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Gift Guide 2017: Unusual Books for Cooks

December 19, 2017

Everybody offers book suggestions in their gift guides. I’m generally more inclined to remind you about vintage books, which are a welcome addition to any library. This year however, a few new food books flew mostly under the radar, and every one of them would make a great gift.

There is, for instance, the wonderful Julia Turshen’s Feed the Resistance, which is the perfect present for people who understand that cooking is a political act. The little book is not only inspiring, but also filled with easy and unusual recipes you really want to make. An extra incentive?  The proceeds go to the ACLU.

History?  There’s never been a book quite like Michael Twitty’s The Cooking Gene. It’s high time African-American cooks began to set the record straight. History belongs to those who choose to write it – and much of our own food history has been written right out of the record. Here Twitty chronicles his own ancestral food journey with remarkable results.

Setting the record straight is also the mission of Unforgettable.  Paula Wolfert is one of America’s most influential cooks, and until now she has never received the attention she deserves.  Her greatest recipes are here, along with a lovely biography of one of our most fearless, adventurous and intrepid cooks.

I’m not generally a fan of chef’s books; I don’t think home cooks should feel they need to cook like professionals. But here are two books written straight from the heart that would make perfect presents for the right people.

Chris Cosentino has always been a fan of the fifth quarter – the unloved, and mostly unused parts of animals.  His Offal Good is a great guide for cooking heart, tripe, oxtails, tongue, kidneys and the like. This would be a great gift for an adventurous cook.

And for people who are sincerely interested in the seasonal, local, nose to tail ethic, Zac Pelacio has written Project 258: Making Dinner at Fish and Game.  Pelacio is not only living the chef’s dream – he’s also putting everything on the line here, living with the land. His allegiance to the notion means that when he uses fish sauce at his restaurant, he’s actually made it himself. This isn’t just recipes: it’s passion on the page.

And finally, a shout out to the farmers.  If you want a beautifully written ode to the hardest way of American life, you can’t do better than Ted Genoway’s This Blessed Earth.  Eye-opening.

Wait – one last thing. I couldn’t resist this. If you’re really stumped, you might consider giving a vintage manual.  Surely you know someone who’s longing to learn to paint dead trout?

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September 11, 2015

Save Me the Plums

Coming April 2nd, 2019

About This Book

Save Me the Plums

Trailblazing food writer and beloved restaurant critic Ruth Reichl took the job (and the risk) of a lifetime when she entered the glamorous, high-stakes world of magazine publishing. Now, for the first time, she chronicles her groundbreaking tenure as editor in chief of Gourmet.

“This is the rare case of an amazing writer living an amazing life.”—Ann Patchett

When Condé Nast offered Ruth Reichl the top position at America’s oldest epicurean magazine, she declined. She was a writer, not a manager, and had no inclination to be anyone’s boss. Yet Reichl had been reading Gourmet since she was eight; it had inspired her career. How could she say no?

This is the story of a former Berkeley hippie entering the corporate world and worrying about losing her soul. It is the story of the moment restaurants became an important part of popular culture, a time when the rise of the farm-to-table movement changed, forever, the way we eat. Readers will meet legendary chefs like David Chang and Eric Ripert, idiosyncratic writers like David Foster Wallace, and a colorful group of editors and art directors who, under Reichl’s leadership, transformed stately Gourmet into a cutting-edge publication. This was the golden age of print media—the last spendthrift gasp before the Internet turned the magazine world upside down.

Complete with recipes, Save Me the Plums is a personal journey of a woman coming to terms with being in charge and making a mark, following a passion and holding on to her dreams—even when she ends up in a place she never expected to be.

Order Your Copy: U.S.

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My Kitchen Year

About This Book


In the fall of 2009, the food world was rocked when Gourmet magazine was abruptly shuttered by its parent company. No one was more stunned by this unexpected turn of events than its beloved editor in chief, Ruth Reichl, who suddenly faced an uncertain professional future. As she struggled to process what had seemed unthinkable, Reichl turned to the one place that had always provided sanctuary. “I did what I always do when I’m confused, lonely, or frightened,” she writes. “I disappeared into the kitchen.”

Order Your Copy: U.S.

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Order Your Copy: Canada

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Delicious! A novel

About This Book

Delicious a Novel

Published: 2014

Billie Breslin has traveled far from her home in California to take a job at Delicious!, New York’s most iconic food magazine. Away from her family, particularly her older sister, Genie, Billie feels like a fish out of water—until she is welcomed by the magazine’s colorful staff. She is also seduced by the vibrant downtown food scene, especially by Fontanari’s, the famous Italian food shop where she works on weekends. Then Delicious! is abruptly shut down, but Billie agrees to stay on in the empty office, maintaining the hotline for reader complaints in order to pay her bills.

Order Your Copy: U.S.

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Order Your Copy: Canada

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For You, Mom, Finally.

About This Book

Published: 2009

This is the paperback version of Not Becoming My Mother. Why did we change the title? Long story. But everybody loved this picture of me and Mom. She looks so glamorous (and I look so chubby).

Garlic and Sapphires

About This Book

Published: 2005

Romulo Yanes shot this cover in the studio at Gourmet. I loved the idea of being present, but hidden. And I loved the bright colors. I mean, with a title like that it had to be blue, right?

Comfort Me with Apples: More Adventures at the Table

About This Book

Published: 2001

This picture was taken in Spain in the last 80s, when I went with a group of chefs to show the world how great American cooking had become. (The publisher added the background.)

Tender at the Bone

About This Book

Published: 1998

That really is me on the cover. I wish I could remember what I was cooking when my father snapped this picture in 1955.

Mmmmm… a feastiary

About This Book

Published: 1972

I wrote this book in 1971, when I was living in a loft on the corner of Rivington and the Bowery (at the time a pretty scary neighborhood). When I couldn’t find a job I liked my friend Pat said, “You’re such a good cook. Why don’t you write a cookbook?”

2013 Gift Guide: Cooking the Books

December 17, 2013

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Lots of people sell vintage cookbooks, and I spend too much time trolling through the sites. Favorites include Bonnie Slotnick (bonnieslotnikbooks@earthlink.net) in New York and Omnivore Books in San Francisco.

But The Cook's Bookcase was new to me, and I appreciate the quirkiness of the collection. And, I might add, the fairness of the prices.  I can think of at least a dozen people who’d be thrilled to get a signed first edition of a James Beard book – but I’ve rarely found one that I could afford.

 At $90, this signed first edition of Delights and Prejudices seems like a bargain. 

The collection is…. odd.  I’m sure I’ve got a friend who’d love this signed Shirley Bassey menu from Caesar’s Palace ($15).

Although what was the great Welsh singer (most famous for singing Goldfinger) doing on a menu?  

Plenty of great stuff here. (Issac Hayes had a cookbook? Who knew?) Even if you don’t find the perfect present, you’ll have great fun noodling through the site. 


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Old Cookbooks 2

September 13, 2010

Last week, in my favorite used book store, I found the most incredible group of cookbooks from the forties. The three bound notebooks are each so densely covered with tiny handwriting that they look like the work of a mad cook suffering from horror vacui, loath to leave a single bit of white space on the page.

The recipes are strange and wonderful, and they cover the world: French soufflés, Russian zakuski and Chinese sweet and sour chicken all make an appearance. But my favorites are the truly odd American concoctions like an “Orange Surprise” that includes ground raisins, cottage cheese, oranges and sweetened French dressing.

Here’s another crazy old recipe:

Baked Sandwiches

2 (3 oz.) cans liver spread
8 slices enriched bread
1 can condensed mushroom or tomato soup
½ cup milk

Spread liver on 4 slices of the bread and top with remaining four slices. Place sandwiches in a shallow greased casserole. Pour the soup, which has been diluted with the milk, over the sandwiches and bake in a moderate (350) oven for 30 minutes.

I can’t imagine that you end up with anything that anyone would want to eat, but someday I’m going to try it and see.
The next recipe in the notebook, by the way, is for Ham Pancakes with Hot Honey.

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