Spring 2016 Cookbooks
Who doesn't love a new cookbook? This spring there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of them and quite a stack has ended up on my desk. I've done my best to do some triage and identify a few new titles that I think are worth your ingredients and some of your cookbook shelf space.
While I'm not inclined to like cookbooks by chefs -- all too often they are more about the chefs than your kitchen -- two new ones are completely contrary to that and just might make you a better and happier cook. Three other books are superior takes on DIY, and just in time for our summer markets and all their bounty. And finally, I wanted to tell you about one that is not about food at all but securely and superbly in the category of domesticity.
Basque: Spanish Recipes from San Sebastián & Beyond by José Pizarro
The Basque Country is a triangular-shaped region of Spain located in the western Pyrenees, spanning the border with France on the Atlantic coast. While much of what non-Spaniards may know about the region is due to the politics of nationalism, in Basque, José Pizarro's gorgeous new book (Hardie Grant, ©2016, hardcover, 256 pages, color photographs, $39.95), we brook no thought of political disputes and instead celebrate the region's glorious flavors.
José Pizarro is a Spanish chef who has lived and cooked in London for the past 16 years. Today he has three popular restaurants and has published two previous cookbooks about Spanish cuisine. He declares a particular affection for San Sebastián, a small city with more three-star Michelin restaurants than anywhere else in Europe. But those accolades aside, it is the city's tapas-serving pintxos bars, and its welcoming, simple restaurants that Basque celebrates. After cooking from it for the past month, I am swooning.
Pizarro organized the book rather unconventionally in four chapters: meat, fish, vegetables and desserts. The recipes are not overly complex but never shy: He marinates and pan grills little quails then dresses them with quickly pickled shallots; pairs slices of roast pumpkin with salty sheep's cheese; piles thin slices of piquillo peppers and anchovies on top of grilled baby gems lettuces; mashes white beans with garlic and rosemary-tinged olive oil to serve alongside juicy pork chops; pan-grills octopus with a riot of roasted peppers and eggplant; adds chestnuts to a creamy flan and mint to ice cream. The flavors just go on and on.
This beautiful book, rich with photographs of both the food and the region, has an exuberance that immediately seduces your appetite. But because Chef Pizzaro has written a book about home cooking, the recipes are all accessible -- some are remarkably simple -- putting the traditional and popular food of this region easily within reach.
We've been given permission to share two recipes: Grilled Asparagus with Idiazábal Smoked Cheese (which I included in my Easter dinner menu to high praise), and Spinach & Goat's Cheese Croquetas, which exemplify Basque tapas. While some of the ingredients may require some sourcing (although I found Idiazábal cheese at both Zabar's and Murray's, and white anchovies at Whole Foods) or special orders (Citarella usually has quail but needs a special order for partridge), most are commonplace in our markets.
The enthusiastic spirit and gorgeous photos of this book made me wish for the time and money to fly to San Sebastián, but as the next best thing, I'm glad to have this cookbook. For anyone who loves to eat and cook Spanish food, this volume is highly recommended.
The Furniture Bible by Christophe Pourny
A few weeks ago I went to a trade show at NYC's Javits Center called NY NOW. I was looking for new kitchen and cookware trends but most of what was exhibited were decorative items -- things like throw pillows, plastic housewares, trendy costume jewelry, and other things that are mostly, inevitably, disposable. But in the midst of all this stuff doomed for a landfill, I came upon Christophe Pourny's fascinating display about furniture care and restoration, including his line of furniture care products. The quality, craft, and artistry of his work was evident but then he showed me his recent book, The Furniture Bible (Artisan Books, ©2014, hardcover, 304 pages, color photographs, $35.00) with over 500 color photographs and illustrations and painstakingly detailed information about buying, taking care of, repairing, and restoring furniture.
Descended from a long line of artisans, trained by his father who restored antiques at his atelier in the south of France, and by his uncle who ran a legendary antique shop on rue Jacob in Paris, Christophe Pourny is today in high demand as a restorer of fine furniture out of his own studio in Brooklyn. Most of us may not ever get to work with such a restorer, but his book is a beautiful, useful, and inspiring technical manual that shares with a wider audience much of what he knows, from buying furniture at auctions, to waxing and painting, doing reupholstery and your own repairs and restoration, how to choose and use tools, and how to keep furniture at its best.
You don't need to have fancy furniture to have this book be really useful. Equal parts how-to scholarship and evangelical inspiration, the book is helped by illustrative color photographs plus charming drawings done by Mr. Pourny of furniture styles over the centuries. So if you're about to invest in a new piece of furniture, made a recent find at a flea market, or are trying to decide what to do with something you already own or recently inherited, The Furniture Bible could be a very smart first reference.
At a time when so much of what we live with is disposable, or made in China with planned obsolescence, it is reassuring that there are still artisans who can show us another way.
Foolproof Preserving: A Guide To Small Batch Jams, Jellies, Pickles, Condiments & More From America's Test Kitchen
I think urban cooks don't do more food preservation because of a dusty notion of Midwestern farm wives during the Depression "putting up" a winter's worth of food. Images of a bushel of tomatoes being processed by a battery of workers has probably convinced more than a few of us that food preservation is A) only done in vast quantities, and B) for survival more than taste.
I began canning tomatoes about six years ago and have since added roasted plums, red pepper jelly, and jarred apricots to my annual summer canning weekends. But I would be lying if I said it has been easy to figure out how to make food preservation work in my small kitchen. It's been a matter of learning scale, equipment, and storage -- especially storing the big canning pot and then all those glass jars, first when they're empty and then when they're full. Plus this is more science than art; you must do it safely and even if you don't create a botulism stew, the science is what separates crispy pickles from soggy ones. This is no place for a cook's creative improv. We need to know what we're doing and be precise.
America's Test Kitchen has added an outstanding new resource with their new book, Foolproof Preserving (America's Test Kitchen, ©2016, paperback, 320 pages, color photographs, $26.95). And if there's ever been a time in our kitchens when we really need ATK's experience, precision and clarity, this is it.
The book begins with a detailed chapter called "ATK's Guide To Home Preserving." Every home canner should read this, mark it up, underline, and re-read it each time you pull out your water canner. It will make you fluent in the language of canning with a step-by-step guide, how pectin works with fruit and how vegetables are pickled, key ingredients, what goes into your DIY canning kit, and much more. This is the chapter that will give you the foundation for preservation so that you will work safely and get the best, most flavorful results.
This chapter is followed by six ingredient-specific ones: sweet jams and jellies, savory jams and chutneys, pickles, tomatoes year-round, fruit in syrup, and condiments and fruit butters. There are more than 100 recipes including Quince Butter, Sriracha, Red Enchilada Sauce, Sour Dill Pickles, South Indian Pickled Eggplant, Bacon Jam, Dilly Beans, Red Pepper Jelly, Mulled Cider Jelly, Spiced Apricot Chutney, Classic Peach Jam, and Summer Tomato Sauce (and wouldn't you love that next February?).
We wanted to share a couple of recipes from the book but had to choose ones that you could make without needing all the instructions that are essential for many of the recipes. So if for you, preservation = canning, all the more that you should buy this book. But in the meantime, you can try Whole-Grain Mustard, a preservative-free pantry staple; you can control its level of spiciness plus it has a six-month refrigerated shelf life, making it definitely worth the trouble. Quick Sweet and Spicy Pickled Red Onions are easy to make and a tasty addition to sandwiches, salads, tacos, burgers, and more.
If you've always wanted to do canning and other food preservation but were intimidated, this is your summer to start.
Fermented: A Beginner's Guide to Making Your Own Sourdough, Yogurt, Sauerkraut, Kefir, Kimchi, and More by Charlotte Pike
Another new book about DIY covers different territory. In this case it's about fermentation. As we strive to better know exactly what we're eating, many of us are also trying to use food to be healthier, including our digestive health.
Fermented (Kyle Books, ©2015, hardcover, 160 pages, color photography by Tara Fisher, $24.95) by Charlotte Pike focuses on six types of food that share some degree of fermentation but are in fact vastly different: Fruit & Vegetables, Yogurt & Labneh, Beans & Legumes, Sourdough Baking, Drinks, and Preserves. Unlike a general book about food preservation, this book is more specific, teaching us the process of fermentation and also the flavors that this naturally occurring process creates.
Ms. Pike, a graduate of the famed Irish Ballymaloe Cookery School, an author and teacher, and owner/operator of a "free-from" bakery in Dorset, England, writes how nearly every culture has some fermenting tradition -- such as Korea's kimchi, Middle Eastern labneh, and Europe's fermented cabbage and pickles. Fermentation also has health benefits, creating natural probiotics so it's a two-in-one: the pleasure of the flavors and a happier gut. There are recipes for fruit vinegars, chutneys, homemade vinegar, kombucha juice drinks, sauerkraut, homemade za'atar, and many more, and most are surprisingly easy, requiring little equipment or space.
I was particularly impressed by the sourdough chapter. Beginning with a sourdough starter, the book takes us to White Sourdough Bread, Rye Sourdough, Sourdough Saj (a flatbread), Sourdough Hot Cross Buns, Sourdough Christmas Cake, Sourdough Stollen, Spiced Apple Sourdough Crumble Cake, Sourdough Carrot Cake, Sourdough Chocolate Cake, Sourdough Chocolate Muffins, and Sourdough Cinnamon Buns. All from a few ounces of Sourdough Levain.
We're sharing the book's recipe for Kimchi, a dish of spicy pickled cabbage that in Korean cuisine is served at almost every meal, plus Ms. Pike's instruction for how to sterilize its glass storage jar.
Cooking, Blokes + Artichokes: A Modern Man's Kitchen Handbook by Brendan Collins
British chef Brendan Collins was raised by parents who were pub managers and grandparents who had lived through the scarcity of WWII and post-war England, classically trained in French technique, worked at some of London's finest restaurants, and earned a Michelin star before moving to Los Angeles where he earned two more before opening his own restaurants and cooking for his own family at home.
Cooking, Blokes + Artichokes (an inexplicable title) is his first book (Kyle Books, ©2016, hardcover, 192 pages, color photographs, $29.95) and while it says it's been written for the modern man, after cooking from it for the past month, I can vouch that there are no gender barriers in this eminently cook-able book that's full of foods that anyone would happily eat.
Written in a fun, feisty, guy-to-guy style, the book begins with the essential toolkit. Now lots of cookbooks include such a list but Collins names brands, guides on what things should cost, even suggests where to get the best bargains. He also writes, "I'd rather you invest in good-quality basics than stuff your kitchen full of every last strawberry huller, fondue kit, bread machine, Panini press, and electric peppermill." Amen.
The 100 recipes begin with a pub drink (a Shandy); gives you ways to add flavor with flavor bombs like Pickled Mustard Seeds and Caramelized Onion Compote; teaches how to make great sandwiches which he "personally rank[s] above the steam engine;" raises snack food to a worthy status with recipes like Whipped Lardo, Sriracha Deviled Eggs, and Pork Scratchings; makes roasting whole fish easy while also showing his British roots with Fish and Chips and his California chops with Quinoa and Shellfish Paella; gives us duck four ways (including the eggs) and showcases pork, his favorite meat, with Pressure Cooker Cassoulet, Thai Spiced Pork Belly, and for the virtuosos, Roasted Pig's Head; he has vegetables and salads like a dreamy Roasted Winter Vegetable and Burrata Salad, some of those artichokes mentioned in the book's title, these cooked with bacon, and three recipes each for cauliflower and potatoes, including proper Triple-Cooked Chips.
He finishes the book with what he calls Special Days -- menus and recipes for A Summer Cookout with Lamb Burgers and Corn on the Cob with Chile-Lime Butter and more, Game Day with a menu that includes Homemade Pita Bread and Spiced Yogurt Dip (instead of Doritos and salsa), and an English Christmas complete with A Joint of Beef and Yorkshire Pudding. Like a good meal, the book ends with Pudding, what we yanks call dessert -- cakes, tarts, pies, ice cream, and even an Eton Mess.
The book is cast as a guide for men, and I have no doubt that blokes would enjoy it, as they would its recipe for Dead-Easy Pork Ribs With Palm Sugar Glaze, which we've included here. While nothing is dumbed down, Collins gives us accessible cooking with big flavors that are created using techniques that work in our home kitchens. He tells you when to fuss, when to get help from store-bought items, what's good for weeknight cooking, and what to showcase for friends. Throughout there is his earnest, plain-talking (at times, unabashedly plain) voice, as he shares what he's learned from his more than twenty years in professional and his own home kitchens. It's an entertaining, you-can-do-it book, excellent for a new cook or a still-getting-brave cook, bloke or not.
The Field To Table Cookbook: Gardening, Foraging, Fishing & Hunting by Susan L. Ebert
So why is The City Cook including a book about hunting and fishing for your own food in its spring cookbook wrap-up? Point made, except that while most of us do our foraging at Fairway or the Park Slope Food Coop, an increasing large number of us are not letting boxes from Blue Apron or our city zip codes keep us from the good eating and good practices that can come from sourcing our own food.
The Field To Table Cookbook (Welcome Books, ©2016, hardcover, 288 pages, color photographs, $40.00) by Susan L. Ebert provides practical advice and appetizing recipes for a more ambitious kind of DIY. In her useful, handsome, and inspiring book, Ebert gives us instructions for when to fish for which species, how to do year-round organic gardening, how to forage for local nuts, berries, roots, and leaves, and the basics of hunting for food. Are you living in a neighborhood that lets you raise your own chickens? You should consider Ebert's advice on what she calls "Backyard Poultry." Plus, to help you know what to do with your food once you source it, there are 150 recipes, seasonal menus, and instructions for preserving wild game, fish, and seasonal fruits and vegetables at their peak so to enjoy them year-round.
Ebert grew up in rural Kentucky but moved to Texas for graduate school and to begin her career as a journalist, writing for Organic Gardening, being editor of Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine, and writing about wild game and fish cookery while putting all this knowledge to work in her own kitchen.
More than a cookbook, this is a handbook packed with expert guidance, sources, lessons learned, encouragement, and useful tales of her firsthand experiences. Above all, her book is, as much as anything, about the importance of our food resources and how to put field-to-table into practice instead of treating it as a lifestyle concept. It is serious but not pedantic; almost poetic but not precious; in other words, a pleasure to read and use.
Although much of her book may be outside of our practical reach (I have no yard nor a place to store fishing gear nor a car to get to a trout stream), we city cooks can actually meet some things halfway, by which I mean we don't have to fish for our own trout to smoke our own. Instead we can buy the trout at our favorite fishmonger and take it from there. Likewise for we don't have to grow our own tomatoes for Roasted Salsa or forage for blackberries to make a Skillet Cobbler.
I think what I liked best about Ebert's book, despite my having a city kitchen and never catching a fish in my life, was seeing that no matter where we live, there are lessons that those of us who inherited the earth and cook from it need to learn and remember.
Enjoy your spring cooking!