Hello, Readers. I don’t need to remind you that December’s holiday madness is here.
I’ve mailed one package and planned two dinner menus. That doesn’t feel like much, but it will have to do. Our Christmas tree is decorated though and while I’m listening to A Charlie Brown Christmas by the Vince Guaraldi Trio and drinking coconut milk nog—I’ve written down these last minute gift ideas (in no particular order) in case, like me, you still have shopping to do.
1. Aprons. I don’t think I’ve mentioned this, but I have a thing for vintage kitchen linens, aprons included. Ever since I visited the Anthropologie store in New York a few months back, I’ve had my eye on this sweet vintage Tea-and-Crumpets Apron . For a more practical, everyday option, Sur La Table sells cotton aprons with big pockets and adjustable straps in La Mer , Solid Sage-Green , and Honey .
You’ve most likely read about Plenty on a number of notable cookbooks lists for the year such as the New York Times or the Washington Post, and for a good reason. Front to back, Ottolenghi’s spin on vegetables stops me still. All 120 recipes beg to be prepared and I’ve dropped whatever I was doing on more than one occasion to cook Caramelized endive with Gruyere, Crunchy papparadelle, or cardamom rice with with poached eggs and yogurt simply because I had to. I think you will to.
(image credit: Chronicle Books)
3. Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch by Nigel Slater
Tender is Nigel Slater’s poetic ode to the vegetables he grows and cooks with. More than 400 recipes, extensive garden notes, and heart-stopping photographs, make this a must-have book that you’ll find yourself reading daily. Slater instructs us on how to prepare asparagus, for example, from garden to counter top where a Pilaf of asparagus, fava beans, and mint waits. The recipes are straightforward and the kind you’ll make for every occasion with equal fanfare.
Following her award-winning cookbook All About Braising, Molly Stevens has written another comprehensive book on a foundational cooking technique, this time it’s All About Roasting. Stevens includes more than 150 recipes that range from holiday favorites like Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Capers and Lemony Browned Butter to weekday staples like Quick-Roasted Mushrooms with Pine Nuts and Parmesan. “To roast is to cook food, uncovered, by exposure to dry heat, typically in an oven,” explains Stevens with clarity and ease that appeals to beginner and more advanced cooks alike.
All About Roasting includes colorful photographs with step-by-step guides for visually necessary techniques like butterflying a chicken or scoring and seasoning pork picnic shoulder. Organized by category, the recipes are easy to find by ingredient—beef and lamb, pork, chicken and poultry, fish and shellfish, and vegetables and fruit—and also include variations on homemade sauces and rubs. Stevens’ book is especially suited to meat-eaters, but even the vegetarians on you list will love the recipes in the vegetable and fruit chapter. Must try recipe: Roasted Cauliflower “Steaks” with Crunchy Parsley-Pine Nut Bread Crumbs.
This is my favorite book on the night stand right now. Award-winning food blogger Helene Dujardin (of Tartelette ) has written the book on digital food photography and styling. Plate to Pixel is jam-packed with photography basics, camera settings, natural and artificial light photography, composition, setting up for capture, styling, and after capture. The clean design showcases Dujardin’s boxed tips along with her full-color photographs throughout, a welcome addition for the visual reader.
Her story is equally engaging. With a Masters in History, a suitcase, and an old film camera, Dujardin moved from France to the US in the late 90s when she first turned her passion for food into her profession. She honed her culinary skills in restaurants, namely working as a pastry chef for five years, and her photography skills by walking around town with a camera in tow and by capturing the food made in the restaurant for her colleagues to replicate when she wasn’t on the clock. Once Dujardin left her pastry chef position, she launched her blog, Tartelette (if you’re not already reading, you should) that soon led to a new career as a professional food photographer and stylist. Both Plate to Pixel and Tartelette show how photographing food is an art.
Technical manuals are often tiresome to read, yet Dujardin’s conversational tone, stunning photography—with the f/stop, shutter speed, and lens type included for each image, and passion for the subject make this a welcome addition to the food and photo-minded kitchen. This full-color book is essential for anyone interested in mastering the art of food photography and styling.
Back in March, when Blood, Bones, & Butter came out, I couldn’t wait to to read it. Then I heard Gabrielle Hamilton’s voice. She read an excerpt from the first chapter that aired on KQED-FM: The Writer’s Block podcast. Dry and disconnected from the story, the way she read was in contrast to the way she wrote—wry, vivid, witty prose. I picked up an audio book immediately and listened to her story.
Hamilton’s memoir tells the story of her unconventional childhood in a small Pennsylvania town, of how she fell in love with food, and eventually came to open her restaurant Prune in New York City. She takes us along for the ride—to the extravagantly designed dinner parties (like the annual lamb roast or Valentines Day Lovers’ Dinner) her parents threw; the drugs and petty crimes at age 13; the nomadic summer spent with her brother during her parents separation; the academic stint at Hampshire College (feminism, food co-op, and eco-yurts); the early Manhattan years; the girlfriends; the marriage into an Italian family; the M.F.A. in fiction (University of Michigan); the opening of Prune; the children; and so much more. While details about her siblings and the relationship with her parents seem to be intentionally vague as the story progresses, it is nonetheless cleverly told. The truth is, I couldn’t put the book or rather my iPod down.
(image credit: bloodbonesandbutter.net)
7. Charities. Over the past few years, our family started a charitable gifting tradition. We choose a charity for the gift recipient on our last and donate money in their name and place the donation card or letter in a stocking. A few of our favorites charities work to feed families in need, such as: Food Bank of Western Massachusetts (you can also search for the Food Bank in your area), Share Our Strength , and Heifer International .
8. Toast (Based on the Award-Winning Memoir by Nigel Slater), directed by SJ Clarkson
I usually read a book before I see it’s film adaptation, but I made an exception for Toast, a stunning homage to food that is based on the story of Britain’s well-loved chef/food writer Nigel Slater. I recommend it on the warm hued cinematography and the Dusty Springfield songs alone. But, you should know more. Set in England in the 1960s, Toast is the bittersweet story about a boy who loses his mother at a young age, fails to connect with his father, and finds his way into adulthood through the one constant love in his life, food. Nigel’s mother can’t cook much more than canned food and toast which seems to be alright with his father who believes there is something wrong with his son’s lusty appetite for cooking spaghetti bolognese, reading cookbooks and staring at the culinary unmentionables offered at Percy Salt’s grocery shop. His mother, who suffers from asthma, dies just before Christmas leaving he and his father heartbroken. Their attempts to connect through food fails. Then Nigel’s father brings home Mrs. Potter, the new house cleaner. Her charms and lemon meringue pies prove irresistible and she moves from cleaner to wife much to Nigel’s protest. The newly knit family moves to a house in the country where Nigel enrolls in a Domestic Science class at his new school where he finds his place in the kitchen. Toast is filled with striking photography, perfectly topped lemon meringue pies, and characters who we want to love or despise a little more despite their flaws.
(image credit: W2Media.com)
9. Slate Cheese Board . Brooklyn Slate Company, run by two food obsessed Brooklynites, makes dishwasher safe slate boards that are perfect for serving cheese or hors d’oeuvres in a few sizes, I have the single plating 7 x 12-inch black board. The all natural slate is sourced from a quarry in New York state, then it’s cut, cleaned, and assembled in Brooklyn. The cheese boards come in black or red (5 x 18-inches; 7 x 12-inches; 10 x 14-inches). They also make slate coasters (4 x 4-inches in black, plum, or red) and black slate placemats (10 x 16-inches) in a set of 2 or 4. A soapstone pencil for identifying cheeses right on the board comes with it too.