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Thursday, November 30, 2017

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.LIDIA'S CELEBRATE LIKE AN ITALIAN (Appetite by Random House, 2017, 386 pages, ISBN 978-0-14-752977-0 $45 CAD hardcovers) is by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich (restaurateur, Emmy-award winning TV show, cookbook author) and her daughter Tanya Bastianich Manuali. The celebration, one of the few cookbooks today wrapped in a dust jacket, is explored in 220 recipes, suitable for a formal event, a picnic, or a family dinner. It is sort-of a greatest hits book; she's written over 14 other books on Italian food. Is there a need for another Italian cookbook on the market? Well, yes there is always room for one more, especially if the author is the irrepressible Lidia. Of value are the passages dealing with BBQs, party planning, doing a cheese platter, setting a table, choosing wine or constructing a salumi board. It begins with 22 alcohol aperitifs, followed by the apps, salads, soups, veggies and sides, polenta, risotto, pasta, fish and seafood, poultry and meat, and then dessert. "I chose these particular recipes because they are delicious and easy to make, and they serve and fit any celebration." The book could have been improved if it also used metric in the recipes, or at least had a metric conversion chart – there's a whole blankety-blank blank page just before the index! Quality/price rating: 86.
10.LOLA'S;  a cake journey around the world (Ryland Peters & Small, 2017, 192 pages, ISBN 978-1-84975-809-3 $24.95 USD hardbound) is by Julia Head, a UK-based caterer who once worked for Lola's Cupcakes in London. It has since expanded to cover regular cakes. Here Head gives us 70 global recipes for cakes: classic sponge cakes, traybakes, layer cakes, pastries and gateaux of all sorts. Rare in cookbooks these days are her icons for levels of difficulty, from easy through intermediate and advanced. There are some gluten-free and dairy-free cakes as well. It is all arranged by region, beginning with Northern Europe (the home of the cake), Southern Europe, Middle East and Africa, the Americas, and Australasia. All cakes are featured at Lola's: stollen, strudel, tiramisu, olive oil cake, baklava cake, peanut and banana loaf cake, sesame seed cake, mango cake, et al. All of them are colourfully illustrated with a combo of finished plated product and tourist-type photos. Preps are scaled, which is the way it should be with ratios. Conversion charts could also have been useful. Quality/price rating: 86
11.FOR THE LOVE OF PIE (Gibbs Smith, 2017, 200 pages, ISBN 978-1-4236-4769-0 $27.99 USD hardbound) is by Cheryl Perry and Felipa Lopez. Both are co-owners of Pie Corps in NYC. It is a guide to both sweet and savoury pies, staring off with a primer, moving through to the crust, and then to the sweet (fruit, custard and cream, mousse and pudding, nut) and then to the savoury (chicken, meats, fish, veggie). Finally, there are some interesting hybrids in the sugar-salt-bitter continuum, such as apple crumb pie with rosemary-caramel sauce, lavender honey and peach hand pies, pear galette with mascarpone and salted sage brown butter, and fresh fig with blue cheese and walnut mini galettes.
The book could have been improved if it also used metric in the recipes, but it at least had a metric conversion chart. Quality/price rating: 87.
12.MYERS+CHANG AT HOME (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017, 320 pages, ISBN 978-0-544-83647-1 $32 USD hardbound) is by Joanne Chang, a Beard award winner and owner of Flour in Boston/Cambridge. She also co-owns, with her husband, Myers+Chang, since 2007 in Boston. This is her forth cookbook, emphasizing the reconstruction of many of her preps for home use. Karen Akunowicz helped her; she's executive chef and partner in Myers+Chang. There's also a lot of log rolling, with six endorsements (including the ubiquitous Ottolenghi who must be tied with Batali by now). This is Asian food (some of it South Asian street food), beyond the Taiwanese cooking that Chang also does. There are stories and photos from the restaurant. It's arranged by major ingredient or format, such as dim sum, dumplings, wok, noodles, rice, sauces, with chapters on salads, grains, sides, family meals and desserts. Typical are dan dan noodles, dragon sauce, tamarind-glazed cod with Vietnamese mint & jicama, chocolate tofu mousse, and kung pao chickpeas. The book could have been improved if it also used metric in the recipes, or at least had a metric conversion chart. Quality/price rating: 88
13.SATURDAY PIZZAS (Ryland Peters & Small, 2017, 192 pages, ISBN 978-1-84975-882-6, $21.95 USD hardbound) is by Philip Dennhardt (Ballymaloe Cookery School in East Cork Ireland) and Kristin Jensen, freelance food writer. He started as a pop-up restaurant with gourmet pizzas, and then became more involved with butchery and sausages at the Ballymaloe. Here are 90 preps of dazzling pizzas, best made with a wood-fired oven but here adapted for home use: just turn the oven up to as hot as it gets and preheat for one hour. If there is a fan, use it. There are lots of memoir material here as well as a primer for high heat pizza-making.  And a great trouble-shooting section. A basic pizza is dough and sauces: there are almost no real rules, just techniques. His primer is about 50 pages, and is followed by pizza recipes divided by solid toppings – sausage pizzas, cured meat ones, roast meat, seafood, and veggie. Then come the calzones and panzerotti, ending with fruit and dessert pizzas. From the latter, you could try banoffee pizza (biscuit/cookie base with bananas, whipped cream and toffee) or pear pizza with feta/walnuts/arugula, or even caramelized apple with blue cheese and candied walnuts. Preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there is no table of metric equivalents. Quality/price rating: 87.
14.NIGHT+MARKET (Clarkson Potter, 2017, 320 pages, ISBN-0-451-49787-1 $35 USD hardbound) is by Kris Yenbamroong, chef of Night+Market in LA. It comes with log rolling by Gwyneth Paltrow, David Chang, and Wolfgang Puck. Kris has re-imagined classic Thai cooking for the modern tastes, food that can be enjoyed with alcoholic beverages. He comes from a Thai restaurant background via his family's place, but he has also explored the rural cooking of Northern Thailand. According to the blurb to the part-memoir, part-cookbook, "he came to question what authenticity really means and how his passion for grilled meats, fried chicken, tacos, sushi and wine" influenced the style of good living at his restaurant. The major wine of choice is Chenin Blanc from anywhere, which I approve of. The emphasis is on having fun, which you can do at home with friends, but there are too many non-food photos for my tastes. The arrangement is by themes in his life: a chapter on "grandma" to cover the basics and classics, followed by "tourist in Thailand" for the rural materials, a chapter on dips and sauces, some leftover foods, and party night (TGIF, which used to mean Thank God It's Friday, but now means Thank God It's Fun – so any night will do). Dishes include Thai puffy omelet, scallop tostada, Thai-style Korean short ribs, salmon poke, stir-fried greens with garlic and chiles, and kung pao eggplant tacos. The book could have been improved if it also used metric in the recipes, or at least had a metric conversion chart. Quality/price rating: 89.
15.MY RICE BOWL (Sasquatch Books, 2017, 320 pages, ISBN 978-1-63217-078-1 $35 USD hardbound) is by Rachel Yang, who, with her husband, owns/operates/chefs at four Pacific Northwest restaurants in Seattle and Portland. They've had three Beard Award nominations for their Asian-flavoured food. Jess Thomson is a co-author; she's a freelance food and travel writer with seven cookbooks and many articles. The preps are mainly Korean fusion with a global twist applied to noodles, dumplings, pickles and pancakes. The book is arranged thus, beginning with a chapter on banchan, then kimchi, BBQ, rices. Hot pots and stews, with four desserts. The first one hundred pages deal with memoirish material on her style of cooking and their restaurants, plus a primer on stocks, sauces, pastes, and the basics of dumplings and noodles (but there doesn't seem to be any indication of gluten-free dough, although there is a chapter on rice and another on pancake batter with mung bean batter). Try arugula and corned lamb, or mung bean pancake batter, broiled mackerel, and a smoky pad Thai (with purchased rice noodles). The book could have been improved if it also used metric in the recipes, but at least it had a metric conversion chart. Quality/price rating: 87.
16.THE MOOSEWOOD RESTAURANT TABLE (St. Martin's Griffen, 2017, 402 pages, ISBN 978-1-250-07433-1 $35 USD hardbound) is by the Moosewood Collective of 19 members who do all the jobs necessary to run the Ithaca NY restaurant. Some have worked there since the place opened in 1973. Their latest cookbook – the 14th – has 250 brand-new recipes never published before. But it is no longer hand-lettered. Instead, it has a larger typeface with good leading and a in index that is readable. The restaurant is still a vegetarian operation, stressing plant-based foods but also using tofu/tempeh as a protein replacement, eggs, and honey. Chapter topics include breakfast and brunch , apps, spreads and dips, sandwiches, soups, side salads, main dish salads, grain bowls, entrees, stews, pasta, burgers and beans, breads and pizza, sides, sauces, and a huge selection of desserts. Typical are sunbutter bites, butternut squash latkes, Indonesian rice bowl, sugar snap peas with coconut and lime, white bean and olive sandwich, roasted beet and walnut dip, black rice and spinach salad, and fresh rhubarb cake. Everything seasonal, of course. The book could have been improved if it also used metric in the recipes, or at least had a metric conversion chart. Nada to both. Quality/price rating: 88.
17.GUERRILLA TACOS (Ten Speed Press, 2017, 272 pages, ISBN 978-0-399-57863-2 $30 USD hardbound) is by Wesley Avila (professional chef who turned to running Guerrilla Tacos) with Richard Parks III (food writer). These are recipes from the streets of Los Angeles,  augmented by serious logrolling headed by Mario Batali. Avila's Guerrilla Tacos was named Best Taco Truck by LA Weekly. While these preps are Avila's personal touches, he draws on his Mexican heritage to create variations. Along with the recipes there are memoirs and photos. The book is arranged by themes, beginning with Pico Rivera (where he grew up), forklift food, the taco cart and truck, and then the pop-up style. Typical choices are the Mexican-style guacamole, green bean and egg taco, roasted pumpkin taco, razor clam tostada, pork sparerib taco, and mushroom escabeche taco. The book could have been improved if it also used metric in the recipes, or at least had a metric conversion chart. Quality/price rating: 88

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