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Thursday, December 03 2009
If the Internet is packed with free recipes, what's the use of dropping 30 bucks on a cookbook for a Christmas gift this year?

Because there's nothing like the flood of untested, uncurated recipes on the Web to make the home cook in your life appreciate an actual cookbook.

But not just any cookbook will do. Browse your local bookstore and you'll find a deluge of so-so books that will likely sit on the bookshelf at home as long as they sat on the shelf at the bookstore. We've been filtering cookbooks all year to find one for just about everyone in your life.

For young chefs

Hugh Garvey and Matthew Yeomans, who each have two mature-palated kids, teamed up to write 'The Gastrokid Cookbook: Feeding a Foodie Family in a Fast-Food World' (Wiley, $22.95) for other foodie parents and their culinary-minded offspring. The recipes, such as cauliflower purée or grilled leek and olive pizza, are easy enough for young cooks to make and interesting enough for parents to look forward to eating.

'The Young Readers Edition of the Omnivore's Dilemma' (Penguin, $9.99) invites children to discover where their food came from and how it got to their dinner plate. The book by Michael Pollan includes diagrams and flow-charts, showing kids why their Happy Meals might not be so happy after all.

Amanda Grant, who writes the Junior Cooks pages for Delicious magazine, is helping children channel their inner foodie with 'The Silver Spoon for Children' (Phaidon, $19.95). This whimsical cookbook features simple, healthy Italian dishes with easy-to-read recipes and fun illustrations by Harriet Russell. Each recipe is prefaced with a short history of the dish, for an elementary taste of Italian culture.

- Amira Jensen

For the Francophile

Before there was Julia Child, there was Ginette Mathiot , who first published the French classic "Je Sais Cuisiner" in 1932. Clotilde Dusoulier , the high-profile blogger of Chocolate and Zucchini (, has translated the book into English for the first time. Unlike Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," which taught how to make restaurant-quality dishes at home, 'I Know How to Cook' (Phaidon Press, $45) covers the basics of how French cooks prepare food at home. Dusoulier has modernized many of the 1,400-plus recipes, but Mathiot's step-by-step guide of basic techniques is still as useful as it was to French cooks in the 1930s. No wonder they call it the French version of "The Joy of Cooking."

If you're looking for another take on boeuf bourguignon, look no further than Stéphane Reynaud's 'French Feasts: 299 Traditional Recipes for Family Meals and Gatherings' (Stewart, Tabori and Chang, $40), another tome on French cuisine but this time with an emphasis on dinner parties and gatherings.

Few knew Child's cooking like Judith Jones, who introduced the world to Child when she edited her landmark cookbook. At 85, Jones is still an editor at Alfred A. Knopf, and this year, she published a book of her own: 'The Pleasures of Cooking for One' (Alfred A. Knopf, $27.95). Since her husband died in the 1990s, Jones has spent many nights cooking food just for herself and wanted to create a book inspiring others, with both recipes and encouragement, to enjoy that process of cooking - and eating - for one.

For the Food Network geek

Ellie Krieger, dietitian-turned-host of the Food Network's "Healthy Appetite," published her third cookbook, 'So Easy: Luscious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Week' (Wiley, $29.95), which, like her television show and previous books, is heavy on the feel-good-about-what-you-eat charm but light on the butter.

On the other side is Paula Deen, who has published more than a dozen books, none of which makes a claim to be good for you. But with 'The Deen Family Cookbook' (Simon & Schuster, $26), Deen sticks to what she knows with recipes from her ever-growing family.

No cookbooks this year from Rachael Ray, but she did release 'Make Your Own Take-Out Deck' (Potter Style, $14.99), a set of recipe cards that would make a great stocking stuffer.

Andrew Zimmern isn't on the Food Network, but he might as well be with his food-centric travel shows on the Travel Channel. Zimmern, host of "Bizarre Foods" and "Bizarre World," released 'The Bizarre Truth' (Broadway Books, $24.99) this year chronicling some of his most outrageous adventures, including a 36-course meal in India and a Samoan fishing trip that ended with Zimmern eating tuna eyeballs.

For the wandering gourmet

In 'New American Table' (Wiley, $40), chef Marcus Samuelsson explores the diverse heritage of America's melting-pot cuisine. He puts an American twist on recipes from every corner of the world, such as mussels with yucca fries and grilled duck leg with tea-poached bok choy. Samuelsson, who was born in Ethiopia but raised in Sweden, was on the world stage last week when he prepared an elaborate meal at the White House for last week's state dinner.

British food writer Angela Boggiano honors her country's longstanding obsession with pastry dough in 'Pie' (Mitchell Beazley, $16.99). Boggiano begins the book with a hefty primer on how to make about a dozen kinds of pastry dough and concludes the book with a few dessert pies, but the majority of the book is about savory pies like Cornish pasties or sausage, apple and sage plate pie that anyone who has been to England will remember fondly.

Cooking instructor Bal Arneson put together a collection of Indian-inspired dishes for 'Everyday Indian' (Whitecap Books, $29.95). Instead of explaining how to re-create meals from your favorite Indian restaurant, Arneson shares recipes for dishes that don't require special kitchen tools, ingredients or a lot of time.; 912-2504

For the modern-day homesteader

Even if you don't read Ree Drummond's popular blog, Confessions of a Pioneer Woman (, you're going to want to check out her first book, 'The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl' (William Morrow, $27.50). Drummond, who for the past three years has been blogging about food and family on her Oklahoma ranch, has gained a wide following with her recipes for American classics like chicken-fried steak and macaroni and cheese. The recipes come alive with step-by-step photographs that will help even the most untrained cooks. (Drummond will be at BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar Blvd., on Thursday for a book signing.)

Nearly everyone loves bacon, but have you ever thought about making your own? 'Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It' (Ten Speed Press, $24.95) taps into the do-it-yourself movement that's sweeping into American kitchens. Author Karen Solomon also explains how to put up or pickle vegetables and fruits and even ventures into candy- and cheese-making.

For the beginner

Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough, authors of the best-selling "Ultimate" series of cookbooks, are back with 'Cooking Know-How' (Wiley, $34.95), one of the best how-to books to come out this year. With the help of plenty of photos, the couple shows you step-by-step how to make American staples such as meatballs, pot roast and macaroni and cheese. Each recipe is followed by at least eight variations, which will inspire even seasoned cooks.

Cocktails are back in a big way, but there's no sense in exploring mixology if you don't have the basics down. 'The Cocktail Primer' by Eben Klemm (Andrews McMeel, $19.99) will help you get started with instructions on setting up a bar and clear explanations and recipes, which means you'll be shaking sidecars before you know it.

From anchovies to zest, 'Tips Cooks Love' by Rick Rodgers (Andrews McMeel, $15) is packed with helpful advice for beginning cooks. Recipes, no matter how easy to follow, often leave out key information that experts assume you know. This pocket-sized book also includes a few recipes so you can practice the tips Rodgers gives.

For the perfectionist

Cook's Illustrated founder Christopher Kimball is nothing if not a perfectionist. Kimball oversees the rigorous recipe testing for the magazine, its sister publication Cook's Country and the spin-off PBS television show "America's Test Kitchen," whose collective goal is to create the definitive recipe for, say, meatloaf or green bean casserole. The Kimball empire releases a handful of books every year, but this year's are particularly comprehensive: 'The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Cookbook' and 'More Best Recipes' (both cost $39.95 and were published by America's Test Kitchen), both of which contain enough recipes to feed a family for a year. Next year marks the 10th year for the television show, and the corresponding book contains every recipe created on the show.

If pastry chef Karen DeMasco can create desserts that are up to "Top Chef" host Tom Colicchio's standards, her recipes are reliable enough for even the pickiest of bakers. In her first book, 'The Craft of Baking' (Clarkson Potter, $35), DeMasco shares tried and true recipes for every sweet treat imaginable, plus gives tips on how to build on her recipes to create your own unique invention.

Two recipes from two very different cooks, proof that cookbooks are as diverse as your Christmas list.

Garlic-Basil Shrimp

This recipe wins hands-down in the easy, fast and delicious category. It takes just 6 minutes to cook, you hardly have to chop a thing, and you get a plateful of garlicky shrimp and warm plump tomatoes in a lovely light sauce.

2 Tbsp. olive oil

11/4 lb. large shrimp (20 to 25 per pound), peeled and deveined

3 garlic cloves, minced

1/8 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

3/4 cup dry white wine

11/2 cups grape tomatoes, halved

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 cups cooked orzo pasta, preferably whole wheat

Heat the oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking, then add the shrimp and cook, turning over once, until just cooked through, about 2 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a large bowl.

Add the garlic and red pepper flakes to the oil remaining in the skillet and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the wine and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and basil and season the sauce with salt and pepper.

Return the shrimp to the pan and cook just until heated through. Serve with the orzo. Serves 4.

- From 'So Easy,' Ellie Krieger

Chicken-Fried Steak

The best meat to use for chicken-fried steak is known 'round these parts as "cube steak," which is tenderized round steak that's been extra tenderized. If your local store sells "tenderized round steak," you'll probably want to pound it some more.

2 large eggs

1 cups milk, plus 21/2 cups for the gravy, divided

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus about 1/3 cup for the gravy, divided

2 tsp. seasoned salt, such as Lawry's

3/4 tsp. paprika

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (more if you can handle it)

11/2 tsp. black pepper

3 tsp. salt

3 lb. cube steak

1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil for frying

With a fork, whisk eggs and 1 cup milk. Beat them with a fork. In another bowl, stir together flour, seasoned salt, paprika, cayenne and black pepper. Create an assembly line of dishes for the meat, milk-egg mixture and flour mixture. Lightly season a piece of meat with salt and pepper, then dip it into the egg-milk mixture. Flip to the other side to coat. Next, place the meat on the plate of seasoned flour. Turn over to coat thoroughly.

Dip the meat back in the egg and milk mixture, turning to coat, and dredge it in the flour mixture one more time. (This repetition will create a nice, thick crust, the signature quality of chicken-fried steak. And if you do it correctly, your hands will be a mess.) Place the breaded meat on the empty plate until ready to fry and repeat the process with the remaining pieces of meat.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is sufficiently heated (I drop in a few sprinkles of flour; if it sizzles, it's ready!), fry 3 pieces of meat at a time. Cook on one side until the edges start to look golden brown, about 21/2 minutes. Turn over and cook for 2 or 3 minutes, until the other side is golden. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate and keep warm. Repeat until all the meat is cooked.

After frying all the meat, pour off the grease into a heatproof bowl. Without cleaning the pan, return it to the stove over medium-low heat. Add 1/4 cup grease back to the pan. Allow the grease to heat up. Sprinkle 1/3 cup flour evenly over the grease. Using a whisk, mix the flour with grease, creating a golden brown paste. (This is known as a "roux," and you want the roux to attain a deep, rich color. If the paste seems more oily than pasty, sprinkle in another tablespoon of flour. Whisk again and check the consistency.)

After a couple of minutes, the paste will start to turn golden brown. Whisking constantly, pour in 2 cups milk. Whisk to combine, then let the gravy come to a slow boil. The gravy will thicken gradually, but if it seems too thick at first, add splashes of milk as needed, whisking to combine. As you cook and thicken the gravy, be prepared to splash in more milk if it becomes overly thick. The total cooking process should take 5 to 10 minutes. Generously season with salt and pepper, tasting to ensure that it's seasoned adequately.

Once the meat has been plated, drizzle with a little gravy or a lot - whatever suits your fancy. Serve this to a hungry cowboy and you'll earn a friend for life. Serves 6.

- Adapted from 'The Pioneer Woman Cooks.' Ree Drummond
Posted by: Send a Meal AT 12:53 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Wednesday, December 02 2009
In the months before Christmas you have to start thinking about how much budget you've got to spend on the whole event.

If your food budget is going to be small then you need to plan ahead and pick up an extra item each week prior to doing your Christmas shop. This can result in you having all the extras in and ready before you do the big shop for your Christmas Dinner. Take advantage of special offers too - look for vouchers enticing you to spend money now. If the items in question can be frozen or stored until Christmas then it can be advantageous to buy them using a discount voucher.

Some people use savings stamps at the supermarket as a way of paying for their Christmas. It can work well if you're not into saving at the bank, and you can often get a couple of free vouchers if you've started saving by a particular date. Have a read of the leaflets about the savings stamp scheme and you might find that it's worth you saving a couple of pounds each week in savings stamps. The brilliant thing is about them, if you get short of cash part way through the year you could always buy your groceries with them!

Use the weeks when you don't spend much to stock up on groceries that have long off use by dates. It's a great plan to keep a couple of bags of pasta in the cupboard as it's a cheap way of having a meal. Always read the dates on items when you're shopping. This applies to cans on BOGOFs as well as items that are in the fresh or chilled sections.

Look at bulk buying items too. Bigger packs of meat can be split up and frozen separately so you can the food in portion sized amounts. If you find bacon and sausages on offer and freeze the packets whole then unless you always use a full packet at a time, this can result in wastage. If you use 2 rashers of bacon at a time then use greaseproof paper and bags to separate up the items into proper portions.

Buying your vegetables for Christmas as last minute as possible is a good way of getting them in fresh, but you run the risk of them selling out, so plan when you're going and if you're going on the last shopping day, go early!

If you're planning on cooking turkey, ask at the butchers counter if you can order your turkey in advance. Many supermarkets will allow you to place an order for the size of turkey, or turkey crown that you want. This means you're not forced into buying one that's way too big at the last minute.

Posted by: Send a Meal AT 10:44 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, December 01 2009
W hat is the Feast of the Seven Fishes? According to Mario Batali, "It's what Italians do when they say they're fasting." More precisely, the Feast is a meal served in Italian households on La Vigilia (Christmas Eve). In many parts of Italy, the night is traditionally a partial fast, during which no meat should be served. But in true Italian style, this proscription has morphed into something very unfastlike indeed: course after course of luxurious seafood dishes, often as many as 7, 10, or even 13. "No one's quite sure of the significance of the number," says Batali. "Some families do seven for the sacraments. Some do ten for the stations of the cross. And some even do 13 for the 12 apostles plus Jesus."

Regardless of the religious symbolism, for most people the main point of the meal is to gather family and friends and enjoy delicious food. In Batali's Italian-American family, his grandmother used to host the feast, with everyone pitching in. "She would let us kids help her make fresh pasta," Batali recalls. "Then she'd lay it out on towels on our beds to dry for the day." After dinner, they'd open half their presents, saving the rest for Christmas Day.

This Christmas, we asked Batali to put together a special Feast of the Seven Fishes menu for Epicurious. The dishes he chose represent the traditional elements of the meal: antipasti to get things going; simple, classic pastas; three hearty main courses; and plenty of desserts to finish on a sweet note. Most of the recipes hail from the Campania region, specifically the Amalfi coast, which Batali feels produces Italy's most spectacular seafood. (When asked why he loves the area so much, he simply said, "Have you been there?")

One item that might be unfamiliar to some American palates is the baked eel, but Batali stresses that this is an essential part of an Italian Christmas Eve celebration. "To most Italians, it would practically be sacrilegious not to have it," he says. Have your fishmonger skin and gut the eel, and the dish will be a snap to prepare—and you might be won over by its flavorful succulence.

Batali also demo'd three of his recipes in exclusive videos and shared preparation and serving tips.

Drink Suggestions

Before the meal, an appetite-piquing aperitif is traditional with the antipasti. "I like bitter Campari mixed with freshly squeezed blood orange juice," says Batali. You could mix up a batch of this cocktail in a glass pitcher or punch bowl. To accompany the feast, he recommends a white wine from the Amalfi coast such as the floral Marisa Cuomo Ravello Bianco. After dinner, traditional sips would be limoncillo, the lemony liqueur from Campania, and espresso.

Posted by: Send a Meal AT 10:39 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
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