Friday, December 18, 2009

Cookbooks for Under the Tree

My shelves are bulging with cookbooks. They've spread to create stacks on my kitchen table, and have migrated to my living room coffee table and the desk in my office. And yet I continue to indulge in more and more of them. There's always that special, must-make recipe. The gorgeous photos. The worthy technique or unusual ingredient combination. The riveting stories. This year, I found myself in a bread-baking mode and discovered some new takes on ethnic cuisines and even standard fare that has me wanting to simply move into my kitchen and never leave. Here are some that particularly caught my fancy and that you might want to give as gifts to your favorite foodies:

Flying Pans:Two Chefs, One WorldFlying Pans: Two Chefs, One World by Bernard Guillas and Ron Oliver. What a wonderful concept this is by two chefs local to San Diego. Guillas and Oliver are mainstays at The Marine Room, but they are also globe trotters, who realized that between them they've been to 40 countries. So, they wrote a cookbook that reflects and was inspired by their journeys. The collaboration resulted in a gorgeously photographed book with a fascinatingly eclectic collection of recipes meant to be made by the home cook. Hurray for the Apricot Ginger Glazed Tasmanian Salmon with its pistachio and Madras curry crust. I'm still enjoying the memory of the Isla de Vieques Vanilla Spiced Shrimp with Chickpea Salad and Annatto Pineapple Emulsion. And, oh, the Amarula Creme Brulee. I'll be returning to this book again and again.

The Elements of Life: A Contemporary Guide to Thai Recipes and Traditions for Healthier LivingThe Elements of Life by Su-Mei Yu. Su-Mei Yu and her Thai restaurant Saffron are San Diego fixtures. I'm mad for her Thai barbecue chicken with peanut sauce and her drunken noodles. So, when I learned she had a new cookbook, I was ready to leap into it and try out her dishes. But, Su-Mei didn't just write a cookbook; she wrote a philosophy of living and eating that integrates people's "home elements" -- fire, water, wind, and earth. Her belief is that we can improve our health and spiritual well-being if we cook foods that satisfy our individual home element in combination with the time of day and the weather. The cookbook takes the reader from determining their own home element through understanding how to plan meals around it. And, then you get the recipes. It's all about balance, fresh fruits and vegetables, and common sense. And, it's all packaged in a beautiful, elegant book that also includes several "recipes" for outer bliss -- a watermelon, yogurt, honey, lemon juice, and cucumber mask; a rose and patchouli hand and foot rub; and cucumber, papaya, and chamomile facial mask. Joy for your inner and outer self.

Soaked, Slathered, and Seasoned: A Complete Guide to Flavoring Food for the GrillSoaked, Slathered, and Seasoned: A Complete Guide to Flavoring Food for the Grill by Elizabeth Karmel. Okay, I'll admit, I haven't made any of the recipes from this book yet. But I'm going to. I've met Karmel and she's a real kick. And a very savvy woman who knows grilling and barbecue. These sauces and marinades, brines and glazes, mops and jellies look irresistible. And, for those of us who enjoy a little grill work, they'll be great inspiration not just for summer cooking outdoors but stovetop grilling in this chilly season. Plus, Karmel does a good job of providing extra little tips about sauce shelf life, the right way to use a rub, and useful cook's tools. I like it.

Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day: 100 New Recipes Featuring Whole Grains, Fruits, Vegetables, and Gluten-Free IngredientsHealthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg, M.D. & Zoe Francois. The authors of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day have put a new twist on their bread baking in 5 concept. These breads feature whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and gluten-free ingredients. Because of that, they are more challenging. Baking with whole wheat flour can result in a heavy, dense bread. But, the duo--who are terrific at explaining in simple terms the science behind the technique--have created recipes that are tasty and easy to make. Try the Whole Grain Garlic Knots with Parsley and Olive Oil and riff on the Oven-Baked Whole Grain Pizza with Roasted Red Peppers and Fontina. I'm still intrigued by the Red Beet Buns and the Chocolate Espresso Cupcakes.

The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country GirlThe Pioneer Woman Cooks by Ree Drummond. Ree Drummond has a huge following for her blog, The Pioneer Woman. So it was no surprise that her cookbook would be such a hit. This is part family story telling with lots of photography and part a collection of recipes of food that would fill up a hungry cowboy--like her husband, whom she refers to as Marlboro Man. You'll meet him; their four kids; the horses; Charlie, the basset hound; and even the cattle on their Oklahoma ranch. And, you'll learn how she feeds her cowboy clan--with the expected: Fried Chicken, Buttermilk Biscuits, and Braised Beef Brisket. And, some unexpected treats, like Burgundy Mushrooms, Potato-Leek Pizza, and Sangria. Enjoy a hearty helping!

The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook: 101 Asian Recipes Simple Enough for Tonight's DinnerThe Steamy Kitchen Cookbook by Jaden Hair. Like her friend Ree Drummond, Jaden's Steamy Kitchen blog has catapulted Jaden into the mainstream media food world. Her beautifully photographed Asian recipes are completely accessible to the home cook, and she gives precise, step-by-step instructions to create beautiful dishes such as Mom's Famous Crispy Eggrolls, Clams Sauteed in Garlic and Black Bean Sauce, and Korean Jap Chae Noodles with Beef. I've been mesmerized by Jaden's recipes for years and I'm glad she has some of her best collected in this beautiful book.

Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking: Traditional and Modern Recipes to Savor and ShareFinally, there's a new favorite of mine, Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking by Paula Wolfert. I'm not going to say much about it here because I've got a full piece on it that I'll post in a couple of days. But, let me just say that if you are a "slow food" fan, this is your kind of book. Wolfert has pulled together a career's worth of tips and techniques gleaned from her life writing about Mediterranean cooking and a passion for clay pots to create a compendium of magnificent recipes for home cooks who want to take the time to let the elements of clay and fresh ingredients work their magic. Cooking in a clay pot creates a dish with a very different flavor and texture than cooking in metal. Wolfert shares her love of this cooking style with updated versions of recipes that have been made for generations -- and for good reason.

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