Sure, I like to curl up with a good cookbook. That’s why I enjoy ones that balance the recipes with narrative. The narrative in Shaw Rabadi’s Savor the Spices of Life (Food for Thought) starts out like a spy thriller and ends up exhorting you in the nicest possible way to take another look at the way you cook for the betterment of your health. Rabadi, chef-owner of BFS Restaurant in Guilderland, offers a refinement of the Mediterranean rich in flavor, low in all the bad stuff. Find the book at his restaurant and in local bookstores. It’s ring-bound for kitchen-counter convenience, which means that Barnes & Noble, according to corporate policy, won’t carry it. But they’ll make an exception on a local basis, right? Wrong. The magic of big-box stores.
Although American Flavor by Andrew Carmellini (ecco) purports to focus on domestic dining, it reminds us that we’re really poly-gluttons. Carmellini’s acclaimed NYC eatery the Dutch made its name serving this compelling mix of foodstuffs, the development of which is detailed in a fascinating intro. Then on to Mac-‘n-Cheese Stuffed Meatloaf, Lamb Chili with Chickpeas and Raita, Wax Beans with Popcorn and Parmesan and more why-didn’t-I-think-of-this fare.
How about a potato-chip omelet? That’s one of the novel items fed to the staff at El Bulli, acclaimed as the world’s finest restaurant. It closed earlier this year (it never turned a profit), but chef Ferran Adrià’s The Family Meal (Phaidon) gives a month’s worth of daily three-course dinners, lavishly step-by-step illustrated. Beautiful and inspiring!
Two similarly gorgeous restaurant-centered books are Eleven Madison Park by Daniel Humm and Will Guidara (Little, Brown) and Bluestem: The Cookbook by Colby Garrelts and Megan Garrelts (Andrew McMeel). Eleven Madison Park is an oversized volume that screams to live on the coffee table, with the most breathtaking food photos since Charlie Trotter’s gustatory porn of a few years back. Bluestem’s recipes feel a little more home-cook accessible, with a nice seasonal contextualization of it all.
Traveling around the Mediterranean, we find Food From Many Greek Kitchens by Tessa Kiros (Andrews McMeel) which, although short on narrative, offers such a variety of dishes (nicely photographed) that it’s the kind of tome that makes you antsy to cook. I’ve already had a great success with the baklava recipe.
He’s photographed to a fare-thee-well within, and titles one of the chapters “Dude. Preserved Lemons.” Nevertheless, Mourad Lahlou knows how to put an arm over your shoulder and lead you into the kitchen, which is the feeling you get from Mourad: New Moroccan (Artisan). A more classical look at the cuisine comes through A Month in Marrakesh by Andy Harris (Hardie Grant)—ready for Roasted Lamb Shoulder with Orange and Honey Syrup?
Phaidon Press has had great success with The Silver Spoon (and its offshoots) and Recipes from an Italian Summer. This year’s treat is Tuscany, a city-by-city tour of recipes, background and photographs. You know it’s good when it can demystify the classic peasant soup ribollita.
Let’s get down to basics. The supermarket meat counter is scary these days; better to buy your meat from a farmer you know. In which case, The Art of Beef Cutting by Kari Underly (Wiley) shows you, step-by-step, how to break down that steer—and why particular cuts respond to cooking the way they do. Great just for an understanding of the biology of carnivorousness.
Two of the mothership books are back. The Professional Chef, Ninth Edition (Wiley) is what’s used at the Culinary Institute of America. I haven’t seen it since edition six, and it’s been intelligently rethought and redesigned to make the techniques and recipes (now presented together) more accessible. Escoffier: Le Guide Culinaire (Wiley) was one of two books I was handed when I started my kitchen training (the other was Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking), but it was an earlier Escoffier version. This new one is what the master chef meant us to have—although you still need to know what you’re doing to get started with his recipes.
Staying in France, Ginette Mathiot’s I Know How to Cook is that country’s Joy of Cooking, so her take on pâtisserie is long-awaited. The Art of French Baking (Phaidon) presents her 20-year-old classic newly translated, a bible of techniques and recipes that well may inspire you make your own puff pastry.
What promises to be a more comforting guide (geared, that is, more for beginners) is Le Cordon Bleu Patisserie and Baking Foundations (Cengage). Coming from the international cooking school, if the about-to-be-published volume is like its predecessors, it takes a teacherly approach (with hands-on illustrations) to ease you through this most scientific aspect of the culinary arts.
But if you really want to show your gift-giving love, pony up for a boxed set of Le Cordon Bleu Cuisine Foundations Gift Package (Cengage). This lavish set includes Cuisine Foundations, detailing all the techniques you’ll need to get through Escoffier, and Cuisine Foundations Recipes, so you don’t need Escoffier after all. It’s handsomely packaged with an official Cordon Bleu side towel, which will drive your kitchen-loving recipient stark, raving fou.