Holly Ebel: Paging all cooks
Over the past 15 years, more or less, the internet has become the “go to” place in search of recipes. There are literally hundreds of sites with thousands of recipes, but for my time and energy I still want a cookbook — one that I can hold, refer to, write notes in and spill on.
For those who say that the internet is replacing cookbooks, wait a minute. The most recent count is that well over 1,500 are printed each year. These cover every possible category — ethnic foods, baking, vegetables, allergies, desserts, soups, meats and more.
It’s also interesting that this year many remind me of coffee table books that would seem out of place on a kitchen counter, large, glossy and filled with stunning photographs of the food.
Regardless, the choices are many and anyone spending time in the kitchen would appreciate them. Among the best:
“Milk Street Tuesday Nights,” by Christopher Kimball ($35). Calling Tuesday nights the new Saturday, Kimball has compiled recipes that can be prepared in under an hour: Fast: under an hour; faster: less than 45 minutes; and fastest: 25 minutes or less. (Of course that depends on who’s doing the cooking.) Included in the 200 recipes are curried chicken with rice and cranberries, salt-and-pepper shrimp, and pasta with golden onions and bread crumbs (fastest.) If Kimball’s name is familiar, he was the editor of Cook’s Illustrated magazine, where his commentary on dishes often resembled a doctoral thesis. Not here, though — his new book is straightforward and to the point.
“Everyday Dorie: The Way I Cook,” by Dorie Greenspan ($35). Greenspan is one of the most respected cookbook authors for the quality of her recipes and her expertise in all aspects of cuisine. She is also a James Beard award winner. This cookbook shows why. Beautifully photographed, there are 125 simple recipes, some adding a little surprise — like walnuts in the meatballs. She encourages us to make good use of supermarkets and what is in our pantry and to keep things simple. I was especially intrigued by a recipe for a potato tourte, which was sliced potatoes, onions, garlic and herbs baked in a double-crust puff pastry, sort of a potato pot pie. Her books on baking should be on every kitchen shelf, along with this one.
“The Great Minnesota Cookie Book” ($24.95) is out just in time to add to your holiday cookie repertoire. Compiled by the Star Tribune’s Food folks, Lee Svitak Dean and Rick Nelson, recipes are from past winners of that paper’s annual holiday cookie contest. It’s an amazing array, from drop cookies and cutouts to almond palmiers and cherry pinwheels. Each page presents a colored photo that might send you running to the kitchen to get to work. It’s a wonderful, complete collection and makes a perfect holiday gift. Wrap one up for a daughter, daughter-in-law, or granddaughter. They’ll thank you for years.
The best-selling cookbook so far this year is Ina Garten’s “Cook Like a Pro” ($35). The style and format is much like her previous cookbooks, also best-sellers. Why so consistently? Because her recipes are good and reliable. They work. They turn out and look like the picture. In this volume she answers questions, explains techniques and gives tips and shortcuts. Example: how to peel two heads of garlic at once. Recipes that caught my attention included Israeli vegetable salad, baked spinach and zucchini and roast duck breast with cherries and port. Dear Santa: I would really like this one.
“Simple,” by Yotam Ottolenghi ($35). An Israeli-British chef, restaurant owner, food and cookbook author and recipe developer, this man is a food genius. I have two of his cookbooks, “Plenty” and “Plenty More,” and use them often for their creative take on putting ingredients together. This one is more simple and uses the letters of “simple” to guide you to what’s involved, time-wise. He has also kept recipes to 10 ingredients. Included are menu suggestions for midweek, weekend suppers and “feasts.” There is also a glossary of ingredients he uses often, since some are ones not often found on our spice shelves.
“Market Cooking,” by David Tanis ($40). A New York Times columnist and Chez Panisse alum, Tanis focuses solely on local and seasonal in this cookbook. Farmers markets are his inspiration for what to cook. “I go to the market, see what looks best and then decide what will be on the menu,” he says, adding that simplicity is a key ingredient. His recipes reflect that philosophy (though some don’t seem so simple). This is the best cookbook I’ve seen for every vegetable, from lettuces to mushrooms. The familiar and unfamiliar are all there. Included are some recipes using meat, fish and chicken, but the main focus is on vegetables. This should be under every cook’s Christmas tree.