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Saturday, February 22, 2014

* 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 best 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 at home, but how could that be? The books 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 photo shots, verging on gastroporn. There are endorsements from other celebrities in magnificent cases 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 –
9.WEEKNIGHT WONDERS; delicious, healthy dinners in 30 minutes or less (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013, 304 pages, ISBN 978-1-118-40949-7, $29.99 US hard covers) is by Ellie Krieger, host of the Food Network's Healthy Appetite. She's also a registered dietician who has a Beard Award for a previous cookbook (The Food You Crave). Here, with log rolling from both Jacques Pepin and a "Food Network star", she gives us some 150 easy to prepare dishes for the busy cook who comes home late. Every prep can be done in 30 minutes or less, with an emphasis on fresh and flavour. From among the fish dishes, try pistachio-crusted tilapia, pasta in creamy tuna sauce with arugula, or mojito mahi mahi with mango and avocado. Of course, it helps to have the right ingredients handy, so there is advanced work in maintaining some kind of pantry inventory. Preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there is no table of metric equivalents. Nutritional data is given for each prep, and concludes serving sizes, calories, a breakdown of nutrients, and a an indication of how excellent the dish is as a source. Quality/price rating: 87.
10.THE POUND A DAY DIET (Grand Central Life & Style, 2014; distr. Hachette, 298 pages, ISBN 978-1-4555-2367-2, $26 US hard covers) is By Rocco DiSpirito, a former restauranteur who created Union Pacific in NYC and currently hosts "Restaurant Divided" on the Food Network. He's also written nine cookbooks; this is his tenth. Most of his books advocate weight reduction. Here he takes it more slowly, but the cover does scream out: "lose up to 5 pounds in 5 days by eating the foods you love". It comes with a forward by a medical doctor. There's a large disclaimer, beginning with the words "This publication is intended to provide helpful and informative material...". He says over 95% of the participants who followed the program as specified lost 6 pounds of fat in the first week. Then he goes on to say that all of the participants maintained or lost more weight  after going off the diet. It is basically a low-cal six-meal-per-day program, with little or no cooking or exercise. One of the keys is the weekend: go wild. So you are five days on and two days off, repeatable for as long as you want. As I lifelong dieter, I find the idea intriguing, but I also realize that the first five pounds off is mainly water. Still, there are 60 quick preps here, most with five ingredients or less. The important principle here is always to have a plan and to stick with it. Preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there is no table of metric equivalents. Nutrient contents are listed for each recipe. Quality/price rating: 85.
11.TARTINE BOOK NO. 3: modern ancient classic whole (Chronicle Books, 2013, 336 pages, ISBN 978-1-4521-1430-9, $40 US hard covers) is by Chad Robertson co-founder of Tartine Bakery in San Francisco. As the title says, it is number three in the series of baking books. He's also a Beard Award winner. This current book looks to ancient grains and flavours in a modern interpretation. So there are 85 recipes for whole-grain versions of Tartine specialties. There are also preps for porridge breads and sprouted grain breads. There are also some previous Tartine pastry recipes redone with whole gains and nut milks. Maybe next time Robertson could also redo everything with gluten-free flours – wouldn't that be a treat!! Bread reparations have their ingredients listed in baker's percentages and by metric weight. Other recipes have both metric and avoirdupois measurements, but there is no table of equivalents. Try the sprouted emmer with maple and beer, or rye porridge. Quality/price rating: 88.
12.MIRAVAL'S SWEET & SAVORY COOKING (Hay House, 2014; distr. Raincoast, 206 pages, ISBN 978-1-4019-4190-1, $29.95 US hard covers) is by husband and wife Justine Cline Macy and Kim Macy, both culinary teachers and TV personalities – but also executive chef and pastry chef (respectively) at the Miraval Resort & Spa in Tucson Arizona. This is food that conforms to well-being and delicious treatments. It is also known as "spa food", and it is very useful to get you on track again. Sweet and savoury actually have no meaning (since all food is either sweet or savoury), except to indicate that there are items here for every type of course which includes a sweetener and/or salt. It is a complete package, as you find in a spa, with Kim's breakfasts, quick breads, yeast breads, cookies, bars, baked goods, cakes, custards, and Justin's soups, salads, appetizers, and mains. Both contribute side dishes. Along the way there are some pix and text about the resort, about the staff, and plated foods. It's a very nice package if you have ever been to a spa. Try some parmesan and olive crackers (gluten-free) or quinoa fettuccine with seasonal veggies. Preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there are tables of equivalents at the back. Quality/price rating: 87.
13.COWGIRL CREAMERY COOKS (Chronicle Books, 2013,  256 pages, ISBN 978-1-4521-1163-6, $35 US hard covers) is by Sue Conley and Peggy Smith, co-founders of Cowgirl Creamery, a farmstead cheese producer in Point Reyes California. It is mostly cows' milk as the name implies, with some sheep and goat. The book has the story of the artisanal creamery and how it evolved into a force within the organic food movement. It's also got strong log rolling from Ina Garten, David Tanis and Suzanne Goin. There are 75 apps, soups, salads, snacks, mains, and desserts: Earl Grey panna cotta, chilled garlic and asparagus soup with crème fraiche, and blue butter on grilled rib-eye. The arrangement is by type of cheese, with preps for various parts of the meal strewn about each chapter. There's even a glossary. Material about cheeses include accompaniments for cheese, tasting, sorting, aging, pairing beverages, serving, storage – even a discussion about rinds. Preparations have their ingredients listed in both metric and avoirdupois measurements, but there is no table of equivalents. Quality/price rating: 88.

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