Michel Richard seems to be an obsessive compulsive chef, in a good way. And his book is a joy to read. One of the few pastry chefs who switched to cooking savory food, he is referred to in the jacket of the book as a “chef’s chef.” With a foreword by Thomas Keller, and some of the most stunning and uncluttered visuals, this is a book I could not resist acquiring. While books to this style often intimidate a home cook, the recipes of Michel Richard are relatively simple and almost always incorporate a slightly unusual, intelligent and unique twist. There are several dishes in this book that I will try this holiday season. Apparently obsessed with crispness, I am curious if I can replicate some of his dishes in Manila’s humid weather. Some things I look forward to trying are his All-Crust Potato Gratin, Green Bouillabaisse with Aioli (though some ingredients are TOUGH to find in Manila), Crab Poppers (little bite size morsels like crabcakes but more sophisticated), and Chicken Faux Gras (a stunning sounding pate made with chicken livers, my childhood nemesis)…this last one is definitely on my holiday list! Happy in the Kitchen, by Michel Richard, list price $45.
I love many Vietnamese dishes. They have a clarity to them that is punctuated with a healthy dose of pungent herbs and spices. I have only been to Vietnam once, on a two-week business trip and at that time, I ate to work, not worked to eat. But I did get a wonderful introduction to Vietnamese food during that trip and when I was subsequently assigned to a year-long project in Melbourne, Australia, I lived around the corner from a small Vietnamese restaurant that I ate in 3x a week for my rice fix. At home, my only foray into Vietnamese cooking has been the fresh spring rolls, and attempts at various noodles, but with this new book by Andrea Nguyen, I hope to do more, particularly a good basic Pho broth and recipe. Ms. Nguyen spent most of her life in the U.S., so this book is certainly targetted at an audience in a Western set-up… or just right for me as well as an introduction to the cuisine. The book has a disappointing lack of photos (lower budget?) but never mind, the recipes seem simple enough to follow and cover most of my favorites. I need to do a whole week of Vietnamese cooking so that I can utilize some flavorings that I don’t usually have in stock. Into the Vietnamese Kitchen by ndrea Nguyen, list price $35.
Artisanal is a restaurant in New York City that we have been meaning to try for several years. My sister encouraged us to check it out since Mrs. MM is a cheese fiend, but the last two times we tried to get in, it was totally booked and we ended up at the nearby Brasserie Les Halles instead. So when Terrance rennan and Andrew Friedman published this book, it was a natural selection. It has beautiful photos, delicious sounding and relatively easy to make recipes for a home cook. The book also has a wonderful pantry section that covers some basic sauces, dressings, oils etc. I found this section really interesting. As for the dishes I want to cook sometime soon… maybe the Pork Steak with Sage, Pumpkin and Prunes (I notice all of these ingredients in Manila stores at the moment), Macaroni and Cheese (from a purveyor of cheese, you won’t be surprised this version calls for Parmiggiano Reggiano, Gruyere or Comte and Mascarpone!), and Chocolate Soup with Orange Curd Napoleon. List Price $35.
Cindy Pawlcyn’s book “Big Small Plates” is a bit confusing… not quite appetizers, not quite meals…but that is precisely how I like to eat sometimes. Often, at a loss in a restaurant, I order 2 or 3 appetizers instead of having a main course. That way, I get more tastes and flavors in one sitting. Nicely photographed with an interesting mix of familiar appetizers with a bit of zing, and several Mexican influenced recipes as a result of her restaurant kitchen staff, this is a book that will inspire avid cooks and amateurs alike. Nothing fussy here, just good solid takes on classics and in some cases, classics done in a great new way…She also has suggestions for party or dinner menus that incorporate several smaller dishes rather than main courses. Definitely a back-up or bench warmer in case you haven’t filled your shopping basket with several of the previous books I have mentioned. List Price $35.
Finally, The Complete Meat Cookbook by Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly. What can I say, I am a caveman carnivore once in a while. A great guide to meat, with many recipes and techniques for handling and prepping meat. There are a few photos, but way too few. The recipes are easy to follow. A good basic reference book for meat. List Price $35.
Has anyone noticed that the price point for cookbooks today seems to be $35? Is that bizarre or what? Why not $33 or $39 considering the varying amounts to work, research, content that goes into them… talk about cartelized pricing… Hmmm, I wonder why. Enjoy your books this holiday season!!!