I hope you enjoyed Thanksgiving, and now with Christmas and Hanukkah just two weeks away, the race is on to find just the right gifts. I am asked by many people, “What cookbooks do you recommend for my foodie friends and relatives?” It isn’t easy to pick just a few suggestions. My list is quite extensive; cookbook collecting for me is addicting — I read cookbooks the way one would read a novel.
I am sure I am not alone. Some people on your gift list — perhaps you, too — are like me. Some of these will fit the bill for a welcome addition to one’s cookbook shelf. I know I’ll be running out of space with my suggestions, so look out for part two next week.
Those on your list who follow a gluten-free diet will appreciate “One Pot Gluten-Free Cooking,” by Amy Rains (2018, Page Street Publishing, $21.99). Even with hectic schedules, it still is possible to eat healthfully with Rain’s recipes. Not only is she a foodie, she is a nutritionist, receiving an M.S. in nutrition. She writes in her introduction, “I firmly believe the very best meals are made with simple and real ingredients. I have gradually transitioned to a gluten-free diet by choice, because I feel my best when eating gluten-free.” The recipes in each chapter use a specific pan or appliance. Using a blender, prepare Smoothie Bowls 3 ways or a delicious chocolate pudding with a “secret” ingredient — avocado. A fan of chocolate pudding, I will be preparing this one.
The author writes, “My family has no idea that this chocolate pudding they love and stuff their faces with has avocado as a main ingredient — I plan to keep that secret to myself! The avocado not only gives a healthy nutrient boost, it also provides a perfect thick and silky texture. It tastes best topped with some nuts, coconut shreds or even fresh fruit. This pudding tastes best eaten within a few days, but it probably won’t last long!”
FROSTING and FILLING
4 medium-size ripe avocados
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2/3 cup full-fat canned coconut milk or coconut cream
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup real maple syrup, plus more to taste
Place the avocados, cocoa powder, vanilla, coconut milk and sea salt in a food processor or high-powered blender. While the motor is running, slowly add in the maple syrup. Stop the blender and scrape down the sides using a rubber spatula. Check to see if the pudding is sweet enough, adding a few more teaspoons of maple syrup to taste. Continue to blend until all the ingredients are well incorporated, and the pudding has a fluffy or whipped texture. Spoon pudding into a bowl. You can serve immediately, or chill and enjoy later. Serves 8.
Using an instant pot, there are recipes for chili lime salmon with green beans, creamy sweet potato, carrot and coconut soup. Breakfast, lunch dinner or dessert, a muffin pan does it all, with recipes for southwest egg muffins, meatloaf muffins or chai-spiced apple donut holes.
Some people are curious to know about the origin of everyday things. Foodies and food trivia buffs will enjoy “How the Hot Dog Found Its Bun: Accidental Discoveries and unexpected Inspirations That Shape What We Eat and Drink,” by Josh Chetwynd (2012, Lyons Press, $14.95). Sometimes it’s neither art nor science that serves as the origins of the everyday kitchen and food items we use. Quite often the greatest culinary achievements are pure luck. The reader will discover the beginnings of such food-related finds as Buffalo wings, Caesar salad, Twinkies, Philly cheesesteak, PEZ, and of course the namesake of the book, the hot dog bun. The author writes, “while those sausages were very popular on their own, what turned them into American icons was the bun, which made the meal an on-the-go favorite from ballparks to boardwalks.” (Fun fact: Yale students were among the first to use the term “hot dog” in 1895. Presumably it was because the tube meat reminded them of another German import — the dachshund.)
The bakers on your gift list can go on a pastry chef’s tour of the world’s culinary capitals with “A Baker’s Passport: Recipes for Breads, Savory Pies, Vegetarian Dishes, Tarts, Cakes, and Cookie Classics,” by Susie Norris (2019, Amazon, $18). She shares 200-plus recipes culled from her global travels and her award-winning blog foodmarketgypsy.com. “I’m a lifelong, culinary road-tripper, traveling through the world’s great food towns and traditions to explore what is baking where. This book visits beautiful countries with artisan baking traditions. By exploring recipes in their regions, we help keep those traditions alive and relevant,” says Norris. I enjoyed the beautiful photography highlighting the detail of each dish, often with travel photos from its region. Recipes include sweet and savory favorites. Norris applies the term baking to everything that comes from the oven. The curated collection of worldwide baking classics included were inspired by her visits to patisseries, cafes, coffee shops, bodegas, grannies’ kitchens and food halls in many lands. Bakers can try Vanilla Bean Cake with Chocolate Dulce de Leche from Mexico, Fig Cookies from Sicily, Shepherd’s Pie from Cotswold, England, Quiche Lorraine from the Loire Valley Vineyards of France, or Cranberry Pecan Loaf from Cape Cod, Mass. (for this recipe, visit https://bit.ly/2OV1jkp).
“The Beer Pantry: Cooking at the Intersection of Craft Beer and Great Food,” by Adam Dulye with Michael Harlan Turkell (2018, Dovetail, $25), is the perfect pick for beer aficionados who like to cook. Each chapter begins with a “brewer spotlight.” Some of the recipes, of course, include beer; others use ingredients used to making beer. For example, Radishes Dipped in Hop Butter or Malted Oat Pecan Cookies. Others don’t include beer in the recipe, but rather the perfect beer pairings are suggested. Joshua M. Bernstein, author of “Brewed Awakening, Complete Beer Course, Complete IPA, and Homebrew World,” who wrote the forward, said, “The Beer Pantry takes a different tack. Adam doesn’t advocate dumping lagers into everything willy-nilly. Instead, he’s created recipes that preach technique and quality ingredients over cramming a beer can inside a chicken and calling it a day. Beer is only employed when it plays a key role, such as the brown ale glazed figs that are gangbusters with bone in pork chops.” Recipes include: Belgian Beer-Steamed Mussels, carrot cake with IPA beer in the frosting, Hanger Steak with Tater Tots and Beer Mustard. Each recipe has a side note with a pairing strategy and recommended beers. This is a serious cooking-with-beer book. The author asks, “when cooking, ask yourself one question: does an ingredient make the dish taste better? If so, good. If not, don’t do it. If you go back and ask that question about most well-known recipes for cooking with beer; the answer will most likely be no.”
Both children and adults who receive “Holiday Jubilee: Classic & Kitschy Festivities and Fun Party Recipes,” by Charles Phoenix with Kathy Kikkert (2019, Prospect Park Books, $29.95), will be referring to the book throughout the year with the innovative, intoxicating, action-packed extravaganza of America’s favorite seasonal traditions. The vintage Kodachrome slides, rare collectibles, and epic recipes for holiday centerpieces and party pleasers will spark the recipient’s (or your) imagination. Perfect to bring kids into the kitchen to join in the fun creating the famous “Cherumple” (three pies baked into a three-layer cake), “Snacks-Giving Gobbler Platter” (turkey-shaped cheese, cracker and salami platter, or the recipe below for “Crazy Candy Cane Cake.”
Whether it be New Year’s celebrations, exchanging Valentines, dyeing eggs, fireworks, carving pumpkins, roasting turkeys, decorating the tree, or seeing Santa Claus, Phoenix has cooked up colorful recipes to celebrate holidays like never before.
CRAZY CANDY CANE CAKE
3 boxes white cake mix, mixed according to box instructions
Peppermint extract to taste
1 large bottle red food coloring
1 large bottle white food coloring
1 large bottle turquoise food coloring
5 tubs white frosting
Small and large candy canes
Red, white, and green spice drops
Divide batter into two bowls and stir in peppermint extract to taste. Generously add red food coloring to one and white food coloring to the other. (Using red velvet cake batter just won’t do, it’s simply not bright enough.) Fill plastic squeeze bottles with batter. Spray 3 cake pans with Pam. Line bottom of cake pans with no-stick baking paper. Flour sides of pans.
To create the candy cane effect, squeeze in the red and white batter, alternating in concentric circles until pan is about 3/4 full. Bake cakes according to box instructions.
Stir turquoise food coloring into frosting until color is consistent. Put several candy canes in a double-zip plastic bag and gently crack with a mallet until they are broken into small pieces and all your holiday aggressions are out. Sift to get rid of the teeny-tiny broken bits. Stack each layer with a generous spread of frosting sprinkled and topped with candy cane bits. Frost and refrigerate.
To increase the chances that your candy cane cake will collapse during the party, decorate with candy canes, peppermints and spice drops just before your guests arrive. Let them ooh and aah over it. Then let gravity do its thing — hopefully within an hour or so, much to their devilish delight, they’ll witness the cake crack, fail, and fall. Serve the collapsed cake right away with holiday cheer and watch it get gobbled up like it was the last cake on the planet! By the way, it’s totally fine if your crazy candy cane cake doesn’t collapse — it’ll still be the life of the party.
A Unique Holiday Tasting: Sherry, Dec. 11, 6:30 p.m., Ibiza Tapas, 1832 Dixwell Ave., Hamden, 203-469-4218, $85. Working together with the chef owners of Ibiza Tapas, Robert Colopy, wine educator and renowned expert of Spanish wine, is one of the most knowledgeable people in the country to address how to pair Sherry with food. For menu and tickets, visit https://bit.ly/2CC3Etx.
State Street Christmas Pub Crawl, Dec. 14, noon-5 p.m., kicks off at Cave ‘a Vin, 975 State St., New Haven, 203-777-6206, $25 (100 percent of proceeds go to Toys for Tots). Enjoy drink specials and complimentary snacks along the way (Christopher Martins, Oak Haven, Diesel, JP Dempsey’s). Tickets at https://bit.ly/2LoXUbm.
“Worth Tasting,” A New York City Culinary Experience, Dec. 16. I will meet you at Grand Central Terminal (GCT) at 1 p.m.; $275 includes full lunch with one beverage at Le Marais, with chef/owner Jose Meirelles. We’ll stop at Bookmarks Lounge on the rooftop of the Library Hotel for one beverage, before we head to the Brooklyn Museum (includes roundtrip MetroCards for subway between GCT and the Brooklyn Museum and back to GCT). VIP entry to the renown NYC Latke Festival where we will eat our way through countless latke variations plus other holiday treats and open bar. You will have access to the exclusive VIP Lounge, with another open bar, a buffet of latke complementary comestibles and another open bar. At 8:30 p.m., we will travel back to GCT and get you to your train for your return to New Haven. Limited to 10 people. More information at https://bit.ly/31rN8GH. Tickets, call Stephen at 203-415-3519.
Consiglio’s Mystery Dinner Party: “20/20 Vision” Dec. 31 or Jan. 1, 9:30 p.m. Consiglio’s Restaurant, 165 Wooster St., New Haven, reservations at 203-865-4489, $75 includes dinner and show, and Champagne toast at midnight (beverages, tax and gratuity not included). An interactive comedy show that goes on throughout the evening during a 3-course meal. Cast mingles table to table, dropping clues for a mystery only you can solve. What’s going to happen if something happens in the New Year? These ladies have predicted the future and are sharing the news to compete as psychic of the year. Menu at https://bit.ly/32gXryX.
What chef would you like me to interview? Which restaurant recipes or other recipes would you like to have? Which food products do you have difficulty finding? Do you have cooking questions? Send them to me: Stephen Fries, professor and coordinator of the Hospitality Management Programs at Gateway Community College, at email@example.com or Dept. FC, Gateway Community College, 20 Church St., New Haven 06510. Include your full name, address and phone number. Due to volume, I might not be able to publish every request. For more, go to stephenfries.com.