Monday, July 30, 2012

Cookbooks for Right Now

It's Summer and easy to follow, straight forward recipes that don't take hours and hours to prepare appeal to me most. The cookbooks I've been enjoying lately definitely reflect that. But these are books you will treasure long beyond this season, they are filled with comfort food, creative recipes and great stories... 

What I like about Guliano Hazan's latest book, Hazan Family Favorites is the exact opposite of what I like about many of Marcella Hazan's books. It's loose and easy and very informal. It's about flavors more than about specific techniques. It's not all Italian recipes, though most of them are. The stories of Giuliano's take on beef bourguignon, Lael's meatloaf, and desserts from the nonnas are charming but the proof is in the pudding and I can't resist an easy recipe for Bolognese Meat Sauce, surprising recipes like Cold Minestrone with Rice and of course, the most famous Marcella Hazan recipe--My Mother's Butter, Tomato and Onion Sauce. Recipes like Italian Latkes, Maccheroni Soup with Sausage and Porcini, Braised Leeks and Peas and Polenta Cookies are all destined to become favorites. But that's just me, you may find other recipes win you over. If nothing else, the book gives you a peek into the home life of one of America's most respected Italian cooking families. The foreword by Marcella Hazan is also noteworthy. Don't skip it!
I've been a fan of John T. Edge since I heard him speak at the CIA Worlds of Flavor conference a couple of years ago. At the time he was working on The Truck Food Cookbook. I cannot tell you how happy I am to finally have this book! It's got great stories about the food trucks and vendors, but also terrific recipes. For me, the recipes are not necessarily ones I follow exactly, but use as inspiration. For example after making the Roast Duck Taco recipe once I'm now a kick of buying roast ducks from Chinese delis and turning them into curry, salad, and of course, tacos. The Sweet Potato Fries recipe taught me a trick that enabled me to perfect my parsnip chips. The book is packed with fabulous recipes for sandwiches, crepes, salsas, tacos and fusion dishes like Fried Brussels Sprouts (with fresh Thai chilies, mint, cilantro and basil) and Kimchi Quesadillas. Yum! 

It's been five years since I took a class from Ruta Kahate and reviewed her classic book 5 Spices, 50 Dishes. Her book and learning just a few key techniques definitely made cooking Indian food at home less of an ordeal and showed me how easy it could be. For even more ideas for Indian food in a hurry is her follow up book Quick Fix Indian: Easy, Exotic Dishes in 20 Minutes or Less. While I haven't cooked anything from the book yet, I did get to try some of the dishes at a lunch and cooking demo that Kahate recently did. My favorite dishes were the Wilted Spinach with Red Chili and the Coriander Shrimp with Zucchini but I've bookmarked the Paneer, Smoky Eggplant Bharta and  the "Instant" Chicken Biryani. One of the best features of the book is a shopping list of that will make cooking "quick fix" meals a cinch. With the right pantry staples and a few items you can prepare ahead of time like ginger paste, garlic paste, ghee, red masala, green masala and browned onions you are one step ahead of the game. No matter what the season. 

There are three  things I love about Herbivoracious, the first cookbook by food blogger Michael Natkin. His vegetarian recipes are not trying to replicate meat dishes and never call for "fake meat." As an omnivore I eat what I like, if I want bacon I'll eat it. But plenty of times, most of time in fact, I want vegetarian food. Vegetarian food that is bold, creative and satisfying. It's what I try to cook, and what Natkin cooks too. His very original recipes like Shiitake Tacos with Asian Pear Slaw, Bocoles with Spicy Sweet Potatoes, Tofu Packages fragrant with lemongrass and chiles and Golden Beet Tartare are exciting! His Mexican Breakfast Torta with refried black beans and scrambled eggs beats the pants off of any other breakfast sandwich you can imagine. His condiments like Sesame Salt, Onion Chutney and Tomato Confit will add pizzazz to almost everything. Last but not least, though not all the recipes are quite that original, they are all appealing and not terribly challenging to make. My only criticism of the book? Natkin shot the photos in the book himself, and the best ones are where he took a step back and styled the scene a bit. In general the photography suffers from too many close ups that don't always do justice to the food.

Disclaimer: These books were provided as review copies, the links are to Amazon.com where I do have an affiliate account.