Three Cookbooks I'm Excited About

The UPS guy and I have become pretty good pals, and I owe it all to cookbook publishers. There’s hardly a day that goes by that I don’t receive a review copy of a new kitchen-appropriate title, an embarrassment of riches that requires constant upkeep. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it, even when a book doesn’t speak to me or goes promptly into the donation pile. Here are three titles that have passed the “looks good” test and have earned a time slot on the recipe-testing calendar at the Casa.

(Courtesy Clarkson Potter Publishers)

“Real Cajun” by Donald Link
I’ll admit, New Orleans has a spiritual hold on me, so it didn’t take much to win me over with Donald Link’s book about the food of his native Acadiana, the heart of Cajun country. I was expecting all the classics -- etouffee, gumbo, jambalaya -- which are represented loud and proud – but the big surprise (and delight) of this book are the stories behind the food and the role of family in putting dinner on the table. Link is chef-owner of two NOLA hot spots – Herbsaint and Cochon (where pork is king) – which has put him on the map of celebrity chefdom, but in this book, you meet the guy, the family man, the grandson of Granny and Paw Paw Link.

In addition to the usual suspects, Link dishes up his recipe for hot sauce (can’t wait!), DIY bacon (who wants to try this with me?), a savory calas with corn, scallions and chiles and “Post-K Meatloaf,” a tribute to the first dish that Link and his crew served up after the storm.

I don’t say this very often, but this book -- it’s got soul.

"Quick and Easy Korean Cooking" by Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee
My Korean-American pal El, whom I lovingly call “Kimchi,” has been bugging me for years to learn how to cook the food of her people. It’s not that I was uninterested, but for years, the right kind of cookbook never fell in my lap and inspired me. Until now.

I long held the assumption that Korean cookery was complicated, but I stand corrected with Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee’s “Quick and Easy Korean Cooking.” For me, it’s not the “quick and easy” in her title that resonates, but the book’s clean design and Lee’s easy-going approach, which makes me feel instantly at ease.

To wit, a few encouraging lines from Lee’s introduction:

I think learning a new cuisine is very similar to learning a foreign language. You begin with small tastes at first, deciding that you like it and want to learn more about it. You take in more and more, and you gradually become confident enough to try it on your own.

No first-hand kitchen reports to share yet, but I’m licking my chops in anticipation for Lee’s kimchi pancakes, sweet potato noodles and the barbecued beef ribs, like those lip-smacking morsels from your favorite Korean barbecue joint.

"BabyCakes: Vegan, Gluten-Free, and (Mostly) Sugar-Free Recipes from New York’s Most Talked-About Bakery" by Erin McKenna
BabyCakes mamacita Erin McKenna has just birthed her first book, a collection of all the sweet, virtuous treats from her outposts in New York and West Hollywood, both with cult-like followings. As some of you know, I do a fair amount of vegan and gluten-free baking and share the results of the best that I’ve come across. What stopped me in my tracks with McKenna’s book is her version of red velvet cupcakes, which are completely vegan. I’m a sucker for red velvet, which inevitably makes me think of white go-go boots, and hey, if there’s a nondairy, more healthful way to bring on the velvet and save a few arteries, I’m game to give it a try. To thicken up her vanilla frosting, McKenna uses coconut flour, a first in my kitchen. I promise to share the results in the coming days!

By Kim ODonnel |  May 13, 2009; 7:00 AM ET Cook's Library , New Orleans , Vegetarian/Vegan
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I'm not sure what this blog is all about; it sounds like publicity. I was hoping for some insight into these cookbooks, but all I got was some hype about the titles of recipes. Disappointing.

Posted by: Stormy1 | May 13, 2009 8:12 AM

Mmmmm....vegan cupcakes! Kim, thanks for the shopping inspiration.

Posted by: laurenbeau | May 13, 2009 9:48 AM

Erin McKenna of Babycakes Bakery was on Dishing It Out last Sunday (5/10). Listen in on her favorite glutenfree/vegan treats:

Posted by: nycnell1 | May 13, 2009 9:55 AM

Sounds like some good stuff - can't wait to hear your thoughts after you've tried the recipes - the red velvet cake and sweet potato noodles sound especially good to me :)

Posted by: Lizka | May 13, 2009 10:08 AM

Reviewing cookbooks sounds like a dream job. I collect them, have 300 or more, there is nothing more fun than leafing through one and choosing a recipe to try.
I still miss your WaPo chat.

Posted by: macgregorcass | May 13, 2009 10:19 AM

Hi Kim-
Can you tell how much the babycakes book relies on soy products? I am allergic to it so wondered.

Posted by: NewtonMom | May 13, 2009 12:34 PM

NewtonMom, it seems like the emphasis on soy is minimal. She does use soy milk in her vanilla and chocolate frosting, but I'm betting almond milk would work. As I mentioned in my post, I have to try any of the recipes but definitely plan on giving the red velvet a whirl. Will keep you posted.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | May 13, 2009 12:39 PM

I am interested to hear how your vegan red velvet cake and frosting turns out. I actually bought coconut flour but haven't yet had the time to use it. Think that I'll have to get a copy of Baby Cakes -- vegan baking is great but so is eating vegan.

Posted by: theveggiequeen | May 14, 2009 9:35 AM

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