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Cookbook Reviews

Cook With Jamie Cook With Jamie by Jamie Oliver

My review

Rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had forgotten I had bought this new book until my best friend from college visited recently and mentioned it to me. And she’s right – it’s fantastic. If you’ve ever seen Jamie Oliver cook on a TV show you know his style – authentic, simple, rustic, and full of amazing flavor. And that’s how this book is laid out. Perhaps most telling is that his section on required kitchen gear is only 1 page listing only 11 things. But his chapters on food list tons of useful information about products, ingredients and techniques. And each chapter contains mouth-watering recipes that are sure to please.

The New Whole Grains Cookbook: Terrific Recipes Using Farro, Quinoa, Brown Rice, Barley, and Many Ot The New Whole Grains Cookbook: Terrific Recipes Using Farro, Quinoa, Brown Rice, Barley, and Many Ot by Robin Asbell

My review

Rating: 4 of 5 stars

I purchased this book last year after meeting the author at the IACP conference in New Orleans, and was recently drawn back to it in an effort to find more whole grain recipes for the Operation Frontline cooking classes I teach. After an introductory section that describes the whole grains (useful to get your bearings and understand the basics of each grain), the book takes you on a journey of breakfasts, side dishes (both warm and cold), entrees and desserts. Besides including a wide variety of grains, the recipes incorporate a wonderful array of vegetables. Recipes like Crunchy Farro Salad with Artichokes, Red Bell Peppers and Edamame will ensure your grains are anything but boring!

Fish Forever: The Definitive Guide to Understanding, Selecting, and Preparing Healthy, Delicious, and Environmentally Sustainable Seafood Fish Forever: The Definitive Guide to Understanding, Selecting, and Preparing Healthy, Delicious, and Environmentally Sustainable Seafood by Paul Johnson

My review

Rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was introduced to Paul Johnson’s “fish bible” when it won the IACP Cookbook of the Year award last year in New Orleans, and I must say, it’s deserving of the award. Johnson covers the realities of fishing in today’s environment and offers choices that consumers can feel good about. After covering basics like selecting and storing fish, he moves into cooking basics, sustainability issues, health issues, tools and then a plethora of information and recipes for everything from Anchovies to Wreckfish (with no less than 50 fish in between). This is a reference guide as much as a cookbook, and one you’ll be happy to have on your shelves.

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan

My review

Rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are three books that have radically changed my views of the food industry of the Western world and irreversibly changed the way I eat: Fast Food Nation; Animal, Vegetable, Miracle; and In Defense of Food. I just finished the latter, Michael Pollan’s latest, this past weekend, and I find myself quoting him almost daily: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Reading this book enlightens the reader about how our culture views food (as micronutrients rather than whole foods) and the problems this has created (the parts on their own are not the same as the whole food, or the sum of the parts). Pollan goes on to explain changes in our diet that have had major ramifications on our health, like switching from whole foods to refined ones, from quality food production to a focus on quantity, and near and dear to my heart, from food culture to food science. You only need to spend one day eating in Italy (or many other cultures), by the way, to understand the difference. Fortunately, Pollan concludes the book with some simplistic, yet realistic, advice: defining what food really is (you have to recognize every ingredient and be able to pronounce them for starters), explaining the importance of eating plants (and eating animals who eat plants as opposed to corn and soy), and how to eat in moderation. This book is a must read for anyone who wants to return to a healthier and saner way of viewing food and eating.

The Art of Simple Food: Notes and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution The Art of Simple Food: Notes and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution by Alice Waters

My review

Rating: 5 of 5 stars

Alice Waters is an icon in the food world – as one of the most influential chefs in the organic and vegetarian movements in America for the past thirty years, Waters’ latest cookbook presents food simply and deliciously through 19 lessons, followed by another 150 pages of recipes that correspond to each lesson. The lessons provide an overview and information on techniques that run a couple of pages, then present a single recipe to highlight that lesson, and cover everything from slow cooking to sauces to cookies. Almost all the recipes in the book contain just a few simple ingredients (hence the title!) yet offer variations at the end to increase your repertoire. For those of you trying to sneak more veggies into your diet, Waters includes some great options like Green Beans with Toasted Almonds and Lemon, Carrot Puree with Caraway and Cumin, and Broccoli Rabe with Garlic and Hot Pepper. This book lives up to it’s name – I love this book!

Parma "A Capital of Italian Gastronomy" By Giuliano Bugialli Parma “A Capital of Italian Gastronomy” By Giuliano Bugialli by Giuliano Bugialli

My review

Rating: 5 of 5 stars

I rarely write a review about a book that I don’t own, but while vacationing in San Diego recently there was a copy of this cookbook in the hotel room (the author had been part of a culinary event at the hotel), and I spent the better part of an afternoon reading the recipes. I’ve been longing to go to Parma, in the heart of the Emilia Romagna region of Italy which is considered the gastronomic heart of Italy, and this book just sealed it for me. This is where balsamic vinegar, Parmigiano Reggiano, prosciutto, and much more all come from, and the cookbook presents mouthwatering recipes that are true to the chefs of the region utilizing all of these ingredients. Interspersed with the incredible recipes are tidbits about the region, details about the foods of the area, and glorious photos of the Italian countryside outside of Bologna.

I’m cooking the Parma Style Parpadelle with Duck Sauce for the pasta course for my Valentine’s Day dinner this weekend, and can tell I’m going to need to order this book to add it to my shelves.

Puglia: A Culinary Memoir Puglia: A Culinary Memoir by Maria Pignatelli Ferrante

My review

Rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was recently introduced to a new cookbook – actually the translation of an Italian cookbook – about Puglia, the region of Italy which sits in the heel bordered by the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, where I took clients to a cooking school. Puglia, A Culinary Memoir, by Maria Pignatelli Ferrante was originally published in Italy as La Cucina delle Murge. I like the way the cookbook starts with some background about Puglia and the traditions of the region, (highlighting things like orecchiette that will be familiar to anyone who has visited this southernmost region of Italy) and then moves on to a collection of recipes presented somewhat by ingredient, many of which I had the opportunity to cook with while I was in Puglia in September of 2008: fava beans, chickpeas, olives, rabbit and more. The book even explains why horsemeat came to be eaten in this region (I did NOT have the “opportunity” to try it while I was there!).

The authentic recipes are typically Italian, calling for very few ingredients prepared simply. You can order a copy of you like from the publisher, Oronzo Editions, directly. Look for the upcoming newsletter on my 2010 trip to The Awaiting Table cookery school in Puglia and feel free to share with any friends you think might like to join me on the trip.

French Farmhouse Cookbook French Farmhouse Cookbook by Susan Herrmann Loomis

My review

Rating: 4 of 5 stars

I met Susan Hermann Loomis when I attended her cooking school, On Rue Tatin, outside of Paris in the spring of 2007, and that’s where I purchased her cookbook. And while it is over a decade old, it’s still available from some retailers and is astonishingly relevant in 2008. Susan was on a mission to meet local farmers and purchase only the freshest local ingredients from farmers she knew and trusted to create authentic French recipes long before you heard about CSAs or grass fed beef here in Colorado. She spent a good deal of time and energy seeking out these farmers in France and compiling a collection of recipes that reflect the bounty of that France has to offer and the simplicity of many farmhouse recipes.

While the recipes I cooked while visiting On Rue Tatin were not exactly the ones contained in the book, they echoed the simplicity and authenticity of Susan’s cookbook and I can tell by perusing the book that the recipes will be easy to make and delicious to taste. For an easy start, try the simple aioli with vegetables – we had this for dinner one evening in Louviers and it was suprisingly satisfying. Better yet, be adventurous and try something so very French as rabbit – I did!

A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes by David Tanis

My review

Rating: 5 of 5 stars

The very first page of this award winning cookbook from Chef David Tannis (of Alice Water’s famed Chez Panisse restaurant) tells you alot about his approach to this book. He explains why he chose the title, and goes on to talk about why to serve a platter of figs you need to know about what season they are ripe, how to judge the ripeness, and then what to do with the fruit – and all of these lead you to whether you serve them as an appetizer, as part of the main dish, or as dessert.

A Platter of Figs continues along these themes, emphasizing the importance and pleasures of cooking at home for family of friends, and presenting relatively easy recipes in a menu format that is divided into seasons. In other words, the way he suggests we should all think about food and cooking. The dishes are simple enough for a family supper and intriguing enough for a dinner party, and the food photography throughout the cookbook is mouth-watering.

In between all that goodness Chef Tannis offers insights, food memories, techniques, and food lore in small snippets that add to the charm of the book.

How to Cook Without a Book: Recipes and Techniques Every Cook Should Know by Heart How to Cook Without a Book: Recipes and Techniques Every Cook Should Know by Heart by Pam Anderson

My review

Rating: 5 of 5 stars

I stumbled across this cookbook when I was first trying to learn to cook by instinct rather than by recipe. Anderson’s innovative approach in this cookbook provides the reader with techniques (how to make a pureed vegetable soup, for example), rather than recipes per se. The techniques are easy (in this example, begin with aromatice vegetables like onion, add stock or broth, then the featured vegetable for the soup, some seasoning, cook and puree), and following the base instructions, she provides examples of variations meant only to get you thinking – the point of the book is that the variations are nearly endless once you learn the technique.

This book is a wonderful book for anyone wanting to learn to cook without recipes – it’s great for high school and college grads, newly weds, and more.

The New Best Recipe: All-New Edition with 1,000 Recipes The New Best Recipe: All-New Edition with 1,000 Recipes by Editors of Cook’s Illustrated Magazine

My review

Rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s hard for me to name my favorite cookbook – largely because I have nearly 500 of them and if truth be told I read them more than cook from them. But if one of my clients or friends wants to know what book to add to their collection, this is near the top of the lists.

Brought to you by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated magazine (our friends from America’s Test Kitchen), this book has taken all the trial and error and guesswork out of the recipes included – and the two inch thick book boasts 1000 recipes! The chefs behind these recipes have tried everything possible – wondering how to make the best pot roast? They tried every cut of meat imaginable, cooked in every way possible, to arrive at the very best results, then share that recipe with you. If you’re a real foodie you can read about their experimentation – but if you just need the right recipe pronto, then skip the explanation and start cooking, assured that you’ll have a wonderful result.

I’ve taken to giving this cookbook as a wedding present – it’s a great book to get anyone cooking great!

The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper: Recipes, Stories, and Opinions from Public Radio's Award-Winning Food Show The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper: Recipes, Stories, and Opinions from Public Radio’s Award-Winning Food Show by Lynne Rossetto Kasper

My review

Rating: 4 of 5 stars

The new cookbook from Lynne Rossetto Kasper is more than just a cookbook. It not only contains easy to follow and cook recipes (along with variations), but also boasts menus, equipment recommendations, ingredient testing results (like extra virgin olive oil and chicken stock), tips, book recommendations (under the “Building the Library” snipets), funny food quotes. It’s as much fun to read (for foodies) as it is to cook from.

The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen: Recipes for the Passionate Cook The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen: Recipes for the Passionate Cook by Paula Wolfert

My review

Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Wolfert is no novice when it comes to cookbooks on Mediterranean cooking – she’s written six cookbooks on the region – but this is the first one dedicated to the topic of slow. She points out in the intro that the book isn’t sponsored by the Slow Food movement, but you can’t help but notice the similarities – slow cooking, savoring food, an effort to capture the essence of specialties of a region.

Some of the recipes are indeed slow cooked as well – most notably a bevy of braised meat recipes, but also a recipe for an overnight Gorgonzola cheese recipe – but others are downright simple and quick. And many of the recipes have only a few ingredients – a characteristic I associate with Mediterranean cooking, Italian in particular.

While this book may not appeal as a broad based everyday cookbook for all families (not because the recipes aren’t well written or good, but because not all kids eat crispy squab, sardines, or okra), it’s a wonderful collection of recipes that captures the essence of Mediterranean cooking and the straightforward recipes share the pages with informative commentary about ingredients, sources, techniques and food lore. The mail order information in the appendices helps fill in the gaps of your local grocery selection.

View all my reviews.

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