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Every Grain of Rice isn’t a regional cookbook. It’s an 200+-recipe overview of everyday Chinese cooking, bidding for a place on the weeknight rotation. Does it succeed?
Your first glance at the cover of this book is likely to give you one of two mistaken impressions: 1) it is a beginner cookbook for the starting-from-zero kitchen initiate, or 2) it’s everything you’ll ever need to know about egg cookery.
Neither is true. It’s a very stylish, freewheeling, erratic book from a British bakery in Paris (the bakery book is its own whole genre these days), and it will fit neither your preconceptions about British food nor your preconceptions about Parisian food.
Maybe every year or so, a book that’s genuinely good for beginners pops up. I’m always on the lookout for them, remembering my own inglorious initiation as a cook with my roommate’s copy of 365 Ways to Cook Pasta. (Things got better once I discovered The Silver Palate Cookbook.)
But along comes Keys to the Kitchen, and it’s really quite good. I’m not really sure that people will sit and read through the equipment section to make sure they have the right combination of pots and pans, although I certainly would have. But the recipes are flavorful, well-constructed, reliable, and make none of the compromises many “easy” recipes make in the interests of a shorter ingredient list or not scaring people. Don’t be nervous if the recipe looks a little long, folks! It’s just good explanation, and you’ll be glad it was there when you sit down to your perfectly executed dinner.
Every time a Nigella book comes out, women food writers have to do a self-inspection for jealousy and Schadenfreude. Nigella’s success comes from a number of sources – a privileged background, a robust work ethic, a wealthy husband, the willingness to put on what she calls her “circus act” of buxom domesticity, an aptitude for luscious prose stylings that go with the circus act, and yes, genuinely good taste in food.
Who are we to say that success is not deserved? But when a book like Nigellissima comes out, it’s hard not to carp. Sure, the food is quick, basically tasty, and capably serves 2. But with a little care, it could be so much better – and the rest of us would have no cause to nitpick.
That’s the phrase I first learned from this book, as in “London fashion publicist turned Paris-based food creative,” which is how Rachel Khoo describes herself.
For a day or two, I walked around thinking to myself, “That’s what I am! a food creative!” In other words: High job satisfaction, low hourly wage.
As for the book, an offering in the category I dub “Easy French,” it’s adorable. It brims with chic. Does it cook well? Basically, yes. You have to read a little in between the lines, the portions are small, and so is the type. But overall, it’s a very appealing package.
In the testing, the book turned out not to be quite what I thought (although there is certainly much to love in it). I suspect the inhouse editing was not all it could have been. Still, I salute the authors for an extraordinary effort.
Click here to read today’s review of Mastering the Art of Southern Coooking in the Boston Globe. (Hit the paywall? Use this PDF link.)
In the meantime, I have discovered a way of accessing the published text for almost all of my old reviews, through the public library! These archival documents may not be pretty, but I can at last provide readable links for all my reviews except a couple of the very oldest. Excited to revisit favorite old cookbooks like Lydie Marshall’s Soup of the Day and Deh-Ta Hsiung/Nina Simonds’ The Food of China! It’s all on the review page.
Over the next few weeks I hope to gradually update links to all my reviews and make them more accessible to all.
One of the things a cookbook reviewer likes best in all the world is reliability: recipes that work exactly as they are written, with no tweaks, alterations, or fudges. That’s what I’ve always liked about Cook’s Illustrated magazine and the America’s Test Kitchen team. So I sprang at the chance to review the latest offering out of Brookline.
True to expectations, the recipes worked. And I loved the essays that start out each chapter and the explanations following each recipe. It’s like Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking, only a bit more accessible, and with lots of things you can actually make. Highly recommended.
Click here to read today’s review of The Science of Good Cooking in the Boston Globe.
This book collects contest winners from each week of one year on Food52 – which means that all of these recipes can be found, for free, on the website. That’s not necessarily a disqualifier in a cookbook, even if it means fewer sales; it’s nice to have them all together in one attractive package, each recipe followed by comments from Food52 readers. The testing, though, was something of a mixed bag; stunners rubbing shoulders with some fairly ordinary entries.
Click here to read today’s review of The Food52 Cookbook, vol. 2 in the Boston Globe.
I can’t think of many cookbooks more necessary right now than whole-grains cookbooks. When someone hands you a package of spelt berries, even if you know what to do with them it’s just hard to get inspired (hey! I would really like to see that on Iron Chef! I mean, if I had TV I would). You can’t even deep-fry them or coat them in chocolate. It is, however, possible to apply bacon.
The authors use this maneuver and lots more (like the liberal use of a variety of vinegars) to make whole grains palatable and yes, in some cases, memorable.
Click here to read today’s review of Grain Mains in the Boston Globe.
You’ve probably heard a lot of hype about Jerusalem – the feel-good partnership of the Jewish and Palestinian chef co-writers, proudly embodying gay nerd chic (both are happily settled down, though not with each other), the syncretistic tangle of culinary influences in their recipes.
Well, the hype is right for once. A week of testing uncovered one swoon-worthy recipe after the next. If you love pomegranate, tahini, sumac, lemons, you’ll be all set. But that’s really only just the starting point.
I haven’t actually yet seen how the published review came out, to tell you the absolute truth, because I’ve just hit the paywall on my Boston Globe access. So let me know if there are any howlers.
Click here to read today’s review of Jerusalem in the Boston Globe.