I admit it. I love free things that come in the mail. I horde coupons. I never use them, but I horde them. At work, there are all sorts of work-related things that arrive unheralded and unrequested. Magazines. Books. Once, a set of CDs. But, suddenly, at home. . . . once more rarely, now more frequently. Free things. What now? As I have said on occasion on this blog, Bibliochef has begun to receive mailings from various presses complete with cookbooks to review. Hurrah! I am a bit behind in considering all of them, so I am going to comment on three of them below. I hope you ( yes, you, dear reader) will comment away if you have experience with any or all of these! Or, if you have fantasies of free things arriving, unsolicited, through Uncle Sam's mail. Or, just because I am asking, so desperately. Comment.
In no particular order:
Regional Greek Cooking by Dean and Catherine Karayanis was just published by Hippocrene Books. Hippocrene has published a variety of cookbooks. But who are the authors? Here's what I found on line:
Dean Karayanis has authored news, sketch comedy, and opinion pieces for TV, radio, and online for over 10 years. In his spare time, Dean reverts to his roots, whipping up Greek culinary masterpieces. Catherine Karayanis is author of numerous online computing courses and articles, as well as four books on networking, database administration, and operating systems for McGraw-Hill. She has also worked in the restaurant business for several years. Sourcce: http://www.helleniccomserve.com/regionalgreekcooking.html.
Their cookbook? Not a high end production with loads of pictures, but a useful book with a range of recipes. And, I must say, as someone who only recently learned to make dolmades, I love the cover with the stuffed grape leaves nestled cozily up against the sliced lemons. [For my entry on dolmades, click here.] The recipes cross a variety of regions within Greece; both the mainland and related islands (e.g., Ionian Islands, Aegean Islands, and . . . ) as well as parts of Asia Minor and Cyprus! The sections devoted to particular sub-regions are followed by a discussion addressed to the question: "What would Greeks drink with this?" (A memory of my Ph.D. qualifying examinations and way way way too much ouzo in Chicago's Greektown surfaces involuntarily. We should, I shudder and think -- and then dismiss -- never drink ouzo again.) Despite this, the section is fascinating.
A few recipes from the book that particularly attracted my attention include one for a shrimp and feta that reminds me of those many years ago in Chicago's Greektown. There is Macedonian Eggplant and Lamb Cassarole, Baked Pears with Feta, and a variety of recipes with hallouhmi (a cheese I have seen in Wegmans and never used). Somehow the very word "avgolemono" seems very very nostalgic.
Hippocrene has also published a Lebanese cookbook, a cookbook focusing on China's Fujian province (I have absolutely no idea where that is), a south Indian cookbook, a belarusian cookbook ( I am dying to see this for various personal reasons), a Czech cookbook, a Filipino cookbook, and a Cajun cookbook. As this list makes evident, Hippocrene focuses on regional -- and understands regional in very diverse and smart ways. They also publish histories, travel titles, and dictionaries of various sorts (albanian/english and vice versa, amharic/english, byelorussian/english, croation-english /english-croation, beginner persian, gaelic-english/english-gaelic, indonesian-english/english-indonesian, and, my personal favorite just because I have a clue about the language to which it refers even if I have no idea of any single word in it, the ladino dictionaries). Really, Hippocrene Books is dictionary heaven for those who are definitively opposed to imperial english and its move to become a universal language. Yes, Hippocrene Books provides a whole range of Arabic/Englsh dictionaries. One publication of theirs to think about carefully is their Modern Military Dictionary, English-Arabic/Arabic/English. Hidden in the marketability of this title, of course, lies (not so very discretely) loads of history -- contemporary and otherwise -- not to mention politics and governmental funding of language education. Of course, Hippocrene is not only a producer of resources for linguists and other dictionary users. They also produce poetry books, illustrated histories and an edition of a book on Gettysburg, but what fascinates us all here at Cooking with Ideas are the cookbooks. Here are some of their cookbook titles: "Afghan Food and Cookery"; "Argentina Cooks"; "Cooking with Cajun Women"; "Secrets of Columbian Cooking"; "Estonian Tastes and Traditions"; "Finnish Cooking"; "Havana Cookbook"; "Jewish-Iraqi Cuisine"; "Taste of Nepal"; "Farms and Foods of Ohio"[one of the few places in this list I have actually been!]; "A Taste of Quebec" [oh, wait, another!]; "Sephardim, Israeli Cuisine"; "Sweet Hands: Island Cooking from Trinidad and Tobago"; "The Art of Uzbek Cooking"; and "Traditional Food from Wales."
What range! I confess I have not included their full list. But wow. What a list! No particular book may be fancy but -- the list. Wow. Taken together, it requires us to ask: is such a list itself an effort at global connectivity or an aspect of global appropriationism? And, on a more mundane note, one must ask: what do youmake of the book I am ostensibly commenting on: Regional Greek Cooking? Let us know!
The Sweet Melissa Baking Book by Melissa Murphy was published by Viking's Studio imprint. Subtitled "recipes from the beloved bakery for everyone's favorite treats," the book is connected (yep) to Sweet Melissa Patisserie in Brooklyn. The cover is enticing; a beautiful cake, with confectioner's sugar spinkled over it, and berries mounded in the center. The recipes are organized according to the following categories in the table of contents: 1) dessert for breakfast; 2) after-school snack; 3) it's somebody's birthday; 4) what will we do with all of this fruit?; 5) Sunday supper's grand finale; and 6) favorite gifts. What that translates into is 1) muffins, quick breads and etc.; 2) cookies, brownies and bars; 3) special layer cakes; 4) fresh fruit pies, cobblers, crumbles,and preserves; 5) puddings, specialty pies, cheesecakes and etc.; and 6) truffles, brittles, and candies. I rarely bake, so I am not the best judge of this book, but I confess reading it has been helpful in controlling my sweet tooth. Not necessarily why one would think to buy it, but. . . This is not a photography book disguised as a baking book, but is filled with real recipes with directions that work even for me, the non-baker. And I have always wanted a recipe for snickerdoodles. The range, though, moves much beyond this -- homemade butterscotch pudding, cherry clafoutis tart (ok, I have never met a clafoutis I did not like), and pear cranberry pie. Not to mention biscotti. Who knows? I may even bake one of these days. In the meantime, have you cooked from it -- or been to Sweet Melissa's? Let us know!
Things Cooks Love: Implements, Ingredients, Recipes by Marie Simmons is the first in a new series of books from Sur La Table, published by Andrews McMeel books in Kansas City. [Hint: you can get recipes on their website.] Sur la table, of course, is the cooking store we all love, first opened in 1972 in Pikes Place Market in Seattle. The book entered the house accompanied by a spiffy folder of information about it, and a letter. Yep, a form letter, but still. In amongst the information were a few important tidbits: author Marie Simmons, we learn, wrote a column for Bon Appetit for more than 15 years and has written 18 cookbooks. She is, though a deserter -- as a native New Yorker who now lives in California. (Ok, maybe not a deserter, maybe just smarter than those of us who were sucked in by a limited job market and then have stayed in New York State.)
I confess I think this book is really spiffy. It has a section on various kitchen implements -- both a basic one and one that points to more "global" implements which should be used in various forms of cooking. So, in addition to grill pans and cast iron pans and whisksm you can read about mezzaluna, molcajete, and karahi. (What's great, too, is that there are directions for using them --and alternatives if you can't afford to buy every conceivable gadget. Or can't store every conceivable gadget. Or just don't want to die and go to consumer heaven -- or is it hell?) Anyway, after the sections on implements (and how to use them) -- also known as "essential cookware and tools", there are a variety of sections devoted to various cuisines, each with recipes using the relevant gadgets. What cuisines? Here they are: Asian; Mexican; French; Indian;Italian; Iberian (aka Spain and related areas); and Moroccan. The book provides interesting recipes for each area. I admit, though, I kept looking for recommendations of particular brands -- of, e.g., pasta makers and other particular thises and thats. Not in this book. But, definitely recipes that are enticing. For example: "Goat Cheese Stuffed Swiss Chard Bundles with Olives and Sun-dried Tomatoes" and "Lamb Tagine" and "Fresh Fruit Quesadillas." Anmd much much more. I will definitely cook from this.
At the end of the book there does appear a delightful section called "shopping sources." No, they are not all little hints directing you to Sur La Table, despite the ways in which this book feels like a marketing decision (only occasionally -- and perhaps this is why I actualy want recommendations for particular versions of tools -- kind of a consumer reports for the cook?). Why are these few pages delightful? Because the focus is on ingredients. And, yes, the list of sources is itself wonderful --if pretty darn distant.
What can we look forward to from this series? Yep, the mailing which dropped through my mail slot did tell me -- The Art and Soul of Baking by Cindy Mushet is due out October 2008 and Knives Cooks Love: Selection, Care, Techniques, Recipes by Sarah Jay is due out November 2008. Who is Mushet? For some insight, click here. And Sarah Jay? Again, for a bit of insight, about this proprietor of paellapans.com, click away. While i know what a chiffonade is and how to pit and chop a mango, the latter book (ok, I already said I am not a big baker) is a really exciting possibility. Can't wait!
My one question: am I tempted more by this book because the production values (aka photography) are higher? Maybe. Yep, maybe indeed. And yet we all know that while we sometimes eat with our eyes -- okay, always also eat with our eyes, this is not quite the right way to evaluate cookbooks. . . . The truth is, I will probably cook from all these books one of these days.
So, three cookbooks arrived, unsolicited through the mail, into the foyer of my home. I am grateful for all three. One may entice me into baking. One may tempt me into regional Greek cooking (thankgoodness I made dolmades in a class before this. For background, click here.) And one fits with my secret wish to wander through Sur la table with a gift certificate of enormous proportions. Not to mention, my need for pictures of various things I might buy there -- acccompanied, conveniently enough, with uses for them, directions and recipes!
What has come through your mail slot recently -- especially relevant to food? Fill us in! Please?