You still have a baker’s dozen of shopping days left to complete your list. I’m spending this and next week’s column to bring you some suggestions. This week it’s cookbooks and more. While I love talking about cookbooks, and getting them as gifts, I also like to read culinary memoirs, and about what’s going on in the world of sustainable food production. And a large part of how we cook is increasingly affected by recipes we find on line and how we can plan our meals while we’re out shopping with the aid of our mobile devices. So I want to spend a little bit of time talking about apps today as well.
I’ll start with cookbooks. It’s no surprise that Yotam Ottolenghi’s ‘Plenty More’ is at the top of many ‘Best Cookbook’ lists this year. It’s the sequel to this Mediterranean chef’s first vegetarian cookbook, Plenty. Wonderful photographs that make you wonder why vegetarian food used to just mean brown rice and tofu. You might have to search out some of the ingredients that aren’t commonly available in supermarkets, but especially in Victoria we are lucky enough to have Fig Mediterranean Delicatessen on Cedar Hill Crossroad where you should be able to find all the ingredients.
Also in the ethnic realm this year is a little book about one of my favourite Vietnamese foods, the banh mi sandwich, which in the classic version, basically takes a French baguette, stuffs it with some sort of meat, quite often a paté, then loads it up with pickled vegetables, fresh cilantro and sliced jalapeños. If you’ve never had one you don’t know what you’re missing. There are a few places to get these kind of sandwiches on Vancouver Island but it’s not a banh mi mecca like Vancouver. So if you want to make them yourself you need to pick up the Banh Mi Handbook, written by Andrea Nguyen. She is a Vietnamese cookbook author from California who writes excellent books to demystify Vietnamese cooking and this one is no exception.
One more exotic-type foreign book, but also written by an American, is David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen. He’s a professional chef who has been living in Paris for the past decade and this is a collection of sweet and savoury recipes, once again with wonderful photos but more importantly, many stories about his life in Paris. I think he is just an excellent writer and this is a book you will want for the whole package, recipes, photos and stories.
Local authors: There are many to choose from, and I’ll start with a culinary memoir by Julie Angus called Olive Odyssey. Julie lives in Comox but she doesn’t spend much time at home. One of her previous books was a best seller about her voyage as the first woman to row across the Atlantic Ocean from mainland to mainland. Olive Odyssey is all about the voyage Julie, her husband Colin and their newborn took in a sailboat around the Mediterranean in pursuit of more knowledge about the history of the olive and olive oil. I just picked this one up when I met her at an author’s gathering but I know I’m in for a good tale.
Another culinary memoir is called ‘Never Trust A Skinny Italian Chef’ by Massimo Bottura, who is a Michelin-starred chef from Modena, Italy. The recipes are not necessarily that easy to put together, but it’s a great story of his rise. This would be a great gift for anyone who is considering getting into the restaurant industry.
Back into the cookbook realm with local authors, I have to include Chef Bill Jones from Deerholme Farm near Duncan and his Deerholme Foraging Book. This is a follow-up to his Taste Canada shortlisted Deerholme Mushroom Book. Bill and I were selling books together a couple of weeks ago and people were really going for the Foraging book as searching the woods and fields and your own backyards for wild edibles has become quite the thing over the past couple of years.
You also won’t go wrong by gifting the Sobo Cookbook by Lisa Ahier along with food writer Andrew Morrison. Anyone who has been at Sobo Restaurant in Tofino knows they make great food there and this cookbook has 100 favourite recipes from the restaurant in Lisa’s style which includes influences of local ingredients and her Tex-Mex culinary roots.
From the mainland one more title, the Dirty Apron Cookbook by David Robertson. I haven’t been able to spend much time at the Dirty Apron, which is a cooking school in Vancouver, but all of my food writer friends rave about it, and this cookbook is worth raving about as well. Nothing revolutionary in terms of recipes, but a solid collection that would be a great gift for someone starting out on their own who wants to learn more about tools and techniques. (and then there’s that book about Food Artisans of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands…great gift! Proud to say it was placed 5th in the top ten list of BC books for 2014 in the Vancouver Sun.)
Books for foodies concerned about sustainability: here’s a list developed by the folks at Food Tank organization, but two books on that list caught my interest in particular. Defending Beef: The Case for Sustainable Meat Production by Nicolette Hahn Niman. Niman is a biologist and environmental lawyer turned rancher. In the book she advocates for pasture-raised meat as part of a healthy diet.
And…The Edge of Extinction: Travels with Enduring People in Vanishing Lands by Jules Pretty. This book goes from China to New Zealand and beyond to introduce us to people who are living close to the land and how small communities live sustainably.
Finally, for the digital age: First, for foodies that like to take photos of their food and share them, I really like the CameraPlus app. It has some very powerful editing tools built right into the app that can make your food photos really come alive, and I like that it allows you to share to Facebook and Twitter at the same time. For someone who likes to invent their own recipes or scale them up or down according to how many people they need to serve, I recommend Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio, at $4.99, which gives you 32 basic recipes that can all be adjusted according to what you want to do with them. For example, the bread recipe will always give you the right quantities of flour and water, or a cake recipe the proper proportions of fat, sugar and flour, and so on.
Finally, a real deal at $14.99. You get two complete books. Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything and How To Cook Everything Vegetarian. These are huge tomes that get squished into your phone so you can research a recipe from wherever you are, and even email yourself a list of ingredients to shop for at the grocery store. If you’re a fan of ordering books from Amazon.ca, each link on the books I mentioned will take you there. Any purchases you subsequently make on the visit will send a small percentage of the cost to my Amazon account, which will help me buy more books! (thanks in advance)
Next week, gourmet gadget gifts.