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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

* 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 –
19.BAKING WITH MARY BERRY (DK, 2015, 192 pages, ISBN 978-1-4654-5323-5, $19.95 US soft covers) is by the British Queen of Baking, who was one of the judges on The Great Holiday Baking Show (now available on US TV) and The Great British Bake Off. She's authored over 80 cookbooks, selling 6 million copies. This current book is tied to TGHBS launching in the US. It is a basic primer of tips, advice, and step-by-step instructions for 100 or so recipes, covering mainly the classics, and with colour photos of finished plates. She ranges through cakes, cupcakes, pies, tarts, crumbles, cobblers, brownies, special occasion desserts (rich Christmas cakes, souffles, pavlovas, roulades, mille-feuilles) and British faves such as scones, Dundee cake, and treacle tart. Preparations have their ingredients listed in mostly avoirdupois measurements with some metric, but there is no table of equivalents. Quality/price rating: 87.
20.MOVEABLE FEAST WITH FINE COOKING; inspiring recipes from seasons 1 and 2 (Taunton Press, 2015, 238 pages, ISBN 978-1-63186-373-8, $30 US hard covers) is from the editors of Fine Cooking magazine. The preps come from the award-winning PBS "Moveable Feast" series; it is a companion book. The series, and the book, feature US chefs from across the land  sharing their recipes, tips and techniques for using regional/seasonal ingredients. There are also food gathering adventures with chefs and food purveyors. 75 preps comes from 40 different chefs, accompanied by colourful photos of feasts prepared in different locations. Thus, from LA there is the Ruby Cigar Cocktail, a lobster and chorizo queso fundido, carnitas with rice and salsa, charred baby octopus salad with pickled jalapeno plus plums and peaches, followed by a dessert of kahlua with espresso and chocolate trifle and candied peanuts. Great fun. All recipes are sourced, and each feast is a menu that can be recreated at home. At the back, there is a recipe index by course. Preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there is a table of metric equivalents. Quality/price rating: 88.
21.SUPERFOODS 24/7 (The Experiment, 2015, 176 pages, ISBN 978-1-61519-278-6, $19.95 US paper covers) is by Jessica Nadel, owner-baker of Oh My Bakeshop in Sudbury, Ontario, an organic vegan special order bakery, and Tucos Taco Lounge, a vegan taco restaurant. Previously she had written GRRENS 24/7 in 2014. Here she presents more than 100 quick and easy vegan preps for superfoods (almonds, blueberries, leafy greens such as kale) – meant for every meal of the day plus desserts and snacks. Try one of the green smoothies for brekkies. 35 superfoods are covered. She begins with nutritional profiles and prep guides for each type, followed by the recipes (golden turmeric milk, mole tofu with slaw, fresh cherry berry jam, seedy quinoa flatbread). She's got an international flavour as well, with spicing from the Mediterranean, Asia, and Latin America. There is also nutritional data for each prep. Nadel has been blogging for almost six years at Preparations have their ingredients listed in mostly avoirdupois measurements with some metric, but there is no table of equivalents. At the beginning she has some typical day superfood meal plans (with page references) that are worth considering. Quality/price rating: 87.
22.SOUPING (DK Publishing, 2015, 192 pages, ISBN 978-1-4654-4930-6, $19.95 US paper covers) is by Alison Velazquez, owner of Soupology, a company specializing in health-based soups (she's been a vegetarian for 20 years) and special diets. Here she presents 80 preps to help you lose weight, cleanse, detoxify, and generally re-energize yourself. It comes with the lovely artwork that DK is well-known for, and after the primer, it is arranged by season – ending with broths and consomme. Each season also emphasizes a cleanse: there's a three day metabolism cleanse in the spring, as well as an energizing cleanse. In the summer, there is a weight loss five day cleanse as well as a two day hydrating cleanse. There are two more in each of fall and winter, centering on detox, immune boosts, beauty reboots, and alkalizing. Typical soups include broccoli arugula soups, carrot and fennel soup, ancient grains soup, and ginger sweet potato soup. Each recipe has quantities, time prep notes, and nutritional data. Preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there is no table of metric equivalents. Quality/price rating: 88.
23.LUCKY RICE (Clarkson Potter, 2016, 224 pages, ISBN 978-0-8041-8668-1, $25 US hard covers) is by Danielle Chang, with a PBS series "Lucky Chow" and founder of the Lucky Rice festivals (night markets, dumpling making, feasts). She's got good company for log rollers such as Daniel Boulud, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and Susur Lee. She has a range of some 100 Asian culture recipes that include comfort foods done in a new way, new techniques, and classics. There is sweet Vietnamese coffee frozen into pops, one-hour homemade kimchi, and a variety of cocktails for the millennials. As the subtitle says, these are stories and recipes from family tables. At the end she's got 10 festive menus, unfortunately with no page references to the recipes, so you will have to dig them up through the index. Thus, for a Malaysian supper, she recommends herbal bone broth tea, okra with shrimp paste, sambal stingray, curry, Indonesian fried rice, and Thai mango pudding. Although she encourages you to mix and match to suit your palate or whimsy, for the Thai menu (or the Malay, or the BBQ, or dim sum, or Korean, etc.), you've got to use whatever is appropriate to the style or to the region. Preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there is no table of metric equivalents. Quality/price rating: 86.
24.FAST FOOD MANIAC (Three Rivers Press, 2016, 278 pages, ISBN 978-0-553-41803-3, $15 US soft covers) is by Jon Hein, who was the host of Fast Food Mani on Discovery TV. He's a rabid fast food fan within pop culture. As such he caters to over a quarter of a million fast food places in North America. His book explores the cultural history and menu items of national (first part) and regional (second part) chains, ranking the food, and making his own expert tips on where to go and what to eat (third part of the book). He's got some short notes on chains no longer with us, such as Red Barn. The book is profusely illustrated with menus and logos and pix of the typical food. But there is no index. A fun book, especially for American families who eat out a lot. Quality/price rating: 86.
25.HAPPY HENS & FRESH EGGS (Douglas & McIntyre, 2015, 200 pages, ISBN 978-1-77162-097-0, $22.95 CAN soft covers) is by Signe Langford, a former Toronto chef (Riverside Cafe, Amber) who now writes for a wide variety of publications. She's got some hens at her place: the book's subtitle is "keeping chickens in the kitchen garden, with 100 recipes". It is an interesting book on urban farming, and there are many cities where it is legal to have chickens in the back yard (Vancouver, Victoria, London, Niagara Falls, Kingston). If you ant to raise urban chickens for their eggs, then this is the book for you. She tells all you will need to know about coops, roosters, year round production, best breeds for backyards (e.g. Chantecler, Ameraucana), feeding and gardening, and the like. Many, many stories too about life with the ladies. The recipes (some from well-known contributors such as Vij, Calder, Reader and Cushing) all deal with eggs, and like the birds, they are arranged by season (Spring through Winter), covering many uses for eggs beyond the breakfast plate. She's got a few pages on treating illnesses, but I also wish she had some more pages on what to do with the flock when their time is up (even if she needed pages edged in black). There must be more to death than just stock and pot pies. Still, an engaging book, well-worth the time in reading. Preparations have their ingredients listed in both metric and avoirdupois measurements, but there is no table of equivalents given. Two indexes complete the book, one for the chickens and the gardens, and another for the recipes. Quality/price rating: 88.

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