COOKING THE BOOKS: Fun Gifts for Mother’s or Father’s Day

Diana Henry’s FROM THE OVEN TO THE TABLE: Simple Dishes That Look After Themselves

While Mother’s Day — yes it’s this Sunday, May 10, 2020 — is absolutely just around the corner, Father’s Day, June 21, 2020, offers a little more leeway for thought…and shipping. Shopping, I mean. Wedding or graduation coming up later? Even a zoom ceremony/celebration? Whichever. If some lucky duck needing a gift anytime soon has a yen for cooking, I’ve got a few ideas for you. Scroll down for some fun info, recipes, and pix of stunning new and newer cook and drink books I’ve come to eat adore. Yes, there’s this: if you’re looking to get mom’s present there on time (lots of brownie points for on time–otherwise get on the phone that day), it’s time to click and pay. Today. So take a look at a book and see what you think. Links to amazon included for fast ordering.

Alyce’s Clubhouse

I’m not a terribly experienced cookbook reviewer, but I’m a cookbook lover and a food blogger and a cooking teacher. I know a cookbook I like when I see one. And while I mostly cook off the top of my head, I for years cooked from recipes and, even now, I’m also just as likely to give someone else’s recipe a whirr for grins and giggles. Love seeing what the rest of the world is doing and I like that thing about life-long learning keeping you young and active. There are those of us totally addicted to reading cookbooks, too, of course. Yes, those bookshelves above are all cookbooks or books about food. If you’re a self-taught cook, cookbooks are your culinary school education.

Rosie keeping me company while I browsed through the books dreaming.

The idea of putting together a list of tasty books for spring and summer gift giving came to me when I realized a couple of my favorite authors had new books come out just as COVID-19 hit. Instead of touring and promoting their books, they’re in their hometowns staying home and…cooking a lot just like you and me. While they’d typically be signing books in shops, even the shops have mostly been closed. It’s a horrible thing to happen.

I wondered: why not cook some of their recipes, take a few photos, and have a delicious time putting together a blog post about the experience? My readers might enjoy it all and could locate the perfect gift — books are both easy to order and ship. Amazon will even gift wrap them. Dave, the hub/partner in crime, and I would eat a few WOW meals and drinks during lockdown–yes! My top writers could get a small boost and much love sent from Colorado Springs. And, while I’m at it, I could include a short list of other delicious volumes I’ve so appreciated over the last year or so. Here ya go:

While copyright rules prohibit the inclusion of cookbook recipes helter-skelter, there are some reviews that include recipes. You can google them and/or I also include a few links here in this post.

The partner in crime encouraging me to day drink.

I’ll begin with two new books featuring French and Frenchy recipes and then move on to others from the UK, all of which were adapted or written for American cooks. At the finish, I’ve got a short list of additional recent favorites I think you or your favorite cook would love. Prices quoted — subject to change — are for hardbacks sold by amazon.com. Ebooks will cost less, but won’t have splatters, fingerprints, dog-eared pages, dates you made them, or notes about who got what for their birthday dinner.

A beautiful addition to the cookbook shelf or the bar at your house.

If you’re always wondering about pastis or kir, don’t know an apéritif from a digestif, or can’t choose between Cognac and an Armagnac, this might be the book for you. If you are a bit weary of American cocktails…yawn… and wonder what the sidewalk cafes in Paris serve the most of very late at night, this, too, might be book for you. Just wishing to know how to make a proper chocolat chaud (hot chocolate) or what’s what between a café créme and a café au lait? Then DRINKING IN FRENCH really is the one. Veteran food and travel blogger, longtime Paris lover and resident, cookbook author, and former pastry chef of Chez Panisse, American born David Lebovitz takes the famous liquids French live by and makes them understandable and accessible to those of us back in the states. Comprehensive and charming, the recipes are written in ounces rather than milliliters, for instance, and David’s down-to-earth and completely entertaining writing style pulls the reader into the way the French imbibe in a manner we’d never otherwise know. Drinks snacks, too? A bit of travel talk here and there to soothe our stuck-at-home souls? Mais oui. But of course! (By the way, if you’re looking for a comprehensive volume on French wine, this isn’t the one. While wine is included where it needs to be, it’s not the focus of the book.)

DRINKING FRENCH : The Iconic Cocktails, Apertifs, and Café Traditions of France, with 160 Recipes. David Lebovitz, Ted Speed Press, 2020. 304 pages. $24.99-hardback.

David has been one of my very favorite food bloggers for years; read his work on davidlebovitz.com. If you follow the author on instagram, there are fun and enjoyable short videos about making some of the drinks.

Make the Tangerine Spritz from DRINKING FRENCH.

Make the Bronx Cocktail from DRINKING FRENCH

We made a FRENCH MANHATTAN with Remy-Martin cognac. It’s a totally tasty improvement over its American counterpart, which was my mom’s favorite cocktail. Sorry, Mom.


No need to travel; you can stay home and cook French.

Longtime and prolific cookbook author and NEW YORK TIMES columnist Melissa Clark has just published the one that speaks from her heart–a heart that returned to France again and again as a child and has drawn her back ever since. I haven’t seen or read nearly all her books, but I own quite a few and though all of them read and cook exceedingly well, this book feels like the deep breath we take when someone mentions an old lover’s name…. The food tastes as if we’d beamed ourselves up and over to a warm garden in Provence where a stunning, slowly-eaten repast awaited to be savored in laughter with the best and oldest friends of our lives. Even the wine drinks better with the meals in DINNER IN FRENCH. 336 pages long, this full and addictive volume holds traditional, best-loved fare comfortably in its creative grasp (Salade Niçoise, clafloutis, soufflés, duck, sablés) but also moves happily beyond to Clark takes on tangines, pastas, salads, and desserts that these days make up the somewhat more internationally-flaired French menus. While not for the starter cook, the stories, backgrounds, and thoughtful clear American cooking processes with tips in each recipe make the dishes not only available and doable, but unmistakably delicious. Captivating and instructive photos by Laura Edwards kept me returning again and again to leaf through the pages to decide what next to cook. An excellent index is the frosting on the this book’s tender, but strong cake.

DINNER IN FRENCH: My Recipes by Way of France. Melissa Clark, Clarkson-Potter, 2020. 336 pages. $26.99–hardback.

Read Melissa’s column in the Food section of the Wednesday NEW YORK TIMES or check out more about her books, awards, and radio/television appearances on her website.

Make the Campari Cake from DINNER IN FRENCH.

Make the Ratatouille Sheet Pan Chicken from DINNER IN FRENCH.

Chive-Stuffed Rack of Lamb with Crispy Potatoes/EPISODE 82: Dinner in French for Busy Families with Melissa Clark — Didn’t I Just Feed You?

While I was missing an ingredient or two, this chicken was beautiful, perfect, and lifted our spirits immeasurably.

We drank two different SINEANN Pinot Noirs with the chicken above and the salmon below. Top shelf French Burgundy is often above our pay grade, but an Oregon Pinot Noir fills the bill and is a favorite choice at our house for chicken, roast pork, salmon, or mushrooms.

I served this salmon (our garden’s chives + flowers standing in good stead for the fennel fronds) on a bed of puréed potatoes with tarragon green beans.


For those who love to toss a pan into a hot oven, Diana Henry’s 2019 book is picture perfect.

Belonging to the Saveur Cookbook Club can be a little like showing up for the neighborhood book club just to drink the wine. In other words, I may have the book, but I may not get it cooked from that month. Many other people did, though, and when James Beard award-winning British cook and author Diana Henry’s show stopping, FROM THE OVEN TO THE TABLE: Simple Dishes That Look After Themselves, was the book of the month, we Saveur club members all stood up, took notice, and got our ovens preheated then and there. Also cited as “One of the 13 Best Cookbooks of Fall of 2019,” by the NEW YORK TIMES, Henry’s cozy volume had only then just begun to rack up the kudos and accolades worldwide. Critical acclaim, however, doesn’t guarantee a cookery book a place on every foodie’s sagging book shelf. Warm, welcoming prose, well-tested recipes people like to make and eat, and photos that tell true stories are the items I check off on my test list and this book passed with flying colors. An accomplished author with several beautiful books under her toque and legions of followers, Diana Henry here gives home cooks exactly what we all want: dishes we simply put in the oven so that we can sit and wait for dinner to be done by osmosis. Not all of the recipes are quick in and quick out, but even those that have a bit of prep still make it to the oven for the main event. There are holiday-ish legs of lamb and guest-menu sea bass, to be sure, but we also get homey sausages with potatoes, lots of chicken dishes, exciting (yes, exciting) vegetable ideas, and perfectly lovely fruity English sorts of desserts for “pudding.” Get your roasting pans and casseroles out now; you’ll need them. Cook’s Note: Do pay strict attention to suggested pan sizes for the recipes and listen for Diana’s cue to “add water (or stock) as needed” if the dish becomes too dry. If a pot goes in the oven, it doesn’t give us carte blanche to ignore it!

FROM OVEN TO TABLE: Simple Dishes That Look After Themselves. Diana Henry, Mitchell Beasley, 2019. 240 pages. $21.88-hardback.

Read up on Diana Henry and see all the things she’s up to lately.

Make Chicken with Lemon, Capers, and Thyme from FROM OVEN TO TABLE.

Make three recipes from FROM OVEN TO TABLE featured on The Splendid Table.

If Beans on Toast is all you know of British beans, cook again. This vegetarian pot of fragrant pot of garlicky-rosemary goodness is an eye + mouth-opener. You won’t miss the meat.


For the cook who always says, “How many ingredients are there in that recipe?!”

This book has been out over a year in its current guise and, slowpoke me has just gotten around to diving in. I don’t watch a lot of television these days, but have lately caught a couple of episodes of the PBS series upon which 5 INGREDIENTS is based and quickly ordered the book. Accomplished British cookbook author and tv chef Jamie Oliver’s quirky, positive, can-do, and fun attitude toward anything that happens in a kitchen is always attractive and pleasing. This easy-to-use up-to-date volume feels exactly like Jamie on tv and it’s just that simple to use. There’s a photo of the completed dish on the right and a photo of each ingredient, along with instructions, at the left. For EVERY recipe. No turning pages, getting the corners all sticky-wicky mid-recipe; what you see is what you get–all in one go. And instead of that long, unending list of ingredients everyone complains about (my readers, too), we get 5, yes just 5, ingredients to make every dish. When you begin to cook by gathering your ingredients, it’s going to be, “Snap, the job’s a game” a la Mary Poppins. Will you still have to plan and shop? You betcha, but it’ll be worth it. Big bonus: Jamie’s dad to a brood of kids and the recipes here are often pretty kid-friendly. Pastas, chicken favorites, easy rice dinners, vegetable and grain salads, and sweet treats, naturally. So does this then read and cook like a kiddy cookbook? No way. You, too, will also love dishes like “Hot-Smoked Salmon Frittata, “Pork and Mash Gratin,” “Sesame Shitake Egg Noodles,” and “Buddy’s Flapjack Biscuits.” The coup de grâce is the arrangement of the book, which is by main ingredient. Have sweet potatoes, look here; have salmon, look there. Fast. Nice. Thanks one more time, Jamie.

FIVE INGREDIENTS: Quick and Easy Food. Jamie Oliver, Flatiron Books, 2019. 317 pages. $21.43–hardcover

Three Pasta Recipes from FIVE INGREDIENTS via Food52

Read up on Jamie on his website and catch a few recipes from FIVE INGREDIENTS at the same time.

Italian Baked Rice–shown here at right with grilled chicken and sautéed vegetables.

In today’s world, we simply don’t have or can’t get ingredients. I was missing mascarpone cheese, which I don’t keep in the house; I used a little cream cheese. I felt like this easy, simple rice dish needed a little extra oomph; I added crushed red pepper and a bay leaf! I’m guessing Jamie’s leaving a bit to our imaginations and it’s all ok. He trusts us. BTW, this rice dish could easily be the main course. It’s huge. You could add a few vegetables to the mix and call it dinner. I just happened to have chicken and veg calling to be cooked and done with. We ate the rice as leftovers for lunch–as Jamie would say, “Brilliant!”



OTHER YUMMY SUGGESTIONS:

If none of these sounds like what you need, check out a few more top favorites in my kitchen from the last year or so:

EVERYDAY DORIE: THE WAY I COOK. by Dorie Greenspan. Exactly what you need for any night’s dinner from everyone’s favorite cook, Dorie Greenspan/photos by Ellen Silverman. Think SHRIMP TACOS, PORTUGUESE-STYLE COD AND BEANS EN PAPILLOTE, HERB-BUTTER CHICKEN, or MOLASSES COFFEE CAKE. The fun “Vegetable Go-Alongs & Go-Alones” is one of my favorite chapters, along with a what Dorie calls, “A Pantry Alphabet,” which is “a glossary of specialized ingredients and some substitutions.” You read; you cook; you eat. Sigh. Everyone’s happy.

GROW, COOK, NOURISH. A Kitchen Garden Companion in 500 Recipes by Darina Allen. Perfect for the cook-gardener in your life. Or you. Need to know how to thin thyme? What about the best way to both grow and cook kale? How to bake the perfect Irish Apple and Custard Pie? What else to do with green beans or barley?? Ireland’s answer to Julia Child, Darina has it all for you in a beautifully illustrated comprehensive all-in-one volume. GROW, COOK, NOURISH is a steal at twice the price and is particularly perfect for this time in our lives. Time to plant is now.

DEEP RUN ROOTS: Stories and Recipes from My Corner of the South by Vivian Howard. Peabody award winning cocreator of “A Chef’s Life,” Vivian Howard puts forth what feels like the seminal work of her life. She just may be too busy to write another one, so buy this and start cooking Big N’s Sour Pickles, Jalapeño Peach Chicken, Charred Carrots with Apple Brown-Butter Vinaigrette, and read about “Pecan Wisdom.” There’s life in this here book.



Chopping vegetables for Diana Henry’s OVEN-BAKED BEANS WITH ROSEMARY AND CHILI

We’re walking on here together in the midst of all this. We’re learning that the most important things in life happen at home. Cooking, baking, making music, making love, celebrating Christmas or birthdays, talking to our kids, praying, watching the sun come up, seeing it go back down, burgers in the backyard, ice cream late at night, reading, patting the dogs, playing games, seeing the trees quake in the wind and watching the tulips finally bloom. It’s taken the fright of our lives to get us to understand this. Breathing in. Breathing out.

What’re ya cookin’?

Alyce

Taken on our February trip to the Willamette Valley. Beaux Freres Winery, Newburg, OR

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