Book Reviews!

Here are some holiday book reviews from the one and only Kristina Gill. There are a few titles that didn’t make it into this review but will be in next time, but in the meantime enjoy this review which happens to include some of my favorite recent titles, too! — Matt

It has been crazy busy these past few months for me, in a good way.  That hasn’t stopped me from periodic shopping frenzies on Amazon to make sure I get my favorite authors’ latest books, fill cravings with others, and spend some time reading through review copies.  Knowing how the end of year usually goes, we might not have time for another round of reviews in 2012, so I thought I’d get in a longer list.  Between this list and October’s reviews, you have my absolute favorite books of 2012;  One exception is Katie Quinn Davies’ new book, which I have not yet had the opportunity to see, but knowing Katie it’s the bomb.  I’ll have it at the top of my list for the next reviews.

This week is a collection of books that I just want to eat from.  Now.  -Kristina

 The Kitchen Diaries II by Nigel Slater (4th Estate 2012; photography by Jonathan Lovekin).  I really don’t think more is needed in this review than the title and author’s name.  The more cookbooks I read, the more I am certain in my choice of Nigel Slater as my favorite author.  Kitchen Diaries, a year long journal of what Nigel Slater ate, is one of my favorite cookbooks along with Slater’s Tender Volume I and II, and a select few others.  Kitchen Diaries II joins that elite group.  Nigel Slater’s cooking is intuitive, simple, what’s on hand;  There is very little in this book I wouldn’t eat, and I wish, somehow, he could adopt me so that I could eat dinner (and lunch) at his house every day.  A lattice work pie of plums and raspberries, five-spice chicken and pea shoot salad, pulled pork baps with carrot and galangal slaw, Nigel’s chocolate muscovado banana cake, crab and coriander cakes, another wonderful sandwich (mushrooms, grated cheese), spiced lentils with mint labne…  Slowly cooking through this book will be a pleasure.  Kitchen Diaries II is the perfect book, and will be used and re-used by anyone who owns it!

 Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (published by Ten Speed Press in the USA 2012; photography Jonathan Lovekin and Adam Hinton)  For those of you unfamiliar with the food prepared by Yotam and Sami, this third cookbook goes back to their native Jerusalem and draws upon traditional recipes, as well as modern ‘improvements’ on traditional recipes, and new creations which are inspired by the flavors and foods of traditional Jerusalem cuisine.  Herein you will find recipes using eggplant, chickpeas, tomatoes, spice and spicy pastes, couscous, chicken, garlic, eggs, cumin, cardamom, yogurt, citrus, mint, rice, walnuts…  There are soups, one pot meals, fish dishes, desserts — yes desserts, wonderful desserts.  I could eat food from this book every day and never tire of it.  I love the depth of flavors and textures and the colors of the dishes.  For some reason, I can’t explain, I feel alive when I connect with the food from Ottolenghi, whether in their shops or their books.  And none of it is complicated or difficult to make.  You can have stunning results without risk of failure.  In addition to food photography, there are very many editorial photos of the food culture of Jerusalem.  This is a book for anyone who loves food.  It is a special treat for people who love to be transported to another country/city/culture through images and recipes.

Wahaca Mexican Food at Home by Thomasina Miers (Hodder and Stoughton 2012; photography by Malou Burger and some by Tara Fisher)  I loved Thomasina Miers first book, and somehow became obsessed with making Mexican food at home, so I had to go out and buy her second book also.  Up front I will say that I resisted SO LONG because seeing Oaxaca spelled Wahaca is just…the worst.  But what do they say?  Don’t judge!! So I didn’t, and was rewarded.  This book is one recipe after another of food I want to eat:  Corn pancakes with avocado cream and crispy bacon, crispy prawn taquitos with spicy avocado salsa, fiery little chicken tostados, black bean and chorizo empanadas, sweet potato gratin with thyme, chilli, and feta, mole amarillo, and octopus ceviche.  There are chapters on drinks, desserts, side dishes, soups…  Many of the recipes are based on experiences Thomasina had while living in Mexico for many years and running a food business there.  The photography is sublime also.  Perfect for anyone who wants to make Mexican food at home!


Fire in my Belly by Kevin Gillespie with David Joachim (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2012; photography by Angie Mosier)  Most of you have the fortune of knowing Kevin from Top Chef, and another lucky few know him in person.  I know him only through his recipes.  His first book, Fire in my Belly, is a book that really made me say Wow.  Laid out like my senior college year book (that’s not a bad thing!  I was on Yearbook staff!), this book is rich with personal details, explanations, and most importantly recipes.  I was genuinely impressed by the breadth of food covered, not just American, but internationally inspired, like Livornese fish stew (cacciucco), and shawarma, and of course what you’d expect like biscuits (with step by step tutorial), sausage (make your own), banana pudding, and then more original fare like buttermilk marinated fennel with satsumas and jalapeños, brûléed grapefruit with Greek yogurt, African squash tart with whipped eggnog topping, savory fig tart.  There are so many recipes here,  My favorite design element of the book is the table of contents.  This is a good all around cookbook.  Would make a perfect gift for someone who wants to be able to cook healthy food as well as “junk food” or something heavy from time to time.

Small Plates & Sweet Treats by Aran Goyoaga (Little Brown 2012; photography by Aran Goyoaga).  Aran, best known for her blog Cannelle et Vanille, has published her first cookbook about her family’s journey to gluten-free cooking.  Looking through the pages, you can see that Aran has put her heart and soul into making this book which is a mix between new recipes and recipes from her blog.  Though Aran’s recipes on the blog have veered far from her trained pastry chef beginnings, it is precisely in that area that her book shines:  coconut and lemon soufflés, frozen pistachio nougat mousse, coconut cream cookies, coconut doughnuts (I love coconut), lemon buttermilk and olive oil madeleines.  This isn’t the only place it shines– Aran includes recipes which are quite refined like leek and chive flan with smoked salmon, herbed lamb meatballs in coconut milk, creamy red lentil & squash soup with purple potato chips and scallops, fennel and brown butter risotto with parsley pesto.  This book demonstrates Aran’s knowledge of food and a real cooking ability.  It is a perfect book for a gluten-free family with time to dedicate to making seasonal and nutrient rich food.  It is also the perfect book for anyone who is interested in original gluten-free sweets guaranteed to work!


Real Snacks by Lara Ferroni (Sasquatch Books 2012; photography by Lara Ferroni)  Lara did one of my favorite little books about doughnuts a couple of years ago, so I knew what to expect when I heard about Real Snacks.  This book, like doughnuts, punches way above its weight in every category– aesthetics, recipes, variety, and nostalgia.  All your childhood favorites are here:  twinkies, Hostess cupcakes, powdered donettes, caramel corn, fig newtons, goldfish, moon pies, sugar wafers, pop tarts, thin mints, cheez-its…  The mindboggles!!  I really can’t believe Lara has put this together!  Gluten-free and vegan options make it accessible for everyone.  This book is worth every penny, and would be tremendously appreciated by anyone who loves baking!

Salty Snacks by Cynthia Nims (Ten Speed Press 2012; photography by Jennifer Martine)  Coincidentally, this book could totally work as the savory companion to Lara’s Real Snacks. Salty Snacks runs the gamut of salty treats– pretzels, chips of all types, grissini, crackers, savory waffles, savory cookies, and dips to accompany them.  Between the two of these books, you should never buy processed snacks again.  This book is perfect for anyone who loves to entertain or who loves to have high quality snacks on hand for any occasion.    Photography by Jennifer Martine is beautiful as always.

Book Reviews!

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.


In The Kitchen With: Dani Fisher’s Dark Chocolate Matzah

Hi everyone and happy Monday! It’s back to the grind for me after a glorious quasi-weekend off! Ok, when you run your own business you don’t really ever have an actual day off, but after a few hours of resetting the studio and cleaning up we did manage to sneak away here.

It really is the happiest place on earth. Plus it’s nice to walk around, enjoy some rides, and bask in some fantastic sunshine. Although, and I’m not making this up, I overheard a young child say to his mother “I just want to feel loved!”  I have no idea what that was about, however. Ok, so maybe it’s not the happiest place on earth.

We’ve been working on some cookbook as well as some Food Network & Cooking Channel projects, and you’d be correct in thinking that we’re having the world’s best time. I have to pinch myself sometimes. Especially when I think about the team that I get to work with. They’re all pretty fantastic. And the icing on the cake is getting to work with stylist Dani Fisher. You all know I’m so mad about her. When she asked if I’d work with her on a Design*Sponge In The Kitchen With feature I jumped at the chance. Mostly because Grace is a friend, and the column’s editor Kristina is my long-lost sister. I do think we were separated at birth sometimes.

But back to Dani’s recipe.

Her recipe for Dark Chocolate Matzah is like crack. You have a piece, then you need another. And while the coconut was my favorite, I’m pretty sure you’ll dig the orange version, too. You’ll have to head over to Design*Sponge for the recipe and the entire photos. Please make it. You will not regret it.


We also managed to sneak in a day of personal work, and even just thinking about me + Dani + Adam C. Pearson makes me giggle like a child. Talk about fun! Since we’re on the Passover theme here, we photographed a beautiful meal and I want to thank Dani for letting me share it here.


And yes, it was delicious. We ate it, all in the name of photography.  You’ll see what I mean.



Thanks to Adam Pearson for beautiful food styling and Dani Fisher for prop styling. And thank you Kristina!

Book Review: Say Cheese!

I think I can say that my love of cheese is no secret. It’s my favorite food group (yes, I consider it a group that must be eaten regularly). I was excited when Kristina told me her next book round up would be all about cheese. BRING IT. Oh, and bring me some wine while you’re at it. Take it away, Kristina! — matt

Kristina Gill: I read on Twitter that it is National Cheese Month, so I thought I’d bring you guys a small selection of the books I have on my shelf about cheese.  Something old, something new, but infinitely useful to cover all the bases from buying it, making it, cooking with it, pairing it with other foods.  Last year, Matt did a brief video providing tips on cheese plates.  You should check it out again if you missed it the first time.  (You can just see me sitting at the table at 2:29, then I got sent upstairs!!  But I was allowed to hoover up all the leftovers afterward!)  I must say that after having written these reviews, I sooooo wish I had a cheese plate.

Cheese Primer by Steven Jenkins (Workman, 1996) and Mastering Cheese: Lessons for Connoisseurship from a Maître Fromager by Max McCalman and David Gibbons (Clarkson Potter, 2009)  Two books you could consider your cheese atlases.  They take you on a trip around the world of cheese.  The Cheese Primer is 90% about individual cheeses and how to choose and serve them, spanning Europe and the United States.  Mastering Cheese on the other hand is the opposite.  It’s about the food itself, cheese from A-Z, with 25% about the cheeses of Europe and the United States, a little by country a little by type.  The Cheese Primer is a very useful reference book for when I want to hone in on a specific cheese.  When I got the book in 1996, it was so exciting to read, now that I think about it, maybe that’s why I moved to Italy…  I’ve tasted almost all the Italian cheeses in the book, but not many of the others.  And though Nancy Silverton likes to say that it was LA that put burrata on the map in the United States, Steven Jenkins did indeed have burrata in his book in 1996 (and he includes my favorite castelmagno from Piedmont)!  I would highly recommend either (or both) of these books if you want to know about a lot of different cheeses, where they’re from, and what they’re about.

 (Matt’s notes: I don’t think you could find a greater example of mid 90’s graphic design than Cheese Primer’s book cover. Whoa.)

Artisan Cheese Making at Home:  Techniques and Recipes for Mastering World Class Cheeses by Mary Karlin (Ten Speed Press, 2011; photography by Ed Anderson)  I have never used this book because there are three farms not too far from my home which make their own cheeses.  One makes only mozzarella, one makes an entire range of raw milk cheeses including very good mozzarella, and a third organic farm specialized in aged cheeses, up to 8 years.  If I didn’t live so close to these three farms, I might indeed be tempted to do some experimenting.  This book is beautiful (Ed Anderson’s photographs are wonderful) and goes from the beginning to the end of the cheese-making process.  It has recipes for traditional cheeses, like provolone, queso blanco, whole milk ricotta, and chèvre.  It also covers rubbed cheeses (cocoa, honey, etc) and more advanced bloomy rind, surface-ripened, smeared-rind, and blue cheeses.  I am curious about everything and I find even reading about how these cheeses are made fascinating, and understanding the process only increases my respect for the artisans who make good versions of them!  This is a book for that person you know would love to try out cheese-making, or for someone who is just really curious about how cheese is made.  There are also recipes in the book that use cheese as a featured ingredient.

Fiona Beckett’s Cheese Course (Ryland Peters and Small, 2009; photography by Richard Jung)  Now that you know everything there is to know about cheese– where it’s from, how it’s made, how it should taste, how to choose it, and how to serve it, enter British food journalist, Fiona Beckett, with her book on cheese and how to pair it and serve it.  Beckett has cheese covered, from the explanation of the types of cheeses to wine/drink and cheese pairing, cheese boards, and recipes.  Richard Jung has beautifully photographed it all, and it really is torture looking at the photographs if you’re trying to keep a low-fat diet (hello leek and blue cheese quiche with hazelnut crust…lavender honey and vanilla cheesecake anyone??).  This is a book for someone who loves putting together cheese plates and boards.  This is perfect if you don’t need to know too much about any single cheese, but you like to have a general guide on pairing different types of cheese with each other and with other items.  If you need the reader’s digest version, watch Matt’s video!  [There is a recipe in this book for oat crackers, divine with cheese, or you can use my favorite recipe from Richard Corrigan’s Clatter of Forks and Spoons].

Cookbook Reviews from around the world from Kristina! Welcome back!

This week sees the return of my dearest Kristina Gill. I always love her reviews and they receive accolades from authors and book lovers alike! Yay! And as I prepare to embark on an entire month of cookbook and recipe photography with the world’s best team this seems super fitting. Take it away, Kristina!

I have been MIA.  I am sorry.  I always have great plans for projects during the summer, and then oppressive heat and other crises get in the way.  The crises take up my material time, but they don’t stop my daydreaming of  “If I won the lottery” vacation destinations.  Honestly, except for a few war torn places, and places that Americans aren’t welcome, I’d go anywhere if you handed me a sweaty wad of cash and said “Go travel for a year.”  And to be truthfully honest, I’d probably go those other places too, if it were possible!

This week’s books are my way of getting to the places I’d like to go, but haven’t yet had time (or money) to get there and see the country the way I’d like to!  They are a second round of Non-Western cookbooks.  The first round we did back here.

The Japanese Grill: From Classic Yakitori to Steak, Seafood, and Vegetables by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat (2011Ten Speed Press Photography by Todd Coleman and Jun Takagi)  One look at the cover, and if you’re a meat eater, you’ll be sold on this book.  {Only about a quarter of this book is vegetarian}.  Why I like this book?  It goes through different foods and offers Japanese preparations:  Yakitori, Poultry, Fish and Seafood, Meat, Vegetables, Yai Onigiri, and Side Dishes.  It starts with an explanation of ingredients, secrets of grilling and a temperature chart.  If you don’t have access to a store which sells ingredients like Yuzu kosho, sansho, tobanjan, ume paste, karashi mustard, shiso, you won’t be able to get the maximum out of the book, but you can still get loads of satisfaction.  The Crispy Chicken Wings with Seven-Spice Powder Marinade uses just sesame oil, shichmi togarashi (red pepper blend), soy sauce, and salt.  This book is for someone who loves to grill and wants different flavors, someone who loves Japanese food, and definitely someone who loves beautifully photographed meat.

Truly Mexican by Roberto Santibañez with JJ Goode and Shelley Wiseman (2011 Wiley; photography by Romulo Yanes)  I really shouldn’t be doing this review, Matt should.  But lately I’ve gone on a Mexican food hunt.  I started in London with the chain Wahaca by Thomasina Miers (whose book and TV program Mexican Food Made Simple is a perfect complement to Truly Mexican because hers is more street food).  And then I picked up Paletas by Fany Gerson and can’t put it down.  And then I saw Truly Mexican.  It’s everything I could ask for in a Mexican cookbook.  Because I avoid preparing foods I perceive to be complicated, I was happy to see how this book breaks it down into something so simple for me (I found a video from the book! and he’s using a mud australia pebble bowl!!).  It is comprehensive, including every single detail on what you need to know from choosing ingredients, substitutions, storage, cleaning, and preparation.  The recipes focus on the sauces of Mexican cuisine and how to use them.  Recipes have notes on where you may have difficulty and how to avoid those pitfalls.  The chapters are:  Basics, Salsas, Guacamoles, Adobos, Moles and Pipianes, More Ideas for Using Mexican Sauces, Sides.  Within each chapter there are recipes which use the salsas, guacamole, adobos, etc.  The carnitas tacos are calling me!    This is a book for anyone who wants a comprehensive book on Mexican flavors, in particular the sauces. Photography in this book by THE Romulo Yanes.

A Month in Marrakesh:  A Food Journey to the Heart of Morocco by Andy Harris (2011 Hardie Grant; photography by David Loftus)    Andy Harris is the editor of Jamie Magazine.  I love his work on the magazine, and was intrigued by the concept behind the book.  It’s a travelogue.  He and David Loftus went to Marrakesh for a month and documented their food, went to the markets, tried their hand at making traditional recipes and other their own recipes inspired by the ingredients they found.  The result is an amazing collection of Moroccan recipes accompanied by photos which make you feel as though you were walking through the markets yourself.  As with many of my cookbooks, as soon as a colleague saw this one, he took it home, made the lamb artichoke and broad bean tagine, came back to the office and ordered the book.  I have my eyes set on the stuffed potato croquettes, roast pumpkin salad, chickpea dip, and stuffed baby vegetables.  This is the kind of food that is even better the next day.  For a look at the design process of the book, visit this blog entry by InterState graphic designers.  I found it quite interesting to know what went into making the final product.  This is a book for anyone who loves North African cuisine, anyone who wants to be inspired for their next travelogue, and of course, David Loftus photography fans.

Turkey:  Recipes and tales from the road by Leanne Kitchen (2011 Murdoch; photography by Leanne Kitchen)  Murdoch Books has had a very strong cookbook collection for the past few years (although their newspapers don’t seem to be faring well…), and I’ve reviewed a few of them here.  I am therefore very interested in any large recipe volume they produce because I know it will be a quality job.  I was also intrigued by the title because I do not have a book of Turkish cuisine!  Quite similar in style to A Month in Marrakesh, Turkey is Leanne’s travelogue of her journey through Turkey.  Not surprisingly, the food is a mix between Mediterranean and more ‘Middle Eastern’ cuisine.  There are small ravioli, topped flatbreads (very similar to pizza), pickles, fried fish, kebabs  (hello Swordfish Kebab with Celeriac, Orange and Walnut Salad!).  Even more interesting to me is the section on desserts (though I’ll skip the candied watermelon!).  Leanne has beautifully photographed her book as well.  In the US, you will probably have to order from the UK.  This is the perfect book for anyone who has a hankering for Turkey, or someone like me who has never been, would love to go, and wants to get a head start on what to look for when I finally do go!

Whispers from a Lebanese Kitchen: A family’s treasured recipes by Nouha Taouk (2011 Murdoch Books; photography by Johan Palsson)  Ever since Bethany Kehdy, the food blogger behind Dirty Kitchen Secrets, started her Taste of Lebanon culinary tours, I have agonized in envy at everyone who has been able to participate.  I’ve read a a handful of features over the past few years about Beirut being the must-stop destination in its region for food. This book, by a Lebanese-Australian author, is a nice balance between personal story and recipes.  Like my Turkey book, I was so intrigued by the topic of Lebanese food that I couldn’t resist a peek at Whispers.  There are recipes for falafel (no leavening agent!), fried turnovers, kebab, salads, pickles and cheese.  The style of the book is to me quite evocative of what it was like growing up in the author’s family.  I like it when there is a very personal feel to a cookbook.  This is a book for anyone interested in Lebanese cuisine, and anyone who enjoys the personal side of recipes.

Paletas by Fany Gerson (2011 Ten Speed Press; photography by Ed Anderson)  If I had to tell you what books to pick up for the summer, and were forced to choose JUST three, I’d recommend: On A Stick! by Matt, Super Natural Everyday by Heidi Swanson, and Paletas.  I’m not going to write too much about Fany’s book, except to say that the recipes are wonderful, it is beautiful beautiful beautiful, and I use it every week.  It is a very nice simple popsicle book, but also has aguas frescas and raspados.  Who knew you could make rice based refreshing drinks like these!  My husband even shows the book to everyone who comes over, and tells them they must make something from the book.  I enjoy these books so much, I have ordered multiple copies to give to people I know will enjoy them.


Book Reviews: Italian Cookbooks

I’m happy to announce the return of book reviews from Kristina Gill. Her book review column has proven to be quite a great lil resource for books, her selections knock it outta the ballpark each and every time. And having just released my own book, well, I’m realizing that one must share the booklove as much as possible. Take it away, Kristina!

I stumbled across a nice book 15 years ago called Sua Maestà, il Raviolo (“Her Majesty, the Raviolo”). It was a book about ravioli from every region in Italy. That book, in 1996, introduced me to Slow Food, and the Slow Food publisher in Italy. I have been a member of Slow Food Italy off and on since…longer than I can remember. I have slowly bought most of the Slow Food recipe books, as they’ve been released, region by region (most of them anyway), including the four monothematic volumes. A new one on Pasta was just released. I think these books are, hands down, the best Italian cookbooks out there (they have no pictures). They are thin paperback volumes, and include socio-cultural notes about the origin of the recipes, ingredients, and people. Nothing excessive, just a sentence or two, here and there explaining what’s what. The recipes are often from the osterie which appear in the Slow Food annual restaurant guidebooks. If you can read Italian, or even feel your way through it, they are worth having a look at, especially the monothematic or raviolo book.

If you can’t read Italian, but are looking for something authentic or just inspirational, there are a few choices out there which I believe produce great results that you will be happy with. That’s what this week’s reviews are about: great Italian cookbooks. This list is by no means exhaustive!! I have many others, but today, these are at the front of my section.

Italian Cooking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America by Gianni Scappin, Alberto Vanoli, Steven Kolpan (Wiley 2011; photography by Francesco Tonelli)

Wiley has been doing the “At Home with the Culinary Institute of America” series for a while now. I think they are excellent books. This Italian cooking one is no different. It is a comprehensive collection of the most common Italian recipes– carbonara, ragù, polenta, gnocchi, antipasti of all sorts, soups, fresh pasta. This is a big book, kind of formal, but right on the money for your classics. This is for someone who wants a solid reference of Italian cooking.

The River Cafe Classic Italian Cook Book by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers (Michael Joseph, 2009; Photography by various photographers, including Jonathan Gregson and David Loftus) This book offers a similar range of Italian classics, but a bit more modern if I may. The classics are interspersed with “typical” Italian preparations, mainly Tuscan. It goes beyond the sampling of dishes that a one time traveler may know and gets into the boiled octopus with potatoes, penne con stracotto (penne with beef braised in Chianti), and roast guinea fowl stuffed with lemons. That is to say, it gets into what you might find on the table for lunch on a Sunday afternoon at your Italian mother-in-law’s house (not my Italian mother-in-law, though). Of enthusiastic note, this has a section on gelato (gelato al gianduiotto anyone?) and desserts including strudel, panettone, and ricciarelli the Siennese almond meringue! Again, this is for someone who wants a solid reference of Italian cooking, home style.

Two Greedy Italians by Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo (Quadrille, 2011; Photography by Christopher Terry)

This is a book to accompany the BBC series of the same name, which I’ve never seen. However, how can anyone resist an Italian cookbook with a perfectly baked Neapolitan margherita pizza on the back cover?? Two giants of the Italian cooking scene in the UK take readers on a feeding frenzy around Italy. In addition to the recipes which have little overlap with the previous two titles, you have lots of notes on socio-cultural aspects of Italy and its food and dining culture. Like The River Cafe Classic Italian Cook Book, this book has a very ‘home cooked’ feel to it, which I like a lot. This doesn’t have the range of recipes that the River Cafe book has, but it has an excellent and numerous selection. This would be the perfect book for someone leaving on a first time trip to Italy, or someone who has just returned and wants to keep the memory alive.

Jamie’s Italy by Jamie Oliver (Michael Joseph 2005; photography by David Loftus).

This book is Jamie’s interpretations of the food he ate and cooked with people during a trip around Italy. I wouldn’t say it has an “authentic” feel to it, at the same time, I think it is solid enough to stand in this round up of reviews, and because of Jamie’s ability to transmit his enthusiasm, it’s one of my favorite non-Italian Italian cookbooks. Jamie’s no-nonsense style of cooking and Italian food are a natural marriage. That’s why I recommend this book to anyone who wants to feel quite at ease about trying out Italian food, but who doesn’t want to get bogged down in detail. Jamie is also fun, has a great writing style, and David Loftus shoots all his books. What’s not to like? This is a great book for anyone interested in good food (and great pictures of good food).

Eat Ate by Guy Mirabella (Hardie Grant Books, 2010; Chronicle Books in the USA; photography by Earl Carter).

I felt like including this book because it is a very nice book, especially aesthetically. It is by an Italo-American-Australian cafe-owner and artist named Guy Mirabella. Honestly, I think the most Italian thing about the book is the author’s set of maternal grandparents from Sicily. But I love his spirit for telling his family history and childhood memories related to extravagance, generosity, love, tradition, life, and food, the chapters of the book. This is probably a more “modOz” take on Italian food, but that shouldn’t detract from the great flavors the author puts together in his recipes: pumpkin, ricotta and herb pizza, chicken, capsicum, and leek couscous, roast pumpkin and asparagus lasagne (lots of pumpkin in this book), chargrilled calamari, fennel, and Asian herb salad. This is a book for anyone who wants to serve ‘grown-up’ food that you won’t find on any other table.

Book Reviews: Amazing Baking Books

This week’s reviews from Kristina Gill are all about baking. Not being much of a baker myself I find it easier to flip through gorgeous books about breads and cakes rather than disappoint myself in the kitchen. I should say that I’ve spent more time practicing this year than ever before so I suppose that counts for something, no? In the meantime, let’s take a look at the beautiful titles.

This massive awareness campaign about the quality of our food has made me even more of a stickler for what we eat than usual.  Admittedly, I have been partial to my own baked goods (over purchased ones) for quite some time now.  All the same, because I am able to buy eggs, milk, and butter from the farm down the street, I probably bake more than I should.  My primary excuse (in addition to trying out recipes in cookbooks) is that I’d prefer that my husband know exactly what’s in his breakfast food instead of wasting money on something industrially produced that he’d find in a cafe.  Really, I just find baking enjoyable, especially in the winter when I can try a home baked slice of cake with a hot cup of tea.

This week’s books are all about baking.

Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson (Chronicle Books 2010; photography by Eric Wolfinger).  This isn’t really about sweets, but you will never hear me complain if I have to take a perfectly toasted crusty warm piece of bread slathered with butter and jam (or just butter) instead of cake.  Tartine Bread is one of the most beautiful books I’ve seen this year.  I know I shouldn’t do this, but for me, it’s the American equivalent of Bourke Street Bakery.  It is too beautiful to put down, so captivating in its writing and photography, how can you not read through it cover to cover, and try at least one of the recipes?  Like BSB, the bulk of this book requires a bit of a commitment on your part.  If you’d like to cheat though, and you have a favorite local bakery, you can try out any of the savory recipes (and a couple of sweet) in the second half of the book which use the types of bread featured in the first half (French Onion Soup, Panade, Savory Bread Pudding…).  I don’t think it’s possible to be disappointed with this book. But in case you still have doubts, have a look at the video and tell me how long it took you to decide you just had to have a copy for yourself, or for someone else!

Baked Explorations:  Classic American Desserts Re-Invented by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito (Stewart, Tabori & Chang 2010; photography  by Tina Rupp). Whenever I need to proselytize in the workplace, I do two things.  I bake a typical American dessert and I place American flag toothpicks in the individual servings.  I arrive in the office, send an email letting everyone know there’s something sweet in the kitchen, and in no time, it’s gone.  Baked Explorations is the newest tool in my arsenal to help me spread the American Desserts Are the Best gospel.  Even though it says that these are American desserts re-invented, I didn’t find them so ‘re-invented’ that I would have known had they not told me!  Ginger molasses cookies, chocolate whoopie pies, double chocolate loaf (with peanut butter cream cheese spread, ok that’s original!!), baked cheese grits (ok, that’s not dessert), Mom’s olive oil orange bundt (ok, Mom never made that), and carrot coconut scones (all right, scones aren’t really classic American).  But the point is that this book is fabulous.  It is beautifully styled in a quirky American classic retro kind of way that exudes fun.  Bake something for the next dinner party you go to and you’ll steal the show!  This book is for anyone who wants American treats with a bit of a twist!

The Sono Baking Company Cookbook:  The Best Sweet and Savory Recipes for Every Occasion by John Barricelli (Clarkson Potter 2010; photography by Ben Fink) This is one of quite a few bakery books which have come out this year, and I have to say they are all very good.  When I think of a baking book, if I’m not going monothematic or special interest, and I’m not clutching Baking With Julia, I think a well-rounded book like this one should be on everyone’s shelf.  There are chocolate chunk cookies, pecan squares, spiced apple cake, red velvet cake, focaccia, cobblers, fruit tarts.  It’s not as intensive as Tartine Bread, so for home cooks who want to try something that doesn’t require a lot of rising time, and isn’t intimidating, this is a great selection of recipes even for beginners.  Try the savory tomato cobbler (with a flaky cheesy Pate Brisee!) next time you have great tomatoes.

Flour:  Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cake by Joanne Change with Christine Matheson (Chronicle Books 2010; photography by Keller + Keller). Like the Sono Baking Company book, this is a collection of professional bakery recipes for the home baker, savory and sweet.  The sweets are a bit more European than the Sono book, and quite a bit more technical.  It’s not really a beginner’s book, and not at all a book for someone who is scared by long lists with extensive detail, though there are some accessible recipes, like the chocolate chunk cookies!  (I’m obsessed with chocolate chunk cookies).  Little notes at the bottom of many of the recipes suggest flavor variations to get you thinking out of the box, and the author makes useful tips throughout the recipe to keep you on track.  In fact, the book starts with Joanne’s 12 top baking tips.  I very much appreciate that the recipes have imperial and metric measurements, something that I have grown to appreciate in my baking books since I’ve moved to using a scale almost exclusively.

Tender Volume II:  A Cook’s Guide to the Fruit Garden (Fourth Estate 2010; photography by Jonathan Lovekin). This is, together with Tender Volume I, one of my absolute favorite books.  This picks up where Volume I (Vegetables) left off.  Whereas Volume I was all savory, and I was prematurely disappointed, Volume II is almost exclusively dessert.  Slater begins with the story of how he selected the fruit trees and bushes for his garden.  The book is then arranged by fruit, and runs the gamut of every fruit imaginable, and some I probably will never have the opportunity to eat here unless I import my own specimen!   Nigel Slater has a relaxed cooking style, so this book is for any skill level.  I usually find myself clipping his recipes from his columns, and was happy to find one of my favorites, like this Courgette Cake that Matt and I reproduced with Mr Slater’s permission last year.  There is almost always a half of one of these loaves in our freezer.  In addition to delectable cakes and crumbles, there are also a few no bake desserts, like a fierce cheesecake.  I love this book.

Cookbook Reviews: Great Lookin’ Books!

It’s Friday! That means more book reviews from Kristina Gill, something we’re trying to do a bit more regularly, at least through the end of the year if I don’t wear Ms. Gill out! Since it’s officially gift season I can think of nothing better than cookbooks, can you? And when they all look good like this week’s entries, well, let’s just say I’ll make sure to safely secure my stocking this year to accommodate the weight of books, hint hint.

KG: When I first started experimenting in the kitchen, I admit I was attracted to that perfect, hoyty-toyty kind of food.  I couldn’t be away from the TV when Great Chefs Great Cities was coming on because I just loved that program.  I had to have pictures in my cookbooks because, in retrospect, I cared more about how the food looked than how it tasted.  The more I learned to prepare the food I liked, the more I cared about eating what I liked.  Spending tons of time in the kitchen was ok, but getting great food without great effort was even more fun.  This week’s books are about just that.  (Australian + British style)

Bill’s Basics by Bill Granger (Quadrille Publishing 2010; photography by Mikkel Vang) This is a general cooking book, as the title suggests.  The back cover reads “100 classic recipes made simple”…maybe it should have been called Bill’s Classics…All jokes aside, this book by Australian cook Bill Granger has an even distribution of cuisine types, Asian influenced, American influenced, and European.  (Nasi Goreng, Black Bean Chili, Carbonara, Lamb Curry, pancakes, etc.)  I’m most impressed with the desserts, though, which come both at the beginning of the book disguised as “Baking” and at the end as “Desserts”.  Nothing Bill Granger makes is ever complicated, so the instructions are clear and easy.  If you need an all around cookbook for yourself or for a budding cook, this is a good starter which will produce great results, won’t discourage future exploration in the kitchen, and is quite nice to look at as well.  I do not like the semi-glossy pages though.

How I cook by Skye Gyngell (Quadrille Publishing 2010; photography by Jason Lowe) I was so intrigued by the cover of this book because it reminds me of one of my favorite books, The Clatter of Forks and Spoons by Richard Corrigan (which I previously reviewed here), I couldn’t resist picking it up. Inside of course is nothing like Corrigan’s book. Though this is also based on seasonality and easy preparation, it is more of a personal book about how Australian chef Skye Gyngell eats– what she prepares for herself at home. It is arranged by meal, and menu, so you don’t have to think about what to pair items with. This book would be quite useful for planning small and elegant dinner parties. The ingredients are all quite common, yet Skye manages to put together a refined collection of recipes, not at all the “comfort” type food I imagined when I first opened the book. Much like her previous two books, you might opt for only one of them, but not all three.

Canteen:  Great British Food by Cass Titcombe, Dominic Lake and Patrick Clayton Malone (Ebury Press 2010; photography by Angela Moore) Canteen is a restaurant with ‘flagship’ in Spitalfields (East London), and three more throughout the city.  The intro to the book says “Canteen is committed to providing honest food, nationally sourced, skillfully prepared and reasonably priced.”  I’ve never eaten there.  But I am fascinated by traditional British cuisine, or what we think of as British cuisine.  Though it was just published this year, the book looks exactly like its from the 1950s, cover and all.  I find that charming!  The recipes cover the typical bubble and squeak, scotch eggs, steak and kidney pies, treacle tart, steamed syrup pudding mixed in with more modern fare like roast tomato and goat’s cheese tart, skate with black butter, roast squash and fennel with spelt, and hazelnut, cherry, and white chocolate cookies.  Of course I will never ever touch the deviled kidneys on toast, but the shallot, thyme, and cheddar pie or the sausage rolls?  I’m in.  I haven’t been back to London since I got this book, but next time I go, I’ll check out Canteen and report back.

Leon:  Naturally Fast Food Book 2 by Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent (Conran Octopus 2010; special photography Georgia Glynn Smith). I never thought I’d use the expression hot mess to describe a cookbook, but here it is: Leon 2.  I didn’t see Book 1 of Leon, but I think it looked exactly like this, too.  This edition is dedicated to meals you can cook in under twenty minutes from start to finish, and meals you can prepare in advance and reheat (my kind of cooking!).  It is a collage format inside, full of drawings, family photos, and unappealing food photos.  Really unappealing.  To quote a colleague of mine when he is exasperated, “Honestly!”  But if you can get past the headache inducing design of the book and focus almost entirely on the recipes, there’s great stuff hidden in here.  Winter Vegetable Herb Post Roast (no meat!), John’s Broccoli with garlic, cashew nuts, and chilli (red pepper), Rigas’s Lamb (slow roasted lamb with small macaroni), Lamb and Apricot balls (meatballs), Courgette soup (zucchini)…  Really, this book is like sifting through a flea market to uncover great treasure.  By the way, I understand that Leon is a brick and mortar food store of some sort in London, but I’ve never been.  I will put it on my list to check out next time I go.  I like the section of the book which includes recipes from Leon managers, but I needed a Dramamine to read the acknowledgements page.  If you’ve seen it, you’ll know what I mean!!  This is the perfect book for a student or someone who has an innate curiosity for all different types of cookbooks.  Or someone who is looking for great quick recipes and cook ahead recipes.

Food From Plenty: Good food made from the plentiful, the seasonal, and the leftover by Diana Henry (2010 Mitchell Beazley; photography by Jonathan Lovekin) Diana Henry began working on this book before the recession hit, so it has come out on the tail end of already quite a few books on the theme of being more responsible with your food.  That’s not really why I bought it, but it’s one of the reasons I really like this book.  I like sensible recipes.  I love the “throw it all in a pan and roast it” or “heat olive oil and spices, shred the left over meat and brown it in a pan, then add the left over rice” type recipes because I think they have even greater flavors and they feel more…natural.  Diana Henry’s book is that simple, yet creative:  Spanish rice with pork and spinach; Lamb, beer, and black bean chilli, cherry and goat’s cheese-stuffed chicken, parsnip and smoked haddock soup, and there is dessert– laid back like sugar-crusted lemon loaf cake.  The chapters are divided by main ingredient– roasts and leftovers, vegetables, pulses, grains, soups, sweets, eggs, etc.  I love it, and the photography is sublime.  Someone, somewhere will probably hate me for saying it, but it reminds me of Nigel Slater’s cooking style, and definitely one ups Tamasin Day Lewis’s Supper for a Song.  This book would be nice for anyone who is interested in being inspired to make their own laid back dishes in the kitchen after trying a few recipes by someone else.

Book Reviews: Back To Basics

I’m thrilled to bring you another installment of book reviews from my dear friend Kristina Gill. This week we’re heading back to the basics. And I’m not just saying this as an upcoming author but it makes me so happy that so many of us are book lovers. I’ve really grown to love K’s reviews and am fortunate to share them with you. Take it away, Kristina!

Getting back to basics

Within a 10 mile radius of where I live there are beekeepers, wine growers, olive presses, cheese producers, working farms.  We buy 70% of our food from these local producers during spring, fall, and winter, and 100% in the summer.  I buy my olive oil from the farmer who lives across the street from me.  And yes, I am also surrounded by many supermarkets within the same ten mile radius.  Still, I prefer to eat locally because I can see where the food comes from, from seed to harvest, from birth to prosciutto sandwich etc.

I learned about being self-sufficient from my grandmother, who grew up in rural Alabama.  Though she moved to the city as an adult, she made sure she had a yard big enough for fruit trees and a vegetable garden.  I always thought she was a magician because I always saw food on the table, but never saw where it came from.  Later I learned that in addition to the refrigerator and freezer in the house, there was also a deep freeze in the utility house.  She preserved, froze, and ate what she got from her garden.  What she couldn’t produce on her own of course she bought. I went to my first farmer’s market with her.  She did supplement her home grown food with supermarket purchases, but I remember her always out in the garden with her large floppy hat.  In part because of these memories, I’ve always carried a tremendous amount of respect for people who grow and eat their own food.

Eating and growing locally seems to have a romantic connotation and is quite “fashionable” in the United States these days, but it is a vocation for much of the world, and for a large number of these growers it is barely subsistence.  This week’s book reviews draw on eating locally and the people in the developed world who dedicate their lives to producing food.  Whether for vocation, or necessity, it is a lot of hard work.  Though they have only recently come into the spotlight, their greatest satisfaction is in knowing that the food they’ve produced is truly enjoyed.  With these books, perhaps you’ll be able to make yourself and some of your favorite local producers quite happy.

edible:  A Celebration of Local Foods by Tracey Ryder and Carole Topalian (Wiley 2010;  photography by Carole Topalian) Tracey Ryder and Carole Topalian are the co-founders of Edible Communities, a family of magazines nationwide which celebrate the local foods and people who produce them. This book celebrates the local foods movement, capturing the best of what is featured in the Edible Communities magazines,  divided into regions and told through Edible Stories, and concludes with chapters of recipes, divided seasonally, of course.  I flipped right to the Southeast section and started to read about Tennessee, and every state my family lives in.  If you like personal stories, you will love this book.  I haven’t tried any of the recipes, but take for granted that they will be good because they are based on the seasonal harvests of the different regions of the United States.  Reading through the various chapters of this book I am learning so much about the food we produce in the United States, and the issues confronting the producers.  I find it fascinating and am really sorry that I have been out of the United States so long that I only learned about the Edible Communities through this book.  In the back of the book is the comprehensive listing of all the websites for the communities.  I consider this one of the best all around food books I’ve seen this year.  You can find podcasts by the Edible Communities as well.

The Italian Farmer’s Table:  Authentic Recipes and Local Lore from Northern Italy by Matthew Scialabba and Melissa Pellegrino (2010 Morriss Book Publishing photography by Melissa Pellegrino) Matthew and Melissa, a husband and wife team, took a year to live in Italy and produce this cookbook, a dream they both had since they met in Italy.  They were able to produce the book by living and working in Northern Italy at agriturismi, working farms and guest houses.  The book presents recipes from these farms in the regions north of (and including) Emilia-Romagna.  Matthew and Melissa captured some of my favorite recipes, like the bigoli con ragu di anatra (pasta with duck ragu), Polentina con Ragu di Maiale e Noci (shaped polenta forms with ground pork and walnut ragu), Torta di Mele (Apple Cake),  and many others which are so seasonal and local, that you would not ever find them in Italy outside of the region of origin, sometimes not even outside of the town where a particular recipe or vegetable/fruit is harvested.  Each chapter introduces a different agriturismo and its recipes (you can’t get any more authentic than this), and the chapters are dotted with stories and facts about the producers and the areas in which they live.  Quite impressive coverage, and a great first book!

The Real Food Companion by Matthew Evans (2010 Murdoch; photography by Alan Benson) Oooops they did it again.  Murdoch has made another amazingly beautiful book shot by none other than Alan Benson!   Matthew Evans, chef and food critic for the Sydney Morning Herald, has written a gigantic volume on food, the ethics of food choices, the importance of eating local food, and recipes which bring out the best of the food’s flavor.  The book is divided into chapters based on food type (meat, dairy, fruits, vegetables, seafood, poultry & eggs, etc).  Each chapter opens with a description of the food type and how to select the best ones.  Evans has gone back to basics with a collection of recipes which are neither difficult nor time intensive, in fact they seem almost intuitive to me and reading through them you can really begin to see how a certain dish or way of preparing seasonal foods could indeed grow out of eating ingredients when they are available.  This is a good book for someone who loves beautiful images to accompany beautiful recipes.  It’s also a good gift book for someone who doesn’t want to amass a library of cookbooks, but would like a few quality books with lots of great recipes.

The Clatter of Forks and Spoons by Richard Corrigan with Sheila Keating (2008 Fourth Estate; photography by Kristin Perers) Even though I opened this week’s reviews with a backhanded slap at treating food as anything other than a necessity for survival, I have to say that there is indeed something so very dreamy about Richard Corrigan’s book.  Irish-born Corrigan is a fanatic about farm-to-fork eating, and his upbringing on a farm transpires in his writing and knowledge of ingredients and combinations to make the best tasting food ever.  As someone who does not believe in waste, Corrigan gives you your fair share of kidneys and liver and the likes, so don’t say you weren’t warned!  However, this beautifully photographed book is as much about the food as it is about its origins, the farmers, fishermen, butchers, et al with whom he works, and how to prepare their food.  It’s a perfect balance of prose and unpretentious recipes, a little British, a little Irish, with a touch of Italian here and there.  The narrative and recipes are so finely woven, in fact the book seems more like a diary than a cookbook even in its design.  I absolutely love it, and often visit it on my bookshelf just to be reminded of the good food and producers there are out there and what I should be looking for when I shop for our food.  (And to make the oat cookies that my husband loves so much).

The Blackberry Farm Cookbook:  Four Seasons of Great Food and the Good Life by Sam Beall  (2009 Clarkson Potter; photography by beall+thomas photography) You didn’t really think I’d let you get away without a little bit about Tennessee, my home state, and home to Blackberry Farm, did you??  This is the cookbook and story of Blackberry Farm and is a beautiful book in its own right, but a great treasure of Southern recipes starting with blackberry cobbler, peach shortcake and running the gamut of coleslaw, barbecue (ribs and sauces), fried chicken, biscuits, greens, cornbread, chess pie, and then more ‘inventive’ dishes which all draw on ingredients harvested on the farm itself.  Of course I feel compelled to say that this is but one version of Southern cooking and if you’re really interested in our food, you should also try out some traditional Black Southern recipes in books by Edna Lewis, for example.   But this book holds its own, and was a very welcome book to the cookbook market not only for its focus on Tennessee, but also for the story of a working farm and the food it produces over each season.  The book is so beautiful you may not want to risk getting it dirty in the kitchen, but it is totally worth using!

Book Reviews: Vegetables and Gardening and Sustainable Eating, Oh My!

Welcome to our third installment of cook book reviews from Kristina Gill. It’s a spirited edition, don’t say I did not warn you! However, if you’re like me I suspect you’ll enjoy a personal take on some of the themes dealt with in a couple of the books from one of my most favorite people on the planet. I mean, one of my most favorite opinionated people on the planet. And if you don’t enjoy it, don’t be shy about sharing your opinion.  She can take it!  Take it away, Kristina!

The sun has finally come out after weeks of strange weather, and we have at least a promise of great weather to come.  Each year I promise myself I’m going to go convince the farmer across the street to come help me set up my garden (do it myself??  What??), and each year I never do!  So I have a little stack of books here all about gardening, eating from your garden, and all the things you need to know to get busy dibbling and dabbling…or getting good and dirty and starting a serious garden.  These days the topic of “growing  your own food” is always in the context of something a lot bigger, a moral and ethical sales pitch is in there too.  So I’ve included a couple of those titles for you.

The Conscious Kitchen:  The New Way to Buy and Cook Food– to Protect the Earth, Improve Your Health, and Eat Deliciously by Alexandra Zissu (Clarkson Potter 2010; no photography!)  I’ve been sitting with this book by my bedside for a few weeks, and it has been eating away at my brain.  Figuratively speaking.  This is a little manual about tips on how to live a more environmentally friendly life, in the food context.  I think if you’re moderately informed about the issues raised in this book (food miles, local vs organic, carbon footprint, recycling, etc) you will have a strong reaction to its content.  For now, all I will say is that if you’re easily depressed by learning that you’ve been packing your lunch for the past 10 years in something that has known carcinogens in it, this isn’t your book.  However, if you’re interested in knowing how much of the crap in your house is sending the earth to hell in a hand basket and how to move beyond that (NB: it’s about 99.999% of what you own), this is a great book.  If you’re the kind of person who wants to fit in to this movement, but looks for new ways to morally justify all of your exclusive imported food and wine choices to whomever may challenge you, this is your book.  If, like me, you are mortified, even paralyzed by the knowledge that you thought you were making good choices but apparently aren’t, and don’t really have the means to start over and this paralyzes you even more, yet you feel compelled to try do more or at least KNOW what you’re doing wrong, this book is a wealth of knowledge.  I personally feel that everyone should become familiar with the issues raised in the book, regardless of whether they agree with the author’s opinions and conclusions, and the book is short enough and simple enough to read quickly.  NB:  Using salted water in an aluminum pan in place of silver polish didn’t work for me though!!

Lucid Food:  Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life by Louise Shafia (Ten Speed Press, 2009; photography by Jennifer Martiné).  This IACP award-nominated book is a recipe book, interspersed with tips on how to “make great food that will sustain you and the environment”.  Divided into seasons, so you learn when the “right time” of year is to enjoy different fruits and vegetables.  Although not an entirely vegetarian book, this would be a safe (and cherished) vegetarian resource.  The recipes are elegant and refined, quite varied and refreshingly new.  The spices and combinations of ingredients are Asian, European, and ‘New American’, a small sampling of the world.  The only slight drawback is that if you don’t live in a well-stocked city, finding some of the ingredients will be challenging like barberries, rose petals, sheets of yuba, and so forth.  (And of course since you’re trying to be eco-conscious, you won’t mail order anything, will you?)  But don’t get me wrong– I believe that having a hard time finding ingredients periodically just encourages a curious cook to try out new combinations.  Jennifer Martiné’s gorgeous photography ensures that you’ll spend a lot of time studying the pages of this book, and get good use out of it, whether it’s to learn more about how you can lead an environmentally sustainable culinary existence, or to cook, or both.

On a separate note, and one which I do not believe detracts from the utility of Lucid Food as primarily a cookbook, I must admit I was a bit perplexed at certain assumptions Shafia made in the book.  For example:  “…Many of these [out of season] foods come from countries where labor conditions and pesticide use are unregulated.  This produce is usually inferior to locally-grown fruits and vegetables in both taste and nutritional value,” as if our agricultural sector can boast of better labor conditions or pesticide use…  Shafia also writes, “Some will argue that eating local, sustainable, and organic food is simply too expensive– or worse, exclusive or elitist– and that families on fixed incomes can’t afford to eat this way.  I would like to challenge that misconception right off the bat.” and then goes into the hidden costs of “inferior foods flown in from distant countries”, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, keeping money in the local economy etc.  She, like Zissu, obviously assumes that “affordability” is only monetary.   I guess in her world, if families with fixed incomes just realized how beautiful it is to bicycle around town in between their two and three jobs to smell the roses, stop and dig in some good and wormy compost, and get their employers to give them a break during the day to get in a trip to the farmer’s market, these people would so be with the program.  I don’t know though, because she doesn’t deal with the idea beyond this very superficial and common approach we see so often in these sermons.

The Seasoned Vegetarian by Simon Rimmer (Mitchell Beazley 2009; photography by Chris Terry) Phew!  I needed a break from all the shame.  A break from the advice that I should only be eating food which was harvested during the new moon on Monday. And who better to turn to for that than a Brit.  Simon Rimmer’s book is the equivalent of vegetarian comfort food.  Note:  This isn’t traditional British by any means, but the recipes are indeed very ‘modern’ British.  (Goat’s cheese and onion tart, zucchini fritters with green olive salsa, baked cherry tomatoes with ricotta and basil, falafel, hazelnut and chocolate meringues…)  All the ingredients are typical ones you can find where you do your food shopping, without difficulty.  Technique is simple, creativity isn’t at the level of Lucid Food, but then again, comfort food never is!  Rimmer’s recipes are straight forward and easy to produce.  In fact, this would be a good book for someone who is just starting out in the kitchen, regardless of their preference for eating meat.

New Urban Farmer:  From Plot to Plate:  A Year on the Allotment by Celia Brooks Brown (Quadrille 2010; photography by Jill Mead). So if the first two books really convinced you you should run right out and start an environmentally friendly garden, here you go.  This book is a great little treasure.  It follows the months of the year, starting in March (so I’m a little behind in telling you about it).  For each month’s chapter, it has charts that tell you which fruits/vegetables can be grown indoors / under glass, outdoors, or in containers, and then whether there is a recipe in the book.  The beginning chapter explains the basics of what you will need, and each chapter walks you through what you should be doing at each stage of the month.  It’s a very handy book for preparatory reading and a good reference thereafter, including recipes!

Grow Great Grub:  Organic Food from Small Spaces by Gayla Trail (Clarkson Potter 2009) This book could be the companion to Celia Brooks Brown’s book because it covers all the areas that Celia’s book doesn’t:  this is where you learn where and how to make your garden, how to make your containers, what bugs will be destroying what plants and how to deal with them.  There are recipes here too, but few of them.  There is, however, a chapter on how to preserve and can your harvest.  When I read through this book, starting a few plants on my balcony  before heading into gardening in my yard seems doable.  This book is a companion to Trail’s comprehensive website “You Grow Girl”, which by the way turned 10 this year.  Happy Birthday!  I promise I will do at least 1 plant this spring following her methods!