Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Favourite Cookbooks - Part II

Let’s Cook Japanese Food! – Amy Kaneko

I lived in Japan for five years and when I moved there I knew almost nothing about Japanese food beyond sushi and tempura. Getting familiar with the amazing variety of home-style cooking the Japanese eat on a daily basis (believe it or not they don’t often make sushi or tempura at home) was an adventure in itself (something I’ll save for another blog post). But thankfully I did learn to navigate a Japanese grocery store. The problem upon my return to Canada was finding a cookbook that featured everyday Japanese cuisine. There are tons of cookbooks available on the formal (and very time consuming) food of Japan but until I found this cookbook I had never encountered one that showed how to make the kinds of things Japanese mothers serve their families. Amy Kaneko (an American married to a Japanese man) has produced all my favourite recipes from Japan and then some. She also is aware of the fact that Japanese ingredients are sometimes not the easiest to come by at your local supermarket so she shares alternative ingredients that you can use that will still produce authentic-tasting meals.

Japanese Hot Pots – Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat

Continuing the theme of Japanese cookbooks that specialize in true family-style meals is this great find. Hot pots (or nabe) were a revelation to me when I moved to Japan as I was completely unfamiliar with their popularity, easiness to make, and amazing versatility. Like most Japanese food, hot pots are very healthy and this is the only book I have seen that compiles the endless variations that include everything from seafood, poultry, meat, or vegetarian. Besides the great taste of these recipes, the thing I love best about this type of meal is that it can be cooked on the table-top allowing every member of the family to participate.

The Complete Book of Year-Round Small-Batch Preserving – Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard

I planted a very small vegetable garden this past summer in an effort to get Big-D to eat more veggies (it didn’t work). The whole process of growing my own food, however, became a real interest of mine. And while we just don’t have the space for a larger garden, our family started to make a big effort to eat seasonally. So while we’d be having a summer supper on the patio enjoying fresh peaches from the Farmers’ Market or zucchini from my own garden, I wondered how I could enjoy the same great summer produce in, let’s say, January. That’s when I thought about canning and preserving for the first time. I remember my mom making strawberry jam in the heat of summer but that was about it for my exposure to preserving and, on the surface, it seemed really daunting and time consuming. But thanks to this book, I learned how easy it is to preserve your own food. The recipes are specifically designed to make small batches which are perfect for us as we just don’t have the room to store all the jars.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Favourite Cookbooks – Part I

I love to cook yet get bored very easily so I am always on the lookout for new recipes. I could look online for new ideas but there is something about cookbooks that I can’t resist, particularly if they are from one of my favourite chefs/cooks.

The following is part one of a list of my absolute favourite cookbooks filled with recipes and ideas that I never tire of and use again and again.

Barefoot In Paris – Ina Garten

I ADORE this woman, her books, and her TV show. Her recipes never fail and she has perfected the art of taking simple ingredients and turning them into something delicious and elegant. She is my go-to for dinner parties and everyday recipes. She has seven cookbooks and to pick the one I love best is like picking a favourite child – impossible. However, I am featuring Barefoot In Paris over the others because she has successfully taken a traditionally intimidating cuisine and made it very accessible. Prior to this cookbook I wouldn’t have dared to attempt French dishes even though I love French food. Her approach is to feature easier bistro and countryside cooking making the recipes simple to make and pretty foolproof. I never thought I would ever make things like Mussels Mariniere, Coeur a la Crème and Crème Brulee but now I do.

Jamie At Home – Jamie Oliver

I now have a growing collection of Jamie Oliver cookbooks and, to think, not too long ago he used to annoy me. In recent years, however, he has really become enjoyable to watch on TV especially since he started focusing on healthy family dinners. I love his approach to using seasonal ingredients and I have never made a recipe of his that I didn’t like. I discovered this particular cookbook right at the time I was trying to plant my own garden. He not only gives recipes but advice on growing your own vegetable garden. His overall approach (and this can be said of his other cookbooks too) is to keep recipes simple using the freshest of ingredients. The passion he has for what he does is contagious and makes me want to learn more about food and be a better cook.

Nigella Christmas – Nigella Lawson

I have to give credit to the Brits; they really know how to do up Christmas right. Perhaps it was my Canadian upbringing that makes me gravitate towards the British way of celebrating the Christmas season and this book makes me feel like I’ve been transported to the U.K. in December. It is almost encyclopedia-like in the amount of recipes and information contained in it. Don’t like turkey for Christmas dinner? No worries, try the recipe for prime rib, or goose, or ham. I particularly like the section on what to do with turkey leftovers. I also like how she gives menu ideas for the other celebrations you may have during the festive season like a Christmas brunch or Boxing Day dinner.

Best Summer Weekends Cookbook – Jane Rodmell

Just looking at the cover of this cookbook makes me yearn for the hot days of summer (especially since we are in the middle of a blizzard as I write this). This book gets a lot of use during barbeque season but don’t let the title fool you, it contains many recipes that can be made at anytime of year. If you were to take one cookbook to the cottage for the summer, this would be it. The author even makes note that most of the dishes can be prepared with things you already have in your pantry. It is beautifully photographed and contains great recipes to enjoy on your patio with just your family or for entertaining a crowd. I love that this book reminds us that summer is very short in Canada so we should make the most of it.