As a self-taught chef, I am constantly on the lookout for books that will expand my training. Traditionally, books published by culinary schools have been written to accompany classroom instruction making them poor tools for independent learners. Francisco Migoya of the Culinary Institute of America takes a different approach to his books and his latest is certainly a winner for serious students of pastry.
Books in the category: comprehensive
Eat Me is the latest compilation of food design intended by and for designers but a joy for chefs, food lovers and art appreciators. In 2010 I reviewed Design Culinaire which had similar goals, but fell short because if its lack of breadth of contributors. Not so with Eat Me. Over 250 pages representing some 87 different designers and artists with works ranging from whimsical to oblique to functional. Eat Me will surely inspire you to find your own creativity and appreciate the role of designers in our daily gastronomic lives.
In Bold Palates: Australia’s Gastronomic Heritage, Professor Barbara Santich sets out to provide “justification and legitimacy” for those foods and ways of cooking and eating that are recognised as “distinctively Australian”. Santich draws on a wide range of sources including newspapers, diaries and memoirs, recipe books, and the work of other academics to present a thorough and approachable survey of Australia’s gastronomic heritage. Well-illustrated and with valuable and informative primary source material (newspaper articles, letters, advertising etc.) reproduced on almost every page, this book is a welcome reference for anyone interested in the historical background to the Australian diet.
Mediterranean Street Food is a celebration of both the food and the culture of the countries bordering the Mediterranean. Street food has been part of the way of life in this region for centuries and the history of all these countries, from Spain and Morocco in the west to Turkey and Lebanon in the east, is written in the food the people eat. Anissa Helou brings her natural curiosity and her innate cultural understanding to this collection of recipes gleaned from the street vendors themselves. Covering a broad range, this book is a very good introduction to both the similarities and subtle differences between the cuisines of the Mediterranean with an appealing range of recipes easily achievable at home.
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.
Alain Ducasse is a phenomenon, more than just a chef and a restaurateur, he is a force to be reckoned with in French cuisine. This latest book to be published in English is his attempt to ‘come back to the bare essentials and regain the pleasure of cooking simple vegetables, cereals and fruit that are so key to a healthy and balanced diet’. A laudable aim but not entirely successful. Although there are some good ideas here ‘Nature’ seems to have lost something in translation.
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.
Giorgio Locatelli is often referred to as one of the world’s best Italian chefs (or words to that effect) so it goes without saying that he knows a thing or two about Italian food. In this book he takes the reader on a most enjoyable journey around Sicily as he explores and explains the traditions and history of Sicilian food, meeting growers, producers and restaurateurs along the way. Locatelli’s enthusiasm and personality and the collection of recipes which admirably demonstrates the simplicity and strong flavours of Sicilian food make Made in Sicily both a good read and a good resource for anyone wanting to capture a little bit of Sicily for themselves.
Recipes that are timeless. Recipes that have endured. Recipes that hold enough cultural significance that they’ve adorned the pages of Art of Eating magazine. The Art of Eating Cookbook is a no fuss, no frills anthology of recipes that work, taste great, and are doable by any level of cook.
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.
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.
If a book’s worth can be measured by the number of dog-eared pages, then Ideas in Food: Great Recipes and Why They Work could turn around the international financial crisis. In fact, my copy has so many turned page corners that I’m expecting a ‘Cease and Desist” order to arrive at my home any day now. Well over 75 pages are marked as requiring my re-reading and note taking. And lest you think I’m a chronic book destroyer, a quick scan of my most favorite and used books show less than ten dog-eared pages in any one book. This is one worthy book for anyone who cares about the inner workings of their food or for anyone who wants someone to do the homework for them so they can simply follow instructions and put out great dishes.
If you’re old enough to know that a Prawn Cocktail is not some new alcoholic beverage, then perhaps you also remember a time when the Prawn Cocktail was an exotic dish, and dining in a restaurant was a rare and exciting experience. What Simon Hopkinson and Lindsey Bareham set out to do in this book is rehabilitate some of those once novel, subsequently much abused, and now almost forgotten dishes which were the mainstay of restaurant menus in the 1960s and 1970s.
The recipes here are a reminder that good food results from cooking with care and attention rather than just following the latest fashion.
For those readers old enough to remember when parental warnings were placed on certain music, you might remember how that music became the ‘must have’ CDs and records for your collection. Vineet Bhatia opens his recently released Rasoi: New Indian Kitchen with “This book is probably not for the novice cook.” Such sweet warnings are rarely uttered in culinary books. In this very attractive volume, Bhatia presents a wide range of impressive, at times labour-intensive (though rarely too complex) dishes that are a pleasure to eat. Along the way you learn about new ingredients, and realise that the common cliché of Indian dishes can easily be surpassed.
Part recipe book, part gardening guide and part primer for encouraging children to take an interest in the food they eat Australian food icon Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Garden Companion is an ambitious undertaking. Covering seventy-three different food crops, the gardening section combines Alexander’s experiences in her own kitchen garden and her work with school children, with detailed cultivation notes. The recipes, some of which have appeared elsewhere, cover a variety of cuisines and dishes and in some cases have been modified to be suitable for children to prepare. This is an impressive publication, the information is well presented and there is much here that is interesting and useful, but the wide scope of this book makes it difficult to categorise and may in the end limit its appeal.
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.
Line caught, farmed, wild, sustainable, line-caught, organic – for the conscientious foodie, seafood can be an ethical minefield. This is where Fish Tales comes in. More than a recipe book, authors Bart van Olphen and Tom Kime take readers on a journey across the globe, to nine different sustainable fisheries. Sharing the fishermen’s stories, they give the reader a sense of the breadth and variety in fishing practices, and show us just how precarious our seafood supply is.
An enjoyable book containing an impressive range of information about common and exotic ingredients, including many pictures and nutritional information. It’s suitable for people who already know a bit about ingredients, although the organisation of the book can be quite frustrating. For beginners, this would only be suitable for US readers, with some reservations.
The Modern Café is an excellent guide and inspiration for culinary professionals and those aspiring to have a great café. Beautiful photographs and informative side boxes generously fill the pages. The knowledge is invaluable, the recipes are fresh and exciting, and the business acumen could move you from failed restaurant to the star of your community.
Cake Love: How to Bake Cakes from Scratch, provides a wide range of recipes from Warren Brown’s famous Cake Love bakery. Brown takes a scientific approach to cake baking, being a self-taught baker who learned through trial and error. The recipes range from basics to unusual. For beginners, all the standard recipes are included, from frostings to pound cakes to fillings, as well as comprehensive instructions and information on basic baking techniques and equipment. The level of detail in his instructions tends to be excessive in parts, which is useful for beginners, but can be convoluted and distracting for experienced bakers. However, more advanced bakers will appreciate his original creations, such as Triple Lime-Chocolate Crunchy Feet, Cranberry-Lemon Pound Cake Loaded with Chocolate or Hazelnut Sponge Cake.
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.
A buzz of joy courses through some readers when they discover certain books of special note. Sicilian Food by Mary Taylor Simeti had this effect on me. The author’s prose has that rather stiff, knowledgeable and cheekily irreverent prose familiar in parts from writers like Elizabeth David or MFK Fisher. From discussion of the probable diets of different classes of people in classical times to descriptions of contemporary foodsellers to notes about making your own tomato extract, Simeti captures the culinary atmosphere, context, attitudes and flavours of deepest, hottest Sicily.
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.
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.
It’s 43cm long, 33cm wide, 8cm thick, weighs about five kilograms, has 534 pages, and was one of the most anticipated cookbooks in 2008. From the silver embossed slipcase to the photography and artwork, the writing and the feel of the paper, it would be hard not to notice and admire the Big Fat Duck Cookbook on the shelves of a bookstore.
On initial impressions, perhaps like the restaurant itself, the book appears to be an intimidating creature. Open it and you will be hit by Heston Blumenthal’s passion. Inside is the story of Blumenthal and his restaurant, the recipes and stories behind many of the dishes from the Fat Duck, and a series of essays explaining the science behind the food. Beyond the science, there are journeys into food history, philosophy, personal anecdotes, humour, and the sheer dumb luck that can trigger a great idea. It is a dizzying amount of information in one book. But for those who have read Blumenthal’s previous books, his newspaper columns, or seen his TV show will know that he has a gift for explaining complicated concepts in terms that the layman can understand.
Walk into any chef’s kitchen, and dig around long enough, and you’ll find a buried treasure of recipes. Mine is a humble stack of tattered, splattered papers sitting on a shelf in unruly fashion. A more experienced chef will have a file cabinet, a binder with sheets neatly tucked into plastic protectors, or laminated sheets clipped on a wall. The Complete Robuchon is that treasure chest for Joel Robuchon and his army of cooks. “French home cooking for the way we live now” is the apt subtitle and this book, and deserves its place next to the other fat books in your kitchen. In fact, I suggest placing it right next to Bittman and between the two you really could cook anything.
Chocolate is a mammoth work from the Chocolate History Group at the University of California, Davis. The culmination of ten years of anthropological and archival research, this is a book for a narrow range of readers with interests in food research, anthropology and history, or for those whose curiosity will be sated by an enormous range of fascinating tidbits about chocolate. As a volume representing the final output from the group, it is a collection of 56 academic essays covering anything from the religious significance of chocolate in pre-Colombian and post-colonisation societies to advertising cards in 19th century Europe and North America. As might be expected, this is no light reading and generalist readers may find it hard going. Despite the title, the remit of the research group was strongly oriented towards the Americas, leaving European chocolate history rather neglected in the final product.
Sudi Pigott’s fun little book, How to be a Better Foodie, is a tongue-in-cheek look at high foodie-ism. Bulging with tips, advice and foodie facts, in an extreme level of detail, it’s entertaining and informative in parts, but laughably bad in others. Pigott’s boundless enthusiasm comes across as pretentious numerous times, which often makes for painful reading.
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.