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New offerings give cookbook lovers a reason to rejoice

The new cookbooks are here!

And for cookbook lovers, there is no better time of year. This fall's batch has some heavy-hitters vying for your attention and holiday-shopping dollars.

Do we need new cookbooks? Probably not. Magazines and the Internet overflow with recipes and cooking tips (as do our own bookshelves). Yet we covet cookbooks, especially new ones, for the possibilities they embody and the color photographs that make us alternately hungry and giddy.

This fall there are new books from the ladies we love (or love to hate): Martha Stewart, Giada De Laurentiis, Rachael Ray and Ina Garten. Uber-bakers Flo Braker, Shirley O. Corriher and Nick Malgieri have authored books that will make you want to crank up the oven. The baking season looms, you know.

There are door-stoppers with 1,000-plus recipes from Bon Appetit magazine and food writer Mark Bittman, whose revised, 10th anniversary issue of How to Cook Everything (Wiley, $35) purports to be the only cookbook you need. Bittman has nothing on the late James Beard, the "dean of American cookery." The 60th anniversary collectors' edition of Beard's The Fireside Cook Book: The Classic Guide to Fine Cooking for Beginner and Expert (Simon & Schuster, $30) is as valuable as a historical tome as it is a cookbook. New illustrations from Alice and Martin Provensen capture the '50s in joyous whimsy; Bittman wrote the introduction.

Among the books by big names and celebrity chefs are lesser-known gems worth a look-see. Beatrice Ojakangas' The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever (Chronicle Books, $24.95) is a sheer retro delight. Its 500-plus recipes, most with contemporary sensibilities, are inspiring. People preparing meals for families will especially like this one.

Miami chef Michelle Bernstein's Cuisine a Latina (Houghton Mifflin, $30) is an amalgam of recipes from the Jewish-Latina chef with classic French training. It's a taste of authenticity with a global accent. Many of the recipes are from her Michy's Miami Kitchen.

Then there's Puff (Chronicle Books, $19.95) by Portland Oregonian food editor Martha Holmberg. The puff in the title refers to puff pastry, and Holmberg has developed 50 recipes using the versatile French dough. She shows you how to make it from scratch, but nearly every recipe can be prepared with the frozen variety. Puff is a delicious offering from the publisher who produces the genre's most interesting and unique cookbooks, among them the 2002 book Everything Tastes Better with Bacon by Sara Perry.

Speaking of fat, that's the title of the book that we predict will be a big award winner at next year's James Beard and International Association of Culinary Professionals competitions. Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient by Jennifer McLagan (Ten Speed Press, $32.50) sings the praises of the much-maligned flavor-mate. Hooray for the author who says we need it in our diet! But we didn't need a medical reason; she had us at cookies made with bacon grease. Fat is well-researched and beautifully photographed, down to the raw chops on the cover that are more about pure white fat than red meat.

The following are our five favorite cookbooks published in the last few months. They lured us in with photos and classy design and got us to stay with engaging writing, helpful instruction and enticing recipes.

We are sorry to say that Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics (Potter, $35) is not among them. We love Ina Garten's show on the Food Network and her other books, especially Barefoot in Paris. But the new book is too basic and doesn't showcase Garten's usual spark and spin. We've seen most of the recipes before and scratched our heads at the one for baked potatoes.

Janet K. Keeler can be reached at jkeeler@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8586.

Best of basics

Martha Stewart's Cooking School: Lesson and Recipes for the Home Cook (Potter, $45). This is not an inexpensive book, but it is set apart from others like it by the step-by-step photos illustrating dozens of techniques. It has meticulous Martha written all over it. This is a surefire go-to guide for people who already love to cook and want to up their game. It doesn't come with a culinary school certificate, but those who make their way through it should get congratulations.

Best of baking

The Modern Baker: Time-Saving Techniques for Breads, Tarts, Pies, Cakes and Cookies by Nick Malgieri (DK, $35). The former pastry chef at Windows on the World and author of eight other books is a confident guide. We suppose there are time-saving tips here, but we like Modern Baker for its sophistication and its equal attention to savory and sweet. It's a collector book, for sure. Also new and notable are Baking for All Occasions by Flo Braker (Chronicle, $35) and BakeWise by Shirley O. Corriher (Scribner, $40).

Best of healthy cooking

Real Food for Healthy Kids by Tracey Seaman and Tanya Wenman Steel (William Morrow, $29.95). A lot of healthy-eating cookbooks crossed our desk this year, but this one stood out for its family-friendly approach and modern sensibilities. It salutes home cooking while encouraging adults to widen the offerings they give to children. This book goes well beyond chicken nuggets, mac-and-cheese and hot dogs and for that we give it a standing O. No photographs but we can live with that. Many of the recipes can be made by children with adult supervision.

Best outside the box

Heirloom Cooking with the Brass Sisters, Queens of Comfort Food by Marilynn Brass and Sheila Brass (Black Dog & Leventhal; $29.95). Maybe we've not been paying close enough attention to regional PBS shows, but we don't know much about the Brass sisters of Boston. However, one look at their book and them on the cover and we know we'd like to be cooking in the kitchen with them. We'll bet Sheila was wearing the Harry Potter glasses before the boy wizard himself. The sisters have dipped into the archives of recipe boxes and company cooking pamphlets to resurrect beloved American recipes and update them for the modern kitchen. We are especially smitten by the reproduction of handwritten recipes in the back of the book.

Best of quick cooking

Two Dudes One Pan: Maximum Flavors from a Minimalist Kitchen by Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo (Potter, $24.95). Okay, we're slightly swayed by the fact that Dotolo is a Clearwater native and a graduate of Countryside High. Shook is also from Florida, and the two made a name for themselves as caterers in Los Angeles who got noticed by the Food Network. The book stands on its own though and will be especially interesting to a new generation of muscular cooks, and that doesn't just mean guys. Skillet zucchini gratin is "blistered" and brussels sprouts are "creamed." The duo reminds us of Brit Jamie Oliver with skate- boards.

>>moderate

Chicken Fried Stuffing

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 large celery rib, finely chopped

1 bunch scallions, trimmed and finely chopped

3 (loosely packed) cups torn whole wheat sandwich bread (about 6 ounces)

2 cups chopped cooked chicken

1 small apple, peeled, cored, and finely diced

2/3 cup pitted prunes, chopped (optional)

1 large egg

1/2 cup canned low-sodium chicken broth

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Lemon wedges or ranch dressing for serving

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the celery and scallions and cook, stirring until softened, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl, add the bread, chicken, apple and prunes, if using, and stir to blend. Add the egg, broth, salt, thyme and pepper and mix until thoroughly incorporated. Take a handful of the mixture and form into a 1/2-inch-thick patty and place on a plate lined with wax paper. Repeat with the remaining mixture to form 7 more patties.

Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and the olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat, add the patties and cook until golden underneath, about 4 minutes. Flip with a spatula and cook 4 minutes more. Serve with lemon wedges or dressing.

Makes 8 patties. Serves 4 to 6.

Source: Real Food for Healthy Kids by Tracey Seaman and Tanya Wenman Steel (William Morrow, 2008; $29.95)

>>easy

Spinach-Artichoke Dip
With Grilled Bread

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

6 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 (15-ounce) can water-packed artichoke hearts, drained and quartered

6 ounces fresh spinach (about 4 cups)

8 ounces cream cheese

1/2 to 3/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 baguette, sliced 1/3 inch thick on a diagonal

6 tablespoons olive oil

Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cool until it becomes fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the artichokes and the spinach and cook, stirring often, until the spinach wilts, 3 minutes.

Stir in the cream cheese and mix until it is thoroughly combined with the spinach and artichokes (if the mixture seems too thick, add 1 or 2 tablespoons of water). Mix in the Parmigiano-Reggiano and salt, and scrape the dip into a serving bowl.

Wipe the skillet clean and place over medium-high heat. Drizzle or brush both sides of the bread with the olive oil. Toast the bread in the skillet in batches until both sides are golden, 3 to 4 minutes total (or toast the bread in a 400-degree oven). Serve the toasted bread with the dip.

Serves 8.

Source: Two Dudes One Pan: Maximum Flavors from a Minimalist Kitchen by Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo (Potter, 2008; $24.95)

New offerings give cookbook lovers a reason to rejoice 11/11/08 [Last modified: Friday, November 14, 2008 10:29am]

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