by Leila Clifford, Food Network Kitchens Intern
Every season, Food Network looks forward to a new crop of cookbooks and passing our favorites around the office; these are the ones that keep disappearing from people’s desks this fall.
Edward Lee’s new cookbook, Smoke and Pickles: Recipes and Stories from a New Southern Kitchen, is an almost-universal favorite for its innovative flavors and new takes on American cuisine. Rob Bleifer, Food Network Kitchens’ executive chef, said of Edward’s book: “Lee’s approach to ingredients often surprises me. Sorghum, for example — sorghum in everything. It’s cool.”
We’re also big fans of Fuchsia Dunlop’s newest book, Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking. “The recipes are very doable and fast, and your pantry doesn’t need to be jam-packed to execute Fuchsia’s dishes,” said Jonathan Milder, culinary research librarian. “She doesn’t dumb it down — she makes you realize how simple Chinese home cooking really is. Give me steamed whole fish any day and chili bean paste on everything.”
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You can smell it in the air: millions of long-dormant grills being lit in observance of the rites of warm weather, bright sunshine and long days. ‘Tis the season when our nation smells of wood smoke. ‘Tis summer: the happiest time of year, as far as I’m concerned.
This time of year is also the most delicious. I am 100-percent convinced that nothing served in any restaurant ever tastes as good as food that you, yourself, cook outdoors with friends on a sunny day. Nothing. No competition. This is not to say that everything that comes off a grill is perfect. The experience, however, is perfect, replete, enough.
For this month’s cookbook recommendations, I’ve rounded up four books that approach live-fire cooking from a variety of angles — from grilling to barbecue to smoking and everything in between. Some of these, like the Jamisons’ Smoke & Spice, are long-established classics; others, like Adam Perry Lang’s Charred & Scruffed, are relative newcomers well on their way to achieving similar status. All are full of valuable instruction and fantastic recipes. So whether you’re a novice grill jockey or a seasoned backyard pit boss, the following four Food Network Library favorites will have you all fired up this summer.
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Cookbooks are not the first place one turns to for humor. Funny cookbooks do exist: Peg Bracken’s classic The I Hate to Cook Book (1960) is one; Amy Sedaris’ more recent — and terrific — I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence (2006) is another. But most cookbooks assume people can’t handle too much humor with their how-to. Fair enough.
Cookbooks for rank beginners, however, make up a well-established subgenre that plays by its own set of rules. Rule #1: Keep ‘em laughing. Cookbooks for novices specialize in a very specific form of comic hyperbole, playing up the presumed ignorance of their target reader (usually a recent graduate or a bachelor) who is posited as either starving or idiotic, or both a hapless sloven who has just barely mastered the arts of chewing and swallowing. These books are easy to recognize by their titles: The Bachelor’s Guide to Ward Off Starvation, Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen, and my personal favorite, Your Shirt Is Not an Oven Mitt! (All three, I’m proud to say, have a home in the Food Network Library.)
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A quick history lesson: Cinco de Mayo was born on the fifth day of the fifth month of the year 1862, when General Ignacio Zaragoza, with the support of local civilians and Zacapoaxtla Indians, led 2,000 poorly equipped Mexican soldiers to victory over 6,000 French cavalry and infantrymen at the Battle of Puebla. Though Zaragoza’s success was short-lived — the following year, French forces swept through Puebla en route to Mexico City, where they managed to overthrow the still-young Mexican Republic — his victory lives on in Mexico, where Cinco de Mayo is a minor national holiday, primarily observed in Puebla and Mexico City. And also more obscurely but perhaps more passionately, in the United States, where in recent decades Cinco de Mayo has morphed into a major festival of Chicano culture.
It’s with this latter, domestic incarnation in mind that, for this month’s cookbook recommendations, I have plucked some choice morsels detailing the remarkable contributions of Mexican-Americans to regional cooking in the United States. So, just in time for Cinco de Mayo, here is a virtual tour of Mexican-influenced border cooking — from Tex-Mex to Cal-Mex, with a stop along the way in Santa Fe, N.M. — in four cookbooks that beautifully sketch the cultural wellsprings from which these regional cuisines were born.
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Is it possible to ascribe narcissism to a foodstuff? Do ingredients have egos? Is there vanity in a vegetable? The curious world of single-subject cookbooks suggests “yes!” Broccoli, did you really need an entire book? Hemp, wouldn’t a magazine feature have sufficed? Foods on sticks, where is your modesty?
Eggs are another story. There is no egotism in an egg book, not when you consider the crucial role eggs play in nearly every aspect of cooking, from breakfast to dinner, sweet to savory. Yes, eggs deserve a book — books! And books they’ve gotten. One online source lists 405 cookbooks on the subject.
At the Food Network Library, we keep a mere half dozen, but each is so wonderful in its own way that we just had to share. Here are four favorites from past and (recent) present: the best, the most-charming and the most-beautiful egg books from Food Network’s shelves.