When people compliment my cooking I always tell them that it’s just a matter of knowing how to follow the recipe. True, over time, I have mastered a few preparation techniques, and I know how best to handle certain foods, but the recipe is the star, it’s the blueprint. I know enough to decide whether a recipe is a good one or in Heidi Klum’s words it’s “just sad.” There are a lot of sad recipes. There are also recipes that agree with a certain author’s tastes that may not agree with mine. I recall a buttercup squash soup recipe in a popular cooking magazine that called for a large amount of ground white pepper – against my better judgement I added the full quantity. The soup came out inedible. I learned the valuable lesson of adding hot ingredients such as cayenne, pepper, chilies, hot sauce very conservatively and adding more to taste if necessary.
The recipes in the cookbooks discussed here are definitely not sad and the books are well worth consideration for yourself or as holiday gifts for others. The first three books are part of my go-to library. There’s another that would make a wonderful gift for the foodie on your list, and another that is, in my opinion, the best bread cookbook ever written.
Rustic Fruit Deserts, Crumbles, Buckles, Cobblers, Pandowdies, And More – If I was able to do it all over again I would have become a pastry chef. I am very fond of fruit deserts – apple pie, cherry cobbler, peach ice cream, strawberry shortcake, rhubarb sauce. When my partner gave me this book it brought my pastry ambitions and fresh fruit preferences together in a delightful way. What’s more delicious than a buttery crumble over a warm, sweet fruit compote? James Beard Award recipient Cory Schreiber, and bakery owner Julie Richardson, both located in Portland, bring us a wonderful compilation of recipes passed down through the generations, using simple techniques and taking advantage of what’s in season. Fresh fruits are at their peak at different times of the year and usually only for a short time. These recipes help you take advantage of what’s available and work for all occasions, formal or informal. Have you heard of a dish called a slump? It may not sound particularly appetizing but it’s a nice dish for hot summer days because it’s steamed in a pot on top of the stove thus eliminating the need for a hot oven in August. I made my slump with fresh plums from our tree in the back yard with the sweet-spice infused, dumpling-like dough cooked on top of the fruit. It was a wonderful dish that would also be great with peaches, nectarines, or apricots.
Schreiber, Cory, and Veronica Chambers. Rustic Fruit Deserts, Crumbles, Buckles, Cobblers, Pandowdies, And More. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2012. Print.
Pasta Tecnica by Pasquale Bruno, Jr. – I once thought that pasta dishes were difficult to make what with the spaghetti and lasagna sauces that you cooked all day, or figuring out how they stuffed ricotta cheese into manicotti noodles. I tended to stay away until I was given a hand-cranked, pasta rolling machine and learned that pasta is simple to make and fun to roll out into all kinds of shapes and sizes. Looking for things to do with my now motorized pasta roller I happened across this book that stressed the fact that pasta dishes are usually quite simple. Fix fettucine with a simple sauce of cream, butter and parmesan and you probably wont want to go to Olive Garden again. Bruno makes the delightful point that most of his dishes are quick and easy. Pasta is usually flour with an egg stirred into it. You can roll it out by hand, run it through a roller, extrude it through a pasta machine, buy it fresh or dried in the store. The sauces are usually quite simple: red is usually a marina base, white is cream and cheese based, brodo is broth based, such as white clam sauce (one of my favorites), and pesto made with herbs and olive oil. If you follow the simple instructions in this book you will have mastered the fundamentals of sensational pasta dishes. I have several, well-known, Italian cookbooks but this is the one I return to time after time.
Bruno Jr., Pascuale. Pasta Tecnica. Chicago: Contemporary Books Inc., 1 edition (September 1, 1982). Print.
The Food You Crave, Luscious Recipes for a Healthy Life by Ellie Krieger – This is one of several cookbooks written by Food Network personality, Ellie Krieger, that supports my conviction that healthy dishes can be delicious and easy to make. If you are looking for tasty and sensible versions of comfort foods like chili, chicken pot pie, apple turnovers, mac and cheese, even french fries this is the book for you. Krieger’s work is well researched and supported by an impressive group of consultants and production people. Each recipe comes with a full list of nutritional information and there are discussions about food, food storage and proper preparation throughout. With many beautiful illustrations I can’t decide whether I should place this book on the coffee table or within easy reach in the kitchen. Buy two copies of this book, one for you, and one for your favorite cook.
Krieger, Ellie. The Food You Crave, Luscious Recipes for a Healthy Life. Newton: The Taunton Press, 2008. Print.
Modern Art Desserts, Recipes for Cakes, Cookies, Confections and Frozen Treats Based on Iconic Works of Art by Caitlin Freeman – One is not likely to see the instructions for constructing a cake to look like a Piet Mondrian painting or a Roy Lichtenstein print very often nor would you necessarily even think to create such a thing. But as you can see from the illustrations there are spectacular results to be had for the ambitious chef. Author Caitlin Freeman is a well-known pastry chef whose work has been featured in the New York Times, Elle Decor, and the Huffington Post. The creations in this book draw upon her extensive experience and skill to mold, color, and carve deserts that reflect or resemble famous artist’s styles. That said, most of the desserts are made with a standard repertoire of yellow, white, or chocolate cake and various simple frostings and sauces. The art is in the construction and manipulation of those ingredients. There is a thorough description of the equipment and ingredients used – nothing too exotic there. The trick in perfecting these deserts I think is practice, practice, practice. This is a fascinating book and any cook looking for a challenge would love to add this to their library.
Freeman, Caitlin. Modern Art Deserts, Recipes for Cakes, Cookies, Confections, and Frozen Treats Based on Iconic Works of Art. Berkeley: 10 Speed Press, 2013. Print
The Complete Bread Cookbook – by Ted and Jean Kaufman, Grammercy Press. In my opinion the best bread book ever. It contains wonderful, no-nonsense recipes for all kinds of breads. The batter dinner rolls are delicious, easy, and always a hit. The same goes for the sensational challah, chewy bagels, or savory whole-wheat bread. The book is out of print but it is available, used, at Amazon.com. If you love bread, get a copy of this great book before they’re all gone.
Kaufman, Ted, and Jean Kaufman. The Complete Bread Cookbook. New York: Grammercy Publishing Company, 1969. Print.
My favorite cookbook of all time, The Joy of Cooking notwithstanding, the one that I open several times a week, is my good old 3-ring binder. I’ve pasted in recipes over the years that I’ve felt were “keepers”. If I am lacking in inspiration I can always leaf through my notebook for ideas and I will usually come away with two or three meals worth of ideas from which I can compile a grocery list and get to work. If you don’t have a notebook start one. You’ll use it over and over.