Wednesday, December 17, 2008

More Cookbooks for Giving or Keeping

There were a lot of important restaurant cookbooks that came out this year A Day at El Bulli, Alinea and Thomas Keller's Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide come to mind. I am not opposed to serious books, but the books I turn to again and again tend to not be the weighty ones. Just like cooking and eating, I like cookbooks to be fun. Today I am recommending two fun books, two thoroughly enjoyable non-cookbooks and two local San Francisco Bay Area cookbooks, one of which actually is a restaurant cookbook, but also much more than that. And by the way, I did not choose all these books because they have orange covers that complement my blog, really, it was pure coincidence!

New Flavors for AppetizersYou didn't think I wouldn't mention my own book, right? I am so proud of my first cookbook, New Flavors for Appetizers! The recipes are very much my style and by that I mean fairly healthy, easy to make, big on flavor, short on fuss. Since writing the book I have made recipes such as the crostini with white beans and kale, the chickpea dip with pomegranate and the spiced lamb meatballs with yogurt dipping sauce again and again to rave reviews. It's a perfect book for entertaining or gift giving, if I do say so myself.

The Food You CraveI am an unabashed Ellie Krieger fan so of course, I appreciate her latest book, The Food You Crave. Her recipes are full of flavor and don't make you think "healthy" but rather "tasty." Kreiger uses real ingredients, nothing fake and doesn't shy away from flavor enhancers such as butter, olive oil, lots of herbs and spices and fresh ingredients to make really appealing food. Noodles with Lime-Peanut Sauce, Miso Glazed Cod, Fettuccine with Creamy Red Pepper Sauce, Snow Pea, Scallion and Radish Salad, and Chocolate Cherry Almond Biscotti are just some of the recipes that tempted me this year.

Eat, MemoryLike a dim sum parlor, Eat, Memory, a compilation of essays from the New York Times magazine is filled with unexpected delights. My only complaint is that the book was too short. I wanted to keep reading and reading because the stories are so well told. I've often felt food is just a lens through which we see the world and this book explores the emotions that accompany that which we eat. There are stories by lots of great contemporary writers, authors, screenwriters, etc. that just happen to be about food. Some of the stories and essays are punctuated with a recipe at the end, but not all of them. It's not a cookbook per se, but a book drawn from the memories associated with food or in some cases, the lack of food. It's just a wonderful read.

The Flavor BibleI raved about The Flavor Bible a few months ago. It's a book to go to for ideas, inspiration, and sometimes reassurance that yes, that seemingly crazy combination you came up with does in fact make perfectly good sense. Sneak a peek at some of the signature dishes of top chefs and find out what flavors pair well. I find this book helps me get out of the ruts I sometimes get into with a specific ingredient, always cooking it one way, forgetting to step out of my comfort zone and try something new. Since reviewing it, I have used this book many times in creating new recipes for my wine retailer client. This is hands down the best, and most useful culinary reference book of the year.

Heirloom BeansEveryone from Michael Pollan to Mark Bittman is saying the same thing, we need to eat less meat. I for one, am eating more beans, especially heirloom beans. While I love cooking beans, I still need ideas for how to make the most of all the wonderful heirloom beans on the market these days. Heirloom Beans: Great Recipes for Dips and Spreads, Soups and Stews, Salads and Salsas, and Much More from Rancho Gordo is just the ticket. I love the recipes and appreciate the substitution notes which make the recipes all the more versatile. The recipes go way beyond just chili, soup and dips, there are also appetizers, side dishes and even main dishes. Love beans? You will love this book!

16 Food + WineWhile A16 is a tremendously popular restaurant in San Francisco, I suspect A16 Food + Wine
will have an even larger audience. It features the big, bold, rustic flavors of the South of Italy. The book helps you to recreate the recipes of the region reinterpreted for American kitchens. It's also a wonderful primer for the lesser known, unique and enjoyable wines of the South as well. This is a really handsome, large hard cover book. And yes, both the much loved pizza and Monday night meatballs are in there.