Smitten Kitchen by Deb Perelman

Smitten Kitchen Everyday

What is it? Five years on from her debut book, this is the second outing for New York-based dating-turned-food blogger extraordinaire Deb Perelman of New York Times profiled smittenkitchen.com with over 100 recipes for ‘real people with busy lives’.

What does it look like? What is it about American-published cookbooks that makes them just so damn desirable? I’m not an uber font-nerd but the Minion typeface used here (originally developed by Adobe for Macs in 1990 according to a note at the back of the book) is particularly attractive and clean looking. At over 300 pages, the book has a certain authoritative weight and the glossy paper makes the 127 full-colour photographs pop.

Is it good bedtime reading?  Set aside that Grisham, the generous recipe introductions include plenty of culinary-related personal anecdotes and opinion, as well as cookery lore and background to the recipes themselves, making it a nighttime page-turner par excellence.

Killer recipes? Charred corn succotash with lime and crispy shallots; pea tortellini in parmesan broth; Manhattan-style clams with fregola; winter squash flatbread with hummus and za’atat;  ricotta blini with honey, orange and sea salt; raspberry hazelnut brioche bostock; chewy oatmeal raisin chocolate chip mega-cookies.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? Despite an almost encyclopedic approach to global cuisine, you should have no trouble finding the vast majority of ingredients in a good supermarket.

What’s the faff factor? Make no mistake, this is ‘proper’ cooking and many of the recipes have several elements that need to be brought together at the point of serving, but with a little planning and organisation, they should be stress-free.

How often will I cook from the book? Every day (duh!).

What will I love? This is an American book, but, God bless them, they’ve included gram or millilitre equivalents for cup measures which rockets the book to the top of the usability charts for UK readers (other US publishers please take note). The guide for special menus at the back of the book that highlights vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and diary-free recipes (of which there are many) is particularly thoughtful.

What won’t I like? Me, if I find out you don’t love this book as much as I do.

Should I buy it? Only if you like cooking delicious food. Otherwise, give it a miss.

Cuisine: American/International
Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review rating: 5 Stars

Buy this book
Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites
£25, Square Peg

Cook from this book
Crispy tofu and broccoli with sesame peanut pesto
Smoky sheet pan chicken with cauliflower

Bread is Gold by Massimo Bottura

Bread is Gold

What is it?
Italy’s greatest gift to modern gastronomy, the three Michelin-starred, Modena-based chef Massimo Bottura of the former number one restaurant in the world Osteria Francescana follows up his 2014 book Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef with a compendium of recipes from his charitable ‘soup kitchen’ project Refettoria Ambrosiano that he created for Expo 2015 in Milan set in Teatro Greco, an abandoned and restored 1930’s theatre. The project continues to run as a community kitchen for homeless shelters using waste food from supermarkets.

What’s the USP?
All the dishes in the book were created by Bottura and dozens of other high profile chefs from around the world from ‘waste’ food from the Expo including wilted veg, bruised or over-ripe fruit and meat, fish poultry and diary close to their expiration date that would otherwise have been thrown away.

Who are these mysterious ‘friends’ who share the author credit?
Massimo is a well-connected guy and counts the likes of Alain Ducasse, Rene Redzepi, Daniel Humm and Ferran and Albert Adria among his many mates (more than 45 chefs have contributed to the book).

If Refettoria Ambrosiano is a soup kitchen, am I getting 400-odd pages of soup recipes?
Not quite. There are a dozen or so soups and broths including Redzepi’s Burnt Lime soup and Fish Soup with Bread Gnocchi by Antonia Klugmann from L’Argine a Vencó restaurant in Italy, but the 150 recipes cover the usual starters, mains and desserts. Given the nature of the project (a chef jetted in for a day and improvised a meal for a hundred people using whatever ingredients were to hand) some repetition of ideas and ingredients is inevitable. So there’s nine meatballs recipes, two for meatloaf and dozens involving stale bread; no surprise given the book’s title.

About that title, bread isn’t gold is it? Otherwise that loaf of sliced white going mouldy in my cupboard would be worth a fortune.
It’s the name of a Bottura signature dish created in memory of his late mother and based on the chef’s childhood memory of eating zuppa di latte or milk soup for breakfast which he made by grating leftover bread into a bowl of warm milk with sugar and a splash of coffee. The recipe, included in the book, is made from layers of salted caramel ice cream, caramel bread croutons and bread and sugar cream topped with a bread crisp sprinkled with edible gold dust.

Why should I buy the book?
Food waste in professional kitchens continues to be a big talking point and Bottura is leading the discussion. The book provides lots of inspiration for how to use produce that might otherwise end up in the bin which means you’re not only doing the world some good, but it could well help you cut your food costs. As well as the recipes, it’s also a great read with a one-page introduction to each chef, explaining how they prepared their meals and telling the story of the project.

What won’t I like?
At £29.95, you might expect hard-covers and glossy pages. What you actually get is soft covers and what appears to be recycled, matt paper which means the images are not as pin sharp as you might like. However, it’s all in keeping with the ‘make do’ ethos of Bottura’s Food For Soul charity that Refettoria Ambrosiano is a part of and to which all royalties from the book will be donated to, so stop complaining!

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Confident home cooks and chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 stars

Buy this book
£29.95, Phaidon
Bread Is Gold

Downtime by Nadine Levy Redzepi

Downtime

What is it?  An enticing collection of sophisticated recipes for the home cook by a new name in food writing

Redzepi – why does that sound familiar? Nadine Levy Redzepi is the wife of world-famous Danish chef Rene Redzepi of Noma fame.  This is her debut book.

What does it look like? The book’s design has all the Nordic stripped back chic you might hope for. The mostly overhead food photography by Ditte Isager is simple and uncluttered, allowing the dishes to speak for themselves. High-quality glossy paper means the reproduction of the images is so lifelike that you almost want to plunge a fork into the pages.

Is it good bedtime reading? A forward by hubby, plus an introduction and comprehensive autobiographical ‘A Life in the Home Kitchen’ section by the author that covers her Portuguese and Scandinavian food roots, along with chapter introductions and chunky recipe introductions means Downtime won’t just live in your kitchen.    

Killer recipes? Beef glazed celeriac with buttermilk sauce; cheese ravioli with brown butter egg yolks, parmesan and sage; kale and mushroom carbonara; quinoa salad with spiced onions; brownies with flaky salt and white chocolate chunks.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients?  It seems that great care has been taken to make these recipes as accessible as possible so you should be able to find everything you need at your local supermarket.

What’s the faff factor?  Minimal. The recipes are all about making delicious food for your family rather than exercising your cheffy inclinations. That said, three Michelin-starred chef Thomas Keller’s elegant recipe for ratatouille (from the film of the same name) is included in the book.

How often will I cook from the book?  With everything from soups to pasta dishes and roasts to desserts (including a twist on tiramisu with a cheesecake-like crust), you could easily find yourself reaching for the book on a daily basis.

What will I love?  The book’s luxurious look and feel and the accessible and well-written recipes.

What won’t I like?  I’ll get back to you on that.

Should I buy it? If you feel that your repertoire of daily dishes has become somewhat stale, then this book will give your home cooking that inventive boost you’ve been searching for.

Cuisine: Nordic/international
Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review rating: 4 Stars

Buy this book
Downtime: Deliciousness at Home
£26 Ebury

Cook from this book
Roasted ratatouille with orzo
Lasagne with sausage meatballs
Danish apple dessert

The Chef’s Library: Favourite Cookbooks from the World’s Great Kitchens by Jenny Linford

Chefs library

If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’re an addict like me. Nights spent trawling the internet, searching for the next fix. Days spent waiting for a new delivery. Hiding the cost of our compulsion from loved ones. And everyday the cookbook collection grows and grows. So this isn’t so much a review of The Chef’s Library, a book about cookbooks, more of a dire warning.

Respected food writer Jenny Linford wants to put temptation in your path. Why else would she ask over 70 chefs from around the world, including Thomas Keller, Massimo Bottura and Angela Hartnett for their favourite cookery volumes? Why compile a diverse list of influential cookbooks? Why put together a handy reference of global, historical and specialist books on food?

However, if you do posses a modicum of self control, this is the perfect book for anyone who wants to build their own culinary reference library.  Alongside modern must-haves like Too Many Chiefs Only One Indian by Sat Bains and Noma by Rene Redzepi, readers will also discover enduring works by notable food writers including Elizabeth David, Anne del Conte and Jane Grigson.

But even the most ardent gastronomic bibliophile is sure to discover gaps in their collection. Sean Brock of Husk in Charleston has unearthed The Unrivalled Cook-Book and Housekeepers Guide by Mrs. Washington, a book of Southern American cooking from 1886, and Simon Rogan has chosen Herbs, Spices and Flavourings by Tom Stobart from 1970 that combines history and botany with cooking tips.

The Chef’s Library has its shortcomings. Chef’s contributions are limited to a few short quotes per  choice and there are a number of duplications including three separate entries for Great Chefs of France by Anthony Blake and Quentin Crewe and two for Marco’s White Heat. Linford’s selection of Influential Cookbooks not only replicates some of the chefs own picks (The French Laundry Cookbook, Origin by Ben Shewry and another review of White Heat) but also includes some eyebrow raising selections such as Tom Kerridge’s Best Ever Dishes and Social Suppers by Jason Atherton, both great books, but even the authors probably wouldn’t claim them to be influential.

The Chef’s Library will no doubt fuel a late night sip and click online spending sessions but it will at least be expanding your gastronomic horizons as it depletes your bank balance. Perhaps the next edition should come complete with lock and key.

(This review first appeared in The Caterer magazine)

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Reference
Cookbook Review rating: 3 stars

Buy this book
The Chef’s Library: Favorite Cookbooks from the World’s Great Kitchens
Jenny Linford
£25, Abrams