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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

THE RESTAURANT/CELEBRITY COOKBOOK... 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 shtick 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 –



CHOCOLATE; more than 50 decadent recipes (Whitecap Books, 2009, 128 pages, ISBN 978-1-77050-001-3, $16.95 CAD paper covers) is by Dominique and Cindy Duby, chef-owners of DC DUBY Wild Sweets, artisanal chocolatiers. They have authored other cookbooks for Whitecap, including Crème Brulee. Both that book and this current one are part of the "Definitive Kitchen Classics" series. These are books built around a classic dish or food, limited to about 50 of the best preps. Great for gifting. The food styling is terrific, with good upclose shots of the plated product. There's the usual introductory matter about using chocolate, with a chocolate flavour matching chart and a wine matching section. They have a series of decorative techniques for making angel hair, curls, bark, sticks, teardrops and others. Preps have been arranged by style, with sections on pralines, ganaches, mousses and creams, liquid, and so forth. Try baked chocolate custard pudding, milk chocolate and ginger panna cotta, lemon macadamia praline, or even semi-frozen white chocolate foam. Preparations have their ingredients listed in both metric and avoirdupois measurements. And there is more at Quality/Price rating: 88.



AMY'S BREAD. Rev. and updated. (John Wiley & Sons, 2010, 276 pages, ISBN 978-0-470-17075-5, $35 US hard covers) is by Amy Scherber and Toy Kim Dupree. It's listed here under the celebrities rather than the reissues because, although the book is built on the earlier 1996 edition, it's about 100 pages longer and has been re-cast for the modern era. Scherber founded Amy's Bread in 1992 in the Hell's Kitchen neighbourhood. Currently, she wholesales to about 300 outlets, and she has two other retail operations. Dupree was one of her original bakers, and is currently pastry chef and operator of the original location. All of her popular breads are here, along with primer information on baking processes and techniques. There are about 50 different basic preps plus variations and additions. Arrangement is by type: whole wheat breads, sourdoughs, rye breads, semolina breads, pizza and focaccia, sandwiches, brioche and sweet specialty breads. Sidebars tell us the flour protein comparison of commercially available flours is the US. She has American mail order sources, a memoirish account of her business, and lots of useful photos of techniques. Preparations have their ingredients listed in metric and avoirdupois measurements, with both weights and volumes. Try maple walnut and fig bread, brioche pan loaf, an autumn pumpkin bread with pecans, or Italian semolina loaf. Visit for more recipes and ideas. Quality/Price rating: 89.



NOW EAT THIS!; 150 of America's favorite comfort foods, all under 350 calories (Ballantine Books, 2010, 247 pages, ISBN 978-0-345-52090-6, $22 US paper covers) is by award-winning (Beard) Rocco DiSpirito, who had what was probably the best "reality" restaurant show, "The Restaurant" on NBC. This is his sixth book, and most of the recipes in all of his books have some sort of Italian theme. This cookbook is one of the few being published without any log rolling: could it be that nobody wants to roll with Rocco? Here's the shtick: take some existing foods that North Americans all like to eat, such as brownies or fried chicken, and replicate the recipe with zero bad carbs, zero bad fats, zero sugar, and maximum flavour. He cuts a portion of fried coconut shrimp from 1178 calories to 178 calories. Nachos are reduced from 880 calories to 341. The arrangement is by coursed, from appetizer to dessert. His larder is revealing; these products are the keys to reduction. He calls for a pantry with cauliflower, corn starch, Dijon mustard, egg whites or egg substitutes, fresh squeezed lemons, Greek yoghurt, low-sodium and low-fat chicken broth, non-stick cooking spray, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, reduced-fat blue cheese, salsa, sprouted-grain bread, whole wheat pasta, and more. Each recipe has a nutritional table, including calories before and calories after the changeover. I am sorry to report that, and needless to say, many items tried did not have the flavours expected – because they had reduced fat and sugars. But others may disagree, and prefer this book. It is worth a try. Preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there is no metric table of equivalents. Quality/Price rating: 80.




I CAN'T BELIEVE IT'S NOT FATTENING1; over 150 ridiculously easy recipes for the super busy (Broadway Books, 2010, 230 pages, ISBN 978-0-7679-3157-1, $19.99 US paper covers) is by the chef from "The Biggest Loser", who has written two other biggest loser cookbooks. She's Devin Alexander, also host of a health show on US cable television. Everything here is fast and easy. It is arranged by course or entrée, beginning with breakfast, moving on to lunch-type burgers-wraps-sandwiches, and then on to dinners of appetizers, snacks, mains, sides, salads, and desserts. Everything is timed, so a Luau London Broil is 8 minutes hands-on plus 4 to 6 hours to marinate (first thing in the morning before leaving for work), plus 10 minutes on the grill and 10 minutes to rest. Each prep has servings and nutritional data. It's just a matter of picking and choosing what kind of food you like. Most flavours come from spices and herbs, to replace that element lost in using fat-reduced products. But it was a bad idea to use pastel inks for the listing of ingredients. Maybe to discourage photocopying? Even so, it is awfully hard to read even the originals. Try pomegranate oatmeal, Mexican cocktail meatballs, presto pesto chicken, margarita chips, and French onion dip. Preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there is no metric table of equivalents. Quality/Price rating: 80.



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