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Monday, December 7, 2009

Recent Cookbooks in Review

MEDITERRANEAN CLAY POT COOKING (John Wiley and Sons, 2009, 334 pages,
ISBN 978-0-7645-7633-1, $34.95 US hard covers) is by Paula Wolfert, the
expert on Mediterranean food and author of seven other cookbooks. She's
won just about every cookbook award going, plus a Lifetime Achievement
in France and a Beard induction into the Cookbook Hall of Game. So why
a clay pot book? It turns out that she has been collecting clay pots
for 50 years. To her, these vessels refer to all earthenware,
stoneware, and flameware. They come in different shapes: tall, small,
flat, round, covered, etc. Here are the Moroccan tagine, the Spanish
cazuela, the Chinese sandpot, the terra cotta Romertopf, and others
made from clay and miraceous clay. She has a primer, and then it is off
to soups through desserts. She indicates which clay pot is preferred
for a particular dish. 150 traditional and modern recipes are included,
although portions of the book have appeared in different form in four
magazines (Saveur, Pleasures of Cooking, et al). The appendix lists
sources of food, clay pot sources, and a bibliography for further
reading. Preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois
measurements, but there is no metric table of equivalents.
Audience and level of use: Wolfert lovers, clay pot lovers,
Mediterranean food lovers.
Some interesting or unusual recipes/facts: cazuela quail with red
peppers and pine nut picada; chard stuffed with toasted corn and
hazelnuts; zucchini musakka with tomatoes and chickpeas; a range of
oven-baked breads; clay pot tianu with lamb, potatoes and onions; slow-
roasted glazed lamb shoulder with spring vegetables.
The downside to this book: I'd just reviewed a couple of slow cooker
books, and now this "clay pot" book hits my desk – is there a revival
afoot for one-pot meals?
The upside to this book: carefully crafted and well-thought out.
Quality/Price Rating: 89.

4. IN SEARCH OF BACCHUS; wanderings in the wonderful world of wine
tourism (Scribner, 2009, 294 pages, ISBN 978-1-4165-6243-6, $30 US hard
covers) is by George Taber, author of "Judgment of Paris" and "To Cork
or Not to Cork". Both books had won major awards. And Taber is well on
his way to winning another major award for this current book. The
concept is simple: travel to twelve fascinating wine-producing regions
around the globe. Taber gives us notes on the land, the people, the
culture, the architecture, the grapes, the wines, the winemakers, the
meals. Wine tourism is big business. But it is also not very deep.
Taber points to more relevant materials and descriptions, making his
book a first stop. He took six months off to travel (am I jealous?)
through these places and evaluate what there is to see: Mendoza, Napa,
Stellenbosch, Colchagua, Margaret River, Central Otago, Rioja, Douro,
Tuscany, Bordeaux, Rheingau, and Georgia. There is an appendix for the
armchair traveler which lists relevant wines for sampling, a
bibliography for further reading (and pictures), currency notes, and an
index. This is a good solid introduction and memoir, minus the photos
and specific travel recommendations.
Audience and level of use: armchair travelers, people who have already
been to a wine destination.
Some interesting or unusual facts: Napa Valley attracts more than five
million visitors each year, making it California's second most popular
destination after Disneyland.
The downside to this book: in Tuscany, he took a cooking class for four
days. Do we have to hear about it? I now know more people who have
taken classes in Tuscany than people who have not. It's too common to
even mention anymore, and certainly is not part of wine tourism.
The upside to this book: an engaging and accessible memoir of wine and
Quality/Price Rating: 88.
5. BASIC JAPANESE COOKING (Whitecap, 2009, 160 pages, ISBN 978-1-55285-
971-1, $19.95 US paper covers) AND
6. BASIC THAI COOKING (Whitecap, 2009, 160 pages, ISBN 978-1-55285-970-
4, $19.95 US paper covers) are both by Jody Vassallo, who writes
cookbooks about South East Asian foods. Both books are similarly set-
up, except, of course, for the theme. The Japanese book covers sushi,
sashimi and yakitori, ranging from soups to desserts. She has 60 preps
here, with clear instructions. Most recipes are quick and easy, so long
as you have the ingredients on hand. For that you'll need some kind of
larder. This is covered at the beginning with photographs of basic
ingredients. The Thai book is the same, except there are 80 preps.
Again, you'll need a larder of ingredients (all explained). You can
suffer a shortage of shelf space if you have too many pantries or
larders beyond the basic Euro or Mediterranean setup. The photography
is stunning, with close-ups of just about everything you'd need. Of
course, these are just the basics: you'll need other books to get deep
into a country's cuisine. Preparations have their ingredients listed in
both metric and avoirdupois measurements.
 Audience and level of use: beginners.
Some interesting or unusual recipes/facts: yakitori chicken; shitake
mushroom salad; minced pepper pork ramen; masaman beef curry; spicy
tofu and peanut satay salad; pad siewe; Japanese hamburgers.
The downside to this book: given that there is one recipe per page and
that recipe only covers half the page, I think that the typeface needs
to be made larger. This would be useful if you are a few feet away from
the book.
The upside to this book: nifty, useful collections.
Quality/Price Rating: 85.

7. EATING; a memoir (Knopf, 2009, 176 pages, ISBN 978-1-4000-4296-8,
$25 US hard covers) is by renowned bookman Jason Epstein (co-founder of
the New York Review of Books, editor of Mailer, Nabokov, Vidal,
Doctorow, Alice Waters, Wolfgang Puck, Maida Heatter, and others). For
many years, he was editorial director of Random House. It's a slight
book, covering many bases in his life: childhood summers in Maine,
restaurants of postwar Paris, New York's Chinatown, the Ile de France,
21 Restaurant. For him it is all about food, and he thrives on cooking
as storytelling. Hence, there are more than 40 basic recipes here, in
san serif typeface and with a beige-tan ink colour. Everything is
indexed: the text and the recipes. Preparations have their ingredients
listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there is no metric table of
equivalents. But it is hard to believe that he needed log rolling from
five people (Ray Sokolov, Larry McMurtry, James Salter, Scott Peacock,
and Maida Heatter). You might want to look at tarte tatin, fettuccine
with clams or scallops, warm bass salad, or even egg foo yung.
Audience and level of use: memoir lovers.
Some interesting or unusual facts: the book is based on material
originally published in the New York Times.
The downside to this book: it is a slight book – I would have
appreciated more material from his life.
The upside to this book: some of us have been waiting all year for this
book, and our anticipation levels have been satiated.
Quality/Price Rating: 89.
8. RICE PASTA COUSCOUS; the heart of the Mediterranean kitchen
(Chronicle Books, 2009, 223 pages, ISBN 978-0-8118-6297-4, $29.95 US
hard covers) is by Jeff Koehler, a food writer specializing in Med
cooking for major food magazines and larger newspapers. Here, he
concentrates on the starch of the Mediterranean, with preps from
Lebanon, Turkey, Tunisia, Greece, Syria, Italy, Malta, Egypt, Croatia,
France, Algeria, Morocco, and Spain. The book is divided by starch.
With rice, there is a primer on paella (Spain), risotto (Italy), pilaf,
and stuffing. This is followed by recipes for 60 pages. For pasta,
there is a primer on matching pastas with sauces, the ideas of shapes,
cheeses, and making your own fresh pastas (including fresh egg pasta).
Again, 60 pages of pasta preps. The couscous section has a primer on
regional differences, a couscoussier for making the dish, and harissa.
Only 40 pages are given over to recipes here. Recipes are sourced by
region within a country, and are titled in both English and native
languages. He concludes with a discourse on herbs and spices, sources
of supply and equipment (all U.S.), and a bibliography for further
reading. Preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois
measurements, but there is a metric table of equivalents.
Audience and level of use: intermediate levels of experience.
Some interesting or unusual recipes/facts: fusilli in cream sauce with
sausage and fennel seeds (Abruzzo, Italy); Catalan two-course Christmas
soup; gandia-style fideua (Valencia, Spain); couscous with chicken,
caramelized onions and raisins (Morocco); berkoukes with chicken
(Algeria); risotto with porcini mushrooms and scallops (Northern
Italy); lentils and rice with fried onions (Lebanon).
The downside to this book: too many generic product photos. We need
more of the finished plates.
The upside to this book: good useful concept.
Quality/Price Rating: 89.
9. GOOD FOOD FOR ALL; seasonal recipes from a community garden (The
Stop, 2009; distr. Simon & Schuster Canada, 160 pages, ISBN 978-1-4391-
7041-0, $19.99 Canadian paper covers) comes from The Stop, a Toronto
Community Food Centre. I must declare a minor conflict-of-interest
since my wife financially supports The Stop. The preps here were
developed in their own community kitchen by Joshna Maharaj, and use
local items from their own garden. The recipes are tied into the "good
food revolution" which emphasizes sustainability, naturalness, low
carbon footprints, knowledge of origin, and how the food system works.
There are almost 80 basic recipes (arranged by season), with lots of
technique tips and cook's notes on how to maximize affordable meals on
a budget. More details can be found at In addition to
community kitchens serving over 150 needy each day, there are gardens,
cooking classes, drop-in meals, peri-natal support, a food bank,
outdoor bake ovens, food markets and community advocacy. In 2009, The
Stop opened The Green Barn, a sustainable food production and education
centre with a 3,000 square foot greenhouse, commercial kitchen,
classroom, sheltered garden and composting facility. The Stop also
offers school visits and an after-school program. Preparations have
their ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there is no
metric table of equivalents.
Audience and level of use: beginning cooks
Some interesting or unusual recipes/facts: peach salsa; za'atar; fish
tacos; sticky sesame chicken wings; roasted veggie burritos; green
tomato ketchup; jerk chicken.
The upside to this book: this is a useful fundraiser.
Quality/Price Rating: 85.

10. GET COOKING; 150 simple recipes to get you started in the kitchen
(HarperStudio, 2009, 268 pages, ISBN 978-0-06-173243-0, $24.99 US paper
covers) is by Mollie Katzen, once associated with the Moosewood
restaurant co-operative in Ithaca, NY. She created "The Moosewood
Cookbook" and "The Enchanted Broccoli Forest", as well as other
cookbooks. In fact, she is beginning the Get Cooking series of books,
tied in to her website at This is yet another
"good food, simple recipes, and quick preparations" book. But it is
also one of the more stylish ones. It is also her first cookbook for
omnivores (aka meat-eaters), with recipes using chicken, fish, and
meats. The book has chapters from soups to desserts. In the preface,
she wants us all to get cooking, no matter what our level of
experience. She feels that if you can get to cook, then you will
appreciate food better, and stay away from the bad stuff (i.e. pre-
purchased foods and takeout deliveries). Certainly, you can control the
salt levels at home. Equipment is mandatory (she explains it all), and
prep work must be exact. Simple preps call for grilling and frying, and
the accompanying photos are tasteful. Preparations have their
ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there is no metric
table of equivalents.
Audience and level of use: beginners and others.
Some interesting or unusual recipes/facts: cream of spinach and
broccoli soup; Caesar salad with a from-scratch salad dressing; acorn
squash stuffed with apple-almond-cherry basmati pilaf; turkey burgers.
The downside to this book: menus could have been presented – these are
always useful for cooks at all levels.
The upside to this book: there is something here for everyone.
Quality/Price Rating: 86,

11. CULINARY VIETNAM (Gibbs Smith, 2009, 224 pages, ISBN 978-1-4236-
0320-7, $35 US hard covers) is by Daniel Hoyer, who once worked as a
sous chef at Coyote Café in Santa Fe, NM. He is currently a restaurant
consultant and culinary travel guide ( He had
previously authored "Culinary Mexico", a combination food and travel
book. The Vietnam book is similar in structure, with detail about the
land and people. Here he begins with the dipping sauces and condiments,
moving on to appetizers and beverages, through salads, soups, noodles,
beef, pork, poultry, seafood, rice and banh dishes, and veggies.
Recipes are laid out nicely, and the typeface is usefully large.
Indigenous names are also listed for the preps. The photos are a
mixture of travel shots, food shots, and plated dish shots.
Preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements,
but there is a metric table of equivalents. Sources of supply are
indicated, but they are all U.S.
Audience: armchair travelers and those interested in Vietnamese foods.
Some interesting recipes: Vietnamese coffee; shrimp, pork and cabbage
salad; chicken and glass noodle soup; grilled five-spice pork chops;
chicken, lemongrass, and chile stir-fry; grilled fish fillets with
ginger sauce.
Quality/Price Rating: 87.


Flavor of Italy said...

I agree about the excess of Tuscan cooking classes. I own and manage Flavor of Italy, experts in culinary tourism, based in Rome. Italian food is unbeatable and we focus on unique, sustainable, off the beaten bath tourism.

Flavor of Italy said...

If you're interested in food, more specifically pasta, check out this wonderful book:
Encyclopedia of Pasta, by Oretta Zanini de Vita & translated by Maureen B. Fant
Flavor of Italy blog:

somaie said...

a nice list, thanks for the compilation.