October/November is a favorite time in our offices. These are the months when scads of cookbooks are released, a deluge of cookbooks, a tornado of cookbooks. To judge by my desk, it's a perfect (or, rather, imperfect) storm of cookbooks. I have over 50 newly released books piled up, with another pile of yet-to-be-released titles crammed into what little space remains. When better to have a grand work potluck than now? We pulled 10 books out of my desk mess to cook from, each of us bringing in at least one dish to share. We gleefully stuffed our faces and documented it all for you! Here are our potluck reviews, featuring some guest writers from our staff.
Brooks Headley's Fancy Desserts
The '80s rocker turned pastry chef, Brooks Headley, writes recipes the way a punk rocker writes poetry: intentionally wrong, in your face, meant to be played LOUD, and yet sometimes hitting the sublime. Brooks Headley's Fancy Desserts is a cookbook you want to read, not with a cup of tea in front of the fireplace; you'll want to read it wherever the F' you want, maybe while listening to some hardcore punk music. (Although, not me; I'd listen to the somewhat more accessible pop punk queen Debbie Harry.) I made what was perhaps the least fancy but rather fiddly recipe in the book: Yogurt Dates, a savory sweet dish. The recipe suggests removing the skin. I tried, but it was too much work — no one even noticed. Finished with olive oil and salt (I used delicious Maldon Sea Salt). While we were greedily awaiting the photo shoot to end, I took these around our office as an amuse-bouche. –Tracey
The Slanted Door
Charles Phan's The Slanted Door, based on his successful Vietnamese restaurant, achieves the near-impossible when it comes to Asian cookbooks. Each recipe is authentic yet reproducible in an American home kitchen... as long as that kitchen has access to a high-quality Asian grocery store. That latter part is the clincher: these aren't quick pantry dishes. For the few recipes I tried, I needed to buy gingko nuts, dried Chinese dates, mung bean sprouts, sweet glutinous rice, and several other ingredients not found in the regular or upscale groceries in my city; additionally, Phan doesn't always call ingredients by their most common Western names, so my search for "tree ear mushrooms" foundered because I didn't realize they're often labeled "black fungus." Luckily, the sumptuous flavors and textures of the recipes I tried — Cashew Chicken with Walnuts, Gingko Nuts, and Dried Fruit; Stir-Fried Green Beans in a Fish Caramel Sauce (amazing); and Vegetarian Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce — were totally worth hunting down the ingredients (not to mention all of the mincing, chopping, frying, rice-steaming, mushroom soaking, and noodle-boiling each recipe requires). The Slanted Door also has hard-to-find recipes for delicious street food like Shrimp on Sugarcane, killer cocktails to fuel you while you cook, and an impressive dessert section (Vietnamese Chocolate Tres Leches Cake, anyone?). The book is beautifully produced, with huge glossy photographs and a sleek, sexy aesthetic. It's a perfect pick for the adventurous, accomplished home cook looking to expand her repertoire or seriously impress a dinner date. –Rhianna
Vegetarian Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce
The Skinnytaste Cookbook
Let's face it: diets are depressing. Cutting out cherished foods can lead to listlessness, regret, irritation, even rage! Gina Homolka — creator of the popular blog Skinnytaste — offers a way around diets in the form of wonderfully flavorful recipes that just happen to be low in calories. Her philosophy is simple: "If you skinny-fy (that is, put a healthy spin on) dishes you already love, you'll feel satisfied as you slim down — no sacrificing or deprivation necessary." The Skinnytaste Cookbook features 150 recipes, including 125 all-new dishes, accompanied by gorgeous full-page photographs and detailed nutritional information. You'll find recipes like Cheesy Fried Mozzarella Bites (107 calories), Sweet 'n' Spicy Sriracha-Glazed Salmon (229 calories), Chicken Cordon Bleu Meatballs (312 calories), and Butternut Squash Lasagna Rolls (234 calories). I've been on a salad kick as of late, so I was immediately drawn to the Tuscan Panzanella Salad with Grilled Garlic Bread, a classic Italian dish incorporating tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, and bread. I put it together in no time, and while I couldn't serve the garlic bread hot off the grill at our potluck, its aroma was still good and garlicky, and the mixture of colors, textures, and irresistible flavors made this a salad that even diehard carnivores gobbled up. –Renee
Tuscan Panzanella Salad with Grilled Garlic Bread
(From Skinnytaste we also had Jen M's Less-Guilty Zesty Mango Guacamole. As much mango as it is avocado, this is an excellent guacamole to add to your appetizer repertoire.)
Less-Guilty Zesty Mango Guacamole
Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen
Professional foodie, secret kitchen bumbler, and Food and Wine magazine editor Dana Cowin puts a fresh twist on her cookbook, Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen, that only someone with her credentials in the food world could do: she invited a cast of all-star chefs (Rick Bayless, Tom Colicchio, Thomas Keller, Yotam Ottolenghi, Alice Waters, etc.) to teach her how best to not mess up her favorite recipes. Recipes that, try as she might, she had never quite gotten the swing of. Each chef includes tips and a "Why Didn't I Think of That" extra hint. This is a pretty wonderful premise for a cookbook. I'd like to see more cookbooks like this! (Dear Ms. Cowin, hint, hint.) I made the Sweet Potato Coconut + Five-Spice Gratin. A number of our workers don't care for flaked coconut, so I left the topping off part of the gratin. This made for extra coconut on the rest, so the coconut lovers were happy as well. Redolent of coconut milk and 5 Spice, this was an excellent spin on the sweet potato side dish. Chef tip from Floyd Cardoz: for a change of pace, use a curry paste instead of 5 Spice! –Tracey
Sweet Potato Coconut + Five-Spice Gratin
I found Huckleberry to be incredibly inspiring, fun, and easy to use. The title of the book comes from the author Zoe Nathan's own bakery and café, and let me tell you, this is a gem of a cookbook written by a special lady. She has an effortless way of distilling the essence of the dish you're about to make with reassuring simplicity, and she offers plenty of substitutions and alternate ingredients to try out. And! It's entirely comprised of breakfast recipes, which if you're a breakfast fanatic like I am, getting your hands on a cookbook with such an extensive selection of feasible options entirely dedicated to your favorite meal is a godsend. But besides this good news and her warm, conversational tone — which you will find in the text preceding all the recipes and at the beginning of each chapter — there is an audaciousness of spirit that shines through the book, right to the very bright yellow polka dot edging around the outside. Of course, it perfectly complements her playful nature and perhaps should have been my clue to what was in store in the pages contained in the very back: instead of a traditional "Acknowledgements" section, she titles it "My Apologies" and proceeds to apologize to everyone who has contributed to her journey in making the book with a most riotous, gracious sense of humor.
After perusing and ogling my way through Huckleberry to determine my potluck dish, I chose the Brussels Sprouts and Bacon Frittata to make, and the end results actually looked similar to the photo shown beside the recipe! Confession time: the platter that the frittata was resting on spontaneously broke as I was setting it out to serve (post-photo shoot, thankfully) and it took a nose dive to the floor. It was scooped back up in a quick attempt to save it, and we decided to honor the five-second rule and eat it anyway. The initial compliments for it were abundant, which could be attributed to the fact that people felt sorry for me and my frittata flop, but the fact that it was then devoured in no time, even with the added immune-boosting floor germs, only gave evidence to the fact that the dish was a success.
In the spirit of Zoe's "credits" pages, it feels fitting to end in an apology. Dear coworkers: I'm sorry you had to eat the frittata that fell on the floor… even if I now secretly enjoy knowing that you're all as much of a scavenger as I am when it comes to saving good food. –Aubrey
Brussels Sprouts and Bacon Frittata
(From Huckleberry, we also had Kathi's Maple Bacon Bread Pudding. In fact, we had it twice as she brought the test-run batch to work. Both salty and sweet, this was like a French Toast you can take to the office.)
Maple Bacon Bread Pudding
The Lagasse Girls' Big Flavor, Bold Taste — And No Gluten!
Gluten-free girls, the Lagasse sisters know how to walk their talk. Big Flavor, Bold Taste — And No Gluten! takes up where their previous gluten-free cookbook left off... only this time nuancing their recipes along a more diverse line, and with a special appreciation of comfort foods. A true test of a gluten-free cookbook is in its pie crust. So that's where coworker Corie went: Warm Apple and Brie Tartlets. The crust did not call for thousands of alternative flours, as many gluten-free recipes do. The pie crust was easy to make and tasty. Well, easyish to make. It is pie crust, after all. The tarts were a winning combination of savory and sweet with earthy brie. The sisters offer tips that make the recipe work better, such as using a regular muffin tin instead of tartlet pans. (And, yes, they are the daughters of THAT famous Lagasse: BAM!) –Tracey
Warm Apple and Brie Tartlets
Harlequin, the publishing house known for decades for their romantic novels, has been putting out some worthy cookbooks, such as Ovenly: Sweet and Salty Recipes from New York's Most Creative Bakery. All the recipes look ridiculously tasty. Simple comfort baked goods with a cheeky extra touch. Our photographer, Dot, made Cheddar Mustard Scones. Cheeky extra touch here: use dry and wet mustard for a pop of flavor. This is the perfect recipe for one of those many gourmet mustards that are lining your refrigerator door.
Cheddar Mustard Scones
Richard brought our most beautiful dish: Salted Dark Chocolate Pudding, pudding with a grown-up extra kick of salt, and dark, dark cocoa to please the little child in all of us. I have just one more thing to say about Ovenly: Spicy Bacon Caramel Corn. That is all. –Tracey
Salted Dark Chocolate Pudding
Marcus Off Duty: The Recipes I Cook at Home
I love knowing what chefs eat when they cook for themselves. Not surprisingly, they often eat what we eat, only much better. Marcus Samuelsson also brings his vast international background into his home cooking, so his bacon and eggs comes with a seared scallop. Lest that sound too frou-frou for breakfast, Samuelsson states: "Scallops are one of those ingredients that travel easily between high cuisine and rustic home cooking." From Marcus Off Duty: The Recipes I Cook at Home, our potluck had Jen C's Coconut-Lime Curried Chicken, a Trinidadian-based redolent of garlic and ginger. As a special treat, Mark extended our potluck by a day when he shared with us a lunchtime peanut-buttery Peanut Noodles with Slaw, a sort of crunchy cold pad Thai. –Tracey
Coconut-Lime Curried Chicken
A Boat, a Whale and a Walrus
From the award-winning chef of Seattle's Boat Street Cafe, The Whale Wins, Barnacle, and The Walrus and the Carpenter, Renee Erickson brings the delicious and sublime in her first cookbook, A Boat, A Whale and a Walrus. You'll find the simple to the complex, with recipes like Grilled Crab with Harissa Butter; Pickled Chanterelles with Thyme, Garlic, and Olive Oil; and the sweetly wonderful Roasted Rhubarb with Crème Fraîche Ice Cream and French Apple Cake. The book includes stories about Ms. Erickson, such as how she developed her amazing restaurants starting at the age of 25, and narrative about her astute recipe development and fine-tuning, making it an entertaining read as well as a very practical collection of recipes. I chose the Honeyed Rice Pudding Pots because of the rich and delicious simplicity of a familiar dessert while using fresh local ingredients such as Willamette Valley honey and my mother's Hood strawberry jam made from freshly picked berries this past summer. I found the recipe to have just the right amount of sweetness and a luxurious deliciousness that I'm sure to make for many future gatherings with friends and family. –Kim
Honeyed Rice Pudding Pots
I made two recipes from Erickson's A Boat, a Whale, and a Walrus. I love spicy baked goods, so I was immediately drawn to the Molasses Spice Cake recipe. It calls for ground pepper, dry mustard, and brewed coffee, but bakes up into a delicious potluck offering. I also made the Roasted Baby Carrots, since roasted vegetables are usually a hit. I added golden beets and shallot pepper to the recipe because I am besotted with shallot pepper and put it on almost everything I eat, and the golden beets at my local grocery looked especially good. I should add that I am almost totally incapable of strictly following recipes while cooking. –Mary Jo
Molasses Spice Cake
Roasted Baby Carrots
Jamie Oliver's Comfort Food
I'm always a fan of a Jamie Oliver cookbook, and Jamie Oliver's Comfort Food has the extra bonus of featuring my favorite type of food. Checking out my go-to comfort food: mashed potatoes, I found he has dumped on top of the potatoes another of my personal favorites: Chicken Kiev (#diedandgonetoheaven). Chicken Kiev isn't the easiest thing in the world to make, so keep in mind, while these are comfort foods, some of them take a bit of time to prepare. Gigi made a hearty and filling Mushroom Soup and Pasta Bake, earthy with mushrooms and extra savory with cheddar cheese.
Mushroom Soup and Pasta Bake
Tom brought a new-to-me classic, and trust me — this is to die for — Hummingbird Cake. As Mr. Oliver states: "Bake it and get it in your gob." A spicy cake with bananas, pineapple, pecans, and cream cheese, this is stupid good. I may be turning my back on my lifelong addiction to chocolate birthday cake to replace it with Hummingbird Cake. (Not that this is a suggestion to any of my coworkers who might want to bring in a cake for my birthday. Nosireebob, it is not a suggestion at all.) –Tracey
A jammin' good time was had by all at our potluck. We plan to have another next year featuring the upcoming Spring/Summer newly released cookbooks.
All photographs by Dot Dodd.