Probably the most impressive British post-war cookery compendium is The Constance Spry Cookery Book, first published in 1956. It was reprinted a number of times, and now the publishers Grub Street have produced a handsome metricated version. Nostalgia is fun, but utility is a worthy cause too – this reviewer found the layout difficult and was disappointed that the editors made no effort to lend context to the book and its recipes for a modern audience.
Books in the category: cooking reference
Charmaine Solomon, well known to Australians from her books and newspaper and magazine columns, became an international success with the original publication of ‘The Complete Asian Cookbook’ in 1976. Since then her name has been synonymous with the flavours of the East. The revised version of this ground breaking book is a must for anyone interested in the food of this region – either to cook from or simply to refer to – that is of course if they don’t already have the original.
Jennifer McLagan’s final stage of her trilogy, including the much lauded Bones (2005) and Fat (2007), is a comprehensive exploration of those animal parts that are ignored or tossed in the bin, and the word fascinating would be the ultimate understatement in describing this book. Odd Bits is her final manifesto to the world of daring or squeamish cooks to take a new look at less common parts of the animals, and is one of the best cookbooks of 2011.
At a certain point many foragers grow hungry for bounty beyond mushrooms and cattails. They seek meat – raw and wild – yet making the leap from acorn gatherer to elk killer is a daunting one that seems beyond grasp. Hank Shaw’s Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast narrows that gap with an entertaining, informative and approachable perspective on all forms of wild dining.
In a review with a clear personal perspective, our reviewer explores the usefulness of a book on wild foraging for his role as a chef and restaurateur. Connie Green and Sarah Scott’s The Wild Table: Seasonal foraged food and recipes is the latest in a string of books capitalizing on the foraged (also called wild crafted) food movement. Just as the movement has evolved and matured, Green & Scott’s book is a step above all others.
A glaring pink book seeking the spotlight, giving us the whirlwind European tour from Michelin restaurants to back alley holiday fairs, Pastry in Europe 2011 provides a snapshot of the state of pastry across the diverse continent. You’ll be delighted with the cutting edge ingredients, old-school techniques, and the slew of chefs sharing what they’re doing right now. While the 2011 book has made greater strides than its two predecessors, it has yet to take center stage.
An impressive, compendious work about ice cream and other frozen sweets for home cooks. The much-awaited revision of an earlier book by the authors has yielded a greatly expanded range of delicious recipes, plus some additional history and trivia. The authors’ insistence on precision and recommended formulae for making ices is undermined by their own mistakes and inconsistencies, but despite this, Ice Creams, Sorbets and Gelati: The Definitive Guide is a work worth considering for any avid home ice cream maker.
In a period of enormous culinary innovation, often involving clever, insightful or entertaining combinations of ingredients, we bring you a feature about many of the books (and a few websites) that focus on pairing foods and flavours. Where many people have been familiar with the pairing of wine and food, these books instead look at flavour combinations in the kitchen.
As I’m typing this, a crock of briny cucumbers is sitting in my basement. In a couple of weeks, in theory, the cukes will (in theory) be big, crunchy dill pickles. I’d been meaning to try this for a couple of years. I knew vaguely that it’s not a complicated process, just pickles in salty water, with a splash of vinegar for safety. But The Lost Art of Real Cooking, a book that’s both accessible and bursting with personality, was the book that finally inspired me to stand up and do it. So I give it full credit.
Nigel Slater tells the story of his vegetable patch and provides over 400 recipe ideas for using the vegetables he grows. Already well known for seven previous recipe books, his much admired autobiography Toast and his regular columns in The Observer, Slater’s enthusiasm will no doubt tempt some readers to start a vegetable garden of their own, although this is predominantly a book about cooking. As in his previous books, Slater’s recipes are straightforward and unfussy and his approach to using fresh produce should appeal to many home cooks.
Ever wondered why one flavour works with another? Or lacked inspiration for what to do with a bundle of beetroot? The Flavour Thesaurus is the first book to examine what goes with what, pair by pair: a reference book that will immeasurably improve your cooking.
Katie Caldesi’s Italian Cookery Course (published as Cook Italy in the USA) is in equal measure an exceedingly attractive and enjoyable exploration of Italian cooking, and a mild disappointment as a “cookery course”. Caldesi, co-owner of the UK restaurants Caffè Caldesi, Caldesi in Campagna, and an Italian cooking school, seemed to embark on a voyage of discovery in order to find the knowledge to write this book. The result is an enormous range of recipes with many personal preferences, sometimes deviating from what a reader might expect of recipes in a course in Italian cooking. In the end, the book could have been titled “Katie goes to Italy”. Many people will enjoy this attractive, well written book, forgiving or overlooking the weakness of many of the “masterclasses” and occasional gaps in information.
In the world of the celebrity chef, where books are churned out every year along with the television show and the newly endorsed kitchen products, it can be easy to forget that at some point there was a reason why these people became famous in the first place. Nigella Lawson is a case in point – the same flirtatious looks to the television camera, the coquettishness of her manner, and the double entendre laden words. The constant mining of a new angle – quick food, summer food, baking, this fashion, that trend – a battle to keep the personality fresh and the profits flowing.
Lawson started her career in food as a columnist, and the quality of her work led to her writing a book. “How To Eat” was first published in 1998 and it became a bestseller. The two keys to its success were the high quality of Lawson’s writing and the common sense she offers about cooking. The first sign of a practical mind is the way she arranged this book. Chapters devoted to cooking for one or two, weekend lunches, and feeding babies and small children, shows someone who understands modern life. The recipes she provides use ingredients that are easy to find and use reasonably straightforward techniques. Ten years down the track and “How To Eat” is as joyful a read as ever. I suspect that in fifty years’ time, people will still be reading it.
Heston Blumenthal is known as a gastro-wizard. Not only does he helm the Fat Duck, once considered the top restaurant in the world, but he also has popular notoriety through his In Search of Perfection television series on the BBC. In Search of Total Perfection is the culmination of the TV series put in print (combining his two previous books from the series into one volume), and offers not only the recipes and exploratory work leading to the recipes, but also the behind-the-scenes tales from the studio. And whereas a movie can drop a book’s plot, story lines and even characters to help the story fit into a two-hour reel, this book flips a page and gathers all of the information presented in the series and expands on the shows with useful and fun details. The reader is left as plump and saturated as Blumenthal’s roast chicken. And that’s where we’ll peck away at this book – roast chicken.
A meal isn’t complete without a sauce – and this is just the book to help any aspiring cook with the preparation of a huge variety of sauces, including all the classics. Michel Roux makes it as simple as possible with clear, step-by-step instructions which are illustrated throughout with beautiful photographs. With this book to hand, you’ll be able to transform your meals into something altogether more magical, whether you’ve made sauces before or whether you’re a complete beginner.
The most renowned encyclopedia of food, the Larousse Gastronomique, has just appeared in its fourth English edition. Attractively presented with a bronze cover and black slipcase, it’s the latest in a series of impressive, fascinating and somewhat quirky editions in both French and English. Each edition is a translation and adaptation of a preceding French edition, and the fifth French edition was published almost exactly two years ago, in mid-October 2007. This feature provides an overview of the various editions and some of the interesting issues and changes over the years.
In an era when pastry chefs are whisking unpronounceable ingredients into batters, creating neon floating effervescent micro cookie espumas, this collection of Alain Ducasse recipes anchors pastry artists with solid and glorious fundamentals. With little fuss or fanfare Ducasse Pastry Chef, Frédéric Robert, offers 250 fine-tuned dessert and pastry recipes that are a sure success. But this volume is not for everyone. A solid foundation in pastry arts is necessary. And that sparse, focused writing style is what I find most appealing. Reading three page recipes for cookies wears on my patience, and here, we find recipes that take lines, not pages, but they assume you know your basics.
Lobel’s Meat Bible from the eponymous butchery in New York promises “All you need to know about meat and poultry”. It’s a bold promise and the book doesn’t deliver. This visually attractive “bible” is both very informative and incredibly disappointing.
In Cake Chic, London’s queen of couture cakes, Peggy Porschen, shares the secrets of her celebrated sugar designs. From cookies to miniature cakes, to stunning tiered creations, Porschen’s style is unrestrainedly chic and girly. Her unique style and enthusiasm are inspiring and will motivate home bakers to get busy in the kitchen, rolling fondant and piping royal icing. However, despite its casual, accessible tone, this book is aimed squarely at advanced bakers, with some discrepancies between the base recipes and decorating guides requiring careful and skilled adjustment and planning.
Jennifer McLagan’s book of bones attracted rightful acclaim for its presentation of recipes, knowledge and tips about cooking and eating meat on the bone, eating marrow from the bone, and using disfavoured cuts of meat to produce delicious dishes. Each section gives refreshingly clear, concise descriptions of where cuts of meat come from on each animal’s carcass and how best to cook them, tips about buying good meat, and a number of tasty recipes. McLagan’s clarity of explanation and evident passion makes Cooking on the Bone stand out.
Hilary McNevin’s Guide to Fish is a handy, modern reference for Australian consumers. Not only does it provide helpful information about sustainable species, buying and cooking tips, but also a great range of interesting, tasty recipes for each of the fish presented. Although you could always wish for more detail, this book achieves what it needs to within its clean, compact format.
This comprehensive book of Greek food offers an assortment of delicious dishes, from salads and soups to mezedes (appetizers) for the summer to slow-cooked Greek dishes we grew up with as Greeks. Vefa’s Kitchen also showcases a huge array of regional desserts and pastries, breads and other baked delights. At more than 650 recipes, the scope of this book is nearly unparalleled.
Michael Ruhlman’s book Ratio promises a lot. He seeks to teach home cooks about the basic relationships between ingredients that form the basis of so many preparations – from custard to bread to sausages to mayonnaise. Bread, for instance, is 5 parts flour to 3 parts water. These relationships, ratios or “codes” for combining ingredients, are more fundamental than the specific weights and volumes of today’s flood of “new” recipes.
I was excited in anticipation of this book, but was greatly disappointed with the outcome from this otherwise good author. Ratios are a great approach to reviving cooking “sense”, but they require skill in definition and explanation. Somehow Ruhlman’s sense for communicating about cookery didn’t conquer the demands of explaining a mathematical relationship clearly to a range of possible readers. It was never going to be an easy task, especially when trying to apply chef sense to something which domestic cooks have largely forgotten. Nonetheless, despite its failings, the existence of this book is truly valuable and can be of utility to certain readers – those who are already familiar with ratios in cooking, perceptive novices who need no visual material, and perhaps some others who might want to explore their own understanding of cooking fundamentals.
An Edge in the Kitchen provides a focused, readable guide that begs to be re-read as your skills improve. Well worth the purchase, this book has allowed me to whittle through countless vegetables with precision and ease, and to make my knives razor sharp.
This enormous volume inspires awe and some moments of disappointment. James Peterson presents an amazingly rich collection of recipes (600) and information about techniques in his book titled very simply “Cooking”. Just opening to the table of contents, spanning six pages, is enough to convince you that this could be the one, the book that covers all the bases you might need for a strong standard repertoire of dishes. The table of contents lists every major recipe in the book. Wonderful. Not only a wealth of classics, but a long list of technical explanations with photographs (1500), tips and recommendations turn this into a book which many owners would be satisfied with. It’s aimed at a USAmerican audience and is probably of most use to cooks with some confidence in approaching cooking, even if they aren’t experienced cooks.
The 2008-2009 class of modernist cookbooks was stellar. It seems that chefs and authors have recognized that a growing class of home cooks has filled their pantry with calcium lactate, agar agar, gelatin sheets and lecithin. The days of flashy coffee table books filled with out-of-reach food porn have been pushed aside for star studded cook books filled with National Geographic worthy photos and accessible (albeit challenging) recipes. Among this class we can find Johnny Iuzinni, Grant Achatz, Joel Robuchon and Thomas Keller. The latter leads the class in its yawp to cooks and chefs across the globe that its time to look forward while keeping your roots solid and well honed.
At just shy of 300 pages with high quality color pictures on half of the pages, and more recipes than my vacuum packer can handle, this cookbook packs a wallop. Consider sous vide’s espoused virtues – “Fruits, which are especially susceptible to rapid oxidation and discoloration, remain bright when cooked sous vide rather than becoming dull and brown,” or “Fish, perhaps more than any protein, has such a small window of doneness that it requires the most finesse on the part of the cook. Sous vide makes cooking fish easier and more consistent, especially in a busy kitchen.” These are tidbits that welcome the home cook into the industrial kitchen with open arms.
If you’re interested in rolling up your sleeves, plugging in the circulator, and cranking out some amazing foods, then this is a great option for you.