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Sunday, December 12, 2021

Christmas/Holiday Cookbook Gifts


A. Art/travel/restaurant cookbooks might be some of the best books to give a loved one (or to yourself, since you are your own best loved one). Most may cost you an arm and a leg. Books for the coffee table have their place in the gift scheme: just about every such book is only bought as a gift! And are often perused first by the donor (you). Don't let the prices daunt you. Such books are available at a discount from online vendors. Because of the "economy", not too many pricey food and wine books were released this year. Herewith, and in random order:

--AMBER & RYE; a Baltic food journey (Interlink Books, 2021, 256 pages, $45 hard covers) is by Zuza Zak, an award-winning Polish "storyteller cook" who has published books and articles dealing with Eastern Europe as her beat. She has also appeared on the Food Network. Her PhD studies are focused on exploring Eastern European food from a socio-cultural perspective, as a cultural anthropologist would. The Baltics are between Eastern Europe and Scandinavia, with many culinary influences. There is also a confluence with Poland bordering Lithuania (she's got some Baltic DNA in her). So here she's got guidance around the capitals of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, with local stories from the chefs, the cooks, the greengrocers, the farmers. In addition to the stories on food and travel, she's also incorporated poetry, literature, song, and proverbs. The arrangement is loosely by course, from apps through snacks, soup, mains, salads, sides, fermented foods,  desserts and beverages. There are extensive notes on ingredients and a bibliography for further reading. Typical preps are rhubarb and rose meringue tart, potato-fennel-fish bake, charred pork chop with apple and sea buckthorn sauce, fermented beet slaw, crayfish salad, creamy barley groats with asparagus, fermented wild garlic and buckwheat soup, and nettle leaf salad.

--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.

--FLAVORS OF THE SUN; the Sahadi's guide to understanding, buying, and using Middle Eastern ingredients (Chronicle Books, 2021, 352 pages, $50 hard covers) is by Christine Sahadi Whelan, culinary director of her family's 130 year-old importing firm in Brooklyn. There are about 120 relatively simple preps here, including the range from starters through desserts. It's all arranged by context: bright, savory, spiced, nutty, and sweet, along with nine special menus for that holiday gathering or outdoor summer party, brunch, meze, buffet and/or cocktail party. The basic flavours (found all over the Middles East) that suggest these foods are found in sumac, urfa pepper, halvah, pomegranate molasses, and preserved lemons. Lots of scrumptious photos and salivating texts. They give us much detail on what to look for in buying foods and what to serve with what foods. Highly recommended.

--ISLAND EATS; signature chefs' recipes from Vancouver Island and the Salish Sea (Figure 1,  2021, 200 pages, $38.95 hard covers) is from the team of Dawn Postnikoff and Joanne Sasvari, both food and drink writers and editors (they are with "Edible Vancouver Island" magazine). This is the latest in the Canadian food city series from Figure 1 – there  are now 10 of them: Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Toronto. Ottawa, Winnipeg et al. And they are exceptional arm chair traveller books. The tried and true formula is to present details and photos about about the best restaurants in the region followed by a house specialty recipe usually with a pix of the finished plate. For example, Glo Restaurant + Lounge, led by Andrew Fawcett. Does a Tan Tan City Salad using chicken breasts, and a Spicy Kung Pao Tofu bowl. The Butchart Gardens does an Okanagan Cherry Panzanella and a Maple Bourbon Verrine. Forty-one restaurants or businesses, arranged alphabetically.  Terrific presentations for that Western Canada food fan. 

--SUMAC; recipes and stories from Syria (Interlink Books, 2019, 2021, 248 pages, $45 hardbound) is by Anas Atassi, who emphasizes his family's food traditions and culture. He's  a Syrian chef now living in the Netherlands (this book was originally published in Dutch in 2019). Here are 80 classic and contemporary recipes strewn about various chapters such as breakfast, mezze (his mother's annual soirees), street food, grains, veggies, meats-poultry-fish (midsummer BBQs) , and desserts (the Ramadan table). Each prep has a story with some illustrations, plus a Syrian name for the dish. Excellent photography and layout, more about food than about travel.  Preps are perfectly adaptable for the North American kitchen: Sumac is an essential ingredient in Syrian cooking; it is used everywhere. This is a nifty exploration of a series of influences from the Ottomans, the Persians, and the French. Take a look at lamb koftas in tahini sauce or shorbat ameh (lamb shanks) or musakham wraps.

--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.

--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.

--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).

--FLORENTINE; the true cuisine of Florence. 2D ed.  (Hardie Grant Books, 2016, 2020, 272 pages, $42.99 hard covers) is by Emiko Davies, who, in her mid-twenties, moved to Florence to study art restoration and photography (she did the location photography for this book). Her book is a travelogue-cookbook – she has also written two other Italian food cookbooks, and continues to write about regional Italian food and travel for numerous publications and her own blog. There is a brief history of Florence and its food and culture, a Florence city guide and address guide, glossary, and bibliographic references. Preps and dishes are strewed about such walking tour topics as  "La pasticceria" (pastry shop), "Il forno" (bakery), "Il mercato" (market), "la trattoria", "il macellaio" (butcher),  with typical dishes such as panino con insalata belga, pecorino e miele (panino with Belgian endive, pecorino cheese and honey), crostone con salsiccia e stracchino (crostone with sausage and stracchino cheese), piselli all Fiorentina, insalata di farro, frittata di finocchi (fennel frittata). She's good at telling the story of food in Florence plate by plate. Yet another great regional cookbook.

--FOODIE BREAKS: England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales (Dog'n'Bone, 2020, 144 pages, $19.95 flatbound) is by Richard Mellor who had previously written Foodie Breaks: Europe.  In this book he examines 25 cities and towns with 250 (10 each) essential eating experiences within his UK homeland. With pictures, it provides a snapshot of 25 culinary UK "hotspots" with recommendations to try establishments. He's got the best places for breakfasts and  brunches, street food, gastropubs, inexpensive diners, and cool places to drink. This is a quick, easily digestible summary for your British traveller.

--ARZAK + ARZAK (Grub Street, 2020, 256 pages, $49.95 hardbound) is by Juan Mari Arzak and his daughter Elena Arzak. The Restaurante Arzak has been in San Sebastian since 1897, and it has had three Michelin stars since 1989. It has also been included on the World's 50 Best Restaurant list since the ranking's early days. Elena has been there since 1994 after working her way through the kitchens of Troisgros and El Bulli, among others. This is a lavishly produced book celebrating the research and the gastronomy of one of the finest restaurants in the world. This is the beginning of the New Basque Cuisine. Copious photographs and generous texts illuminate every phase of their daily work together and with the 64-member team, and includes a separate chapter on their research and research methods.  Finally, at page 113 we arrive at the beginning of the 64 recipes which Jaun Mari and chef Elena worked out together over the past 10 years, with great colour photographs of ingredients and finished plates. It begins with hake and chickpea paint, moves on to veal cheeks stew, nectarine and squid vines, and ends with honeymead and fractal fluid. It would be pretty hard to find a better gift book for the gastronome.

--AEGEAN (Interlink Books, 2021, 224 pages, $50 hardbound) is  by Marianna Leivaditaki, who was raised on Crete and now is a London UK chef at Morito. Her paean to the Aegean is centred largely on Crete as just one of the many islands that belong to Greece. Other major islands include Rhodes, Karpathos, and Kasos. As the largest and most populous island, Crete has an original cuisine that Leivaditaki delves into. She conveniently divides the book into three: the sea, the land, the mountains, with recipes and personal stories for each. And there are lots of great photos here of prawns with ouzo, orzo and zucchini, tomato and oregano fritters with feta, and the kakavia one-pot fish stew. This is the Mediterranean diet in all of its full-blown glory, with olive oils, fresh veggies, fruits, nuts, whole grains, fish. A delight.

--PARWANA (Interlink Books, 2021, 256 pages, $52 hardbound) is by Durkhanai Ayubi, with recipes by Farida Ayubi and Fatema Ayubi.. These are stories and preps from an Afghan kitchen -- Parwana
Restaurant in Adelaide, Australia, which opened in 2009. The 100+ recipes have been family-held for years, and embrace both day-to-day preps and celebrations: rice, curries, meats, kebabs, naan flatbread, halwah, dumplings, Afghan pasta, sweets, chutneys, pickles, soups and breads. Everything is complemented by food photography and family photos as the text convincingly shows the interrelationship between food, people and communities over time and place. There's morabayeh anjir (whole fig jam),  torshi bemasalah (pickled veggies), shorwa thin soup with vegetables, aush thick soup with noodles, and banjaan borani (braised eggplant with yogurt dressing).

--TABLES & SPREADS (Chronicle Books, 2021, 288 pages, $27.95 USD hardbound) is by Shelly Westerhausen Worcel with Wyatt Worcel. She's a vegetarian food blogger; he's an aquaculture graduate.
Together they have compiled a go-to guide for snacks, small gatherings, and inviting feasts. They present 21 inspired design ideas, with timelines, shopping lists, and diagrams. Plus of course the recipes. The duo's got some tips for choosing a theme and styling the food in a creative manner. Linens, flowers, and music complete the picture. Platters can be as small as a burrata bar or a creamy polenta spread, or just a selection of delicious dips. Some typical themes embrace a savoury focaccia party, a mezze spread, pierogi dumplings, breakfast nacho buffet, Dutch baby party, and the like.  Taking their notes and ideas you can create many more tables and spreads.  There's one spread for boughten sliced meat and sausages, but the recipes themselves are all vegetarian. 

--VEGAN RECIPES FROM JAPAN (Grub Street, 2020, 208 pages, $32.95 hardbound) is by Malte Hartig and Jule Felice Frommelt. He's a trained chef with a PhD on Japanese food and culture and Zen Buddhism; she's a freelance food photographer and recipe developer. Together they write about what is essentially "shojin ryori": the traditional dining style of Buddhist monks in Japan, made without any animal products. So it becomes a perfect vegan diet. Foods are based on tofu, seaweed, seasoned veggies and wild mountain plants. Balance and alignment are brought to the body, mind and spirit. The preps are simple and humble, seasonally done with Japanese ingredients such as miso, soy sauce, sake, mirin, dashi, and mostly steamed or grilled or deep fried. The arrangement is by season, beginning with spring, and there are many cultural/social background notes, along with a glossary and other references.

--BITTER HONEY; recipes and stories from the Island of Sardinia (Hardie Grant Books, 2020,  256 pages,, $58 hardbound) is by Letitia Clark,  a seasoned UK chef with a great resume that includes pastry and baking. She moved to Sardinia with her then-boyfriend (also a cook) to work a rural farm and produce Sardinian recipes. Although Italian, there is a strong French influence from this part of the Mediterranean (e.g., the onion soup prep is straight French Onion Soup).  As she says, it's all about traditions, stories and memories, with insight into people's lives, habits and histories.  Age-old methods and tools means that just about everything is cooked very slowly. So this is all home-food with great photography by Matt Russell. Topics are arranged by theme: apertivo, terra, merenda, mare, verdure, grano, and dolci e bevande. There 's a Sardinian pantry, which includes bay leaves, borage, capers, chestnuts, limoncello, myrtle, guanciale, and oranges. Lots of local food and colour here – a good book for your Mediterranean food lover who has everything (when was the last time you saw a Sardinian cookbook?)

--CARPATHIA; food from the heart of Romania (Interlink Books,  2020,  224 pages, $49.95 hardbound) is by Irina Georgescu, a Romanian food writer with a blog (Small Bites). Romania is a well-travelled through country with many melting pot dishes. I was very impressed with a Romanian food documentary film from some years back, about farmers who grew just two crops (potatoes and cabbages) and tried to work with a depressed market for those two items. So I used this book's index to find caraway sauerkraut clorba with potatoes, potato bread in cabbage leaves, and potato moussaka. There were more preps with cabbages, including sauerkraut. Her book concentrates on small plates (from her blog), breads, street food baked goods, and a broth soup augmented by "bors" (sour fermented wheat) or by "ciorba" (vinegar, pickled brine). The heart of Romanian cuisine is carefully explored with material on pork, coarse polenta, broth, garlic, cheese, yogurt, pickles, and wine. Desserts are based on the Austro-Hungarian empires. She concludes with some notes on the seasons and superstitions in Romanian cuisine, the culinary heritage, and the cultural food values.

--THE FRENCH LAUNDRY, PER SE (Artisan, 2020, 400 pages,  $100 hardbound) is by Thomas Keller, a major cookbook author with material from all of his reaturants, and the first US chef to have two Michelin Guide three-star-rated restaurants. The French Laundry is in Yountville, California, and per se is in NYC. Both are connected by video, and both exchange ideas. The major secret to Keller's success has been acquiring the best top notch ingredients from their food connections: the farmers, fishermen, foragers. Here are the major 70 prep recipes plus photos and descriptions for home use and entertaining, plus 40 more recipes for the basic techniques of saucing, dehydrating, broths, compound butters, and more. Food stories and essays complete the package. Typical plates include smoked sturgeon rillettes and celery root pastrami. Not only is this a coffee table book, at 28.5 cm. square in size -- it IS a coffee table by itself.....Just add legs...For the foodie in your life.

--PERSIANA; recipes from the Middle East and beyond (Interlink Books, 2014, 2021, $49.95 hardbound) is by Sabrina Ghayour. It's a needed reissue of a Middle East food and culture book, with 100 preps for dishes from the Mediterranean Sea's south and eastern shorelines. All of the dishes are modern and accessible, covering the range from mezze through breads, soups, tagines, roasts, salads, and desserts. Dishes include fava beans with garlic, dill and eggs (baghala ghatogh), smoked eggplants with garlic (mirza ghasemi)  and lamb-butternut squash-prune-tamarind tagine. Many dishes are from the eastern end of Iran-Persia, and some of the variations come African shores. Food culture notes accompany all dishes.


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