Every now and then I am in the mood for good food and experimentation, so I peruse through the cookbook section of the library for eye-catching ideas. I look for things that are both eye-catching and relatively cost effective. If it doesn’t look good, I won’t eat it; and if I have to buy or find a ton of ingredients, busting my budget for one good meal just isn’t worth it. Three relatively new cookbooks in the OC Public Libraries caught my attention.
The first cookbook, Cooking Italian With the Cake Boss by Buddy Valastro, was a little bit intimidating at first glance. I wasn’t sure what to think of a Chef cooking out of his element. If I am interested in food science I think Alton Brown; if I am thinking Barbecue I think Bobby Flay; if I think of a quick meal I think Rachael Ray. So when I am thinking Italian I usually think Mario Batali. I would not jump to Buddy Valastro star of Cake Boss. And to be honest, I have never been a big fan of cake cooking shows in the first place. But this book turned out to be a pleasant surprise. First of all, the pictures are sumptuous and plentiful. It’s always good to see some good-looking pictures to go along with the food that you are going to be making. Secondly, this book turned out to be far more than a cook book. It was obviously a work that was very personal to the author, with plentiful stories involving most of the recipes involved. Cooking can be a very personal thing and knowing who you are learning from sometimes makes the task easier. After reading and thoroughly enjoying the book, it came to actually trying out a recipe. I ventured to make Chicken Cutlets with Homemade Marinara and Potato Gnocchi. Being able to tackle three relatively different dishes all at the same time with a minimum of prep time and a hungry wife and daughter waiting, certainly passed any test I may have had for it with flying colors. The Gnocchi will definitely be making a reappearance at my house.
For those of you interested in good old Southern Cooking, and long for the days when Paula Deen was more interested in how good the Fried Chicken with Biscuits and Gravy tasted and not how much saturated fat was in it, Alison Vines-Rushing and Slade Rushing’s book Southern Comfort : A New Take on the Recipes We Grew Up With is a Southern treasure. Beginning with a story into the past of two chefs who met, fell in love with both cooking and each other, decided to take their show on the road to New York, and then decided it was all a bit too much for them only to be greeted by Hurricane Katrina on their way home, it is a book rife with beauty and nostalgia. The recipes are both sumptuous and not overly difficult. The pictures are not only inviting when it comes to the food, but a beautiful tribute to southern culture and beauty. And the stories make this a treasure all the way around.
Finally, Melissa d’Arabian’s Ten Dollar Dinners : 140 Recipes and Tips to Elevate Simple, Fresh Meals Any Night of the Week is a treasure for the penny pinching, bargain hunting gourmet in all of us. While maybe not as educational in the arena of cooking as an Alton Brown might be, d’Arabian does a creditable job of turning relatively inexpensive menu items into elegant meals through an educational approach to cost cutting gourmet. She spends the beginning of the book explaining her theories of good food and what every kitchen should have and then takes those ideas and applies them to a host of different recipes. What was also nice is that she had a lot of little side notes to many recipes adding flair and variety to a whole host of dishes. And with so many people who are allergic, intolerant or otherwise to a whole host of foods it is nice to be able to have ideas about how recipes can be altered to fit the various needs of different people. Furthermore, the pictures are both plentiful and inviting making those inexpensive dishes look as good as anything you would find in a fine dining establishment.
Pick up any one of these books, or all three for that matter; and get to reading, and tasting food that is both a pleasure to your palate while not a burden to your wallet at the same time.