The Year in Reviews: 11 Cookbooks from 2014

By Jennifer Grange

Saveur The New Classics Cookbook
The Editors of Saveur
Weldon Owen, 2014. 624pp. $45.00.

Every time a compilation of recipes from a magazine comes out there is always speculation that this could be the new Joy of Cooking.

The highly-regarded Saveur magazine, in conjunction with the 20th anniversary of its North American edition, has released a 1000+ recipe compendium. The recipes are garnished with quotes from culinary icons past and present, line drawings illustrating techniques and concise introductions.

Saveur established its reputation with articles that guided the adventurous gourmet along the culinary road less travelled to the lesser known regional cuisines of Italy, France, Russia, the Middle East, and back to the area-specific dishes of North America and some of the great traditional dishes of American cooking. While you will find a recipe for Iraqi stuffed onions, you will also find Boston cream pie. This is a book for the accomplished cook, but it is not snooty. The editors have made space for potato chip sugar cookies and Utah’s famous green jell-o salad.

Sometime the book calls for a number of difficult to find ingredients and the editors are in favour of online shopping. It is true that a cook can find most everything online, although if you can find it in your city, it will help to understand the background of the dish. With its digging into both lesser known cuisines and many home cooking recipes, this book could indeed be the new Joy of Cooking.

Gunnar Karl Gislason with Jody Eddy
Ten Speed Press 2014. 341 pp. $40.00.

Flipping through the new book on Icelandic cooking, the word that comes to mind is “unsullied.” Despite the ever-increasing presence of eco-tourists, Iceland remains pristine and the plated dishes in this book with their pale colours and occasional bursts of colour reflect that.

North embraces three perspectives. The first is the culinary vision of Gunnar Karl Gíslason, whose restaurant Dill has topped best in Iceland lists since opening in 2009. None of his recipes is beyond the home cook. Even when the ingredient list is long – for fried calf’s liver, cabbage puree, kale, and beer vinaigrette, for example – the method may be quite short and simple.

The second perspective is a celebration of the traditional foods and techniques unique to Iceland. With its harsh climate, grains do not flourish so sweets tend to incorporate root vegetables like carrots or sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes). Rapeseed (canola) oil is popular, and mustards, vinegars and beer are important too. There is even a recipe for a beautiful beer mustard.

Interviews with the people who perform traditional tasks offer a third perspective on Icelandic cooking—the person who makes hatarl, the infamous preserved shark; the goatherd; the dulce harvester; and the hardfiskur maker, who dries fish in the ocean air.

Where some difficulties arise are with the ingredients but a section at the front of the book suggests easy-to-find substitutions which will create a similar though different dish. Since locale is all in this remote cuisine, using an ingredient peculiar to your own area is just what this food demands.

Made in Quebec                                            
Julian Armstrong
HarperCollins, 2014. 416pp. $39.00.

Armstrong’s Made in Quebec is the book that Quebec deserves. In hardcover and full colour, this book celebrates the examination and tasting of the cuisine of Quebec.

Quebec cuisine came out of French traditions that were modified by harsh necessity into a unique entity in the New World. Look at the Veloute de Carottes et Gingembre in which a nourishing and soothing soup is built on the least expensive of ingredients: carrots, potatoes, onions, and ginger. It is still full of flavour if you use water instead of stock.

An important aspect of Made in Quebec is the profiles introducing people who are working diligently to preserve the province’s culinary culture. These people range from cranberry produceRs to leek farmers to bread makers. Armstrong highlights produce or products specific to each season, giving the opportunity to learn about ice cider and, naturally, cheeses.

Made in Quebec is a thorough and engaging look at the current state of cooking in Quebec.

Baking Chez Moi                    
Dorie Greenspan
HMH, 2014. 477 pp. $45.00.

Dorie Greenspan is a baker’s baker. She was Julia Child’s choice to write Baking with Julia. It was she who translated Pierre Herme’s often complex dessert recipes for the general public.

Because she divides her time between the United States and France, her recipes tend to have a better balance between sweetness and richness than most American baking books. Her French style lemon squares have less sugar than most, but lots of butter and eggs. For extra texture, she has added the crunch of almonds.

Baking Chez Moi is more of a home baker’s book than Greenspan’s earlier Baking: From My Home to Yours. You will find chocolate chip cooks from a bakery in Paris. Macarons are still challenging, but she takes the sting and seriousness out of them by encouraging outrageous colour combinations and whatever flavours you can imagine since everyone is doing it!

She strikes a good balance between the familiar and the unusual, offering a baking voice of reason, there to guide but not prescribe. Whether you are a novice or an experienced baker. this is a book you will pull off the shelf again and again.

Plenty More
Yotam Ottolenghi
Appetite by Random House, 2014. 339pp. $39.95.

Yotam Ottolenghi continues what he started in Plenty. If anything, the colours in Plenty More are more vibrant and the flavours more pronounced.

The colours range from the dusky shades of seared chanterelles with black glutinous rice to the bright magentas and greens of beet and rhubarb salad. Visual delight is created not just by intense colours but also by the unexpectedness of a dish such as carrots with harissa and pistachios where the carrots do not even look like carrots.

His flavour combinations are sometimes unexpected with a lot of bitter and acidic notes. Try a fava paste with capers or sample the bitterness of radicchio with lentils and walnuts tamed with the smoky sweetness of manuka honey.

The recipes are organized by cooking method: steamed, tossed, mashed…. The final chapter is sweetened which is also full of surprises, such as blackberries with bay custard and gin or quince in pomegranate juice.

Ottolenghi is not the only cook working to eradicate that old image of vegetarian cooking as brown and bland, but he is certainly in the forefront of contemporary vegetarian cooking (and he isn’t even a vegetarian!).

The Kitchn Cookbook                                     
Sara Kate Gillingham & Faith Durand
Potter, 2014. 304pp. $38.50.

When you are just starting out as a cook, what you need is a book that has a little bit of everything: advice on how to equip your kitchen; what pantry staples to have on hand; a collection of simple but palate-pleasing recipes that will see you through singlehood, early marriage, even in to parenthood. The Kitchn Cookbook will do that for you and more.

It has cooking techniques, advice on keeping bacteria at bay and of course, how to get dinner on the table every night. Pastas, one-pot recipes and pressure cooker meals keep the emphasis always on speed and flavour with dishes such as lemon garlic chicken. There are some new twists on old classics with monkey bread drizzled with bourbon crème anglaise. It is strong on both mixed drinks and homemade sodas.

A helpful appendix tells you where you can acquire the pictured kitchen furnishings and bric a brac. Another appendix lists where to order ingredients online.

This book is perfect for the entertaining newby with enough tips that even the experienced cook might want it.

J.K. The Jamie Kennedy Cookbook               
Jamie Kennedy with Ivy Knight
HarperCollins, 2014. 386pp. $39.99.

This is the book we have always wanted from Jamie Kennedy. More than just a recipe book, it tells the story of how Jamie Kennedy became Jamie Kennedy. We learn about his place in Canada’s culinary world through what others have to say.

As Dave McMillan of Joe Beef puts it, “When we were coming up there was Michael Stadtlander, Normand Laprise, and Jamie Kennedy. Period.”

Those of us who have admired those bottles of preserves that have followed Jamie from restaurant to restaurant are delighted that there is a preserves section in this book.

All in all, the recipes exemplify what James Chatto refers to as Kennedy’s “comfort food made elegant.” Classical training will always tell. Elegant though it is, it is within the grasp of the home cook.

Marcus Off Duty: The Recipes I Cook at Home        
Marcus Samuelsson with Roy Finamore
HMH, 2014. 352pp. $39.95.

Fusion cooking started off well enough with Asian ingredients married to Western techniques. Then everyone got in on the act. The combinations were mindboggling and many were just hot messes. If anyone has a chance to repair fusion’s tarnished reputation, it is Marcus Samuelsson.

Samuelsson was born in Ethiopia but was adopted at an early age and was raised in Sweden before seeking a cooking apprenticeship in his teens. He made his name with the clean, austere Scandinavian food at Aquavit in New York. A few years ago he went up to Harlem to open Red Rooster which reputedly has the best fried chicken north of the Mason-Dixon line.

In this collection of his off-hours cooking, there are several combinations of Swedish/soul food while other dishes betray his continuing interest in Asian food. In other dishes, such as Ethiopian tacos, there are memories of his Ethiopian past along with the Latino cuisine which represents the home food of a large segment of the New York population.

Gabrielle Hamilton
Random House, 2014. 576pp. $52.00.

The first cookbook from the author of Blood, Bones, and Butter is very much a day-in-the-restaurant kind of book. But even though it is restaurant food, much of it is not difficult to make.

So many of the flavour combinations seem to pop off the page. Braised green cabbage with anchovies and garlic. Bacon and marmalade sandwich on pumpernickel bread. Sugared ripe peaches on buttered toast. The spaghetti alla carbonara is one of the simplest and best recipes for this dish ever, and there is a strong Italian influence throughout the book.

Mallman on Fire
Francis Mallman with Peter Kaminsky
Artisan, 2014. 305pp. $45.00.

What Dorie Greenspan is to bakers, Francis Mallman is to those who would cook over wood. His earlier book, Seven Fires, brought Argentinian-style grilling to the attention of the world. While his earlier book focused more on meat there are more charred fruits and vegetables here and an engaging selection of breads, such as scones, nut breads and cheese bread.

Jennifer McLagan
HarperCollins, 2014. 256pp. $39.99.

It is always with excitement that we look forward to a new book from Jennifer McLagan, and this one is particularly intriguing. Bitter has always a touch of evil about it. Yet there is something of a duality of bitter flavours. Wormwood is the main flavouring for absinthe, the drink that has supposedly driven people mad but it is also an anti-inflamatory that may have possibilities in the treatment of certain cancers.

One of the most interesting aspects of this book is the discussion of how we perceive and describe the various senses, particularly how we talk about food and eating.

Despite their dark reputation, many bitter foods are quite bright. Think citrus fruits or Campari granite, and as you dig into tobacco chocolate truffles or methi with spinach and baked eggs, consider what McLagan’s next encore will be.