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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

THE RESTAURANT/CELEBRITY COOKBOOK (Aug 2010)... 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 –
10. GIADA AT HOME (Clarkson Potter, 2010, 239 pages, ISBN 978-0-307-
45101-9, $35 US hard covers) is by Giada De Laurentiis, possibly the
hardest working food TV celebrity, with many shows on the Food Network
since 2002, and contributing to the Today show. She's also cookbook
author; this is at least her fifth book. And she needs (and gets) NO
logrolling. This time she tackles "family recipes" from Italy and
California, although the California ones are more like Cal-Ital preps.
So it becomes all the same thing. Her book's title comes from her
latest TV show, so we can expect those same preps in the FESLOP manner
(fast, easy, seasonal, local, and organic if possible). All courses are
covered, from appetizers to desserts, with a long chapter on brunches.
Try cheesy baked faro, white chocolate-dipped almond and lemon
biscotti, sweet and savoury bread pudding, red snapper with fava bean
puree, ricotta with vanilla-sugar croutons and berry syrup.
Preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements,
but there is no metric table of equivalents. There are also 47 pix of
Giada and her family within the book, and another 5 on the covers. I
deem this excessive, even if Giada is a star. Quality/Price rating: 83.

11. THE ULTIMATE STUDENT COOKBOOK (Firefly, 2010, 160 pages, ISBN 978-
1-55407-602-1, $14.95 CAD paper covers) is by Tiffany Goodall, a
personality-celebrity chef in the UK (where the book was first
published by Quadrille. This is a nifty book about basics and budget.
The author had lived away from home on a limited budget while she was a
culinary arts student, so she shows college students how to get by with
fresh and healthy food every day. Of course, she had a leg up since she
was actually studying cooking. There are 100 preps here, requiring only
20 kitchen items, fewer than 20 on-hand staples, plus regularly
available ingredients from the grocery store. There's some health
information, hygiene, storage, and use of leftovers. Substitutions and
adaptations are also included. What I really like about the book are
the step-by-step photos with captions and balloons that show the prep
and presentation of each dish. But on the other hand, some recipes need
refiguring: the saltiness of soy sauce will NOT disappear with
evaporation, and baking 2 inch potatoes for 1.5 to 2 hours at 400
degrees will get you blackened (not crisp) potatoes. So: what do
students like? How about mac and cheese, pizza, roast chicken, fajitas,
stir fries, sandwiches? Preparations have their ingredients listed in
both metric and avoirdupois measurements. Quality/Price rating: 87.

12. HOME COOKING WITH TRISHA YEARWOOD; stories and recipes to share
with family and friends (Clarkson Potter, 2010, 224 pages, ISBN 978-0-
307-46523-8, $29.99 US hard covers) is by country entertainer Trisha
Yearwood. This is her second cookbook, and this time it is a collection
of family-style Southern food. There's also more self-involvement with
family photos, memoir-style anecdotes of the family, and some kitchen
lore. She's assisted here by sister and daughter Gwen Yearwood and Beth
Yearwood Bernard. The basic layout is by course selection, from
breakfast through apps to soups, salads, meats, poultry, sides and
breads, and oodles of desserts. There are lots of photos too. Typical
dishes include spice cake with lemon sauce, fresh apple cake, cabbage
casserole, okra and tomatoes, chicken pizza, BBQ pork ribs, and cabbage
rolls. Preparations have their ingredients listed in US avoirdupois
measurements, but there is no metric table of equivalents.
The book has large print and lots of leading and white space, but the
list of ingredients is given in light pastel colours, as if to foil
photocopies. One for her fans. Quality/Price rating: 81.
13. SAM THE COOKING GUY; awesome recipes & kitchen shortcuts (Wiley,
2010, 256 pages, ISBN 978-0-470-46794-7, $19.95 US paper covers) is by
Sam Zien, and eleven-time Emmy Award winner and host of various
American cable channel cooking shows. He has a website at
The book's subject heading says it all: "quick and easy cooking". So
what's different here, different from the scores of other books? Well,
it is put together with a terrific layout and has discreet use of
colour. The typeface is adequate and there are actually useful tips. In
many ways, this seems to be a "guy" book. It relies on things on hand
(you'll need a pantry here) primarily frozen meats such as steaks, and
sauces, and jars of veggies such as roasted red peppers. There's
nothing wrong with these in moderation. But they keep it all quick and
easy, and could best be used when you absolutely have to cook for a
bunch of people. The unexpected guests. For example, sauces (and most
of the preps) are based on Asiatic, Latin, or Mediterranean flavours.
Because that's actually all there is in guy-land. Specific sections
deal with breakfast, soups, sandwiches, things to eat with your
fingers, chicken, meat and potatoes, and pasta and desserts.
Preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements,
but there is no metric table of equivalents. Pretty basic foods such as
chicken and bacon pot pie, chicken-egg salad, antipasto sandwich,
pesto-bean-shrimp soup, red pepper and blue cheese bruschetta, meatball
stroganoff, and the like. Worth a look. Quality/Price rating: 82.

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