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Sunday, March 9, 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 –
14.THE AL TIRAMISU RESTAURANT COOKBOOK; an elevated approach to authentic Italian cuisine (CreateSpace, 2013, 382 pages, ISBN 978-1-491205327, $40 US paper covers) is by chef-owner Luigi Diotaiuti, who is also a certified sommelier. In 1996 he opened Al Tiramisu in Washington, DC, and it is now a home for many politicians. It has also won awards for Italian cooking, from Italy, as "authentic". He's joined here by food writer/celebrity/opinionmaker Amy Riolo. In addition to about 100 recipes pulled from the restaurant, there is a bit of history of Italian food, Al Tiramisu, and Diotaiuti. The four major chapters each cover antipasti through dolci: one chapter is on the restaurant, another on the beginnings of Italian food, a third on Diotaiuti's travels, and finally the fourth deals with his life in America. That's roughly 25 preps a chapter. There are historical and family photos, as well as engaging mini-stories and tips after each recipe. Wine choices are also listed. Each recipe is special to Diotaiuti – fava beans with chicory, grilled sea bass with asparagus and potatoes, grilled veal chops with dried figs and port reduction, and sweet carnival fritters. Preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there is no table of metric equivalents. The typeface size is large, a bonus for aging eyes, and this carries through to the index of principal plates. Both the Italian and the English name of the dish is included. A good, passionate family history and recipe sourcebook, and a great idea for patrons of the restaurant. It can be bought at the restaurant or through the publisher's website
Quality/price rating: 87.
15.DOWN SOUTH; bourbon, pork, Gulf shrimp & second helpings of everything (Clarkson Potter,  2014; distr. Random House Canada, 256 pages, ISBN 978-0-7704-3318-5, $35 US hard covers) is by Donald Link, a Beard Award winning chef of several New Orleans restaurants – Herbsaint, Cochon, Peche, Calcasieu. His first book, Real Cajun, won the Beard for Best American Cookbook. He is again assisted by Paula Disbrowe, his coauthor from Real Cajun. As he says, "This cookbook is a collection of remembrances and recipes meant to make you hungry, make you laugh, and convey what it's like to be both a chef and an eater in today's South". The theme chapters include drinks, cocktail parties, outside cooking, roasts, feet/necks/bones, seafood, fresh veggies for sides, and southern sweets.  From the roast/braise/simmer and fry chapter alone – guinea hen gumbo, hunter's style braised duck, slow-roasted pork should with kumquats and chiles, tupelo honey-glazed ham, crispy pork cutlets, pork belly and smoked sausage cassoulet, and braised goat with yogurt sauce. There's also roasted fig tart, Mississippi mud pie, broiled flounder, and New Orleans BBQ shrimp. Preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there is no table of metric equivalents. Scattered throughout are memoir materials and a variety of non-food photos. Quality/price rating: 87.
16.THE CHEESEMONGER'S SEASONS; recipes for enjoying cheeses with ripe fruits and vegetables (Chronicle Books, 2014, 192 pages, ISBN 978-1-4521-1288-6, $35 US hard covers) is by Chester Hastings, chef and cheesemonger at Joan's on Third in LA. He's got more than 100 different varieties of domestic and imported cheeses. His first book was The Cheesemonger's Kitchen. This is a second helping or recipes: 90 preps that go with the seasons, beginning with Spring and moving to Winter. Every dish used cheese, of course: coffee-rubbed leg of lamb stuffed with spinach and aged cheddar, buckwheat pasta with savoy cabbage and potatoes and fontina/bitto cheese, melted vacherin with carrots, camembert with chanterelle duxelles, pear risotto with testun al barolo and hazelnuts. A good lively selection by season, illustrated by cheeses or plated dishes or just food.
Preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there is no table of metric equivalents. Quality/price rating: 88.
17.KITCHEN WORKSHOP: PIZZA; hands-on cooking lessons for making amazing pizza at home (Quarry Books, 2014, 160 pages, ISBN 978-1-59253-883-6, $24.99 US paper covers) is by Ruth Gresser, owner of Pizzeria Paradiso (since 1991) in Washington, DC. It's being touted as a complete pizza kitchen manual, detailing all the techniques and skills needed to produce pizza at home. It is loosely arranged by level of difficulty: basics (seven variations on tomato-cheese style, including a gluten-free one), the "classics" (margherita, quattro formaggi, calzone), a selection of originals from the pizzeria, and  chapters for creating your own (seven sauces, seven protein toppings, seven veggies, and seven fruit). That's 49 in all, a good number to begin with. It is a nice book, easy to use, and is clearly meant for those who are bored with eating out of a box or doing takeout. Inviting food photos too. Preparations have their ingredients listed in both metric and avoirdupois measurements, but there is no overall table of equivalents.
Quality/price rating: 89.
18.EAT WELL AND STAY SLIM; the essential cuisine minceur (Frances Lincoln, 2014, 336 pages, ISBN 978-0-71123-536-6, $40 US hard covers) is by Michel Guerard, once a driving force behind nouvelle cuisine. His Cuisine Minceur has sold more than a million copies since it was first published in the 1970s. He has owned and operated Eugenie-les-Bains in southwest France since before his book; it has three Michelin stars. This current book was published in France in 2012, and it is here translated into English. There are forty years of culinary and nutritional wisdom here, with main courses coming in at 240 calories or less per person, aided by blends of vegetable and fruit purees. The 140 recipes include such tasty items as warm Thai chicken salad with potatoes (140 calories), tomato and strawberry gazpacho (75 calories), carpaccio of salmon with olives and tapioca, and spiced carrot and orange salad (75 calories). The top calorie item is French toast with vanilla-scented apple (240 calories). It is a complete book with the first 100 pages detailing the basics of the minceur cooking philosophy and techniques. The next 220 pages are the recipes. Each has cooking time prep and calorie count and level of difficulty. Good photography, although the list of ingredients has feinted printing. There is a glossary and two indexes: one by name of dish, the other by name of ingredient. It is also available as an ebook. Preparations have their ingredients listed in both metric and avoirdupois measurements, but there is no table of equivalents. Quality/price rating: 90.
19.MY IRISH TABLE; recipes from the homeland and Restaurant Eve (Ten Speed Press, 2014; distr. Random House Canada, 272 pages, ISBN 978-1-60774-430-6, $35 US hard covers) is by Cathal Armstrong (an award-winning Irish chef with seven restaurants in the Washington DC area) and David Hagedorn (once a chef but now a food writer with the Washington Post). It comes with some heavy log rolling from Phyllis Richman and Alice Waters. The book was published relatively close to St. Patrick's Day, so I decided to have it jump the queue so this review will be released in a timely fashion. Ireland has much produce, dairy, seafood, and grass-fed meats, helped along by foreign investments. Armstrong talks about his Irish culinary heritage, and in memoirs here, writes about his progress from Dublin to Washington. One of the places he owns is named after his daughter Eve. Through it all, we learn that Armstrong is heavily involved with sustainability and local food movements, and is using his influences to heavily promote them. It is a great read. His book has 130 preps, mostly the Irish classics but tempered with his French culinary training. The arrangement is by topic: there are sections on Irish breakfasts, food his mother cooked, Friday fish days, special occasions (Sunday, St. Patrick's Day, Easter, birthday, Halloween, Christmas), preps from Restaurant Eve, garden food, breads, and desserts. There is a glossary, a resources list, and primers on sauces and stocks. Try an Irish Caesar salad, Irish BLT, pork belly with braised cabbage and poached apples, Irish coffee (of course), and Cashel Blue cheese and toasted pecan terrine with frisee and apple jam. Preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there are conversion tables of equivalents. Quality/price rating: 89.
20.PIES AND TARTS (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014, 330 pages, ISBN 978-0-470-87359-5, $29.99 US hard covers) is by the Culinary Institute of America and Kristina Petersen Migoya, a baking and pastry instructor at the CIA and formerly at Bouchon Bakery. Its subtitle says "the definitive guide to classic and contemporary favorites from the world's premier culinary college", but it also comes with log rolling from four respected bakers. There are 150 preps, easy-to-follow techniques based on college teaching, and a well-laid out scheme of ingredients that lists both volume and weight of the products. Preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there is no table of metric equivalents – which is a shame, since most of the world is metric and the volume is US alone. Anyway, these are the classics with some surprises and riffs (roasted ginger plum tart, salty caramel apple pie, Mexican chocolate tart). The crust recipes can be mixed and matched. Variations include seasonal flavours. Gluten-free flours do not seem to be a consideration. Most of the recipes, with extensive sections on tools, techniques, and finishing touches, are sweets. Savouries are the last 40 or so pages. Good value for the price. Quality/price rating: 87.

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