Holiday Cookbooks You Can Count On
Reviewed by Bobbie Leigh
This year’s cookbooks reflect new flavors and priorities, the basics and beyond. The big surprise and most welcome is a massive, totally updated JOY OF COOKING by John Becker and Megan Scott. The first Joy was published in 1931 and rapidly became the home cook’s bible. Becker, Irma Rombauer’s great-grandson says that while writing this edition, he has kept the needs of the home cook foremost in mind. The book is so wisely orchestrated that you can find helpful lists and strategies ranging from vegetarian and vegan recipes to how to meal prep for the week ahead. It is headed for icon status: the one cookbook you can’t live without.
Rose Levy Beranbaum, award-winning author of 11 cookbooks including the indispensable THE CAKE BIBLE has reached new culinary heights with ROSE’S BAKING BASICS, 100 ESSENTIAL RECIPES WITH MORE THAN 600 STEP-BY-STEP PHOTOS. Count on a lot more than meticulous recipes for cookies, cake, pies, and tarts. Her Breads chapter features a multigrain version with a wonderfully crunchy texture and flavors from a mixture of seeds and grains. Beranbaum admits that it is her “top favorite.” You will also find a recipe for chocolate biscotti which could be the best you have ever eaten.
Another award-winning author with a new book is Molly Stevens. Her ALL ABOUT DINNER: SIMPLE MEALS, EXPERT ADVICE offers week-night friendly 150 recipes from starters to desserts. Immensely helpful is Steven’s advice about preparing the perfect pilaf or roasted halibut with chile-lime butter sauce, As Stevens says, this dish “ feels fancy and indulgent yet takes less than 30 minutes to get on the table.”
PLENTY MORE is Yotam Ottolenghi’s follow-up to his award-winning PLENTY. It is just what his loyal fan base will love. It is organized by cooking methods such as tossed, steamed, blanched, simmered, braised for vegetables, grains, and legumes, More is more than meets the eye. “In PLENTY MORE I have aimed to capture some of the techniques involved in constructing a dish, in putting together components and arranging them in layers of flavor, texture, and color,” he says. Ottolenghi’s recipe for Super French Toast is one of many winners.
Humdrum roast chicken is a dish of Christmas Past but roast chicken can be a show-stopper. Follow Michael Ruhlman’s precise instructions in FROM SCRATCH and you will produce an instant classic. Many cooks swear their recipes are simple and easy – usually an overstatement. In contrast, Ruhlman’s techniques are easy to follow. You will especially appreciate his time management suggestions and practical tips. For example, 450 F is well above the smoke point for animal fats so it helps to have good ventilation. If not “use a lower temperature, 425 F to avoid smoking yourself out of the kitchen.”
CANAL HOUSE COOK SOMETHING: RECIPES TO RELY ON by Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer offers a crash course on no-fuss cooking with more than 300 recipes from basic to brilliant. Recently for a pot luck dinner, the host asked four friends if one of them would bring the salad. All declined with “I hate making a salad” or “ask me to bring anything except salad” and “I flunked salad long ago.” COOK SOMETHING has salad solutions from washing and storing ( wash in bowls of water, roll leaves in towels and store in an open plastic bag” to buying specific varieties. The chapter on salad greens and vinaigrettes is fundamentally classic and at the same time, thoroughly up-to-date. Typical of the simple yet sophisticated recipes is goulash Canal House style, not exciting or showy but it deserves to be part of every home cook’s repertoire
Readers of I CAN COOK VEGAN by Isa Chandra Moskowitz may emerge from their carnivore status. Moskowitz offers recipes to help inspire people to kick the meat and dairy habit to improve digestion and become better world citizens. She writes that her recipes are “made with pantry friendly ingredients that you can always have around.” After an unscientific test at a local supermarket, for the most part, her claim holds up except for Himalayan black salt which she gets online. Some of her most people-pleasing recipes are for soups, especially a garlicky white bean and asparagus soup and sweet potato soup with ginger and lime. A vegan chocolate layer cake seems like an oxymoron but Moscowitz’s version is enticing.
Christopher Kimball needs no introduction. He is a TV personality and was the producer of America’s Test Kitchen. In 2016, he created Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street. His company’s newest cookbook is MILK STREET, THE NEW RULES, RECIPES THAT WILL CHANGE THE WAY YOU COOK by Kimball and his group of writers, editors, and cooks. Break the rules, urges Kimball, who lists 75 ways to abandon what you used to think were cooking axioms. A few examples are cook pasta in its sauce, not water; start potatoes in the microwave; stop pureeing pesto; tenderize beef with baking soda. (It really works.) Kimball’s recipes reflect considerable care and thought. You can’t really mess up if you follow his directions. One superlative recipe is for fennel-brown sugar pork ribs… but warns Kimball, “ don’t substitute baby backs for St.Louis spareribs which are trimmed of excess fat and cartilage. “
MAANGCHI’S BIG BOOK OF KOREAN COOKING: FROM EVERYDAY MEALS TO CELEBRATION CUISINE by TV personality Maangchi with Martha Rose Shulman is not only for the adventurous cook. “Above all, I want this to be a user-friendly book that will satisfy all your cravings,” writes Maangchi adding that all you have to do is follow her directions step by step…”
Begin your adventure with Korean food by reading Maangchi’s section on shopping and ingredients. Then skip to the last chapter on basic cooking techniques. By now, you are ready for one of the writer’s favorites –noodle soup with kimchi seasoning, a no-fail recipe even for a beginner.
All of the recipes in Mark Hyman’s FOOD, WHAT THE HECK SHOULD I COOK are marked with one of three icons: vegan, contains grains or contains dairy. After much research, Dr. Hyman invented the Pegan Diet, a mashup of Paleo and vegan. His recipes are low-glycemic, rich in phytonutrients, good fats, fiber, and much more. If you would like to be more informed about maintaining nutritious eating habits and stocking your kitchen with wholesome ingredients, this book will give you all the tools and recipes you need, as Dr. Hyman says “….to make healthy meals at the drop of a hat.”
LIVING BREAD: TRADITION AND INNOVATION IN ARTISAN BREAD MAKING by Daniel Leader and Lauren Chattman is a joy to read. Leader, an award-winning baker for BREAD ALONE, writes about his early travels and being welcomed by master bread bakers in Europe as a young man. In his new book, he introduces you to the European bread-baking community whose stories and recipes will inspire you with their artisans’ spirit. You may never mill your own flour or attempt a complex sourdough rye bread, but at least you will meet the best of the best contemporary bread bakers.
Straight-forward advice about entertaining comes from Alex Hitz in his new THE ART OF THE HOST, RECIPES AND RULES FOR FLAWLESS ENTERTAINING. Beginning with chapters entitled “Always,” and “Never” Hitz introduces his over-the-top “things I absolutely love.” Follow his examples and you will set a beautiful table, offer your guests elegant classic dinners, and never ever run out of wine. He’s right on many counts — dinner napkins should be linen, candles are a must, and “never succumb to trends… make it look easy, even if it’s not.”
SIGNATURE DISHES THAT MATTER by Mitchell Davis is a global celebration of the restaurants that made culinary history. The book is a celebration of dishes that have withstood the test of time and the renowned restaurants and chefs who created them. Part travel guide, encyclopedia of gastronomy, and cookbook, Davis delves into culinary history with a 1686 gelato from Le Procope in Paris. He concludes with the signature dish of London chef Tomos Parry which in turn is inspired by the grilled turbot at Elkano in Spain’s Basque country. Alice Waters of Chez Panisse makes her appearance with a 1980 baked goat cheese with garden lettuces. All the recipes are included in this beautifully illustrated book, more a keepsake than learning your way around an oven.
Another keepsake is THE SILVER SPOON CLASSIC by a large group of writers and editors that begins with a how-to-section: How to Cook like an Italian.” This definitive volume of Italian cuisine will inspire cooks at all levels to experiment with recipes from various regions throughout Italy. The title derives from the phrase “born with a silver spoon in her mouth” meaning someone who was born into a rich heritage. Some of the best advice concerns planning Italian menus. Traditionally, an Italian meal had five courses whereas now the antipasto can become the main course. Other suggestions are don’t mix styles too much and a rustic first course should not be followed by something too sophisticated.
MASTERING SPICE: RECIPES AND TECHNIQUES TO TRANSFORM YOUR EVERYDAY COOKING by Lior Lev Sercarz with Genevieve Ko takes readers on a culinary journey in the world of spices. Sercarz writes: “My goal for this cookbook is simple: I want to show you how easy it is to transform everyday dishes just by adding and changing spices.” Sercarz opened his NY spice boutique, La Boite, more than a decade ago, first selling to professional chefs and now to a wider public. It is a must-visit for foodie tourists and also anyone looking for unusual gifts. (A favorite is his Pierre Poivre, a combination of eight different peppers.) For most of Sercarz’s accessible recipes, you will need a kitchen scale and a spice grinder. Try a few of his carefully curated recipes and you will be amazed at the brilliant results.
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.