Books to Devour Gifts that'll give 'em something to sink their teeth into

THE BALTIMORE SUN

There is nothing like receiving a new cookbook - even if you never cook from it.

Full of tempting recipes, helpful how-to's and mouthwatering photos, new cookbooks offer countless ideas for new dishes to whip up in the kitchen. At other times, they take the reader on vicarious journeys into a world of cooking that might never show up on the dinner table.

Either way, cookbooks make wonderful holiday gifts. But choosing the right one can be daunting.

You could head straight for the best sellers, like "Emeril's TV Dinners," by Emeril Lagasse, Marcelle Bienvenue, Felicia Willett and Brian Smale; "The Pie and Pastry Bible," by Rose Levy Beranbaum; and "Ducasse: Flavors of France," by Alain Ducasse and Linda Dannenberg.

Or you could turn to a treasure-trove of tried-and-trues. You won't go wrong with the updated "The New Joy of Cooking" by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker, or Maida Heatter's "Great American Desserts."

Still, the possibilities are endless. We decided to ask several food folks around town which cookbooks or food sources they savor - and which, in turn, might please the cooks on your list.

Cindy Wolf, executive chef and owner of Charleston in the East Harbor area

"My thing on cookbooks is they have to have great pictures. It really expresses what the person is trying to tell you about," Wolf says. "My favorite is 'The Way to Cook' (Knopf, 1993) by Julia Child. She has a lot of instructions and pictures in it. It's a great source of reference for me."

The 34-year-old chef also recommends cookbooks by Joel Robuchon, whom some call one of the finest French chefs of the century. She particularly likes the recent "L'Atelier of Chef Robuchon" (Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1998). "It is beautiful," she says. "It has some of his classic recipes."

Mary Fox, owner of A Cook's Table, 717 Light St., Federal Hill

As proprietor of this eclectic kitchenwares shop that offers cooking classes, Fox says one of her top cookbooks is Deborah Madison's "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone" (Broadway Books, 1997).

"I'm not even a vegetarian," she says. "But I love the variety of vegetable dishes."

She adds that if she were ever stranded on a desert island, though, she'd want to have Julia Child's "The Way to Cook" with her. "It's an everyday cookbook for advanced cooks."

She says that beginning cooks would appreciate "How to Cook Everything" (Macmillan, 1998) by Mark Bittman.

Michael Gettier, owner and chef of M. Gettier's Orchard Inn in Towson

Gettier is a fan of Joel Robuchon. He gushes over "Simply French: Patricia Wells Presents the Cuisine of Joel Robuchon" (William Morrow and Co., 1991).

"It's such a stunning book. He's arguably the best chef alive today," Gettier says. "It's probably within the top three of my favorite cookbooks. His love of food is so apparent."

He also speaks highly of the newest Robuchon book, "L'Atelier." "In terms of cookbooks, these are as good as it gets."

Monica Dorsey-Smith, president of the Maryland Dietetic Association

At last count, Dorsey-Smith, who has been a dietitian since 1975, has about two dozen cookbooks in her collection.

While the Pikesville resident said she doesn't have a particular favorite, she often relies on "Joy of Cooking" (Simon & Schuster, 1975) and two books published by Reader's Digest: "The How-to Book of Healthy Cooking" (1996) and "The Live Longer Cookbook" (1993, out of print but www.amazon.com will search used-book stores for it).

Boog Powell, former Oriole first baseman who has staged a major hit at the Camden Yards pit-beef operation that bears his name

When asked about his favorite cookbook, this griller-extraordinaire, who winters in Florida, hesitates for just a minute before deciding, "It all depends. My favorite cookbook depends on what mood I'm in. If I feel like New Orleans, then I pull out Paul Prudhomme's 'Louisiana Kitchen' " (William Morrow & Co., 1984).

But, on reflection, he concludes that the book he wouldn't want to cook without is an older James Beard tome, "Treasury of Outdoor Cooking" (1983, out of print but www.amazon.com will search used-book stores for it). "That is the bible as far as I'm concerned when it comes to barbecuing," he says.

Of course, there are those days he craves comfort food and heads to a familiar name. "Every now and then, I get cranked up for a chicken potpie and look to Betty Crocker for that."

Donna Crivello, co-owner of Donna's coffee bars who also teaches cooking classes

Julia Child ranks high on Crivello's cookbook list. "I learned to cook from some of the original Julia Child cookbooks," she says, citing "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" (Random House, 1979) in particular. Like many chefs, she is a fan of Child's "The Way to Cook."

But she also relies on various Italian cookbooks for technique and reference, including the "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking" by Marcella Hazan (Knopf, 1992).

Gloria Gadsden, culinary student and caterer

Gadsden, who will graduate from the Baltimore International College in April, recently formed a catering business, Culinary Relief, with fellow classmates Yvonne Chavis and Tracey Taylor. And, even though she prepares such exotic dishes as Thai noodle salad, her most treasured cookbook is an American standby, "Betty Crocker's Cookbook," which she has owned for 21 years.

"It has a lot of things in it that I like," says the Catonsville resident, who has used it frequently throughout the years.

Mark Hofmann, chef at Rothwells Grille in Timonium

Hofmann likes the number of cookbooks on the market by restaurant chefs. "They display the culinary trends we're currently seeing in this country," he says. "I like to keep up on these. That's how I keep fresh with new ideas."

An admitted Emeril Lagasse TV fan, Hofmann suggests cookbooks by the chef-turned-TV celebrity for the home cook. He's also fond of the colorful Art Culinaire, a hard-back quarterly magazine that costs $59 a year. Call 800-SOTASTY to subscribe.

Jim Westervelt, fire specialist and self-appointed cook at the Towson station of the Baltimore County Fire Department

Another Emeril proponent, Westervelt often can be found whipping up specialties like filet mignon in wine sauce and herb-crusted pork tenderloin for appreciative firefighters in Towson. He says he gets most of his ideas from Southern Living magazine rather than specific cookbooks. A subscription to the magazine would be a great gift, he says.

"When I want to get fancy, I'll go to Southern Living," says Westervelt, 50, who lives with his wife, Charlene, near Carney.

Gail Caplan, owner/operator of the Polo Grill and vice president of marketing at Classic Catering

Caplan says, without hesitation, "My favorite gift - but it is very expensive and it is very, very upscale - is Art Culinaire."

Faith Wolf, local cooking instructor who specializes in kosher gourmet cooking

Wolf, who can be found teaching cooking to students and adults at Beth Tfiloh school, likes technique cookbooks, she says.

For experienced cooks, she recommends books by Craig Claiborne, Julia Child and Jacques Pepin. For novices, "The Fannie Farmer Cookbook" (Knopf, 1990) by Marion Cunningham and books by Maida Heatter are worthwhile, she says.

Personally, Wolf, who learned to cook by watching her grandmother and mother, finds inspiration in the first two Silver Palate cookbooks - "The Silver Palate Cookbook" (Workman Publishing Co., 1982) and "The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook" (Workman, 1985) - by Julee Russo and Sheila Lukins. "My challenge is to convert the recipes, when possible, to kosher ones," she says.

Carol Wohlleben, dean of instruction and curriculum at the Baltimore International College

Wohlleben has amassed more than 100 cookbooks over the years but says her favorites are the simple ones. She relies on recipes from various Junior League cookbooks.

"I'm always looking at books," the Owings Mills resident says. "But if I'm cooking at home, I go to the basics of 'Better Homes and Gardens' [Meredith Books, 1996] and 'Joy of Cooking.' [Simon & Schuster, 1975]. I use these a lot."

Here's a sampling of recipes from the books:

Oysters Broiled in Garlic Butter

Serves 6 as a first course

18 oysters

6 tablespoons butter in a small frying pan

1 1/2 tablespoons minced shallots or scallions

1 large clove of garlic, pureed

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

salt and freshly ground pepper

2/3 cup fine crumbs from fresh homemade-type white bread

3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

Equipment suggested: a broiling pan lined with crumpled foil.

Assembling: Open the oysters. Drain out the juices and save for fish stock. Loosen the meat from the lower (curved) shell and leave it in the shell. Melt the butter, stir in the shallots or scallions and garlic; saute 1 minute, until translucent. Stir in the lemon juice, a big pinch of salt and several grinds of pepper. Blend the bread crumbs with the parsley and spread over the oysters. Divide butter mixture among oysters.

Ahead-of-time note: May be prepared several hours in advance. Cover and refrigerate.

Broiling: Just before serving, set about 3 inches from a hot broiler element and, watching closely, let the crumbs brown lightly while the oysters warm through. Serve at once.

- From "The Way to Cook" by Julia Child

Individual Vanilla Custards

Serves 8

Equipment: eight 1/2-cup oven-proof ramekins, custard cups or petits pots

1 2/3 cups whole milk

2 plump moist vanilla beans, split lengthwise

4 large egg yolks

1/3 cup sugar

boiling water

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cut three slits in a piece of sulfurized or waxed paper, and use it to line a baking pan large enough to hold the ramekins. Place the ramekins in the pan, on top of the paper, and set aside. (The paper will prevent the water from boiling and splashing up on the custards.)

In a medium-size saucepan, combine the milk and vanilla beans over high heat. Bring to a boil and remove from the heat. Cover, and set aside to infuse for 15 minutes.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until thick and lemon-colored. Set aside.

Bring the milk back to a boil, and very gradually add to the yolk mixture in a thin stream, whisking constantly. Strain into a bowl through a fine-mesh sieve or several layers of cheesecloth. Let stand for 2 to 3 minutes, then remove any foam that has risen to the top.

Divide the cream evenly among the individual ramekins. Pour enough boiling water into the pan to reach about halfway up the side of the ramekins. Cover the pan loosely with aluminum foil, to prevent a skin from forming on the custards. Place in the center of the oven, and bake until the custard is just set at the edges but still trembling in the center, 30 to 35 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and carefully remove the ramekins from the water. Refrigerate, loosely covered, for at least two hours and up to 24 hours. Serve the pots de creme well chilled, without unmolding.

- From "Simply French: Patricia Wells Presents the Cuisine of Joel Robuchon"

Potato and Leek Gratin

Serves 4 to 6

1 garlic clove and butter for the dish

3 pounds russet or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and very thinly sliced

1 quart milk

1 bay leaf

3 thyme sprigs or 2 pinches dried

3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

2 large leeks, white parts only, thinly sliced

salt and freshly milled white pepper

grated nutmeg

1 to 2 cups grated Gruyere

2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Rub a 9-by-12-inch gratin dish thoroughly with the garlic, then with butter to coat well.

Put the potatoes in a pot with the milk, herbs, sliced garlic, leeks and 2 teaspoons salt. Slowly bring to a boil, then simmer until the potatoes are barely tender but not to the point of falling apart. Discard the bay leaf and thyme. Drain, reserving milk.

Make a single layer of potatoes, leeks and garlic in the dish. Season with pepper, a little nutmeg and cover lightly with cheese. Repeat until all the potatoes and cheese are used up, ending with a layer of cheese. Add enough of the reserved milk to come up to the last layer of potatoes - about 1] cups. Dot with the butter, then bake until a golden crust has formed on top, about an hour.

- From "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone" by Deborah Madison

Pub Date: 12/09/98

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