FOOD AND DRINK BOOKS IN REVIEW FOR NOVEMBER 2021 [published mostly monthly since 2000]
By Dean Tudor, Gothic Epicures Writing, firstname.lastname@example.org
Creator of Canada's leading wine satire site at http://fauxvoixvincuisine.blogspot.ca
Reviewer Timeline: Cookbook Reviewer, Library Journal, 1969-1974; Cookbook Columnist and Lead Reviewer, The Booklist (American Library Association), 1974-1985; CBRA Cookbook Reviewer, 1975-1985; Freelance Cookbook Reviewer, 1985-1999; Gothic Epicures Writing Lead Cookbook Reviewer, 2000+
These food and wine book reviews are always available at www.deantudor.com and http://gothicepicures.blogspot.ca
Prices listed below are in US or CAN currency as printed on the cover. I do this because many of my readers are American. CAN prices are inserted for Canadian produced books. In times of US-Canadian currency fluctuations, parity, and online bookstore discounts (plus the addition of GST or HST) prices will vary upwards or downwards every day.
* DRINK BOOK OF THE MONTH! *
1.THE MARTINI; perfection in a glass (Artisan, 2021, 150 pages, $22.65 hardbound) is by Matt Hranek, who also wrote the definitive THE NEGRONI. It's a great basic guide, covering gin, vermouth, bitters, garnish – and even vodka (if need be). All the gin preps here can easily become vodka preps. It all depends on how much juniper-forward tastes you would enjoy. There's a cultural history of the drink, barware and glassware, various techniques (stirred, shaken, et al), and a whole pile of over 30 illustrated variations to try out. The martini is the consummate cocktail: writers, actors, politicians. You could start with the Martinez from 1849, but it's a lot sweeter since it uses sweet vermouth. It's more like a gin Manhattan without the bourbon. The concluding section has a listing of appropriate snacks, an espresso martini, and a listing of global places to savour this drink. Quality/Price Rating: 93.
* FOOD BOOK OF THE MONTH! *
2.GASTRO OBSCURA; a food adventurer's guide (Workman Publishing, 2021, 440 pages, $55 hardbound) has been pulled together by a food crew headed by Cecily Wong and Dylan Thuras. It's part of the Atlas Obscura family, a firm which seeks out the weird/wonderful delights of the world. With Gastro Obscura, it is the weird/wonderful food and drink of the world. Not everything here is "edible" for humans, but it is food for other living things. Curious people can explore what food and drink reveal about the places where they're made and the people who make them. Typical are a beer made from fog in Chile, threads of God in Sardinian pasta, histories of food conventions such as the Roman fish sauce factories, rice puddings, tea-houses. The arrangement is by continent, with Europe up first. Canada gets 26 pages, sub-arranged (like the other countries) by regions. There are lots of cultural bits about the Atlantic provinces, such as rappie pie (NS), seal flipper pie (NL), screech and iceberg ice (NL), cod tongues (NL) but only Thrills and bagged milk from Ontario. Illustrations include photos, food product adverts, action shots, and finished plates. This is a great reference book, created to be read over and over again. Hugely addictive. Quality/Price Rating: 94.
* MORE FOOD AND DRINK BOOKS
3.PORTUGUESE HOME COOKING (Interlink Books, 2021, 304 pages, $45 hardbound) is by Ana Patuleia Ortins, who has a degree in culinary arts and teaches Portuguese cooking. She's also written "Authentic Portuguese Cooking." She makes strong use of her family background from the Alto Alentejo region. In common with many cookbooks, it is arranged from soup to nuts, ending with material on wines and cocktails. And in common with many books in this Interlink series, it is loaded with photos of food and family. Typical pantry ingredients include onions, garlic, tomatoes, paprika, bay leaves, red pepper paste, cumin, chili peppers, cilantro, olive oil, vinegar and wine. Just add meat and veggies and fruit, and then choose a cooking method (braise, saute, roast, etc.). It is not really that simple, but then it is home cooking without the molecular work, the sous vide, and other typical restaurant procedures. Her petiscos (little dishes) are smaller versions of mains: chicken pies, clams cataplana, fireman's linguica, fresh cheese, salt cod cakes, shrimp rissoles, graciosa-style tortas. Her family's region is well-known for wheat, olives, pork, wine and a cork industry. Quality/Price Rating: 91
4.MACEDONIA: THE COOKBOOK; recipes and stories from the Balkans (Interlink Books, 2021, 272 pages, $45 hardbound) is by Katerina Nitsou, who grew up in a large Macedonian-Canadian community in Toronto before moving on to Le Cordon Bleu, the LA Times Test Kitchen, catering and private chef in California – and subsequently living in Australia. It's a great little book in the renowned Interlink series of regional cuisines. Macedonian food has been described as a rich mosaic of influences fro, Middle East and Mediterranean foods, tempered by the rest of the Balkans. It's arranged by course, and each of the 100 preps has both an English and a Macedonian name. First up are the small plates of mezze, then salata, supa, meso (meats), zhivina (poultry), riba (fish), zelenchuk (veggies), leb (breads), slatko (sweets, and zimnica (preserves). There are descriptive notes, culture, stories, memoirs, and many photographs. Typical dishes include leek crepes (palachinki so praz), lekja supa, pilinja pecheni (braised quail), and kozinak (Easter bread). Quality/Price Rating: 92
5.GRIST; a practical guide to cooking grains, beans, seeds, and legumes (Chronicle Books, 2021, 448 pages, $50 hardbound) is by Abra Berens, a Michigan-based chef, author (her "Ruffage" was a Beard Nominee), and former farmer. So she's travelled from grower to eater, and is connecting more people to the source of their foods. She's got more than 80 recipes for 28 different types of grains, legumes and seeds, and more than 160 variations, and more than 55 recipes for condiments of sauces, dressings, and pantry items that can mix-and-match multiple flavours. These are all basic preps, with at least three variations for each recipe that are useful for substitutions, seasonal produce, or whatever is at hand. Everything here can be considered a go-to dish. It's a marvelous reference book with international global scope in preps and flavours. Indeed, she "promises" a week's worth of lentils without any boredom. She details creating a myriad of fresh bean salads. The book is nicely illustrated with photography, line drawings, stories about the grains, and more stories about farmers who produce them.
She's added a glossary of terms, a list of sources, a vegetable cheat sheet, and good common sense. Quality/Price rating: 92
6.BARE MINIMUM DINNERS; recipes and strategies for doing less in the kitchen (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021, 232 pages, ISBN 978-0-358-43471-9, $27.99 paperbound) is by Jenna Helwig, food director at "Real Simple" magazine and the author of four previous cookbooks. This is a useful entry in the "quick & easy" cookbook field, with the emphasis on 30 minutes of less. Fewer ingredients means less cleanup, and we are all for that. If you have a good set-up, pantry and a mise en place (along with some notable short cuts), it is all amazingly successful – night after night. Lots of salads and meatless cooked dishes can cut times. She opens with the set-up: equipment, pantry, dried herbs and spices, freezer, best ingredients, handling food waste, and meal planning. The "best ingredients" descriptions cover the foods that are used over and over again: grated parmesan cheese (and other cheeses), tomato paste, hot sauce, red peppers, olive oil, cabbage, scallions, cherry tomatoes, yogurt. She's divided all the preps into minimum time (under 30 minutes), minimum ingredients (seven or fewer), single pots and pans, slow cookers, and easy sides.
Audience and level of use: harried parents.
Some interesting or unusual recipes/facts: quinoa pilaff, quick cukes, savory fruit salad, sesame-soy cauliflower rice, shrimp boil.
The downside to this book: preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there is no table of metric equivalents.
The upside to this book: excellent presentation.
Quality/Price Rating: 89
7.THE MODERN PRESERVER'S KITCHEN; cooking with jam, chutney, pickles and ferments (Hardie Grant Quadrille, 2021, 224 pages, ISBN 978-1-78713-538-3, $47 hardbound) is by Kylee Newton, a New Zealander living in London with her own preserver company (Newton & Pott) which specializes in small batch production and sells to high end UK stores. She covers both sweets and savouries, with excellent photography and layout. In addition to the basics of preserving she's got 70 mains in which to use them. Typical are pickled pea frittata, breakfast kimchi eggs, smoked chicken liver pate with blackberry and apple chutney and toasted brioche, and some peach and mint jam mini-galettes. Preparations have their ingredients listed in both metric and avoirdupois measurements, and just about everything is scaled. Quality/Price Rating: 90.
* THE RESTAURANT/CELEBRITY COOKBOOK...
...is 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 –
8.ALL DAY BAKING; savoury, not sweet (Hardie Grant Quadrille, 2021, 224 pages, ISBN 978-174379699-3, $35 USD hardbound) is by Michael James with Pippa James. They had opened Tivoli Road Bakery in Melbourne, and in 2019 set up another bakery at a dairy farm while acting as a consultant and giving baking classes. It comes heavily endowed with no fewer than 11 logrollers. They cover the savoury-salty side of pastry, with pies, sausage rolls, pasties, loaves, tarts, breakfast rolls, quiches, galettes, and others. They've got the basic primer and the pantry, finishing with the techniques. Try the ham and cheese palmiers or the kimchi and cheddar puff pastry tarts. There is also pumpkin and blue cheese galettes, butter chicken pie, Thai green curry sausage rolls and fish pie. They have vegan and gluten-free options, and variations for wholemeal and rye flour. The book is arranged by course or time of day from brekkies onwards. All preps are scaled and there is both metric and avoirdupois measurements. Quality/Price rating: 90.
9.NATURALLY, DELICIOUS DINNERS (Gibbs Smith, 2021, 224 pages, ISBN 968-1-4236-5826-9, $40 hardbound) is by Danny Seo. It's his third cookbook, also developing from his NBC show, "Naturally, Danny Seo". It is all about sustainability and naturalness in cooking. He has a great, relaxing style of discourse. He's starts with some good ideas for breads, biscuits, pizza, straws, dinner rolls, scones, spelt breads, skillet breads, flatbreads, crostata. This is followed by veggies, salads, soups, pastas, one pot dinners, and desserts. For something different, try the pomegranate-citus aquafaba pavlova. The book could have been improved if it had also used metric in the recipes, or at least had a metric conversion chart. Quality/price rating: 88.
* THE REISSUES, THE REPRINTS, AND THE NEWER EDITIONS...
...all reflect a boom in the cookbook publishing business. A paperback reprint will lower the cost to the purchaser, and also give a publisher a chance to correct egregious errors or add a postscript. Some will reissue a book in paper covers with a new layout or photos. Others will rearrange existing material to present it as more informative text while keeping the focus tight. Some magazines will reissue popular or classic recipes in an "easy" format. Here are some recent "re-editions"...
10.BEST AMERICAN FOOD WRITING 2021 (HarperCollins, 2021, 217 pages, $24.99 papercovers) has been edited by Gabrielle Hamilton and Silvia Killingsworth. It's one of a "The Best American Series" of writings. (travel, mystery, science, et al). The scope is USA only, although the topics can be universal or at least global. As is common with all of these annual series, the date on the cover is the year after the writings, so the material here was actually published in 2020. The series began in 2018 (covering 2017) and edited by Ruth Reichl. There are 24 essays here, reprinted primarily from periodicals that published in 2017. Topics include pandemic effects on food industry, (restaurants, grocery stores, shelters), being quarantined with a Michelin-starred chef boyfriend, fundraising, et al. Contributors include Bill Buford, Priya Krishna, Jonathan Kauffman and Amy Irvine. What I like about it is that there are several pages at the back listing "other notable food writing", so you can actually track the writings down via a public library or the Internet. Quality/Price Rating: 89.
11.FIRESIDE FOOD FOR COLD WINTER NIGHTS (Ryland Peters & Small, 2015, 2021, 160 pages, ISBN 978-1-78879-277-6, $24.99 US hard covers) is by Lizzie Kamenetzky, a UK food stylist and food editor who is now freelance in the culinary field. It was originally published in 2015 as WINTER CABIN COOKING. This revised edition has 75 preps of substantial food, particularly stuff that can be done by guys: gluhwein, fondue, strudels, dumplings all come to mind. Preps can be left to simmer or bake, and can also keep the cabin warm. I did not see anything specifically meant for a fireplace such as a wiener or marshmallow roast, but there are stews and soups that can be made in the dying embers, with a pot of course. The chapters are arranged by type, with dumplings and noodles, soups and stews, cheese, brunch and small plates, meats, desserts, and of course drinks such as hot toddies. Very Teutonic, to go with the Alps. Preparations have their ingredients listed in both metric and avoirdupois measurements, but there is no table of metric equivalents to handle the American expressions of volume (e.g., teaspoons). A good book for skiers, chalet lovers, winter freaks. Some interesting recipes: parmesan and ricotta cheesecake; brisolee; Tiroler grostl; poached salmon with green mayonnaise; rosti; schnitzel with warm potato salad; cassoulet. Quality/Price Rating: 88.
You get old and you realize there are no answers -- just stories.