Someone's in the Kitchen With Santa

Recommended cookbooks for holiday gift giving

Someone's in the Kitchen With Santa

Land of Plenty: Authentic Sichuan Recipes Personally Gathered in the Chinese Province of Sichuan

by Fuchsia Dunlop

W.W. Norton, 395 pp., $30

Londoner Fuchsia Dunlop's new treatise, based on the culinary delights of Sichuan province, is a comprehensive guide to that oft-forgotten area, and the only English- language cookbook to exclusively cover the region. She went to the southwest region of China to study, learned to read and write the language, and was the first foreigner to enroll in the prestigious Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine, learning the intricacies of the sophisticated food not only there, but from street vendors and home cooks as well.

Dunlop fully explores the classic 23 flavor principles and 56 cooking methods of Sichuan, while she presents an enticing range of some of the 5,000 dishes for which the province is known. Most fans of Chinese food know the Sichuan stalwart Kung Pao, but after reading Land of Plenty, you will get a revealing feel for the diverse sophistication and bounty that is Sichuan's. It's not all fire and heat. Loaded with personal anecdotes and revealing detail, and recipes that are simple to follow, Dunlop's masterpiece makes a fine read, as well as a truly authentic guide to the foods of Sichuan. Any serious fan of Chinese cuisine needs this book on their shelf. -- Mick Vann

Our Latin Table

by Fernando Saralegui

Bulfinch Press, 162 pp., $29.95

Reading Fernando Saralegui's cookbook feels like browsing through a family album. While telling the story of his Cuban-American family, Saralegui takes the reader along for a year's worth of gatherings, celebrations, traditions, and recipes, with his bubbling personality and contagious enthusiasm coming through on every page. Our Latin Table is a story of immigrant cuisine, which encapsulates the preservation and expression of cultural traditions and the creation of new ones in true "melting pot" style. From the Spanish dishes of his Basque grandfather, to his mother's Cuban recipes, to the Texas influence of his wife Amy's cooking, Saralegui enjoys a diverse repertoire of influences in the kitchen. Using this amalgam of culinary knowledge, he developed a new, exciting cuisine of his own at his successful restaurants Alva and L-Ray in New York City. In Our Latin Table, Saralegui shares this collection of easy-to-read, enticing recipes that range from traditional to innovative, from everyday dinner to special-occasion dishes. They are grouped within 17 menus for celebrations like New Year's Eve, Super Bowl, and Easter and gatherings like softball picnics and fishing weekends.

Saralegui is also an excellent bartender, and the book is dotted with many recipes for classic Cuban cocktails like mojitos and daiquiris, and tropical concoctions of his own inspiration like the Havanapolitan. Wine suggestions are also presented with every menu. Our Latin Table is a very personal book, filled with love, family photographs, anecdotes, and stories. It is truly a celebration of life and the things that make it worth living: family, friends, good food, and good times, and an excellent choice for holiday giving in the true spirit of the season. -- Claudia Alarcón

Someone's in the Kitchen With Santa

The American Boulangerie: French Pastries and Breads for the Home Kitchen

by Pascal Rigo

Bay Books, 200 pp., $34.95

Born in Bordeaux and bred in a bakery since the age of 7, Pascal Rigo brought traditional French baking to San Francisco a few years ago via his charming and wildly popular Boulangerie Bay Bread. Now, with The American Boulangerie, he brings that baking into American home kitchens.

It's natural to feel daunted by French baking, but somehow Rigo manages not only to convince you that you can do it, but makes you excited to get started. Without compromising critical French sensibilities, he's worked hard to adapt traditional recipes and techniques to American home kitchens. His unabashed enthusiasm, detailed instructions, and fantastic photos provide a beckoning roadmap to credible French breads and desserts.

Rigo begins with making bread starter (levain nature) -- which he compares to a low-maintenance house pet -- and moves on to recipes for slow, methodical, traditional breads. Realistically, he advises practice and observation: "You'll be surprised what flour, water, and yeast can teach you."

Instructions for quiches, madeleines, house-specialty macaroons, and country-style pastries are easy to follow and not complicated, and the results for classic lemon tart, French flan with cherries, and chocolate truffles are the next best thing to Paris. I particularly like his "children's pastries" section -- simple recipes to share with kids that produce spectacular desserts like chocolate pots de crème and strawberry charlottes. -- MM Pack

Someone's in the Kitchen With Santa

The Herb Garden Cookbook: The Complete Gardening and Gourmet Guide

by Lucinda Hutson

University of Texas Press, 242 pp., $26.95

It's hard to say whether Lucinda Hutson's legendary Austin herb garden embodies the spirit of her Herb Garden Cookbook or whether it's the book that captures the soul of her garden. Either way, this beautifully produced new edition (the book has been in print since it was first published in 1987) is a goldmine of information and inspiration about culinary herbs -- both growing them and using them to maximum pleasurable effect in food and drink.

The book is organized into 20 chapters, each devoted to a common culinary herb. Vibrantly photographed, each section contains growing information, including a chart of common names, characteristics, conditions, propagation, natural pest control, and compatible companion plants. Following are recipes to showcase the herb; typical examples are Salmon and Dilled-Cheese Torta, Mustard and Mexican Mint-Marigold Chicken, Lemon-Verbena Poundcake, and Gin and Tonic With Salad Burnet Garnish.

In addition, there are helpful sections on cooking tips, propagating and using Mexican and Asian herbs, savoring edible flowers, making herb butters and vinegars, planning fiesta menus, and finding sources for herbs and seeds.

Hutson is a creative cook, an inspired hostess, and a tireless campaigner against bland food. Her recipes range from traditional Southern to Asian to Mexican; they are skillfully designed to provide pleasing layers of intense flavors and colors, to be prepared and served with joy, without unnecessary complication. -- MM P.

Someone's in the Kitchen With Santa

Paying Attention: A Guide to Wine With Food

by Anthony Garcia

Wine Is Divine, 76 pp., $10.95 (paper)

Wine lovers in Austin have a warm spot in their heart for the defunct restaurant Tocai. The owner and author of this book, Anthony Garcia, was a master at finding inexpensive, obscure wines and pairing them with just the right food. After Tocai closed, Garcia moved over to Emilia's, where he started a weekly wine and food tasting group that included some of Austin's most knowledgeable wine people. The purpose was to research Paying Attention: A Guide to Wine With Food. I was able to make one session (discussed on pages 24 and 25), where we paired zinfandels and hamburgers!

Garcia has a wired and intense personality, but one that is filtered through a lot of humor. All this comes through in his writing, as he leads us through his personal views on how to eat, drink, and be merry. He gives the reader a cogent, accurate, and straightforward system of how to classify wines and how to choose which wine goes with what food. As he does when you talk to him, he digresses and runs off on any tangent that appeals to him, but in almost all cases, the tangents prove useful. My only complaint is the small size of the book. -- Wes Marshall

Someone's in the Kitchen With Santa

Simple Laotian Cooking

by Penn Hongthong

Hippocrene, 225 pp., $24.95

Penn Hongthong spent the first 18 years of her life growing up in a small town in Laos, and when she became old enough, she and her sister were the cooks for her entire family of nine. With Simple Laotian Cooking, she presents one of only two titles available in English on the exotic and varied yet simple to prepare cuisine of Laos. For those not familiar, one should think of Laotian food as a cross between the foods of northern Thailand and Vietnam. It is a healthy diet rich in vegetables, herbs, and fruits (and short on meats), cooked quickly and simply, with very little oil.

Hongthong opens the book with a short background on the eating habits of the typical Lao family and the arrangement of the kitchen. Recipe headnotes offer the reader more insight into Lao culinary routines, and the recipes are very easy to follow, with adaptations for the American pantry. Whip up a batch of Chicken and Green Tomato Soup With Lemon Basil, Grilled Wild Mushroom Salad, Chicken Sauté With Fresh Dill, Minced Turkey With Roasted Garlic, or Duck Laab, and you'll see what the fuss is about.

Fans of Southeast Asian cuisines will love cooking (and eating) from this book. -- Mick Vann

Someone's in the Kitchen With Santa

Escoffier: The King of Chefs

by Kenneth James

Hambledon and London Press, 320 pp., $29.95

In this day of intense public interest in the lives and personalities of celebrity chefs, Kenneth James brings us an imminently readable biography of Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935), one of the first international stars of modern cooking.

Born in modest circumstances near Nice, Escoffier was apprenticed at 13 (his stature too slight for the family ironworking business), and he never looked back. Consumed with ambition to become the best, he moved steadily upward in his assigned trade. "I had already realized the importance of cooking and the role a conscientious cook could play in life."

Working in partnership with hotelier César Ritz, Escoffier's long career included revising the reigning chaotic system into the efficient kitchen brigade, and developing and documenting literally thousands of recipes for Le Guide Culiniere (1903, the bible for professional cooks) and Ma Cuisine (1934, for home cooks). His clientele included heads of state and stars, such as England's Edward VII, Kaiser Wilhelm II, and Sarah Bernhardt. Less well-known was his concern for kitchen employees' welfare and his lifelong humanist activities. Just before World War I, when Kaiser Wilhelm thanked him for an exquisite meal, Escoffier took the opportunity to plead for peace.

The author, knowledgeably passionate about food and history, chronicles Escoffier's life and times with lively wit, interspersing the chapters of biography with quirky "Interludes" about such diverse subjects as the history of coffee, the joys of eggs, and the uses of the poêle, the French slope-sided frying pan. -- MM P.

Glorious French Food: A Fresh Approach to the Classics

by James Peterson

John Wiley & Sons, 742 pp., $45

In a new volume titled Glorious French Food: A Fresh Approach to the Classics, former chef, restaurant owner, and longtime cooking instructor James Peterson shares his insight into traditional French cooking. I talked to Peterson, who visited Austin in September to teach a sold-out class at Central Market. I asked him what he thought was so enduring about classic French cooking. His reply was unequivocal: "French food relies on a wide variety of fresh ingredients, integrates a diversity of techniques in its preparation, and it is meant to be enjoyed with wine." In other words, French cuisine forms a logical system that embraces the inherently social element of eating.

In Glorious French Food, Peterson deconstructs that system, exposing the common sense behind the oft-intimidating cuisine. This is not simply a book of recipes; this is a book that teaches the reader the hows and whys of cooking great French food. Each chapter takes a theme -- omelets, for instance -- and builds upon it with a series of progressively more complex recipes for the reader to dabble with. Thus, Peterson introduces the classic French omelet, then the herb-filled, before landing on the king of omelets: the butter-drizzled Mont-Saint-Michel. The next chapter then launches into soufflés, beginning with basic cheese soufflés and ending with a decadent twice-baked mushroom soufflé with morel sauce.

This encyclopedic volume contains more than 350 recipes from simple salads to robust terrines to meats and fishes accompanied by elaborate sauces. Instructive sidebars and extensive introductory notes on French techniques make this an essential text for anyone seeking to enter the heart of the beast, then emerge re-energized. -- Rachel Feit

La Comida Del Barrio: Latin-American Cooking in the U.S.A

by Aarón Sanchez Clarkson Potter, 240 pp., $30

Aarón Sanchez is a young Food Network television personality with a fancy culinary pedigree. The son of cookbook author and restauranteur Zarela Martinez, he trained under Paul Prudhomme and later gained experience working at New York Latin restaurant icons Patria and L-Ray. He is now co-owner of Paladar, a popular Latin restaurant in New York's Lower East Side. Regardless of his "culinary royalty" background, Sanchez's first cookbook is about the everyday foods of the common man. La Comida Del Barrio, translating as "foods from the neighborhood," is a collection of recipes from street stands, markets, and family restaurants in Latin American neighborhoods across the USA. These dishes are the comfort foods of the immigrant populations from the many Latin American countries represented in the U.S. Organized by types of eatery, La Comida Del Barrio introduces the reader to recipes from taquerías, fondas, mercados, paladares, and other Latin neighborhood establishments. From snack staples like tacos, tortas, and sopes, to invigorating stews like pozole verde and birria, and main dishes such as arroz con pollo, these recipes represent the simple, affordable street foods that Latin American immigrants bring with them from countries such as Mexico, Puerto Rico, El Salvador, and Brazil that form the fabric of their everyday life. With artistic black-and-white photographs and simple recipes, this book provides an interesting introduction to the heart and soul of Latin communities in the U.S.: their street foods. -- C.A.

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