Reviewed by Bobbie Leigh
Supposedly, you can never be too rich, too thin, or have enough cookbooks on your bookshelf. Here are some suggestions for new and intriguing ones. Each is crammed with helpful tips not just about cooking, but shopping, entertaining, and even hosting a hassle-free dinner party.
One of the most fun is the entertaining Dirt Candy:A Cookbook by Amanda Cohen and Ryan Dunlavey. Cohen is the superstar chef at the helm of her nine-table Dirt Candy, a restaurant in New York’s East Village (430 East Ninth Street, 212-228-7732). Her graphic format is so whimsical that even if you don’t ever plan to try her Portobello mousse with fennel and compote (a huge mistake), you will be enchanted by Dunleavey’s drawings. This might well be the first cookbook in comic-book form that is both funny and practical. Among the easy to follow favorite recipes is an absurdly simple mint tarragon fettuccine with yogurt saffron sauce and zucchini relish. Cohen’s advice about vegetables is stellar: “If you’re roasting, leave it in longer than you think you should so that the vegetables release their sugars and carmelize completely. Add citrus at the end of a recipe to brighten the flavors.”
Barefoot Contessa Foolproof: Recipes You Can Trust by Food Network star Ina Garten goes way beyond recipes. She is interested in no stress entertaining and sets out in detail how to write a “game plan” for a party, starting with what to do at 5:30 and ending with cocktails at 7:30 and dinner at 8:15. Garten is a master planner who says that “a game plan is the answer for anyone like me who can’t figure out how to get three hot things to the table all at the same time.” She even includes a foolproof recipe for a Cosmopolitan which she got from the bartender at the legendary Dukes in London. Garten is a big believer in starters, and as she claims, hers are foolproof, especially a winter minestrone with garlic bruschetta or her endive, orange, and Roquefort salad. Among the many recipes for main courses, the osso bucco is a standout. For dessert, Garten offers ten dinner-party level finales. One is truly marvelous, a no sugar-shock carrot cake with ginger mascarpone frosting.
Vij’s At Home, Relax, Honey: the Warmth & Ease of Indian Cooking by Meeru Dhalwala and Vikram Vij, a couple who are Vancouver restaurant owners. They claim the point of their book is to show the reader how to follow recipes for Indian cooking that won’t feel like flunking an IQ test. They also take the pain out of keeping your kitchen stocked with spices—just two, they suggest, will always work, cumin and coriander. If you are slightly ambitious you can add coriander, turmeric, garam masala, and perhaps a dash of cayenne. Readers are encouraged to modify recipes according to personal taste and not to worry if they skip a few ingredients.
Mark Bitman, a New York Times columnist, created and wrote “The Minimalist,” column for the paper. Author of many cookbooks, he has now created a mini-minimalist set of four cookbooks with a total of 160 of his recipes, The set of four-Meat, Fish & Poultry; Small Plates & Soups; Pizza, Pasta & Grains; and Vegetables – are packaged in an easy-to-reference slip case. If you are new to cooking or have little bookshelf space in your kitchen, this mini-set will appeal to you. Each little cookbook has its own index, but missing are photographs of the finished dish. Bitman must have a special love for soups as he lists no fewer than 26 in Small Plates & Soups. No desserts though. For that your best bet is Tate’s Baking for Friends by Kathleen King.
Based in Southampton, NY, King has become a role model for entrepreneurs. During high school, she baked and sold cookies at her parents’ farmstand, earning enough money to put herself through college and eventually created her own company. (The Tate in Tate’s cookies is her father Tate King.) Now running a nationally acclaimed bakery with sales across the country and in Japan, King has just published her second cookbook. (The first was Tate’s Bakeshop Cookbook). The new book,, “Friends,” is far more ambitious than the first and features more than 120 recipes. Among her breakfast sweets options are fantastic peach muffins, white- chocolate cranberry bread and cinnamon swirl scones. Although her signature chocolate chip cookies are represented in all their many varieties ranging from vegan to sugar free, you might well find King’s chocolate- almond biscotti become your all-time favorites.
In Season: More than 150 Fresh and Simple Recipes from New York Magazine Inspired by Farmers’ Market Ingredients is by Rob Patrionite and Robin Raisfeld, two New York magazine food editors. It is based on their column, “In Season,” which features home-cooking recipes from chefs around the country. But keep in mind that a lot of ingredients in these recipes are not readily available except at farmers’ markets, specialty shops or on line. If you are having trouble finding some rarities such as Asian pears, heirloom broccoli rabe, redbor kale, and hardneck garlic, just for a start, the editors give you sources and one invaluable website if you live in New York: grownnyc.org/greenmarket. For spices and Middle Eastern ingredients, they suggest the online sites www.kalyustans.com or www.zingermans.com. Bobby Flay’s recipe for Hoppin’ John Risotto , a southern specialty thought to bring good luck when eaten on New Years Day, is a classic and as easy to prepare as mac and cheese. No hard-to-get ingredients and cooked in white wine, it is an inspired, delicious holiday dish.
The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life by Tim Ferris promises to transform you into a master chef in a few simple steps. His meta-learning (the 4-hour body, the 4-hour workweek) approach to being a great chef is folksy, down-to-earth, and well-illustrated with cartoons, photographs, and detailed instructions. His cooking tips and solutions are an adventure. Before you turn the oven on, take the 14 core lessons at the front of the book, to “learn and to do the absolute most with the least.” The first recipe Ferris offers is what he calls osso “buko,” using unbraised lamb shanks instead of the usual veal. Throughout the book, he uses quirky abbreviations such as EVOO for extra-virgin olive oil and lots of slang short hand. This is a gift book for the wanna -be cook who is easily intimidated and succumbs to stove -stress easily. One of the best chapters is on emulsifications, which Ferris dubs “tricky bastards.” At book’s end he has chapters on guns, knots, playing cards, and a list of 100 best USA restaurants.
Canal House Cooks Every Day by Melissa Hamilton and (ms) Christopher Hirsheimer is on a level with that old standby, The Joy of Cooking. These two women, whose culinary pedigree includes stints designing and working at leading culinary magazines, have created a classic with 250 new recipes for our times. Not only is their handsome volume magnificently designed with 130 stunning photographs, their presentation is flawless. Best is putting the recipe index in the front of the book. The last two chapters in the index are Canal House Essentials and Celebration Menus. In a section on Valentine Sweets and typical of the authors’ generosity towards other chefs, they give the recipe for an “ heirloom” chocolate soufflé cake with a back story leading to Maida Heatter, the legendary baker, who got it from pastry chef Mark Allen. “Good recipes pass round and round, year after year,” they write. “Every time we make this cake, we think of the wonderful Maida.” H&H also publish three seasonal cookbooks per year. For details: www.thecanalhouse.com.
Brittany-native Eric Lanlard. AKA Cake Boy in London where he is a star on UK television’s Baking Mad, is not well known here but he should be. His new book, Tart it Up! Sweet & Savory Tarts and Pies is a beguiling mix of classics like quiche Lorraine and sophisticated, fairly complicated recipes. By way of example, consider his upside-down heirloom tomato tatin. Lanlard lists the prep time as 15 minutes – a bit of an exaggeration perhaps — but he leads you through each step with a series of nine photographs so you can’t go too far wrong. The flavor-filled savory tarts are all tempting, especially a curried chicken tart. (Don’t worry about the pastry as Lanlard gives detailed instructions for making a variety of pastries.) His sweet tarts and pies are equally innovative. Each is introduced by a note from the chef. Typical is his intro to a recipe for an apricot and pistachio pithivier pie (an enclosed pie with puff- pastry top and bottom). “When I was growing up we would have a traditional galette des rois made with rich almond cream every January to celebrate the Epiphany. This is my all-year-round version, made with sweet apricots and a pistachio cream. (prep time 25 minutes – and you can use store-bought puff pastry or Landlard’s homemade version.)
Bobbie Leigh has written for many national publications including The Wall Street Journal, Travel & Leisure, and Departures. Currently she is a New York correspondent for Art & Antiques.