Wednesday, November 11, 2009

More Favorite Holiday Cookbooks

Continuing with my favorite holiday cookbooks, here are a a few more favorites.

BETTY CROCKER CHRISTMAS COOKBOOK (Wiley) is an especially good holiday reference from this iconic corporate brand. Before I started working on Betty Crocker cookbooks, I didn't pay much attention to them. My mother is a loyal Betty Crocker fan, and once you move past the New York/California snobbery that affects some of the food journalists working in these regions, you begin to understand why so many millions of American cooks love Betty Crocker. This book shows you why. First of all it is as beautiful a book as any of its rivals in this category. And the recipes are terrific. There is a strong group of Christmas breakfast dishes, and lots of options for the big holiday dinner from beef and ham to leg of lamb, turkey and lasagna. There are Christmas cookies galore, holiday breads and muffins, candy for indulging and giving, and other Christmas gifts (the Decadent Fudge Sauce is outstanding). A holiday survival guide and countdown calendar keep you focused and organized. There are lots of idea for decorating the table, making a gingerbread house, ornaments, making BETTY CROCKER CHRISTMAS COOKBOOK a truly one-stop game plan for making the holiday special.

There is a spectacular potato cake (Gatto Napoletano) from MARIO BATALI HOLIDAY FOOD (Clarkson Potter) that nearly caused a friend I made it for to call the fire department during a recent Christmas dinner. The butter in this rich potato dish, dripped out of the spring form pan I made it in to the bottom of the oven where it was baking. The burning fat quickly began to smoke, which chocked us in the kitchen and dining room. I quickly removed it from the oven, wiped up the floor of the oven and put an aluminum foil "diaper" on the spring form pan, which saved the day. Would I make this recipe again? In a red-hot second, but don't tell my doctor. It has eggs, whole milk, ricotta, Parmigiano Reggiano, pecorino, sopressata, butter, bread crumbs and a pound of mozzarella. But don't let that stop you from tucking into a thin slice of this heavenly dish. This thin and profusely illustrated book is loaded with Italian goodies including Struffoli, those tiny honey-covered round fritters that are addictive. From the Feast of the Seven Fishes (Christmas Eve) to the relaxed entertaining traditional to New Year's Day, Mario Batali's captures all the superb Italian flavors of the season.

Michele Scicolone deserves to be much more widely known. In her many cookbooks, she has shown herself to be a gentle authority on Italian cooking, and nowhere is that more evident than in ITALIAN HOLIDAY COOKING: A Collection of 150 Treasured Recipes(Morrow). Italians have many traditions and feasts throughout the year. Michele Scicolone provides the family stories and the splendid recipes that make every Christmas, New Year's, Easter, and other important holidays memorable occasions for families to gather round the table and celebrate. One of the first recipes I prepared when I first acquired this wonderful book was Reinforcement Salad, a sturdy winter recipe which included cauliflower, pickled red and yellow peppers, black olives, sour gherkins, celery and anchovy filets. The idea was to have a salad that could be added to throughout the Christmas holidays. I added artichoke hearts, radishes, garbanzo beans, chunks of cheese, and other sturdy ingredients. I've made this salad during the holiday ever since. The addictive Crispy Lamb Chops dispense with utensils so that you can pick them up in your fingers and "get every bit of meat on the bones." And the Roast Pork Porchetta Style is the ultimate holiday dinner. There are many tradition seafood dishes for Christmas Eve, and Easter Pies for spring. Most importantly, how you can not stop to read a recipe that reads like this: Timbale of Boniface VIII. I dare you.

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