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: mixed/non-regional cuisine
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.
Eat With Your Hands is the first book by Zakary Pellacio of New York’s celebrated restaurants Fatty Crab and Fatty ‘Cue. In this book he takes Southeast Asian classics and reinvents them with his Italian heritage and French training, or conjures new dishes with a distinct flavor profile which would not look out of place on a Malaysian table. The dishes are time-consuming, challenging, and require good sourcing of exotic ingredients, but always rewarding.
In Pastries, Hermé takes on 50 monuments of the pastry world from ancient to modern times, and reimagines them in unique and inventive ways. At times the metamorphosis can be a head-scratcher, and the book doesn’t include details about the creative process behind the transformation. However, any fan of food history and pastry will appreciate up to 50 new recipes from one of Paris’s finest.
As boutique chocolatiers continue to release cookbooks for their adoring fans, a clear voice must be found to have these books stand the test of time. Melt, while offering beautiful photography and ample recipes, struggles to achieve the level of accuracy desired by experienced chocolatiers, but may suit beginners just starting their chocolate adventure.
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.
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.
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.
Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook is the American reader’s chance to jump back to his or her youth with memories of being raised on Cap’n Crunch and Corn Flakes. In a follow-up to David Chang’s best-selling Momofuku Cookbook, his pastry chef, Christina Tosi, presents her most popular recipes including the famed Compost Cookies and Crack Pie. But beware of her overly sweet recipes if you prefer your desserts a bit more subtle and understated.
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.
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.
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.
Publishers Quadrille have produced a version of Eliza Acton’s famous Modern Cookery for Private Families, first published in 1845. Essential reading for anyone interested in food and history, so much of what Eliza Acton had to say is as true today as it was more than 150 years ago. Acton gives valuable insight into the Victorian kitchen, and her prose is a pleasure to read.
Some people design couches. Others design cars. Stéphane Bureaux designs food. And what’s a food designer to do when he wants a collection of the best contemporary food design? Why, design a book to feature food design of course! Design Culinaire is a collection of notable design intended to document and inspire food artists.
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.
Chris Badenoch’s cookbook “The Entire Beast” is built around his passion for nose-to-tail eating and beer. Most of his recipes are European, but there are a couple of excursions into Chinese and Mexican food. While there is plenty to keep fans of nose to tail eating happy, there are enough other recipes to keep non-offal fans interested. His passion for beer is reflected in both his preference for using beer instead of wine in his recipes, and his beer recommendations for each dish. For those who don’t know very much about beer, he provides a glossary at the end. Badenoch’s passion, whilst sometimes going over the top, encourages readers to follow his cooking and drinking philosophy. Even without this enthusiasm, the recipes are still very tempting. For a first book, this is a very good effort.
How the British Fell in Love with Food is the sort of book you could either read from cover to cover, or simply pick up casually from time to time to read a chapter or two. The articles from members of the Guild of Food Writers, many award-winners, provide an interesting historical perspective on modern food history in Britain, combined with a fair range of recipes. The book is not without a few quirks, not least of which the choice of period (mid-70s to 2010). The book only includes works by the Guild’s writers, as it was published to celebrate the Guild’s 25th anniversary.
Tartine Bread is both a tribute and a guidebook to the process of creating naturally leavened bread (no added yeast). Those with patience, dedication, and a knack for reorganizing a tremendous amount of information will be able to benefit the most from this book. The number of actual bread recipes is small but the book focuses more on the method and does not aim to give variety in terms of bread formulas. Fans of Tartine will also appreciate the various recipes in the final chapter that make use of day-old bread.
Heston Blumenthal’s “Fantastical Feats” is the companion book to the television series of the same name. In the book and series, Blumenthal creates six feasts, each based on a theme. His aim is to capture the spirit of each theme in the dishes he creates. As with his previous books, one of the principle joys of this book is reading about Blumenthal’s thought process as he turns abstract concepts into the form of food. He writes not only about the ideas that work, but the ones that don’t. The book is immensely entertaining. He writes with great humour, and he has a gift of finding experiences that allows him to connect with the reader and help them to see the food world as he does.
Nina Kéhayan’s classic work on aubergines (eggplants) was reprinted in English this year. It’s a very broad collection of recipes, covering a multitude of aubergine preparations and is likely to make any aubergine lover happy. The book is, however, not particularly attractive or informative, beyond what can be gleaned from the many techniques in the recipes.
Nigella Lawson, queen of the celebrity chefs, is back. Kitchen is the culmination of Nigella’s life-long love affair with the kitchen. Comprising 190 recipes over 488 pages, Kitchen is a compendious tome, combining Nigella’s conversational writing style with lovely colour photographs by Lis Parsons. Its practical, delicious recipes and engaging writing make it destined to become sauce-splattered and well used in the kitchen, but also well-read and loved outside of it too.
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.
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.
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.
In Ottolenghi The Cookbook, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamini share recipes for the sort of dishes which have made their London Ottolenghi food stores popular. Their food is based on the generous use of fresh ingredients and bold flavour combinations, drawing heavily on a wide range of culinary traditions not least those of their homeland, Israel. The recipes here cover a range of ideas for vegetables, through meat and fish to cakes and meringues and offer a modern and imaginative approach which will appeal to the adventurous and curious home cook.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Marcus Samuelsson’s New American Table is perfect for the aspiring foodie with its vast array of cuisines. Although you’ll find nothing ground-breaking or especially innovative, adventurous cooks will enjoy the challenge of cooking across the globe and, ultimately, a modern definition of American Cuisine will appear right on their own dinner table.
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.
What if Mozart or Einstein handed you their notebook and said, “Here, go have fun.” Such a gift would be overwhelming in generosity as well as challenge. When Paco Torreblanca offers this gift in Paco Torreblanca 2, he adds, “Now let’s see what we can do together.” A serious, no-nonsense book for people who take pastry seriously, Paco Torreblanca 2 focuses on integrating natural ingredients into microcosmic eye candy.
The Dumpling: A Seasonal Guide is one of the first books to collect dumpling recipes from around the world into a single volume. There is an excellent variety of dumpling types and flavors, the recipes are clear and there are plenty of tips for beginners. Unfortunately, a forced definition of the word dumpling as a category limits the book unnecessarily and may disappoint people who are looking for a dish they recognize as a dumpling but has been excluded.
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.
David Chang, owner of the famed New York restaurants Momofuku Noodle Bar, Ssäm Bar and Ko, chronicles his journey from noodle-eater to noodle-maker and guides us through more than 50 of his most popular recipes that showcase the fusion of modern technique and classic Asian comfort food. Throughout the book he gives us a peek into the creative process and the story behind each dish, citing his influences, failures, and inspirations. The recipes can be daunting and the flavors sometimes need tweaking, but ambitious home cooks should have little problem replicating or improving on the dishes, though the weak instructions and badly converted measurements might lead them astray. While there has been plenty of media focus on Chang’s “bad-boy” image, he still comes across as approachable and self-deprecating at best, and at worst annoying and trying too hard, but never offensive. Fans of modern Asian cuisine and the Momofuku empire will find the book both entertaining and fascinating. [Editor's note: Don't miss our book giveaway too!]
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.
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.
Tartine is a remarkable book that allows the home baker to recreate breakfast pastries, tarts, cakes, and puddings from the renowned California bakery. The authors didn’t hold back anything in making the book, taking from most of their entire menu, yet the recipes are mostly accessible and the skill level required ranges from beginner to intermediate. Most importantly, many of the desserts from the book have a rustic charm but are still delicious and beautiful enough to be showstoppers. The photography of the book, taken behind the scenes at the Tartine Bakery, captures the dream-like quality of the desserts and the remarkable skill of the artisans who make them.
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.
Rose’s Heavenly Cakes is Rose Levy Beranbaum’s follow-up to the acclaimed The Cake Bible, with almost 100 cakes that aim to please a wide variety of tastes. Beranbaum’s meticulous style may please some well-equipped home bakers in a temperate climate, but others might find them too fastidious, controlling, limiting, and overly complicated for what are really supposed to be simple cakes. Frustratingly, even following the recipe to the letter can give results that still leave something to be desired.
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 Dessert Architect gives plenty of inspiration for a student of pastry arts to create his or her own impressive creations through 50 creative recipes. It also provides a few guidelines in creating your own plated desserts and what factors must be put into consideration in a professional kitchen. However, the photography needs some improvement in showing off the desserts. Also, the lack of instructions for specific plating techniques and the exclusion of newer methods in plating and construction keep the book from becoming an authority on plating in the modern pastry chef’s bookshelf.
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.
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.
Basic ice-cream books are fairly common, but informative or innovative ones are few. Lola’s Ice Creams & Sundaes has been hailed as a welcome addition to the innovative side of things and I’m happy to agree. This attractive book by Morfudd Richards, owner of the UK’s high-class ice-cream van Lola on Ice, presents a very good range of delicious and inspiring recipes and some flawed explanation of the knowledge needed to become a confident and creative ice-cream maker.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Food served in small glasses — verrines — has been popular in France for at least four years. José Maréchal’s book Verrines, published by Murdoch Books, is only the second book in English to focus strongly on this type of dish. Two of Maréchal’s French books on verrines (published by Marabout: Verrines, Verrines toutes fraîches) have been combined to produce this compact 128 page volume in English which gives an excellent introduction and provides lots of inspiration. This is a title that deserves five stars because it achieves what it needs to so well, combining a feel for the dishes with tips and inspirations. The book suits cooks who enjoy food presentation and bright flavours and who have at least basic technical confidence.
Feed Me Now!, Australian chef Bill Granger’s latest book, promises a “joyful, practical collection of recipes that cater to the day-to-day food dilemmas of busy modern families” that use few ingredients and require minimum fuss. While the recipe difficulty varies, they are easy to follow. However, the book still contains quite a few not-so-instant recipes, and the photography, while beautiful, appears at odds with Granger’s laid-back style.
In Indulge: 100 Perfect Desserts, Claire Clark, head pastry chef of The French Laundry, shares 100 memorable desserts from her 25 years of experience as a pastry chef. The range is wide, from her mother’s recipe for shortbread, to complex multilayered desserts worthy of a four-star hotel. As a result, the skill level required of this book ranges from novice to intermediate as well. Her skill as a pastry chef and as a teacher shines through in the text, and the result is a solid volume of desserts that have spot-on flavors.
Occasionally I have friends or acquaintances who ask me for pastry book recommendations. I cook for a living, but am also a home baker at heart. Even though I have many far more impressive looking books relating to pastry and baking, a particular one stands out amongst the rest. I turn to it when I want to whip up something comforting and it’s the book I’m confident will yield me a very pleasing result, even if it’s a previously unattempted recipe. It is also the one with batter-stained pages and the odd chocolate smudge – surely the good sign of a well loved book (or a careless cook). The book? Belinda Jeffery’s Mix & Bake.
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.
The “Blue Ribbon” of this title is the traditional blue ribbon awarded to winning entries in country shows and specifically the various cookery sections (Classes) of the Horticultural and Agricultural Shows throughout South Australia. From cover to cover this is an attractive book, with well laid out pages, clear and easy to read text and nice sharp images to delight the eye and stimulate the taste buds. The prize winning cooks are women, men and children of all ages and mostly from towns and farming communities close to particular show venues. The recipes range from the humble tomato sauce, various preserves, jams and jellies, through baked goods from biscuits to sponge cakes and a State Competition winning entry of a rich dark fruit cake.
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.
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.
The Seafood Handbook is a well-illustrated and easy-to-read guide of 210 species of seafood in North America, and is a great resource for buyers of seafood, or even your everyday seafood fanatic. However, parts of the introductory chapters, “crash courses” in the seafood industry and seafood handling, are poorly written and seem to evade issues that people who are serious about the seafood business should care about.
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.
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.
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.
François Payard’s chocolate-flavored follow-up to his award-winning Simply Sensational Desserts is also a winner, packed with 99 new recipes that explore the massive potential of chocolate in an amazing variety of desserts. Payard’s French roots are definitely evident in this book, though there are a few American, Italian, and Spanish influences. Chocolate Epiphany is the perfect book for the adventurous home baker with a love for all things chocolate.
Beautiful. This is a stunning production imbued with the personality of the author, local context, and an appealing warmth, packaged with style and a sense of understanding of the author’s values. Maggie’s Harvest is, in keeping with the author’s own philosophy and the prevailing food ideology, organised by season. And in what feels quite Australian, it starts with summer and ends with spring (take that you northern hemispherics!). The only downside? There’s some content reproduced from Maggie Beer’s previous books, but this isn’t revealed.