From roadside to Jerusalem, there is a lot to explore.
"The Mini Minimalist,"by Mark Bittman, Clarkson Potter, four small hardbacks, $19.95: In general, I like Mark Bittman, and find his recipes creative and easy to follow. However, this package of four little books seemed more like a gimmick to me. If one wanted to travel with a cookbook, one could choose one of these and have the recipes at hand, or perhaps the small size means that the cookbook is not so intimidating. I made Brussels sprouts with chestnuts, a favorite of the season. The recipe called for bacon, which I omitted in deference to my vegetarian guests. The world is divided into people who either love or hate Brussels sprouts, but in my test diners, all thought it was a great combination of flavors — with a little brown sugar added. By the time this recipe is complete, the chestnuts are almost caramelized and their flavor lightens the strong flavor of the Brussels sprouts. Some nice recipes, in four books in a box. A good holiday gift for those who like things simple and tasty.
"Ripe, A Cook in the Orchard," by Nigel Slater, Ten Speed Press, $40: This beautiful book, by a British author, follows the fruits of the seasons and suggests recipes accordingly. I found it hard to substitute some of our kinds of fruit. British apples do not have the same names as our apples, and some of the recipes (such as those for currants or gooseberries) were mouthwatering, but since those berries are hard to find here, difficult to make. I did make an apple crisp, which uses a minimum of cinnamon with the apples. Crusts of white bread that are tossed into the Cuisinart, with sugar added, cover the apples. The crust was then covered with melted butter. This was nice and tart, and the breadcrumbs made an unusual crust since we tend to use brown sugar, flour and occasionally oatmeal. I threw some golden raisins on the top. I also made Lemon Possett, a simple recipe that makes lemon-y custard, which, with the addition of some fresh berries and put in a wine glass, looks very elegant. This is a showy dessert that requires almost no effort. A wonderful book, especially for those who like to buy fresh fruit from the local farmer's markets.
"More Diners, Drive -Ins, Dives," by Guy Fieri with Ann Volkwein, William Morrow, $19.99: This book reviews a variety of low cost, relatively unknown (except to Fieri's fans) eateries from coast to coast. Fieri has a large fan base from his show on the Cooking Network and generously shows each team member and their comments early on in the book. Clearly, this is a tight-knit group of troupers who cross the country in an ancient Chevy and drop in on known and unknown places to test their food. I made Tommy's Joint Lamb Shanks from the local landmark in San Francisco. I was taken there for lunch on my first tour of San Francvisco when I moved to the Bay Area in 1964. The lamb stew was easy to put together (the only thing I had to shop for were the lamb shanks — everything else I already had in my kitchen) and while it takes four hours, most of that time the lamb is in the oven and the cook can do other tasks. The lamb had a rich flavor, was extremely tender and went well with the potatoes and carrots that were recommended to serve with it. I made two large shanks and followed the recipe with a small addition of a teaspoon of sugar to cut the acidity of the tomato paste. A sort of cult favorite, this would be a good book for a man who wants to try making hamburgers, meatballs and even a turducken.
"Jerusalem, A Cookbook," by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamini, Ten Speed Press, $35: This is a beauty of a book — collaboration between two Jerusalem natives, one a Jew and the other from the Muslim east of Jerusalem. There is a well-written history of the city of Jerusalem and some mouth-watering recipes. I did have some frustration with the book because the recipes often use ingredients that are hard to find here: ras el hanout, harissa paste, za'atar (hyssop), fresh currants, sumac and barberries. There was not enough guidance in the book to find these items, although some are available at specialty stores or by mail order. I made the Roasted Chicken with Clementines and Arak. Arak can be easily substituted by Pernod. This is a simple recipe that can be put together in advance and marinated for a period of time. The fennel (fresh and seeds) and clementines, were an unusual accompaniment to the chicken. One only wishes that this generous collaboration could be matched by the politics of this region.
"Well Fed Paleo Recipes for People Who Love to Eat," by Melissa Joulwan, Smudge Publishing, $29.95: I found the layout of this cookbook to be very busy — lots of boxes and commentary. However, undaunted, I made Cumin roasted Carrots, and they not only added color to my dinner but made for an unusual side dish. It is easy to put together and then is baked in the oven. I also made Turkish Chopped Salad, with cucumbers, tomatoes, green peppers, red onion, radishes and pitted olives. This recipe gets a dressing with lemon juice, garlic, cumin, paprika, dried oregano and olive oil. Chopped flat leaf parsley goes on top of the salad. The vegetables were crisp and a good combination, but I was disappointed in the dressing. I added more lemon juice and olive oil, and it immediately perked up the flavor. This cookbook relies heavily on coconut oil, so if that is not to one's liking, I would not buy this book. However, the two recipes I made were well worth trying.
I hope that readers will find something to like in these books. "Ripe" and "Jerusalem" are both beautifully visually as well as having unique recipes. Bon appetit!