Hello everyone! I’m off to Australia in a few hours but wanted to let you know that I am thrilled to feature the return of Book Reviews from the one and only Kristina Gill! It’s such a great way to discover new titles and I always appreciate Kristina’s curating. Enjoy this installment and I’ll be back soon after a very long, long long plane ride! – Matt
Kristina: I am sorry. I am SOOOO woefully late on my cookbook reviews, that I will spend time over the next few weeks to catch up. I’m still not so convinced that wrapping up the end of the year, going home for Christmas and New Year’s, starting the new year, and getting unexpectedly snowed into my house for seven out of the past ten days, are good excuses for my absence. But I hope you’ll let me make it up to you. There isn’t any rhyme or reason to this grouping of books because I just couldn’t wait to dig into my stack and let you know just what you’re missing (and what you’re not missing). I know I say this a lot, but just when I think that I can’t get passionate about another cookbook, one comes along that changes my mind. There are a couple in this week’s reviews.
My Family Table by John Besh (Andrew McMeel Publishing, 2011. Photography by Maura McEvoy)
Well-known New Orleans chef John Besh has put together an unforgettable collection of Southern recipes that anyone passionate about Southern cooking, or even just curious, should want to read. I like it because they are the staples from my childhood and therefore recipes that I really would eat at home and can prepare on my own, without any special skills or knowledge, as “chefs at home” books often are. It has the corn pudding, two recipes for fried chicken, fried catfish, cheese grits, angel biscuits, drop biscuits, buttermilk pancakes, sloppy joes, baked beans… with a few little ‘inspired’ recipes thrown in for good measure. I would love a paperback version because this bound version is large and heavy (and beautiful). I am biased when it comes to Southern cooking, so I think everyone should have a copy of this.
Small Adventures in Cooking by James Ramsden (Quadrille Books, 2011. Photography by Steven Joyce)
For those not in the UK, and those in the UK who are unfamiliar with Quadrille Books, I think it is probably one of the best producers of cookbooks in the UK, rivaled perhaps only by Murdoch, which I consider Australian, and which is an entirely different beast. Quadrille is a small publisher which punches way above its weight in the quantity and quality of cookbooks it publishes each year. Two years ago, breaking with the name-brand authors typical of cookbooks, they started a series called “New Voices in Food” which debuts cookbooks by up and coming food professionals. The books are paperback, a little smaller in dimension than an iPad, beautifully photographed, and attractively designed. James Ramsden’s book, Adventures in Cooking, is the third in the series of which four have been produced so far. All of the books have quite easy recipes, tending toward British-y and international recipes. James is one of the best of the four because it’s not too simplistic, but not so complicated you’d never use it. (Any book which has recipes for English Muffins and also Homemade Baked Beans gets an A+ from me!). The recipes evenly cover savory and sweet, with notes in the margin occasionally suggesting how to change the recipe up with minor “tweaks” and what to do with the leftovers. Ramsden also experiments with hashtags for recipes, which don’t convince me, but the rest of the book is great.
Kitchen Simple by James Peterson (Ten Speed Press, 2011. Photography by James Peterson)
While we’re on the subject of basics, I thought I’d do a couple more titles aimed at the “basic” repertoire of recipes for quick and easy meals. There is nothing extraordinary in this book, unfortunately. I will say that the chapters on Salads and Vegetables are the most inviting, though nothing innovative. Vegetable gratins, glazed vegetables, tomato and mozzarella salad (better known as a caprese), Moroccan spiced carrots… you get the point. I guess if you like James Peterson, and you want a book that has recipes of food you’ve probably had in a restaurant somewhere, this is the book for you. If you’re looking for a twist on a favorite, or something new, this isn’t for you.
Bi-Rite Market’s Eat Good Food by Sam Mogannam and Dabney Gough (Ten Speed Press, 2011. Photography by France Ruffenach)
Now this is a good basic cookbook. It is perfect for beginners but also for seasoned cooks who like to keep a reference book on food on the shelf. What I like about this book is that it explains how to select, store, and prepare everything from herbs to meat. There are recipes included throughout, but this book is more about the food itself and the community which produces it. Stories about the producers and the people involved in bringing the food to the Bi-Rite Market also make the book seem very familiar. This is an amazing book, and I think it is a book everyone should keep on their bookshelf. It will quickly become your most used cookbook, I bet.
The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen by Laura B. Russell (Celestial Arts, 2011. Photography by Leo Gong)
As with most Asian cookbooks, you will need to make a small upfront investment in some items which you may not already have in your pantry– dry sherry or Chinese Shaoxing rice wine, mirin, miso paste, sake, rice vinegar. Buying these items is a tiny price to pay to be able to make fabulous Asian food thereafter, however! This is a beautiful cookbook with an abundance of recipes, starting with a section on sauces and stocks, and going through all my favorites: skewers and snacks, dumplings and savory pancakes, noodles, rice (bibimbap, hello!), vegetables and tofu… The sweets chapter isn’t very Asian, and some of the recipes are clearly Americanized but I’m not one to nitpick with authenticity or leave room for dessert when I am enjoying a great red curry soup, minced duck salad, spicy pork with kimchi and tofu, mu shu pork, or salt and pepper squid. Speaking of mu shu pork, there is a recipe for the mandarin pancakes to go with!(which you can freeze for up to a month!) Most importantly are the opening pages of the book which contain a chart and valuable information on identifying sources of gluten in Asian cooking, including which brands are gluten free. I recommend this book to anyone looking to add variety to their usual diet (if it doesn’t contain Asian food), regardless of gluten tolerance. Is an excellent book to keep if you have other Asian cookbooks (like Bill’s Everyday Asian) you’d like to be able to use with gluten-free products also.