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The good folks at the Washington Post asked  me to have a look at ‘Home’ by Washington restaurant insider Bryan Voltaggio, and as a non-DC-based reviewer I felt honored to be asked.  Besides, who doesn’t love it when a chef takes his skills back to the home front – restaurant-quality meals scaled down for 4, with equipment all of us have.  Easy! and fast! Right?

Well, maybe not. I’ll let you read for yourself.  Let’s just say, this is one of those stories where I found myself obliged to use the word “compost”.

 Click here to read this week’s review of  ‘Home’ in the Washington Post.

Meanwhile, in the Boston Globe today, you’ll find my review of Brassicas.  Kale, as you probably know, is so hot – hotter than any green has ever been, probably – that there is an actual global shortage of kale seed.  (I couldn’t in fact get any for my own garden this year).  But for heaven’s sake, it’s not the only crucifer there is.  What about Brussels sprouts? and arugula? and cauliflower? and good old broccoli?

Russell’s book has good suggestions for them all.  Please, try them! try them!  then maybe we’ll have enough kale for everybody again next year.

Click here to read this today’s review of review of ‘Brassicas’ in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version of this week’s ‘Brassicas’ review

It was almost 9 months ago that I first tested Recipes from my French Grandmother.  In the interval since, New England’s been locked in winter(and now, just barely unlocked), my son’s grown 3 inches (not kidding), and half a dozen more French cookbooks have come and gone.

Yet for all that, this one’s worth a second look.  It’s not showy and not particularly new, but there’s good value to be had in this small, attractive package.  At least one recipe – the vegetable soup with basil pistou – has made it to the favorites list.

Click here to read today’s review of ‘Recipes from my French Grandmother’ in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version of this week’s ‘French Grandmother’ review

Very excited to present my second review for the Washington Post – and my first using my own photography!  D.C. and my house are 400 miles away from each other, which means my reviews can’t use the Post‘s excellent facilities. So my amazing editors agreed to let me try shooting at home, and I promptly treated myself to some pro-grade lighting.  I’ve missed doing food photography since NPR’s Kitchen Window column closed, so it was nice to have an excuse to get back into it (and shop at B&H!).

Even better than geeking out with my SLR again, though, was the testing – dish after dish after dish full of glorious fungi.  I didn’t have to test over a dozen recipes, but I just couldn’t stop.

Click here to read this week’s review of  ‘Shroom’ in the Washington Post.

Meanwhile, in the Boston Globe today, you’ll find my late-to-the-gate but enthusiastic review of Andrea Nguyen’s The Banh Mi Handbook.  (Actually, I tested it back in July of last year, but as they used to say at my local pizza parlor, “Good food takes time…”) Those of you who follow this blog already know how much I love this book, which I believe has gone into multiple reprintings already thanks to the millions of banh-maniacs in this country and elsewhere.

Click here to read this today’s review of The Banh Mi Handbook in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version of this week’s ‘Banh Mi Handbook’ review

Welcome, NPR listeners, chowhounds and recipe hunters, and newcomers to my blog! Whether you’re here because you’ve just heard the NPR cookbooks segment on your local public radio affiliate or because you heard there’s a “Best Recipes of 2014″ countdown going on, you’ve come to the right place.

Just want the list?  OK!  NPR’s Top 11 Cookbooks of 2014 (in no particular order)

Of course, the cookbooks that made the roundup are just a small selection of the many wonderful titles published in 2014.  

What follows is my shortlist of titles equally notable in one way or another:

Best Actually Pretty Easy, Actually Thai Book Ever
Simple Thai Food, by Leela Punyaratabandhu

Generous Compendium From A Much-Missed Culinary Ambassador for Spain
1000 Spanish Recipes, by Penelope Casas

For Those Who Wonder What It’s Like Cooking in a Restaurant, Complete with No Handholding Whatsoever
Prune, by Gabrielle Hamilton

This Year’s “You Know You’re a New Yorker When…” Shibboleth
Eating Delancey, by Aaron Rezny and Jordan Schaps

This Year’s Convert-a-Carnivore Choice
Vegan Without Borders, by Robin Robertson

For Those Who Hate Wasting Food More Than Anything Else In the Whole World
The Kitchen Ecosystem, by Eugenia Bone

For Ambitious DIY-er’s Who Know No Fear
Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry, by Cathy Barrow

For DIY-ers Who Are Fine With Just the One Food Group, Thanks
Fermented Vegetables, by Kirsten K. Shockey & Christopher Shockey

For Very Ambitious Pasta Lovers
Flour & Water, by Thomas McNaughton

For Pasta Lovers Who Just Want Something New In Their Pasta In 45 Minutes Flat
The Best Pasta Sauces, by Micol Negrin

For Bakers Who Own a Scale, and Are Proud Of It
The Baking Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum

Forget about Black Friday – you know the gift-giving season is truly underway when the NPR Book Concierge comes out, guiding you to all the best books the year has had to offer.  It’s available both through your browser and as an app, and it is a Monumental Undertaking – over 250 titles picked by NPR staff and critics.  Once the list comes out each year, I use it as a starting point to find reading matter for an entire year – in waiting rooms, on summer vacation, for my bedside table – until the next one comes out.  And I’m sure I’m not the only one.

This year I picked, I think, 9 of the 17 food and cookbook selections.  And some of the other 8 – like Apples and Baking Chez Moi – were titles I would have picked too if my colleagues had not gotten to them first!  But all’s fair in love, war, and reading.

Check out the food and cookbook selections on the NPR Book Concierge.

Anyway, all this is just the tip of the iceberg for cookbook coverage this month.

  • Starting this week, I’ll be running the Best Recipes of 2014! series again (check out the Best Recipes of 2013 here)
  • I’ll be talking up the 2014 Concierge selections on (swoon!) Morning Edition next week; and
  • I will be releasing my own independent Best of 2014 cookbook roundup at NPR the week after that.

Stay tuned!

Are you getting your pie in gear for Thanksgiving?  I am!  Last week, I ordered 10 pounds of rendered leaf lard.  Next week comes the traditional trip to Clarkdale Fruit Farm in Deerfield for pie apples.   Following that, the traditional internet searches for better, nicer-looking crimps and troubleshooting pastry problems.

This week’s story looks at some recent cookbooks and some easyish, slightly non-traditional pies – an apple hand pie and a super-boozy whiskey crumble pie, and a couple of others- just in case you’re sick of your double-crust, or in case it’s giving you fits.

Click here to read today’s apple pie story in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version (the links won’t work, but at least you can read the story!). 

Just in time for what I call Fatstember and Carbuary – my two favorite baking months – the unapologetic and seductive new baking book from Dorie Greenspan.  It’s French home baking, and a sight easier than the high-flying pastries you may think of when you consider French desserts.  While there is one suitably neurotic macaron recipe, nearly everything in here is doable with the confectionery skills of a mortal.

This also marks my first collaboration ever with the Washington Post‘s terrific food section.  I hope there will be more to come.

Click here to read today’s review of  ‘Baking Chez Moi’ in the Washington Post. 

The wind was so strong last night I dreamed a tree fell in our driveway, and the woodstove’s been going for a week.  October has us in its teeth, and it’s strange to think back to the green, tropical flavors – coconut, banana, heaps of herbs and ginger – I tested this past summer.

The week we ate from Caribbean Potluck was a satisfying one.  The thing that most surprised me was the authors’ liberal way with thyme, which I’d never thought of as particularly island-y.

Yet I came away from the book feeling like I’d missed a learning opportunity.  When it comes to ethnically or regionally organized cookbooks, I’m always looking for something that will teach me something fundamental I can apply elsewhere in my food (the way Simple Thai Food, from last week, did).  If not, I’ll take a book with two or three swooners for recipes.  This, though, is nothing more nor less than a collection of pretty good work – fun in July, forgotten by October.

What is foremost in my mind this fall, though, is the annual CiderDays festival here in western Massachusetts.  More varieties of apples and hard cider than you’ve ever tasted, as the orchard fling wide their gates for an end-of-season celebration.  All the deets here in my Globe post and here at their website.

Click here to read today’s review of  ‘Caribbean Potluck’ in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version of this week’s ‘Caribbean Potluck’ review

I always thought the problem was me.

I love Thai food.  I have ever since my college roommate Christina (who had lived in Thailand as a teen) and I used to splurge on lunches at the Thai restaurant across the street from our dorm.  But every time I got a Thai cookbook – and all of them were colorful, inspiring productions you could almost taste – I just couldn’t get through them.

I could get the lemongrass and galangal and the kaffir lime leaf.  But there was always something: gaeng hang lae powder, green tamarind pods, dried salted radishes, one particular kind of fish.  I wanted to do it right! and so the best became the enemy of the good, and I never made those recipes.

Every so often I would get an “easy” Thai book.  But it would turn out to be all soy sauce, oyster sauce, ginger and garlic – pretty much like an “easy” Chinese book.  Where was the easy Thai book that actually tasted Thai?

So here at last it is.  It’s not *totally* easy.  But it’s not dump-a-Maesri-curry-paste-in-some-coconut-milk either.   The writing’s entertaining, the recipes work, and the flavors will knock your socks off.  What more could you ask? (other than slightly larger print, as usual.)

Click here to read today’s review of  ‘Simple Thai Food’ in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version of this week’s ‘Simple Thai Food’ review

Spice books – I almost never review them, because they tend not to teach me what I really want to learn.  I’m interested in Grand Unified Theories of spice – in botanical relationships and historically documented foodways.  More often, the message of spice books is more “This is how I use spices” or “Everyone should use more spices!”

But this book, which hails from Seattle’s World Spice Merchants at Pike Place, is smartly organized and thoroughly informative.  And I finally got the full benefit of the magnetic spice organization system I put in last year!  It took 22 tins to make ras el hanout, and it was worth it just to find out how (relatively) easy it was compared to the furtive, frantic searches in dark cabinets of years past.

spice tins

Click here to read today’s review of  ‘World Spice at Home’ in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version of this week’s ‘World Spice at Home’ review

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