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Saturday, October 10, 2009


2. MARK BITTMAN'S KITCHEN EXPRESS; 404 inspired seasonal dishes you can
make in 20 minutes or less (Simon & Schuster, 2009, 233 pages, ISBN
978-1-4165-7566-5, $26 US hard covers) is by the ubiquitous and
eponymous Mark Bittman, who, apparently, still needs log rolling help
for four other writers. It was originally to be titled "404 Express",
but I guess they shied away from its Internet connotation, "404 Error".
He promises 101 quick and easy recipes for each of the four seasons.
He's done cooking shows, and 2 million readers look at his weekly New
York Times column (paper and internet versions), "The Minimalist". In
this book, he claims dishes can be ready in 20 minutes or less. There
have been many books on the theme of "20-minutes-or-less", and this one
is not any different – just the latest, with the added cachet of
Bittman's name. He had a similar book from 2007, a paperback titled
"Mark Bittman's Quick and Easy Recipes from the New York Times" which
you can still get on Amazon for $15 US or so. There were 350 recipes
in that book, and not all of them were quick (a few demanded unattended
times such as baking in the oven). Here he has rearranged some and
added many more, laying them out by season. So he can catch the
"seasonal" element too. The trick to the timing is to have your mise en
place plus be able to multitask. He says, "These recipes were developed
for the type of cook who gets the oil hot while chopping an onion,
cooks the onion while peeling and chopping the carrot, adds the carrot
and goes on to dice the meat, and so on." This is fast, steady,
sequential cooking. You'll also need a pantry, which he specifies, so
you can grab an essential ingredient that will always be in stock. Oh,
yes … you'll need to do regular shopping too. All of these can be
mastered. He has a section that lists (with page references) dishes
that can double as appetizers, brown-bag lunches, meals and desserts to
eat year long, finger food, "easiest of the easiest", do-aheads and
reheatables, and picnic foods. Preparations have their ingredients
listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there is no metric table of
equivalents – except for oven temperatures. Recipes are given in
narrative prose, the way Gourmet magazine used to do them. This forces
you to read the whole description before attempting to cook. He has a
list of some substitutions and a collection of menus for putting a meal
together in some order.
Audience and level of use: those who like a challenge.
Some interesting or unusual recipes/facts: taco slaw; peanut soup;
banderilla pasta; zuppa di pane; mussels in white wine and garlic; warm
milk toast.
The downside to this book: you've got to know what you are doing at all
The upside to this book: menus and categories of dishes for picnics,
potlucks, etc.
Quality/Price Rating: 89.
3. SIMPLE FOOD FOR BUSY FAMILIES; the whole life nutrition approach
(Celestial Arts, 2009, 244 pages, ISBN 978-1-58761-335-7, $19.95 US
soft covers) is by Jeannette Bessinger, CHHC and Tracee Yablon-Brenner,
RD, CHHC. Both are "Certified Holistic Health Counselors", and as such
they are lifestyle health experts. The book comes with some heavy-duty
logrolling from Ann Louise Gittleman (Fat Flush), Jonny Bowden
(Healthiest Foods on Earth), and a couple of medical doctors. It is
supposed to be an easy-to-use guide to nutrition and healthful meal
planning for busy parents. The main rationale is the scary fact that
there are about 30 million kids in North America who are overweight,
and should need help in acquiring some lifelong eating and nutritional
skills. There are about 65 recipes with countless tips and variations.
In addition, there are helpful charts on nutrition, mix and match
foods, and combo foods. Plus appendices on useful but less familiar
ingredients (cacao powder, flaxseed oil, mirin, etc), appropriate oils,
and sources of supply. The authors have their own wellness websites,
but they come together on for sharing tips and
developments. My wife has a site ( which also
deals with wholesome food: I thought I'd throw in a plug.
Audience and level of use: basic building block book.
Some interesting or unusual recipes/facts: polenta cakes; barley salad;
Mexican quiche; berry smoothie; fruit cobbler.
The downside to this book: Preparations have their ingredients listed
in avoirdupois measurements, but there is no metric table of
The upside to this book: good, holistic approach. Salt levels can be
controlled at home.
Quality/Price Rating: 88.
4. SOUTHERN FARMERS MARKET COOKBOOK (Gibbs Smith, 2009, 160 pages, ISBN
978-1-4236-0474-7, $19.99 US, soft covers) is by Holly Herrick, a
Cordon Bleu chef who writes on food for the Charleston, SC newspaper.
It's another book dealing with farmers markets, again stressing the
seasonal, local and fresh nature of the food. But this time, there's a
twist: she deals with the markets of the Deep South: Alabama, Florida,
Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, and
Tennessee. She has 75 recipes, arranged by course (and sub-arranged by
season), plus plenty of details about the local markets. There's even a
metric conversion chart tucked away on the last page of the index.
There are state-by-state seasonal produce charts as well as farmers
market listings with times, addresses and websites. She had previously
written some of the recipe for her newspaper.
Audience and level of use: regional readers, farmers market lovers.
Some interesting or unusual recipes/facts: Christmas collards;
watermelon, bacon, avocado and goat cheese sandwich; meaty and meatless
wild mushroom soup; sweet corn and crowder pea chowder; white turnip
soup with onions; butter bean and smoked ham hock soup; horseradish
cheese grits.
The downside to this book: it may be of limited use, only to the locals
in the Deep South, but it adds to our knowledge of North American food
The upside to this book: good introduction to light and refreshing Deep
South food.
Quality/Price Rating: 88.
5. NO MORE TAKOUT! A visual do-it-yourself guide to cooking (Wiley,
2009, 227 pages, ISBN 978-0-470-16998-8, $25 US hard covers) is by
Stephen Hartigan and Jerry Boak. Hartigan is a trained chef now working
as a personal chef; Boak is a freelance writer who has worked in
restaurants. Together, they make a case for saving money by eating at
home. There are 450 step-by-step photographs to show you how to cook at
home. There are three recipe levels, from basic to advanced meals.
Ingredient lists and sidebars dominate the contents, but there are
helpful tips and variations. The premise is valid, but in real life, an
execution can fail. Cooking takes work and foresight. Take-out is what
you do on the way home, when you are busy. The only advantages to
eating at home (and they are good ones) are to put nutrition into your
body and money into your back account. You wouldn't do it to save time.
But having said that, I find the book to be first-rate as a primer on
how to cook. Now just get that motivation…
Audience and level of use: basic primer.
Some interesting or unusual recipes/facts: seasonal pasta; fish tacos;
goat cheese crostini; arugula with crisp salami and taleggio croutes;
beef teriyaki; sticky toffee pudding.
The downside to this book: Preparations have their ingredients listed
in avoirdupois measurements, but there is no metric table of
The upside to this book: basic primer, good layout. Pictures are
Quality/Price Rating: 85.
6. SIMPLY MEXICAN (Ten Speed Press, 2009, 122 pages, ISBN 978-1-58008-
952-4, $24.95 US, hard covers) is by Lourdes Castro, a cooking school
instructor from Miami currently living and working in New York city.
Her book proposes to simplify Mexican cooking. The 60 recipes are
accessible, for what is described as "quick-to-table" meals. Each prep
features some chef's notes to highlight equipment, techniques, or
ingredients for advance prep work. Should you want to attack it, she
gives some notes on mole and adobo. There are lots of illustrative
photos, with ten pix alone for tamales. She begins with an outline of
two dozen key ingredients for the Mexican pantry. The book is arranged
by course, from appetizers to desserts.
Audience and level of use: a Mexican kitchen primer.
Some interesting or unusual recipes/facts: crab tostadas; chicken
quesadillas; stuffed chiles; achiote chicken roasted in banana leaves;
cilantro rice; corn tart.
The downside to this book: Preparations have their ingredients listed
in avoirdupois measurements, but there is no metric table of
The upside to this book: good photos.
Quality/Price Rating: 85.
7. A HOMEMADE LIFE; stories and recipes from my kitchen table (Simon &
Schuster, 2009, 320 pages, ISBN 978-1-4165-5105-8, $25US hard covers)
is by Molly Wizenberg, a columnist for Bon Appetit magazine ("Cooking
Life") and creator of "Orangette", a popular food blog that was named
"Best Overall" in the 2005 Food Blog Awards. Portions from this book
have been adapted from which gets about
4,000 hits a day. There are five important logrollers endorsing the
book, as well as a few praises for the website (although this latter is
not noted as such). This is a memoir of everyday life with food, along
with fifty or so recipes. There is no index to the memoir portion, but
the 50 recipes are indexed. She currently lives in Seattle, so there
are references to the Pacific Northwest, and to Paris where she lived
for a time. Each chapter has a story followed by a recipe.
Preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements,
but there is no metric table of equivalents. Most preps are for the
sweeter side of life, plus salads and other veggies.
Audience and level of use: those who like food memoirs.
Some interesting or unusual recipes/facts: bread salad with cherries,
arugula, and goat cheese; noodles with presto and zucchini; pistachio
cake with honeyed apricots; Hoosier pie; buttermilk vanilla bean cake;
chocolate cupcakes.
The downside to this book: no index to the memoir, and do we really
need three pages of acknowledgements?
The upside to this book: I'm glad more blogs are being published in
book form.
Quality/Price Rating: 86.
8. POTATO SALAD; 65 recipes from classic to cool (Wiley, 2009, 126
pages, ISBN 978-0-470-28348-6, $16.95 US hard covers) is by Debbie
Moose, who writes small but useful cookbooks on single products such as
"Deviled Eggs" and "Wings". She's currently a food columnist in North
Carolina, and is a five-time winner of the Association of Food
Journalists first-place award for essays. Check out
Here she concentrates on summertime dishes. Potato salad is a no-
brainer for outdoors activities of BBQ, church suppers, picnics,
potlucks, and reunions. You can use any kind of potato, so long as it
is waxy. She specifies varieties for each recipe, but these are only
suggestions. Also, eight of the preps are for sweet potatoes.
Preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements,
but there is no metric table of equivalents.
Audience and level of use: potato or salad lovers.
Some interesting or unusual recipes/facts: German warm potato salad;
smoky bacon salad; sweet potatoes with lime vinaigrette; double tater
salad; prosciutto and parmesan salad.
The downside to this book: just about every prep has a colour photo,
but you can get jaded looking at many, many forms of potato salad
The upside to this book: good idea for summer.
Quality/Price Rating: 88.

9. THE FOODIE HANDBOOK; the (almost) definitive guide to gastronomy
(Chronicle Books, 2009, 224 pages, ISBN 978-0-8118-6853-2, $24.95 US
soft covers) is by Pim Techamuanvivit, a magazine food writer and
photographer, and blogger ( since 2000. This is a
readable collection of ideas sorted by four themes: how to eat like a
foodie, how to cook like a foodie, how to drink like a foodie, and how
to be a fabulous foodie. I knew how to do the first three, so I opted
to begin with "how to be a fabulous foodie". This chapter is mainly a
series of lists on what to do to extend the foodie experience, such as
eat a whole roasted turbot on the Basque coast of Spain, or try a
durian, or throw a locavore party. Well, I've been there, done that for
most of them. I'll skip the fugu fish experience. I've done the ten
"ethical foodie" things we should all be doing, including working on an
organic farm. I've baked bread. So I guess that there is nothing left
for me to do, except read and make judgment on foodie books. I looked
at the chapter on foodie wines, and it is all about how to be a wine
geek in easy lessons. Preparations have their ingredients listed in
both metric and avoirdupois measurements, which is useful for a co-
published book.
Audience and level of use: a primer for Generation Y and bloggers
Some interesting or unusual recipes/facts: pad thai; roast chicken;
strawberries in hibiscus and vanilla soup; rice noodles with prawn
sauce; lychee bellini.
The downside to this book: too many gratuitous pix of the author.
The upside to this book: I liked the cover but it must have cost the
publisher a bundle.
Quality/Price Rating: 84.

10. 500 THINGS TO EAT BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE and the very best places to
eat them (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009; distr. T. Allen, 452 pages,
ISBN 978-0-547-05907-5, $19.95 soft bound) is by the Sterns (Jane and
Michael) who have been writing a column for Gourmet and publishing
books for about 15 years – all on the topic of "Roadfood". They
specialize in finding the best places on the highway (or close to it)
for all food courses and products. They've won Beards, and have
appeared on American Public Radio. This book covers 500 food items, and
is unfortunately titled with the addition "before it's too late". All
of this food is okay in moderation, but most of us chow down, and if
you did not eat this food, you would probably live longer. So it is a
bit of Catch-22: if you eat this food regularly, you probably won't
live as long as you could; if you don't eat the food, you would be
missing great taste sensations, but you'll live longer. So the choice
is up to you. The book is a guide to the best cheap eats all over the
US; I could not find Canada in the index. Material comes from their
website and printed writings, but they have ordered them differently
and updated the listings. The book is arranged by region: New England,
Mid-Atlantic, South, Midwest, Southwest, and West – complete with
coloured tabs for each. So you cannot get lost. For example, under
"soft pretzel" you will be in Philadelphia. There's a description of
what they are and two locations in Philly, along with addresses, phone
numbers and websites. Plus, of course, a discussion on the merits and
demerits of each of the two places. There's also a picture of the food,
and often a pix of the place's signs. So in Maine, you can find a
boiled dinner, clam chowder, flo dog, French fries, ice cream, Indian
pudding, lobster roll, maple dessert, shore dinners, whoopie pie, and
whoopie pie cake. Look at for more.
Audience and level of use: travelers through the US highways and
Quality/Price rating: 89.

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