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Monday, August 8, 2011

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 and/or the media personality. 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. The celebrity books, with well-known chefs or entertainers, seem
to have too much self-involvement and ego. And, 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 –

-BABYCAKES COVERS THE CLASSICS; gluten-free vegan recipes from donuts
to snickerdoodles (Clarkson Potter, 2011, 144 pages, ISBN 978-0-307-
71830-3, $25 US hard covers) is by Erin McKenna, chef and owner of
BabyCakes NYC (also in Los Angeles). Despite being featured in
"hundreds of print and online media outlets" and being a featured guest
on many TV shows (including some food shows), she has log rolling from
Mark Bittman and two others. This is her second book, with 50 preps of
more of the same favourites – all created without gluten, dairy, eggs
or refined sugar. There's a primer on key ingredients and tools,
followed by some rules of substitutions, such as converting gluten-free
recipes to spelt recipes, converting vegan sugar-based recipes to
agave-sweetened recipes, and substituting for bean flour. Preparations
have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there is
no table of metric equivalents. Typical are pancakes, gingerbread
pancakes, honey buns, granola, vegetable tart, sugar cookies, and the
like. The book is a boon for those who crave gluten-free sweets.
Quality/price rating: 89.

-YOU CAN TRUST A SKINNY COOK (John Wiley & Sons, 2011, 272 pages, ISBN
978-0-470-87635-0, $29.95 US hard covers) is by Allison Fishman, food
writer and cooking school owner, plus hostess of two TV food shows
("Cook Yourself Thin" and "Home Made Simple"). Here she continues on
the themes of real food for real diets. The first step is to cook for
yourself: save money and save preservatives. And you have portion
control. Among the 140 preps here are dishes for all courses and times
of the day, from breakfast to late night snacks. Preparations have
their ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there is no
table of metric equivalents. For example, there's breakfast bread
pudding with peaches and blueberries. She indicates prep time (30
minutes), total time (2 hours), servings and sizes, along with tips to
reduce the calorie count even further, plus nutrition information per
serving (listed in metric, while the ingredients are listed in
avoirdupois). I had trouble reading the list of ingredients because the
typeface was average size but in soft, screened blue ink. It doesn't
photocopy, and is that what the publisher wanted? Major ingredients are
highlighted in the index. The layout may need a re-think. Try also
seared duck breast with ginger bok choy, pot of mussels, slow cooker
pulled pork, Mediterranean tuna salad. Quality/price rating: 84.

-NOW EAT THIS! DIET (Grand Central Life & Style, 2011; distr. Hachette,
300 pages, ISBN 978-0-446-58449-4, $22.99 US soft covers) is by Rocco
DiSpirito, who previously wrote NOW EAT THIS! last year. He's a Beard
winner who had what was probably the best ever "reality" restaurant
show, "The Restaurant" on NBC. This is his seventh 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 lemon pepper shrimp from 593 calories to 283 calories.
Mushroom lasagna is reduced from 850 calories to 388. The book is in
two parts: the first is the diet primer, the second is the recipes. The
prep arrangement is by course, 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, whole wheat panko bread crumbs, 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: 82.

-CRISTINA FERRARE'S BIG BOWL OF LOVE (Sterling Epicure, 2011, 302
pages, ISBN 978-1-4027-8644-0, $30 US hard covers) accompanies the
Oprah Winfrey Network's TV food show of the same name. There are 150
preps here, with an emphasis on family food and good use of leftovers.
It's a book for her fans, arranged by course from apps to sweets with
ideas for pantry-larder-staple items. Preparations have their
ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there is no table
of metric equivalents. Good layout, with a pix of the finished plate,
bold face for the ingredients listing, and a range of sevings normally
from 4 to 6. Classic family fare includes roast beef, pan-seared
salmon, grilled veggies, roasted chicken wraps, and Tuscan bread soup.
Quality/price rating: 85.

-JUST GRILL THIS (John Wiley & Sons, 2011, 256 pages, ISBN 978-0-470-
46793-0, $19.95 US soft covers) is by TV chef, Sam the Cooking Guy (Sam
Zien, a twelve-time Emmy Award winner). These are basic grill works,
simply done, and great for the novice. Preparations have their
ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there is no table
of metric equivalents. There's the usual primer on equipment, larder,
techniques, rubs and sauces. Preps cover apps, "things not normally
grilled" (e.g. grilled baguette French toast, chicken on a beer can,
grilled hearts of romaine, sesame grilled meatballs), sandwiches,
veggies, meats, burgers and dogs, and grilling inside the house. There
a fair amount of sass here, and way too many pictures of Zien himself.
But it is a useful book for the beginner. Quality/Price rating: 84.

-EVA'S KITCHEN (Clarkson Potter, 2011, 224 pages, ISBN 978-0-307-71933-
1, $29.99 US hard covers) is by Eva Longoria (with Marah Stets), the
actress (not the baseball player) who also co-owns two steakhouses with
a Latin flair. Despite all this, she still needed six log rollers
(Bobby Flay, Mario "Ubiquitous" Batali, Giada de Laurentiis, her resto
partner Todd English, and Rick Bayless). The book will sell anyway,
based on her name, the use of "cooking with love for family and
friends", and the US Southwest themes. The range is from apps to
desserts and drinks. Preparations have their ingredients listed in
avoirdupois measurements, but there is no table of metric equivalents.
Try Crock-pot Cuban ropa vieja, parmesan summer squash, chili con
carne, and grilled shrimp. And there are plenty of pictures of
Eva…Quality/price rating: 83.

NORDIC BAKERY COOKBOOK (Ryland, Peters & Small, 2011; distr. T. Allen,
144 pages, ISBN 978-1-84975-096-7, $24.95 US hard covers) is by Miisa
Mink, a partner in the bakery. The Nordic Bakery opened in Soho, London
in 2007, and should open in New York City in 2011. The emphasis from
the resto is an offering of dark rye bread, cinnamon buns, and coffees.
Scandinavian cookery has been touted as wholesome and comforting, with
its emphasis on rye flour, oats and barley. So first up, then, is a
whole section on breads, followed by savory pastries, cakes, sweet
pastries, tarts and cookies. Preparations have their ingredients listed
in avoirdupois measurements, but there is a table of metric
equivalents. The book is further distinguished by the usual high
photographic standards of the finished plates. Typical preps include
rye bread, gravad lax, rye baguettes, open faced sandwiches of many
kinds, carrot and oat rolls, karelian pies from Finland, and anchovy
twists. Quality/price rating: 86.
SNOG HEALTHY TREATS COOKBOOK (Ryland Peters and Small, 2011, 144 pages,
ISBN 978-1-84975-080-6, $24.95 US hard covers) is from a healthy food
store, Snog Pure Frozen Yogurt, which started in London UK in 2008, and
has since spread. The more than 50 recipes here are for foods served at
Snog, and embrace frozen yogurts, smoothies, gluten-free baked goods,
and raw foods. Snog uses organic no-fat yogurt and agave nectar (low-GI
sweetener). They have the basic prep for home use (natural, chocolate,
and yummy green tea) followed by the various permutations such as
pomegranate and vanilla pod frozen yogurt and apricot cardamom frozen
yogurt. The gluten-free section includes brownies, hazelnut cake,
avocado cream pie, peach tartlets, and apricot macaroons. For drinks,
try orange agua fresca with beet swirl or passion fruit mango kombucha.
Preparations have their ingredients listed in both metric and
avoirdupois measurements, but there is no table of equivalents. Great
pictures too. Quality/price rating: 89.

MASTERCLASS; make your home cooking easier (Collins, 2011, 224 pages,
ISBN 9789-0-00-729472-5, $39.99 Canadian hard covers) is by James
Martin who has a success television cooking show in the UK called
"Saturday Kitchen". These are the essential preps for classic dishes:
beef bourguignon, chicken curry, shepherd's pie (with lamb), pistou
soup, fish and chips, sponge cake, lemon curd tart, potato gnocchi, leg
of lamb steaks, etc. Preparations have their ingredients listed in both
metric and avoirdupois measurements, but there is no table of
equivalents. This is an engaging, personable book, with some nifty
spicing and flavour ideas. With its solid techniques and recipe
descriptions, it is useful as a first book for beginning cooks who wish
to "master" the classics. Quality/price rating: 86.

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