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Cookbook Roundup

November 3, 2011

Let’s ignore the fact that I haven’t written anything in nearly a month (not quite sure how that happened), and just jump right in. In the past couple of months, I’ve acquired a few cookbooks for free, and I thought the least I could do is write about them. Holiday shopping is under way, after all, according to the Christmas decorations I’ve been seeing in stores since mid-October.

 In the Small Kitchen: 100 Recipes From Our Year of Cooking in the Real World by Cara Eisenpress and Phoebe Lapine

I came across Cara and Phoebe’s blog, Big Girls, Small Kitchen, a year or two ago, and as soon as I read the first page I thought, “These girls are so going to get a book deal.” (Dear any publisher, editor, or agent who might have happened to come across this post: I am still very patiently waiting for my book deal.) It was a great concept as a cooking and entertaining blog targeted to twenty-somethings trying to make a home for themselves. Nothing too expensive or fancy or difficult, just good old-fashioned cooking with some interesting ideas. So, when I saw there was an event at the JCC to cook dinner with them, I had to go. It was such a fun evening! We made chicken tangine, quinoa with roasted vegetables, and a salad while snacking on their white bean rosemary dip. They were just as nice as I was expecting, and to our surprise, we also went home with a copy of their cookbook that came out earlier this year.

Their book gathers a little over 100 recipes from the first year of the blog, and it’s a lovely collection. The recipes are separated by occasion (Cooking for One, Potlucking, Cocktail Parties, Dating & Food, Brunch, Giving, The Dinner Party, and Leftovers) and stories about their trials and tribulations of growing up in the kitchen are interspersed throughout. These entries are my favorite part of the book; they give it an intimate feel, and captures the atmosphere of the original blog the most. (Not to mention the adorable photographs.) The recipes are a bit more weighted on dishes more suitable for entertaining – finger foods and special occasion meals. Since I don’t do a ton of entertaining, I would’ve preferred to have more ideas for regular dinners (the “Cooking for One” section is a bit lackluster, with recipes like scrambled eggs, grilled cheese, and peas for one), but what is available in the rest of the book is good for inspiration.  Some top recipes include shrimp risotto with sweet peas and leeks, beer beef stew, Vietnamese fisherman’s stew, scallop/chorizo/artichoke paella, and chickpea and walnut burgers. There is also a nice selection of baked goods, like ginger cookies, butterscotch pecan cookies, and pumpkin cake with chai cream. With a wide variety of recipes and plenty of tips (“How to Set a Coffee Table” and a how-to picnic guide being two of my favorites) this would make a great housewarming gift for anyone with a kitchen, no matter how small.

The Treats Truck Baking Book: Cookies, Brownies, and Goodies Galore! by Kim Ima

I reviewed The Treats Truck Baking Book for my food column for The Park Slope Reader and, in all honesty, this is my favorite book of the group. First of all, it is perfectly designed and has an adorable presentation. Everything from the size, to the font, to the illustrations and photographs makes for a wonderful gift idea for the girl that loves to bake.

When flipping through any given cookbook, I would say that the recipes that catch my eye enough to want to actually try them out tends to be about 30% of the collection. But every single recipe in here is not only interesting and delicious-looking, but is simple enough to pull off with easily-accessible ingredients. I can imagine cracking this open any time I get the whim to bake and having trouble deciding which one to try this time. I’ve already tested her coconut macaroon recipe, which was a hit, and I have about a dozen in the waiting line. Pumpkin swirl cookies, caramel creme sandwich cookies, banana cake, and chocolate pie will all be made in the near future, if there is a God. And if they come out anywhere close to the treats I tasted in my goody bag – I’m still thinking about the butterscotch pecan bars, because I apparently have a thing for butterscotch pecan, and raspberry brownie – then I’ll be happy.One of the best aspects of the book is that Ima makes it really easy for you to customize her recipes and create your own treats, by giving plenty of suggestions on how to mix the base recipe up with new fillings, frosting, or flavor additions.  And for those of you who are fans of the truck, never fear, she includes the recipe for cupcakes in an ice cream cone.

Simply Done, Well Done by Aaron McCargo Jr

McCargo was the guest on the episode of The Chew where I was in the audience (Update on naming The Chew among my TV picks for Fall entertainment: It’s a really fun show, and I suggest you watch it) and we all went home with his cookbook. I hadn’t heard of the guy – I guess he won the next Food Network Star show? – and I ended up cooking the recipe he showed on the show (fried coconut chicken), but I’m not a huge fan of this book. There are actually a lot of really tasty recipes in here, but it’s not personally my style of cooking. There is a huge section on barbecue sandwiches, and some of the main courses like jerk pork chops, herb yogurt chicken, and horseradish crusted filet mignon with braised portobello mushrooms all sound like something I would love to order at a restaurant, but would never feel motivated enough to make at home. The chapters I predict using the most are his brief soup chapter (cream of tomato and rice soup, loaded baked potato soup, spicy cheeseburger soup, lentil parsnip and roast corn soup, cream of mushroom soup with rosemary, and tomato and fennel soup) and his dressing, mayonnaise, spice blend, sauces, and condiment chapter, which has a lot of unique recipes that could really stretch your usual repertoire through some experimentation.

Momofuku Milk Bar by Christina Tosi

When I was in the audience for the Martha Stewart Show last week (for the second time this year, please try to contain your jealousy), Christina Tosi was the guest to promote Momofuku Milk Bar’s new cookbook and it was a really fun show. Martha was being really sassy, and I liked it. But anyway, back to the book. It’s a beautiful book and, like In the Small Kitchen, it’s filled with great behind-the-scenes stories, but it is a bit impractical. The book has all of Momofuku’s greatest hits, including crack pie and compost cookies, but these recipes take a lot of work. While everything is certainly intriguing, they’re not necessarily recipes you can whip up on a relaxing afternoon just for fun. I love to treat myself, but I can’t imagine making any of their triple layer cakes (pistachio, chocolate chip, banana), pretzel ice cream pie, candy bar pie, or PB&J panacotta if I didn’t have a special occasion or a bakery to sell them in. However, it’s still fun to know Momofuku’s secrets, and even if I never get it together to actually make any of the recipes, I like having it around, especially knowing that I can just hop on the train to go where they’re already made for me. But maybe that was their plan all along.

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