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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

* 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 –

MAD HUNGRY CRAVINGS (Artisan, 2013; distr. T. Allen, 306 pages, ISBN
978-1-57965-438-2, $27.95 US hard covers) is by Lucinda Scala Quinn,
food writer and chef with her own cooking show "Mad Hungry with Lucinda
Scala Quinn". She's also the executive food editor of Martha Stewart
Living Omnimedia. These are her versions of dishes that families seem
to enjoy: sesame chicken, pulled pork, New York-style cheesecake, pad
thai, potato skins, and more – 173 preps in all. Her arrangement is by
meal, beginning with brekkies, moving on to lunch (or anytime), ending
with dinner mains and then desserts. There are many, many tips along
the way, in such categories as "note", "good to know", "freezer
friend", and "how to pull it off". She emphasizes the importance of a
larder/pantry and tells us of the four main ones: North American,
Mediterranean, Asian, and Latin. With these you can conquer the world.
Still, a lot of the food is on the heavy side, and appeals mainly to
guys. In that respect it is an extension to her earlier book "Mad
Hungry: feeding men and boys". Preparations have their ingredients
listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there is a table of metric
equivalents. Quality/price rating: 87.

CELEBRITY VINEYARDS; from Napa to Tuscany (Welcome Books, 2013; distr.
Random House of Canada, 288 pages, ISBN 978-1-59962-116-6, $35 US paper
covers) is by Nick Wise, who once was a wine merchant but now is a
writer of pop culture. It's the first of three to be written about the
celebrities who own vineyards. This one covers 16 people in California,
Canada, Italy, and Spain (volume two will deal with Washington State,
France, Australia, New Zealand, more California and Italy with another
15 vineyards). Celebrities include movie stars such as Raymond Burr,
Fess Parker, and Dan Aykroyd in North America, plus Antonio Banderas in
Spain. There are some race car drivers (Andretti, Lewis, Trulli), film
people (Disney, Coppola, Oliveros) and some sports figures – but no
golfers (they'll be in volume two)! The major criteria were that they
be actively involved in the winemaking process (not just fronting the
operation), and that the wines be generally available for sale. Each
chapter gives us some insight into the celebrity's life and reasons for
wanting to make wine, gives us some photos of the people involved and
the terroir landscape, and some conclusions (e.g., it takes a lot of
money). There are some tasting notes and label shots at the end of each
chapter. There is also a glossary and a directory of addresses and
websites to the wineries covered. Quality/price rating: 85.
WHERE THERE'S SMOKE; simple, sustainable, delicious grilling (Sterling
Epicure, 2013, 304 pages, ISBN 978-1-4027-9705-7, $30 US hard covers)
is by Barton Seaver, a former Washington DC chef and current
speaker/National Geographic Fellow working to restore our relationship
with the ocean and the land, and with each other through dinner. He's
spoken just about everywhere and has appeared on many US TV networks.
His first cookbook (For Cod and Country) was published two years ago.
Here he tackles fresh, organic produce, fish, beef and poultry,
emphasizing fire cookery. His book has a lot of primer data on grilling
and techniques for healthier and greener grilling. He's also got ideas
on adding flavour through smoke, making veggies a main component of
grilling, cooking many courses on one flame, and matching wines. Log
rolling includes chefs and cookbook authors such as Deborah Madison. If
you'd like something different, try grilled tuna spines, smoked lamb
shoulder or his version of merguez. There's a resource list at the
back. Preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois
measurements, but there is no table of metric equivalents.
Quality/price rating: 89.

FAMILY TABLE; favorite staff meals from our restaurants to your home
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013, 336 pages, ISBN 978-0-547-61562-2,
$35 US hard covers) has been assembled by Michael Romano (culinary
director for Union Square Hospitality Group, a Beard Award winner, and
cookbook author) and Karen Stabiner (food writer and cookbook author),
with log rolling by Mario Batali and Daniel Boulud. It's a great idea
for a book: every restaurant has some food available for its staff,
family style, before the lunch and dinner services. Often it is
improvised, or about new experimental dishes, or about tasty leftovers.
Romano has sifted through a variety of these staff meals as done at his
restaurants (Gramercy Tavern, Eleven Madison Park, Tabla, Blue Smoke,
The Modern, Maialino, Untitled, North End Grill, Union Square Café) and
regularized them for home cooks. Stabiner writes about the cooks and
how the dishes came to be: it is all backstage memoir material, along
with photos. Most preps are regional, such as Dominican chicken, fish
tacos, and Thai beef. Others are comfort food such as turkey potpie,
coffee cake, and corn soup. There's something here for every family to
try. Preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois
measurements, but there is no table of metric equivalents.
Quality/price rating: 89.

LEON FAMILY AND FRIENDS (Conran Octopus, 2012; distr. Canadian Manda
Group, 308 pages, ISBN 978-1-84091-619-5, $29.99 US hard covers) is by
Kay Plunkett-Hogge (cookbook writer) and John Vincent (co-owner of Leon
in London). Over the years, since 2004, the Leon group has expanded to
now feature 13 restaurants, serving some 70,000 people a week. This is
a fourth book, and contains hundreds more preps for bold dishes that
can be prepared quickly at home. It's arranged in three major sections:
first, "Today" has recipes for just about every occasion, taking about
20 minutes if the mise en place is used. Typical dishes are for
breakfasts, speedy lunches, afternoon snacks, and simple weekday
dinners. The second half is "Tomorrow": preps that can be made in
advance when you have time, for food on the move, kids' meals, party
food. The layout of the book is an ADD sufferer's delight, especially
the acknowledgements pages. This may put some people off, but I know
some young people who are delighted with a book that actually seems to
have material that leaps off the page, or, as they say, comin' right at
ya! Typical preps include the upside-down apple and cranberry crumble,
slow-cooked lamb shepherd's pie, devilish chicken drumsticks, and
potato and leek soup. There are a couple of bookmark ribbons, the
ingredients are listed in bold typeface, and there is also an index by
type of diet (e.g. gluten-free, low glycemic and low fat). Preparations
have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there is
no table of metric equivalents. Quality/price rating: 85.

THE MEATBALL COOKBOOK (Mitchell Beazley, 2013; distr. Canadian Manda
Group, 160 pages, ISBN 978-1-84533-763-6, $19.99 US hard covers) is by
Jez Felwick who owns and operates a food truck in the UK: Great Balls
of Fire. He provides gourmet meatballs, fish balls, and veggie balls,
plus an endless variety of sides, sauces, dips and condiments. For his
fans, there is now his book, divided as to meat, fish and veggies. If
you like ball culture, then this book is for you: shrimp balls, lamb
and rosemary meatballs, green chile chicken balls, brown rice and red
lentil balls. Preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois
measurements, but there is no table of metric equivalents.
Quality/price rating: 87.
MODERN MEDITERRANEAN; easy, flavorful home cooking (Stewart Tabori &
Chang, 2013, 240 pages, ISBN 978-1-61769-018-1, $35 US hard covers) is
by Melia Marden, of Greek extraction and now executive chef of The
Smile in New York City. The resto serves seasonal food, and that's what
she advocates in her 125 easy preps for the home cook, with log rolling
from the Lee Brothers and Joan Didion. There's a collection of 17
suggested menus at the back; unfortunately, none have page references
so you'll have to look them all up in the index. Topics cover a French
country dinner, a Christmas dinner (largely Moroccan), an Easter feats,
a BBQ grill, a Taverna offering, a garden party, a cocktail party.
There's a full range of ideas, from apps and drinks to desserts, with
basic pantry information for sticking up. The book is also partly
memoirish, which photos. Try fava bean crostini, minted snap peas,
fennel with cucumber and pomegranate salad, sauteed shaved asparagus, a
potato-fontina pizza, spaghetti in lemon cream, or Greek yoghurt panna
cotta. Preparations have their ingredients listed in metric and
(mostly) avoirdupois measurements, but there is no table of
equivalents. Quality/price rating: 87.

HAND-CRAFTED CANDY BARS; from-scratch, all-natural, gloriously grown-up
confections (Chronicle Books, 2013, 160 pages, ISBN 978-1-4521-0965-7,
$24.95 US hard covers) is by Susie Norris (chocolatiers of Happy
Chocolates in Los Angeles) and Susan Heeger (food writer). These bars 
are thick and layered with nougat or crisp with toffee, and then coated
with extra fine chocolate. They've taken familiar commercial bars and
other faves from the past – and re-created them using freshly wrought
ingredients at home. There is a mix and match flavour chart for people
to customize their own bars. It's a delicious book with stunning
photography: almond coconut bars, rocky road, coffee crisps, nougat
bars, peanut cups, caramel pecan tortoises – and more!! Recipes show
quantities and time needed, as well as tips and variations. There is a
primer on equipment and pantry holdings. Preparations have their
ingredients listed in both metric and avoirdupois measurements, but
there is no table of equivalents. Quality/price rating: 89.

CHEESECAKE; 60 classic and original recipes for heavenly desserts
(Ryland Peters & Small, 2013, 144 pages, ISBN 978-1-84975-353-4, $24.95
US hard covers) is by Hannah Miles, an early winner in MasterChef – in
2007 she was one of three finalists. She continues to make TV
appearances and has written other cookbooks on popcorn, whoopie pies,
and doughnuts. Here she tackles 60 cheesecakes, very easy to make. She
begins with a primer. The classics here include chocolate chip and
baked vanilla. Then there are the fruity (champagne rhubarb), the candy
bar (peanut brittle), the gourmet (salty honey), the party (trifle
cheesecake, baked Alaska), and the global (cardamom bun, Japanese
cherry blossom). Preparations have their ingredients listed in both
metric and avoirdupois measurements, but there is no separate table of
equivalents. Quality/price rating: 89.

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