The summer list of food books and cookbooks was so abundant this year, we couldn’t wait to start devouring it. We took early peeks at Molly Wizenberg’s well-told tale of building the pizza restaurant Delancey and at Michael Ruhlman’s definitive guide to the egg (online at www.seattletimes.com.)
Here’s a guide to 10 other current and upcoming books worth a look, from memoirs pleasing enough to read on the beach to cookbooks instructive enough to serve as summer school.
“Brassicas,” by Laura B. Russell (Ten Speed Press, $23): After kale salad and kale chips, what next? The Portland writer’s inviting cookbook gives even longtime fans new ways to prepare kale and broccoli, collards and cauliflower and other brassicas.
The flavors Russell produces with the healthful and oft-mismanaged vegetables remind us of dishes we’ve enjoyed in restaurants, but her preparations are uncomplicated for home cooks. With this book on hand, no one needs to serve plain boiled Brussels sprouts again. Ever. Extra bonus: The recipes are all gluten-free; Russell is the longtime gluten-free columnist for The Oregonian.
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“Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good,” by Kathleen Flinn (Viking, $27.95): Flinn, a Seattle author, hit best-seller lists with her previous memoir, “The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry,” an account of leaving the corporate treadmill to attend cooking school in Paris. Her new book is a very different memoir, the story of her Midwestern family and their travels through hard times and better ones. Food is the thread woven through their adventures — or, as Flinn’s Swedish grandmother once said to her, “I don’t have to tell you I love you. I made you pancakes.”
(Lots of recipes are given, including one for those very pancakes.) Flinn’s publishers compared the book to “A Tree Grows In Brooklyn.” To me, though, it brought “The Little House on the Prairie” series more to mind. Flinn recognizes the turning points in what others would see as ordinary lives and makes them shine, evoking a time and place and an old-fashioned appreciation for family and love. (Flinn will have a handful of local book-release events in August; details online at www.cookfearless.com)
“Done. A Cook’s Guide to Knowing When Food Is Perfectly Cooked,” by James Peterson (Chronicle Books, $27.50): Peterson, a longtime culinary instructor, packs an intense mini-cooking course in this guide to when to stop cooking, covering procedures from beating egg whites to roasting a rack of lamb. The accompanying photo guides are invaluable.
The language is clear and instructive, encouraging the use of all five senses to determine doneness, as with the crisp snap of a blanched green bean or the way a well-braised piece of stew meat can be crushed between the fingers. The book outlines processes more than providing exact recipes, and it’s not necessarily a beginner’s guide. (Few beginners would consider larding strips of fatback into meat, or rendering beef kidney fat for suet.)
Peterson is aware of his readers’ potential range of interests and abilities, though, and accommodates them well, providing ways for cooks at any skill level to improve.
“Eating On The Wild Side,” by Jo Robinson (Little, Brown & Co., $16): This is the new-in-paperback edition of the Vashon Island author’s intriguing 2013 book on selecting and preparing the most healthful foods possible. Robinson distills decades of scientific research to point readers toward smaller tomatoes (higher in lycopene), red beets (more nutritious than golden) and hundreds of other assessments of what to eat and why. The book is engaging and thought-provoking without being overly didactic.
The paperback is especially timely because Robinson’s own extensive gardens, packed with just the varieties of fruits and vegetables she recommends, will be open to visitors as one of the stops on the Vashon Allied Arts Garden Tour June 21-22 (Cost: $25, information online atvashonalliedarts.org/gardentour/).
“Fresh Pantry,” by Amy Pennington (Skipstone, $21.95): The Seattle-based author follows up her “Urban Pantry” success with this collection of creative seasonal recipes focusing on a single ingredient per month.
Even effortless August tomatoes get a face-lift here with out-of-the-box recipes like honey-tomato scones. When the winter larder looks dull, it will be a pleasure to try out Pennington’s new twists on cabbages, carrots and winter squash, backed up by her skills in gardening and preserving. There’s no particular style of cuisine here except Pennington’s own — open-minded, health-focused and global.
“My Paris Kitchen,” by David Lebovitz (Ten Speed Press, $35): Lebovitz, former pastry chef at Chez Panisse and a longtime food blogger, writes recipes so clearly and astutely that they lift home cooks far above their current comfort levels.
His previous cookbooks have mainly focused on desserts; this lovely gift-quality tome shares recipes and stories from his decade as an American expatriate cooking in a tiny home kitchen in France.
There are plenty of Parisian classics, from onion soup to cassoulet, but also a look at modern Paris with its international influences. Indian cheese bread, spiced meatballs with Sriracha sauce and lemon-pistachio Israeli couscous are just a few of the bonuses we get looking at city life through Lebovitz’s witty, well-informed perspective. And yes, the dessert chapter is both sophisticated and divine.
“Preserving By The Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces,” by Marisa McClellan (Running Press, $23): In McClellan’s years of canning, she’s downsized her recipes from massive batches of jam to just a few half-pints. The latest book from the “Food In Jars” author is aimed at readers with limited time, small households or any other reason to prefer processing just a pound of rhubarb or a pint of berries rather than flats at a time. Her book’s recipes are as creative and reliable as readers of her blog have learned to expect, and “preserving” is the proper catchall phrase for them, as not all require water-bath canning.
She ranges from jams (see accompanying recipe for plum jam) and quick pickles to mustards and fermentations and syrups. Even dedicated canners will find plenty of tempting ideas for a diverse pantry. McClellan will do a demonstration and book signing at The Book Larder, 4252 Fremont Ave. N., 6:30 p.m. June 25.
“The SoBo Cookbook,” by Lisa Ahier with Andrew Morrison (Random House, $29.95): Long before the food-truck fad, chef Lisa Ahier was serving up rave-worthy fish tacos and salmon tofu pockets and other fresh fusion fare at a purple truck in some incongruous locations in Tofino, B.C.
SoBo (Sophisticated Bohemian) eventually moved into a downtown storefront, where the setting is more traditional but the food still stunning. The cookbook is a natural for Seattle food-lovers, with ingredients accessible in our climate and a focus on fusion dishes, powerful flavors and seasonal ingredients, plus the spin of Ahier’s background as executive chef in a luxury Texas resort.
Recipes are as accessible as pinto-bean burritos and “surfer noodle soup” made with supermarket udon noodles, as Northwest as spot prawn eggs Benedict with sorrel and as Southwest as huevos rancheros. It brings a taste of Tofino home for those who love it — and mealtime inspiration to those who have never been.
“The Tastemakers,” by David Sax (PublicAffairs, $25.99): Sax leads readers on a lively investigation of how cupcakes became cool, chia seeds got hot, fondue fizzled and Indian cuisine approached the mainstream. It’s an entertaining look at some of the personalities and processes behind food fads, showing us how items make their way down the chain from hip specialty spots to Costco tubs. More important, beyond personal tastes and fickle fashions, Sax tells us why we should care.
“Vibrant Food,” by Kimberley Hasselbrink (Ten Speed Press, $25): “This is beautiful!” a photographer friend said upon spying this colorful hardcover organized by ingredients within seasons. Hasselbrink, author of the blog “A Year In Food,” is a food photographer as well as a writer, and the seasonal recipes here stand out for their bright artistry.
A few sections seem over as soon as they begin, as with rhubarb (a cover page and then two recipes) but it’s an appetizing survey, with some unusual flavor combinations and ambitious dishes. Figs are broiled with Middle Eastern za’atar and pecans, for instance, or marinated in balsamic vinaigrette and used to top turkey burgers.
“Green rice” salad is packed with herbs and served with nectarines and grilled corn, while a Pimm’s Cup cocktail, where the reference to “textural depth” could be talking about either the ingredients or the picture, is sheer loveliness.
Hasselbrink will have an event at The Book Larder, 4252 Fremont Ave., N., 6:30 p.m. July 29.
Rebekah Denn writes about food at seattletimes.com/allyoucaneat.