Winter, spring, summer, and fall, cookbooks never go out of style. They’re the perfect gift, one size fits all, and there are great choices readily available, enough to satisfy anybody’s palate.
With the new season of the popular TV show “MasterChef” back again to delight fans, what foodie or gifted cook wouldn’t treasure MasterChef: The Ultimate Cookbook? With more than 100 recipes, and 50 photographs, this creation of judges Graham Elliot and Joe Bastianich is a pleasure to read from the foreword, which explains how contestants are chosen, to the end, which provides a tip for making a perfect Molten Lava Cake (err on the side of under baking). Along the way, we’re provided with a list of essential cooking utensils; we get to meet impressive cooks from the program, like the first blind contestant, Christine Ha; and secrets are revealed for making the most scrumptious dishes.
I began Valerie Bertinelli’s One Dish At A Time wanting to discover her favorite Italian recipes. I found myself engrossed in her personal story, too. America’s darling at 14 on the hit comedy “One Day At A Time,” Valerie grew up in the spotlight, but manages to write like the girlfriend we all wish we had. In 2007, she lost 40 pounds, and became the spokesperson for Jenny Craig. Here, she shares her philosophy for keeping the weight off. Don’t deprive yourself, she advises; use portion control. I especially enjoyed the Indonesian recipes Valerie includes from her former mother-in-law, Mrs. Van Halen. It’s fun to learn that peanuts are the Indonesian answer to the tomatoes beloved by Italians- they’re used in everything. (Opening photo)
As far as I’m concerned, there’s no such thing as too much Italian food. Tessa Kiros agrees, and her Recipes And Dreams From An Italian Life would be enough to convince any non-believer. Of course, the recipes are great, but the paintings and photos she includes give this lovely book a whole other dimension. Tessa was born in London to a Finnish mother and a Greek father; she was raised in South Africa. But Italy is her spiritual home, and she brings an innate sensibility to the preparation of food, and the way that what we eat connects us to family. Now married to an Italian, and living in Tuscany, she draws on the life experience of her mother-in-law to bring a traditional, feminine perspective to her cookbook. And who can disagree with the maxim “Better to keep the old broom that sweeps well than to get a new one.”
Fans of her show on Public Television will recognize the verve and appeal of the food featured in Pati Jinich’s Pat’s Mexican Table. Pati was born and raised in Mexico City; she’s the official chef of the Mexican Cultural Institute; and she’s on a mission to show Americans that Mexican food is much more than the fast food we’ve come to associate with South of the Border. Far from the standard extra spicy, heavy dishes dripping with melted cheese, Pati’s recipes are “beautiful in simplicity, tremendously convenient, and wholesome.” Her salads are particularly refreshing; watermelon with tomatillo is perfect for a warm summer day. Vegetarians will have a field day with Pati’s mouthwatering meatless dishes. Pati generously gives helpful hints, including why corn tortillas are better than flour tortillas in cooking.
The Sunset Essential Western Cookbook also features Mexican food, along with dishes from the Northwest, like Huckleberry Cobbler, and instructions for the best way to roll sushi. There’s a much appreciated emphasis on fresh ingredients, available in season. There are explanations about the origins of the food discussed: Native American, pioneer, and immigrants. This book presents a great opportunity to see live salmon through the eyes of Lewis and Clark; fun facts, like the popsicle being invented in San Francisco in 1905- by an 11 year old; the Aztec name for the avocado; and a chance to learn about the Mafia’s ties to the artichoke.
For West Coast food that’s less homespun, more elegant, check out Alex Hitz’s My Beverly Hills Kitchen, which touts classic Southern cooking with a French twist. For example, Alex recommends adding a couple of tablespoons of white truffle oil to Millionaire’s Macaroni And Cheese, and a dollop of caviar to scrambled eggs. A graduate of Le Cordon Bleu, in Paris, Alex sells luxury comfort food on HSN. He hasn’t forgotten his Atlanta roots, and includes special ways to zip up grits, pot pie, and of course, fried chicken. And for heaven’s sake, don’t miss the name dropping. Bill Blass, Nan Kempner, and Betsy Bloomingdale are all well represented in these pages.
All these wonderful cookbooks make preparing delicious food a tenable goal. But honestly, a lot of the time, I just love looking at the pictures.
Michall Jeffers is an accomplished Cultural Journalist, a devoted Foodie, and an avowed bibliophile. She writes extensively, both in print and online. Her eponymous cable TV show is syndicated throughout the tri-state area, and features celebrity interviews, reviews, and commentary. Michall is a voting member of National Book Critics Circle. www.michalljeffers.com
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