Monday, November 30, 2009


One of my closest friends suffers from celiac's disease, which means's she is wheat intolerant. This makes Thanksgiving and the holidays a particularly difficult time of the year for anyone who requires a gluten-free meal. Pies, cakes and cookies containing wheat flour are out of the question. So are stuffing, gravies thickened with flour, breads, rolls, and muffins, nearly all crackers and other foods that are practically required eating during the holidays. Publishers have recently been stepping into the breach offering some very fine gluten-free cookbooks. Two new and very appealing ones have recently appeared, making the task of cooking for those who must eat gluten-free that much easier and a lot tastier too!

THE GLUTEN-FREE ALMOND FLOUR COOKBOOK by Elana Amsterdam (Celestial Arts; $16.99; ISBN 978-1-58761-345-6) and GLUTEN-FREE ITALIAN: Over 150 Irresistible Recipes without Wheat--from Crostini to Tiramisu by Jacqueline Mallorca (Da Capo Lifelong, a Member of the Perseus Books Group; $18.95; ISBN 978-0-7382-1361-3)

THE GLUTEN-FREE ALMOND FLOUR COOKBOOK may have the edge here because almond flour "is as easy to use as wheat flour and much less tedious than complex gluten-free flours, which require numerous supplemental ingredients such as xanthum gum, cornstarch, and potato flakes for binding purposes," says Elana Amsterdam. While you can offer anyone in your family lots of choices of alternative gluten-free foods, dessert poses all kinds of problems, as I've discovered whenever I've had a guest for dinner requiring a wheat-free ending to the meal. Amsterdam offers a fine group of tasty desserts such as a Classic Carrot Cake, Chocolate Velvet Torte, Chocolate Cranberry Biscotti, Pear Crisp and Pecan Pie. In addition to fine main courses, Amsterdam provides recipes for five different crackers plus breakfast muffins, French Toast, pancakes, which have been off -limits to people with wheat allergies. This attractive cookbook offers 95 easy recipes with handsome photographs and clear instructions.

Italian food would seem to be a nearly insurmountable cuisine with its emphasis on pasta, gnocchi, bread and pizza. GLUTEN-FREE ITALIAN is Jacqueline Mallorca's second gluten-free cookbook. The former West Coast editorial assistant to James Beard, and a food columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, Mallorca when she discovered she was "a food writer with celiac's disease. I could no longer eat anything that contained wheat, barley, or rye," she reveals in GLUTEN-FREE ITALIAN. "As I had absolutely no intention of giving up good food, I acquired a lot of funny flours and set to work." She discovered that a gluten-free Italian pantry has lots of wonderful options such as anchovies, balsamic vinegar, many cheeses such as mozzarella, pecorino, gorgonzola, tallegio and others, pancetta, prosciutto, porcini, polenta/cornmeal, risotto, tomatoes--even gluten-free pasta. And of course, there are a huge variety of vegetables--a category that Italian cooking has elevated to an art form. Mallorca has assembled a wide-ranging collection of recipes for breads, pizza, and crostini, soups, pastas, polenta, and gnocchi, risotto and other grains, fish, poultry and meat entrees, and desserts.

These two books add considerable luster to a growing health-related cookbook category.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Marcus Samuelsson has been a member of New York's culinary elite for years through his famous restaurant, Aquavit, and later Riingo and C-House. He became the youngest chef ever to win two three-star ratings from The New York Times. I admired his previous cookbook, The Soul of the New Cuisine, an exploration of mostly African foods, but I was totally unprepared for the pizzazz, diversity and sheer fun of his newest work, NEW AMERICAN TABLE (Wiley; November 2009; ISBN: 978-0-4702818808). This is a thoroughly contemporary cookbook that celebrates the diversity of foods so many in America are eating today--ethnic, regional, international, spicy, exotic, small plates, casual and formal and often fused into new tastes and flavors.

Who better than Marcus Samuelsson to take us on this fascinating culinary journal? Born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden, Samuelsson's initial culinary training was in Sweden. Before finishing his training at a Michelin three-star French restaurant, he got his first exposure to the food melting pot of New York by working at Acquavit (long before he took over ownership). From the cooks there he found himself immersed in many ethnic cuisines. He was thrilled by the Korean, Indian, Chinese, Greek, Jewish delicatessans and other international foods he encountered, and soon began to cook these new ethnic dishes for his friends. After finishing his training in France, he signed on as a cook for a luxury cruise ship which took him all over the world where he experienced the markets and cuisines of Barcelona, Casablanca, Trinidad, Rio de Janeiro, Rhodes, Singapore, Sydney and other ports. As a famous chef, Samuelsson's education was further enhanced by his visits to various food festivals where he experienced the rich diversity of this country's regional foods.

In NEW AMERICAN TABLE, Marcus Samuelsson has synthesized so much of what he's learned in this book. His range is prodigious. While some of the chapters are conventionally labeled such as salads, poultry, meat and game, desserts and drinks, there is equal emphasis on condiments, dips and sauces, small plates, everyday dishes, relaxed weekend recipes and holidays. The book is loaded with many color photographs illustrating this range from home cooks, finished dishes, regional foods and wines to bakers, eaters, farmers's markets, ethnic neighborhoods, ranchers, fisherman, brewers and personalities that both inspire and inform on nearly every page.

In the chapter on condiments, dips and sauces, a Cuban-inspired Avocado "Mayo" caught my eye. I lavishly painted this addictively rich yet tangy emulsion on grilled fish, a turkey sandwich, a salad of romaine lettuce and radishes, and grilled pork sausages over a three-day period. A friend of mine prefers her breakfasts on the savory side rather than sugar-loaded foods and would adore the Morning-After Sandwich, a tasty restorative that will get you back on your feet after a night on the town. It features fried eggs, garlic, baby arugula, sourdough bread, white sardine fillets and sliced tomato. It is anchored by an intriguing condiment called Sambal Oelek, an Indonesian concoction of two different chilies, salt, brown sugar and garlic. Empanadas with Peanut-Mango Sambal combines an Agentinean snack food with an Indonesian-style sauce. Other ethnic match-ups include Chinese Soy-Glazed Dumplings with a Thai-style Sweet Chilie Sauce, Corn Pancakes from the American Southwest are paired with Chili Covered Gravlax from Sweden, and an American style Banana Bread Pudding with Hazelnut Kulfi from India.

Some of the recipes found in NEW AMERICAN TABLE are reminiscent of street or cart food. This style of eating has exploded of late, with carts serving ethnic and popular American quick meals in cities as diverse as New York, Portland and Los Angeles. Small plate dining is also on the rise, where eaters can sample and share a number of small dishes for variety and different flavors. Most of the recipes are just fascinating and made me want to hit the kitchen: Noodle Paella with Pistachio Aïoli uses vermicelli instead of rice in this updated version of the Spanish seafood classic. Lentil Soup with Pork and Lamb Meatballs is not only economical but a wonderful winter dish. The New Orleans-style Head-On Shrimp pairs wonderfully with Bacon Orzo. Braised Pork Roast with Grilled Chile Vinaigrette features a host of international ingredients including Indian fenugreek seeds, Hungarian paprika, and Scandinavian caraway seeds. "The grilled chile vinaigrette served on the side is pure American Southwest," says Samuelsson. The holiday section spotlights foods to celebrate Christmas, Cinco de Mayo, Chinese New Year, Father's Day, as well as fused regional dishes.

I don't think there is anything quite like this eclectic book. Samuelsson's enthusiasm for all of this food is as infectious to read about as it will be to cook. Lidia Bastianich says in her introduction to NEW AMERICAN TABLE that Marcus Samuelsson has a "unique view of our 'culinary landscape'". Indeed he does, which is why I think this magnificent book belongs in every cook's library.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

My Final Favorite Holiday Cookbook

My final favorite holiday cookbook is one of my all-time favorite holiday guide. This 25-year-old classic takes the home cook through all the great celebrations of the year. The Silver Palate Ladies revolutionized the way contemporary cooks fed and entertained their friends and families and their impact on their generation was huge. From Valentine's Day to New Year's Day, here is a holiday primer you can rely on.

THE SILVER PALATE GOOD TIMES COOKBOOK by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins (Workman) is one of those ultimate holiday cookbooks and covers every type of holiday, party or celebration. So if you're looking for inspiration for a July 4th gathering, there is an adjustable Mean, Meaner and Meanest Barbecue Sauce, a Baked Country Ham for Easter, or aSmoky Pumpkin Soup for Thanksgiving. There's a whole chapter devoted to savory and sweet souffles--always a festive dish. And for Christmas there is a full compliment of holiday cookies (I have a friend who has made the delicious Viennese Christmas Trees for years), and an impressive Christmas Goose. The Silver Palate ladies have never disappointed me, and it's good to be reminded of this book, especially as 2009 saw the passing of co-author, Sheila Lukins.

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.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

My Favorite Holiday Cookbooks

I can never resist a holiday-themed cookbook. I don't know why. I could just as easily assemble menus from my huge cookbook collection. But there's something about having the whole shebang in one place giving me inspiration and lots of time-saving tips. Some of these books are written by writers I'm friendly with. Others I admire from afar, and still a few others are books I've actually worked on. I don't make it a habit to write about those titles, but these are wonderful backlist titles and well worth your seeking them out. All of them are available either online or through a bookstore that specializes in backlist titles such as Powell's Books in my new adopted city of Portland, Oregon.

THANKSGIVING 101 (Broadway Books). Rick Rodgers is a friend. Because of his long-time Thanksgiving 101 cooking classes all over the country, Rick is affectionately known as "Mr. Thanksgiving" or "The Turkey Meister." THANKSGIVING 101 is the classic work on the subject and has been the bestselling cookbook on Thanksgiving for many years. Rick is a superb teacher and his easy-manner and breezy style take all the fear out of facing this big feast. With this book, all questions are answered, tips dispensed, and delicious recipes written with gusto. Understanding that Thanksgiving food rituals are sacred (Rick relates a story about his family preferring canned canned, jellied cranberry sauce over "that fancy stuff," he had prepared for the Thanksgiving feast). So tucked among the many fine recipes are classics such as Spiced Cranberry Jello Mold, and Green Bean Bake with Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup, frozen cut green beans, and canned French fried onion rings (served on 20 million American tables every year). I've returned to Rick's book for stuffing recipes for years. All the turkey recipes are foolproof, whether brined or deep fried. Rick covers the entire meal from menu planning to leftovers with luscious desserts to end the big meal. This definitive guide is likely to remain the unchallenged leader of holiday cookbooks for years to come.

SERIOUSLY SIMPLE HOLIDAYS: Recipes and Ideas to Celebrate the Season (Chronicle Books). I confess that I worked on this superb cookbook. Diane Rossen Worthington is a cookbook writer of imagination and big skills. In this beautiful, ambitious work, she takes on the entire fall holiday season from Rosh Hashanah and Halloween to Christmas, New Year's Eve, and Football New Year's Day. Surpremely organized, Diane provides invaluable tips for setting up the holiday bar, stocking the pantry, suggesting menus for the big dinners, brunches, cocktail parties, holiday luncheons, and much more. There's a really nifty section on gift foods, plus a section on Pairing Holiday Wine and Cheese. There are lots of sensational recipes that feel like great holiday food, but my absolute favorite recipe in the book, and one that I've made quite a few times is a crowd-pleasing Baked Pasta with Tomato, Red Pepper, and Sweet Italian Sausage Sauce. This delicious main dish is festive looking and swooningly good. It can be assembled ahead and is perfect for a casual dining during this hectic season. Diane's Balsamic Glaze is a great gift to give, but it's also a terrific condiment for soups and sauces. A must-have book!

I originally planned to review six books in this feature, but I've tried over and over again to put in the Amazon connections for each title and it refused to work. So in frustration, this will be in segments. Here are the first two titles.


I have made so many Thanksgiving feasts over the years that I can practically do this holiday event in my sleep. I'm not being boastful here. It can be tricky getting a great Thanksgiving meal on the table with all the elements in place at once, which is why every time Thanksgiving comes around, my phone begins to ring with friends stressing over how to make gravy and worrying about overcooking the turkey? The real secret to success is organization. That is the message, delivered with inspired exactness by Diane Morgan in THE NEW THANKSGIVING TABLE: An American Celebration of Family, Friends, and Food (Chronicle Books; $24.95). The Portland-based Morgan has made this holiday feast somewhat of a specialty having written a previous cookbook devoted to Thanksgiving. In this all-new book, she provides the tricks, techniques and game plans anyone will need to get this huge behemoth of a meal on the table without having a nervous breakdown. This time Diane Morgan has shone "a spotlight on the regional specialties that make this vast land of ours so gastronomically amazing."

An excellent example of this regional diversity can be found in the stuffing recipes. For instance, there's a traditional New England Bread Stuffing with Bell's Seasoning, or Southern Corn Bread and Oyster Dressing, or Minnesota Wild Rice Dressing with Dried Fruits. This theme is carried throughout the book so that Fresh Cranberry Salsa with its shots of jalapeño, cilantro and fresh lime juice evokes the Southwest. Juniper-Brined Roast Turkey with Chanterelle Mushroom Gravy demonstrates the indigenous bounty of the Pacific Northwest.

None of this would be possible without organization, and this is the essence of THE NEW THANKSGIVING TABLE. Diane Morgan thoughtfully provides a seasonal Autumn Harvest Table, where she lays out all the important ingredients from bread cubes to winter squash. There's a glossary of essential holiday equipment and tools needed for best results. The Planning Tips for Thanksgiving section provides reassuring advice on the overall strategy of the meal, stocking the pantry, tableware and decor, as well as wine and other beverages. Each of the regional menus is accompanied by a schedule of what to do ahead of time, creating the menu, step-by-step meal preparation--all leading right up to assembling everyone around the table on Thanksgiving Day. And there's a terrific section with some very creative ideas on what to do with the leftovers.

Some of my favorite recipes here include Deviled Eggs with Capers and Wild Smoked Salmon, Spatchcocked Turkey Roasted with Lemon, Sage, and Garlic (basically a butterflied turkey), Hazelnut and Fresh Herb Popovers, Honey and Chipotle Glazed Sweet Potato Spears with Lime, New England Iron-Skillet Succotash, and Spiced Pumpkin Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting.

Diane Morgan's website,, features terrific Thanksgiving-themed how-to videos for that extra zap of confidence. She is also the author of The Christmas Table: Recipes and Crafts to Create Your Own Holiday Tradition (also Chronicle Books, $19.95). With Diane Morgan’s game plan and great recipes, there is no excuse not to create your own fabulous holiday dinner that you can enjoy without stress!