Joanne's Cookbook Reviews, Part 2
Updated August, 2011

More Cookbook Reviews
Adventures in the Kitchen (Puck)
An American Place
Ballymaloe Bread Book, The
Braise: A Journey Through International Cuisine
Complete Book of Pasta and Noodles
Cooking of Southwest France, The
Cooking Secrets of the CIA
De'Medici Kitchen, The
Essence of Chocolate: Recipes for Baking and Cooking with Fine Chocolate
French Laundry Cookbook
Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook
Michael Mina: The Cookbook
Recipes: A Collection for the Modern Cook
Whole Beast, The
Zuni Cafe Cookbook, The

The Ballymaloe Bread Book
The Ballymaloe Bread Book

by Tim Allen

Even before I visited Ballymaloe, I was extremely taken with this all-bread cookbook which covers soda, sweet yeast and savory breads, as well as teacakes.

Measurements will be somewhat of  a challenge (as they are all weights and in grams) but, with the help of my trusty kitchen scale, I‘ve been lucky that I‘ve turned out delicious results, including scones and brown bread. Figuring out the kinds of flour to use is made easier with a good glossary. Methods are easy and I’ve had no trouble following recipes, however, some of the hand mixing techniques require some practice. The recipes are all designed with the homecook in mind and often are easy to set aside and come back to for rising, or quick all-in-one like the soda breads.

I’ve tried many of the  recipes including those for brown and white breads, London buns, and the amazing barrack buns (which you split and eat with cream and jam), spotted dog , white rolls, chocolate and orange muffins among others

Overall this is a fun and inspiring little cookbook. Highly Recommended.

Michael Mina: The CookbookMichael Mina: The Cookbook
by Michael Mina
Three words: Gorgeous food porn. If you really tried to produce a dinner of trios from these recipes, you would really destroy your kitchen and probably need a nap. The great part is that you can pick and choose from a trio, but of course you may need to experiment to figure out which one to pick. We found that at the restaurant one of a trio might be standout.

Also included are the favorite recipes (the most-requested) from Michael Mina’s restaurants (like whole fried chicken, caviar parfait and salmon Wellington). The ideas you could get from perusing this book are wonderful, but beware that recipes which require multiple pages of instruction in very small print could make you completely crazed. I suggest photocopying a recipe you want to try and using the enlarge button on the copier (and maybe the darken button as the text is silvery grey). Techniques and secrets are revealed within the tiny print and worth reading through. You will learn to foam and mound and plate but I to turn out a dish as gorgeous looking as one of the photos you’ve got your work cut out.

Essence of ChocolateEssence of Chocolate: Recipes for Baking and Cooking with Fine Chocolate
by Robert Steinberg & John Scharffenberger
I was dubious about yet another all-chocolate cookbook. This one is pleasantly surprisingly, chock-full of interesting information on cocoa bean production, roasting, etc. and recipes which are truly useful. The first one we tried was the chocolate chip cookie recipe and it is by far the best chocolate chip cookie recipe I’ve found in a cookbook, thus far. Definitely worth your time.
Recipes: A Collection for the Moden Cook
Recipes: A Collection for the Modern Cook
by Susan Spungen

Susan Spungen was the founding food editor and editoral director for food at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. Spungen was the editorial director for 12 years. She's used the clean bright style of the MS publications effectively in this cookbook which is designed by the same firm that did the French Laundry and Bouchon Cookbooks - Level in Calistoga, CA.

The choices are rather straightforward - along the lines of what you might actually eat for dinner: Grill Roasted Lemongrass Chicken, Rigatoni with Squash and Caramelized Onions, Sticky Japanese Eggplant, Paella for a party and Pork Tonnato. Chapters are simple too: Prepare, Chop, Saute, Grill, Roast, Bake, Indulge and Simmer & Braise.

There are 100 photographs (gorgeous ones) which really make the cookbook colorful and fun to look through. On the negative side, there are probably a number of recipes that somewhat seasoned cooks don’t really need a recipe for like Pork with grilled peaches, rosemary roasted potatoes, apple and fennel salad and chunky gazpacho with Avocado come to mind. However, there are really good notes on many of the recipes (albeit the mushroom in parchment recipe I tried needed some serious illustrative step-by-step photos on folding). And some very simple recipes which may become star rotations in your kitchen that you may not have tried otherwise - like Potato “Tostones”, Polenta with Caramelized Corn, Mushrooms baked in Parchment (Jack liked this one so much it will be a regular in our house) and Peanut Noodles with Mango.

Indulge, aka Dessert offers an assortment of crisps, rustic tarts, cookies, etc. all of which are relatively easier to prepare. Spungen also suggests choosing seasonal fruits although she doesn’t offer alternate instructions for each recipe instead she offers seasonal recipes like Winter Crisp and Peach Melba. Little Black Dress Cake looks really appealing, with the addition of sour cream to add richness and acidity - I might just make it this weekend. Beauty inspires and this a beautiful cookbook.

Recommended with reservations on the number of recipes which you probably don’t need or have versions of elsewhere.

The Zuni Cafe Cookbook:
A Compendium of Recipes and Cooking Lessons from San Francisco's Beloved Restaurant

by Judy Rodgers, Gerald Asher

I love this cookbook but I can’t seem to find anything to cook out of it; strange but true. The only recipe I’ve managed so far was the Fagioli all’Uccelletto, which I adapted to the wood oven. It came out fantastic and I’ll be using it again.

I have this cookbook because I know I’ll use it – I just haven’t yet. The recipes for Air-dried beef, roasted squab, house-cured salt cod, Zuni Fideus (a type of braised noodle) with wild mushrooms and peas are all inspiring.

What I want is time to read this cookbook cover-to-cover. This book is full of great information but you have to actually read it to uncover that (like how to cut up a rabbit and what to do with it, how to choose ingredients and how to dress a salad). Each recipe has a great introduction and wine suggestion. I love the chapter on Eggs.

Cons. The information beyond the recipes is sprinkled throughout so you need to read the whole cookbook to uncover it. There’s recipes for salting anchovies and making confit and sausage (not to mention that house cured salt cod and the air-dried beef I’ve been eyeing) which are great but really over the top in terms of what you’re likely to actually use out any cookbook – well unless you are crazy like me.

The Complete Book of Pasta and Noodles

by Cooks Illustrated

Summation: A really comprehensive pasta making book. Recipes for both making the pasta itself, then for sauces, and, of course, uses of the pastas and noodles. Also a good overview of types of noodles and pastas and lots of info for variations.

Extols 450 recipes for pasta dishes. There is a focus on answering common questions which is great. The pasta I made from scratch was perfect the first time – except that the book didn’t explain how to use the spaghetti dies and to use rice flour or semolina to keep the strands from sticking (at least I didn’t read that part if it does).

Con: Virtually no pictures (all black and white) with only a scattering of diagrams. Really, really text heavy and heavy in general. You will probably find what you need but it's not necessarily a user-friendly book (bulky and with so much paragraphed text that's not easy to follow).

Almost too comprehensive that it’s daunting. Once you are familiar with pasta making and have a good recipe for the dough, you’ll probably just create sauces on your own.

The French Laundry Cookbook

by Thomas Keller, Deborah Jones
The first and foremost most gorgeously presented coffee table cookbook. It has a really great introduction and a number of essential recipes for pantry items ala Thomas Keller.

Recipes for Tomato powder make me more respectful of the amount of work that goes into each individual dish at The French Laundry restaurant. It is an enlightening book. I’ve made the staff meal. It was great.

Cons. You’ll need the entire neighborhood and the dog to pull off some of the recipes (the dog to lick the pots and pans clean when you are past the point of washing them – ever.) While it will certainly impress your friends to serve a FLC recipe at the table, you might want to choose the friends on whom you bestow this great honor carefully, and make sure you take out a loan to pay for the more expensive ingredients.

The Whole Beast Cookbook
The Whole Beast:
Nose to Tail Eating

by Fergus Henderson

While deep-fried lamb's brains and Haggis are not likely to show up on our table soon, this book gives you the ability to make them. The Whole Beast might be called the The Brits Guide to Cooking Meals Which Include Beast as it includes many non-beast accompaniments such as tartar sauce, treacle, pickled gherkins, Welsh rarebit and deconstructed piccalilli.

This is in fact where the real strength of the book lies – in addition to the meat, fish and game recipes a wealth of down-home British food recipes are included to fill out your plate. Even the meat recipes are not all outlandish as rolled pig’s spleen. There are quite a few I could see trying like cured ham, beans and bacon, pickled herring, cured beef and celeriac and lamb shanks Eben’s way.

The book is open and airy, the print large and while there are no pictures the instructions are simply stated and appear to be easy to follow.

Con: A once-in-a-while cookbook. If you don’t enjoy English style food this is probably not a good choice.
An American Plance Cookbook
An American Place:
Celebrating the Flavors of America

by Larry Forgione

Supposedly the author is the “god-father of American Cuisine.” Hmmm. There are a number of recipes I’d like to try once and see how they turn out, like maple-whipped sweet potatoes, Missouri style morel fries, corn crackers and key lime chiffon angel food cake.

There are some standards like Parker house rolls, strawberry shortcake, vanilla ice cream and Manhattan clam chowder. There are also a number of great salad dressings and sauce recipes which could be applied to other dishes.

Con. While claiming to be an American cookbook there are certainly a lot of complex recipes with less than standard ingredients or at unusual mixes of ingredients. A chapter is devoted to Pheasant, Quail, Partridge and Venison which are not too commonplace in the American cuisine that I know of. This is a take a chance cookbook. Something great may come of your acquaintance with it but hope you get it as a present.

by Thomas Keller

It has most of the favorites from Bouchon including the Smoked Salmon and Fresh Salmon Rilettes that I covet. The French bistro fare is gorgeously photographed. In fact this coffee table sized book is gorgeous. Perhaps that in itself makes it a must have.

But I will cook from it – the recipes don’t seem as impossible as the FLC. I made the Salmon Rillettes recipe for a dinner party and it turned out perfectly. It seems easy to use and the recipe although involved was clear. Clear recipes for gorgeous dishes such as Braised Beef with Red Wine, Mussels with Saffron & Mustard and Lamb Stew with Spring Vegetables, and Dark Chocolate Mousse, will make you yearn to own it.

Cons: Another unwieldy design, identical in size to the French Laundry Cookbook, making cooking out of the book impossible to leave it unscathed. A few of the recipes will destroy your kitchen and make you go to bed before dinner due to exhaustion like any of the multiple step ones such as Duck Confit with Brussel Sprouts & Mustard Sauce. As long as you plan ahead you’re okay, but hopefully someone is watching over you if you dare to make courses of these recipes all in one day.

The Gnocchi recipe self-proclaims that it makes an unwieldy number of gnocchi and tells you to freeze the rest (“Because this recipe makes such a large quantity of gnocchi, your arm may get tired”).

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A DayArtisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery that Revolutionizes Home Baking
by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois

This book is amazing
– it will really revolutionize bread baking in your kitchen. It has mine. It's been in constant use in our kitchen since it arrived, about a year ago. What it removes from bread making is kneading dough; ingredients are quickly mixed, left at room temperature for 2 hours, and then refrigerated until required. After the initial 2 hour rise there is no extra rising time or wait time, that means bread is ready for dinner every night in a flash.

Over the last year I've have tested a number of the recipes. The ones I use most are the epi and the challah. The epi is okay as an “epi” loaf, but its next to spectacular as a dinner roll. I hand-mixed my dough (which is mainly to incorporate dry and wet). I did not use a baking stone or ice cubes in the oven, however, I did bake on convection.

With the challah dough, morning cinnamon rolls seem effortless, and dinner rolls (which are bakery quality) are a breeze. I 've also had great results from the peasant loaf and rye recipe. With a baking stone or the water treatment, the crusts turn hard and crunchy, as with the artisan breads. I’m not sure that the recipes would ever produce award-winning loaves, however, I am okay with that.

I’ve taught friends the technique and recommended the book. I've even taught kids. It really takes the mysticism out of rising dough and gets the shy baker, baking!

Any cookbook that inspires me to “do it myself” more often, and buy fewer pre-made products, gets a gold star from me. I’m totally groovin’ on the epi rolls; they remind me of European botchen.

Highly, highly recommended.

Tartine by Elizabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson Foreward by Alice Waters Tartine
by Elisabeth Prueitt & Chad Robertson

Tartine is the hot new cookbook on my baking shelf. The famed San Francisco bakery Tartine has good reason for its fame - their crusty bread and wonderful pastries are worth the diversion. The cookbook strikes me as part patisserie part grandma's kitchen and hits just the right note. I've marked recipes for Bostock, Banana Date teacake, croissants aux almandes, soft glazed gingerbread and buttermilk scones. I also fully intend to give the Bûche de Noël a try this year.

So far I've tried the devil's food cake, chocolate oatmeal walnut cookies, pumpkin pie and frangipane cream (a variant) recipes, with good results. Other recipes that tempt are the fruit galette, trifle of summer fruits, and varities of chiffon cake, bread pudding and breakfast pastries among others.

The darker side is that this is really not a bread cookbook and the recipes for the wonderful breads of Tartine are not contained herein. Fortunately for me, the cookbook includes the recipe for Tartine's awesome chocolate pudding so I won't have to wait until I get to San Francisco next time.

Braise by Daniel BouludBraise: A Journey Through International Cuisine
by Daniel Boulud & Melissa Clark

“A successful braise mingles the flavors of the food with the liquid it is cooked in.” That one sentence summarizes braising really well. This cookbook also summarizes all the aspects of braising just as succinctly. Braise offers recipes from the plain to the exotic. From smokey beef chili to stuffed cabbage with pork and chestnuts. I also like the way that Boulud covers the bases of meat, chicken, fish, vegetables and desserts, enticing one to learn the secret of braising and giving it many different applications.

There are a number of Asian and Indian recipes offered like cardamom-spiced coconut lamb, lamb shanks rogan josh, octopus with ginger, garlic and soy sauce and cabbage kim-chi style. There are also lots of French and European style dishes included. What I find really attractive about Braise is the choice of flavors in a recipe. While I might not necessarily need a recipe to braise – the inspiration to put this, this and that together in one dish is always worth my time.

Eggs by Michael Roux
by Michael Roux

This compact cookbook, written by 3-star Michelin Chef Michael Roux (Waterside Inn, UK), is a treatise on the versatility of eggs. It’s a wonderful addition to any cook’s library.

Eggs includes egg-basics like scrambling, omelets, soufflés, custards, etc. Every chapter addresses a style of using eggs from poached, boiled, baked, saucesm crepes, pastries and pastas. The first pages of the chapter attack a basic technique then follow with variations or more advances uses. Recipes are inspiring and exciting like: Hard cooked eggs stuffed with mussels,  French toast eiderdown with herbs and bacon, Pear and Cinnamon omelet, Camembert Ice Cream, Yorkshires with caramelized onions and sausages.

The photos by Martin Brigdale are clear and wonderful, beautifully illustrating most recipes and in some cases steps. I went out and purposefully purchased special dishes to make eggs sur plat. This book will likely change the way you cook eggs – and more importantly it will change the way you think about them. Recommended.

Cooking of Southwest France - Wolfert
The Cooking of Southwest France:
Recipes from
France's Magnificent Rustic Cuisine

by Paula Wolfert

At first I wasn’t really that excited about this new offering from Wolfert. Perhaps because the design is so similar to Slow Mediterranean Cooking - it seems like I’m looking at the same cookbook. But after reading through it I’ve noted a number of recipes to try - like Scallops in Tangerine sauce, The Archbishop’s Tourain with Duck Confit, Salmon slices with fresh oysters (plus the tip on how to eat oysters traditionally in Bordeaux) and Crushed Beef Daube for early September (although I really ought to wait until September?).

The 16 color photos which are included are beautiful - but this book really deserved more illustrations. The recipes photographed include the spectacular looking poached chicken (it’s wrapped in cabbage leaves) and the pastry cake filled with apples and prunes in armagnac - both which I’m inspired to try. The chicken looks like a great choice for a dinner party. A number of the recipes are quite slow (such as the daube one which cooks overnight).

The more you look, the greater number of recipes get noted like potato, celery root and corn pancakes. I’m not likely to cook out of this one every night but there is definitely inspiration here for the recipe of the week. There’s a whole chapter on Duck, Goose and Rabbit and another on “Garbure, Pot-au-feu and other Soups” which are great additions to my cookbook repetoire.

Martha Stewart Baking
Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook
by Martha Stewart

I know, Martha Stewart...

...But it's the food staff that worked on the book that should take the credit. I’ve tested numberous recipes including Pumpkin Pie, Sugar Cookies, Pate de Choux, Laminated Croissant Dough and Cinnamon Raisin Bread. Fantastic results. I'm grabbing for it when I think baking.

So what exactly are you looking for in a cookbook? Solid recipes. Standby recipes. Attractive new recipes. Gorgeous photos (even some step-by-step photo instructions) - they are all here and you don’t have to wrestle through a couple of cookbooks to find a winner.

The photos alone may be worth a look. The pumpkin pie recipe worked so well that I’m abandoning the brown sugar pumpkin pie recipe from the other Martha Stewart Cookbook that I’ve been swearing by. The filling was light and divine. It was on Thanksgiving 2006’s menu.

Sometimes you just want the simple basics (Chapter 1: Simple Baked Goods). Then you just want a good cookie recipe…Chapter 2. Then how about a cake? Chapter 3. Pie? Tart? Cobbler? Chapter 4. Danish craving? Yeasted Baked Goods? Chapter 5. Pastries? Chapter 6.

Not all of the recipes are sweet such as, Potato and Onion tarte tatin, cream cheese and chive biscuits and Corn and Shitake tart. You’ll find some new treasures - but nothing really strange, unusual or weird. The recipesare ones that you’ve either eaten, made or at least heard of. That’s okay, really! I think that this book might make a great wedding present.

Next up for me: Chocolate chip cookies and  coffee cake. I’ll let you know how they work out.

Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing
by Michael Ruhlman & Brian Polcyn

Artisanal Charcuterie has to be one of the ultimate slow foods. I mean it's slow to make and you can easily savor it as you eat. It's also thought of as one of the country style foods - the word rustic comes instantly to mind. But charcuterie is coming into a renaissance - as heralded by this book.

Many of the top city restaurants offer a charcuterie plate or incorporate house made charcuterie into their "haute-cuisine". From house-cured bacon or salmon, to pates to salumi, charcuterie is star billing instead of being just an ingredient.

This book does one thing really well. It demystifies charcuterie - it makes it real and approachable and not-scary. Sausage making has always sounded like a daunting experience, but this book brings it to Earth and Michael Ruhlman lays out the plan succinctly. Charcuterie is about craftsmanship - making charcuterie is not an exact science - temperature, humidity, fat water content, etc are among the elements which will change the results. Charcuterie is divided into 8 sections with chapters on Smoke, Salt, Sausage, Pate, Fat and Accompaniments.

The commentary is fun to read and there are 70 step-by-step instructions in black and white to illustrate the 140 recipes. From Duck Confit to Pate de foie gras to to bratwurst to bacon to mortadella - the basics are all here - along with more exotic fare like Venison terrine with dried cherries, Smoked Trout Rillettes and Chicken Galantine.

The accompaniments chapter is also inspiring with recipes like Spicy Tomato Chutney, Tart Cherry mustard and Sweet pickle chips.

In a nutshell: Charcuterie makes charcuterie sound easy enough you'll probably try making it. I know I will. Bacon is first up.

Adventures in the Kitchen:
175 New Recipes from Spago, Chinois on Main, Postrio and Eureka

by Wolfgang Puck

There’s some great-sounding brunch/lunch recipes and a good lineup of appetizers that make it a recommend. One of my favorite Postrio lunch items is their lobster BLT - here the barbequed shrimp BLT is offered.

The recipes don’t take a pro-kitchen to manage. Every recipe has a prepare ahead note. Yea! This cookbook you might actually use and end up with a new favorite recipe. The selections make you want to go to the kitchen and start immediately.

Con. No matter how much I would like to dislike Wolfgang Puck, I like his style of cooking. It’s a bit homey, with a euro-edge and somewhat comforting. While this might make it as a dinner-party cookbook this is not a dinner book. If you are looking for recipes for hearty meals with roasted meats this is not the cookbook for you.

Cooking Secrets of the CIA

by Pavlina Eccless, Culinary Institute of America

This comes from a PBS show. The cookbook is organized for people who throw dinner parties during the holidays and beyond (Super Bowl, Valentines, etc.). There is an entire chapter on starters.

The recipes are attractive and not far out. Strudel, crab cakes, and soups. Turkey, salmon, goose, chicken, pasta. A whole chapter for desserts as well. The menu forms are good and there are some chef tips. I made the Atlantic Salmon in a Potato Crust with Chive Oil and Leek Puree (with Wild Pacific Salmon of course) and it was a huge hit. (See note below.)
Cons. You probably have all these recipes in different forms in different cookbooks. This book only has 100+ odd pages of recipes once you separate the photos and intro and postscript.

The recipes do not compel one to race to the kitchen. (Note) The recipe I tried was horribly ordered. If you hadn’t read it beforehand and done it in the order suggested you would have been looking for a couple of sous-chefs to help you out, the timing was really poor.

There is also an expectation that you have many “Cuisinart” items and well-stocked kitchen items available. For the recipe I made, a food processor was essential.

The De'Medici Kitchen

by Lorenza De'Medici

This out-of-print small cookbook is from a PBS show. The recipes are unusual in that they seem to be authentically Italian without being pretentious in that way. Many recipes seem simple and hearty – others may seem simple but require painstaking work to achieve (such as the artichoke ravioli). The presentation always looks effortless and with a simple elegance.

I desperately want to cook something blissful from this cookbook. Things like chicken breasts in liver sauce, grilled polenta with eggs and omelet roll with spinach. There are some nice step by step pictures with more complicated techniques like the ravioli and the omelet roll. The Panzanella recipe is divine - simple with perfect ingredients.

Cons: The book is out of print and not a need to have book. Other “Italian chefs” have cookbooks which will have similar dishes. Many of the recipes are deceptive in how much work it will take to achieve your goal. The ingredient lists are small and the instructions short which may cause deception.

   Bookmark and Share