Edible Reads: The Winter List

I am reading addicted. I have virtual stacks of books that I am quite happy to click and scroll through on a device. But my love of words and images is most intense for food books that I can hold in my hand, prop on my tummy, splatter by the stove, dog-ear with joy (not pixel underlining.) I have to own them. Caress them. Abuse them a little with my notes, grease spots, and love.

This season has a wonderful set of new books with possibilities for gift giving, personal improvement, fantasizing about your next local dining sojourn, and plain food fun. These are books we think you will love to sniff, read, keep, or pass on to another whose taste you can foster.

THE-COASTAL-TABLE The Coastal Table:
Recipes Inspired by the Farmlands and Seaside of Southern New England

by Karen Covey
Union Park Press $29.95
Cape-Cod-Table Cape Cod Chef’s Table:
Extraordinary Recipes from Buzzards Bay to Provincetown

by John F. Carafoli
Lyons Press $24.95

We who live in New England consider ourselves “coastal people.” Whether we live on the coast, near it, or deep in the heart of suburbia, we claim the shores as our own. These two new cookbooks are almost coastal bookends, one a chef’s cookbook covering restaurants from Buzzards Bay to Provincetown; the other an avid cook’s treasury of recipes from New Bedford to Rhode Island and the Narragansett Bay. Both are fun to read and fodder for cooking with the causal ease synonymous with early morning fog and weekends in a quiet cottage by the shore.

Karen Covey’s Coastal Table is a mix of reverence for the farmers and fishermen who coax our food from inhospitable shores and fields. The recipes are simple and well organized, but each one comes with a slightly exciting fillip you might not have come up with. Like Corn Fritters with Chipotle Aioli, a raw Brussels Sprout Salad with Apples, Baked Fish with a Nasturtium Butter, Chouriço-Stuffed Pork Loin with Garlic Mash, and a terrific guide to grilling oysters. Right now, I am planning an afternoon to make the Bacon Jam with Black Pepper Biscuits, my idea of heaven dressed for a Sunday brunch.

Covey organized the book well, moving from brunch, to soups and sandwiches, to garden bounty, cocktails, and on the grill, the sea, the hearth, and sweets. It is a book that makes you want to run to the closest farmers market (winter or summer) and wish for salt air to surround you. I particularly like her small, personal essays dotting the book on the artisans—farmers, chefs, bakers, and fishermen—that give a face to the food she cooks. But the stars here are the ingredients, not the people. A word of praise for Cassandra Birocco’s photos: Simple, evocative still lifes. Unfussy in the extreme, making each familiar and personal, and each dish achievable and delicious.

John Carafoli’s Cape Cod Chef’s Table is another cookbook that will transport you to the summer seashore. Carafoli has gathered together many of the Cape’s best chefs and restaurant owners, food shops, and food trucks for recipes from the Upper Cape, to the Mid-Cape, to the tiny land sprints of Provincetown and the Lower Cape. He has done an excellent job of translating chef’s recipes to a scale and simplicity that makes sense for the home cook. He has put together his recipes and chefs without snobbery.

Simply put, it is a book with great recipes from all sorts of places to eat on the Cape. Diners, pizza parlors, shanties, sandwich shops, and high end dining destinations with white tablecloths. The photos and brief bios invite you to come and seek them out and think of them as all friends whose recipes you’ve traded and whose advice you could ask if your succotash came out flat. As a hurried home cook, I like the way he’s deconstructed the elements of the more complex dishes, so that the reader gets a good sense of how the dish will all come together in the end. Special thanks for the wine suggestions that accompany many of the dishes. If you are planning a getaway to the Cape, take this book as a companion. You’ll know just where to go and you’ll feel as if you are visiting old friends when you get there.

Wood-Fired From the Wood-Fired Oven:
New and Traditional Techniques for Cooking and Baking with Fire

by Richard Miscovich
Chelsea Green  $44.95

I can feel the groundswell coming now. This is the book to buy or give to anyone contemplating cooking in a wood-fired oven, building a wood-fired oven, or just needing a new thing to think about now that the grill is packed up for the winter. This gorgeous book takes wood-fire cooking from a little weird artisanal activity up in the remote northern regions of wherever, and brings it to the backyards of people you know. It is a how-to, a DIY, and an invitation to a fantasy. It’s full of technical information: thermal breaks and heat bridges, sequestering heat with insulation, and the difference between black (direct fire) ovens and white (indirect fire) ovens. I predict that for the many males who have considered backyard grilling their personal purview, the wood-fired oven will be a siren call (though hopefully not the kind that summons the fire department).

The book is divided into three parts. Part One is Ovens and Fire. Part Two is Bread Baking, The Process. And Part Three, Using the Full Heat Cycle, is a series of handy engineering concepts that will snuggle deep into the heart of any pyromaniac and recipes that take the wood-fired oven beyond bread and all the way to pork belly and roast chicken. The core of the book holds the idea that you can bake bread in a wood-fired oven. It takes five info-dense chapters to get there, chapters packed with very useful technical information about thermocouples and masonry bricks and the overall ins and outs of building a wood-fired oven, but Part Two: Bread Baking, The Process, is well worth the wait. I love the step-by-step photos of the hand-mixing technique and the practical tips in the sidebars (for example, “It’s all in the Wrist” is a short treatise on how to avoid carpal tunnel injuries while kneading). You’ll thrill to the explanation of the baker’s strength flowing from “the force” and the slightly wonky explanation of factors that enhance or interfere with fermentation.

This book is destined to be a classic. In addition to all the truly useful how-to information, there is a thick strain of spirituality that runs through each chapter, centered around the idea that fire has always brought us together, for comfort and fellowship, for warmth and wonderful wood-fired food. Bread baker or not, Richard Miscovich has done us all a great service.

DaviosBookCover_1 It’s All About the Guest:
Exceeding Expectations in Business and in Life the Davio’s Way

by Steve DiFilippo
Lyons Press $26.95

Memoirs written by chefs and restaurateurs are catnip for food lovers. Our cozy armchair experience as we follow their improbable successes, the crises-that-almost-killed-us recollections, the thinly-veiled descriptions of competitors and difficult diners (that we hope never to resemble) make all of us feel somehow included in the success story. (Restaurant memoirs are not so often written about the failures, but that’s another story.) Steve DiFilippo, much beloved founder and CEO of local Davio’s, has written an upbeat and sweet restaurant memoir and service business book. His goal is to entertain and share his story, but he also aims to lay out the value precepts he believes have resonance for anyone going into the food business, or any service business at all. The very title, “It’s All About the Guest” does a fair job of summarizing his core value concept. His “Restaurant Lessons to Live By” are basic truisms, obvious but often overlooked.

The recipes scattered through the chapters are lovely. Bedrock Italian including Julia Child’s favorite angel hair pomodoro. When DiFillippo began as a young chef, the former high school football star had to hide his magnetic attraction to the food business from his friends and family. It neither seemed manly nor likely to result in financial stability. How things have changed! But the real reason for Edible Boston readers to buy this book is to get a thick, warm slice of Boston’s business, sports, and food world history that Steve DiFilippo and his Davio’s empire embraces. Rare among the restaurant entrepreneurs of the last few decades, everyone loves Steve DiFillippo. Aerosmith, Julia Child, other chefs, Bob Kraft. His lawyers, bankers, staff members, and diners. It is a fun read, with a huge soul and some pretty darn good life lessons.

Paleo-cover Paleo Lunches and Breakfast On the Go:
The Solution to Gluten-Free Eating All Day Long with Delicious, Easy and Portable Primal Meals

by Diana Rodgers, NTP
Page Street Publishing $19.99

You don’t have to “go Paleo” to enjoy this book, but it might not be a bad idea to give it a try. The recipes are fast, fresh, and delicious. As someone with gluten issues, I can share that lunch and breakfast on the go often set up a miserable choice. Do I eat whatever there is and suffer the consequences, or just go the hungry-till-dinner route? (Airport terminals are a particular trial.) So Diana Rodgers’ book is a welcome addition to my cookbook stack. It’s a practical, fast guide with good advice on how to build the Paleo pantry and dine out without the interminable conversations with the server. The recipes are snaps to organize, use both scratch cooking and buy-smart-and-assemble cooking, and feature flavors that are fun. Rodgers gleefully borrows taste combinations and ingredients from Mexican, Indian, Italian, and Brazilian cooking, and from every Asian cuisine. (There’s even a little American deli thrown in.)

Since Paleo eating says no-no to most wheat and dairy products, easy hand food like sandwiches are scarce. Rodgers has a good, chunky list of wraps that make lunchtime seem less like an exercise in deprivation and rice cakes. My favorite: the Pastrami and Pickles in Radicchio Wrap. A much appreciated updated take on my favorite mustardy, salty deli favorite. The breakfast section, “Busy Morning Breakfasts” is equally good. Without the obvious bread and wheat standbys, breakfast can be a pretty tedious meal for people who don’t eat wheat or dairy. I love the pork sausage patties (one with ginger and spice, another with cherry and tarragon—five-minute enterprises each), and the Sweet Potato and Apple Cinnamon Pancakes. Buy this book for any of your friends and family who are careful about wheat or dairy. Keep some of the recipes for yourself. They are fresh, fast, and fun. Whoever says that about “doing without” food?

CHOPCHOP-cover-art ChopChop:
The Kid’s Guide to Cooking Real Food with Your Family

by Sally Sampson
Simon & Schuster  $19.99

This is the book you want to give to everyone you know with children this year, and maybe directly to the kids themselves. An extension of ChopChop magazine, a national quarterly, this book is a far cry from the Easy Bake Oven-styled recipes of most American childhoods. In addition to being healthy and endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the recipes are fun, full of punch, and well within a school-age child’s capacity to be the chef in charge. They don’t pander to kids, aren’t gimmicky or frou-frou, and each and every recipe starts and finishes with ingredients anyone from almost any century would recognize as food.

There are breakfasts and burgers, stews, soups and salads, snacks, even spunky sounding dishes made with tofu. The basic theory being that if a kid can be the chef, or at the very least an engaged sous-chef, they are much more likely to eat the results. Including lots of vegetables. (P.S. there isn’t a dish on the list that is too juvenile for a food lover’s sensibilities, too.)

ChopChop has terrific visuals of the food and prep that make it easy to envision how any recipe in the book should look in process and completed, and how old a kid would have to be to make it successfully. Useful tips, like how to use a salad spinner and the best way to trim asparagus, are sprinkled generously through the pages.

This is one to buy and give in bulk. Think of it as your own personal campaign contribution to changing the way America eats.

Foof-Writing The Best Food Writing 2013
Edited by Holly Hughes
Da Capo  $15.99

These are the journeys we wish we’d taken. The conversations we wish we’d had. The stories we wish someone had told us, and the questions we might have asked. Every year, it is a joy to keep this compendium of the year’s best food writing close to your side. The essays are from around the country, and even from our own backyard with terrific essays by local Corby Kummer of The Atlantic (a provocative essay “Tyranny: It’s What’s for Dinner”), and Erin Byers Murray who wrote “Earth Mothers” for Edible Boston. There are wonderful pieces by food luminaries like Pete Wells, Michael Pollan, Francis Lam, and Barry Estabrook (his “Hoganomics” is a pretty sensational read), Rowan Jacobsen, Gabrielle Hamilton, and Jonathon Gold. But there are wonderful new voices, too, that identify nuggets of knowledge and moments in food and memory that you won’t soon forget. It’s a treasure trove and jam-packed with enough delight to keep you happy through the year, or to binge-read now.

Wintersweet Wintersweet:
Seasonal Dessert to Warm the Home

by Tammy Donroe Inman
Running Press  $30.00

For me, this book is the gem of the pack. It is a beautiful, rich book devoted to the toughest task in the New England culinary calendar: coming up with winter desserts from November to March that are local, seasonal, delicious, and take us beyond the slight tedium of pumpkin and apple pie (not that there is anything wrong with either.) Wintersweet is a keep-worthy addition to any New Englander’s cookbook shelf.

Tammy Donroe Inman is a Boston area cookbook writer, who is tightly linked to the local food and farming community. She had me by the first paragraph of the introduction, where she writes, “Winter has its charms, for sure. The sugar dusted scenery and the smell of wood smoke in the air conspire to win me over every year. But here in New England, winter inevitably finds me very, very cold, and very, very hungry.”

This set of recipes opens up a whole repertoire for me, given that the idea of making sweet soufflés for dinner guests gives me a nervous tic in my right eye. These are wonderful, craveable, sweet, hearty, and most of all executable recipes that make me almost pull for a dinner party in a snowstorm. The chapters are devoted to families of food: Apples, Pears and Quinces; Persimmons, Pomegranates and Cranberries; Citrus; Nuts and Chocolate; Roots, Tubers and Gourds; Cheese, Dried Fruit; and last, Dairy and Eggs. That about sums it up. One of the best things about the recipes is that they are sweet recipes, wholly respectable dessert recipes that have not the slightest whiff of pastry chef about them. Forget about whether you can manage the perfect pate brisée. Make the Cast-Iron Apple Cake with Maple Brown Butter, the Honey-Roasted Pears with the Blue Cheese and Walnuts, or the Coconut Sunshine Cake with Citrus Curd. Or even the Goat Cheese Cake with Dried Cherry Compote or the Beet Ice Cream. (The Gingersnap-Crusted Pumpkin Cheesecake and the Chai Spiced Squash Pie both seem pretty close to foolproof, too. Black Bottom cupcakes work for me, also. And the Apple Cider Doughnuts and Cheddar and Apple Turnovers. I must stop.)

The book is lavish. Lovely layout, happy finger-feel pages that invite you to settle into the world of Wintersweet, page by page, fabulous toothsome recipe by recipe. Buy this book for yourself. And on a cold, wintry, don’t-go-out night, have a dinner party with a menu crowned by one of these recipes, and invite in all the neighbors. They’ll come cold and hungry.

Grammy's Grammy’s Kitchen:
The Russell Orchards Fruit Cookbook

by Meredith Russell
Self published by Russell Orchards $19.95

Grammy’s Kitchen is the kind of cookbook you keep snuggled between two larger, perhaps more magnificent tomes, and delicately retrieve each season as a new fruit comes ripe. In spring, it’s rhubarb and strawberries; cherries start to come on in summer, raspberries, blueberries and then peaches, with a slight pause for blackberries before the apples, pears, and pumpkins announce that winter is coming.

Meredith Russell has written a superb example of the classic “community” cookbook. Her all-fruit seasonal recipes are from her family orchard, from her Grammy, and from the day-in day-out experience of taking ripe fruit from the bush or tree and transforming it into something of even greater delight. The recipes are solid, easy to follow (I particularly love her “Things to Know Before You Read this Book”), with helpful snippets like “when there is a break in a line of ingredients, it usually means that you don’t add them all at once.”

There isn’t a recipe in the slim volume that requires more than basic pastry skill. And whatever skill or confidence you do or don’t have (read: rolling the perfect pie crust), she has a helpful set of tips at the back of the book.

You are at Russell’s elbow in the kitchen, maybe even the one with the dishtowel sponging up the blackberry or peach juice as she prepares them for a crumble or cobbler. She’s chatty and down-to-earth, like a neighbor or old college friend who has the cooking knack. Russell knows what to do with ripe fruit and berries, how to freeze, each variety, when to use early season apples and pears, and for what.

As you read it, you might get a little self-reproachful that you didn’t can, freeze or otherwise preserve last year’s New England fruity bounty. But spring is just around the corner, and rhubarb will rise again.

Louisa Kasdon is the author of more than 500 published articles about food, restaurants, health, and business and the winner of the M.F.K. Fisher award for Excellence in Culinary Writing. She was the food editor for the Boston Phoenix/Stuff Magazine and a regular contributor to ZesterDaily.com. Kasdon is the founder and CEO of Let’s Talk About Food, letstalkaboutfood.com, an events-based organization that brings community and the public together around issues in our food system. She can be reached at Louisa@letstalkaboutfood.com.