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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, December 20, 2006

FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Give a gift of delicious recipes

By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Columnist

With Hanukkah upon us, and Christmas mere days away, here's a final look at cookbooks suitable for giving, starting with a trio of books for cooks who like to read about food:

  • "Van Gogh's Table: At the Auberge Ravoux" by Alexandra Leaf and Fred Leeman (Artisan, paper, $19.95). This is the paperback edition of a book that won its authors an award from the International Association of Cooking Professionals. It reads as easily as a novel and tells the story of the last two months of the artist's life, during which he made more than 70 paintings while staying in a small inn north of Paris. A room behind the inn's restaurant became his studio, and he took the simple meals his bad digestion required in the cafe. The books ends with a collection of French country dishes such as he might have enjoyed there. The inn has been restored and is now a mecca for lovers of Van Gogh's work.

  • "Hidden Kitchens" by Davida Nelson and Nikki Silver (Rodale, paper, $15.95). Those who enjoy "The Kitchen Sisters" reports on National Public Radio will relish this print version of their lively stories about unusual cooks and restaurants around the country. Here you get all the details, photographs and recipes about the Brazilian woman who feeds her fellow expatriates in a pre-dawn San Francisco lunchwagon operation; the guy who cooks for the crews on the NASCAR circuit; the Sicilian who hunts for wild boar and more. Hard to put down.

  • "A Tale of 12 Kitchens" by Jake Tilson (Artisan, paper, $22.95). London-based artist/designer/writer Jake Tilson offers both a literary and a visual feast, telling the stories and sharing the recipes from a dozen different places where he has lived, eaten and cooked. This memoir-cum-scrapbook is decorated with edgy collages of photos and drawings of inviting dishes, landscapes and city scenes, and tattered pages from hand-scribbled recipe books. An international smorgasbord of recipes is introduced with Tilson's evocative writing. Likely to be especially appealing to those who appreciate good design.

    A number of new Asian cookbooks are worth a look:

  • "Asian Grill" by Corinne Trang (Chronicle, paper, $22.95). This is very much a book for the contemporary diner small plates, bold flavors, straightforward food from the grill. Recipes extend from grilled meats, fruits and vegetables to condiments, flatbreads, rice and noodles, and even sweets and drinks. The heart of the book is the condiments chapter, where you learn to prepare the fragrant, spiced mixtures used for dipping, dressing, marinating and saucing. Most recipes require only moderate kitchen skill, and their roots range from Vietnam to Malaysia.

  • "Quick & Easy Vietnamese" by Nancie McDermott (Chronicle, paper, $19.95). The 75 recipes in this book are advertised as being easy enough for a weeknight supper, but that depends on how much you enjoy chopping and cooking. Most of these recipes will take 30 minutes to an hour of prep mostly chopping not to mention the time spent shopping if you don't have a ready stock of fish sauce, bean threads, sticky rice and so on. That said, this book offers streamlined versions of the classics most of us enjoy in Vietnamese restaurants (i.e., leaf-wrapped kebabs made with grape leaves instead of the harder-to-find la lot leaf) and will clear up mysteries about how these dishes are prepared. Among the recipes: a frequently requested one for the pickled vegetables you get in Vietnamese sub sandwiches.

  • "Modern Asian Flavors: A Taste of Shanghai" by Richard Wong (Chronicle, hardback, $18.95). Richard Wong is founder of chinablue, a company that makes highly regarded bottled Chinese sauces, glazes, dressings and oils. The company, and this book, would never have happened had his family not made the difficult decision to leave Communist-ruled Shanghai. None of the women in his family could cook they had servants for that but in America, they had to learn in order to re-create the flavors of home. Later, when Wong was living away from his family, he, too, would learn to cook, often making very large portions of his grandmother's Shanghai "spaghetti sauce" or slow-cooked chicken to share with friends. The result was his business. Because of the port city's cosmopolitan history, Shanghai cooking differs from other Chinese regional cuisines a kind of fusion cuisine with characteristic layers of flavor and particular techniques. Wong here has simplified the recipes as much as possible and layered in his own and friends' nontraditional ideas, adapting them to contemporary Western eating patterns. A half-dozen simple make-ahead sauces in the opening chapter are used throughout the book to build flavor.

  • "My Grandmother's Chinese Kitchen: 100 Family Recipes and Life Lessons" by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo (Home/Penguin, hardback, $25.95). Beautifully packaged in a good-luck red book cover, this latest work by the woman many consider the Julia Child of Cantonese cooking is both a memoir and a cookbook. Lo here pays tribute to her soft-spoken but firm-valued Ah Paw, who, along with teaching her to cook, shared her wisdom in unending aphorisms. Ah Paw's lessons from how to steam a fish to why you should always speak kindly of others have stayed with Lo throughout her life. Dishes range from the most basic (how to cook rice and make fried rice) to more elaborate festival foods and will be familiar to Islanders, since many Chinese immigrants here came from the region then called Canton.

    Now, a hodgepodge the best of the immense stack of cookbooks sent to me this fall:

  • "Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way," by Lorna Sass (Clarkson Potter, hardback, $32.50). Lorna Sass is one of my favorite cookbook authors because she researches fanatically in order to understand ingredients and techniques intimately; her recipes work and her information is solid. With health experts suggesting that we should all eat more whole grains, this book is more than timely. Here, she explains how to use both common whole grains (barley, brown rice, buckwheat and oats) and lesser-known ingredients (quinoa, black rice, teff and more). The book opens with a guide to each of the grains, including a basic recipe (she cooked each grain seven ways to determine the best one) and grids covering each form of the grain (i.e., different varieties and preparations such as pasta and flour) telling what it is, where to find it and offering her testing and tasting comments. More than 150 recipes follow. And a helpful guide to mail-order and online sources of hard-to-find grains is at the back.

  • "The Splenda World of Sweetness" (Chronicle Books, paper, $19.95). The makers of Splenda here share their recipes for drinks and desserts using the popular artificial sweetener. If you are among those who must avoid sugar and who don't object to artificial sweeteners, this book will answer all your questions about substituting Splenda for sugar, and includes recipes for most everyday desserts from chocolate-chip cookies to cheesecake, sugar cookies to apple crisp.

  • "Homemade in a Hurry" by Andrew Schloss (Chronicle Books, paper, $19.95). If you know a time-pressed person who nevertheless loves to cook, this collection of more than 300 recipes would be a helpful gift. This is truly from-scratch cooking, though Schloss makes judicious use of prepared ingredients to hurry things along. There are lots of vegetarian options, too.

  • "Biba's Italy" by Biba Caggiano (Artisan, hardback, $29.95). Biba Caggiano has long been among my favorite authorities on Italian food; she is both meticulous and unpretentious, and her writing, like her personality, is charming. In this book, she takes readers to the five "Splendid Cities" of her homeland Rome, Florence, Bologna, Milan and Venice. Each chapter begins with an essay about the city's personality and its characteristic foods and cooking styles, and continues with classic regional recipes. While not dumbing them down, Caggiano, chef-owner of Biba in Sacramento, Calif., has clarified and simplified these recipes for an American audience. Along the way, Caggiano offers lots of hints and tips and warm observations on the five cities.

    Send recipes and queries to Wanda A. Adams, Food Editor, Honolulu Advertiser, P.O. Box 3110, Honolulu, HI 96802. Fax: 525-8055. E-mail: wadams@honoluluadvertiser.com.

    For more information about our 150th anniversary cookbook, call 535-8189 (message phone; your call will be returned). You can order the cookbook online.

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