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Wednesday, June 10, 2009




...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 –




15. TAVERN ON THE GREEN (Artisan, 2008; distr. T. Allen, 310 pages, ISBN 978-1-57965-357-6, $35 US hard covers) is by Jennifer Oz LeRoy and Kay LeRoy, a daughter and mother who have been involved with the establishment (and with Maxwell's Plum). The resto is in Central Park in New York City; some 700,000 patrons dine there every year. This book is touted as a "souvenir volume" and a "perfect keepsake", with additional log rolling by celebrities. It documents its origins in the 1870s as a sheep shelter (Sheep Meadow) before becoming a resto in the 1930s, and its rebirth in the 1970s. There's a section on home entertaining with decorating tips, eight sample menus, re-creating a party, and a lot of photos and celebrities (all indexed) who have eaten there over the years. Courses range from apps with cocktails through sit-downs (soups to desserts). Try their Stiletto (a Valentine's Day cocktail), Christmas devilled eggs, cucumber-avocado puree, smoked chicken and wild rice salad, almond-crusted French toast, and banana-bourbon-raisin bread. About 125 recipes. No metric conversion charts. Quality/Price rating: 84.



16. THE EIFFEL TOWER RESTAURANT COOKBOOK; capturing the magic of Paris (Chronicle Books, 2008; distr. Raincoast, 144 pages, ISBN 978-0-8118-6047-5, $35 US hard covers) is by Jean Joho with Chandra Ram. Joho is a Beard award winning chef, and proprietor of the Eiffel Tower Restaurant in Las Vegas. Ram is an editor for "Plate" magazine. And yes, this is the resto in Las Vegas Nevada, and NOT the resto at the Parisian tower itself. God knows what the licensing fee must be, since there are also copious images of the tower throughout the book and the establishment itself, which sets atop the Paris Hotel & Resort. It is a definite tourist attraction, although Joho is a classy chef with top-notch food ideas. You must look beyond the red plush suede book cover. There are 75 photos showing us some of the plated foods and a lot of the restaurant operations. Fifty recipes are presented, from amuse bouche to desserts, arranged by course. Try the smoked salmon spoons, the caraway gougeres, the sweet corn madeleines with caviar, the skirt steak roulades, or the foie gras with cured duck breast. Metric conversion tables. It helps to have a good home larder and a mise en place. Nevertheless, a good foodie book: Joho needs no log rollers. Quality/Price rating: 87.




17. URBAN ITALIAN; simple recipes and true stories from a life in food (Bloomsbury USA, 2008, 311 pages, ISBN 978-1-59691-470-4, $35 US hard covers) is by Andrew Carmellini and Gwen Hyman. He's a Beard winner, once at Boulud, and now running A Voce. She's a food writing educator who is the focusing food writer here. Top log rollers include Anthony Bourdain, Sara Moulton, and Michael Ruhlman. There are about 100 family-style recipes here, covering four courses with sides, based on home Italian cooking. Very simple, too: tomato and mozzarella arancini, pasta e fagioli, penne with bacon and radicchio, broccoli rabe with goat cheese, artichoke fritto, chicken leg cacciatore. Flavours exudes from every page. The book is part memoir too, with anecdotes in the cooks' notes, and text on his times behind diverse kitchen stoves. Only avoirdupois weights and measures are given. Sources for foods are all New York city or Italy. This is an upscale home cooking book, suitable also for use at entertaining. Quality/Price rating: 85.



18. COOKING WITH THE SEAFOOD STEWARD (Arnica Publishing, 2009, 198 pages, ISBN 978-0-9801942-5-8, $24.95 US hard covers) is by Gary Rainer Puetz, an award-winning seafood chef running Seafood Steward; he is currently Executive Chef for Pacific Seafood, the largest distributor of seafood to restaurants and hotels in the USA. He is based in the state of Washington. This is the first in a series of cookbooks that he is now writing. This is a basic seafood cookbook, a primer, covering all manner of shrimp, lobster, clam, salmon, crab, oyster, tuna, scallops, squid, snapper, mahi mahi, sturgeon, and halibut – items you will find on most restaurant menus. When you buy these items, you  will probably find them in portions, all dressed and cleaned. And, unfortunately, there are other preps here: desserts, non-seafood sides and salads, preps that are not seafood and which can be easily found elsewhere. Over 90 recipes and many tips. Try the cheeky ones: sautéed cod cheeks with sweet peppers or halibut cheeks braised with caramelized onion and cream. Quality/Price rating: 84.



19. A PLATTER OF FIGS AND OTHER RECIPES (Artisan, 2008; distr. T. Allen, 294 pages, ISBN 978-1-57965-346-0, $35 US hard covers) is by David Tanis, who is head chef at Chez Panisse for six months a year (he's been there since the 1980s). The rest of the time he's in Paris. Logrollers of the highest order have turned out here: Michael Pollan, Madhur Jaffrey, Judy Rodgers, and Deborah Madison (but Frances McDormand?). The emphasis here is on simple but classy meals at home with friends. Here he has 24 seasonal menus, mainly served on platters family style. There's an opening section that is sort of memoirish in tone. After that, the arrangement is by seasonal menu beginning with Spring; there are six apiece. In Spring, there's the rabbit menu of spinach cake with herb salad, mustard rabbit, parsnips epiphany-style (slightly caramelized), and apple tart. In Summer, there's a fish taco menu with homemade chips, both tomato and tomatillos salsa, avocado salad, and the tacos. Fall sees a Tuscan dinner of green lasagna, bistecca with fried artichokes, and castagnaccia. Winter has a New Mexican menu of avocado quesadillas, spicy picked veggies, green chile stew, and bizochitos. There is something for everybody here. Menus are three courses, sometimes four. Themes are Italian, Moroccan and North African, French, Mexican, and Spanish. Weights and measures are avoirdupois, with no metric conversion charts. Layout is easy on the eyes, with better-than-usual photos. Quality/Price rating: 86.



20. THE VINTNER'S KITCHEN; celebrating the wines of Oregon (Arnica Publishing, 2009; dist. Canadian Manda Group, 187 pages, ISBN 0-9794771-3-1, $29.95 US hard covers) is by William King, who has been an executive chef in Oregon since 1975. He is currently Vice President of Culinary Development for McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurant Group, which runs 75 restos. This is part of the Chef's Bounty cookbook series from Arnica. Recipes have been contributed by various wineries and restaurants in Oregon, and then regularized.  The aim has been to pair a select number of wines throughout the state with regional food. Weights and measures are expressed in avoirdupois, but there is no metric conversion chart. Thirty of the 400 wineries are covered, with some notes about the establishments and their wines. There are a lot of meat dishes and few vegetarian (mostly seafood). Try pomegranate and spice braised pork, braised lamb shanks, braised short ribs, duck with syrah, grilled molasses-marinated quail, and cedar-planked steelhead trout. There's a brief index by major meat ingredient. Quality/Price rating: 85.



21. A GOOD CATCH; sustainable seafood recipes from Canada's top chefs (Greystone/David Suzuki Foundation, 2008; distr. Douglas & McIntyre, 186 pages, ISBN 978-1-55365-3851, $24.95 soft covers) has been pulled together by Jill Lambert, a writer and editor of food books. There are over 90 recipes here from Canadian cookbook authors and chefs (improbable as it may seem, the very first prep – pan-roasted arctic char with lobster mashed potatoes and pinot noir sauce – comes from my son-in-law Michael Howell of Tempest Restaurant in Wolfville, NS). Howell is actually in here three times, also contributing finnan haddie and chorizo chowder plus smoked sturgeon with apple-parsnip puree. Most chefs are here once, a few (such as Lynn Crawford) are in twice or so. Susur Lee contributes a giant Pacific octopus recipe. Patrick Lin of Senses (wokked spiny lobster), Jamie Kennedy (marinated herring), Sinclair Philip of Sooke Harbour (geoduck), and Patrick McMurray of Starfish (oyster sandwich) are also here. There are no illustrations showing techniques or plated products, but SeaChoice (an initiative of Sustainable Seafood Canada) list the best choices for fish or seafood for each prep. So, for an oyster chowder, they recommend "farmed oysters" as the best choice, while wild oysters are listed as "some concerns". For the cedar-planked salmon, there are some concerns about wild Pacific salmon, and farmed salmon is to be avoided. Alternative fish are suggested, but this is rather hard to do with shellfish and molluscs. Avoirdupois measurements are used, but there is a table of metric equivalents. The book opens with a basic primer on fish selection and cooking, a separate chapter on fish, another on shellfish and mollusks, and concluding material on sustainability. Visit for more. Quality/Price rating: 91.



22. THE SALPICON COOKBOOK; contemporary Mexican cuisine (Chronicle Books, 2008; distr. Raincoast, 192 pages, ISBN 978-0-8118-6046-8, $40 US hard covers) is by Priscila Satkoff, chef and proprietor of Salpicon Restaurant in Chicago. Her co-author is her husband Vincent, who is also co-owner of the resto and its wine director. The resto has an award-winning wine list as well as over 100 tequila selections. Log rollers include Feran Adria, William Rice, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Charlie Trotter. Chef Priscila grew up in Mexico City, moved to the USA, and developed her signature melding of Mexican seasonings with American ingredients. She later opened her resto 14 years ago in 1995, and this cookbook is the initial result. This collection has 80 recipes, with wine pairing notes from Vincent. His basic wine matches are in a chart, and posit that heavily oaked white wines are to be avoided. He says to prefer high-acid crisp white wines, and fruit forward reds. With fresh chiles, go with white wines; dried chiles need reds. While the food ingredients are listed by avoirdupois weights and measures, there is a table of equivalents for metric. The sources list for ingredients and equipment is all US. Courses range from appetizers through to desserts, and naturally come off her menus. Try grilled cactus and seafood napoleons with chipotle cream, crab cakes with avocado-habanero sauce, shredded pork with roasted tomatoes and chipotle chiles, halibut in parchment with tequila, and duck two ways in ancho-almond sauce. Upscale all the way. First rate photography by Jeff Kauck makes this a winner. Quality/Price rating: 89.



23. MADE IN SPAIN; Spanish dishes for the American kitchen (Clarkson Potter, 2008, 256 pages, ISBN 978-0-307-38263-4, $35 US hard covers) is by Beard award-winning chef Jose Andres, the host of PBS's "Made in Spain". These 100 recipes come mainly from the show. He and his partners operate seven restaurants in and around Washington, DC. In 2005 he had authored "Tapas", along with Richard Wolffe who also helped write this book and the TV series. This varied and diverse culinary tour of Spain – almost memoirish -- includes Basque (fish and aromatic stews), Cantabria (artisanal cheeses), Valencia (paella and rice), and Castilla-La Mancha (saffron). The arrangement of the book is by course, with one region featured for each. Soup has Madrid and its gazpacho, vegetables in Navarra with oyster mushrooms, pork in Cataluna, sweets in Asturias, drinks (mostly wine) in La Rioja, plus seafood in Galicia. Resources are US, and the weights and measures are in avoirdupois only, with no metric conversions. Ingredients are also typefaced with caps. Great close-up photography by Thomas Schauer; thankfully there are no touristy pix. Quality/Price rating: 87.



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