July. The deep summer month that brings a belated spring cleaning, picnics, and the beloved abundance of backyard bumper crops (or an abundance of farm-fresh produce from the weekly CSA delivery box). There is a joy in opening a community-supported agriculture box, followed a few days later with, What the heck do I do with all these veggies? July's new and recent releases help us in that department.
Coauthor of Veganomicon Terry Hope Romero presents a salad book that stands up and fights back: Salad Samurai. I can do no better to sum up her book than to quote from it: "Stop making salads that suck." These are kick-ass main meals. True story: a coworker trotted off with my copy of Salad Samurai after one look at the Pesto Cauliflower Potato salad. A favorite recipe of mine is the Pepperoni Tempeh Pizza Salad. (No offense to tempeh, which I like okay, but I'm an omnivore and used meaty pepperoni. Also, I tossed in a little shredded cheese.) I'm currently enamored with the Middle Eastern herbal spice mix za-atar, and I was pleased to find this included in a recipe. I send a big thank you to Da Capo Press for publishing a $19.99 cookbook with a pleasing layout and filled with good photography.
As dandy as regular salads are, Vietnamese sandwiches are a little like a meaty salad in a bun. The Banh Mi Handbook serves up a great introduction to making these Saigon snacks. Portland is lucky to have lots of bánh mì cafes, but it's nice to be able to whip up these treats at home. Each recipe is built with four base ingredients: vegetables, bread, fat, and seasoning. Once you've grasped this combination, you can easily start making your own designer sandwiches. The "secret" ingredient to the traditional bánh mì is Maggi sauce; a recipe is included for mock Maggi if you can't find Maggi sauce at your local grocery store. While there are plenty of vegetarian sandwiches, meat sandwiches rule the roost here. Fried, sautéed, rotisseried, or on the grill, the meat is always enthusiastically spiced. The chicken sausage patties (mixed with garlic, green onion, serrano chile, and a variety of sauces) are first on my list of recipes to try.
Williams-Sonoma features Portland author Ivy Manning's Better from Scratch. Known for a number of well-received cookbooks, including a favorite of mine, Crackers and Dips, Manning's new book is a collection of DIY cupboard and refrigerator staples. The section on sauces and condiments really shines. (Why not make your own Sriracha for a bánh mì?) I'm looking forward to tomato season to make my own ketchup. This isn't just another DIY cookbook; Manning delivers thoughtfully composed recipes which give this cookbook that extra something special. Better from Scratch is bound with unusual exposed boards and beautifully illustrated in earthy rustic tones.
I love, love, love, love The Hip Girl's Guide to the Kitchen! Every parent should give their teenager a copy — and get a second one for themselves. I swear, author Kate Payne is some kind of genius. Perhaps this seems like high praise for what is just a beginner's introduction to cooking, but every page is filled with a massive amount of truly helpful information. Every time I open this book, I'm staggered by some nugget of information that had never before occurred to me, and I'm kind of a kitchen genius myself. Some basic recipes are provided, but mostly this is all about setting up a new kitchen and understanding how to use it, all in a hip-girl fashion. This means understanding modern food craft, paying attention to what's happening in biotech agriculture, and being nutritionally healthy, and all the while bearing in mind that age-old household goal: save money by being savvy.
Ah, the bumper crops of abundance are starting to show up. The first free zucchinis have arrived in our staff lunch room, brought in by an anonymous fellow employee/urban farmer looking to lighten their agricultural load. Thank goodness for The Beginner's Guide to Making and Using Dried Foods. This is a comprehensive guide to preserving fresh food. Each vegetable comes with a drying style choice — dehydrator/convection oven; regular oven; and even that good old standard, the sun. Another thing that sets it apart from other dehydrating books: it gives a "doneness test" so that you can clearly tell when your veggies are finished drying. And to go a step further, there are scads of recipes for how to use your dried provender: as soup base (Mock Chicken Broth Powder), hiking food (Hot Breakfast Nuggets), premixes for gift giving (Swedish Fruit Soup in a Jar). There's also a thorough guide to building and using dehydrators. The book is billed as a beginner's guide, but even old hands at food preserving will find much value in The Beginner's Guide to Making and Using Dried Foods.