'Tis the Season - for Cookbooks
Autumn means crackling leaves as well as cookbooks, which are showing up in droves at my doorstep. There are simply too many titles to mention in one article, so while the season is hot, I'll dish up a few at a time in an ongoing cookbook alert. Here's a taste of today's featured titles.
If you've been the slightest bit curious about oysters or want to expand your bi-valved horizons, A Geography of Oysters" by Rowan Jacobsen has your name all over it.
Jacobsen, a staff writer for the quarterly food mag Art of Eating, shares his love of the oyster, which began at the age of 12, an experience he describes passionately from get-go and one that set the stage for his equally impassioned guide to eating oysters in North America. In many respects, Jacobsen's book is a travel book, chockful of maps and lists of oyster bars and festivals in the U.S. and Canada. One third of the book is devoted to the "Oyster Appellations of North America" which covers eight regions, including the Chesapeake, with historical and environmental context, oysterman profiles and the oysters you "should eat" when in...
Those who've always wanted to better navigate restaurant raw bars will be served well by his "a dozen oysters you should know" section, plus what to drink when you're slurping. Written in an accessible style by a hard-core ostreaphile, "A Geography of Oysters" is a fun read, inviting you to join Jacobsen on his quest for an oyster-rich life. Yes, please!
New York Times cooking columnist and prolific cookbook author Mark Bittman has released yet another tome, this time with a meatless focus. In keeping with his trademarked "How to Cook Everything," his encyclopedic-style volume that has been a huge success since its release in the late 1990s, "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian" is equally weighty (about five pounds I'm thinking) just shy of 1,0000 pages, with 2,000 recipes .
For veteran vegetarians, this book may seem like a rehash of other big meatless titles, such as "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone" by Deborah Madison or "the Passionate Vegetarian" by Crescent Dragonwagon. His recipes will not feel like something new and different, but the strength in this book are in his lists and charts. There are lots of lists throughout the book, along the lines of "25 fast and easy ways to spin tomato sauce," "39 dishes that can be stir-fried with Asian noodles" and "10 things to serve with baked goat cheese," which are useful for stressed-out weeknight cooks and for those who need inspiration for the same old meal repertoire. The key to eating meatless, as many vegetarians and vegans know, is to keep things diverse and interesting. Bittman also employs charts, a useful tool for learning about basics of "everyday legumes," frying vegetables or vegetable gratins.
His section on vegetables bears some similarity to "The Organic Cook's Bible" by Jeff Cox, an alphabet of vegetables, if you will, with a brief intro and one or two accompanying recipes. Useful info, but again, been there, done that.
While paging through the book, I stopped short in the "Ingredients" chapter at the beginning book, under the subhead "What About Organic?" Here, Bittman seems to be talking out of both sides of his mouth. At first, he states his preference for local over organic: "I think buying local is more important and has more impact than supporting organic."
In spite of his preference, Bittman, in the very next paragraph, acknowledges that in practice, he doesn't really shop locally much at all: "I don't have the time or energy to seek out local produce on a regular basis; I do most of my shopping in a supermarket, just like almost every one else in this country."
By the next paragraph, Bittman swings back in the other direction singing the praises of local food: "My quick advice, for what it's worth is: Buy local when you can."
This is at best, confusing advice, and a difficult pill to swallow, particularly at the beginning of a book about cooking with plants.
What say you? How often do you make it to the farmers' markets? Is it part of your regular routine, or like the author, do you have neither the time nor the energy? And what if you're a vegetarian or a vegan - does this make a difference to you? I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Join me today at noon for What's Cooking.
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