Cookbook Reviews: Some Favorites

by Matt on November 19, 2010

You know how important cookbooks are to us over here at Mattbites. This installment from Kristina Gill features a selection of some recent favorites and I promised not to be biased considering they come from a few of my favorite people. Take it away, Kristina!

There are quite a few books out right now which I’ve been very impressed by not only with refreshing content, but also in their presentation. As you may have noticed already, I choose cookbooks based as much on their content as their visual impact, opting either for fantastic images and great content or great content and no images over a book with poor images. Here are the ones I’ve enjoyed recently, all of which resuscitated a reaction I never expected to have when flipping through a cookbook! Don’t worry, I haven’t gone crazy, it’s just…when you are always reading cookbooks, you think nothing will surprise you. Instead, these books really made my day. Seen any great books lately?

Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef by Shauna James Ahern and Daniel Ahern (2010 Wiley; photography by Lara Ferroni) This summer I was grappling with some problems which my doctor and a friend believed might be gluten intolerance. So far, this has not been verified, but in the most difficult times, it was as hard physically as psychologically to deal with the idea that I might not be able to eat gluten ever again! If you flip through this book, you’ll see that there aren’t many special “tricks” to making gluten-free food. The recipes are of course all quite appealing, and there are recipes for gluten-free crackers, breads, and desserts. What I like most about Shauna’s book is that it is a reminder of how well you can eat without gluten. Instead of a finite set of recipes, for me it represented the beginning of a limitless horizon, and that’s what makes the book special for me, unlike other gluten-free books which can tend to make you feel as though you’ve got a set menu to choose from. Of course there’s a love story in there too, and that always makes people feel good, but for me, this book was all about freedom to choose foods, regardless of your dietary restrictions. This is a great book for anyone.

Doughnuts: Simple and Delicious Recipes to Make at Home by Lara Ferroni (2010 Sasquatch; photography by Lara Ferroni) Doughnuts were a special treat for Lara as a child, as they were for me. Flipping through this collection of recipes, each page was a childhood memory. All the logical variants on doughnuts are here, nothing far-fetched, nothing lacking. If there’s a type of doughnut you want to make (baked or fried, gluten-free or not), Lara has either included it or left you with the tools to make your own. Doughnuts are so simple, yet seem like magic when someone makes one for you before your very eyes! That’s what this book is, and I can’t really think of any way Lara could have done a better job! Except maybe to ship it with a half dozen old-fashioned plain cake doughnuts…no glaze!

Alice’s Cookbook by Alice Heart (2010 Quadrille; Photography by Emma Lee) Quadrille publishers has done a great thing– a new series of books for new voices in food. Alice Hart was their debut author, and I must admit, she should feel very proud of what she’s done. This is a compact paperback volume which is just the right size to carry around and study to tab all the great recipes. I try to test each book I own with at least one recipe, and for this one, it was the brownies. She boasted they are the best ever, and my husband concurs! The rest of the book is laid out around occasions in which you might prepare a certain meal– picnic, around the fire, Sundays, etc. I found this organization to be helpful not just for thinking of meal planning, but also in getting into narrative of the book and feeling as though I could relate to Alice’s lifestyle and how food fits into it. Some of the recipes are a bit involved, but every so often, it’s good to make an extra effort in the kitchen. I really like this book, a lot. With superb photography by Emma Lee, it is definitely on my list of favorites!



Wild garlic, gooseberries…and me: a chef’s stories and recipes from the land by Dennis Cotter (2010 Collins; photography by Cristian Barnett) I took a brief trip to Dublin last year and fell in love with Ireland before the plane even landed, understanding immediately why it is called the Emerald Isle. Inundated with cookbooks which are collections of recipes with brief headers, I like this book because the recipes are integrated into the author’s journey in search of vegetables in his native Ireland. I like that he starts out by citing Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book as an endless source of inspiration, admitting he’s never cooked from it! To me, that makes him human, and makes me quite interested in the conversational tone he takes throughout the book to describe how he identifies, gathers, and prepares his favorite vegetables. The recipes are not always the simplest nor the ingredients easy to find in a place like Rome, but the ones which are accessible are elegant and refined. I am putting a road trip through Ireland on my list of dream trips after this one.

Slow: Life in a Tuscan Town by Douglas Gayeton (2010 Welcome Books; photography by Douglas Gayeton) If you follow my tweets you know I’m curmudgeon-like when it comes to the organized Slow Food movement in the United States, as articulated by its most visible advocates. I won’t go into those reasons here, but I will say that I bought this book curious to see the perspective of this author, because I thought it had something to do with “slow food”. I was more than pleasantly surprised with the visual impact of the photography and layout. The author documented his time in and around Pistoia (close to Florence) in photographs and words. My first thought, given the way Gayeton has used writing to ‘narrate’ most of the photos in the book, was to call it a “Where in the World is Waldo Part 2″. Gayeton’s photographic work is impressive, to say the least, and the writing is quite distracting. Unfortunately, only a few have overlays which can be lifted. Notwithstanding, I got sucked in by the sheer number of elements which appeared in each image, as simple as they seemed on face. This is definitely a coffee table book which I find myself revisiting often, and it is a book that I have enjoyed reading and studying a bit at a time, so that I can discover something new each time I pick it up.