As befits the beginning of the end of the hot summer days, and looking ahead to back-to-school, the August lineup of newly released cookbooks is a harvest combination of family rededication, comfort foods, and good old-fashioned drunken fun.
My goodness gracious. I don't know quite what to say about My Drunk Kitchen. To fully comprehend this cookbook, you should watch Hannah Hart's YouTube videos. If you've seen the videos, can you imagine them as a cookbook? Me neither. But somehow Hart has managed to condense her irreverent style into a highly readable book! I don't know that many will want to make her recipes, but reading about them is hilarious! Okay, maybe I'd like to eat her Pizza Cake, which is made of four or five pizzas stacked on top of each other. And I often have her String (Cheese Theory) recipe; the ingredients consist of just: (1) string cheese and (2) a plate. Each recipe comes with an inspirational cocktail suggestion to get drunk by, 'cause this is My Drunk Kitchen, yo. And each recipe comes with a life lesson because the stated intent of this book is that it is a self-improvement cookbook — lessons include: "Always have a tiny plastic spoon on hand," and "Sometimes you have good ideas and sometimes you have bad ones. Follow your heart about what you are and are not willing to try out. Except for heroin. Just don't do drugs, kids." This is a funny, funny cookbook. Give it to a (hip) relative for Christmas and you'll be reading from it all during your holiday family gathering, but be sure to keep it away from anyone who will not find the fun in drunky, smutty, smarty-pantsy cooking.
French Comfort Food is lovely in appearance, with endpapers engagingly covered in fleur-de-lis. The photography is beautiful and the recipes are lovingly described, each with extra ideas and suggestions. My go-to comfort food is breakfast, so I'm bound to head to that chapter first. It's clear right away that this is not Americanized French food. This is the real deal. The first omelet in the book is a chocolate omelet. With rum. Not only with rum, but flamed with rum. Somehow I've lived quite a few decades on this planet without ever encountering a chocolate omelet before. It makes my go-to comfort food of buttery mashed potatoes seem so plebeian. Perhaps a bit more up my alley: Irresistible Potato, Cheese, and Cream Casserole. More brunch recipes — Eggs Poached in Burgundy Wine on Garlic Croutons and a croque-madame with gruyere — have me planning on buying fresh eggs at this week's farmers market. French Comfort Food strikes a surprising balance between cozy recipes and the exotic. The cookbook is a current Powell's office favorite and has been making the rounds of all the desks. A coworker who made the Savory Tomato Basil Cake recipe brought reports of it being delicious. Annoyingly, he neglected to bring us any leftovers. (He claims that there weren't any.)
I've been greedily awaiting the release of International Night for some time now, and I'm dang glad it's finally out. Mark Kurlansky and his daughter Talia have documented their family ritual of weekly international night, where they spin a globe to pick a country as the setting for their shared dinner. An evening is spent cooking together from the chosen country with dinnertime discussion covering the region's history and culture. A sort of culinary armchair (dining chair) traveling. As befits a family-oriented cookbook, the recipes are simplified for the ease of multigenerational chefs. Each chapter is set by country and has not only recipes but an introduction about the chosen land. I love that daughter Talia (in the ninth grade at the time of publication) has a presence in the book, presenting her own hints and tips (tie your hair back when in the kitchen) and relating her reminisces of food travels with her dad. This is an engaging book for the family that cooks together and for any cook who wants to add a little international style to their meals with little fuss.
The second in this month's releases of family-oriented cookbooks, Dinner: The Playbook invites the family back to the table with an innovative meal plan to bring fresh life into suppertime. Jenny Rosenstrach's recipes are simple yet have a bit of flair. The intent is not only to take the drudgery out of the daily dinner but also to get your family out of a repetitive dining rut. Rosenstrach sets the bar high with a family challenge of a new meal every day for 30 days, which could sound intimidating, but she augments this task with some make-ahead freezer recipes to lighten the burden. I think a 30-day challenge would be too much for me, as the call of fish and chips from our local hangout would be loud. But while I know my predilection for laziness would eventually kick in, my dining habits could definitely use a kick in the pants. So I'm starting tomorrow with Chicken Parm Meatballs (starting tomorrow because now that I've mentioned fish and chips, I'm dying to have them for dinner tonight).
Every home cook has a few recipes they are known for, and one of mine is potstickers. I make great potstickers. So it is with a very critical eye that I view Lee Anne Wong's Asian cookbook, Dumplings All Day Wong. And it rocks! Not just because her Pork and Chive Dumplings are very similar to my recipe. Dumplings All Day Wong covers so many styles of dumplings from various Asian regions that it makes you giddy. Handy photos detail how to assemble these delicious bags of goodness, which will be appreciated by anyone who might find wrapper folding daunting. Most recipes have accompanying photos. I have no doubt that in a few years my copy of Dumplings All Day Wong will be stained and battered on my kitchen cookbook. (Pssst: The secret to my potstickers is really the dipping sauce, which can be found in Craig Clairborne and Virginia Lee's out-of-print The Chinese Cookbook.)