

ARTISAN FARMING; lessons, lore and recipes (Gibbs Smith, 2008, 160
pages, $27.95 US hard covers) is by Richard Harris and Lisa Fox. It is
a charming book about life in New Mexico, with anecdotes and stories
from locals in that state. Part-memoir, part-cookbook (there are 50
recipes), the book deals with a history covering 4000 years from the
aborigines through to the hippie communes of the 1960s. Harris writes
guidebooks, while Fox hosts and produces "Farming in Season" on Taos
public radio. Try chile relleno, pozole, enchilada casserole, and corn
with squash.

APPLES TO OYSTERS; a food lover's tour of Canadian farms (Viking
Canada, 2008, 272 pages, $34 CAD hard covers) is by magazine writer,
editor, and instructor Margaret Webb. It is the story of her journey
through Canada seeking Canadian quality food, a sort of Canadian Slow
Food movement. There are 11 places: oysters in PEI, scallops in Nova
Scotia, cod in Newfoundland, hogs in Manitoba, flaxseed in
Saskatchewan, cows in Alberta, apples in BC, cheese in PQ, dulse in New
Brunswick, Yukon golds in – where else? – the Yukon, and wine in
Ontario.  These are all artisanal producers who she describes and
interviews, many of them organic, all of them sustainable. She points
out that successful farmers operate as a team; unsuccessful farmers
have to sell their land. She has 25 recipes from across Canada. This is
part-memoir since she connects with growing up on a farm and relates
family memories to us. Some chapters have been previously published in
magazines and newspapers, and my son-in-law was involved with her Nova
Scotia adventures.

FEED THE HUNGRY (Free Press, 2008, 205 pages, $23 US hard covers) is by
novelist Nani Power. This is the "journey of the stomach", and about
three dozen recipes are here. She has had three food jobs: funeral
caterer in the Deep US South, a sandwich producer in Rio De Janeiro,
and a waitress in the East Village NYC. As she notes, she has a
decidedly eccentric Southern US bohemian family. She believes that food
consumption is the ultimate American pastime. These are, then, her
eating experiences.

THE LOST RAVIOLI RECIPES OF HOBOKEN (Penguin, 2008, 331 pages, $15.95
paper covers) is another book in search of US food and family. Here, it
is food writer Laura Schenone's turn. This is an examination of her
Italian heritage in her attempt to retrieve her great-grandmother's
ravioli recipe. She ranges from New Jersey to Liguria, and stresses the
importance of place. A good family memoir, complete with some recipes,
cookbook listings, and resources lists.

TASTE; the story of Britain through its cooking (Bloomsbury UK, 2008,
463 pages, $48 CAD hard covers) is by Kate Colquhoun. It is promoted as
a "British culinary biography" and it deals with both heavy and light
subjects in a standard social history of descriptive narration. You'll
learn why the sale of fruit was banned in 1569 and how the Black Death
lead to the beginning of rural baking. The book is illustrated with
historical and archival pictures and drawings. There's a list of
historic sires and houses, some end notes, and an extensive
bibliography of primary sources.
Things are a little slow in the memoir world of wines. I saw only a
handful. One was PASSION ON THE VINE; a memoir of food, wine, and
family in the heart of Italy (Broadway Books, 2008, 225 pages, $24.95
US hard covers) by Sergio Esposito, a New York city wine merchant. It
describes his colourful family life in both Italy and America, plus his
subsequent travels in Italy. Another was A VINEYARD IN TUSCANY
(Penguin, 2008, 250 pages, $13.95 paper covers) in which two New
Yorkers (Candace, a painter, and Ferenc, a writer) begin a new life
near Montalcino. They restore a 13th century friary, plant 15 acres of
wine, build a winery, and trying to get secrets of great winemaking
from Angelo Gaja, a famous neighbour. They now make about 2,000 cases
of wines, using sangiovese (2/3 of the estate), cabernet sauvignon,
syrah, and merlot. There are also a baker's dozen recipes. Check out

THE BILLIONAIRE'S VINEGAR; the mystery of the world's most expensive
bottle of wine (Crown, 2008, 304 pages, $24.95 US hard covers) is by
Benjamin Wallace, former executive editor of "Philadelphia" magazine.
Wallace tells the story, in an engaging style of a mystery novel, of
the bottle of Chateau Lafite 1787 from Thomas Jefferson's cellar. It is
basically a story of greed as investors and wealthy people wanted to
buy a piece of history. It came down to two people, the publisher of
the "Wine Spectator" and the son of the publisher of "Forbes" (who
actually won the bottle for $156,450). It was a fraud of course, and
this is also the story of the alleged fraudster Hardy Rodenstock and
fake wines in general. There's no index, so it is hard to piece
together the story of the main characters without having to read the
book right through. But there are extensive end notes and a list of
sources which reads as a who's who in the wine world. Just the book to
read at Christmas, with poverty all about us and the investment world
Much more next time...

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