A Cookbook Look

A few new cookbooks have come my way, and although I've yet to test their recipes, they seem worth a look-see, with lots of potential for kitchen playtime.

I've an avid reader of 101cookbooks.com, the lively blog written by San Francisco-based photographer/designer Heidi Swanson, so I was excited to learn of her new cookbook, "Super Natural Cooking: Five Ways to Incorporate Whole & Natural Ingredients Into Your Cooking, " which was released this month. (She also is the author of "Cook 1.0: A Fresh Approach to the Vegetarian Kitchen.")

What a treat to have a first edition that's paperback! One of my pet peeves about newly released cookbooks is their hardbound stiffness that makes page turning and in-kitchen referral a big pain. Swanson's photos, which are a major ingredient in the book, are so luscious and colorful you'll want to eat the pages.

Like a good pantry, the text is stocked with useful tidbits, particularly as it relates to a more wholesome diet. You'll get the lowdown on flours, oils, sweeteners, legumes and grains, with subjective thoughts on which to try and which to avoid or minimize.

The aforementioned "five ways" to get super natural is also how the book is organized. They are, according to Swanson: building a natural foods pantry, exploring a wide range of grains, cooking by color, knowing your superfoods and using natural sweeteners.

How that translates for someone living far from an urban metropolis (where virtuous recommended ingredients such as agave nectar, goji berries and teff flour are readily available) is a good question. In all fairness, Swanson does provide a list of online sources, some which are new to this kitchen explorer (Hello, Rancho Gordo with your heirloom dried beans!), but I do wonder if this will be enough to resonate with cooks in remote locales.

I am looking forward to trying her "sikil pak," a tomato-based Mayan dip of garlic, habanero chile and toasted pumpkin seeds, as well as her "Espresso banana muffins" and "dairyless chocolate mousse." Stay tuned for those reports.

*******

I met LaurelAnn Morley several years ago when I spent a lot of time in Barbados with her sister, food writer Rosemary Parkinson. The chef/owner of The Cove, a restaurant on the east coast of Barbados, LaurelAnn recently has self-published "Caribbean Recipes: 'Old and New,' " a collection of 400-plus recipes, from her beloved Barbados as well as those from neighboring Caribbean islands.

As someone who has tinkered with the idea of self publishing, I can relate to the amount of work and love that went into realizing a dream. Although sometimes weak in organization (this is where an editor really comes in handy) with a sprinkling of typos, Morley's efforts are nonetheless impressive, as she combines classic homestyle Caribbean cookery, with personal stories and basics on regional ingredients and techniques that should prove useful to Caribbean-virgin cooks.

In her introductory remarks, Morley acknowledges taking all of the photos herself, a decidedly unglamorous and homey touch, which gives the book almost a memoir feel. The real visual bonus comes from the inclusion of several island scene sketches by Morley's late father, Gordon Parkinson, a well-known artist in the Caribbean.

The book is now available in the U.S., through amazon.com or atlasbooks.com, albeit for the steep price of 50 bucks (the downside of self publishing). However, I like to think of Morley's book as a reference point that I'll return to whenever I need to travel to the Caribbean, which -- if you know anything about me -- is often.

Rum cocktail, anyone?

Got a new cookbook title to rave or rant about? Share in the comments area below.

By Kim ODonnel |  March 15, 2007; 11:00 AM ET Cook's Library
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You will love, love, love Rancho Gordo beans - they are simply out of this world. I have been buying them for years at my farmer's market in San Francisco. Try the Good Mother Stallard (the most delicious pot liquor), Runner Cellini, Yellow Indian Woman and Borlotti (some personal favorites in the incredible catalogue). Oh, and their bottled hot sauce is fantastic, too. Please let us know what you think!

Posted by: teri | March 15, 2007 11:30 AM

Just a general cookbook rant about How to Cook Everything -- the book looks quite sturdy, but after a few months the binding breaks and page sections start falling out! That sucks -- it's everything you wouldn't want in a cookbook. Not limited to my own either -- friends and reletives with copies have the same trouble.

Posted by: Rita | March 15, 2007 12:06 PM

101cookbooks.com is amazing! Heidi Swanson is really a flavor maven, and her stuff makes my mouth water because, well, maybe she and I have similar tastes. One day I thought about making her espresso chocolate cookies, though, and I almost passed out when I started adding up the cost of all the pristine, organic ingredients she called for, each in fairly small amounts (undutched cocoa? please.).

Didn't realize that How to Make Everything had a tendency to fall apart. Rats. I gave it to friends as a wedding present...

Posted by: Reine de Saba | March 15, 2007 12:43 PM

Well, the recipes are great, it's just the binding at fault. Blame the publishers, not the author!

Posted by: Rita | March 15, 2007 12:57 PM

I tried the chocolate spice cookies recipe from Nick Malgieri's "Perfect Light Desserts" that Kim posted a while ago. While I didn't really like them - I thought the molasses overpowdered the chocalate - but I had seen Nick on Baking with Julia and had tried and liked those recipes, so I bought the book.

I love, love, love the chewy oatmeal raisin cookies from that (I did add some cinnamon). They are truly compelling and only have 2 T. of butter for a batch of 36 smallish cookies. They're worth the price of the book.

Thanks Kim for introducing this book to us.

Posted by: Frances | March 15, 2007 1:35 PM

My sister gave me the Lee Brothers Guide to Southern Cooking for my b'day last month and I wasn't too thrilled -- I have too many cookbooks and not enough time. And then I opened it. And I couldn't stop reading. Beautiful writing about the South with beautiful photos. And the recipes appear to be very well-explained. Not enough time to try any yet! Maybe if I could stop reading this blog... :-)

Posted by: fredellen | March 15, 2007 5:33 PM

"Just a general cookbook rant about How to Cook Everything -- the book looks quite sturdy, but after a few months the binding breaks and page sections start falling out!"

So glad it is not just mine. I attempted to return mine to Barnes and Noble and they would not take it back. Still drives me nuts everytime I use it.

Posted by: Amy | March 15, 2007 7:36 PM

I picked up "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone" by Deborah Madison(hardcover, slightly used so the pagestay opened) for $11 on ebay two months ago and have loved it. I've tried new recipes as main dishes, and plenty of others as sides on the nights we aren't meatless. Simple, straight-forward ingredients and instruction, plus she has helpful notes in her margins. I like selecting a recipe and just trying things out. I haven't been disappointed.

Posted by: Erin | March 15, 2007 10:13 PM

I can't recommend Madison's Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone enough. Erin is right that it has spectacular ideas.

For weekdays though, try Vegetables Every Day by Jack Bishop. Recipes are organized by vegetable. All simple, but all really interesting and often unusual. It is perfect to carry to a supermarket too what looks good or to to pick up when you don't know what to do with whatever you have in the fridge.

For new ideas, try Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless. Many of his books are almost useless because he assumes you'll get exotic ingredients and follow a 20-step recipe. This was his solution. Still terrific, new ideas. But he uses ingredients you can get in a supermarket or a Mexican store, and the recipes are all doable.

(And I like hardback cookbooks! The soft covers that I loved most broke apart with constant use. The hardback ones last!)

Posted by: Brent | March 16, 2007 10:04 AM

Madison's book is my go-to for almost all cooking situations- cooking/baking savory/sweet. The variations at the ends of recipies are great, and things can easily be served with meat if so desired. Good pick, other Erin!

Posted by: Another Erin | March 16, 2007 10:38 AM

Oh how I wish all cookbooks were made like the church, community and hospital cookbooks back home. Easy-clean cover and a three-ring binder. Why would you want a cookbook put together any other way?

Posted by: Orange Line | March 19, 2007 5:03 PM

I am a big fan of cookbooks with pictures and easy instructions. I bought the new 'Taste of Home' cookbook in January with a gift card from Borders and love it. It's in a three-ring binder with divider tabs and instructions simple enough for even a novice to make something with success. True, it is a compilation of recipes from regular, everyday cooks, not classically trained chef snobs or tested in stainless steel, sterile kitchens at General Mills. I've never had a failure with this cookbook.

Posted by: Southern Maryland | March 20, 2007 3:03 PM

Are you referring to the hard back version of How to Cook Everything? I have the hardback version and have had no trouble with the binding. I love the recipes.

Posted by: MsLemon | March 21, 2007 5:32 PM

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