Monday, October 16, 2017

Three New Cookbooks: Cook Beautiful, The Dinner Plan, and Simple Fare

With the holidays approaching ... first comes the spooky candy holiday, followed by the overstuffed bird holiday, and finally the gift-giving holidays ... it's time to start a wishlist. Or maybe a gift list. These three books have come to me through the Abrams Dinner Party - they're sending me their complete library of new cookbooks for this season. Lots of books. So many recipes.

There are so many new cookbooks to choose from, which is great, because there's something for everyone. On the other hand ... since there are so many cookbooks, it can make it hard to decide just which book is the perfect present for each of your cooking cousins.

Cook Beautiful by Athena Calderone is filled with pretty photos, but they aren't over-styled to the point where you'll decide the recipes are impossible to achieve.

One of my favorite photos is of Yogurt Panna Cotta with Strawberries and Saba. It sounds fancy, but there are only seven ingredients, plus saba or syrupy balsamic vinegar for drizzling. This would be an elegant dessert for any occasion, but easy enough for everyone.

Other photos show plating that's pretty, yet rustic. Not overwrought restaurant dishes, but food that belongs on the family table. It's something to aspire to ... be still very possible.

The book is arranged by season, which is great for those who prefer local, fresh, seasonal foods, but some of them can easily transcend seasons. Zucchini and Feta Fritters with Avocado Cream, for example, could be made just about any time of the year, since zucchini is always available. The scallions might be a little harder to find in some markets, but could easily be replaced by some onion and chives.

This would be the ideal gift for someone who loves to browse through books, who enjoys lovely photos, and who wants to cook dishes that aren't super-complicated.

The Dinner Plan by Kathy Brennan and Caroline Campion (the authors also wrote Keepers) is both a cookbook and a planning guide to make weeknight dinners a little easier. Of course it is, because the tagline on this one is Simple weeknight recipes and strategies for every schedule.

Each recipe is tagged, to let you know if you can make it ahead or whether it's something you can whip together from pantry ingredients. Maybe it's extra-fast, or a one-dish meal or something that you can cook in stages.

All these helpful hints let you plan better for those days when you'll be getting home from work late or for that day when you meant to go to the grocery store, but now you've got to shop from the pantry.

While the planning feature is great for cooks who need that help, this book stands on its own, even if you don't need to plan. Recipes like BaLT salad, with bacon, avocado, lettuce, and tomato, would be great for lunch (with less bacon) or for dinner with a tad more bacon. Pasta e Fagioli is a hearty dish that can be made ahead from pantry ingredients. Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Mustard and Herbs is easy enough for a family dinner, but lovely for a celebration, too.

The table of recipes by category is handy, so if you happen to come home from the store with chicken that was on sale, you have your choice of recipes, or if you're in the mood for soup or pasta, you can look for those instead.

This would be a wonderful gift for new cooks who might be having trouble getting dinner on the table, or for anyone who's a little disorganized. But it's also a great book for people who are looking for interesting new recipes to try.

Simple Fare Fall/Winter by Karen Mordechai is part of a series, but this is the first of these books I've seen. The format of the book is a bit unusual - it's a large paperback book. And by large, I mean height and width, rather than thickness.

The choice of text sizes is different, too, with some sections in very large type and others in more normal sizes. There's a lot of white space (great for people who like to take notes in their books) and the beginning of each chapter is blank, except for the chapter name. It's decidedly quirky.

Recipes range from light and simple, like toasts, to hearty and more complex, like braised brisket.

For people who like recipe variations, you'll find those, too. The Everyday Fish recipe calls for salmon with parsley, cilantro, mint, and lime, but variations are suggest for halibut with thyme, basil, lemon verbena, and meyer lemon, or sea bass with oregano, tarragon, purple basil, and lemon.

Because of the many variations suggested, this book is great for people who want to learn how to experiment with recipes, but who might not be ready to venture out on their own. Those variations also make the recipes easier for those who don't have easy access to a lot of ingredients or who are particularly choosy about flavors and combinations. If you don't like quinoa in your risotto, you can opt for the white or brown rice versions with a simple swap.