Monday, December 20, 2010

Best Books of 2010: Cookbooks

Editor’s note: This is the second segment of January Magazine’s Best Books of 2010 feature. The first was Books for Children and Young Adults, which ran yesterday. Still to come: crime fiction, non-fiction, art & culture and fiction, which will be rolling out over the next week. -- LLR

Appetite for Reduction by Isa Chandra Moskowitz (Da Capo
Lifelong) 320 pages
Author Isa Chandra Moskowitz (Veganomics, Vegan with a Vengeance) makes the best case for her new book in the introduction. “Not looking forward to a tiny frozen entrée for dinner? .... How about a simmering pot of aromatic curry bursting with color, pasta smothered in plenty of creamy pesto, a stick-to-your-ribs chili, crispy onion rings with a juicy center, or a fully loaded lasagna?” Appetite for Reduction is all about real food for real people, really easily. As Moskowitz says, the recipes “are all based on pantry-friendly ingredients, and most come in under 400 calories.” What’s not to like? When you leaf through the pages a couple of things become immediately clear: most of these recipes are super easy. Almost anyone could attempt them with good hope of success. The other thing is that, unless all your friends are vegan and/or like to eat out of bowls, this is not going to be a go-to book for dinner parties. This is a book for you and, depending on how they’re geared, maybe your family. This is to give you seriously good options to the week night wondering about what’s for dinner after work. Make yourself a batch of Peruvian Purple Potato Soup on Monday and Cajun Beanballs and Spaghetti on Tuesday and you’re set for the rest of the week: and maybe not just dinners, but take along work lunches, too, if you like. I loved the Ginger Bok Choy & Soba and can imagine eating it quite often (and it’s so incredibly easy, I think I probably will). And the Hottie Black-Eyed Peas and Greens take a bit more prep and ingredients that aren’t common in my kitchen, but it’s so delicious and versatile, not to mention easy to reheat. Everything I’ve made from this book has exceeded my expectations. And I love that it’s not a diet, but a very active lifestyle change. Spend a lot of time eating from the recipes in this book and you will get smaller; with no fat and few carbs available, you just won’t be able to help it. -- India Wilson

Blackbird Bakery Gluten-Free by Karen Morgan (Chronicle Books) 224 pages
It’s very difficult to make the words “Gluten Free” seem sexy. This is partly because of the way they sound -- how can “gluten” even sound appetizing? Also most of us have had less than sterling experiences with food advertised in this way. These are the main factors that contribute to the surprise you feel when you encounter Blackbird Bakery Gluten-Free by Karen Morgan. At first glance, it appears to be one of those superlative cookbooks that tantalize you with recipes for desserts that cause you to gain weight just by looking at them. In many ways, Blackbird Bakery Gluten-Free is exactly that. But it’s also more. Or maybe less? Everyone who likes baking will enjoy this book: great pictures, good, solid recipes, interesting new ideas. But for people who have to have gluten-free? It might just change their life. -- Monica Stark

Bottega: Bold Italian Flavors from the Heart of California’s Wine Country by Michael Chiarello (Chronicle Books) 224 pages
Michael Chiarello is the author of half a dozen cookbooks, some of them so casual, they have the word “Casual” in the title. He’s written about flavored oils and vinegars and about cooking at home and cooking casual, but there’s nothing at all homey or casual about Bottega, a book named for the restaurant Chef Chiarello opened in Napa in December of 2008. Within months Esquire and Forbes selected Bottega as one of the top new restaurants and Zagat called it the top newcomer in the competitive San Francisco Bay area. The book makes a selection of the popular restaurant’s recipes available for the home chef. And though the food is sublimely beautiful and terrifically tempting, for various reasons Bottega is not a book that makes me want to run for the kitchen. I love it, though. I pour over it the way an armchair traveller will spend hours over books on places they will never go. For instance, there is no way I will ever even try to make the Prosciutto-Wrapped Truffle Fries Chiarello invented for his wife. And why: I don’t ever deep-fat fry. I seldom have prosciutto on hand and I never have truffle oil. But, oh! It’s a stunning photo and a tempting idea. And the Potato Gnocchi Ravioli with Egg Yolk and Sage Brown Butter blows my mind just thinking about it. Imagine: you cut into the gnocchi ravioli, and egg yolk runs out. Just the thought. But to try it? No thanks. You might feel differently but, for me, Bottega is the ultimate food porn. A book I really love that I just don’t want to cook from. And it’s okay to look, right? -- Aaron Blanton

Cheese: Exploring Taste and Tradition by Patricia Michelson (Gibbs Smith) 304 pages
Everyone who knows me, knows I love cheese. Cheese is a snack, a meal, a gift, a hostess present. For some people it’s chocolate. For me? It’s gotta be cheese. And so it was with enthusiasm that I took possession of Cheese: Exploring Taste and Tradition. Author Patricia Michelson certainly knows her cheese. The owner and main goddess of London’s La Fromagerie, her first book, 2001’s The Cheese Room, won the Best Single Food Subject Award at the 2002 Gourmand World Food Book Awards. Cheese: Exploring Taste and Tradition is a bigger book and a little more grand in style and scope. The first and largest section more than adequately covers the world of cheese from an entirely geographic standpoint, starting in the British Isles and moving through all the cheese-producing countries of the world. Michelson loses points in my own country, Canada, by providing a fairly sketchy overview that includes not even a single mention of our most distinctive contribution to the world of cheese: Oka. I don’t take the slight personally, though. I’m Canadian, after all. (“You stepped on my foot? I’m so sorry!”) And Michelson is not alone in not putting “Canada” and “terroir” in the same thought. We get overlooked a lot here, in the shadow of the elephant. You kind of get used to it. Other than that. Cheese is a very good book, with a recipe section at the back that is small but thorough and so very tempting. Aside from slights against Canadians, this is the very best and most complete book about cheese I’ve ever seen. -- Linda L. Richards

Color Me Vegan by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau (Fair Winds) 271 pages
I will remember 2010 as the year vegan went mainstream. I saw so many vegan books, many of them substandard. Most of them not remarkable. Color Me Vegan was different. From the author of The Vegan Table and The Joy of Vegan Baking, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is clearly not someone who has come recently to vegan cooking. In addition to writing bestselling cookbooks, she is the founder of Compassionate Cooks, “an organization whose mission it is to empower people to make informed food choices and to debunk myths about veganism.” So if her writing and her cooking both have the ring of authority, you know the reason why. Color Me Vegan is more than just a fun catch-phrase: the book is actually organized by color, as the author writes, “Every recipe in this book is guided by color, which enabled me to emphasize the whys and wherefores of eating by color, to encourage you to expand your edible color palette, and to help you increase you health by offering recipes based on nutrient-dense foods.” Despite all the talk of “healthfulness,” “phytonutrients” and other things that sound interesting but not particularly appetizing, Color Me Vegan is filled with great recipes from all parts of the garden. The Beet Burgers were very good and a real surprise. And the Winter White Soup -- soy free, wheat free, but anything but flavor-free -- is nothing short of amazing. If it’s vegan you’re after -- or just plain healthy -- you could do worse than looking for color! -- India Wilson

D.I.Y. Delicious by Vanessa Barrington (Chronicle Books) 240 pages
While a lot of people talk about getting back to basics, few go the whole way home, which is just what chef and author Vanessa Barrington does in D.I.Y. Delicious: Recipes and Ideas for Simple Food From Scratch. There are no half measures here and certainly no “take a can of this and three of that.” From the very beginning, Chef Vanessa has us making ketchup, red wine vinegar and later yogurt, various dressings and spreads, bread, kimchi and granola. Beyond basics, there are some astonishingly good recipes included here, as well. For example, Sustainable Seafood Stew with Meyer Lemon and Parsley Aioli Croutons is amazing and hearty and surprisingly elegant for a dish this rough. Ditto Barrington’s Artichoke Soup with Crème Fraiche, which is a beautiful use of a vegetable of which we don’t see enough. While D.I.Y. Delicious is not, strictly speaking, a vegetarian cookbook, there is more here that is vegetarian than that which is not. Barrington’s whole approach is very Slow Food: simple, beautiful ingredients, respectfully treated, easily shared and enjoyed. -- Aaron Blanton

Fish On: Seafood Dishes That Make A Splash
by Ingrid Baier (Touchwood) 167 pages

I have more than my share of fish cookbooks. This might be partly because I live on a boat most of the year but it is also because I love fish, have easy access to several types and am always looking for new things to do with it. And all of these reasons are really why I loved Fish On from the first half hour I spent with it. Not only are there great and easy to follow recipes for new and interesting things to do with fish but I was even more impressed with the fact that the book also boasts recipes for better ways to do the things with fish that I’m already doing. For instance, I love the Smoked Salmon Benedict, the recipe for which included one for a very good Hollandaise Sauce that I’m likely to use forever. And I had always wanted to make a whole chilled salmon, poached -- the kind with cucumber slices that look like scales? But I’d always been too afraid to try. I got Fish On in early fall, two weeks before our big family reunion and I successfully made Baier’s recipe for Whole Chilled Salmon with Cucumber and Herb Mayonnaise and served it at my mother's house to actual applause. It’s still a complicated recipe, though simpler than other versions I’d seen, and Baier’s instructions were so clear, I was able to move straight through them without a hitch. I could go on. Fish On is a terrific book of endless possibilities. Nothing fishy about it. -- Monica Stark

From the Olive Grove: Mediterranean Cooking with Olive Oil by Helen Koutalianos and Anastasia Koutalianos (Arsenal Pulp Press) 176 pages
In the press material for From the Olive Grove, it talks about how co-author Helen Koutalianos has “preached the gospel of olive oil and its benefits for years.” It’s a book that reflects that attitude: there is an element of evangelism about the book though, in this case, it’s not a bad thing. First we learn that the family of the mother and daughter authors have been in the olive producing business for generations. So they both have a reason to know their olives. We get a “brief history of olive oil” that is really not so brief -- though it is interesting -- and also includes tidbits of olive oil production, grading, storage and even health benefits. Then the recipes: simply stated and shared. Mostly Greek classics or variations thereof, without adornment and with the recipes tightly boiled down. Nothing could be simpler or more approachable than the Koutalianos’ Fasolakia Yahni (green bean and potato stew) or their Turkish Kebabs with Garlic and the Fennel Salad is so simple, it almost makes itself. Even the newest cook will find themselves with an interesting new repertoire with From the Olive Grove. -- Monica Stark

The Geometry of Pasta by Caz Hildebrand and Jacob Kennedy (Quirk Books) 219 pages
I was absolutely astonished to discover that The Geometry of Pasta is not some obliquely named self-help book, but that it is actually about... pasta. Not only that, it takes a sober, educational -- and even a little art school -- approach to the subject. The end result is the kind of cookbook that seems likely to find resting spots on chef’s bookshelves for a long time to come. It’s just very, very good. A collaboration between designer Caz Hildebrand (who has, among other things, designed the tastiest of Nigella Lawson’s rich and lovely cookbooks) and Chef Jacob Kennedy, co-owner of London’s very successful Bocca di Lupo. The resulting book is, I think, probably one of the definitive works on pasta of all time. It is, as I said, low-key and considered. It is as much discussion about food as it is creation of it as Kennedy walks us through the history and evolution of hundreds of pasta shapes and recipes. And so we learn that corzetti are “large coins of pasta from Liguria,” and that fusilli “are an industrial semolina pasta, a triple helix, like an elongated propeller or fan blade.” There are tips for making pasta, for choosing it and for plumbing it for maximum enjoyment. Many of the pasta entries are accompanied by Hildebrand’s gorgeous black and white illustrations. In her introduction to the book, she writes that the duo here offer “a guide to the geometry of pasta; pasta at its simplest and best, to be enjoyed as the Italians do.” -- Linda L. Richards

Harvest to Heat: America’s Best Chefs, Farmers, and Artisans by Kelly Kochendorfer and Darryl Estrine (Taunton) 304 pages
Thigh-deep in the new food movement, one sometimes wonders where it’s all going to end. Occasionally I came across a book and say: “This. This is it. There is no place -- better, more pure, more perfectly in sync with beautiful food -- than this. And then another book comes along and blows everything that has gone before out of the water. Harvest to Heat is one such book. It seems to perfectly balance, marry and blend thoughts from the locavore, Slow Food and green movements into one perfectly harmonious whole. This is real world whole food, grown locally, prepared by regional chefs -- some of them internationally known -- at the top of their game. Edited here into book form by a talented, experienced food writer and photographer (doing some writing here, as well). The whole is, well, just as you’d expect: pitch perfect, polished and ready to heat up your home kitchen. In some ways, this has been done before, but not this well, and the idea has not been taken this far. The recipes here are all very good: all lucidly shared and brilliantly photographed. This is Estrine and Kochnedorfer’s first book: one expects it will not be their last. -- Aaron Blanton

The Homesteader’s Kitchen by Robin Burnside (Gibbs Smith) 192 pages
If the homespun quality of Robin Burnside’s The Homesteader’s Kitchen seems a little disingenuous, there’s a reason for that; and we’re all the richer for it. While Burnside has been living aspects of the homesteader’s life in Carmel, California, since 1991, there’s more at play here than that. Burnside is a kitchen pro, who happens -- also and genuinely -- to care about fresh and wholesome foods, simply prepared. Burnside was the co-founder, chef and baker at Carmel Café and Big Sur’s Café Amphora and she ran the food services at the Esalen Institute for five years. Burnside’s book seems to speak of all of these aspects of her life: the caring parent and grandparent, the professional foodie, the caring Californian, deeply engaged with preserving the Earth and her flavors. The Homesteader’s Kitchen is filled with recipes and lore about fresh and contemporary food as perfected by Burnside and her contemporaries in California over the last three decades. Influences are international and varied, flavors strong and rich. The recipes reach into all aspects of kitchen preparation, but there is a strong, if unstated, vegetarian component to the book and the section that deals with meat and fish is both small and very good. It strikes me that this is food the way a lot of us in the west are enjoying it now: fresh, focused and thoughtful. With an emphasis on wonderful ingredients and big flavors. The Homesteader’s Kitchen is a very good book. -- Linda L. Richards

Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson (Chronicle Books) 304 pages
If you had ever thought your might like to make bread but you didn’t know quite where to start, Tartine Bread will provide that beginning. Luscious, lucid, well illustrated and well conceived, Tartine Bread begins with the basic constructs of bread making, then brings you along from there. The “Tartine Bread” approach follows a loose set of concepts introduced in a single “basic recipe” and then built on throughout the book. As you gain an understanding of how bread works you will be able to make adjustments in timing and technique to achieve a broad range of results. This very sane approach is carefully photographed throughout so that fledgling bakers can not only read about bread-making, they can also see the hand-movements that get the job done. And while all of this sounds -- and is -- very effective, none of it comes close to describing the artistic flight that is Tartine Bread. Author Robertson is considered by many to be the top bread baker in the United States. Photographer Eric Wolfinger not only has a terrific eye, he is a bread-making apprentice at Robertson’s Tartine Bakery in San Francisco. Together they have created what I predict will become the bible in this field. If you will only allow yourself a single book about making bread, Tartine Bread should be that one. -- Aaron Blanton

Vij’s at Home by Meeru Dhalwala and Vikram Vij (Douglas & McIntyre) 230 pages
The first book by Meeru Dhalwala and Vikram Vij, 2006’s Vij’s, celebrated the food of what has been one of my favorite restaurants since the mid-1990s, Vancouver, Canada’s Vij’s, Not only do I love the restaurant’s contemporary interpretations of regional Indian classics, the cookbook has been fantastic. Virtually every recipe I’ve made from the book has turned out perfectly, and I’ve made a lot. So when I heard the couple had a second book coming out, I was near the front of the line. Though the book is quite different than I imagined it would be, Vij’s at Home did not disappoint. It turns out that, at home, restaurateurs Dhalwala and Vij eat food pretty similar to what they’re serving at their restaurants, with perhaps more emphasis on food that is easier to prepare and share. “The point of this cookbook,” they say at one point, “is, for the most part, to show you how to cook easy Indian recipes.” And they do. If you’ve ever wanted to cook classic Indian food but were intimidated by the creation of the spice combinations or sourcing the ingredients, this is the book for you. In many cases, complicated curries are built so easily, you don’t even know that you’re doing it. That is, I didn’t, until I tasted what I had building in the pan and said, “Hey!” I had meant to list a few favorites, but find I can not: I love this whole book so much. Lots of vegetarian options, many great meat-based recipes, several simple versions of Indian staples (paneer, garam masala and so on). If I could only have one Indian cookbook in my collection, I’d have a tough time choosing, but it would definitely be either Vij’s or Vij’s at Home. -- Linda L. Richards

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3 Comments:

Blogger tara said...

Yes! Blackbird Bakery Gluten-Free is certainly one of the best cookbooks of the year. My last few months with it have been pure baked-goodness bliss. It is a must-have for anyone who eats gluten-free for any reason, and a great Christmas present.

Also, Fish On is fabulous! Ingrid's recipes are easy to follow, and super yummy. My fav is the Tequila Lime Grilled Halibut. Slurp!

Monday, December 20, 2010 at 10:13:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great resource!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010 at 3:29:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Carrie Wheeler said...

If you need a home for that Color Me Vegan book.....

Thursday, December 23, 2010 at 7:32:00 PM PST  

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