Best of Cookbooks 2005









DiscCookery: The DiscDrive 20th Anniversary Cookbook by Jurgen Gothe (Whitecap Books)

Lots of people write about food. Many write about wine. Still more write about music. But very few manage to write about all of them at once and perhaps none do it in a way that makes it feel like all three things belong together. None, that is, besides Jurgen Gothe who, at the helm of CBC's popular DiscDrive radio show has been ostensibly suggesting music to drive home to since 1985 but who at the same time has been instructing us on the things that are really important in life: good food, great wines, worthwhile music and "frequent flights of fancy." DiscCookery celebrates the Canadian radio show's 20th anniversary with a cookbook that would stand alone with best of that breed if that was all it was. But it's a lot more, as well. Some of the recipes were contributed by DiscDrive's many fans, some are Gothe's own and still others are recipes he's picked up along the way, all properly attributed. And so we have chapters called Starters; Soups and Salads; Snacks and Sides; Pastas; Fish; Chicken Et Cetera; Meats; Vegetables; Stews; A Small Handful of Extravaganzas (which is comprised of eight yummy recipes that presumably wouldn't fit anywhere else); Drinks and Desserts. Over a hundred recipes in all, each with suggestions for an appropriate wine to drink with your meal and even selections of music to enhance your cooking experience. And all of it -- the food, the music, the wine -- are enfused with Gothe's love of living well and desire to share that passion. "A recipe isn't much more than a set of guidelines;" Gothe writes in the introduction, "the result has to be something you're happy to serve and eat. So improvise -- it's more fun that way." -- Linda L. Richards

Japanese Dishes for Wine Lovers by Machiko Chiba and J.K. Whelehan (Kodansha International)

This will sound silly, but I'll risk it. One of the most exciting things to happen to me -- culinarily -- in 2005 was Japanese Dishes for Wine Lovers by Machiko Chiba. You see, I can barely concieve of an evening meal without wine. It just doesn't feel right. At the same time, I love sushi and eat it every chance I get. But the two things -- wine and sushi -- never happened together for me. I'd been told so often that one did not -- ever -- go with the other. Chiba's book freed me from my misconceptions and, as a result, I've never enjoyed my sushi forays more. But there's more here than mere philosophy. Even without the wine component, Japanese Dishes for Wine Lovers would be a book worth remarking upon. It is elegantly designed, styled and photographed. The recipes are all either intelligently modernized versions of Japanese classics or new recipes, original to Chiba, that give full props to the culture that inspired and gave birth to them. And the book might just change your life. -- Adrian Marks

Laughing With My Mouth Full by Pam Freir (HarperCollins Canada)

Fans of seminal food writer MFK Fisher will be overjoyed to stumble across Pam Freir's delightful Laughing With My Mouth Full: Tales from a Gulf Islands Kitchen. Whether she's writing about trying to get kids to eat their vegetables or tackling the preparation of a full-bodied osso bucco, Freir brings passion, verve, joy and -- yes -- laughter, to her table and seems to share it with us easily with her deeply accomplished writing. Laughing With My Mouth Full touches -- but never sloppily -- and is often funny, without the self-conscious "ha, ha, ha" that often infuses books said to be humor-filled. There is a humorous sensuality in Freir's writing; a hands-on-hips insouciance as she regales us with stories of traveling Canada's back roads with her husband in their pop top VW camper; of lobsters eaten in Maine while the secret service watch suspiciously; and special dinners cooked at home and shared with friends and loved ones. And there are stories of her island life -- and the foods she's enjoyed there over the years. With wit and warmth and a lovely spare style, Freir evokes a sense of place and flavor with half the words it would require of a lesser writer. -- Linda L. Richards

The New Best Recipe by the editors of Cook's Illustrated (America's Test Kitchen)

Watch your foot. Cookbooks don't often get much bigger than this. But The New Best Recipe needed to be this big. This is not a book that contains yet another recipe for turkey gravy or still another way to make mac and cheese. What the editors at Cook's Illustrated have attempted here is to give us a full compendium that includes the best turkey gravy and the definitive mac and cheese. And, of course, more: The best Hummus (they advise using canned beans), the most correct Salad Nicoise; the easiest Pork Chops; the proper Barbecued Spareribs and so on. (And on. And on. And...) Of course, the truth is that the best, easiest, most correct of anything is entirely subjective when it comes to food. That said, this is Cook's Illustrated -- no slouches in the what-is-best department. Not only that, since they've included the process they used to arrive at the best for many of these recipes, the book makes for quite fascinating reading. Never mind the fact that if you want to know the right way to boil potatoes, the foolproof way to make Fettucine Alfredo, the only way to prepare rice noodles for Pad Thai, you'll have a tough time going wrong with The New Best Recipe. -- Adrian Marks

Tamasin's Weekend Food: Cooking to Come Home To by Tamasin Day-Lewis, Photography by David Loftus (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

Brunch with Tamasin Day-Lewis. It just doesn't get much better than this. Similar in production values and scope to Day-Lewis' tantalizing and shimmery 2001 effort, The Art of the Tart, only this time, of course, we're dealing with the preparation of food intended to be eaten with family and friends on leisurely weekends. As usual, Day-Lewis manages to write about food in a way that is simultaneously lucid and luxurious. The author -- who, incidentally, is sister to the actor -- inhabits a world many of us would like to belong to. And with a chiffonade of basil and the liberal application of goats cheese and rocket, she brings us along. -- Adrian Marks

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