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Thursday, September 9, 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 –
9.BASQUE; Spanish recipes from San Sebastian & beyond (Hardie Grant Books, 2016, 2021, 256 pages, $32.99 hard covers) is by Jose Pizarro (a Basque chef  who owns three restaurants in London. It's a well-illustrated and photographed travelogue-cookbook – and a great introduction to the Basque cuisine and country. It's all arranged by ingredient: meat, fish, veggies, desserts, concluding with a collection of Basque menus: two for pintxos, others for a simple three course menu and for a feasting menu for friends. Typical are roasted chicken wings with oregano and garlic, cured duck ham with pomegranate salad, griddled marinated quail with pickled shallots, piquillo peppers stuffed with oxtail, sukalki (beef stew), sardines a la plancha, pan-fried hake with wild chanterelles, and pan-fried porcini with egg yolk. It's a major contribution to the arena of Spanish cookbooks. Quality/Price Rating: 90.
10.THE MAGIC OF TINNED FISH; elevate your cooking with canned anchovies, sardines, mackerel, crab and other amazing seafood (Artisan Books, 2021, 208 pages, ISBN 978-1-57965-937-0, $33.55 hardbound) is by Chris McDade, owner-chef of Brooklyn's Popina, a western Mediterranean-styled restaurant with some US influences. He's got a short intro for preserved fish, principally tinned but also in glass jars. This is followed by a discussion on what to look for and a list of his 12 fave tinned products. Of necessity, his book is arranged by type of fish. Anchovies is first up, followed by sardines, mackerel, shellfish (sea urchin, oysters, clams, mussels, crab), squid, octopus, trout and cod – all with appropriate recipes fir cooking use. The photos also show the colourful labels of the tinned goods. At the end there is a US resources list for online ordering, if needed. Most of what he calls for is from sustainable fishing. One of my fave tinned fish is mussels, and through the index you can find preps such as mussel salad and potato chips on a brioche bun, or a mussel salad with fennel, chickpeas, and dill vinaigrette. Not everything here is seafood: there is roasted lamb with anchovies, rosemary and potatoes, and for pork, there is roasted pork loin with tonnato sauce. Cheese is also prominent (e.g. fusilli with sardines, 'nduja and pecorino). The 75 recipes include elevating mac and cheese with crab, and snacks such as anchovies, bread and butter. Comfort food includes smoked trout chowder. The book is a bit restrictive in that there is no tinned salmon, and no tuna, herring, shrimp, sprat, or caviar (or any other roe). But there is enough here to get you started. The book could have been improved if it also used more metric and fewer US volume measurements in the recipes, or at least had a metric conversion chart. Quality/price rating: 89.

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