If you're looking to give a book to a friend or family member this holiday, NPR Books editor Petra Mayer shares her picks.
Ottolenghi: Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s cookbooks (Plenty and Jerusalem) have become best sellers and the talk of many dinner parties. “Ottolenghi: The Cookbook” (Ten Speed Press) was their first book (originally published in the U.K. in 2008) and was just released in the U.S. I don’t think it’s quite as beautiful as “Plenty” or “Jerusalem,” but it’s still a winner — filled with dozens of enticing recipes that highlight Middle Eastern flavors. I can’t wait to try Kosheri, an Egyptian lentil and rice dish, flavored with nutmeg, cinnamon, and onions and a spicy chile and cilantro-infused tomato sauce. Turkey breast, one of the most boring cuts of poultry around, is marinated with a lemony sauce of herbs and cumin making it totally attractive. The Sweet Potato Galette –sweet potato slices on puff pastry with goat cheese, pumpkin seeds, and chile—is something I will definitely be serving this winter. And the Jerusalem artichoke and arugula soup looks positively amazing. This food is lively, inventive, and bright.
Balaboosta: Balaboosta is the Yiddish word for “a perfect housewife.” “Balaboosta: Bold Mediterranean Recipes to Feed the People You Love” by Einat Admony (Artisan, 2013) is a tempting collection of recipes and stories that lures you back into the kitchen wanting to try new flavors. What kinds of flavors? “Cauliflower Everyone Loves” offers fried cauliflower with dried currants, toasted pine nuts, and parsley tossed with a white wine vinaigrette. Lamb Chops with Persian Lime Sauce; Sea Scallops with Citrus Beurre Blanc, and Harissa; and Honey Hot Wings gives you a sense of how Admony takes familiar ingredients and offers up new twists. I tried the Eggplant Slathered with Tahini, Lemon, and Herb Salad and wowed a small group of friends on a recent winter’s evening. Her Dad’s Hot Sauce (called S’Chug) combines garlic, red chiles, cardamom, jalapeno, cilantro, and cumin. A big batch of this hot sauce could make the long winter months a whole lot more tolerable.
Pok Pok: Several years ago, while visiting uber-hip Portland, Oregon, I was lucky enough to visit Pok Pok, a remarkable Thai restaurant. (There’s now a branch of Pok Pok in Brooklyn, New York.) I was blown away by the depth of flavors and textures, and the sheer “newness” of so much of what I ate that day. (So very different from almost any Thai restaurant I have ever been to.) I remember wanting to cook all the Pok Pok food at home. Well the good news is that now I can — and so can you.
“Pok Pok” by Andy Ricker with JJ Goode, is a collection of the restaurant’s best recipes. You’ll definitely need to find a good Asian store for some of these ingredients (or there’s also this thing called the internet), but the recipes are well written and guide you through many unknowns. The Phat Khanaeng combines Brussels sprouts stir-fried with garlic, Thai oyster sauce and fish sauce, chiles and soy. You’ll find Thai soups, noodle dishes, grilled foods, chile dips, and Thai salads (including an amazing Papaya salad). If you’re a fan of Thai flavors and dishes you’ll definitely want to check this out.
Spain: There’s been much written about the food of Spain, so do we really need yet another volume? “Spain: Recipes and Traditions from the Verdant Hills of the Basque Country to the Coastal Waters of Andalusia” (Chronicle Books) by Jeff Koehler is a beauty. The photography is simply stunning, but the straightforward approach of the recipes will win you over — from the simplest (Winter Green Salad with Fresh Cheese and Pomegranate Seeds; Chicken Croquettes; or La Rioja-Style Stewed Potatoes with Chorizo) to more complex dishes like Shellfish Paella or Fideos in the Cazuela with Pork Ribs.
I have my doubts about Lobster in a Nutty Chocolate Sauce, Costa Brava Style (why would you do that to a sweet lobster?) but, by the end of the 352-page book, I trusted Koehler enough to (maybe) give it a try!
The A.O.C. Cookbook: “The A.O.C. Cookbook” by Suzanne Goin (Knopf) makes me want to stop writing and driving and doing everything else I do in day and just get in the kitchen to cook Goin’s gorgeous food. Goin is Los Angeles-based, the owner of Lucques restaurant and A.O.C. (this refers to the French government’s system for regulating and designating wine, cheese, and other artisinal foods like Champagne. Literally it stands for Appellation d’Origine Controlee.) This is not a book for those just making their way into the kitchen for the first time. The recipes tend to have several steps, but you can chose to cook only part of the dish. For example, the Atlantic Sea Scallops with Saffron Potatoes and Blood Orange-Meyer Lemon Salsa would be every bit as good without the potatoes. But don’t skip the citrusy salsa.
And yet there are other dishes (ones that normally seem fairly involved) that Goin makes look simple. The Chicken Liver Pate has only a half dozen ingredients and is straightforward. I’ll definitely try the Roasted Pear Crisp with Cranberries and Yogurt Sherbet this winter. And, I can’t wait until plum season to bake the Crème Fraiche Cake with Santa Rosa Plums and Pistachios in Olive Oil.
Caroline Styne provides the wine notes, and you can learn a lot about wine reading this book. And, the last 40 odd pages of the book are devoted to a detailed description of cheeses from around the world, country by country, divided by goat, sheep, and cow’s milk.
One Good Dish: Looking for a collection of really simple recipes but ones that will stand out? David Tanis is the author of “One Good Dish” (Artisan). This book is a wonderful illustration of how really fresh, simple food can be the very best. These recipes are straightforward and require (in most cases) a very limited number of ingredients, but always seem new and beautiful. Tanis writes the weekly City Kitchen column in the New York Times and has built a reputation on recipes like Save-Your-Life Garlic Soup (garlic, oil sage, eggs, bread, and water transformed into a soothing soup), After Dinner Dates (crème fraiche and citrus zest stuffed into large dates). There’s a Warm French Lentil Salad (made with pork belly, carrots and potatoes), Quick Scallion Kimchee, gorgeous salads, and even a collection of drinks (both hot and cold, alcoholic and not).
Seriously Bitter Sweet: Alice Medrich’s “Seriously Bitter Sweet: The Ultimate Dessert Maker’s Guide to Chocolate” (Artisan, 2013). Medrich has been my chocolate “teacher” for several years. In her award-winning book Bittersweet (2003) she explained to American bakers how various types of chocolate affect your baking. How does the percentage of cacao contained in a chocolate bar impact a recipe? The answer: quite a bit.
This is her revised and updated paperback version of that book and it’s a good one. Not only does Medrich offer up a great collection of recipes—from basic but sublime brownies to soufflés to chocolate cheesecake—but each one offers commentary on the type of chocolate used. There’s much to be learned and even more to bake.
The Art of French Pastry: You say you want to bake? Get really serious about baking and learn technique? “The Art of French Pastry” by Jacquy Pfeiffer with Martha Rose Shulman (Knopf) is your book. You’ll drool over the photos of French pastry (Raspberry and Hazelnut Tart; Frozen Coffee and Chocolate Mousse; French macaroons; and Napoleons) and feel calmed by the very specific instructions. The recipes run for several pages (no, this is not the book for someone who wants to make a simple cookie), but it is like having a French pastry chef behind your shoulder say “Non, non do it like this!” Each recipe offers something called “Jacquy’s Takeaways” with hints on what to look for in each recipe, offering great insider tips. And there are terrific technical illustrations about how to assemble and layer pastry, pipe mousseline, and shape those wonderful French cookies called palmiers.
Experts share a range of perspectives on how to combat the Islamic State militant group, and the role the U.S. should play.