ForeWord Reviews

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Capture the Occasion

Five New Cookbooks Offer Confident, Distinctive Recipes

Wilkinson Image Pity the cookbook editor, faced with a glorious stack of new cookbooks and the inglorious task of selecting a mere handful to feature in this annual exaltation. What screen, what theme, what criteria should be used to make the selections?

Wilkinson Image 2 And, every year the same answer: Whatever charms your whisk into action, so long as the books extol all aspects of inspired food and cooking, as practiced by today’s best chefs, be they Peruvian or Pakistani, vegan, molecular gastronomists, or aficionados of campfire cooking.

These cookbooks eschew culinary gimmicks and tricks. Their authors are known to scream in horror at night if their dreams happen to include dried chives, canned mushrooms, or any other such foodstuff from hell.

The Fresh Honey Cookbook

Book Cover Laurey Masterton
Storey Publishing
Softcover $14.95 (208pp)
978-1-61212-051-5

Let’s hear it for the indefatigable honeybee: suffering from Colony Collapse Disorder, charged by nature to pollinate all the world’s flowering plants, and, for their own sustenance, required to visit two million flowers to collect enough nectar to produce one pound of honey (one hive will need sixty or so pounds to get through the winter, not counting what we humans siphon off).

In her splendidly informative Fresh Honey Cookbook, Laurey Masterton offers eighty-four recipes—many of which don’t include honey—that wouldn’t be possible without honeybees. In fact, one third of all the foods we eat are dependent on the work of bees: apples, nuts, strawberries, oranges, grapes, green beans, and so many more. To reinforce the point, she places those bee-pendent ingredients in bold type throughout.

Arranged by season, each chapter corresponds to a specific honey varietal derived from a single flowering plant: orange blossom honey in January, tupelo honey in February, tulip poplar honey in June, to name a few. July features a chilled cucumber soup recipe “transformed” by sourwood honey. Apple and Celery Salad with Sage Honey Vinaigrette beckons from September’s offerings. Simple and harmonious, Masterton’s recipes are for every day.

Cooking with Flowers: Sweet and Savory Recipes with Rose Petals, Lilacs, Lavender, and Other Edible Flowers

Book Cover Miche Bacher
Quirk Books
Hardcover $24.95 (192pp)
978-1-59474-625-3

Bees convert flower nectar into honey. Yeast converts honey into alcohol. Humans convert honey and alcohol into, well, perhaps we should reconsider our views on evolved species. Artichoke, broccoli, cauliflower, the haute Italian use of squash blossoms—flowers are abundant in our diets, and when you consider the medicinal properties of chamomile, lavender, violets, and many other flowers, it’s easier to comprehend how important flowers are to our well-being.

A few flips through the pages of Cooking with Flowers and suddenly it’s apparent that numerous unsuspecting varieties of flowers can be used to create dishes of stunning beauty and flavor. Herbalist and chef Miche Bacher offers one hundred recipes based on lilacs, orchids, roses, hollyhocks, and a dozen or so other blossoms. She opens each chapter with some flower lore, growing habits, flavor profile, and culinary uses, and proceeds with recipes that burst with inventiveness, yet aren’t gratuitous with their use of petals as garnish. To rely on a hyphenated word, the photography in this book is mind-blowing.

Mr. Wilkinson’s Vegetables: A Cookbook to Celebrate the Garden

Book Cover Matt Wilkinson
Black Dog and Leventhal
Hardcover $27.95 (304pp)
978-1-57912-934-7

“I build my dish around what vegetables are in season because this is when they will be the cheapest, most readily available, and, most importantly, taste the best—and surely this has to be the most important factor when cooking. … This is where I’m a little different with my veg-first approach.”

With that, and only that, Matt Wilkinson, author of Mr. Wilkinson’s Vegetables, encourages readers to think about a protein to add (meat or seafood), considering how the flavors will marry together with the chosen vegetables. Revelatory!

What follows are twenty-four chapters devoted respectively to asparagus, beans & peas, beets, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, peppers, carrot, cauliflower, corn, cucumber, eggplant, fennel, garlic, horseradish, leaves from the garden, nettle, onion, parsnip, potato, pumpkin and squash, radish, tomato, and zucchini—each accompanied by gardening and preparation know-how and three or more recipes. Mr. Wilkinson’s beautifully photographed and illustrated vegetables cookbook is simply a must acquisition for anyone who reads, cooks, and eats.

Friends at My Table

Book Cover Alice Hart
Roost Books
Hardcover $24.95 (192pp)
978-1-61180-060-9

Alice Hart’s Friends at My Table is another hyper-seasonal masterpiece, albeit one that offers complete menus for a LaidBack Country Wedding; Vegetarian Bridal Brunch; Beach Cricket Barbecue; An Easy, Chic Picnic; and other celebratory gatherings. Her Family-Style New Year’s Eve Supper for 16 tempts with recipes for Homemade Pastrami; Cured Salmon; Luxurious Tart of Buttery Leeks, Mascarpone, and Smoked Garlic; Arugula-Celery Root Salad; Amaretti Cake with Fig Compote; and Black Forest Sundaes.

She devotes illustrated pages to cloud gazing (descriptions of ten cloud types), tidal pools (critters you might come across under the water), wild swimming (getting wet in unlikely bodies of water), and making vodka infusions (rhubarb or apricot or chili, for example), among other living-large pastimes.

Hart’s London roots translate on each page—no one beats the Brits when it comes to cookbooks.

Recipes and Dreams from an Italian Life

Book Cover Tessa Kiros
Andrews McMeel
Hardcover $29.99 (356pp)
978-1-4494-2521-0

Damn Italy for its hold on us. For the lingering memories of simple roadside meals in Campania and pitchers of house wine in Sicilia that shame the taste of anything we sip stateside. A resident of Tuscany, Tessa Kiros knows what so many of us feel for her adopted country.

Her latest book, Recipes and Dreams From an Italian Life, is a dreamy meditation on the Italian soul—hidden deep in the traditions, character, secrets, and generosity of Italy’s matriarchal women. The soul of this book resides in Tessa’s breathtaking introduction. “While the gentleman brought his craft, his work, his money, she brought her knowledge. Her know-how. Her art. Swimming through her veins and winding through her stitching. Spilling out into her broths. The way she had been taught. Of family. Of love.”

As for the book’s recipes, Tessa calls them simple and practical. We might add the words confident and comforting. Spaghetti with Lentil Ragu; Risotto with Pears and Pecorino; Baked Crumbed Chicken with Mozzarella, Anchovies, & Capers.

Masterfully designed and photographed, Recipes and Dreams From an Italian Life is an authentic Italian keepsake.