Britain has long been known as a mecca for Indian food, especially London which boasts over 1000 Indian restaurants ranging from street fare to Michelin-starred venues. As a natural extension there are an increasing number of cookbooks being published highlighting British Indian food – food that incorporates local produce, fish and meats. Capital Spice is the latest to show the best that London has to offer.
Books in the category: light content
Chef Andrew McConnell, one of Australia’s most prominent representatives of high-end relaxed cuisine, has written his first cookbook. It’s attractive, broad in its flavours, and likely to stimulate and puzzle those who aren’t familiar with this type of dining. The book has a strong local feel and will be appreciated by McConnell’s devotees, despite (or because of) the rather demanding shopping list the cookbook requires.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentices is the only reasonably unvarnished account of what it was like to work at el Bulli. Alongside occasional descriptions of the creative process involving Adrià and his key chefs, the book’s main focus is on the life of the unpaid apprentices lucky enough to have been selected to spend a season at the restaurant. The book provides interesting insights into the workings of this very special restaurant and the experiences of the people involved, but I found it long and heavy reading. Opinions of this book are likely to vary greatly.
Ladurée: Sucré is a highly-anticipated collection of more than 100 of the famous patisserie’s desserts under the leadership of Phillipe Andrieu. The variety of recipes ranges from several simple, classic pastries to a few complex signature entremets. The size and format of the book unfortunately limit the content and depth of instruction which might interest more hardcore pastry chefs, but fans of Ladurée and pastry in general will appreciate this first volume from one of the most renowned establishments in Paris.
Audrey Gordon is a respected and prolific cookery writer. She has also been a long-time contributor to BBC radio, presented numerous television series and been voted ‘Britain’s Sternest Cook’ three times. She and husband Phillip recently closed their restaurant, audrey’s, and headed to Tuscany for a chance to take a break and of course write a book about it. The result is ‘Audrey Gordon’s Tuscan Summer’, a ’sumptuously photographed and lavishly over-designed book’ written for ‘the ordinary cook, stuck at home with insufficient bench space and a set of chipped mixing bowls’.
Audrey Gordon’s Tuscan Summer looks like a regular cookbook and the recipes are certainly workable if not necessarily authentic, but Audrey is not all she seems…
In the introductory chapter of his new book, “Medium Raw”, Anthony Bourdain asks “What the fuck am I doing here?” While that statement is made in the context of a dinner with chefs that he admits are countless levels above his own abilities, he also intends as a question about how he has ended up as a fulltime writer and television presenter. While he puts it down to a series of lucky breaks, the other factors he doesn’t mention are a combination of keen observation and very good writing skills.
“Medium Raw” is promoted as a sequel to “Kitchen Confidential”, and in one sense it fulfils that with chapters that update us on the lives of the people in that breakthrough book. But the book also offers writing about his own life, the food world as he sees it and, to his credit, saying how some of his views have changed over time. The usual Bourdain elements are there: the gonzo style of writing, his refusal to sugar coat his opinion, and a healthy splash of swearing. But with marriage and parenthood, a gentler and more sentimental Bourdain emerges too.
Lebanese Australian chef Abla Amad, renowned in Melbourne for her delicious homestyle cooking, this year updated her 2001 book The Lebanese Kitchen. The new edition, renamed to Abla’s Lebanese Kitchen comes on top of the peak of interest in Eastern Mediterranean cuisines. Unlike the first edition, the 2010 version is an attractive hardcover book with numerous photographs to entice the reader, but beyond that there’s barely anything new. The lack of new content is not necessarily a drawback, however, as Abla’s Lebanese Kitchen retains the original simple, personal focus on some delicious food.
Iron Chef Chen’s Knockout Chinese is a charming, lightweight book from a Japanese master of Sichuan cooking, and one of the original Iron Chefs. For better or for worse, this first translated work skips the traditional, authentic fare and goes straight for the innovative and personal recipes (with a few classics thrown in). The organization is strange and some things are lost in translation, but the recipes are often simple and inviting enough for most people to pick up immediately.
Patterned after Mario Batali’s New York pizzeria Otto, Molto Gusto takes the focus away from complicated “meat-and-potatoes” Italian dishes and towards simple, easy-to-prepare everyday fare (or as limited by your budget for the deli). The recipes are all approachable and the photographs are inviting, but some readers might be turned off by some extremely simple recipes and the dependence on a specific brand of tomato product.
Aimed squarely at the teenage market, The New Students’ Veggie Cookbook addresses not just what a young vegetarian should eat, but also how to keep fit and healthy while doing so. The book covers the basics of setting up a kitchen, stocking a pantry, offering helpful and very clear instructions on how best to chop an onion, boil an egg and, interestingly, how to store food.
Karen DeMasco’s The Craft of Baking aims to inspire the home baker to try new variations of homely desserts and sweets, and is successful at encouraging creativity to some degree. There is a wide range of recipes and some modest but interesting suggestions. However, it is lacking in helpful explanations and is too narrow in its selection of ingredients and special brands, and the use of US-centric measures and terminology may be frustrating to international readers.
Alison Thompson’s Macaron is a nicely presented book that offers 35 flavors ranging from classic to creative. However, for such a notoriously difficult petit four to make, the recipe presented is too temperamental and the information too lightweight, with little to offer in terms of troubleshooting and technique.
At first glance, you may wonder what the fuss over Okashi is all about. A fairly simple book with attractive photographs, it presents appealing recipes that showcase author Ishida’s particular style, incorporating numerous Japanese flavours into many familiar baked goods and dessert items. Creative and suitable for a broad audience, this book should delight many bakers.
Field Guide to Candy packs a lot of recipes for homemade candy from around the world in a compact volume. It manages to include several lesser-known recipes from outside the US, UK and France, even though there are a few glaring omissions and curious inclusions. However, the lack of detail in the recipes make this more suitable as a reference book for more experienced candy-makers.
Over the past few years publishers Phaidon have been establishing a presence in the cookbook market. “The Silver Spoon For Children” is their first move into the area of cooking with children. Often, books in this area of cooking, like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s “The River Cottage Family Cookbook”, are written for adults as a guide to teaching children how to cook. This book’s approach involves having a child read it, and then prepare the recipes with the aid of an adult. By simplifying the recipes to their essence, and using large pictures and bright colours to grab attention, this book is one that has a great chance of engaging young minds.
The book takes its recipes from “The Silver Spoon”, and is aimed at children aged at least nine years old. The recipes have been tested by children, so parents can be reasonably confident that the recipes will work. As someone who has not been impressed by Phaidon’s cookbooks, this one has been surprisingly good.
The Healthy College Cookbook is intended for American college students with no knowledge of cooking and perhaps little time. The 300 recipes range from simple healthy breakfast dishes to desserts, with a good range of savoury dishes between. The range of recipes feels modern (though maybe underseasoned) and the advice is very helpful, making this a useful and tasty book, though perhaps a little dry for some students. A good gift for many students or young people living alone.
Food historian Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra takes us on a gastronomic journey to more than twenty countries with the recipes she’s collected from her friends and artisan bakers around the world during her colorful life. For many of the recipes, she provides the history and shares the experience of tasting the authentic article. With plenty of beautiful photographs, the book will transport you out of the rut of your usual French and American breads and pastries and take you to less familiar locales.
Students seem to have been a new target for publishers in 2009, with at least four student-oriented cookbooks appearing. I guess publishers anticipated that students wouldn’t be able to afford the stereotypical diet of burgers, chips, pizzas, noodles and beer. An entertaining and attractive book, From Pasta to Pancakes, the Ultimate Student Cookbook is the work of young British food personality Tiffany Goodall. Unfortunately, despite the innovative presentation and the worthy intention of teaching food-illiterate students how to cook, the book is disappointing.
Life is Sweet is about making various types of confectionery at home, traditional and modern. The authors are the owners of the Hope and Greenwood confectionery shops in London and are experienced sweet makers. The recipes include a wide range of cooked and uncooked sweets, from rich dark truffles and chocolate with chilli and lime to marshmallows, nougat, toffee apples, old fashioned ‘pulled’ toffees and salt licorice. If you enjoy astonishing your friends with new home cooked goodies, this is a book to add to your bookshelf.
Hugh Garvey and Matthew Yeomans are the creators of the popular gastrokid.com website. The book, like the website, is focussed on cooking for families. While there is an emphasis on simplicity and the use of fresh ingredients, the authors strongly encourage their readers to try new foods. They believe that parents should not prejudge what their children will or will not eat, and that finicky tastes are something to be expected. As a parent of two children, it is an attitude that I agree with. The book’s recipes cover the day’s three main meals, snacks, and picnic food. Many of the recipes are designed to allow children to be involved in the preparation, with the pleasing consequence that techniques are often simple and quick. The book is littered with bits of trivia and tips, and overall, it is a package that many families will find very useful.
Japanese Kitchen Knives is a beautifully photographed guide to the three main knives (Usuba, Deba, Yanagiba) and the various cutting and filleting techniques specific to each knife. Aimed towards those interested in advanced Japanese cuisine and admirers of a traditional Japanese art, the book is one-of-a-kind. However, some steps of the techniques may be too difficult to be constrained within the smallish photographs and even with the flawless photography, diagrams are still needed for clarity.
4 Ingredients is supposed to inspire people with “quick, easy & delicious recipes”. Quick and easy? Certainly. But in most cases the recipes compromise on both taste and health. The authors, Kim McCosker and Rachael Birmigham, rely on their status as mothers of young children to convince people that they know how to cook. Frankly, I’m not convinced at all.
The front cover of “Snowflakes and Schnapps” shows a dinner table with a white painted antler in the middle of it. On first impressions it looks very stylish. But then you ask yourself, “Why is it there? Is there a purpose to it? Won’t it get in the way?” Look at the photo a bit longer, and the realisation hits that there is no food on the table. This book is like the photograph. There’s lots of style, with food almost as a secondary consideration.
Despite the glossy magazine feel of the book, and the expectation that it’s destined for the coffee table rather than the kitchen bench, it does contain recipes that would tempt even the most experienced of home cooks. A very impressive winter dinner could be built upon the offerings in this book.
“Snowflakes and Schnapps” will certainly satisfy those looking for a gift and many who are looking for a good cookbook. However, anyone who wants a more detailed and authentic look at the winter foods of Europe would be best advised to look elsewhere.
The author of the massively popular blog Chez Pim attempts to guide us to appreciating food, dining, and cooking (again) with her unique brand of sass and humor. While the dining tips are useful and the recipes look delicious, some of the material appears simply a supplement to (or derivative of) the blog. Her guide is a mixed bag of earnest, well-thought-out advice and odd name- and place-dropping that somehow makes being a foodie synonymous with being well-traveled and well-connected (or synonymous with Pim’s life), contrary to her stated objectives.
From the national Country Women’s Association branches around Australia comes a collection of cake recipes, published by Penguin. This is one of a few CWA books to be released in 2009. The photos are attractive, despite the range of cakes being far from fancy, and there are many familiar classics alongside some novel twists. The personal touch saves the book from being just an idiosyncratic catalogue of recipes (not least fruitcakes!) and with a little care most readers would enjoy baking from it, despite a few recipe problems.
In Notes on Cooking, Lauren Braun Costello and Russell Reich provide us with 217 insights into what it takes to be a good cook – what they call a “concentration of the culinary craft.” Though each item is brief, most are immediately useful, insightful, and will have an impact on your kitchen habits. It makes an excellent gift for the starting and intermediate cook, but even experienced cooks will benefit from reflecting on the wisdom in it.
Anjum’s New Indian offers inviting recipes, useful background information and a warm but not over-the-top enthusiasm for food. The book features recipes from a BBC television series, Indian Food Made Easy, focusing on regional dishes of India.
The book could easily have been yet another one of those “inspired by the flavours of …” titles, leaving the user none the wiser about what really makes a cuisine, but thankfully the author not only tells the reader how many dishes are traditionally prepared, but is also open about what changes she has made and why. It makes this book doubly valuable: helping you understand traditional methods and flavours while giving you at times lighter, simpler or just personally preferred alternatives. The results are delicious and attractive for omnivores and vegetarians alike.
Daisy Garnett roasted her first chicken at thirty. It was the first meal she had ever actually cooked, something repeated – and often – throughout the pages of Cooking Lessons. A memoir by a young, emerging cook, Garnett’s recently formed kitchen wisdom is imparted with a refreshing, conversational ease. Her recipes ooze charm and wit. Unleashing this passion during a life-affirming yacht trip across the Atlantic with friends, Garnett is something of a poster girl for the still-growing movement toward reconnection with the simple pleasures of cooking. Here is someone, with the zeal of the newly converted, clearly in love with her subject.
If you’re a bloke with barely a pinch of kitchen knowledge (or with an overdose of indolence), Beat Heat Eat might be your cup of tea. Dean Lahn has created a slim, very visual cookbook for the unreconstructed male. The recipes are short and quite novel in their low-effort approach, presented with fine engineer-like graphics that are mostly useful. Textual instructions are clear and the introductions and asides for each recipe could make you laugh or cringe, depending on your temperament. It’s fun. At times it’s brilliant. It will irritate many experienced cooks. And women.
With more than 250 easy-to-follow recipes, My Love for Naples packs a lot of punch into a light volume. Callen makes no compromises in authenticity, but neither are any of the recipes unachievable for the home cook. However, with only a few pictures of select recipes, the book may not appeal to those who need them for inspiration and direction.
It seems like we’re forever being told to eat healthier, lighter food yet at the same time there aren’t exactly a mountain of attractive food books that really focus on interesting healthy options. Too many healthy-eating books make food much less fun than it needs to be. To my surprise, Jill Dupleix successfully combines the ideas of lighter eating without making you feel like you’re launching into a 100% fat-free nightmare. Lighten Up offers a welcome diversity of good, appetising recipes in an attractive package. The tone won’t suit everyone, and the trendy ingredients might put some people off at first, but this is a book well worth looking at. I was surprised at how interesting I found the range of recipes.
In the public imagination, the leading light of what has commonly been called the Molecular Gastronomy movement is the restaurant elBulli and its head chef, Ferran Adrià. For many years, elBulli has produced large, beautiful volumes of innovative dishes, techniques and the philosophy of their creation, first in Spanish and then, with some delay, in English. Unattainably expensive for many chefs and non-chefs alike, these books have provided one of the few clear insights into what Ferran Adrià and his restaurant is about, minus the breathless enthusiasm of food critics or hyped “weird-shit” descriptions of lesser food writers. At last there is a book that is aimed at the public, perhaps leading to better understanding of what this approach to cooking and eating is about. Sceptics might not make it through to the interesting bits, however, as this book is a vanity work of many pages and photos that only becomes interesting the further you look. In many ways this is little more than a coffee table book, yet fails in that form. It is simultaneously dull, unwieldy, informative and complex. The “potted guide” to elBulli, to use a slightly old fashioned term, just without the brevity!
The Barefoot Contessa’s new cookbook retains the same qualities of reliability, versatility, and simplicity consistent throughout the Barefoot Contessa series, but it has enough flaws (expense, a few obviously throwaway recipes and sections, over-the-top richness) and references earlier books in the series too much to be truly friendly to new readers of Ina Garten.
Cook With Jamie, released by British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver in 2007, is a bestseller and was awarded the 2007 IACP award for best cookbook under the General category. While the photographs are breathtaking and Oliver works his magic and makes simple food beautiful and inspired, it still has it flaws—but it may very well still be one of the best Jamie Oliver cookbooks around, and worthy of an award even.
Eating Between the Lines claims to be “A different kind of food tour” and sociologist Rebecca Huntley certainly takes the readers on a journey. The book is a series of discreet chapters exploring aspects of food culture in Australia. From the subtitle of the book, “Food & Equality in Australia”, you might expect the focus to be on poverty, access to food, and perhaps the ability to cook. In fact, Huntley ranges over these themes and adds a sociopolitical agenda involving gender roles, racism, Slow Food and more. At times, the reader might feel that the author lacks much insight into deeper cultural and historical issues, leaving her argumentation a little popular-conscience rather than achieving insightful examination. Nonetheless, many interesting pieces of information come out of the interviews and stories and the footnotes are interesting. I found Eating Between the Lines very irritating, but it’s well written and designed to hit the right “how terrible” buttons with certain types of readers. Huntley might, however, have cast her net a bit too wide, because there are enough touches of sneering through the book that she might well offend even some of her target audience.
An attractive book presenting the story of the family of an Australian Vietnamese restaurateur and the Red Lantern restaurant in Sydney. It combines narrative with recipes. The photography is warm. Decorative patterns add a great deal to the appeal of the pages and to the fabric cover. The book is both saddening and frustrating. Despite the visual attraction and the promise of delicious food, Secrets of the Red Lantern presents a bleak narrative and has serious flaws which greatly mar the experience for some readers.
Few Australians have much understanding of the refugee experience or, more to the point, the Australian Vietnamese experience. It is good to see an attempt to recount the situation of people escaping Vietnam to seek a new life, the treatment as refugees in camps and then Australia, and how they have struggled and changed over the last thirty years. Combining this with the theme of food is logical. Many evocative books on food combine personal experience with the web of memory and emotion sustained by food. However, the story of this family involves so much suffering — largely at the hands of the writer’s father — that I found it uncomfortable to read this in what is clearly meant to be a cookbook. By ‘uncomfortable’ I don’t mean confronting; instead, I felt the narrative was out of place in this book.
David Lebovitz moved to Paris in 2002 to start a new life. After cramming all his worldly belongings into three suitcases, he arrived, hopes high, at his new apartment near the Bastille. But as this career pastry chef and cookbook author would soon learn, it’s a different world en France.