Ruth Reichl, former restaurant critic for the New York Times, had to employ a variety of disguises and personalities to remain anonymous when she was eating at restaurants she wanted to write about.
Why I picked it up: I love food writing, including memoirs or restaurant critiques. I had never stopped to consider that a restaurant critic would be noticed when they popped in for a meal, which could drastically change the level of service and quality of food they received.
Why I finished it: Reichl described the process of creating her disguises and the personalities that went along with them so well that I felt like I was her partner in crime. One of her memorable personalities was Chloe, the blonde divorcee. Reichl has long curly dark hair, which had to be tied up under a wig. Chloe started life with a trip to a wig shop for cancer patients (Reichl was unwelcome when it became apparent she was healthy), a second wig shop, a thrift shop for a fancy black suit, and a salon for a manicure. Every place Reichl visited brought Chloe into sharper focus; she's divorced, her cheating husband is a doctor, and she gets the best of everything. I started to imagine who I could be under a blonde wig, and using credit cards under a different name. Would I be a demanding diner? Or picky and take too long to order? Added bonus: Reichl's descriptions of expressions on her doorman’s face as she strolled out in crazy wigs and outfits were hilarious.
It's perfect for: Anyone with a background in theater. It's a lot of work to become a fictional character complete with her own wants, needs, and fears. Like a true actress, Reichl stepped into each character and ordered as she would. She even sought the help of an acting coach.
@bookblrb: Restaurant critic Ruth Reichl had to employ disguises to remain anonymous when she was eating out.
Food plays a very special role in Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein's award-winning satire Portlandia-and the way Portland's residents enjoy and talk about food are a huge part of the show's personality. Fred, Carrie, and director Jonathan Krisel take you to the dishes that define the show, from cult-raised chicken to Stu's stews, from pickled veggies to foraged green salads. Complete with new full-color finished food shots and illustrations, and paired with humorous stories, head notes, and sidebars from the loveable food-obsessed Portlandia characters, this is a funny cookbook, with serious recipes, for people who want to bring Portlandia right into their kitchens.
After blogging about food in Beijing, Kuan got requests from readers to publish recipes for the food they got in American Chinese restaurants. Since she grew up around that sort of food, she made a cookbook that combines the cultures and tastes that mix in this uniquely American cuisine.
Why I picked it up: I wanted to know the secret of that delicious brown goo that makes the stir-fry at my local Chinese/Korean/American joint so good.
Why I finished it: I didn't find the goo, but I did find fresh, healthful takes on restaurant classics. Kuan put together a collection of what I've loved in many different restaurants: Crab Rangoon (invented in America, probably at Trader Vic's), dry-fried string beans (which I almost always order at my Thai place), and congee (the most delicious thing that you could call gruel).
It's perfect for: John, a farmers’ market shopper who needs to read the chapters on delicious and simple ways to cook baby bok choi, Chinese broccoli, and asparagus.
@bookblrb: Recipes for food found in American Chinese restaurants.
This extraordinary success-story-told by the hero himself-of a young French pastry chef who climbed his way to the top, embodies the great American dream. After working at the Savoy in London, the George V in Paris, the Princess in Bermuda, and the Homestead in Virginia, Roland Mesnier took on the job of a lifetime as pastry chef to the White House. He provides behind-the-scenes insight into the characters, tastes, and obsessions of the five presidents and first ladies he served during his 25 years in Washington. Having witnessed major world events from the hub of the world's superpower, Mesnier has unique perspective on both crises and celebrations. He recounts stories such as Carter's incessant battle for the return of American hostages in Tehran, the aftermath of the attempt to assassinate Reagan, Bush senior's doubts after the war in Kuwait, and the shock of September 11. He uncovers intimate details such as Mrs. Reagan's bad moods and Prince Charles's embarrassment at not knowing how to use a tea bag. Fiercely loyal to each of the first families, Mesnier's bipartisan message is positive and inspirational. Twelve easy-to-follow recipes include the favorite desserts of presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.
Owen Wedgwood is a sensitive widower and chef to Lord Ramsey, a seemingly respectable gentleman with interests in the Pendelton Company. Owen's world is turned upside down when the infamous pirate Mad Hannah Mabbot raids the seaside estate, killing Ramsey and nearly everyone in sight. But when she steals a taste of the sumptuous banquet Owen has prepared, she spares his life and kidnaps him to become her chef.
Why I picked it up: A culinary pirate adventure? Seriously, this book was written for me.
Why I finished it: While the high seas shenanigans were breathtaking, complete with bloody skirmishes, crazy weapons, and exotic locales, it was the culinary bits that really won me over. Owen must cook "the finest supper" every Sunday, and never "repeat a dish nor serve foods that are in the slightest degree mundane." In exchange, Mabbot will keep him alive and well. The creativity that Owen devotes to preparing the intricate feasts is tantalizing and impressive. To create yeast for making bread, he nurtures mold from an apple by carrying it next to his heart to keep it warm. When Mabbot's beloved rabbit dies, Owen turns it into a feast that is a worthy tribute to its short, tender life. And the delight he experiences with every exotic food brought from shore or nabbed from a raided ship will be shared by readers who think of themselves as foodies. My favorite meal in the book is a three course affair featuring:
herring pâté with rosemary on walnut bread
tea-smoked eel ravioli seared with caramelized garlic and bay leaf
rum-poached figs stuffed with pilfered blue cheese and drizzled with honey
It's perfect for: Shiny, my library conference roommate, who is always up for helping me find new food experiences when I visit her in Portland. She would love that this is basically a great romance novel with the traditional roles reversed.
@bookblrb: A widowed chef is kidnapped by a pirate and forced to cook unique, exotic meals for her (or else).
It’s a DIY cook’s dream come true: It’s pizza night, and you’ve made not only the crust and sauce but the mozzarella, too. Or you're whipping up quesadillas for a snack, using your homemade Triple Pepper Hack. Or the dinner party's in high gear and out comes the cheese plate—and yes, you've made all the cheeses on it. Even better—you made them all earlier that day.
In a cookbook whose results seem like magic but whose recipes and instructions are specific, easy-to-follow, and foolproof, Claudia Lucero shows step by step—with every step photographed—exactly how to make sixteen fresh cheeses at home, using easily available ingredients and tools, in an hour or less. The approach is basic and based on thousands of years of cheesemaking wisdom: Heat milk, add coagulant, drain, salt, and press. Simple variations produce delicious results across three categories—Creamy and Spreadable, Firm and Chewy, and Melty and Gooey. And just as delicious, the author shows the best ways to serve them, recipes included: Squeaky “Pasta” Primavera, Mozzarella Kebab Party, and Curry in a Hurry Lettuce Wraps.
Jelly shots have grown up! No longer are they just Jello-and-booze concoctions slurped from a Dixie cup at a frat party. They've evolved into delightful cocktails using gelatin and gourmet ingredients.
Why I picked it up: Recently an eighty-year-old library patron asked me for this book. We were both delighted to find it on the shelf. The cover photography shows colorful, artistic shapes that look like jewels. I handed the book over and promised her I'd place a hold on it for myself. Then she invited me to a party at her house.
Why I finished it: I was intrigued by the places gelatin and alcohol shots have popped up over the years. The book begins with a brief history of the jelly shot. The baker of Napoleon Bonaparte's wedding cake recorded a recipe for "Orange-Flower and Pink Champagne Jelly." A version of "punch jelly" that calls for cognac and rum and is then gelled also appeared in a barkeeper's book by Jerry Thomas from the 1860s, How To Mix Drinks or The Bon Vivant's Companion.
The photography in this book is gorgeous, and based on the pictures I couldn't wait to try the Manhattan; it’s my standard night out cocktail, but the gelatin version of this bitters and bourbon drink was a fun change. Not all recipes contain alcohol. The Lavender Lemonade recipe calls for lemon lime soda and dried lavender, marjoram, or basil.
It's perfect for: People who love to entertain and decorate. Not only does the writer give great directions on how to make perfectly shaped jelly shots using molds and cookie cutters, it contains a section on special effects such as layering and creating shapes that are perfectly suspended in the gelatin.
@bookblrb: How to make jelly shot cocktails featuring gourmet ingredients.
Buying large, unbutchered pieces of meat from a local farm or butcher shop means knowing where and how your food was raised, and getting meat that is more reasonably priced. It means getting what you want, not just what a grocery store puts out for sale—and tailoring your cuts to what you want to cook, not the other way around. For the average cook ready to take on the challenge, The Meat Hook Meat Book is the perfect guide: equal parts cookbook and butchering handbook, it will open readers up to a whole new world—start by cutting up a chicken, and soon you’ll be breaking down an entire pig, creating your own custom burger blends, and throwing a legendary barbecue (hint: it will include The Man Steak—the be-all and end-all of grilling one-upmanship—and a cooler full of ice-cold cheap beer).
This first cookbook from meat maven Tom Mylan, co-owner of The Meat Hook, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is filled with more than 60 recipes and hundreds of photographs and clever illustrations to make the average cook a butchering enthusiast. With stories that capture the Meat Hook experience, even those who haven’t shopped there will become fans.
Roberts, the blogger behind the wildly successful the Amateur Gourmet, came up with a brilliant idea: to travel the country and get super chefs to teach him three recipes each, which he would then translate for use in home kitchens. It led him on an epic foodie journey where he met (and cooked with) everyone from the legendary Alice Waters, to Seattle's hometown stars Brandon Pettit (Delancey) and Tom Douglas (of more restaurants than I can keep track of anymore).
Why I picked it up: I really love to cook, but tend to suffer social anxiety around making food for others. I hope I can pick up some chef secrets that will give me the little boost I need to go from cautious and recipe dependent to courageous and creative in the kitchen.
Why I finished it: I don't think I'll ever be finished with this cookbook, even if I cook every dish in it! Reading the sidebar tips alone would make anyone a better chef, but I love how accessible Roberts makes all this fabulous food. It is really comforting to know that while Alice Waters might make her olive oil-fried eggs with a crown of herbs using fennel fronds, arugula, chives, and chervil, Roberts just uses parsley, thyme, and sage, and I can just use whatever is growing in my garden.
It's perfect for: Katie, from my Foodie Book Group who is already a better cook than me and has even been a finalist in a cooking contest! Not only would she thrill over the mouth-watering photos this book is filled with, she is the most likely of my friends to prepare cured pork belly with kimchi rice grits and have me over for dinner.
@bookblrb: A food blogger travels the country and gets super chefs to teach him three recipes each.
Holl has compiled an eclectic collection of recipes from craft brewery pubs across the country. He begins with brunch and works his way through every meal and course. Many of the recipes include craft beers, and those that don't have a list beers from that brewery that go great with the dishes. Each recipe has an explanation of its origin and the pub where it was created, and there are little known, fascinating facts about beers and brewing. Included are many photos which will make you thirsty, the best cities for brew pub road trips, and a list of all the pubs featured in the book by state.
Why I picked it up: I don't drink a lot of beer, but when I do I much prefer craft beer to bland commercial brands. The cover reminded me of many wonderful meals (and drinks) at Reno’s Silver Peak Restaurant & Brewery, so I had to give it a try.
Why I finished it: Its huge variety of dishes and facts about the art of brewing, and its relationship to cuisine. I had no idea most of the craft beers are brewed by chefs. I was fascinated to see recipes for soups, salads, vegetarian dishes, and gluten-free desserts. Many of the dishes reflect the regional flavor of the pub where they were created. Of the recipes I’ve tried, the Planet Porter Bison Stew from the Boulder Beer Company is my favorite.
It's perfect for: My buddy Doug. He loves beer and he loves to cook, and will find this collection of recipes a joy, especially his own local favorite, the Redhook Brewery's Chicken-Fried Steak Tip with ESB Gravy.
@bookblrb: An eclectic collection of recipes from craft brew pub across the country.
This book is full of beautiful treats. They’re delicious and the colors are stunning -- I particularly liked the contrast between candied orange peel, creamy frosting, and dark chocolate. It has recipes both for novices (chocolate whoopie pies) and advanced bakers (rhubarb & custard whoopie pies). It also includes tips on what to use to decorate -- from piping bags with big tips to a spatula.
Why I picked it up: The cover is ridiculously cute. The pistachios, rose petals, and colored sprinkles on white frosting made my mouth water. It didn’t matter that I’d never heard the term whoopie pie.
Why I finished it: I love cookbooks with good pictures, because they show what the end product should look like. Though the pies my daughter and I made didn’t quite look like Claire’s, the red velvet whoopie pies with old-fashioned buttercream were a hit with her friends. And it’s fun to keep trying to make them look perfect.
It's perfect for: Sharon, who has a six-year-old, very smart girl. Little kids' cookbooks are a bit too easy for her daughter, but this is the right mix of difficult and fun to keep her engaged.
@bookblrb: Stunning, beautiful treats that can be made by everyone from novices to advanced bakers.
These simple, colorfully Illustrated, step-by-step recipes make great cooking projects for young cooks. Healthy and fresh, every recipe has tips for adult helpers, and each is followed by comic-like sequential illustrations that show how to measure, mix, assemble, and eat these delicious dishes.
Why I picked it up: Katzen’s charming illustrations caught my eye as I’ve seen them in my batter-smeared Moosewood Cookbook.
Why I finished it: Nineteen recipes like the no-cook “Number Salad” with its one handful of coconut, two tablespoons of OJ concentrate, three pieces of orange, four slices of apples, etc. ...made me eager to eat!
It's perfect for: Day care, elementary and after-school cooking projects with one or many cooks. Minimal cooking equipment is needed and every dish seems kid-friendly and yummy.
@bookblrb: Simple, illustrated, step-by-step recipes for young cooks featuring comic-like sequential illustrations.