Happily, there are still plenty of good cookbooks out there, and with the gift giving season in full swing, I thought I'd highlight a few that I've encountered recently. First and foremost is the reason that chefs Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel visited our town last week, Bouchon Bakery. Like all of Chef Keller's previous cookbooks, Bouchon Bakery is beautifully photographed and very precisely written. And you wouldn't want to drop it on your foot.
Filled with personal anecdotes about Keller's childhood experience of gobbling Oreos and baking Duncan Hines cakes with his mother, this is a surprisingly intimate book considering its size and the authors' statuses in the culinary world. Still, it has some really technical recipes that will challenge the most experienced pastry chef. Don't even think of buying it unless you already have a kitchen scale that measures in grams. Baking is in many ways a science, and scientists and bakers live within the metric system. Forget about your cups and tablespoons in this one.
On the less elaborate side is the latest in a series of cookbooks from a friend of mine from Memphis, Jennifer Chandler. She has followed up her first two successful books, Simply Supper and Simply Salads with her third offering, Simply Grilling. Rejecting the idea that the grill should strictly be the domain of men, Chandler takes readers of all genders on a step-by-step guide to selecting the proper equipment, how to maintain food safety, and tips for becoming a grillmaster.
She also offers 105 easy recipes and numerous quick variations of these recipes to help you plan meals for any time of day and any season. Living up to the name of the book, Chandler's recipes and instructions are clear and simple. They are also not just limited to charring big chunks of meat over flame. A section of salads includes delicious-sounding dishes like Tuna Nicoise Salad with Lemon-Caper Vinaigrette and Mediterranean Quinoa Salad. I've prepared her Grilled Caesar Salad at home and love the smoky flavor of the grilled romaine, especially with the addition of shrimp or chicken. If there's someone on your holiday list who loves to grill out, this might be a nice choice to give them something to read while they await the return of outdoor cooking weather.
In his first cookbook, Gillespie shares his philosophy on farm-to-table seasonal ingredients and his techniques for reinventing traditional Southern fare. The book is written with an entertaining narrative form, and is divided into clever sections like "Foods You Thought You Hated," "Food + Fire = Delicious" and "When I Want to Eat Healthy." Though I have to admit that the first section I just mentioned didn't convince me to give haggis a try, Gillespie's "Junk Food" chapter did get my Pavlovian responses going.
Gillespie seems like someone who would get along with Nashville's group of playful and casual chefs, so maybe we can lure him here for the next outpost of Woodfire Grill. He describes his father as someone who "always judged the doneness of food by how many beers it would take. Chicken was six beers. Pork chops were two." Putting aside the fact that his dad must have been a pretty fast drinker, Gillespie sounds like he could tip a few back at Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint while waiting for the whole hog to finish.
This is Fishbein's eighth cookbook, and she has created something of a brand for herself with her advice on stylish kosher cooking. I remember when I was a student at University School and the Spanish Club planned a party at our club president's house without knowing that his family kept kosher. Between all the shrimp, cheese and pork of the covered dishes we had prepared, the party was quickly moved to the outside patio, where we reheated everything over a small charcoal grill.
But kosher doesn't mean uptight at all. Basic tenets of sanitation and choosing quality ingredients are a positive for any home kitchen. Fishbein offers information that would be useful for most chefs, like how to use a whetstone, how to dice an onion and how to use an immersion blender without totally messing up your kitchen. (Hint: Don't turn it on until the blending part is below the level of the liquid.) Ten pictorial coaching sections are also very clearly written and illustrated.
She also offers suggestions on essential kitchen equipment and how to stock a pantry with staple ingredients. Building on all this advice and information, Fishbein has developed 120 new recipes that are illustrated with hundreds of colorful photos. Her Butternut Squash Broken Lasgana is on my short-term radar as soon as I can get over to Lazzaroli to pick up some fresh noodles. No matter your religion or the holiday you're celebrating, Kosher by Design Cooking Coach would make an excellent addition to any cook's library.
Believe it or not, I still have a few more books to share with you, but I'll save them for another post in case you procrastinators out there need last-minute gifting advice. Until then, get cooking!