Thursday, December 18, 2014

Culinary Reference & Resource Books

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from The Flavour Principle  but I've decided it's a keeper. Each chapter has a different flavor profile—bitter, herbal, smokey, eatery, sweet, spicy etc. The first page of each chapter has a list of ingredients that typify the flavor so for example next to earthy you get potatoes, beets, mushrooms, eggplant, black beans, truffles, leeks, bison, etc giving you a preview of the recipes. There are drink recipes and full menus that emphasize the flavor. The menus each have a theme like Sophisticated Vegetarian Dinner, An Argentinian Odyssey or Icewine Extravaganza. Yup, this is a Canadian book and the authors are the weekly food columnist and wine and sports columnist for The Globe and Mail. 

There are also drink pairings for most of the dishes and a discussion as to why it pairs well. There are lots of added features such as how how to flame an orange peel, glassware 101, a primer on different kinds of curry (Indian, Thai, Malaysian and West Indian) and how to compose a cheese plate. The book is well over 450 pages so there is no skimping on information, discussions of wines and cocktails or photographs. The recipes are great, but I think it’s also a wonderful reference book because of the wine pairings and flavor profiling. Some sample recipes? Watermelon Gazpacho, Shaved Cauliflower and Swiss Chard Curry, Sweet Spicy Garlic Chicken, Tea Smoked Salmon, Hazelnut Meringue Roulade, Caramel Pecan Popcorn.

After reading about The Flavor Thesaurus  on Dianne Jacob’s blog, I immediately purchased a copy for myself. It’s not a traditional cookbook, nor is it really a thesaurus. The book begins with a flavor wheel, it outlines flavors much like The Flavour Principle does—for example Earthy lists mushrooms, eggplant, cumin, beet, potato and celery. Then in the Earthy chapter there are listings for each of those ingredients. The listing pairs the ingredients with other ingredients. So for example with eggplant you get an introduction to the ingredient then listings for eggplant & bell pepper, eggplant & chili, eggplant & garlic, eggplant & ginger, eggplant & lamb, eggplant & nutmeg, eggplant & prosciutto, eggplant & soft cheese, eggplant & tomato and eggplant & walnuts.These are interesting pairings but perhaps not as groundbreaking as I was hoping. 

Of course some chapters do have more unusual pairings such as rhubarb & cucumber or goat cheese & chocolate. With some of the pairings there are recipes written in an informal way, but not as a general rule. The book reads like someone’s kitchen notebook with lots of trivial about ingredients and recipes. It’s not as useful as The Flavor Bible, but it’s an interesting book nonetheless. 

The Vegetarian Flavor Bible is a follow up to The Flavor Bible, a book I use frequently when creating recipes, so I was excited to learn that Karen Page and Andrew Dornenberg were publishing a vegetarian version. If you grew up like I did, eating vegetables steamed and plain, this book will be a revelation. It takes hundreds of vegetarian ingredients and outlines the season they are available, their flavor, their volume, their nutritional profile and calories, techniques used to prepare them, tips and botanical relatives. Then comes the fun part, a list of ingredients that they pair well with, some notable dishes from restaurants using the ingredient  and “flavor affinities” that combine 3 or more ingredients. 

There are also some great quotes from and interviews with chefs and some surprises too like seasonal guides and information on some crucial vegetarian cooking tools like the Vitamix and spiralizer and the primary ingredients of different cuisines. If you want to create your own recipes using vegetarian ingredients this book is simply a must have. 
The Kitchen Decoded is organized by cookware, tools and appliances and is intended to help less experienced cooks figure out how to use that KitchenAid mixer or what too cook in a Le Creuset dutch oven. Those brand names and several others feature prominently in the book. It’s got a lot of really solid basic recipes that frankly, you can probably find elsewhere with the exception of the baked goods. There are recipes for things like Black Bean Patties, Mussels with Sausage, Guacamole, Whole Roasted Chicken and Coconut Rice but since one of the authors was a bakery owner, you’ll also find about a dozen Buttercake Bakery recipes for things like pecan snowball cookies, brownies, cheesecake, and coffeecake. 

This book would be particularly good for someone setting up a kitchen or registering for wedding gifts and is wondering how they will use some tools. But I do disagree with the usage of some appliances, for example I’m not convinced you need a food processor to combine the lime juice, jalapeño, garlic, tomato, onion and cilantro for guacamole, likewise I wouldn’t bother using a food processor for making biscuits. 

Disclaimer: Some of these books were review copies, this post includes affiliate links

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

English & Italian Candy for the Holidays

I think of Halloween as the official beginning of the candy season. We are in the midst of it now, and it goes through Valentine’s Day and Easter. Because I’m a sweetie, I shared my most recent candy samples with my sugar tooth sister and her candy crazed clan.

English Candy 
Fiona’s Sweetshoppe started out as an actual candy shop. It was a tiny spot in downtown San Francisco where my husband always held out hope there might be an orange cream bar waiting for him. Now Fiona’s is selling speciality candies from England and while the shop is closed, the candy is much easier to find.

Here’s what my sister had to say about them:

Licorice Allsorts
"I love black licorice, and these are a nice mild version that even people who aren't fans of licorice would like. Soft, mild, leaves a sweet aftertaste in your mouth."

Sherbet Lemons
"If Zotz and lemon drops were combined, what a wonderful world it would be. Love them. Could be a little fizzier, but yummy anyway. Does not have the typical lemon drop scratchy texture on the outside. Kind of a smooth sandy texture outside, it feels much smoother in the mouth than an American lemon drop. Then a layer of hard candy with a fizzy filling inside. Happiness that comes in lemon flavor!"

Strawberry Bonbons
"These were the most unusual of the bunch. Crumbly pressed powdered sugar texture with a hard chewy center. Not very identifiable strawberry flavor, but not overly sweet either. Package says toffee, but there was nothing toffee about it. More like Starburst or Hi Chew texture, but I think Brits call anything chewy like that toffee. N. said it was kind of like fondant. Powdery and chewy at the same time."

Jelly babies
"Strange texture. Kind of like soft cartilage. Not really chewy, and they had a dried outside that made them seem stale even though they weren't. I was not a fan. No particular flavor, and no difference in flavor between the colors. I'd choose gummy bears or swedish fish over these guys. Best comparison - stale turkish delight." I'll just add, despite not being anyone's favorite, they still got eaten.

Italian Candy

Pastiglie Leone is a candy maker that dates back 150 years. The company is known as "The King of Sweetness." What started as a small confectioner's shop in Alba has become a major enterprise, offering treats using many of the same recipes of the past. Their candy is available at AG Ferrari.

Regal Torino hard candies are wrapped in colorful, old-fashioned paper. There are a total of fourteen flavors, including pear, peach, strawberry and anise. My sister the licorice lover was a big fan of the anise flavor and also said her family particularly enjoyed the apple, quince and mandarin. These are not your run of the mill hard candies.

Fruit Pulp Cubifrutta (fruit jellies) These square jelly candies are covered with sugar and come in a mix of flavors, including apricot, peach and pear, and are made using all natural ingredients. They are very sweet! But my sister said they were very good and extremely popular with her kids. They also come in wild berry and citrus flavor collections.

Baratti & Milano is a famous chocolatier from Turin, a city famous for both coffee and chocolate. Their candy is also available at AG Ferrari.

Giandujotti This little triangular hazelnut chocolate treat comes wrapped in foil. The richness of the hazelnut complements the chocolate and creates an ultra creamy texture. The foil makes them feel a bit elegant and they are available in bags or gift boxes.

This very well known chocolate maker from Perugia is famous for their “baci’ or kisses.

I’ve been a fan of baci with crunchy hazelnuts in them and topped with a whole nut, since I tried them when I worked in a gourmet shop. Now Perugina is offering bars in both milk and dark chocolate. Of course, I prefer the dark but it has a layer of creamier lighter chocolate on top so you get the dual textures. My sister felt they weren’t quite the same as the original baci, but other than the fact that they don’t have the whole nut to bite into, the flavor and texture is very similar.

Guido Gobino
This is one of the most luxurious brands of chocolate in Italy. Their chocolates are hard to find and very special.

Giandujotto from Guidio Gubino are absolutely exquisite, not for kids but for connoisseurs. They use the finest quality hazelnuts and chocolate crafting confections by hand that are unbelievably luscious.

Even more amazing than the giandujotto are the cremino al sale. These delicate square are milk chocolate with hazelnut paste, a bit of Italian olive oil and a touch of sea salt. Well worth seeking out. You can buy them individually at CocoaBella in the shop, or choose them when putting together a box selection online.

Disclaimer: My thanks to Fiona's Sweetshoppe, AG Ferrari and Perugina for providing samples and CocoaBella for inviting me to a tasting in their shop. I was not monetarily compensated for this or any other post. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The BIG Cookbooks of 2014

Cookbooks come in all sizes, but the big ones are often on the top books of the year lists. They are also expensive and take up a lot of room. So, should you or shouldn't you? Here's my take on some of this year's big cookbooks.

The Blue Chair Cooks with Jam & Marmalade The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook was a groundbreaking although sometimes complicated book of recipes from a super creative jam maker and founder of The Blue Chair Fruit Company, Rachel Saunders. Now Saunders has followed up with Blue Chair Cooks with Jam & Marmalade a book that not only has preserve recipes, but tons of recipes for how to use them, some familiar and others that you probably never thought of before. 

I think this book is even better than the first, with easier to make recipes that are just as appealing, if not more. There are P*p Tarts, Rose Water Crepes, Beet Salad with Walnuts & Kumquat Marmalade, Summer Squash with Preserved Lemons and Tomato Jam and so many more. These are great ideas and if you have more jam than toast, this book is a must. 

Who’s it for? The canning addict. 

Nicholaus Balla and his co-chef Cortney Burns are the co-chefs at Bar Tartine a destination restaurant in San Francisco with cuisine that doesn’t fit into the typical California Asian or California Mediterranean style. The smoked, pickled and fermented flavors of their food are enticing and balanced, and they use of a wide range of ingredients, most that they make from scratch.. Their food is often big and bold and exciting. It's also often complicated to make.

Bar TartineThe Bar Tartine book is divided into chapters that might surprise you such as drying of herbs, flower and seeds or alliums, assorted powders, sprouting and soaking and pickles and preserves. Most of their food is shareable small plates, so the recipes are very flexible, choose a few or mix and match. It’s all very diy, and it’s certainly not for beginning cooks, it’s more for the advanced or adventurous. If you don’t have a smoker or a dehydrator there are other techniques you can use, but it may be a bit more challenging.  

Some recipes you can make without too much trouble include Liptauer Paprika Cheese Dip, Chilled Buttermilk and Cucumber Soup, Chicory Salad with Anchovy Dressing, Tomatoes with Tonnato Sauce & Nori. Other dishes like Slow Cooked Carrots with Burnt Bread & Almond Milk have a staggering number of preparations involved, in this case ten (soaked and toasted almonds, fermented honey, kombu dashi, burnt bread powder, charred onion powder, sweet pepper paste, almond milk, kefir butter, chutney spice and carrot top oil) 

Who’s it for? The advanced home cooks, especially ones looking to expand their skills in preserving, fermenting and dehydrating. 

The Pizza BibleThere are lots of pizza books out there, but The Pizza Bible attempts to take on the widest range of styles. The book covers all kinds of pizza, not just Italian, but California style, Detroit, Chicago and New Haven. There are grilled pizzas, wood fired, stuffed pizzas--you name it. One of the best features is a baker’s percentages chart, that shows what percentage of water, yeast, malt, salt, starter and other ingredients per style of doughs such as Napoletana, Romana, Sicilian, Sprout Wheat, Multigrain, and more. 

This could replace a lot of other pizza books, it’s that comprehensive, and written by Tony Gemignani, a pizza throwing champion and owner of quite a few pizza places as well as a pizza school. 

Who’s it for? Those who want to take their pizza making to the next level. 

Flour + Water PastaThomas McNaughton’s restaurant Flour + Water is known for pizza, pasta and long waits for a table. Now if you are a fan of his pasta, you can take on make the pastas from scratch as well as the sauces to recreate restaurant dishes at home, thanks to Flour + Water Pasta. Three kinds of doughs are featured, egg dough, hand-rolled semolina dough and dough for extruded pasta.The recipes are very detailed, but intended as a framework, so you have permission to make some changes depending on everything from the weather to what’s in season to your mood. 

The recipes include classics you know like Tagliatelle Bolognese and Tortellini in Brodo to ones you might not like Red Wine Rigatoni with Beef Cheeks and Parsnips or Salt Cod and Potato Tortelli with Salsa Verde.  The book also has essays and articles on ingredients and producers, especially in Italy. 

Who’s it for? Italian food fanatics and pasta perfectionists 

My Paris Kitchen

All over the world, readers live vicariously through reading the blog of David Lebovitz an American expat living in Paris. He vacillates between cranky and hilarious, and cooks his way through it all. He has written several cookbooks, and My Paris Kitchen might be his best. It includes the recipes he cooks, and they are not strictly French, but as he explains, neither is Paris anymore. 

You’ll find his versions of classics like Cassoulet and Onion Tart, but also trendy stuff like Spiced Meatballs with Sriracha Sauce, Salted Olive Crisps, Butternut Squash Crumble and Buckwheat Rolls with Seaweed Butter and of course plenty of desserts, since he was a pastry chef. There are plenty of stories too from current days back to the time he spent cooking at Chez Panisse. 

Who’s it for? Fans of and modern francophiles. 

Baking Chez MoiIf you have any of Dorie Greenspan’s other books you know she is a master baker. Her recipes are the antithesis of many you find today, they are long and detailed and sometimes complicated, though not always. Baking Chez Moi is focused not only on French recipes but her versions of French pastries, the recipes she bakes when in Paris. Some of the recipes are very much American, but perhaps with a French accent. 

The book is divided into plain cakes, fancy cakes, baby cakes and petit pastries, tarts and galettes, cookies and bars, and fruits, creams, frozen desserts and candies as well as basics. I’d say this book has something for every kind of baker, the novice and the more experienced. The recipes have measurements by weight for those who have kitchen scales but also cups and spoons for those who don’t. The Mascarpone Mousse, Fruit and Nut Croquants and Apple Speculoos Crumble appeal to me.

 Who’s it for? Dorie Greenspan fans and bakers of all stripes.

Disclaimer: My thanks to the publishers for providing review copies of these books, this post contains affiliate links. I was not compensated monetarily for this or any other post.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Must Have Cookbooks 2014

I have reviewed a lot of cookbooks this year, but these are some that I feel really strongly about. Let me tell you why...

Vibrant Food
Vibrant Food is one of the most beautiful cookbooks this year, written by the talented The Year in Food blogger and photographer, Kimberley Hasselbrink. She has an eye for color and texture and that means her mostly vegetarian recipes are as pretty to look at they are delicious to eat. 

Her flavor combinations are often unique but make perfect sense. She pairs risotto with edamame and sautéed radishes. She tops grilled halloumi with fresh strawberries, mint and cilantro. Turkey burgers are topped with cheddar and balsamic figs. 

The book is divided into seasons and highlights different ingredients. Feeling bored by Winter squash? Chile Roasted Delicata Squash with Queso Fresco or Soba Noodles with Kabocha Squash in a Mellow Japanese Curry will jazz things up. This is an inspiring book with very unique and appealing recipes.

Sheet Pan Suppers is a book I wish I had written. I remember when I first discovered big rimmed sheet pans, and how you could basically prepare a whole meal using them. They are great for roasting vegetables, meats, even seafood. Line the pan with foil or parchment paper and the clean up is a breeze! This book has 120 recipes, mostly for roasted dishes but also treats like an Apple Galette, Espresso Biscotti and Carrot Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting show you the versatility of sheet pans.

Of course some recipes use things like ramekins set on a sheet pan, but most don’t. Most of the dishes serve 4-6 but some of the brunch dishes serve 8 or even 10. And all you have to do is use 2 sheet pans, and voila! You’ve just doubled the recipe. The recipes I can’t wait to try include Citrus Miso Whole Fish, Baked Baby Back Ribs with Potatoes, Israeli Couscous Stuffed Peppers, Apple, Prosciutto and Radicchio Pizza and Stone Fruit Slab Pie. These recipes are just plain smart!

The Southern Living Community Cookbook.I am kind of in awe of The Southern Living Community Cookbook. I didn’t want to like this book, but I absolutely love it! If you treasure community cookbooks, this is the book for you. It’s a collection of recipes from the South, they range from very old school Lime Gelatin and Cottage Cheese Salad, to the thoroughly modern Sweet Potato Pie with Cornmeal Rosemary Crust or Bok Choy and Crunchy Ramen Salad. 

But the bulk of the book is the most popular recipes from the region—Banana Pudding, Chicken, Shrimp and Ham Jambalaya, Jezebel Sauce, Pickled Peaches, Milk Punch all lovingly curated by Sheri Castle. This is a great collection for anyone who wants to explore Southern food. 

A Boat, A Whale & A WalrusA Boat a Whale and a Walrus is a cookbook by the restaurateur Renee Erickson of Seattle. I was smitten with her Boat Street Cafe pickles the moment I tasted them and truly, sitting at the bar eating seafood at The Walrus and the Carpenter is a quintessential Seattle experience if there ever was one. Why? because it’s small, genuine, a little bit in your face and a whole lot of fun. 

This book captures a lot of what the Pacific Northwest is all about. It’s unpretentious, with a longing glance towards France at times. It’s very American, but also has influences from here and there in dishes like Preserved lemons, Fresh Tomato Pasta or Raw Asparagus Aalad. Some of the recipes are very simple like Radishes with Green Goddess Dressing, Boiled Crab, Grilled Bread but others are transformative like Brown Butter Vinaigrette or Mussels in Cider with Dijon Creme Fraiche and Tarragon. The book has menus and profiles of the producers, staff and other folks involved with the business and the recipes are organized by season, it verges on being precious at times, but just barely. If you long for Seattle like I sometimes do, you will find it deeply satisfying.

I’ve never been to Cuba, but the photos and recipes in The Cuban Table are transporting. You can just feel the sun on your shoulders and hear the Cuban beat the minute you crack open the book. It’s possibly the most comprehensive book on the subject with over 110 recipes. 

This book is such a treasure, it shares the recipes from many sources—from homes, lunch counters and restaurants, from Cuba and from Cubans living in the US. It also shares enough of their stories to inspire wanderlust or satisfy culinary curiosity. This book is the next best thing to being adopted by an extended Cuban family. 

Recipes I want to try include Media Noche Sandwiches, Stuffed Avocados, Chickpea Stew with Chorizo, Chicken Pies and Dulce de Tomate.

Disclaimer: My thanks to the publishers who provided me with review copies of the books. This post contains affiliate links. I was not monetarily compensated to write this or any other post.