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Archive for the ‘Cookbooks’ Category

rivercottagevegToday’s post is from Janet of the library’s Outreach Services Division:

Reviewing a new cookbook always starts in my kitchen. I read the author’s introduction, flip through the chapters, read through a selection of the recipes, and then zero in on one or two to try. This macro and micro hands-on approach usually gives me a better feel for what the author is offering and helps me compare the book to others of its kind.

In March I explored River Cottage Veg: 200 Inspired Vegetable Recipes. Written by Hugh Fearley-Whittingstall, an award-winning cookbook author, British TV chef, and farm-to-table food advocate, this newest River Cottage title is suitable for vegetarians. The purpose of this title was to encourage omnivores to eat more vegetables and to make vegetables a mainstay of our diet.

Fearley-Whittingstall offers an eclectic and creative range of recipes from appetizers, soups, and salads, to entrees and desserts that provide interesting and pleasant flavor combinations and textures. Most of the ingredients should be readily available in most grocery stores. The recipes and instructions, while a challenge for novice cooks are easily handled by the average home chef. The photos are warm and inviting.

I was impressed with the quality of the dishes and the ease of making them. This cookbook was a great match for me as I try to keep most of my meals plant-based. His recipes are so good I tested ten over the course of the month, and then bought the book.

Check the WRL catalog for River Cottage Veg

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Lucid Food isn’t strictly vegan like the four cookbooks reviewed earlier this week.

Its focus is on sourcing food more ecologically and conscientiously. This makes it an excellent resource for omnivores bothered by factory farming practices and their impact—square with the slow food, clean eating, sustainable agriculture, and locavore movements. I did find Lucid Food to be decidedly vegetable-focused and the many creative vegan recipes included are full of exquisite flavors. Author and catering chef Louisa Shafia really backs up in her life what she writes about in this cookbook by the way she does business; her catering company is also called Lucid Food and practices an innovative waste-free approach.

…more than eighty-five healthful, seasonal recipes that will guide you toward making earth-friendly choices about what you prepare for meals…

Shafia suggests ways to choose fish and seafood more thoughtfully. I learned that the farming of mussels actually inspires cleaner coastal marine stewardship without the use of antibiotics and chemicals, about wild-caught species that are caught using methods that don’t kill unwanted animals in the process, and other safer choices for the eco-conscious eater. We can consume less by using seasonings to add briny flavors associated with fish dishes to tofu, tempeh, beans, and other proteins, still satisfying taste buds without adding to the imminent crisis predicted—that worldwide fish and seafood populations may disappear before mid-century.

This is a beautiful book and I can’t wait to cook more of its fine, elegant recipes that are a fusion of tastes and cultural traditions.

Check the WRL catalog for Lucid Food and Louisa Shafia’s latest cookbook The New Persian Kitchen.

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Vegan and locavore enthusiast Jae Steele aims to educate us about food’s origins—that is, how far it might have traveled to reach your local grocery market. She wants to equip us with the know-how to minimize our impact on the planet and its inhabitants when shopping for plant-based food locally.

First, and foremost, she clearly values and encourages the infusion of fun and joy into your lifestyle, wherever you live. In her book, I finally met a vegan who acknowledges that there are eaters who just don’t like each and every vegetable—no force feeding here! You’ve only gotta eat foods you like.

It’s not enjoyable if you’re feeling shamed or guilted into it, so let’s focus on doing the best we can—and doing it joyfully.

Packed with useful information, Jae becomes an irresistible friend motivating you to thoughtfully plan weekly meals and seasonal produce shopping, and she makes it all so fun! Learn how to explore a variety of veggies and fruits seasonally. You already knew that folks are asking questions at the farmer’s market, but if you’re feeling tongue-tied, Jae will arm you with the knowledge to get out there and get to know your food and the farmers who grow it more intimately. She includes great details for creating an indoor composting system using red wriggler worms, which I seriously might try, because I’m not quite ready to garden beyond my deck and in pots, let alone start tilling the yard.

Recipes are supplemented with fact-filled charts on individual plants’ versatile uses and health benefits. Woven into Jae’s very clear instructions are tips that most cookbook authors fail to provide such as a thoughtful hint to zest the lemon before you slice into it for juicing—I tried to get the zest from an already-squeezed lemon once and have the scars to prove it!

Check the WRL catalog for Ripe from Around Here.

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Here, in the middle of the week, I’d like to address you middle-of-the-roaders about a book that ensures that veganism is not only for celebrities, that you mustn’t wait until you’re making big bucks to take the vegan plunge.

Victoria Moran gently instructs in the ways of being vegan, without judgment, without scolding those who claim to be vegans who eat fish (you either are or you aren’t a person who doesn’t eat animals), with only a subtle amount of coercion through the storytelling she feels obligated to impart, as a witness to the deaths of animals at slaughter and the horrific conditions of the dairy, poultry, pork, and other animal product industries. Some may have heard it all before—a lot of shocking videos circulate the internet—but for those of you who’ve been oblivious to this media outrage, her essays may cause you to pause before you order that next chicken sandwich.

Even if you’re already convinced that vegan is best, you feel handicapped by the outrageous price difference between organic, locally grown produce at the trendy farmers’ markets and the genetically modified, pesticide-coated, homogenous assortment in your supermarket and discount store grocery aisles! What to do???

Forty brief chapters with facts, personal stories, and guidelines introducing you to vegan concepts and cooking techniques each conclude with a recipe. It’s meant to make plant-based cuisine possible for every kind of eater with any kind of income, not just the elite many of us believe are the only folks who can actually afford to live a vegan, organic, eco-conscious, locavore’s lifestyle. Basically, the book is for those of us who live “main street” lives, not “Fifth Avenue” existences. Moran addresses the fact that wherever you are with these goals, it’s okay; you don’t have to do everything perfectly from the beginning.  Our heartstrings are often pulled by myriad causes. She nudges us in the most compassionate direction, and seems to want us to prioritize minimal impact on the animal world above concerns for our individual health if we truly wanna go vegan—are we okay with that? She challenges us to think about such things as we progress.

But you can only do what you can do, especially if you’re raising a family, and stretching paychecks has become an acrobatic feat.


For example, though we are encouraged to support the organic movement, which she says will become more affordable as demand increases (put your money where your mouth is), she’s realistic about such dilemmas as eating organic all the time being terribly more expensive. She helpfully elucidates a “dirty dozen” list of produce to avoid if not organic and a “clean 15″ list of more economical fruits and vegetables you can buy without worrying over the lack of an organic label (sourced from Environmental Working Group).

A very comprehensive collection of appendices provide additional resources and bibliographies for those who want to take things to the next level, from where to go online for further research to where to buy your clothes, shoes, and household cleaning supplies without harming animals. This book is worth picking up even if it’s just for the to-die-for-yet-guiltless Chocolate Mousse recipe—putting together the unexpected ingredients required a leap of faith but I was astounded by the results.

Check the WRL catalog for Main Street Vegan.

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jacket.aspxPersonal chef to Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi, Roberto trained as a master chef, not a master vegan chef! He learned to substitute meatless ingredients in his first week of employment with the celebrity couple who’d gone vegan. All I’m thinkin’ is: not vegan, doesn’t cook vegan, Ellen and Portia determined to live vegan, Roberto must have been spectacular in their eyes (and his references’) despite a lack of experience! I imagine a shortage of truly vegan chefs at this point in culinary history, so I suppose a truly fine chef can adapt. The proof is in the… truly tasty dishes you can create with his cookbook. Perhaps your favorite will be Red Beans and Rice—it’s Ellen’s—served each Monday.

Packed with “meaty” and “cheesy” recipes substituting vegan ingredients while aiming for equivalent texture and taste, vegans with a fond taste for burgers, quesadillas, pizza, pasta, and pork will find much to love. Now, in my household, in addition to trying to please the meat-lovers in my family with plant-based no-meat-or-dairy recipes, I’m avoiding refined sugars plus seeking real, cleaner food. And while some of the commercial ingredients need scrutiny, Roberto’s ingredients are fairly easy to identify, making vegan cooking more convenient for us busy folks. The “Breakfast” section delighted me by using no sugar other than natural fruits, Agave nectar, and pure maple syrup. Folks, it seems to me that going vegan shouldn’t equal loading up on sugar daily! “Desserts” will satisfy those who desire to live it up occasionally with such treats as the incredibly simple Pumpkin Pie and fiercely scrumptious chocolate cake, Vegan la Bête Noire (The Black Beast).

Very useful is the section “Condiments, Sauces, and Dressings,” recipes that should adequately substitute for some of the staple ingredients of meat-milk-and-cheese-eating culture, including cream cheese spread (using cashews, tofu, and savory seasonings), sweetened condensed nondairy milk with cornstarch, sugar, almond milk, and vanilla (used in “Desserts”), and a very passable Caesar Dressing with no eggs, anchovies, or cheese. I’d been looking for better natural salad dressings made without sugar or corn syrup and Roberto provides a variety.

This is a handsome book—well, Roberto’s on the cover, so that was easy—with color photos of real food, not fancy or over-garnished—how real [vegan] celebrities might eat on ordinary days in the privacy of their homes! Plus, this book helps you feed the true carnivores at your table without sacrificing your vegan principles. The text addresses ordinary cooks who love good food, family time, and entertaining. I absolutely love it when nearly all recipes are complemented with visuals to aid those of us without a personal chef. There are sweet photos of Roberto, his wife, and their son cooking together. Ellen wrote a nice afterword for their chef’s book and features him on her television show. Portia’s story told in the foreword brought tears to my eyes and may convert many a carnivore to veganism.

Search the WRL catalog for Vegan Cooking for Carnivores.

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This week, Mindy highlights titles from the rapidly growing universe of vegan cookbooks.

Embark on a culinary adventure with this mind-blowingly beautiful showcase of very elegant vegan cuisine, artfully presented in jewelescent photography and a very eye-pleasing graphic design format. I love the subtle color-coding of warmish pastel-tinted recipe pages that distinguish “morning” from “afternoon” and “evening,” closing with “late night” and “very late night” (for your midnight cravings). It’s refreshing—not the usual categories of breads, soups, salads, entrées, etc…, no entire meal plans either, just fine examples of fancy vegan recipe standouts to fall in love with.

Shuldiner wants his readers to venture into previously unexplored territory, recommending we give any intimidating or obscure items a first go even though it’s possible to substitute some ingredients with more familiar items. Thankfully, hard-to-find food items don’t predominate, but a few did have me searching online for definitions and sources: agar, yuba, sumac, and pomegranate molasses, not your every-day staples. A list of mail-order and online resources is included. Some of the exotic cooking implements he suggests I was not inclined to acquire—Shuldiner has a recipe for Chocolate-Tahini Timbales cooked in timbale (aka baba) molds, which will surely taste just as exquisite cooked in mini-muffin or popover tins (though not nearly as cute as the pictured “corks” or “bouchons” as they’re called). I’ll cook just about anything with the word “chocolate” involved.

Shuldiner doesn’t use this book to engage in any political or environmental debates about veganism. He merely aims to share his supreme vegan creations for those who want to enjoy imaginative plant-based recipes and to dispel any imaginings of vegan blandness. Gourmet-literate cooks who want to impress guests with fancy vegan food can’t go wrong with this lovely book, and there are many unique and appealing appetizers to try. Vegans, regardless of whether they consider themselves purist, can take their usual fare to the umpteenth level of class with these recipes.

Check the WRL Catalog for Pure Vegan.

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Nothing speaks teatime more than freshly baked scones, slathered with strawberry jam, and topped with cream.

RoyalTeas

In my world real scones are plain and stodgy objects which I learned to bake a long time ago, first at Brownies and then as “quick breads” in Cooking class at Intermediate School. When I have made them ever since, I used my Grandmother’s ancient and annotated Edmonds Cookery Book. In the antediluvian antipodes I learned that, as the name quick breads suggests, they are meant to replace bread in a meal, not something sweet, so they are mostly flour and milk and never have eggs. But I am game to try most things once (especially if it involves baking), so tradition be hanged, I exactly followed the Basic Scones recipe from Royal Teas with Grace and Style.  These were not my grandmother’s scones, but light, airy, with cranberries and a crunchy sugary top–they were well worth making (and consuming!)

Author Eileen Shafer has run teashops and tea tours for many years and it shows in this engaging idea, etiquette and recipe book. Almost half the book is hints and advice for making the perfect elegant tea party, and with chapter headings like “Setting a Beautiful Table” and “Creating an Inviting Atmosphere” there is a lot to work with. It is full of exquisite photographs of table settings, tea sets, dignified rooms and (my favorite) food. Eileen Shafer lives part of the year in Williamsburg and the book is part of Williamsburg Regional Library’s Local Author Project.

Royal Teas with Grace and Style has smaller selection of savory tea time recipes such as sandwiches, but comes into its own with a great selection of cakes, cookies and slices. I got carried away one day and made so many cookies and cakes that the chocolate cake didn’t get eaten (unusual in my teenager-filled household). The book gives the splendid idea of using the left over chocolate pound cake to make trifle, but the recipe for trifle calling for cool whip and instant pudding didn’t sound nearly so splendid. This time I stuck with tradition and used whipped cream and custard from imported custard powder for a scrumptious trifle. I also made the lemon drop cookies and they were mouthwatering – strongly lemon flavored and slightly astringent. I like lemon flavor with other flavors so I had the idea of rolling the dough out with a batch of chocolate cookie dough to make lemon and chocolate swirl cookies, with triumphant results.

Try Royal Teas with Grace and Style for great recipes and wonderful ideas about stylish teas. My colleague Janet wrote a lovely review of Eating Royally, by Darren McGrady in 2012, which features how the British Royals really eat. Royal Teas with Grace and Style may not have the British authenticity of Eating Royally but it has plenty to inspire fans of baking and fans of elegant tea parties.

Check the WRL catalog for Royal Teas with Grace and Style.

sconesLemonCookies

And here are some of the lemon cookies and scones that I made.

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Katzen

Today’s post is from Janet of the library’s Outreach Services Division:

Mollie Katzen, the godmother of heartwarming vegetarian cooking and the author of eleven popular cookbooks, has written The Heart of the Plate as a guide for the new generation of plant eaters. Those of us who own dog-eared and food-stained copies of her classics, The Moosewood Cookbook and Enchanted Broccoli Forest, think of her recipes as hearty, homey, heavy on the dairy, and crowd pleasing. They are often our go-to cookbooks when we think vegetarian.

Katzen’s new approach reflects the current trends in vegetarian cooking, with a much greater emphasis on vegan dishes. Her recipes are lighter, tap into ingredients, flavors, and textures drawn from the world’s cuisines, and yet appear to be simple to prepare and to customize. Gone are her folksy and charming handwritten recipes with accompanying pencil drawings. Katzen’s new cookbook style is slick, with beautifully illustrated photographs and original watercolors by the author herself. She assures us in her preface that this new collection of recipes includes her “absolutely most loved” recipes of late. While I had fun browsing her new title, I am really looking forward to getting into the kitchen and experimenting with her new approaches and combinations.

Check the WRL catalog for The Heart of the Plate.

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CrazyAboutPiesFor me, a pie is an object about which there is much to be crazy. Or perhaps that is not quite right, as pies are not “objects,” rather they are as manna contained within their own plane of being. To me, this isn’t so much a cookbook as a blueprint towards a better life.

Metaphysics aside, this is a great book that makes me hungry just looking at the pictures. It is beautifully illustrated with glowing photographs of creations that I know I could never bake as perfectly. The author, Krystina Castella, is an industrial designer as well as a successful cookbook writer, so it is not surprising that her pies are visually stunning. Crazy About Pies even has a section on “The Pie Decorator’s Tool Kit” although decorating pies is not something that had previously occurred to me beyond cutting out some leaves and an apple from left-over pastry or poking the vent holes in the shape of an “A.” Whether or not I would ever get around to putting a marzipan butterfly or a fondant blackbird on a pie, it is still lovely to look and dream…

Over the years I have perfected my one apple pie recipe to exactly how I like it, so I thought I would try something savory in the form of Bacon and Egg Pocket Pies. They took an unexpectedly long time to make, but the results were fabulously rich and incredibly yummy. Mixing little bits of bacon into pastry is not something that ever occurred to me before, but it worked out to be such a splendid idea, that I will have to try it again (but maybe not with apple pie). I managed to sneak one out of the fridge before my ravening hoards of teenagers pillaged them and (once warmed in the microwave), my colleagues agreed that they were just what we needed for breakfast.

For the sweet pies I am not sure whether to go with Mocha Pie or Cheesecake Pie with Marzipan Butterflies. Since I am at work, in the meantime, I will have to content myself with flicking through the book and drooling.

Definitely try Crazy About Pies if you want to expand your pie repertoire—you’ll get lots of great ideas. Or you can just look at it for the glamorous photographs of Pie Perfection.

Check the WRL catalog for Crazy About Pies.

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The Science of Good Cooking

Books are always the best gifts. Any bibliophile knows this, but for fancier volumes there is always the risk of gifting a  pricey doorstop. The Science of Good Cooking certainly qualifies as a doorstop at 486 pages and almost 11 by 9 inches. I decided to get it for my son’s sixteenth birthday to encourage his known interest in chemistry and a burgeoning interest in cooking. Happily, it has been a rewarding gift on many levels. It was worth every penny to come home one day to a scrumptious meal of fried chicken, creamed corn and salad that my son had cooked. And the book was an even better deal because, besides from my strong self-interest in getting my teenagers in the kitchen, I know I can always improve my own cooking skills.

I was paging through the book one evening looking for something to grab me, and I was instantly snaffled up by the section called “Cocoa Powder Delivers Big Flavor.” Since I am inclined to be smug about cooking from scratch I am embarrassed to admit that I have only ever made something approximating chocolate  mousse by the method of empty-powder-from-box-into-milk-and-whisk. So mousse it was! Whilst making the mousse, I discovered (or more accurately confirmed) that I am lazy. I knew that maximum volume in beaten egg whites requires a bowl completely free of oil. I only have one bowl for my stand mixer and I had just made it greasy with the previous ingredients, and making it clean for the egg whites hand involved washing a bowl, that although greasy, was safe to eat from. My first inclination was to put it in the dishwasher, but that would have taken too long, so the only answer was to use a dirty bowl and egg white volume be darned! The resulting mousse, although not at maximum volume, still tasted very good…

After my mousse adventure I still have plenty more to go. As I read in the section on eggs, subheading: “Starches at work – Quiche,” the proteins in raw egg whites and yolks are long chains of amino acids coiled up in balls (p 190). Who knew? When I was a vegetarian for 11 years, quiche was a significant part of my repertoire. Now it is greeted with a great deal less than enthusiasm when I present it to my unrepentantly carnivorous family. It did seem to get tougher and drier over the years, so I am looking forward to finding out the scientific secret to superb quiche.

I recommend this book for any cookbook fan. It has a variety of great recipes, although I found the organisation idiosyncratic. And it is a great book for sneaky people like me who want to feel noble that I am doing something “scientific” when I really just want to eat chocolate mousse.

Check the WRL catalog for The Science of Good Cooking.

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Subtitled “A portrait of American food — before the national highway system, before chain restaurants, and before frozen food, when the nation’s food was seasonal, regional, and traditional–from the lost WPA files,” you must at least read the extremely interesting Introduction to this treasure mine sampled from what remains in the archives of America Eats, five dusty boxes of manuscript copy on onionskin.  Here Kurlansky showcases the best of what he uncovered, just as writer Merle Colby had hoped when writing the final report before the unedited, unpublished manuscripts were tucked away in the 1940s: “Here and there in America some talented boy or girl will stumble on some of this material, take fire from it, and turn it to creative use.”

The entries are informative and amusing excerpts from food writing and recipes gathered regionally for a federally funded writing project that employed out-of-work writers.  When spending priorities changed after Pearl Harbor, the unfinished project materials were abruptly preserved in the Library of Congress, and we can thank Kurlansky for digging out its most fascinating gems for our enlightenment.

Among the southern and eastern sections where I focused my perusal, I really got a kick out of the anecdotes and details on preparing such delicacies as squirrel, [o]possum, chittelins, and corn pone, how the hush puppy got its name & why some forms of cornbread were once much lower in status.  Of course, Virginians will find some definitive yet highly opinionated historical notes on the famed Brunswick Stew.

The WPA (Works Progress Administration) was a government agency that sprung up as one of  many efforts to alleviate poverty in 1930s America.   Some WPA projects designed programs according to individual skill, field of study or expertise. Remarkably, these included plans for the fields of art, music, drama, and literature. The Federal Writers’ Project commissioned writers to research, write, edit, and publish works and series on particular topics, usually with American themes or interests in mind; writers employed included Zora Neale Hurston and Eudora Welty. Following the successful production of numerous travel guidebooks, the concept for America Eats provided a means for capturing the distinct regional and cultural uniqueness of food and how it was prepared, served, and eaten in an America on the cusp of immense change. America’s culinary differences were destined to be homogenized through the diverse means that food production would soon become so heavily industrialized and globalized.

If you’re one of the many readers eagerly devouring information on real food, whole foods, traditional foods, or even paleolithic foods, in what seems like a mass revolution against modern food (in which I’m still trying to figure out what works best for my lifestyle), you’ll find much to inform and inspire you in Kurlansky’s book.  Some will reminisce; others will find a lot of eye-opening and useful knowledge about the way we once were; all we be entertained.

Check the WRL catalog for The Food of a Younger Land

I read the title in the e-book version.

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grancocinaGran Cocina Latina (Great Latina Kitchen) is just that — big, rich, and fun to explore.  In over 900 pages this new, award-winning cookbook by restaurateur and food historian Maricel Presilla brings together the diverse cooking traditions of Central and South America and the Spanish-speaking countries of the Caribbean.

Beautifully laid out, with a balance of recipes, background and equipment notes, and photos, cooks and armchair travelers alike will savor this comprehensive collection of recipes from a geographically and culturally “big” region.

Recipes are not arranged by country, but are grouped according to ingredient or type of food.  Chapters introduce you to the layers of flavors that make up Latin America cooking.  Here you can explore  the variety of indigenous ingredients including chilies, squashes, corn, quinoa, beans, and potatoes that dominate the cuisine.  You can also learn about the unique types of dishes that come from countries such as Argentina, Peru, Columbia, and Cuba such as empanadas, secos, tamals,  ceviche,  ollas (soups), moles, and dulce latino (sweets).

So get beyond the familiar Tex Mex tacos, refried beans, and salsa and journey through the complex flavors — but not complex cooking — of Latin America.

Check the WRL catalog for Gran Cocina Latina

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TraversoWhen I was growing up in northern New England, I used to try wild apples. They could be found in the countryside and even deep in the woods, still growing in orchards abandoned 50 or 100 years before. Quite a few of these apples were “spitters,” but the good ones spoiled me for any supermarket commodity apple.

Amy Traverso’s book made me remember those old orchards, which are stark evidence of the collapse of diversity in American apple growing. One hundred years ago, about 15,000 named varieties of apples were grown in North America.  Today, most of them are extinct. Apple preservationists are working to reverse this trend, and thanks to their efforts, you can now buy heirloom varieties such as Black Oxfords, Roxbury Russets, and Yellow Transparents at farmers’ markets and specialty orchards. But what to do with them when you get them home? The Apple Lover’s Cookbook has it covered.

The heart of the book is a detailed guide to 59 apple varieties, all of which are currently grown somewhere in the country. Each type of apple gets a glamorous photo along with information about its history, best uses, availability, appearance and taste (e.g., “flavors of honey and pear” or “sweet, rich and spicy, with a mild aroma of cilantro”). The usual supermarket suspects are here, but never mind them. The fun is in learning about and desiring varieties that you have never heard of, with evocative names like Westfield Seek-No-Further, Esopus Spitzenburg, or Calville Blanc D’Hiver.

The most useful and clever thing about the guide is that each variety is assigned to one of four categories based on its taste and texture: firm-tart, firm-sweet, tender-tart or tender-sweet. Most of Traverso’s recipes call for apples by category, not by name, so you can use a supermarket apple or an heirloom, as long as it’s from the right category. However, if you’re just cooking with Granny Smiths, you’re missing the point.

This is probably the place to confess that what first attracted me to this book was a photograph of a doughnut. The beautiful pictures of dishes such as Apple-Stuffed Biscuit Buns, Dutch Baby, Apple and Mustard Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, and Pork and Apple Pie with Cheddar-Sage Crust will have you searching the kitchen junk drawer for your apple corer.

If this book has a hero, it is the Maine apple historian John Bunker, profiled in one of the brief articles scattered among the recipes. The story of how he tracked down and rescued the last known branch of Marlboro apples in existence is downright inspiring. In honor of people like him, don’t buy that pretty but soulless Red Delicious the next time you visit the supermarket. Put it back down, and see if you can find a Baldwin, a Gravenstein or a Northern Spy instead.

Check the WRL catalog for The Apple Lover’s Cookbook

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I’ve always wanted to take a peek behind the proverbial royal curtain—to see what life is really like on the other side of those British royal walls. I’m talking about food of course—life in the royal kitchen— as those who know me would assume! I’m not overly concerned about the grand banquets and the pomp and circumstance; the everyday minutiae interests me much more. What do the royals choose for a late night snack? Do they really prefer mac and cheese to roasted quail with truffles, cognac and prunes? Do they ever eat fish and chips the traditional way—out of a newspaper? So many questions…

I found Eating Royally to be an interesting mix of personal memories and great recipes. Chef Darren McGrady—who was the Royal Chef to Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Diana, Prince William, and Prince Harry for 15 years—gives us a glimpse into the private world of the royal family, along with sharing recipes for some of their favorite dishes. He includes interesting photographs, memorabilia, personal notes, and lots of anecdotal stories about the royal household. The stories are told with lighthearted humor and warmth. Chef McGrady obviously thoroughly enjoyed working with the royal family, and there was a mutual respect between them. Unlike others, he did not write about them to profit personally— in fact he gives 100% of the profits to Princess Diana’s charity.

The book is divided into chapters covering each of the royal residences— including the royal yacht. So, the reader gets a behind the scenes peek at all the royal kitchens, and an insight into the particular culinary characteristics and challenges of each location. Most recipes are preceded by an interesting tidbit. For example, regarding Royal Tea Scones: “While the Queen insisted on them as part of her tea, I suspect she didn’t actually like scones. I say this because she never, ever, ate them. Instead, at the end of her daily tea, the Queen would take a scone and crumble it onto the floor for the corgis. It seems the dogs quite liked them.”

Eating Royally is a great way to get an insider’s glimpse of how royals really live their day-to-day lives when they are out of the  spotlight, and to taste the very same dishes that have graced the tables of Buckingham Palace, Windsor, and Balmoral.  After all, wouldn’t you like to have your very own slice of Her Majesty’s Birthday Chocolate Cake? I know I would.

Check the WRL catalog for Eating Royally

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The downtown location of our library is a short walk from Colonial Williamsburg, the famous living history museum and re-creation of 18th century American life. An entire Colonial American town has been restored and re-created, and the interpreters wear authentic dress as they go about the many tasks carried out 300 years ago, such as the blacksmith working in the smithy. Our location leads to some amusing librarian anecdotes such as seeing Thomas Jefferson with a powdered ponytail and knee breeches coming in to check his email on the public computers. We also get odd reference questions on chilly, rainy nights such as “Where is my car parked? I know I left it by the field with the cart horses.” (And with the help of a tourist map and some local knowledge, my colleague was successful with that question).

Colonial Williamsburg is a great tourist attraction and tourists must be fed, so there are many restaurants, including re-creations of three historical taverns:  Christiana Campbell’s Tavern, Chowning’s Tavern and King’s Arms Tavern. The Colonial Williamsburg Tavern Cookbook was published in 2001 by Colonial Williamsburg’s governing body, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, to share the tavern food with interested cooks who have visited the taverns or those who live far away and can’t make it to Colonial Williamsburg. It doesn’t have actual authentic recipes. As the blurb says, “no need to to run out and get some suet in which to cook your mutton over the open hearth.” Rather, they created  “foods suggestive of the past but that suit modern appetites” that were “inspired by old recipes from eighteenth-century Virginia.” They say that to create the tavern meals and the book they researched “Deeds and other court records, insurance policies, estate inventories, comments in diaries and letters, financial accounts, newspaper advertisements, architectural details from surviving buildings and archaeological evidence [that] shed light on the lives of the individuals who kept these taverns and the customers who frequented them.”

The first section is Appetizers and First Courses, which is standard for many cookbooks, but the introduction points out that in Colonial Virginia the hosts and guests would have sipped punch or wine before their main meal, rather than eaten appetizers. It goes on to Soups, Salads, various types of meat, and most importantly, several types of baked goods and desserts.

I tried making King’s Arms Tavern Apple Cheddar Muffins as apple and cheese was not a combination that I was familiar with, but it sounded good. The recipe said to “serve at once” and this was good advice as they were warm, soft, rich and moist— mmmmmm. I used the scrag ends of Dutch cheese from the back of the fridge which gave them an intense cheese taste. Once they had gotten a bit stale I revived them in the microwave and added butter. One of my colleagues tried cutting one in half and toasting it. She said this refreshed it nicely and “it tasted much more cheesy.”

With lots of great recipes and dozens of crisp, color photos of both the food and Colonial Williamsburg,  The Colonial Williamsburg Tavern Cookbook will be of interest to cookbook enthusiasts as well as those interested in Colonial times.

Check the WRL catalog for The Colonial Williamsburg Tavern Cookbook

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Who really invented the fluffy meringue dessert, the pavlova? Usually the answer depends on whether you ask an Australian or a New Zealander, each claiming it as their own.  Alexa Johnston, in Ladies, a Plate: Traditional Home Baking puts it bluntly, “Now definitely proved to be a New Zealand invention, despite persistent Australian claims.” I think this statement confirms the provenance  of this book, rather than the provenance of the dessert!  Yes, Alexa Johnston is unashamedly a New Zealander, who has written a great cookbook.

The “Plate” of the title is the Kiwi way of saying that the event will be a potluck, perhaps the equivalent of the Southern phrase, “bring a covered dish.”  From my childhood I remember girls being asked to “bring a plate” and boys being asked to “bring a bottle” thus neatly covering both food and drink.

Alexa Johnston subtitled her book “Traditional” because she has researched the  sources for each recipe from old friends and in community and charity cookbooks like 450 Favourite Recipes from St Paul’s Presbyterian Church, Pahiatua, 1946 (Louise Cake, page 50).  I have been to Pahiatua on numerous occasions as it is down the road from where my grandmother used to live.  It is an interesting small town with the distinction (especially for small children) of having a playground with a World War II era plane with a slide coming out of it.  A cookbook from Pahiatua in 1946 is certainly an obscure source for American readers and cooks, but the Louise Cake is well worth knowing about as my colleagues can attest when I shared this at the staff meeting.

The book covers many other standards from down-under like ANZAC Biscuits (which I made for ANZAC day in April), cheese scones, and custard squares (vanilla slices in Australia).  Sadly, I did discover that if you shove the Chocolate Caramel Slice into the fridge at an odd angle, then the caramel will run out and be lost (and make a dreadful mess of the fridge!).

The measurements may be a little confusing for American cooks as Alexa Johnston lists two sets. She says the first set is how it was written in the original recipe and the second is metric. Many of the metric measurements are given as weights rather than the cup measurements Americans are used to, so cooks may have to do some conversion first.

The book is filled with gorgeous photographs of each treat, some of which are presented on unique and meaningful decorations such as Mrs. Marion Benton’s recipe for Afghans presented on a crochet-edged cloth that she made herself.

My own copy of Ladies, a Plate: Traditional Home Baking is already working up stains and grease spots, a sure sign of a well-used cookbook in my house, so I am glad my sister bought it for me on a trip to New Zealand.  Thank you, Elsa!

Check the WRL catalog for Ladies, A Plate

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I like making food from scratch and I have been cooking almost all of my family’s meals from scratch for 20 years. My favorite cookbooks are splattered and grease stained–my favorite chocolate cookbook with a recipe for Black Forest Cake, even more than most. The finished cake is wonderful, but I am not sure if I am really willing to go to all the effort of melting, mixing and measuring for the finished product or the gustatory pleasures of licking out the bowl!

Cookbooks are perennially popular, and books about food (with or without recipes) are experiencing a boom. I like reading about food but find some of the recent books pretentious and sanctimonious.  Make the Bread, Buy the Butter: What You Should and Shouldn’t Cook from Scratch–Over 120 Recipes for the Best Homemade Foods doesn’t take itself too seriously and has some great recipes. I don’t agree with all of Jennifer Reese’s pronouncements on which items should be made and which should be bought (buy rice pudding?) but I can’t go past any book that says: “Here in Northern California, where you can’t throw a Birkenstock without hitting an artisanal bakery, it’s still hard to find finicky butter-based pastries like the croissant. “

I decided to rise to the challenge of croissants since I currently bake most of our own bread (with the help of a bread maker) and made croissants from scratch many years ago. I had some difficulties with milk that was too hot for the yeast and an oven that was too hot for the bottoms of the croissants on the lower tray but the five petits pains au chocolat that I made were just right. As Jennifer Reese says, it was an “unbelievable hassle” but the results were worth it.

Since I firmly believe that chocolate cookies should be in a food group of their own, another recipe I found intriguing was for homemade Oreos. Growing up in another country, I came to Oreos as an adult. I find them tasty in small doses, but somehow artificial tasting. Homemade has to be better, right? I think my first attempt at Homemade Oreos was a resounding success. My kids and work colleagues pointed out that I didn’t make Oreos because “real” Oreos always come in a packet. But everyone, including me, thought my creation of a rich crumbly, deep chocolate cookie with a creamy filling was much better than anything “real.”

This book is great for people who are thinking of making more of their own food from scratch and need recipes. It is also full of entertaining tidbits that started out in Jennifer Reese’s blog, The Tipsy Baker. I enjoy her lack of pretentiousness. In one story she talks about one of her dearest family memories consisting of blobbing in front of the TV to watch The Lord of the Rings on DVD while eating Kentucky Fried Chicken. She compares it to an occasion when she proudly and successfully made delicious and healthy homemade fried chicken from scratch, imaging a Waltons-like family gathering, including “corn likker,”  only to see everyone eat and disappear to their own affairs like the meal was nothing special. The take-away message from this amusing book is make the bread from scratch when you can because it is cheaper, tastier and healthier, but don’t beat yourself up for needing to run into the supermarket to grab Wonder Bread.

Check the WRL catalog for Make the Bread, Buy the Butter.

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This week’s reviews are from our Outreach Services Division, and we start off with one from Janet.

Mention to someone who has been to Ireland that you are planning a first trip and you will hear raves about the natural beauty of the Emerald Isle and the friendliness of its people.  Everyone has a favorite spot – Aran Islands, Cliffs of Moher, Connemara, the Dingle Peninsula and the Ring of Kerry – and a favorite pub.  All paint a romantic picture of the verdant green landscape, the dramatic ocean views, and the ancient stone walls and ruins.  Advice is plentiful – “bring a rain coat and boots,” “pack layers,” “watch out for the sheep as you drive the narrow lanes,” and “spend less time driving and more time in a pub.”  When I ask about Irish food I most often get the same response, “don’t expect much other than meat, potatoes, and beer.”  Somehow I do expect more and so I checked out the library’s cookbook collection to bone-up on the flavors and delicacies that make up Irish cuisine.

Check out Country Cooking of Ireland, The Irish Pub Cookbook, and Irish Country House Cooking. Together they showcase the very best of contemporary Irish cuisine.  All provide gorgeous photos of the island’s rural and rugged landscape, recipes from some of the most celebrated pubs and manor houses in Ireland, and with a range of recipes that home cooks will find easy to follow.

There is plenty happening in the kitchens of modern Irish chefs well beyond the traditional lamb stew and colcannon.  Although the cuisine may still be a wee bit tough for a vegan, these new cookbooks profile foods that make use of an array of the finest artisan cheeses, fresh and smoked fish and seafood,  herbs and  hearty grains.

To explore Ireland’s food borrow a cookbook, get cooking, or hop on a plane for Dublin.

Check the WRL catalog for The Country Cooking of Ireland

Check the WRL catalog for The Irish Pub Cookbook

Check the WRL catalog for Irish Country House Cooking

 

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