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Palo Alto Weekly

- December 6, 2013

Cookbooks of 2013

From the history of pepper to celebrity salads to the perfect peach, a recipe for every taste

by Anne Sturmthal Bergman

Perusing the cookbook selection at Kepler's, I selected several volumes that were published over the past year, took them home and tried out a few of the recipes. Here's what I found.

Share: The Cookbook That Celebrates Our Common Humanity, edited by Alison Oakervee, Kyle Books, 2013, 255 pages, hardback, $40.00

This cookbook is a product of Women for Women International, an NGO that supports women in war-torn countries around the globe. A purchase of this book is a contribution to their cause. The recipes come from a mix of celebrities, professional chefs and women in the countries where this group works and include contributions from Alice Waters, Emma Thompson, Mia Farrow, Alice Walker and Aung San Suu Kyi. The foreword is signed by Meryl Streep. Each country brings to mind the humanitarian disasters that occurred there: Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Congo, Iraq, Kosovo, Nigeria, Rwanda, and South Sudan. Clearly this is a labor of love. In general, I do not use "celebrity cook books" because I truly doubt that Paul McCartney regularly throws together a "Super Vegetable Salad" (p. 20), but I could be wrong. And it is, after all, for a worthy cause. One of our most accomplished, home-grown chefs, Jesse Ziff Cool of Flea Street Café, has contributed an essay on her sponsorship of a woman named Odette, who lives in Rwanda. Through Jesse's reading and travel to Rwanda to meet Odette, and their cooking together, Jesse discovered that "love and kindness prevail over all." What could be better than cooking together with someone to foster education and human harmony?

I made Sticky Glazed Spare Ribs (p. 218) by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall , a British celebrity chef. It's a one dish recipe, using two racks of spareribs and various marinade ingredients like soy sauce, honey, ginger, hot pepper flakes, garlic and some sweet current jelly. I liked this recipe because every ingredient was readily available in my local super market, and nothing was particularly expensive. A good investment in every way.

Balaboosta: Bold Mediterranean Recipes to Feed the people You Love, by Einat Admony, Artisan, 2013, 287 pages, hardback, $29.95

This is an easy to use book, with some unusual and tasty recipes that combine Middle Eastern and Mediterranean sensibilities. There is a section on recipes for kids. I made Catch Up Chicken, (p.57) — ideal for a busy person. All ingredients go into the pot at the same time and you put the pot in the oven and cook it. The cumin and paprika give it a bit of a spicy, tangy flavor, and with the addition of a grain — for those who wants carbs — it's nearly a complete meal. Almost like a chicken stew, this dish is perfect for a cold winter's night.

The Perfect Peach: Recipes and Stories from the Masumoto Family Farm, by Marcy, Nikiko and David Mas Masumoto, Ten Speed Press, 2013, 167 pages, hardback, $22.00

This book is written by the Matsumoto family from California's Central Valley, where four generations of the family have farmed. There are wonderful family stories and a wealth of information about peaches — the difference between yellow and white, cling and freestone. There is also a section on ripeness. And if you think peaches are just for dessert, think again. This book includes recipes for peach salsa, peach salad and slow-cooked pork tacos, with peaches! We are, alas, past this year's peach season, but in October I found some at Trader Joe's and Costco, and wanted to give this cookbook a try. I decided to make a cobbler. (p. 118). The peach part was superb; I wasn't as enthusiastic about the shortcake light dumplings on the top. But all is all it is a charming, educational book about a family and peaches.

Toro Bravo: Stories. Recipes. No Bull. by Liz Crain and John Gorham, McSweeney's, 2013, 321 pages, hardback, $35.00

This book, from Portland's popular Spanish-inspired, small-plate restaurant, has 91 pages of family history before the recipes start. I wished for more recipes. Butternut Squash ( p.210), was an easy and unusually delicious recipe for butternut squash, which is now in season. I think any good squash such as acorn, or Delicata would work as well. Since Trader Joe's sells alreadypeeled and cut-up chunks of butternut squash, I used those, and bought some Harissa at Draegers. The recipe combines the squash, the Harissa, cream and a white goat cheese to make an unusual combination that amounts to a hearty dish. The recipe suggests two pots, but I made it with a very large skillet that goes on the stovetop and in the oven. I used a slightly harder goat cheese than recommended (couldn't find a softer one) and simply cut it into small chunks. It melted well and added a thick semi-salty flavor to the mix. This was easy to make and easy to eat and would go well as a side dish with steak, lamb, chicken or pork . Fennel salad (p.120) is easy to put together and, for those who love fennel, a refreshing taste.

Pepper: A History of the World's Most Influential Spice, by Marion Shaffer, Thomas Donne Books, 2013, 302 pages, hardback, $20.40.

A nicely written history of the search for pepper across countries and ages, this book is everything one might want to know about pepper. It traces the history of imperialism and colonialism by the Dutch, Portuguese, English and other countries involved in the pepper trade. Following in the path of other books about a single ingredient, it reveals a fascinating story.

Anne Sturmthal Bergman is a writer in Menlo Park.

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