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Artful Table: Cookbooks 2021

By Bobbie Leigh

If we’re going to be sequestered again this coming year as a precaution against whatever new virus is raging,  one way to make the best of it is to cook, bake, and eat well.

Here are some cookbooks that will  encourage you to be adventurous in the kitchen… and at the same time,  enjoy experimenting with new flavors and foods.

BITTMAN BREAD: NO-KNEAD  WHOLE GRAIN BAKING  FOR EVERY DAY  by  Mark Bittman and Kerri Conan

Making the best bread mostly means two things: mastering natural starter –usually  called “sourdough,”  though it’s not necessarily sour – and using real whole grains, according to  the co-authors. Their  book unfolds in six progressive chapters beginning with how to make starter, mastering timing and technique, and ending with  wildly varied pizzas, flatbreads, and drop-dead  delicious cinnamon rolls.

EVERYDAY DINNERS: REAL-LIFE RECIPES TO SET YOUR FAMILY UP FOR A WEEK OF SUCCESS by Jessica Merchant

Little prep  and simple ingredients that can come together quickly are essential for a working mom with little kids like Merchant.  Her advice to time-crushed  moms is to set aside a  ten- minute  meal prep daily.  For example, her prep for seared scallops with tomato cream sauce involves  making the sauce a day before   and simply reheating it. The scallops cook in minutes  and with her brown butter sauce,  they  have a caramel-inspired  flavor.

MAGNOLIA  TABLE: A COLLECTION OF RECIPES FOR GATHERING by Joanna Gaines

In her first cookbook, Gaines presented family favorites  that she cooked for her husband and four kids. Here she concentrates on what she calls “the art of gathering,” making her home and table  a place  where  guests want to settle in and stay awhile. Her recipes  are easy to follow, not too adventurous, and complicated.  Aside from  her  can’t  fail  honey garlic chicken with pineapple,  another  standout  is strawberry pie with a graham cracker crust and fresh strawberries.  (Like your mother, she uses sweetened condensed milk.)

SHEET PAN CHICKEN: 50 SIMPLE AND SATISFYING WAYS TO COOK DINNER by Cathy Erway

Why the sheet pan and not the  trendy air fryer or hot pot?  Erway says a sheet pan is the “no-nonsense industrial workhorse for the home kitchen, conveniently built to maximize your sauced and seasoned ingredients, expose them  to hot air,  and  create bronzed surfaces and crisp bottoms.  The James Beard award winning Erway  is at her best suggesting different combinations of veggies, grains,  and  spices  to accompany  you plan to roast on a sheet pan.  Be aware, she emphasizes,  that a sheet pan should not be confused with a  flat, rimless baking sheet.  One of Erway’s  best recipes is for  chicken with apricots, fennel, and honey with whole grain mustard  creating  the perfect balance  between  savory and sweet.

CHEESE, WINE, AND BREAD: DISCOVERING THE MAGIC OF FERMENTATION IN ENGLAND, ITALY, AND FRANCE by Katie Quinn

Understanding what fermentation is and does  will  improve your shopping and eating.    Quinn has  in-depth knowledge about cheese  culture and wine growing.  Part cookbook and part travelogue,   she is a good  story-teller  and instructor. If you want to make the  best mac and cheese ever,  follow her  unconventional  suggesting by adding a hefty swig of ale.

AMERICAN CAKE : FROM COLONIAL  GINGERBREAD TO CLASSIC LAYER, THE STORIES AND RECIPIES by Anne Byrn

As you make   your way through chapters starting with baking cakes in   early America 1650-1799  up to the present,   you will be surprised by what has been forgotten and what has endured.  In the latter category the knockout  is  Silver Palate’s  carrot cake from the 1970s.  Byrn’s  penultimate  chapter is  Cakes Born in  the USA.  “The cakes of the ‘80s were surprising and bold —flourless almond cakes, plum tortes, and chocolate cakes so dense and creamy you ate them with a spoon.”  Those cakes have a sweetness spectrum—not too sweet in the beginning, then very sweet.  As for  cakes from 2000 to the present: “…fresher and local have replaced gourmet and grandiose.”

COOKING ONCE: DINNER FIX by Cassy Joy Garcia

Here’s a rare cookbook that shows you how to use leftovers from one dish  and  use them to cook a completely different meal the next day. Garcia has also  crammed her book with impressive time-saving kitchen tips. One of the best is how to shave off significant time baking potatoes.  Another is all the various foods to make ahead.   As she writes: “ Just about every sauce under the sun  is totally fine to make ahead.”

CLAUDIA RODEN’S MEDITERRANEAN: TREASURED RECIPES FROM A LIFETIME OF TRAVEL  by Claudia Roden.

From appetizers to desserts,  world-renowned  food writer Roden’s recipes from across the Mediterranean bring joy and pleasure.  This is a book to treasure, not just the terrific recipes, updated versions of  classics but  also    unfamiliar traditional  Mediterranean specialties.  “The aim of this book is to highlight what to me is the best of the Mediterranean and adapt it for the way we like to eat today,” writes Roden.

Her recipe for vegetable couscous is  incredibly inviting. It  looks complex but it is really easy and ready for a crowd, garnished with her  fragrant  Moroccan tomato relish, sweetened with honey and  rose water.

BAKING WITH DORIE: SWEET, SALTY, & SIMPLE by Dorie Greenspan

With this new book, Greenspan now has published 14 cookbooks, each a people-pleasing endeavor.  Dubbed  the  “Queen of Cookies,” Greenspan  loves surprises and  writes that she  builds them into lots of recipes. She wants her readers to “play around.”  Give this a gift for anyone who wants to pepper the classics  with  new ideas.  She suggests, by way of example, that  you  try  snippets of pitted Niçoise olives in her olive -oil brownies.  Greenspan’s  no-fail seven recipes for  pie doughs are a tribute to  her  ingenuity and expertise.  Follow her suggestions  and the end result  will be  more confidence at the stove and happiness at the dining table.

 

 

 

 

 

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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