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Thursday, July 1, 2021

* 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 –
6.HOW TO GRILL VEGETABLES; the new bible for barbecuing vegetables over live fire (Workman Publishing, 2021, 326 pages, $33  paperbound) is by Steven Raichlen, author of a renowned BBQ cookbook series (they've won five Beards and three IACP awards). He's also done five TV food series. His book purports "to bring live fire or wood smoke to every imaginable vegetable": fire-blistering tomatoes, cedar-planking eggplant, hay-smoking lettuce, spit-roasting Brussels sprouts on the stalk, grilling corn a seemingly endless number of ways, cooking onions in the embers. 115 recipes in all, which  also includes chapters on grilling breads, pizza, eggs, cheese, and desserts. More than comprehensive. Small note: this is not strictly a vegan book – there is some bacon and a few other items. If you are kosher, then these are smaller than an olive.  A lot of these dishes can also be done indoors as pan-frying or sauteeing, such as the sandwiches. The important thing is to get the ladies on board to BBQ and the guys as well, to get some healthy food into the body. After the intro to grilling and the pantry, the arrangement is by food format:  starters, dips, chips, salads, slaws, soups, breads, veggie small plates, sides, eggs and cheese, desserts – plus the inevitable appendices of sauces, seasoning, condimenti, and the like. A spiffy looking glossary and conversion tables complete the book.
The book could have been improved if it also used metric in the recipes (come on, join the world!), but at least it had a metric conversion chart. Quality/price rating: 94.
7.CYPRUS CUISINE (Whitecap, 2021, 274 pages, $34.95 papercovers) is by Christina Loucas, a Victoria BC-based creator of Afrodite's Kitchen, a website devoted to Cypriot food. It was originally published in 2016 in Italian, and here it is translated into English. It is a very good well-researched summary of Cypriot food: she's got 80 detailed recipes that range from classic to contemporary. Food in Cyprus has been heavily influenced by the spice trade and its location in the Mediterranean near the Middle East. It's part memoir, part travel guide, and part cookbook like so many other regional cookbooks. She has the basic history of food in Cyprus, the larder/pantry needed to maintain a kitchen, some drinks (tea, lemonades, coffee), and then moves on to breads and pastries such as halloumi mint scones, tsoureki (Easter orange bread), kattimeri (crepes), and koulouria (sesame bread rings). Next up in the meal are soups, salads, small bites, mains, condimenti, cakes and sweets. Her book also concludes with some suggested dinner menus for 2, 4 or 6 persons, followed by a listing and description of local markets in Limassol and Nicosia. It is a bright book, loaded with exceptional closeups of finished plates. Typical dishes include octopus wine stew, lamb orzo stew, and pickled caper shoots, coriander smashed olives, and of course purslane salad. Quality/price rating:  91
8.SKEWERED; recipes for fire food on sticks from around the world (Dog 'n' Bone, 2021, 160 pages, $24 hardbound) is by Marcus Bawdon, UK website owner of CountryWoodSmoke and appearing on other social media channels along with demos at BBQ festivals and a magazine editorship. His first book was "Food and Fire".  Here are 60-plus preps for the grill; all of them skewered on a variety of metal, bamboo, and wooden sticks. Their sizes range from Argentine churrasco blades to bite-size Japanese teriyaki skewers. Of course, any kinds of foods can be skewered and cooked in this manner – especially marshmallows. Preps are global, from all over the world, and thus they reflect local spicing levels....Bawdon's got the primer down pat, along with troubleshooting tips. Recipe arrangement  is by region: South America, North America, Caribbean, Europe, Middle East, India, Far East,  Africa and Oceania. Check out baharat lamb skewers from the middle east, tandoor-style paneer skewers from India, and miso & sesame king oyster from the far east. Each prep includes a recommended heat level for the embers and a choice of skewers to use. With modifications, you can use the skewers indoors on a grill oven-top...No problem as they say.....The book could have been improved if it also used metric in the recipes, or at least had a metric conversion chart....thus more international cookbooks can be sold this way throughout the world.  Quality/price rating: 89
9.THE SECRET INGREDIENT COOKBOOK; 125 family-friendly recipes with surprisingly tasty twists (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021, 296 pages, $43 hardbound) is by Kelly Senyei, creator of "Just a Taste" internet food site. She appears regularly on the Food Network and had previously worked for Gourmet and Epicurious. Some heavy-duty logrolling is also involved. She's got a big pantry with essential ingredients (different flours, salts, vinegars, sugars, pastas) and some fridge items. To Kelly's mind, secret ingredients punch-up dishes. Thus, if you make shake 'n' bacon bites, then you could/should add Dijon mustard as a"secret ingredient", berry breakfast pastries require the addition of cardamom, skillet sweet potato hash is enhanced by beet greens, weekday snack mix calls for tahini, and the spicy goddess flatbread needs jalapenos.
Good concept for a family cookbook. The book could have been improved if it also used metric in the recipes, or at least had a metric conversion chart – time to join the rest of the world. Quality/price rating: 88.

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