New Column: Cookbook Reviews

As food lovers I bet we have this in common: cookbooks. Tons of cookbooks.  Stacks and stacks of cookbooks actually. That’s why I’m so excited to have my good friend Kristina Gill contributing regularly to Mattbites. She’ll be writing regularly about cookbooks here and she just might help me with my desperate case of cookbookitis. Thank you Kristina, I’m so glad to have you!

These cookbook reviews previously complemented my Friday column, In the Kitchen With at Design*Sponge.  We felt that the reviews would be a better fit for a place where people visit for the food (and the photography).

I should properly introduce myself–  I am Kristina.  I live in Italy, but am American.  By day, I work in the field of development, mostly food aid.  If you’ve ever met me, chances are I’ve told you how much I love my dog Crash! (that’s him in the photo, how adorable is he?–matt) and I’ve given you a 30-second elevator pitch on why you should support the UN World Food Programme (and probably told you a bunch of other things, too).  I have a photography portfolio here, I tweet here, can be found every Friday here, and am in the process of resurrecting my own website.

This week’s cookbook selections are a result of my current cravings.  When people hear that I live in Italy, they think “Foodie Paradise!”  Of course, it’s true.  The food in Italy is great– if all you’re in the mood for is Italian.  If you want any other type of food, you have to travel elsewhere, or learn to make it yourself.  That’s what I do (both options) all the time.  When I can’t travel, I cook.

Asian Dumplings by Andrea Nguyen (TenSpeed Press 2009; photography by Penny De Los Santos).  This made all the buzz last year, including NPR’s Best of 2009 cookbook list for a reason.  Andrea has done a bang up job producing a collection of carefully tested recipes for all sorts of dumplings to fill every desire.  The recipes include steamed and fried dumplings, filled buns, spring rolls,  filled pastries, potato dumplings, sweet dumplings, dipping sauces, broths, doughs…everything!!  The instructions are clear, and while I am not so great at following diagrams to learn how to fold things (I use YouTube!), there are diagrams to illustrate the various folding techniques used in the book, and  of course Penny’s food photography is stellar.  If you ever have a craving for any sort of dumpling, this is your book.  Andrea was also nice enough to offer an exclusive vegan dumpling recipe for the In The Kitchen With column on Design*Sponge this Friday, Feb 5th,  breathtakingly photographed and styled by Matt and Adam C. Pearson.

Warm Bread and Honey Cake by Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra (Pavilion 2009; photography by Vanessa Courtier).  I have a sweet tooth.  In fact, I have 32 sweet teeth.  If left to my own devices, I’d eat cake for every meal.  And have been known to do so.  When I travel, I love to try the traditional cakes of the place I’m visiting. Gaitri has put together a fantastic collection of recipes for traditional breads and cakes from around the world.  When I was craving Lamingtons, guess what book I turned to.  Needed to use up some bananas…I opened this book, too.  Had a baklava query, turned to this book (there are three different recipes!).  This book presents international variations on fruit cakes, spice cakes, chocolate cakes, nut cakes, cheese cakes, coconut cakes, and so on.  It covers yeasted bread and all manner of flatbreads.  An Australian food blogger I follow on Twitter calls it her new cookbook crush.  I found cooking with this book to be a cinch, and it is definitely one of my happiest finds in 2009 for the variety of recipes and inclusion of every non-American cake recipe I have ever had a hankering for.  Photography is also quite nice.

My favourite ingredients by Skye Gyngell (Quadrille 2009; photography by Jason Lowe– will be released by Ten Speed Press later this month)  These days, I find that the pursuit of ‘good food’ can sometimes water down recipe collections.  This collection of recipes, based on the author’s favorite ingredients (the book’s chapters are by food type– e.g. leaves, citrus, pulses & grains, nuts, etc.), are really quite simple yet sophisticated.  This is really ‘adult’ food.  You will have to work to pull many of these together– the ingredients aren’t easy to come by in some cases, and the preparation a bit involved– but the end result will be so very satisfying.  For the winter, dishes like Ribollita with great strong cavolo nero (that’s kale isn’t it?), pickled pumpkin with burrata (or butternut squash), Clementines with Medjool dates, pomegranates and honeyed almonds (served with mascarpone), or blood oranges with warm honey and rosemary (and hot red pepper) make you want to stay inside.  But the book overall makes you want to find the time, space, and energy to have your own little garden so you can enjoy these full flavors.  This is a great book if you like to take your time in the kitchen and don’t mind shopping for specific ingredients to prepare a particular recipe.  Alternatively, this is a great book to inspire you to make adaptations with your own favourite ingredients.

Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes from the Editors of Martha Stewart Living (Clarkson Potter publishers 2009; Photography by Con Poulos and others).  OH NO!  NOT ANOTHER CUPCAKE!  I know that’s what you’re all saying.  And if you’re like me, and you look at the $2.75 price tag of a cupcake in a shoppe or bakery and say “Hmph, I can make a dozen of those for $2.75” then THIS is exactly the book you need.  Martha and her editors have mad skills and need no introduction or explanation.  You know the recipes are -tight-.  You’ve got the decorating step-by-steps, the holiday variations (St. Patrick’s Day, New Year’s, Easter, etc.), and most importantly you’ve got the coconut cupcake recipe, which happens to be the best coconut cake in the world.  This whole book is worth it for that recipe alone.  What more can I say about a cupcake book?

(Matt’s notes: We all know how I feel about Martha, right folks? This book rules and I’m not just saying that because she’s been very good to me. It’s really a great book.)


  1. says

    What a great addition to your already fabulous site, Matt. And lucky you Kristina to be the one to lurk into the bowels of Matt’s cookbook collection. Just maybe you’ll be covering more out of the way books–the likes coming out of Australia and England, or further afield? Can’t wait, myself, for Skye’s new book.

    Best, Nani

  2. says

    yay!! so excited and happy to read about this new column! love the write-ups on these 4 books, kristina! i’ve admired andrea’s work for so long and with 32 sweet teeth of my own, you and i definitely need to sit down for a big’ole slice of cake (or two).

  3. says

    I’m looking forward to your columns, Kristina. I am a big fan of Asian Dumplings. The photos, recipes, and details of techniques are thorough and enticing. I’m looking forward to checking out your other recommendations.

  4. says

    You know, I really don’t think this is going to help my cookcbook buying problem. I have a bookshelf dedicated just to cookbooks… and its full. So now I’m going to have to reorganize.

  5. says

    This is a great idea. I look forward to following your reviews. Kristina, you have already inspired me to leave a comment because I lived in Italy for a semester (Florence to be specific) and as much as Italian food was delightful, I had nowhere to get my Asian or Latin food fix. I remember disastrous attempts to eat out. Grazie!

  6. says

    This is definetly our favorite treat, although it is hard to always find a new cupcake idea. Martha always has the best, creative cupcake recipes. Thanks for letting us know about it.

  7. says

    Hi Nani and Linda,

    My range is pretty much the US, Australia, and UK because I think it covers where our readers are and -generally- where highest number of top quality cookbooks originate (top quality = content+aesthetics). I do have a French book to kinda review here, in fact I might have a couple. But generally, English language books (but not translated books) are what I will present.

    You can always contact me via the contact information listed in the hotlink above.


  8. says

    Have you purchased the brand new Martha cookbook – Everyday Food: Fresh Flavor Fast: 250 Easy, Delicious Recipes for Any Time of Day? I had to buy it immediately! Received it 3 days ago and have already tried out 3 recipes and am completely in love!!!


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