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Artful Traveler: Travel by Cookbook

91UHOVXHt7LBy Bobbie Leigh

With  so many recipes online,  who is buying  cookbooks?  There is no reliable answer, but for all the home cooks who clip recipes from newspapers. print them from the web and file them away somewhere,  a cookbook you can pull off a shelf and refer to easily  trumps everything else.  Here are some of this year’s newest and best.  Each has its own personality and is written with an original “voice,” that of a  knowledgeable  person who  is chatty, familiar, and above all reliable.

Ruth Reichl  fits that category perfectly.   Her new Ruth Reichl: My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes that Saved My Life (Random House)  spotlights where and with whom she likes to shop, cook,  and eat.    A  great cook,  Reichl  is also a gifted writer. About peeling apples for an apple crisp, she writes: “Peel a few different kinds of apples, enjoying the way they shrug reluctantly out of their skins…”  On a particularly gloomy day, still desolate because of the sudden closing of  Gourmet magazine in 2009, Reichl wakes up at four am  and decides to bake a chocolate cake. As she says: “In times of stress, only excess will do: this is an enormous cake. But it keeps very well. And there is no such thing as too much chocolate cake.”  No wonder  Reichl  has something like 350,000 followers on Twitter.

9780609606445 (1)Ina Garten’s recipes are foolproof.  In her new book, Ina Garten Barefoot Contessa PARTIES!  Ideas and Recipes for Easy Parties that Are  Really Fun (Clarkson Potter) Garten shares what she has learned as both a caterer and dedicated party giver.  Like Reichl, Garten  has organized her  book by seasons  including  recipes for a Jewish Holiday  in spring; a canoe trip in summer; a football party in fall,  and a spectacular New Year’s Day open house. Her stellar starter to a  New Year’s buffet  is a  seafood chowder, hearty enough  for a lunch or dinner to serve alone with bread, cheese, and a salad. Garten’s recipe for Spinach  Gratin, creamy on the inside and browned and crunchy on top,  is  inspired.


Like Reichl and Garten, Madhur Jaffrey is a prize-winning cookbook writer. She  is also an award winning actress and has rightfully been dubbed “the godmother of Indian cooking.”  For  her new cookbook, Vegetarian India, A  Journey through the Best of Indian Home Cooking, (Alfred A. Knopf)  Jaffrey traveled throughout India, cooking and collecting recipes  mostly from friends and  home cooks.  Following her  precise instructions is not daunting. In fact, you feel as though she is watching you and providing helpful advice every step of the way. True, you  might  have to collect  some exotic ingredients like fresh curry leaves but the results are worth it.  Her  recipes for poha, flattened rice that has been  parboiled,  dried to produce flakes  and combined with various vegetables, are  terrific time savers. You can prepare a meal combining  poha  with perhaps cauliflower, peas, tomatoes,  or  beans  in a lot less time than it takes to cook regular rice.    (Flattened rice as well as other Indian  staples are available online from www.kalustan.com.)

Lidia’s Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine: Everything you need to Know to be a Great Italian Cook, by  TV superstar Lidia Bastianich and her daughter, Tanya Bastianich Manuali (Knopf) is  a gift-worthy volume,  the Italian equivalent of  Julia Child’s  “Mastering the Art of French cooking.”   In other words, a handy reference for all things Italian.

“I like to keep it simple as Italian food at its best is simple,” says Bastianich.   Her recipes can be followed precisely, but there is   room for experimentation which she encourages. The beginning chapters on ingredients, cooking methods, and techniques  are  worth the price of the book alone.   Readers learn useful tips such as never add oil or salt to pasta cooking water. Another discovery –at least for the less experienced – is  never buy a bottle labeled “cooking wine.” Usually it will have added flavorings and salt. Alas, most of the recipes are for six people so that a great recipe for  Zuppa di Pesca,  a hearty seafood soup ideal for a crowd,  has to be doubled… but  skip  20 sprigs of  fresh  thyme  which  tends to overpower the dish.

410xYjyZgrL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ How to Eataly: A Guide to Buying, Cooking, and Eating Italian Food  (Rizzoli) by Lidia Bastianich, her son Joe, Mario Batali and Adam and Alex Saper is comprehensive  cookbook from the gourmet Eataly emporium.   Beautifully illustrated, it  is  crammed with  recipes as well as instructions. When eating pizza, for example,  use a knife and fork and cut first the point end of a triangular slice. The  chapter on the Italian way with  pasta is almost encyclopedic, but the rice chapter and its fool proof recipes and instructions  (never rinse rice)  are critical,  especially for risotto.. The veggie dishes, like acorn squash with black lentils, are among the most original. Totally sinful and  unusual for the American cook  who  would like to go beyond  tiramisu  is little yeasted cake similar to  a baba au rum, but here soaked in limoncello.

Not having grown up in Bangkok  and  with only  a superficial appreciation of Thai food, it can be perplexing  to evaluate Simple Thai Food: Classic Recipes from the Thai Home Kitchen. (Ten Speed Press)  Neela Punyaratabandhu writes that her only goal  with this new book “was to document the best, most tried-and-true Thai recipes from my mother’s cookbook collection.”  Some recipes are difficult with a bewildering list  of ingredients not readily available in your local market while others – pad Thai with shrimp,  pork in spicy dressing,  and  fish with lime-chile-garlic dressing  work out well.   NP’s  website, www.shesimmers.com,  is  worth consulting.

City Harvest,  New York City’s  largest private hunger relief organization, feeds more than 1.4 million hungry New Yorkers every year.  Some of the proceeds of  the new cookbook, City Harvest: 100 Recipes from Great New York Restaurants, (Rizzoli) by NY Times food journalist Florence Fabricant, will benefit this food- rescue organization.  Fabricant did a huge amount of research  before selecting  the 100 recipes from top restaurants.    What’s more, she  doesn’t  exactly replicate   dishes from restaurants like  Blue Hill and Eleven Madison Park.  Instead,  she adapts  them to the home kitchen. “As I tested the recipes, I did a little fancy footwork with a number of them, omitting extra garnishes.” she writes.  It takes courage to simplify some of the city’s best chefs’ recipes, but Fabricant makes them work even if you don’t have a degree from a culinary institution.

Not all the recipes are from  star chefs.  From Dinosaur Bar-B-Que  in Brooklyn Fabricant features a delectable BBQ chicken wings with Korean glaze.  Another  surefire winner is Marcus Samuelsson’s Ethiopian-style beef stir- fry.  From Dominique Ansel Bakery, the source of the now world-famous cronut  (a fusion of croissant and doughnut) comes  an alluring dessert:  a warm pistachio  moelleux, a little pale green cake. 

Baklava  to Tarte Tatin; A World Tour  in 110  Dessert Recipes (Rizzoli) is by Bernard Laurance, a part-time Air France flight attendant and  one of France’s most popular bloggers.  ( www.cookingwithbernard.com)   This self-taught cook collects recipes wherever he travels, retreats to his Paris apartment where he deconstructs and then reconstructs each recipe. “Like a mad scientist,  I focus on testing and combining ingredients to the exclusion of all else,” he writes in his introduction to his first book in English. Organized by regions including North Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Oceania.  Laurance’s recipes range from  simple to super-complex. Among the former, a best-bet is a  flavorful walnut cake  made from walnuts ground into a powder and  mixed with kirsch.

9780804186230 (1)Justin Smillie is the chef of Upland, a pricy New York City restaurant with a distinct California sensibility. Chef Smillie’s Slow Fires: Mastering New Ways to Braise, Roast, and Grill (Clarkson Potter)  is a cookbook for the weekend  as you will need ample  time, patience, and  courage to attempt his recipes. But before you  light  up the grill,  it is advisable  to read this sumptuously illustrated book from cover to cover.  The chef’s instructions on braising such as matching meats to braising liquids or the technique of roasting hanger steak   require a steady focus. His chapter on grilling begins with how to create an even crust all over rather than seared-black marks and after myriad  explanations”, you too can be cranked up to PhD level when it comes to  the full range of grilling possibilities.

unnamed (3)The Homemade Kitchen:Recipes for Cooking with Pleasure (Clarkson Potter) by Alana Chernila  has a contemporary spin.  Chernila  is not one for rules. She is adventurous andconfronts failure in the kitchen with an extra glass of wine.   Her  beginning  chapters are a series of “how to,”   ranging from how to cook an egg and ending with how to make pasta. Chernila’s chapters on “use your scraps” and  “reusables in the kitchen”   are  where she really shines. Some of   her best recipes are  “standards,” with a twist –baked apples with dried currants and toasted almonds,  chicken salad with grapes,  and sesame noodles so good you will never use Chinese takeout again.

unnamed (2)Jacques Pépin:Heart and Soul in the Kitchen (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)  is a celebration of this popular chef’s 80th birthday.  Family, friends, Pépin’s paintings and  heartfelt  all reminiscences reveal what the author calls “my culinary heart and soul.”  Throughout his career Pépin has always favored straightforward fare,  “where you can recognize exactly what you are eating.”  He  is not parochial about French cuisine although some of his best recipes like chicken in cream sauce are from his mother’s kitchen. “A good dish should taste of what it is,”  says Pépin who has problems with inexperienced chefs who use too many ingredients disguising the essence of a dish.  That’s why his  recipes are so satisfying, especially those for vegetables which open up a whole new way of thinking about how to cook them.

ChocolateChipSweets_cover FINALChocolate Chip Sweets: Favorite Recipes from Celebrated Chefs (Rizzoli) by Tracy Zabar is a beguiling collection of fresh approaches to cookies, fancy cakes, pies and pastries, and  desserts you eat with a spoon.  Jacques Torres,  Mario Batali, and Daniel Boulud are among the rock-star chefs who have contributed recipes which Zabar has converted to  home- baker specifications.  Chocolate chips have the starring role, but  if  you are not a chocoholic, consider  a delectable banana bread  or a Sicilian pistachio torta to name just two.  Zabar’s own seductive recipe for chocolate biscotti yields softer  cookies than the more traditional ones. In fact,  nothing  is more  delectable than dunking them into this talented pastry chef’s  recipe for thick hot chocolate.

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.
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.
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