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A Delicious Minyan

10 gorgeous new cookbooks to give or enjoy.

By Sue Tomchin
Winter 2014

A few years ago some predicted that cookbooks would soon be joining the multi-volume sets of the World Book Encyclopedia and VCR players in the realm of the outmoded and passé. The vast recipe databases of the Internet with their hundreds of easily downloadable recipes were just too convenient and varied. How could a traditional cookbook stand a chance? 

But to paraphrase Mark Twain, the rumor of the cookbook’s demise has been much exaggerated. 

“There is the desire to go back to our roots, our stoves, and to gather with family and friends around the table,” says Lisa Ekus, founder of the Lisa Ekus Group, a public relations agency devoted to publicizing cookbooks, chefs, and food products. “Now, more than ever, people are turning to the pages of beautifully produced cookbooks for their recipes, stories, and inspiration,” says Ekus, who herself owns more than 8,000 culinary titles. “Cooking is a sensory experience and to open a ‘real’ book be it in the kitchen or in the bedroom, the home cook wants something tangible to hold and recipes that are trustworthy.”

We’ve gathered 10 new and recent titles to give or enjoy. They boast attractive design and luscious color photography and showcase creativity and skill, without abandoning the comforting allure of traditional dishes and baked goods. Bon Appetit! 

Sunday Suppers: Recipes + Gatherings
By Karen Mordechai (Clarkson Potter, $32.50)

Sunday Suppers cover

In 2009, nostalgia for the family dinners of her childhood inspired photographer Karen Mordechai to invite 10 friends to dinner at the Brooklyn loft she shares with her husband. They cooked together, “sat down to eat and had a lovely time,” she writes. “As the sun set over the water, we all toasted the meal and everything felt just right.” She blogged about the experience, word spread and people began asking to attend the next dinner. 

That dinner blossomed into Sunday Suppers, an in-person and online cooking and dining community. Mordechai has now created a cookbook based on the experience, “a compilation of recipes that one might use to plan gatherings for groups both large and small,” she writes, adding, “I hope this book inspires you to set out and make beautiful meals with the people you hold dear.” Mordechai’s photos appear throughout and have an inviting simplicity. 

The recipes are straightforward and wholesome, yet imaginative with a dash of sophistication. Fried green tomato sandwiches are served with mint mayo and watercress; a winter brunch menu features Tea and Ginger Cured Sea Bass, instead of the more traditional smoked salmon; Apple Cider Cakes are made with olive oil, spiced with cardamom, and baked in mini bundt pans. The book restores a joyous inventiveness and sociability to food preparation and entertaining that can get lost in busy lives. It shows us how to slow down and relish the process of making delicious things together: everything bagels, homemade ricotta and our own mixed root vegetable chips, “a hit with kids and parents alike.” 

If you are looking for special holiday dishes, a recipe for Corned Beef with Root Vegetables, is enticing. The process takes a bit of time, but is not difficult, and seems like the perfect excuse to invite friends over; and a recipe for Chocolate Bread Pudding with Homemade Challah is delectable and decadent.

Huckleberry: Stories, Secrets, and Recipes from Our Kitchen 
By Zoe Nathan with Josh Loeb and Laurel Almerinda (Chronicle, $35)
Huckleberry cover
Some people meditate or do yoga in order to relax. Zoe Nathan bakes. Nathan is a chef at Santa Monica, California’s, popular eatery Huckleberry Bakery & Café. The café is celebrated for its baked treats as well as brunch and breakfast fare (not to mention lunch and catering) focusing on seasonal, organic, fresh-from-the-farm ingredients. Along with her baking responsibilities, Zoe is a restaurateur, who with her husband, Josh Loeb, runs not only the café but several neighborhood businesses.  

After being introduced by their moms, she and Josh bonded over their shared love of food. They opened the Huckleberry Café in 2009, three weeks after their wedding, and it was an immediate hit.

In her new book, Zoe dazzles with 115 recipes for such breakfast and baked treats as rustic Blueberry Cornmeal Cake, a signature cake at the café; Chocolate Chocolate Tea Cake, made with cocoa, coffee and chopped dark chocolate; Cherry-Tomato Goat Cheese Cobbler (her favorite summer breakfast); Ricotta Griddlecakes, which Zoe says are reminiscent of the blintzes she ate at delis with her grandparents; Braised Brisket and Fingerling Potato Hash (serve brisket for dinner one night and for hash the next day!); and Fresh Blueberry Brioche, sumptuously featured on the book’s cover. The best way to eat the latter, she writes, is to “drop it in the middle of your table and have people rip it apart right out of the oven.” 

Ovenly: Sweet and Salty Recipes from New York’s Most Creative Bakery
By Agatha Kulaga and Erin Patinkin (Harlequin, $29.95)
Ovenly cover
Chicago-born Erin Patinkin did what was expected of her. She graduated from University of Wisconsin, and even went on for a master’s degree. But somehow her heart wasn’t in it. She finally acknowledged that her true passion was in cooking and baking and made the plunge—leaving her job, her friends and family in Chicago to venture into the “inspiring test kitchen that is New York City.”

Three years later, in 2010, she and Agatha Kulaga, whom she met at a food-focused book club, launched Ovenly, a bakery/café in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Countless customers and accolades followed. Now, Patinkin and Kulaga share techniques, recipes, and stories about the birth of their business in a book that will appeal to new as well as veteran bakers. The authors are fearless when it comes to flavor combinations. They lace brownies with cinnamon and ancho chile powder or make them super dark with two kinds of cocoa and espresso powder, finishing with a flourish of sea salt topping. An intensely black chocolate layer cake is made with stout and features a salted caramel cream cheese buttercream icing. Their apple pie is unusual: before applying the top crust, they sprinkle on crumbled blue cheese. The result is a pie that in their words is “juicy, sweet and subtly sharp.”

Two recipes from the book would be standouts for upcoming Jewish holidays: for Chanukah, on which eating cheese is traditional, there’s an “airy, tangy” Chocolate Cheesecake with Sour Cream Topping, and for Purim, Apricot Orange Hamantaschen. The latter features step-by-step photos, one of a number of useful photo how-tos featured in the book. 

The Baking Bible
By Rose Levy Beranbaum (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $40)
The Baking Bible cover
Rose Levy Beranbaum is the Dalai Lama of baking, the person who has achieved so much wisdom that she is in a class by herself. She is the winner of numerous awards and followers for books such as Rose’s Heavenly Cakes, The Cake Bible, and The Pie and Pastry Bible. Her new book draws on her expertise in every category of baking and features all-new recipes with the meticulous attention to detail we’ve come to expect, helping us to achieve superb baking results.

As Minneapolis attorney Marie Wolf, leader of a group who baked and blogged about every recipe in Rose’s Heavenly Cakes and helped to test many of the recipes in the current book writes: “Rose’s recipes are delicious. And they are delicious without fail.”

Baking Bible’s recipes range from informal to elaborate. She shows us how to make the simple, yet divine, Renée Fleming Golden Chiffon, “the soprano of golden lemon cakes,” adorned with lemon curd whipped cream and lemon zest but also the sophisticated Polish Princess, its sponge infused with Tea Vodka Syrup and topped with two layers of vanilla pudding, one enhanced with cocoa and walnuts and the other with chopped chocolate and raisins.

Beranbaum does nothing halfway: Her Luxury Oatmeal Cookies are made with her own homemade granola; and for hamantaschen, she develops her own “tender, slightly flaky, very buttery and vanilla imbued,” sweet cookie crust, a reaction to the “sturdy” doughs she encountered in bakery versions of the Purim sweet. Her book also features recipes for other Jewish classics, including rugelach, honey cake and babka, for which she offers detailed instructions and multiple fillings. With her expert explanations, baking even complex treats seem within reach. Baking Bible is a book to learn from and be inspired by, not surprising in a book that borrows its name from that other book we turn to in search of a different kind of guidance.

Plant Power: Transform Your Kitchen, Plate, and Life with More than 150 Fresh and Flavorful Vegan Recipes 
By Nava Atlas (Harper One, $29.99)
Plant Power cover
When, as a teenager, Nava Atlas announced to her family that she was giving up meat, her mom told her she would have to cook for herself, “as she wasn’t  about to prepare two different meals.”  Soon Atlas’s family was asking to try her dishes and before long her mom was making meals she could eat, a departure from the “meaty Eastern European Jewish fare” the family often ate. Those early experiences cooking vegetarian sowed the seeds for Atlas’s long-time career as a bestselling author and expert on vegan and vegetable cooking.  

“Many people would love to adopt a lifestyle that includes more fresh and whole foods and is better for their health,” Atlas writes. The goal of her new book is to provide a “template” to do just that, “whether that diet is going to be followed full-time or not.”  

Atlas’s recipes are varied and colorful: Pasta with Hearty Lentil and Spinach Sauce, Thai-Style Pineapple-Coconut Rice, Sweet and Sour Stir-Fried Vegetable with Seitan or Tempeh; Coconut Curried Vegetable Stew; and Unbaked Fudgy Brownies (flourless, GF!).The recipes are geared to busy people who need to get meals on the table quickly and don’t have hours to spend shopping for hard-to-find ingredients. She readily acknowledges that using canned beans, store bought pasta sauce or salsa and pre-cut vegetables helps when time is limited. In each chapter of the book she even presents at least one full-fledged “emergency meal” – “that last bastion of hope before you reach for the take-out menus.” 

Flavor Flours: A New Way to Bake with Teff, Buckwheat, Sorghum, Other Whole & Ancient Grains, Nuts, & Non-Wheat Flours 
By Alice Medrich (Artisan, $35)
Flavor Flours cover
Alice Medrich is a star in the baking and chocolate worlds. She has won more cookbook-of-the-year honors and best dessert and baking category awards than any other author. She also has another claim to fame: she introduced the chocolate truffle into the American market. With this latest book, Medrich ventures into challenging new territory: she explores the world of non-wheat flours and discovers the unique features and flavors they bring to an array of baked goods.

Medrich spent hundreds of hours testing and experimenting, ultimately developing nearly 125 recipes, which she organizes in chapters by type of flour. Some recipes feature only the primary flour, while others incorporate partner flours that support it. Whether your goal is to bake gluten-free treats or simply to discover delicious new ways of baking you’ll appreciate  the variety and sophistication of what Medrich offers: There’s Corn and Cranberry Scones, Dark and Spicy Pumpkin Loaf and Boston Cream Pie; Chocolate Chip Cookies and Black Cherry Chocolate Linzer Torte; Nutty Sponge Cake and Coconut Key Lime Tart.

If you are looking for recipes for Chanukah entertaining, her beignets (relatives of sufganiyot, the Sephardic doughnuts eaten on Chanukah) are made with rice flour and can be stored up to two days after frying and can be reheated without ill effects. She also features a recipe for Apricot Walnut Rugelach made with oat and rice flours. Several filling variations are featured.

The Gourmet Jewish Cookbook: More Than 200 Recipes from Around the World
By Denise Phillips (St. Martin’s Press, $29.99)
Gourmet Jewish cover
If you can’t attend one of Denise Phillips’ popular cooking classes in London, then the chef and food writer offers the next best thing: a book that showcases her passion for combining Jewish cooking traditions with modern skills and the latest ingredients. 

Phillips does an admirable job of reinventing traditional dishes. She uses chicken schnitzel in a noodle and vegetable stir fry and combines the Rosh Hashanah tzimmes ingredients of carrots, sweet potatoes and prunes with chicken to create a one-dish meal that can be eaten throughout the year. Her Passover Beef Lasagna deliciously layers red peppers, fresh basil, minced beef and tomato sauce with matzo boards. She also recasts such recipes as Tandoori Chicken and Chicken Paella to make them kosher-friendly. But beyond adaptations, she presents an array of stylish fare for Shabbat, holidays and entertaining including Lemongrass Fish Cakes with Lime Mayonnaise (she recommends this as a canapé before a dinner party); Whiskey Chicken; Lamb and Apricot Tagine; Italian Tomato and Bread Soup; and Chocolate Pavlova with Lemon Mousse. Phillips offers a varied palate of spices, sophistication and ease of preparation, an effective threesome for today’s Jewish cooks.

The Modern Kosher Kitchen: More than 125 Inspired Recipes for a New Generation of Kosher Cooks
By Ronnie Fein (Fair Winds Press, $29.99)
Modern Kosher Kitchen cover
At one time, the name of Ronnie Fein’s new book, would have seemed almost like an oxymoron. How could you combine the words “modern” and “kosher” in the same title when kosher food seemed to rely primarily for inspiration on the traditional foods of past generations? That has changed dramatically, and Fein, a long time food writer and cooking teacher, played a key role in this transition, thanks to her popular 2008 book Hip Kosher. (Jamie Geller, another influential contemporary kosher cook, provides the foreword for the book.)

Fein's latest is a book that home cooks, both kosher and not, will relish. Recognizing that modern cooks are intrigued by a range of international ingredients and spices, she uses these to create innovative, multi-cultural recipes that will add interest to family meals and entertaining.

She seasons carrot soup with the spicy chili pepper paste, harissa, balancing the heat with mellow coconut milk and uses the traditional Jewish beef cut flanken as the basis of Grilled Korean-Style Short Ribs. Plain old pot roast is enlivened with the addition of fresh herbs and a side of horseradish mashed potatoes and she brightens the flavor of roasted chicken breasts with citrus zest and juice and honey. She brings turkey back from its once or twice a year place on the table with recipes for a Roasted Turkey Half Breast with Herbs and Vegetables and Panko-Crusted Turkey Cutlets with Cranberry and Pear Chutney.

Fein’s recipes are creative and easy and she uses healthy ingredients, all qualities that promise to resonate with today’s families. Like Hip Kosher, this is a book that you’ll want to use, rather than shelve, and it may become a dog-eared friend we turn to in the daily struggle to get a tasty meal on the table.

Food, Family and Tradition: Hungarian Kosher Family Recipes and Remembrances 
By Lynn Kirsche Shapiro (Cherry Press, $35)
Food, Family and Tradition cover
Through the meals and stories her father and mother, Holocaust survivors Sandor and Margit Kirsche prepared and shared, Lynn Kirsche Shapiro, was able to connect with daily life from before the war and with the memory of relatives who were killed. “Cooking with my parents connected me with their family and filled the void,” Shapiro writes. Recipes and memoir intertwine in Shapiro’s beautiful, heartfelt book.

She relates the story of her parents' survival, and subsequent emigration, and how they rebuilt their lives in the U.S., going on to found Hungarian Kosher Foods in Skokie, Ill., the largest kosher supermarket in the Midwest. Her mother was known for her culinary talents, preparing dishes for both the store and her family. Shapiro presents more than 150 original recipes from her mother, relatives and friends, both in the U.S. and Israel. The recipes were carefully tested and preparation methods updated for the contemporary kitchen. Many of the classic Central and Eastern European Jewish dishes are here: Chopped Chicken Liver; Chicken Paprikás with Dumplings; Hungarian Goulash; Sweet and Sour Cabbage Soup with Meat; Pickled Vegetables; and Marble Cake. She encourages readers not to be intimidated by baking with yeast, and provides a recipe for Sweet Yeast Dough, which uses as the basis of Cheese Danish (Deltelach) and other traditional pastries. Many recipes are accompanied by reminiscences that offer glimpses of pre-war life. The hearty dishes that Shapiro includes are Jewish comfort foods at their best, too satisfying to relegate to the past. Her book makes it possible for us to again make them part of Shabbat and holiday menus, creating new Jewish memories along the way.

Jam Session: Recipes for Friendships, Jams and Remembrances
(The Parents Circle—Families Forum)
Jam Session cover
Making jam is an involved, yet satisfying, endeavor. In Israel, this endeavor became a way to connect for a group of women who have lost immediate family members in the Israeli and Palestinian conflict.

The women are all members of the women’s group of the Parents Circle—Families Forum (PCFF) an organization that provides an opportunity for Israelis and Palestinians to meet. Rather than allowing bereavement to serve as yet another reason to hate, PCFFs’ activities aim to use personal stories to build empathy and understanding, in the hope of preventing further bereavement on both sides.

Under the culinary mentorship of Israeli star chef and TV personality Gil Hovav and Palestinian chef Hussam Abbas, women in the group contributed family recipes for jams (pumpkin, plum, mixed fruit, etc.), olives and pickled vegetables such as cucumbers, turnips and peppers. They then prepared the recipes together.

Compiled in this unique and meaningful cookbook, published by PCFF, the recipes are accompanied by the women’s photos and their individual stories. Copies are available from the American Friends of the Parents Circle for a donation of $35. 


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