You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘new cookbooks’ tag.
1) It’s the first solo venture by Naomi Duguid (whose previous books were usually authored with her ex-partner, Jeffrey Alford);
2) This book looks and feels much more like a working cookbook than those previous endeavors;
3) It’s a relatively unfamiliar cuisine for the West, yet out of a region (Southeast Asia) that has become a rich mine of material for cookbooks published here of late.
All of this made for fascinating testing – and some flavors that startled and intrigued even the rather jaded palates of our household.
Read the review of Burma: Rivers of Flavor here.
It’s the beginning of the month, which means – time to update the “recipes tested” page! Click here to see what we’ve been testing – some of our favorites, anyway, as many were vetted for full-length review and I can’t yet disclose the dozen or so recipes we tried.
Next month will be a much bigger listing, as I’m now speed-dating cookbooks for NPR summer roundup…
The NPR summer roundup will be running right around Memorial Day, and I’m hard at work sorting, testing, and hunting for finalists. So far I’ve isolated about 5 of my top 10. But the field is still wide open!
This year, in a first for summer roundup, I will be issuing a shortlist as well as the top 10 list. That means you’ll be able to look here for a wide variety of specific recommendations for the best new cookbooks to give new graduates, parents, hosts at summer parties, new roommates, and just about any other food-loving reader you can imagine.
Watch this space!
Even though I had already included All About Roasting in the 2011 end-of-year roundups, I was excited to have the chance to test it more thoroughly for the Globe. Stevens’ previous work, All About Braising, was one of those sleeper hits that spoke to weekday cooks and foodies equally, with spot-on flavor combinations and impeccable technique.
All About Roasting‘s subject is one less ripe for schooling–we can all, pretty much, roast a chicken. But the section on vegetables (and perhaps the section on seafood) more than justify the cost of admission.
The first week of every January, I have an enviable problem–a problem of abundance in every way. Holiday roundups are over, and after a week of bingeing on festive food I need to get back on my treadmill, which kept getting covered in books throughout December. It’s time for cookbook cleanup!
Only problem is, somewhere between 200 and 300 books came in over the fall, and I want to keep them ALL. But my bookshelves are already full. It’s time for some ruthless winnowing. Heartbreaking, but there you have it.
This morning I rolled up my sleeves and hit the “Single-Subject” section of my library. Do I really need 4 books on pasta? 8 books on meat cookery (and even more than that on seafood)? Agonizing over every one, I part with a book here, a book there. So long to the matched set of little gift cookbooks on Apples, Squash, and Tomatoes–so pretty, but not actually useful. So long to the fifth book just on soup. Adieu to the Very Ambitious Salad book and the hardbound edition of the seafood book I use in paperback. Farewell to the book on flavored butters–I think I can figure those out for myself. Goodbye, sort-of-disappointing stew book!
To tell the truth, the single-subject section is actually the easiest to winnow. Most of the books are not on my cookbook-indexing website, Eat Your Books, (an indexed book is harder to part with! ), and the quality is not as consistent or the depth of knowledge as great. The main virtue of a single-subject cookbook is that it makes it easy to look up, say, a blueberry recipe when blueberries are in season. But searchable databases make that so easy anyway…so a single-subject book has to have some other compelling virtue (say, thoroughness, or helpfulness) for me to keep it.
I’ll be moving on next to the Baking section, which–despite being the least used section of the library–accounts for the most calories I consume over the course of a year. But’s that’s OK. At least I can find my treadmill now.
TSC’s cookbook interview with Joy Cardin, downloadable here. (minutes 1:49 – 18:15 on the download)
You know how you’re standing in front of the cookbook shelves at the store, leafing through cookbooks and trying to figure out which one to take home, and you feel paralyzed and uncertain, and you question yourself, and then when you finally make up your mind you’re sure you made the wrong choice? That’s my life as a cookbook reviewer. The subjective nature of choosing the best cookbooks can be overwhelming. Sometimes I question myself into oblivion. (It doesn’t help knowing that my picks will move the market. They always do. No pressure or anything!)
But this time, I paid very close attention to my questions, and I realized that they basically boiled down to a manageable number. In fact, just seven. I was so happy to realize that these could be named that I printed up little cards to score the books and stuck them to all my shortlisted candidates. Here’s my questions–who knows, maybe they’ll help you the next time you’re having brain freeze in the Cookbooks section.
Question 1: Is it useful? This means, would an enthusiastic home cook (anyone ranging from a fast weeknight cook to a thoughtful gourmand) be able to find recipes in this book that would satisfy them for a week straight of cooking?
Question 2: Is it thoughtful? This means, has the author thought of the reader’s needs? Are there hard-to-find ingredients and if so, is there guidance as to where to find them? Are there multiple sub-recipes you have to hunt around for? Are there clarifying tips in the instructions? Are there side essays, helpful sidebars and charts? Do the headnotes help you cook the recipe?
Question 3: Is it new? Are at least a majority of the recipes really new?–i.e. not just another recipe for roast chicken or meatballs or insalata caprese with the exact ingredients you’ve always made them with in more or less the same proportions.
If I can’t say at least a partial yes to all three of those first questions, I don’t get to choose it for the shortlist. After that we get into the refinements.
Question 4: Does it tell a story? Not everyone likes a story in their cookbooks, but I do. I like colorful headnotes, reminiscences, and anecdotes–they show me that the author has really put their heart and soul into the book.
Question 5: Is it well-designed? Design is so important that a lack of it can ruin a cookbook that is otherwise useful, thoughtful and new. Cookbooks are working books, and they should look like they’re meant to help you, not like a postmodern art installation.
Question 6: Is it focused? A lot of cookbooks are simply collections of everything the author has ever cooked, or cooked in the last year. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and this concern can be overridden by awesome design or thoughtfulness or usefulness. But in such an overcrowded market, focus is important.
Question 7: Is it the best of its kind? Or at least, the best that I’ve seen. What a hard question this is to answer! The answer is almost never Yes. But asking it helps me sort out my thinking. If the answer is, “It just might be…” that’s a huge endorsement right there.
I also have known biases, which I have to be on rigorous watch for: 1) I’m a total sucker for great design, even in a bad cookbook. 2) I get annoyed when there are 2 systems of measurement in a book. 3) I am happiest when I see a wide variety of publishers, including underdogs. These I consider unreasonable biases, and much of my time goes into re-weighting my judgements to counter those biases.
I have this grandiose sort of suspicion that the publishers are paying attention to my preferences, because the cookbooks just keep getting better and better with each year. They may be paying attention, or they may not be, but it’s still a win for everyone.
I love this time of year, and not just because of the cool air and the glowing woodstove. No, what’s special about early November is that it’s Holiday Roundup season, when I get to pick the top 10 cookbooks of the year for NPR. (I also do the Boston Globe’s roundup, which tends to vary a bit more in number and in theme.)
From the moment I send out the deadline for submissions, the circus begins. Within 24 hours, SWAT teams of FedEx and UPS agents are showing up with boxes which thunk heavily, one by one, onto my doorstep. I grab a box cutter and start opening, piling, and sorting on the kitchen floor. I’m always a little choked up when I see these stacks of riches–the hard work of thousands of cooks, authors, teachers, writers, and editors– piled up in tangible form.
But then the hard work begins: testing. I get books all year, and some have been short-listed from the moment of their first, compelling recipe test. But now is the time for me to pull out all the Post-its (I halve them with a paper cutter to double the yield) and start flagging everything in sight.
Although I know I won’t be able to test every book, or even just the most representative recipe from each, I do my best to try a wide selection. Every night, we eat something completely different. A typical week from last year (I keep a database to keep track of these): calamari pasta; gigot à la Provençal, brisket with ginger, orange, and tomato; chard walnut lasagna; noodle kugel; potato-turnip purée, South Indian vegetable curry. I do a lot more baking, so the dessert cookbooks can get their audition, too.
In fact, November roundup testing is almost exclusively responsible for those 10 winter pounds I have to sweat off in the garden 6 months later. (At the peak of testing, the treadmill is usually covered with cookbooks too!) But I’m not complaining. I know I’m lucky to be a cookbook reviewer, and my family’s lucky I am, too.
Although there are many cookbooks and many cookbook authors I admire, not all of them fit equally easily with my family-of-four dinner routine. Melissa Clark’s books are the exception. Reviewing Cook This Now was a boon for the household–a week of exceptional-tasting but easy-to-cook weeknight dinners I’d be making again and again, if I weren’t forever moving on to the next cookbook…
with chef, USA Today columnist and author Kim O’Donnel at 1 pm today.
Join us! and jump in on the conversation or just follow along, as you prefer.