Thursday, December 21, 2006

Gift Guide: Cookbooks

January Magazine’s Holiday Gift Guide 2006 continues with selections of cookbooks. Suggestions in fiction are here. Children’s books are here. Non-fiction is here. And check back for further gift book selections over the next few days.

Another Cup of Sugar by Anna Olson (Whitecap Books) 197 pages
As a rule, I’m more cautious of sequels when it comes to cookbooks than I am with movies. With movies, there’s always the chance that the filmmakers will catch a new energy, perhaps release some previously untapped creative well. With a cookbook, the included recipes are -- theoretically -- coming from the same source as the original. Won’t all the good recipes already have been used up? These were my concerns when I approached Another Cup of Sugar by the Canadian Food Network’s Anna Olson. However, if anything, Another Cup of Sugar is even better than its predecessor, Sugar, named for the show Olson hosts. Like the show, many of the recipes include a “switched-up” version where you start with a simple recipe -- an every day sort of lovely dessert. Then, for the switch-up, you add a little Olson magic and -- presto! -- something elegant enough to serve to good company. The book follows Olson’s television show in feel and format. That’s a good thing, because it’s a great show. -- Aaron Blanton

As Fresh As It Gets: Everyday Recipes From the Tomato Fresh Food Café by Christian Gaudreault and Star Spilos (Arsenal Pulp Press) 184 pages
The Tomato Cafe has been a Vancouver foodie landmark since it was opened in 1991 by local legend Diane Clement. That landmark status has been enhanced since it was purchased and expanded by Christian Gaudreault and Star Spilos. Under Clement, Tomato was a sort of fresh funky chic neighborhood lunch counter with truly amazing food. Everyone talked about it and everyone went, but it wasn’t the sort of place most people would think of for a celebratory meal. The fresh funky chic is still in place -- especially the fresh -- and the restaurant has grown to 100 seats from its original 45. But more than the physical growth, an elegance has slid in along with Tomato’s maturation. But pre-Clement or post, the backbone of Tomato is the food. The last line of co-author and -owner Spilos’ foreword lets you know the sort of journey you can expect: she writes that she hopes the book gets your “culinary juices flowing, and introduces you to the importance of fresh, local, socially responsible food, from the farmer’s fields to your dinner table.” The recipes included in the book reflect this ethos of freshness, excellence and social responsibility. Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho, Wild Mushroom Risotto, Spinach & Swiss Chard Cannelloni, Corn Cakes with Smokey Tomato Sauce and I was very happy to see one of my long-time Tomato favorites, the Westcoaster Salad, had been included in the book. The recipes are simply stated and, for the most part, easy to prepare. Like the restaurant that inspired it, As Fresh As It Gets is fresh, elegant, modern and just right. -- David Middleton

The Canadian Cookbook by Jennifer Ogle (Lone Pine Publishing) 160 pages
Jennifer Ogle’s The Canadian Cookbook blends the best of about three cookbook forms for a melange that is unexpected and that works surprisingly well. It’s a bright, glossy cookbook -- the photos here put one in mind of a good food magazine -- themed on the food of a single country -- in this case Canada -- and interspersed with bits of folklore and trivia. Don’t look for a lot of Canadian history, but most of the country culinary classics are here, well and easy to follow including Tourtiére (the one included is a deep dish version), Bannock, Poutine, Nanaimo Bars, Quebec Sugar Pie and many different types of dishes featuring fish and shellfish. Those looking for the essential Canadian cuisine won’t find it here, but it’s a good starting point for the beginning to intermediate home chef. -- Linda L. Richards

Coffee Cakes: Simple, Sweet, and Savory by Lou Seibert Pappas (Chronicle) 132 pages
There’s something really lovely about a good coffee cake. For one thing, it can take so many forms. It can be the casual slice in the construction worker’s lunch box. It can be the bran and fruit-laden breakfast. It can be dressed up and taken out, too, an appropriate finish for the poshest dinner party. It can even be savory and form the heart of a beautiful mid-day meal. In Coffee Cakes veteran cookbook author Lou Seibert Pappas (Fondue, Ice Creams, The Christmas Cookie Book and others) takes on the simple coffee cake with astonishing results. If you thought you knew a lot about coffee cakes, think again: quick-leavened and yeast-leavened, all dressed up or beautifully simple and plain, Siebert Pappas has done a thoroughly delicious job here. I can’t imagine a more complete collection. -- Linda L. Richards

Everyone Can Cook Appetizers by Eric Akis (Whitecap) 198 pages
Author Eric Akis is not shy about letting potential readers know that his book is the right one for timid chefs. “Equipping home cooks with an abundance of tantalizing recipes they can actually prepare is my mission as a cookbook author. If your desire is to dazzle friends, family and acquaintances with great-tasting appetizers, then with this book, fulfilment awaits.” Everyone Can Cook Appetizers delivers. This is a no-nonsense back to basics kind of book. Few out of focus food photos here. No fancy typography, experimental ink colors or anything else that might detract from the serious business of making food that’s fun. The recipes here -- over 100 in all -- run the whole range of appetizers, from astonishingly simple to vastly complex; from light and easy to what Akis calls “sporting snacks” and from familiar favorites to the all out exotic, if it can be called an appetizer, some version of it is probably here. -- Aaron Blanton

How I Learned to Cook edited by Kimberly Witherspoon and Peter Meehan (Bloomsbury) 310 pages
The title is not completely accurate but the book is super anyway. It's called How I Learned to Cook. It probably should be called, How I Learned to Find My Way and Feel Confident in the Kitchen. or something very like that. We have here a collection of essays from “forty of the World's greatest chefs.” But the thing I've noticed about great chefs is, most of them had an interest in food from a very young age and were in the kitchen creating edible concoctions when most of us were still jamming Play-Doh into inedible and unappetizing forms. That is to say, they mostly learned to cook when they were pretty young. Here we find them discovering their stride as chefs and finding their passion. Mario Batali at his first cooking job in the old country, Mark Bittman on how he learned to entertain simply when at home; Jonathan Eismann talks about dealing with drug problems in a commercial kitchen in New York City in the 1980s, Susan Feniger tells us about the challenges of being a professional chef and a woman in Chicago in the same time period. When writing about how he learned to best prepare a dish for three-minute segments on television when promoting a book, Anthony Bourdain's essay seems that farthest off target, but who cares? Bourdain writes the way I imagine he cooks: with energy, passion and an unmistakable virtuosity. He could write about any old thing he pleased and I'd pay attention. How I Learned to Cook will satisfy the cravings of any foodie on your list. -- Linda L. Richards

Mama Now Cooks Like This by Susan Mendelson (Whitecap Books) 256 pages
The chorus of Susan Mendelson's latest cookbook might be “mama’s got a brand new bag” and the fact that “just like mama used to make” has a whole new meaning in the 21st century. Twenty-six years after the publication of her first cookbook, Mama Never Cooked Like This, caterer, restaurateur and food personality Susan Mendelson is herself a mother, one who has realized that a new generation of moms are reaching for the far edges of culinary experience when they put food on their family’s table. Mama Now Cooks Like This reflects this sensibility while it collects the best of Mendelson’s rich authorial history. In that way, this latest book is kind of a best of Susan Mendelson, with recipe entries from all of the books Mendelson has written and co-written since the publication of that first book in 1980. It’s a great collection, one that will go far to enriching the culinary experience of every type of home cook, from the inexperienced to the culinarily gifted. From simple basics like Gazpacho and Homemade Pizza to feast day extravaganzas like Roast Rack of Lamb with Mushroom Crust or Mocha Mousse Meringue Cake, Mama Now Cooks Like This reflects how we live and eat now. -- Linda L. Richards

Meatloaf by Maryana Vollstedt (Chronicle Books) 108 pages
Oh. My. Goodness. I've always been a meatloaf fan. I love its simplicity, its wholesome goodness, how it transforms from a hot meal at night to a cold sandwich the next day. When I spotted Meatloaf, I knew I just had to try it out. I've tried two recipes so far, and both have received outstanding reviews. The first, a pretty basic loaf topped with a crown of mashed potatoes, was nearly devoured by my young son -- who likes new things only when they're sprinkled with sugar or chocolate. That's a rave in my book. The second, a more inventive one -- with a layer of cheeses between layers of meat -- I brought to a holiday party. On a table covered with goodies, mine was the first pan to hit the empty pile. Not only that, when word got 'round that I was the chef, several people asked for the recipe. That's another rave. This slim volume, which contains tips, tricks and lists of stuff you'll need, gives you recipes for around 20 meatloaves and the toppings and sides that accompany them. If you're smart, you'll give this book to someone before the holidays -- then get yourself invited over for dinner. -- Tony Buchsbaum

The South Beach Diet Parties and Holiday Cookbook by Arthur Agatston (Rodale) 242 pages

For many dieters, the holidays are the time to fall off the good-for-you food wagon. Even people who are normally careful about what they eat can find themselves overindulging in foods that might not normally even tempt them. In The South Beach Diet Parties and Holiday Cookbook Arthur Agatston takes in the problem with his usual rational glance and helps us all realize that not only is it in our power to do something about these holiday indulgences, but that the answers to our questions about food choices aren’t as confusing as they can sometimes seem. “Thankfully, the confusion that has characterized diet advice for so many years is over. We have moved beyond the low-fat versus low-carb debates to a broad consensus of expert opinion regarding the principles of healthy eating.” These principles, Agatston writes, are simple: unsaturated fats, nutrition rich carbs, lean sources of protein and low-fat dairy. He’s also woven in some South Beach advice any type of dieter would likely benefit from Agatston’s recipes from this collection. The food in The South Beach Diet Parties and Holiday Cookbook is simple, easy to prepare and, perhaps most important of all, will fill your holiday table so beautifully, most guests will never suspect how you’ve tricked them into healthy eating! -- Monica Stark

Superfoods for Babies and Children by Annabel Karmel (Atria) 192 pages
For many parents, of all of the skills involved in bringing a child to adulthood, feeding them has come to be one of the most confounding. “As parents we start out with the best of intentions,” writes Annabel author Karmel, “but all too soon we find that our two-year-old wants only Thomas the Tank Engine pasta shapes ... and our six-year-old eats only Coco Pops.” However, Karmel doesn’t waste a lot of time examining the problems -- we all know what those look like anyway. Rather, she devotes most of this fairly substantial work to coming up with solutions, first helping parents to recognize the foods that are best for their youngsters, then in helping you to prepare nutritious food that your children will like and that won’t leave you panting at the stove after hours of cooking. Karmel has written 13 bestselling books on cooking for children, including the international bestseller The Healthy Baby Meal Planner. -- Monica Stark


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