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|November 27-December 3, 2008
• Right on Thyme
Millennium’s restaurant steps up to the plate
by Clay Fong
A gift guide for the chef on your list
by Carolyn Jung
You might say that our picks for the top cookbooks denote a baker’s choice — in more ways than one. Five of the cookbooks are indeed baking books. That, of course, shows what a huge sweet tooth I have. But it also demonstrates the wealth of wonderful baking books that were published recently.
Be it savory or sweet, a cookbook is a great gift for a friend or for yourself. It’s the ultimate gift that keeps on giving.
• • • •
The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters (Clarkson Potter, 405 pp., $35).
If you’ve ever heard Alice Waters speak, you know she has a most evocative way of describing food. In the newest book by the founder of Berkeley, Calif.’s landmark Chez Panisse, her passionate voice for all things local, organic and sustainable rings through clearer than ever.
“For me, making a garden lettuce salad — washing beautiful fresh-picked lettuces and tossing them together with a scattering of herbs and a vinaigrette — is as much of a joy as eating one,” she writes. “I love the colorful variety of lettuces, bitter and sweet; the flavor and complexity of herbs such as chervil and chives; and the brightness of a simple vinaigrette made with red wine vinegar, olive oil, and a whisper of garlic...”
These are classic recipes, from braised chicken legs to linguine with clams to tarte tatin. A few may be familiar, as they’ve appeared in previous Chez Panisse cookbooks.
Best for: Cooks who want California cuisine from the source in dishes that stand the test of time.
• • • •
Asian Flavors of Jean-Georges by Jean-Georges Vongerichten (Broadway Books, 290 pp., $40).
I’ve loved almost every Jean-Georges Vongerichten recipe I’ve tried over the years. Since he’s a celebrity chef with a cadre of restaurants all over the world, you’d think his recipes would be super lengthy, and impossible to attempt without a brigade of sous chefs. Far from it. For the most part, they’re surprisingly straightforward and doable.
His latest book is no different. The man who was nicknamed “the Palate” as a child possesses a deep understanding of Asian ingredients. Vongerichten offers more than 175 recipes from his Asian-inspired restaurants: Spice Market, Vong and 66. Among the recipes featured are soy-cured salmon with Asian pear and cilantro creme fraiche; and roast chicken with chunky miso sauce and grapefruit.
Best for: Cooks with a penchant for fusion, not confusion.
• • • •
Cooking by James Peterson (Ten Speed Press, 534 pp., $40).
Thirty years ago, James Peterson taught himself to cook through books and working in professional kitchens. Now the author of 13 cookbooks, he has created an extraordinarily comprehensive book with 1,500 instructional photos and 600 recipes for everything from roast chicken to a classic apple pie.
The book begins with an overview of 10 basic cooking techniques that should be in every person’s repertoire. The step-by-step instructions and photos for an omelet show you not only how to make the classic French type, but also rolled and fluffy omelets. The passage on boiling eggs has a fantastic chart that describes the stages of doneness for an egg boiled for different increments from two minutes through 10 minutes.
Best for: The cook-to-be who really wants to get down to business.
• • • •
The Country Cooking of France by Ann Willan (Chronicle Books 390 pp., $50).
With more than 235 recipes and more than 275 color photographs, this hefty coffee-table tome immediately transports you to the French countryside. You can almost smell the aromas wafting off the photos of custardy scrambled eggs with wild mushrooms, duck breast with cherries and honey madeleines.
Ann Willan, an award-winning teacher and cookbook author, is an authority on French food, having founded her famous cooking school in La Varenne, France, 30 years ago. Who better to be your guide through the Languedoc with its cassoulet and the Pays Nicois with its pissaladere (tart of onion, anchovy, olive and tomato)?
Best for: Francophile foodies.
• • • •
Desserts by the Yard by Sherry Yard (Houghton Mifflin 400 pp., $35.95).
Sherry Yard is the executive chef for Wolfgang Puck Worldwide, and the winner of two James Beard awards. This book is her life story through desserts, from “My Favorite White Birthday Cake with Chocolate and Butter Fudge Frosting” from her Brooklyn childhood, to the “Rainbow Room Chocolate Souffles” at the landmark New York restaurant where she was a cigarette girl, to “Campton Place Pancakes” at the San Francisco restaurant where she worked for four years, and finally to the sleek banded layer cakes she created for the 67th Academy Awards in 1995. From easy to elaborate, there is something for every level of baker.
Best for: Dessert lovers who want the sweet scoop from one of the biggest names in the pastry world.
• • • •
Dolce Italiano, Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen by Gina DePalma (W.W. Norton & Co., 301 pp., $35).
Mario Batali may be the name and face of New York’s wildly celebrated Babbo restaurant. But Gina DePalma, a chef in the restaurant’s pastry kitchen since Day One, provides the unforgettable sweet ending to any dining experience there.
Now pastry chef, DePalma makes Italian baked goods that are the stuff of dreams — fresh, simple, with a lovely rustic elegance. Turn the pages to find temptations such as chestnut brownies, Babbo breadsticks with honeydew Prosecco, and chocolate and polenta tart. Her ricotta pound cake is so moist, rich and buttery, you’ll tell yourself you couldn’t possibly finish a slice. But you will, and then reach for seconds.
Best for: Anyone — absolutely anyone — who loves to bake.
• • • •
How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman (Wiley, 996 pp., $35).
The ever-prolific Mark Bittman has crafted a companion cookbook to his wildly successful How to Cook Everything of nine years ago.
This one includes more than 2,000 recipes and variations for meatless dishes. For instance, the recipe for herbed fresh pasta includes six additional ways to flavor the pasta dough. And the “essential bean salad” includes seven variations including Italian, Japanese or Indian flavorings. The book overflows with a wealth of information, including advice on how to grow your own sprouts, the best way to freeze soups, and a step-by-step illustration of how to chop onions like a pro.
Best for: Veggie lovers — whether omnivores or not.
• • • •
Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads by Peter Reinhart (Ten Speed Press, 309 pp., $35).
Sure, we’d love to eat more healthfully with whole grain breads. But so many of them are too dense, taste like cardboard, have an unpleasant bitter aftertaste or don’t rise properly.
Peter Reinhart to the rescue. The baking instructor at Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte, N.C., and founder of Brother Juniper’s Bakery in Santa Rosa, Reinhart has crafted a meticulous cookbook with 55 recipes for sandwich, hearth and specialty breads. They use whole wheat flour and grains such as rye, barley, steel-cut oats, cornmeal and quinoa. Most also employ a delayed fermentation process, in which pre-doughs are made one day, then combined the next day to maximize flavor.
Best for: Those who take their bread seriously.
• • • •
The Sweet Spot by Pichet Ong and Genevieve Ko (William Morrow, 292 pp., $29.95).
“Dragon Devil’s Food Cupcakes” smeared with a thick frosting flavored with bourbon, star anise and Lapsang Souchong tea. Cheesecake made of Japanese kabocha squash and a crunchy walnut crust. Icy sherbet made of the queen of Thai fruits, mangosteen.
Pichet Ong is the former pastry chef of Jean Georges in New York and is now owner of P_ONG in New York, his own dessert restaurant. In this book, he serves up 100 recipes for intriguing desserts, most of which blend a bit of the East with the West.
Best for: Sweet tooths with a taste for a little adventure.
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