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Books for cooks

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For the people in your life who love food, here are some picks for what to leave them under the Christmas tree. (FYI: You should avoid trying to recreate their favorite dishes!)

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• It turns out some of the best mysteries are nonfiction. In an account of a 1985 London wine auction, writer Benjamin Wallace tells the tale of the wine world's biggest con. The Billionaire's Vinegar: The Mystery of the World's Most Expensive Bottle of Wine (Crown, $24.95) is the revelatory story of a 1787 bottle of Château Lafite Bordeaux, purported to have been owned by Thomas Jefferson, and its sale by the legendary Michael Broadbent at a Christie's of London auction for $156,000 to a member of the Forbes family -- while disgruntled Marvin Shanken, publisher of Wine Spectator sat in the back. Everyone wanted this bottle that had suddenly appeared -- even Château Lafite offered a pre-bid of £5000. Wallace's fast-paced narrative contains both history and wine education, and takes the reader from the European laboratories where wine is dated while still in the bottle to an American restaurant that had the bottle on display for several months. Wallace concludes that wine consumers are impressionable: "The Jefferson bottles were the example of how people turned suggestible when it came to wine." 

Buy The Billionaire's Vinegar from Amazon. 

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• Before opening his Alinea with its American spin on molecular gastronomy in 2005 in Chicago, Chef Grant Achatz was the product of a family who owned diners in Michigan and a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America who then worked in Charlie Trotter's kitchen in Chicago. He followed this with a stint as sous chef at Thomas Keller's French Laundry. Keller then sent Achatz to Spain to work for Ferran Adria at El Bulli. Like Thomas Keller, Achatz has produced a stunning book this year for the "food is my life" kind of person. Within the pages of Alinea (Ten Speed Press, $50) are tight shots of the restaurant's whimsical creations as well as Achatz's musings on his own techniques and exact recipes the Alinea kitchen crew uses. Serious chefs will be in awe of this man who ironically has been challenged with cancer of the tongue, which left him devoid of the sense of taste (that he has slowly recovered one flavor palate at a time). The book comes with Web site access for video demonstrations. Alinea (aka Pilcrow) is the backward slashed P used by editors to designate a new paragraph. Indeed, Achatz is on the next level of American culinary development.

Buy Alinea from Amazon. 

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• Thomas Keller has his own tome out: Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide (Artisan, $75), with photography by Deborah Jones, who also photographed Keller's best-selling The French Laundry Cookbook. Sous Vide is the process of submerging vacuum packed foods into water not to exceed 185°F. If this sounds a little too "Jolly Green Giant," it does seem to have its roots there. Keller makes the point that kitchens are stuck on specific technique -- sautéing, broiling, grilling -- and not looking at how each individual ingredient best retains flavor and does not turn to mush. In his kitchen they vacuum-pack the food in plastic using a vacuum-packer, and then cook it in water, maintaining the temperature with an immersion circulator. The equipment to reproduce the recipes may be prohibitive. A chamber vacuum sealing machine costs around $2,000, and it is unlikely with Keller's precision that the home cook could substitute the household Foodsavor to do the task.

Buy Under Pressure from Amazon 

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• For more than a quarter of a century, cookbook author Madhur Jaffrey has been the "go to" cookbook guru for Indian cuisine. Now Anjum Anand has followed her successful BBC series Indian Food Made Easy with a recently published cookbook: Anjum's New Indian (Quadrille Publishing Ltd, $29.75). Her easy-to-follow recipes are included in such chapter headings as "Lamb," "Beans and Lentils," and "Chutneys." Additional information is given about home kitchen use of primary Indian ingredients as well as suggestions for entertaining.

Buy Indian Food Make Easy from Amazon. 

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• Concerned about your food? In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto (Penguin Press, $21.95) is food writer and journalist Michael Pollan's follow-up to his The Omnivore's Dilemma. Manifesto offers point-by-point directions on how and what to eat. Pollan writes, "most of the nutritional advice we've received over the last half century (an in particular the advice to replace fats in our diets with carbohydrates) has made us less healthy and considerably fatter." He suggests ironically that while the purpose of eating for enjoyment has been hijacked by the concept of eating for good health, as a culture, Americans are getting sicker and fatter. Much of what Pollan writes is not new; he acknowledges that our great grandmother would have offered the same advice: eat your greens and stay away from processed foods.

Buy In Defense of Food from Amazon. 

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• The idea of having dessert first is popular with those who face the daunting challenge of an overwhelming illness. In One Bite at a Time: Nourishing Recipes for Cancer Survivors and Their Friends (Celestial Arts, $28.95) author Rebecca Katz, a patient educator, advocates the "power of yum" for cancer survivors. Her collection of recipes focuses on taste as well as nutrition. Additionally each recipe contains a nutritional analysis.

Buy One Bite at a Time from Amazon. 

Do you know of a restaurant that has opened, closed, or should be reviewed? Does your restaurant or shop have news, menu changes, and new additions to staff or building, upcoming cuisine events? To contact Tricia, send information via e-mail (no attachments, please):

tricia.childress@creativeloafing.com

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