* 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 –
CHERYL DAY'S TREASURY OF SOUTHERN BAKING (Artisan, 2021, 400 pages, ISBN 978-1-57965-841-0, $55 hardbound) is by Cheryl Day, who has written many other baking books such as "The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook" (from her place in Savannah, Georgia), "Baking for Breakfast" and "Party Cakes". These preps here are both savoury and sweet baked goods, over 200 of them in a recipe collection that acknowledges the the nature of from-scratch Southern baking. Many are family treasures from Day's great-great-grandmother who was an enslaved pastry cook specializing in biscuits and cakes. It's arranged by category, beginning with hot breads and crackers, moving on to coffee cakes, Bundt cakes, muffins, scones, breads, layer cakes, cupcakes, pies, cookies, brownies, grits and grains, custards and cobblers, jams and preserves. Southern food is a melange of many cultural influences. She's got three kinds of chess pies – chocolate, buttermilk, and raspberry chess pie bars. She's got a listing, with text, of her Ten Southern Baking Rules. These rules include temperature checks, mise en place, ingredients, measuring, creaming butter and separating eggs. There's a chapter on baking equipment as well. So here we will find the traditional and classic recipes for hush puppies, skillet cornbread, chess pies, calas, popovers, griddle cakes, cheese straws, spoonbread. Preps are scaled in metric weights but there are also American volume measurements. So while preparations have their ingredients listed in either avoirdupois or metric measurements (but not both), there is no table of equivalents.
Audience and level of use: for the serious home baker.
Some interesting or unusual recipes/facts: mini baked Alaskas, bacon cheddar scones, lemon blueberry cake, sea salt crackers, benne crackers, cardamom-spiced peach cheese, carmelita bars.
The downside to this book: both metric and American measurements are used, but one is for volume and the other for weight.
The upside to this book: comprehensive.
Quality/Price Rating: 89.
BITTMAN BREAD; no-knead whole grain baking for every day (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021, 244 pages, ISBN 978-0-358-53933-9 $50 hardbound) is by Mark Bittman, author of the "How to Cook Everything" series and participant in many television food shows, and Kerri Conan, a collaborator with Bittman since 2004 developing recipes, testing, producing, et al. Bittman has six Beards and four IACP Awards, plus other honours. Here, the theme is goof-proof breads. As the cover says, "This is the least fussy, most flexible way to make 100% whole grain bread...it's a sourdough upgrade to "no-knead" bread. With simple techniques and starter, the home baker can expand into sandwich breads, baguettes, ryes and seeded breads, pizza, waffles, cookies, beignets, and even tortes. They have created a schedule for the baker to maintain a starter that's almost indestructible. We get the history and the development of whole grain baking since the beginnings (in 2006) of Sullivan Street Bakery's Jim Lahey's manner of making bread with no kneading. This book starts off easily with a starter and making a beginning loaf, transitioning to whole grain baking, and then Bittman bread, and variations. Everything is nicely scaled in grams and easy to produce. You just need a schedule. Quality/Price Rating: 91.
10-MINUTE CHINESE TAKEOUT; simple, classic dishes ready in just 10 minutes (Hardie Grand Quadrille, 2022, 160 pages, ISBN 978-1-78713-743-1 $30 hard covers) is by Kwoklyn Wan, a UK chef who now teaches and demos Chinese cooking. Here he tells all, how to replicate Chinese takeout food at home in minutes. Alongside a basic pantry of five essentials (salt, pepper, soy sauce, sugar and oil), one can make a feast of easy dishes using the bare minimum. All the major favorites are here, from Laksa curry soup to spicy pepper omelette to miso saucy pork to General Tso's chili tofu to sweet soy beef noodles. All ingredients are readily available in local supermarkets. Wan has step-by-step instructions expert tips, and classically good photography. It's all arranged by major ingredient or course, from soups through apps, seafood, poultry, meats, veggies, and desserts. 80 preps in all. Condiments are discussed in then larder section. Do it yourself, stay home, cook at home, and have fun with such as Bang-bang chicken salad, fried fish in Cantonese-style chili sauce, minced pork noodles, boozy scallops with water spinach, or even deep-fried Sichuan king prawns – all done in 10 minutes. Wan has also written CHINESE TAKEOUT IN 5; 80 of your favorite dishes using only five ingredients – it too has 80 different preps. The book could have been improved if it had also used more metric in the recipes, or at least had a metric conversion chart. Quality/price rating: 88.