Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Fat: It's for dinner.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine named the worst cookbooks of the year with regards to health. Included on the list are Gordon Ramsay's World Kitchen: Recipes from the F-Word, Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa: How Easy is That, Trisha Yearwood's Home Cooking, Top Chef's How to Cook Like a Top Chef (bacon doughnuts!), and Mark Sisson's The Primal Blueprint Cookbook. The Physicians Committee says that these cookbooks are the worst for containing artery-clogging recipes that include high-fat ingredients, such as bacon, cream, butter, etc.

Now, none of these chefs or cooks claim to be promoting healthy lifestyles. I know when I pick up a Barefoot Contessa cookbook that I'm not going to be getting low-cal recipes. And Gordon Ramsay is a professionally trained chef. What do you expect? They don't use skim milk and margarine in their recipes. But, is it just me or does it seem like quite a few cookbooks and cooking magazines are including ingredients that for the last 10+ years were viewed as no-no's? It seems like Cooking Light magazine has been putting more sugar and butter/cream cheese/cream, etc. back into their recipes (albeit still in moderation). Even Jamie Oliver, who is big on healthy, uses ingredients like blue cheese and bacon and has a recipe for fried pork skin in his new cookbook Jamie's America. (He does encourages readers to pair his recipes with a salad and to use rich ingredients only occasionally and in moderation.)

The Physician's Committee doesn't mention what cookbooks they did like, but I think Mark Bittman's Food Matters Cookbook has wonderful, simple, healthy recipes that emphasize a variety of fresh fruits and veggies and minimal meat. I wonder how the Physicians Committee felt about Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient by Jennifer McLagen....

Monday, December 20, 2010


I have a terrible sweet tooth, but I outgrew my love for most candies like Sprees, Jolly Ranchers, Nerds, Sweet Tarts, etc. when I became an adult. Now I just have an intense passion for chocolate and baked goods. But Steve Almond is a true candy addict. His book Candyfreak is like food porn. He waxes poetic about a number of candies he remembers from his youth and bemoans his favorites that no longer exist. His life-long love for candy inspired him to travel around the country visiting candy factories and meeting other candyfreaks, historians and collectors. He even bought several cases of Kit Kat Darks to ensure that he would have a lasting supply. While it is an interesting and enjoyable read, I do take issue with him on one point. There are a few candies that he refers to as MWMs (Mistakes Were Made), such as Twizzlers, Chuckles, and white chocolate ("a scourge visited upon us by the inimical forces of Freak Evil.") So true. But he also includes Peeps and Circus Peanuts on his list of MWMs! Peeps are the best candy ever! How can a candy connoisseur not love Peeps?!? I suppose Circus Peanuts are an acquired taste, but oh, how I love them. What are some of your favorite candies from childhood? Are they still around and do you still eat them? What candies do you miss the most? I miss Velamints. My grandmother always used to carry them and they remind me of her. I think you can still get them, but I have no idea where. I never see them in stores.

Here is an interesting tidbit: Remember Pop Rocks? Pop Rocks contains sugar, corn syrup, flavor and coloring, and carbon dioxide gas compressed at 600 pounds per square inch! Yikes.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Why give a book? Because a tie never changed anyone's life.

Since I haven't been reading much in the way of fiction this year, I don't have a list of my favorite fiction reads for the year. But I thought I would put together a list of my favorite foodie books that I read this year. The suggestions range from history to food politics to cookbooks. These would be great gifts for the foodie in your life!

The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century
by Amanda Hesser
-Hesser, a food columnist for the New York Times, has updated and compiled more than 1,000 of the best recipes from the past 150 years. It's a hefty one, but the title says it all: it's essential.

The Perfect Finish: Special Desserts for Every Occasion by Bill Yosses
-Yosses is the executive pastry chef for the White House. This is a mouth-watering collection of sweets with gorgeous full-color photos. I'll be honest: I've never tried any of the recipes. I just like reading them and looking at the photos. Food porn for dessert lovers.

Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook
by Anthony Bourdain
-Anthony Bourdain. Enough said.

Fannie's Last Supper : Re-Creating One Amazing Meal From Fannie Farmer's 1896 Cookbook
by Christopher Kimball
-Fannie Farmer was the author of the Boston Cooking School Cookbook, which was first published in 1896. Christopher Kimball is the founder of Cook's Illustrated magazine. When he attempts to re-create a meal using recipes from Farmer's cookbook, he goes through quite an ordeal to get it just right.

97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in one New York Tenement
by Jane Ziegelman
-This book traces the social history and culinary revolution of immigrant life through the histories of five families who all lived at 97 Orchard Street, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, between 1863 and 1935. Fascinating reading for history and foodie buffs.

The Dog Who Ate the Truffle : A Memoir of Stories and Recipes from Umbria
by Suzanne Carreiro
Carreiro's reflections on life in Umbria aren't as poetic as Frances Mayes's Tuscany books, but this is still a wonderful memoir about life in Italy. Carreiro meets wonderful "characters," learns to cook traditional Umbrian food, and yes, goes truffle hunting with a dog who eats the truffles. Also, I would buy this book just for the recipes. Simple, delicious, traditional Umbrian recipes.

Confections of a Closet Master Baker: One Woman's Sweet Journey from Unhappy Hollywood Executive to Contented Country Baker by Gesine Bullock-Prado (this was retitled as My Life From Scratch: A Sweet Journey of Starting Over, One Cake at a Time when it was released in trade paperback.)
-Bullock-Prado is the sister of Sandra Bullock. Fed up with Hollywood, she leaves her career as the head of her sister's production company to move to Vermont and open her own bakery. A humorous and touching story filled with recipes from her bakery.

Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter
-A resident of Oakland, California, Novella decides to become an urban farmer, squat gardening in an abandoned lot and keeping chickens, ducks, turkeys, rabbits, bees and even pigs in her back yard. Interesting, humorous, and a wonderful read.

Working in the Shadows: A Year of Doing the Jobs (Most) Americans Won't Do
by Gabriel Thompson
-Gabriel set out to investigate jobs that are traditionally done by immigrants, which happen to be food related. Gabriel's experiences harvesting lettuce, working in a chicken processing plant, and delivering food illustrate how the food industry treats its workers. A great read for those interested in food politics.

The New Best Recipe by the editors of Cook's Illustrated
-Ok, so it's from 2004, but I just got this one and it's become my new go-to cookbook. It has all the basics, and the numerous recipe testings and lengthy explanations we expect from Cook's Illustrated. I've made a very successful pumpkin cheesecake and the best creamy tomato soup I have ever eaten.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Great Zamperini

Laura Hillenbrand, author of the wonderful book Seabiscuit: An American Legend, has finally released a new book: Unbroken: a World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. I didn't know much about it, other than it was about a soldier whose plane crashed in the ocean and he survived several days at sea. Interesting? Sure. But it didn't sound that enticing. Strangely, it was Runner's World magazine that piqued my interest in this book. The latest issue profiles the book and Louie Zamperini, the soldier whose plane crashed into the Pacific, survived 47 days at sea, multiple shark attacks and two years in a Japanese slave labor camp. Before that, Louie was a runner and participated in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Louie is 93 today and still active. He can still run, just not far. What an amazing story. Be sure to put this one on hold-I did!

On another note, the Runner's World article also mentions Laura Hillenbrand's struggle with severe vertigo and chronic fatigue. Apparently it's incredibly disabling for her. She researched and wrote both of her books from home because she is not able to get out much. It took her seven years to write this latest story. Who knew?