by Sybil PrattJuly, 2009
My big fat Greek cookbook
Phaidon, known as a classy art book publisher, started its foray into the culinary arts with The Silver Spoon, a super-hefty tome billed as the “bible of authentic Italian cooking.” That was followed by 1,080 Spanish Recipes, “the bible of Spanish cooking.” Now, the fine Phaidon folks have turned to Vefa Alexiadou, a best-selling cookbook author in Greece with her own TV series. Vefa’s Kitchen, “the bible of authentic Greek cooking,” is an amazingly thorough, 704-page cook’s tour of Vefa’s beautiful country and its wide-ranging repertoire of recipes. Most of us know about spanakopita, those flaky, spinach-feta-filled delights, stuffed grape leaves, moussaka, pastitsio, baklava and tzatziki (now sold at Costco). But I would imagine that few of us have really delved into Greek cooking or even tried to make a pan of spanakopita or to stuff a grape leaf at home. Once you try, you’ll be hooked. Vefa moves from a marvelous mélange of mezedes—small-plate appetizers, so varied, so inviting that it’s easy to make a full meal of them—to three full chapters on sweets. In between, she makes stops for every kind of fish, shellfish, poultry and meat entree, soups, salads, pasta, beans and rice, breads and savory pies. With more than 650 recipes and 230 full-color photos, Vefa’s Kitchen is the very best way to get to know the “mother of Mediterranean cuisine.”
Man for all seasons
Mark Bittman is a master at putting home cooks at ease. At the height of the holiday season in 2007, when entertaining was turning this usually serene host into a harried harridan, his New York Times column, “The Minimalist,” listed 101 easy appetizers—it was a lifesaver. I clipped it, cherish it and use it whenever I need inspiration for quick hors d’oeuvres. Now, just in time for casual summertime dining, Bittman has come to the rescue again with Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express. These recipes, all 404 of them, don’t follow traditional form: it’s more like chatting with a friend who has lots of great ideas for lots of great dishes. There are no ingredient lists; each recipe is just a short paragraph, rarely more than seven lines, that has all the info you need to make Panzanella, Shrimp with Toasted Coconut, Stir-Fried Corn and Clams, Korean Barbecued Beef, or Blueberry Ricotta Cheesecake. And that’s just a sample of the summer recipes. Every season gets its due and you get to think about cooking in an ultra-relaxed, what-do-I-have-in-the-fridge way.
Shake it up, baby
When you think of a milkshake, you probably conjure up images of soda fountains, bobbysox and swooning Sinatra fans. Even if you still indulge in these sweet, frosty concoctions, the thrill of vanilla may not make you twist and shout. You might even consider them a tad old-fashioned, a little dowdy, definitely not where you’ll get a cutting-edge culinary kick. Think again! In the hands of Adam Ried, cooking columnist for the Sunday Boston Globe Magazine and self-appointed revitalizer, reviver and re-invigorator of this historic treat, the mighty milkshake rides again. Thoroughly Modern Milkshakes thoroughly changes the rules, bringing the venerable combo of ice cream, milk and syrup into the 21st century, big-time. Adam has assembled an arsenal of inspiring ingredients to energize his end product. Yes, you’ll get the basics, but then the basics go ballistic: add tangerine sorbet to a chocolate shake; cardamom to a mocha shake; dark rum and cashew butter to a vanilla shake or jazz it up with mango sorbet, chile and lime or tea-soaked prunes and Armagnac. Serve shakes for dessert. I’ve done so with great success—they’re fast, festive and so much fun.