The year in cookbooks

Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Mexican Chocolate Soup is one of the desserts adapted from Alice Medrich's "Pure Dessert" book. (Fred Lynch)

According to the novelist Joseph Conrad, "The purpose of a cookery book is one and unmistakable. Its object can conceivably be no other than to increase the happiness of mankind."

Last year nearly a thousand such attempts to heighten human happiness were published. They range from lavish hardcover works intended more for the coffee table than the kitchen table to unpretentious paperback volumes.

But regardless of its design, to be of any value a cookbook must have good recipes. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that to justify its purchase it should contain at least one "Recipe Worth the Cost of the Book" (RWCB). Using that criterion, I herewith list my favorite cookbooks of 2007.

These are Tom Harte's favorite cookbooks of 2007. (Fred Lynch)

"The Silver Palate Cookbook: 25th Anniversary Edition" by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins. Who would have thought a cookbook first published a quarter of a century ago, when many of us had yet to discover balsamic vinegar, could still be so trendy. This reissue shows what a classic that original volume was. There's hardly a recipe in it that's not mouthwatering, now even more so since the new edition includes color photos. RWCB: Chicken Marbella.

"Pure Dessert" by Alice Medrich. "The best chefs cook savory food simply, with the best ingredients," Medrich observes. "Why don't we make more desserts that way?" she asks. This wonderful volume, which eschews elaborate concoctions, is her answer to that question. Yet though simple and straightforward, every recipe is as elegant and enticing as the most fussy torte or tart. RWCB: Mexican Chocolate Soup.

"Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey" by Jill O'Connor. A collection of desserts for "the serious sweet tooth," this book contains an entire chapter on over-the-top treats for the child in all of us. Based on the philosophy that "if some is good, more is better," it will give you plenty of reasons to stock up on napkins. RWCB: All-Grown-Up S'mores.

"Nigella Express" by Nigella Lawson. This is a book about fast food for people who love to eat. Though the recipes use ingenious shortcuts, they never compromise quality, and while they may be quick and easy, they are never dull. The photos, both of the food and of Mrs. Lawson, are sensuous. RWCB: Broccoli and Stilton Soup.

"The Great Big Butter Cookbook" edited by Diana C. von Glahn. Those of us who stuck with butter all these years are now feeling rather smug with the discovery that margarine, with its trans fats, is just as bad, if not worse, for you. This book is our manifesto with its 300 savory and sweet recipes, some using as little as a few tablespoons of our favorite ingredient, others as much as a pound. RWCB: Brown Butter Hazelnut Shortbread with Fleur de Sel.

"Pork and Sons" by Stephane Reynaud. More than a cookbook, this work is a veritable encomium to the pig. The author, who attended his first hog butchering at the age of 7, engagingly conveys his reverence for the animal, the people who raise them and the traditions they follow. As much travelogue as cookbook, this is a work to go whole hog over. RWCB: Millefeuilles of Pork and Artichokes.

"Chocolate and Zucchini" by Clotilde Dusoulier. This charming little book, complete with an introductory chapter on the author's philosophy of cooking, contains dozens of simple recipes from a Parisian kitchen, each accompanied by a story that underscores why the City of Light is not just the gastronomic capital of France, but arguably of the world. RWCB: Cacao and Zucchini Absorption Pasta.

Tom Harte's book, "Stirring Words," is available at local bookstores. A Harte Appetite airs Fridays 8:49 a.m. on KRCU, 90.9 FM. Contact Tom at semissourian.com or at the Southeast Missourian, P.O. Box 699, Cape Girardeau, Mo., 63702-0699.

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