Suggestions for Giving

I possess a fondness for the annual tradition of the gift guide.

Not because I find these useful tools in purchasing gifts for those I love (or at least, in the case of the obligatory work Secret Santa, tolerate) but because I am interested in the act of curation, of what is suggested and what is abandoned.

In that spirit, please allow me to offer a scrupulous selection of items to assist in creating, if not joy, than at least quiet satisfaction for both you and the object of your generosity.

A recommendation for all

 Small Victories by Julia Turshen. This remains one of my most fondly regarded cookbooks. I continue to cook from it. I continue to think it is one of the finest cookbooks I have come across. I have not yet had the opportunity to form a relationship with Ms Turshen’s new book, Feed the Resistance, but I have heard wonderful things.

A duo of recommendations for harried souls

A New Way to Dinner. This book was the thing that finally convinced me to start our meal preparations on the weekend, thus freeing up a lot of time during the week. The recipes are solid, but the real point of this book is getting you into the habit of making hay while the sun shines.

Simple by Diana Henry. This elegant, thoughtful book contains strong and rewarding recipes that reference global flavours and clever techniques. Even more pleasingly, the recipes in the book are accessible and practical, even in the context of the clutter of the midweek. Ms Henry is an excellent author, and passionate lover of food.

Resources for the vegetable focused

 Power Vegetables by Peter Meehan. This book, from the now sadly extinct Lucky Peach brand, is a smart and playful way of looking at vegetable based food. It does an appealing job of recontextualizing familiar recipes. It is also quite fun, in both writing and design, and would lead to some happy gift-giving day conversations.

On the Side by Ed Smith. Ignore the suggestion to just view this book as a book of sides. Instead, treat this book as an impressive collection of vegetable focussed recipes that work as well as the star of your meal as they do in concert with something else from the book. The design of this book is exceptional.

Final areas to investigate

As much as I would like to, the barriers of reality prevent me from reviewing every cookbook I come across. There are always a few titles that I am keen to see receive some attention and support.

Allow me to highlight a few titles that while not reviewed here, are promising and worthy of further investigation.

Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh

This beautiful cookbook is completely impractical to review: we would die from sugar induced madness long before we had cooked even a fraction of recipes. The recipe we have made, and the feedback from trusted friends, allow me comfortably suggest this as an excellent addition to the library of anyone interested in baking or sweet things more generally.

Dining In by Alison Roman

Disclaimer: I have not cooked a single recipe from this book. Yet. I have, however, mentally marked almost every recipe as being worth of cooking. Were it not for this and the general vibe of the book  I would not have the audacity to suggest this title to you.

But I feel very excited about this book. It excites me in the same way Small Victories excites me: it is one of those rare books which perfectly intersects a lot of modern thinking and approaches to food, and does so with style and confidence. I cannot wait to cook extensively from this book.

River Cafe 30 by Ruth Rogers et al

I rarely buy books on the sole basis of how beautiful they are. And yet I fell utterly in love with the celebratory reissue of the iconic River Cafe cookbook and could not resist. This book is an utter riot of colour, playfulness, and joy.

Imagine my delight, then, when in concordance with the impressive reputation River Cafe posses, the recipes turned out to be some of the most thoughtful, considered Italian food you are likely to come across. We cooked the baked ricotta recently and I am still, tuning fork like, vibrating with delight.

The Christmas Chronicles by Nigel Slater

December is, despite the reality of an Australian summer, the best time of year. It is a time of celebration, of reflection, of hope and of love. Since I was a child—and one with a very serious desire to receive a briefcase as a Christmas present—it has always been my favourite time of year.

The inimitable Mr Slater agrees: The Christmas Chronicles is a resolute love letter to what is, for many, the pinnacle day of the year. I am excited to return to this book in the middle of the year for a reminder that joy is always at hand.

Thank you

As a final service, I am delighted to provide bespoke recommendations. Simply contact me via the form here and I will provide some thoughts on an ideal title.

This will be the last post for 2017. I look forward to returning in 2018 with more reviews.

Until then, sincere thanks for your support and company over the past year. May you be ensconced in a sea of mince pies and champagne over the next few weeks.

World of Books: May Update

I have returned from my mid-year retreat. While sad to be no longer on holidays, I am nonetheless delighted to dust off my apron and get back to reviewing cookbooks.

Reviews for these titles are coming over the next few weeks:

  • Power Vegetables! Lucky Peach / Peter Meehan
  • Everyday Cook — Alton Brown
  • Molly on the Range — Molly Yeh (which is delightfully pronounced ‘Yay’)

Beyond those planned reviews, I am at somewhat of a loose end. The cookbook releases of 2017 had not grabbed my attention at all.

Do you have a title you would like to see reviewed? Please let me know.

See you later this week!


World of Cookbooks: Piglet 2017

I largely enjoy Food52’s Piglet Tournament of Cookbooks. It’s one of the few large scale cookbook awards.

Via twitter the editors have just announced the 2016 challengers:

  1. Simple — Diana Henry
  2. Sirocco — Sabrina Ghayour (Cook These Books review here!)
  3. My Two Souths — Asha Gomez
  4. Golden — Itamar Srulovich & Sarit Packer
  5.  A Recipe for Cooking — Cal Peternell
  6. Land of Fish and Rice — Fuchsia Dunlop
  7. Deep Run Roots — Vivian Howard
  8. Samarkand — Caroline Eden & Eleanor Ford
  9. Taste of Persia — Naomi Duguid
  10. Tasting Rome — Katie Parla & Kristinia Gill
  11. Fat Rice — Abraham Conlon, Adrienne Lo & Hugh Amano
  12.  Dorie’s Cookies — Dorie Greenspan
  13. Victuals — Ronni Lundy
  14. Taste & Technique — Naomi Pomeroy

In the lead up to this year’s competition the team at Food52 explained they were going with less obvious picks this year (hence no household name, A-list authors).

This is a worthy approach. Cookbooks from superstars sell themselves just fine, one assumes. It’s right to shine a light on authors who while less familiar are still producing wonderful cookbooks.

And yet, and yet.

Aside from one or two titles, this collection feels a little dull. The collective impression is of a group of books that simply will not pass the test of time or become beloved classics. It is trendy ephemera.

This is a major weakness of the Piglet: the books it recommends are quickly forgotten about (barring one or two from each year.) The niche titles do not seem to spark enough joy.

The other major weakness, of course, is system of putting widely divergent books head to head and then trying to determine a winner using a subjective and unreliable metric.

Rather than trying to find the best cookbooks, the real goal of the Food52’s Piglet is to find cookbooks that are most like Food52 itself. More so than ever the books featured seem to solely feature Food52’s aesthetic and approach to food (with one or two token exceptions).  Given the diversity of cookbook publishing in 2017, the result is so skewed as to be not representative of what is actually happening in the world of cookbooks.

In the past I have allocated a large amount of my yearly cookbook budget on picking up the featured titles. This has resulted in a lot of unused, flash-in-the-pan books. While there are a few titles on the list above (Diana Henry’s Simple looks fantastic!), I will not be picking up many of these titles.

I will, this year, be a less active follower of the tournament and hope for a better selection next time.

Hello, 2017!

Happy New Year!

After a spectacular time in Japan and a few (more) solid weeks of Christmas eating, I’m happy to be back on the Cook These Books beat.

This first review of 2017 will come out on Sunday. Until then, here’s a clue: it’s a book by Australia’s most famous pony tail.

This year I will experiment with a few different review formats and approaches until I find one that strikes the right balance on all axes. Quality rather than quantity.

Thanks for all your support so far!

World of Cookbooks

  • Without a doubt, my favourite cookbook blog is the brilliant Cookbook a Month. This blog, my inspiration for starting Cook These Books, reviews a cookbook over the course of a month. Three friends take turns cooking from a particular book. It’s a brilliant format because it gives a much better feeling of the relative merits of a book. This month they’re reviewing a new book from Gordon Ramsay, ‘Bread Street Kitchen’ (Amazon link). Where it not for some travel, I’d love to review alongside them!
  • I’m very excited about Everything I Want to Eat (a cookbook from Jessica Koslow, chef/owner of popular Sqirl in LA). Initial book reviews are encouraging: Eater, NY Times, and Lottie + Doof. I am hopefully we will have a review soon.
  • The world of the celebrity cookbook is an odd one. We have a cookbook (Small Victories, Julia Turshen) released from the ‘co-writer’ on some of Gwyneth Paltrow’s books on one hand. ‘Co-writer’ in air quotes because I imagine Ms Turshen did the lion’s share of work. And on the other hand we have a new book from no less than Pippa Middleton. Pippa apparently has not felt it necessary to cook all the recipes from her new book, which is perhaps a refreshingly honest admission. I hope to review one of these two books. I’ll leave it to you to guess which.
  • And in Cook These Books news on Sunday I’ll post my review of Georgina Hayden’s Stirring Slowly. It wasn’t until Cookbook a Month reviewed it that I had even heard of it, let alone considered buying it. Without wanting to spoil my review, it’s a very decent book indeed.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to share any cookbook news or reviews you’ve found in the comments.