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Holiday Cookbooks

Reviewed by Bobbie Leigh

Home cooks have a bonanza  to choose from this holiday season.  Some  gravitate towards the anthropological  while others  are  strong on  the how and  what to cook.  All are entertaining reading, not guaranteed, but likely to crank up your skills and repertoire to PhD level.

Here’s a trio for the intrepid,  eager to explore  new triumphs. TURKISH DELIGHTS: STUNNING REGIONAL RECIPES FROM THE BOSPHOROUS TO THE BLACK SEA by John Gregory Smith begins with a Black Sea pancake breakfast, a snap to make with fresh herbs and spring greens.   From there,  tantalizing recipes pile up,  especially meat courses with vegetables  such as  smoky fried lamb with peppers, tomatoes, and garlic.  Another lavishly illustrated cookbook, SAMARKAND: RECIPES & STORIES FROM CENTRAL ASIA & THE CAUCASUS  by Caroline Eden and Eleanor Ford, is  an armchair traveler cookbook. It is  chock full of  not too difficult recipes, organized by category– roast meats  and kabobs, warming food for long winters- to mention just a few, rather than by geography.  One of the most  exotic  chapters is  “Eating with the Mountain Jews of Azerbaijan,  which  includes  an authentic Georgian chicken with walnut sauce recipe.   TASTE OF PERSIA: A COOK’S TRAVELS THROUGH AZERBAIJAN, GEORGIA, IRAN, AND KURDISTAN  by Naomi Dugid  is inspirational. Reviewing it in the NY Times,   Allegra Ben-Amotz writes: “With one foot in the old word and one in the new, Ms. Dugid  does a beautiful job of translating complex concoctions into accurate, easy-to-follow recipes…”



THE FOOD LAB: BETTER HOME COOKING THROUGH SCIENCE  by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is a terrific resource.   Keeping it  handy in the kitchen is  the equivalent of having a chef’s assistant.  Almost all  your questions about technique, equipment, shopping and storing ingredients,  utensils, and how to stock your kitchen are  explained in detail. Best recipe surprise: foolproof onion rings.


Another book that  is guaranteed to make you more knowledgeable is TASTE & TECHNIQUE: RECIPES TO ELEVATE YOUR HOME COOKING  by Naomi Pomeroy with Jamie Feldmar. Pomeroy’s approach is  based on what she calls “building blocks.”   She explains  how techniques and ingredients fit together and build off one another. The chapter on poultry, by way of example, is arranged from the simplest recipe to the most  complicated. Somewhere in the middle,   Pomeroy presents  her unrivaled one-pot meal of savory,  porcini -braised chicken thighs with variations depending on the season.


INGREDIENT, UNVEILING THE ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS OF FOOD by  culinary scientist Ali Bouzari is organized around eight ingredients  that make up what Bouzari terms  the “New Pantry.” Each ingredient – water, sugars, carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, minerals, gases, and heat – has its own personality and possibilities.  No recipes here,  just scientific explanations, excellent  diagrams, and a new way to start thinking about ingredients from a chef with a PhD in food biochemistry.


Magnus Nilsson’s THE NORDIC COOKBOOK, a doorstop book of more than 750 pages,   is  a guide to   Nordic  cuisine.  Organized by food type –meat, fish, vegetables and much more  — with 700 authentic recipes, home cooks can indulge in the familiar and experiment with the new.  Nilsson in print is as accessible and charming on the page as he is on his PBS culinary series Mind of a Chef. 


CHINA, THE COOKBOOK by  husband and wife  Kei Lum Chang and Diora Fong Chan  is  likely to be the most definitive cookbook bible of Chinese food for decades.  The research  and travel  that  produced this massive cookbook, reflecting 33 Chinese  regions and subregions, must have been prodigious.  Each recipe’s origin,  prep time, cooking time and a photograph encourage you to  experiment.  But  to stay with the familiar,  there’s lots to  tempt you –sweet and sour soup,  spare ribs, eggplant in garlic sauce, and  the always  easy-to-prepare and welcoming stir-fried Shanghai  noodles.


APPETITE, A COOKBOOK by TV host Anthony Bourdain is a compendium of his personal favorites from his home and  travels.   Opinionated and  funny, Bourdain  introduces his macaroni and cheese recipe writing:  “If you add truffle oil, which is made from a petroleum-based chemical additive and the crushed dreams of nineties culinary mediocrity, you should be punched in the kidneys.”


THE GRAIN BOWL  by Nik Williamson is  encyclopedic.  Many of the dishes are from around the world.  When compiling the recipes for this book Williamson says he tried to be inclusive of all tastes and techniques relying  on grains to make a bowl of something delicious and nourishing.


VEGAN VEGETARIAN OMNIVORE: DINNER FOR EVERYONE AT THE TABLE  by Anna Thomas is a must have for families which typically have so many food preferences it takes a spread sheet to keep track of them.  Her “Thanksgiving for Everyone”  is ideal for reuniting  a divided family table.  The way America eats is changing radically and Thomas’s suggestions are designed to work with  countless food preferences.


At almost 1,000 pages, Mark Bittman’s HOW TO COOK EVERYTHING VEGETARIAN; SIMPLE MEATLESS RECIPES FOR GREAT FOOD is a masterwork with advice on everything from  acorn squash to zucchini burgers.


A MODERN WAY  TO COOK: 150 +VEGETARIAN RECIPES FOR QUICK, FLAVOR-PACKED MEALS   by Anna Jones tackles the problems of getting a healthful vegetarian meal on the table after a long day at work.  Her  recipes are broken down by time with recipes that can be prepared in 15,20, 30, and 40 minutes.


Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, founders of the easy-to-love online kitchen and home company Food 52, have done it again.  Their  FOOD  52, A NEW WAY TO DINNER; A PLAYBOOK  OF RECIPES AND STRATEGIES FOR THE WEEK AHEAD  is the go-to book for busy people.  Their strategy  is a week’s  game plan for feeding a family of four when you have little free time.. Each week’s plan, organized seasonally,  has a  grocery list, recipes  and  a schedule showing how much time you probably will spend cooking, especially on weekends.


Uri Scheft’s BREAKING BREADS: A NEW WORLD OF ISRAELI BAKING  is fiendishly complex, but worthwhile.   Until Scheft,  Sullivan Street Bakery’s Jim Lahey was the authority many bakers counted on.  His equal is Scheft whose  Bread  Bakery (Union Square, NYC) is deservedly famous for everything from babkas to baguettes. Scheft’s techniques are demanding —at least for the novice – but the results are arguably the  most satisfying  bread you have ever enjoyed.


It’s no stretch to assume that every new book by Ina Garten,  host of the Food Nework’s Barefoot Contessa, is a reason to celebrate. COOKING FOR JEFFREY is a collections of  recipes Garten  has been cooking for her  friends  and husband of almost 50 years.  Some are traditional favorites such as filet mignon with mustard and mushrooms.  Others are newer – kale salad with pancetta and pecorino  and chipotle smashed sweet potatoes. Garten is an icon for a very good reason:  her no-fail recipes.


THERE’S ALWAYS ROOM FOR CHOCOLATE: RECIPES FROM BROOKLYN’S THE  CHOCOLATE ROOM  by Naomi Josepher, Jon Payson, and Georgia Freedman  offers  irresistible  recipes for  showstopping cakes, pies, puddings and custards.  The directions are easy to follow, especially the  techniques “to ensure perfect, beautiful, stable cakes every time.”


61p6mykwfl-_sx258_bo1204203200_DORIE’S COOKIES: THE PERFECT-COOKIE HANDBOOK, TECHIQUES, INGREDIENTS, AND GEAR by  Dorie Greenspan, is without peer.  Her recipes are easy-to-follow, even one for macarons and  “Christmasy”  pfefferneusse. The big surprise here are myriad recipes for what Greenspan calls, “cocktail cookies” savories such as Parmesan galettes that you can whip in a flash.  Greenspan is justifiably renowned and her new  book, like her others, is exceptional.


To order, visit your local bookshop or Amazon




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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