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Holiday Cookbook Roundup


By Bobbie Leigh

Even if you are addicted to celebrity cooking shows or online advice from Mark Bittman or Melissa Clark, these cookbooks will add to your repertoire and come in handy when you are “shopping” in your fridge to see what’s around. Each one promises to teach you something you never knew and most will boost your cooking to a new level. All are beautifully illustrated with clear recipes, not necessarily simple, but at least easy to follow.

COOK’S ILLUSTRATED REVOLUTIONARY RECIPES: compiled by the editors of “Cook’s Illustrated,” a black-and-white ad-free magazine started in 1993 along with the America’s Test Kitchen cooking show on TV. The editors and chefs at Cook’s Illustrated are celebrating their 25th anniversary with this collection of groundbreaking recipes.  Every recipe has been empirically and scientifically tested.  What distinguishes them from most others are what could be dubbed “aha moments.” In a recipe for beef stew, “a couple of teaspoons of gelatin stirred into the stew at the end of cooking, offers rich body.”   Who would have thought of that except scientifically minded cooks who try dozens of recipes and many trials before perfecting something totally original? Another sublime and successful innovation is to add most of the liquid at the beginning of making risotto which decreases the time you need to stand and stir.  As Andrea Geary writes: “…extra butter, a few herbs, and a squeeze of lemon juice, and I had a perfectly creamy, velvety, and just barely chewy risotto –without going stir crazy.”

MILK STREET, Tuesday Nights: Christopher Kimball

Every busy person will appreciate the way Kimball has organized his terrific new book.  As Kimball writes in his introduction “Some chapters focus on time—Fast, Faster, and Fastest — others highlight simple methods or themes” such as one-pot recipes and “easy additions.”  Milk Street is indispensable for its advice about ingredients that make cooking easier and more flavorful.  Consider a chicken teriyaki that takes about 35 minutes to prepare, uses what you probably already have in your pantry, and with a few chicken thighs from your freezer, you can outdo your local Japanese restaurant.  Kimball, the bow-tied avatar of American cooking, was the founder of the magazine “Cooks Illustrated” in 1993, a black-and-white ad-free magazine and America’s Test Kitchen TV. His new company, Milk Street, is named after the street in Boston’s financial district where Kimball has set up offices and studios after a stormy departure from America’s Test Kitchens.

AMERICAN COOKIE: The Snaps, Drops, Jumbles, Tea Cakes, And Bars & Brownies that We Have Loved for Generations: Anne Byrne

Who needs madeleines with Anne Byrne at your side.  In her new book, Byrne presents small bites, the stuff of American memory and history.  With each recipe, she presents historical background and recipes popular in years gone by.  If you yearn for an authentic girl scout cookie, Byrne has a 1922 recipe, updated and much improved.  This is a fun book to read, especially for culinary history buffs. Byrne whips up a detailed historical experience alongside every recipe.  She writes that even Grandma Moses wrote a macaroon recipe in her 1870s journal.    Another highlight is a simplified oatmeal raisin cookie that is “as relevant today as it was more than a century ago.”  Bryn’s bite-sized treats aren’t just baked goods.  They recall where our favorite sweets –Tollhouse cookies and brownies to name just a few – came from.  In her new book, you learn how to make America’s best-loved bite-sized desserts and the history behind them.

THE COOK’S ATELIER: Recipes, Techniques, and Stories from our French Cooking School: Marjorie Taylor and Randall Smith Francine.

Taylor and Smith, American expats who are a mother and daughter team and Smith’s husband Francine, run a cooking school in Beaune, France.  Beaune is a charming medieval city where the authors decided to live and eat like the French taking advantage of the great food and wine of the region. As much a cookbook as a story about how to live, cook and dine as the French do, this is one of the best guides for Americans who wish to introduce elements of French dining into their everyday lives. The recipes are seasonal, beautifully illustrated, and tempting.  They require the freshest ingredients and a willingness to forgo substitutes. The authors insist on heavy cream, high-fat butter, and whole milk and avoiding paper towels and plastic wrap whenever possible.  One valuable take away from Atelier is how to store whole vanilla beans in glass jars filled with vodka.  The recipes are equally original. If you can’t get to Beaune for their cooking school, their book is the next best thing.

LOVE REAL FOOD, More than 100 Feel-Good Vegetarian Favorites to Delight the Senses and Nourish the Body: Kathryn Taylor.

An avid dog-lover, Taylor who blogs at Cookie and Kate, has a page listing foods that are toxic to dogs.  (Cookie is her beloved mutt.) Her recipe for the rest of us are not what you would expect in a vegetarian cookbook.  No attempt is made to make a foie grass out of substitutes.  There’s not a whiff of “hippie-dom.”  Her approach is casual and informal.    In her “Happy Hour” chapter Taylor excels with fresh sesame soba spring rolls with peanut dipping sauce and the Mexican inspired Pico de Gallo.  Rather than use chopped tomatoes, Kate opts for fresh pineapple and red bell pepper.  No surprise but a few cocktails such as a spicy cucumber margarita are included.   True, Real Food is a vegetarian cookbook, but carnivores will also appreciate Kate’s ingenuity and professionalism.

EVERYDAY DORIE: The Way I Cook: Dorie Greenspan

“The recipes in this book are for the food I make all the time. It’s the food of weekdays and weekends ….” writes Greenspan in her introduction adding that she no longer has a handful of rules as she did when she started out. “These days I have only one rule: There must be dessert!”   Her recipes are not complicated. Greenspan’s tangerine-topped cheesecake, to cite just one example, is a snap. It serves 16 and can be popped in the freezer after a long bake.  Unglazed the cake can be wrapped airtight and frozen for up to two months, then defrosted overnight in the fridge. Another showstopper and just as easy to prepare is Greenspan’s miso-glazed salmon. Greenspan’s recipes also have “light-bulb moments” that will elevate your dishes from every day to spectacular.  This is a must-have gem.

SIMPLE: A Cookbook;  Yotam  Ottolenghi with Tara Wigley and Esme Howarth

Israeli-British chef  Ottolenghi has a cult following in England, the U.S. and Australia. He owns several restaurants, writes for the NY Times, and is active in social media.  His newest book is geared for the cook who might be short on time, prefers 10 ingredients or less, and would appreciate recipes that can be made a day or two ahead, kept in the fridge, ready to be warmed through or brought back to room temperature before serving.  Most helpful is a list of 10 ingredients to have on hand that can improve almost any dish such as sweet-potato fried enlivened by a tablespoon of sumac. Another surprise is adding dark chocolate to slow-cooked chicken with a corn crust.  What’s best about Ottolenghi’s highly tested recipes is that in effect he holds your hand at every step.  Most of your questions are answered. Better yet, his choice of flavors and seasonings will deepen your understanding of how to be a better cook.



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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