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Monday, October 25, 2010

What will You be Reading this Christmas?

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I don’t know about you but I take my cookbook buying very seriously. Throughout the year I scan Jessica’s Biscuits newsletter and Kitchen & Letters and shuffle books over to a cookbook folder. At Christmas, when NSSP is looking to feed my habit, I give him the list. The first few years he DIDN’T GET IT meaning that he thought he had a CHOICE from the list. No, No dear NSSP I want all that I ask for! But as you know compromises occur in any marriage. So I modified my request. There were the ABSOLUTES and the “you can pick from my surprise list”. This has been a win-win ritual. NSSP “surprises” me and I get what I want.

There is a bit of excitement-will he place the order in time? What DID he pick? Then, the arrival of the box. I stroke, shake, and dream of its contents.

Christmas day when all the presents are opened a second pot of coffee is made and I curl up with my new stack. I know I have a few hours before the kitchen turns into Christmas dinner mayhem and I am riding high on my cookbook fix.

I thought it would be fun to share the books I have accumulated through the year. Some were bought at Christmas others gathered from the “can’t live without” category.

My southern cookbook section is slim so I “requested” John Besh’s My New Orleans The Cookbook. This is a book of seasonal ingredients, celebrations, and the terrior of New Orleans through Besh’s palate. Many recipes have universal appeal and can be made anywhere but after reading about shrimping, Mardi Gras, Feast Days and Creole Tomatoes I started to understand why this iconic cuisine needed to be recorded and passed down. A note must be made to Ditte Isager the photographer and Dorothy Kalins the editor who brought the whole concept together.

I always like to get a BIG book. That means a culinary tomb written by a chef with amazing recipes oozing with creativity. Last year’s hit was MOMOFUKU by David Chang and Peter Meehan. If you haven’t heard of one of David’s restaurants-MOMOFUKU Noodle Bar, Ssam Bar, Ko, Milk Bar or Ma Peche you’ve been living under a rock. This book is flipping hot! His combinations and techniques are worth a cruise. Who knew a compound butter of Miso and sweet butter could be so sublime?

In January I continued my Asian infatuation with Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat’s Japanese Hot Pots. Harris pens The Japanese Report. A blog that features his ruminations on Japanese ingredients, chefs, techniques and travel. Through the year I have become more comfortable with Japanese recipes and it’s thanks to Harris.

I didn’t really want to take a class on Stir Fry, but I did want to check out Grace Young. She was coming to The Edge and off I trundled to her class. Boy was I wrong! There was a whole level of stir fry that I didn’t know about. I quickly grabbed her The Breath of a Wok and Stir Frying to the Sky’s Edge and haven’t turned back. I have many Chinese cookbooks but what turned my head was the procedure logic in her recipes. Before I started cooking I could easily imagine the flow of the ingredients and execution. A recent dish I made was her salon stir fry. Excellent, light , and not a splash of soy sauce. I have been able to widen my Chinese repertoire and listen to the “Wok Hay”.

Another Asian Chef blew through town and I signed up for her class on Asian Dumplings (book of the same name). Andrea Nguyen is an effervescent cook passionate about anything wrapped in dough. It was hands on, not my favorite venue but how else do you learn a new technique? The dough that captivated me was made with wheat starch. It took me 3 Asian stores before I found it in a reasonable quantity. A Google search led me to businesses that sold it by the pallet load. It is library paste to some but to Asian cooks it makes supple translucent dumplings that melt in your mouth. It was worth the search!

My Italian section has been growing. For years I dismissed Italian cookbooks. I liked my repertoire and felt comfortable creating my own versions. My sights turned to Italy a few years ago when The Princess went there for Junior Year Abroad (we called it finishing school…). Lidia Bastianich came out with Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy and it flew onto my Christmas list. Her passion is felt in every recipe and the chapters start with the regions in the north at Trentino and end in Sardinia. Each region is unique and each chapter illustrates this.

Another book I picked up this year dove tailed perfectly with Lidia’s and that was Why Italians Love to Talk About Food by Elena Kostioukovitch This book focuses on the people of the regions, their differences, and relationship with food.

Cruising the aisles of Borders one day, I picked up Venezia Food & Dreams by Tessa Kiros. Venice is a visual confection and walking the streets you feel like you are in a play. If you never go there buy this book! From the gold edging to the sumptuous pictures and velvet book mark, this cookbook is the next best thing to visiting Venice. The recipes are good and the chapters laid out like a meal from Cicchetti to Dolci you’ll want to share the romance.

Summer found me at the library and I checked out, Recipes from an Italian Summer published by Phaidon. I jokingly told myself I would just skim it but the mind is a devious organ. I didn’t get 10 pages into it when my post-its started dotting the pages. Half way through and I capitulated and bought it. I haven’t regretted the decision. Summer in Italy is easy to imagine with our wonderful Farmer’s Markets and this book. The recipes scream fresh, seasonal and languid meals. Always looking for another food holiday, Italian Summer didn’t let me down. I was introduced to Ferragosto an Italian feast that dates to pre-Roman times and a must celebration on August 15!

In gathering these books I’ve become humbled by all of the must have purchases. When I saw that Dorie Greenspan came out with a new book, Around My French Table I thought I could wait until Christmas, but no. A 40% off coupon at Borders coincided with a cookbook signing on The Edge. Dorie’s books aren’t for the weak wristed. Her Baking cookbook (fabulous- no need for any other baking book!) weighs 4pounds 13 ounces and the new one is 4pounds 11 ½ ounces. I was carrying 3 of them around to be signed and my shoulders were killing me. Ahh, the new book-Such gorgeous pictures by Alan Richardson and recipes that make you imagine your home is in Paris. Dorie is like a good friend whose love of France is infectious. This is about putting together good, simple, food not as a grand dinner party but as a vehicle to a casual night with good friends and conversation. I’ve done a little stroking of the book but am resisting its use until the holidays. I think Dorie’s book will be my featured holiday inspiration.

Last but not least, and in my quest for dinner table etiquette I found The Art of The Table by Suzanne Von Drachenfels. From Dining Fundamentals to Table Manners, Susan deftly covers every aspect of the table as well as upkeep and care of your items. The topic can be daunting but Suzanne keeps on track without bogging down. There is much to learn about setting the perfect table and how it sets the stage for a meal.

A few tips on buying books. I don’t just go off willy nilly and slap the plastic down as soon as I see a book I want. My three go-to sources are: www.powells.com, www.ecookbooks.com, and www.alibris.com. I compare ponder and oft times will buy a used one.

Soon the holidays will be here and I’ll slip my list under NSSP’s office door. I can’t wait for Christmas Day!! What will be under your tree?

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