The cream of the cookbook crop, 2012

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Each year, Post-Gazette food staffers and contributors pick their favorite cookbooks of the year. Here are some of ours from 2012. Read about more of our favorites in the Dec. 13 Food & Flavor section.


"THE TUCCI COOKBOOK"

By Nancy Hanst

Starring in or directing foodie films is one thing. But who knew that Stanley Tucci also could cook so deliciously? It's like discovering Leonardo DaVinci designing the airplane.

I didn't own "The Tucci Cookbook" when I leafed through the Christmas gift I'd bought for a good cook with a hungry family. What I read convinced me to order a second copy.

This is a cookbook for someone who knows how fine Italian home cooking tastes but, unlike the author, isn't lucky enough to inherit the recipes. Mr. Tucci describes his folks as "food obsessed." He writes: "My family spends hours deciding what to make for a certain meal and days preparing it, and while the food is being eaten, discusses not only its merits and its faults, but what it tasted like when prepared at such and such ..."

His recipes derive from Calabria in Southern Italy. Then, fortunately for us, he collaborates with chef Gianni Scappin, whose family comes from the Veneto up north.

We get the best of two dialects expressing Italian cooking. Wine choices are suggested.

Mushroom and potato casserole (Funghi e patate al forno)

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  • 1 pound porcini, portobello or cremini mushrooms, stems removed and reserved and caps cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices

  • 1 finely chopped onion

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh oregano leaves

  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian, flat leafed parsley

  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

  • 3 large baking potatoes, peeled, halved and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices

  • 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 cup chicken broth

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Coarsely chop the mushroom stems. Set aside.

In a small bowl, toss the onions, garlic, oregano and parsley. Set aside.

Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over the bottom of a small casserole. Spread 1/3 of the onion mixture on top of the olive oil. Arrange the potato slices on top of the onion mixture, overlapping them to form a single, dense layer. Season with salt and pepper, and top with 1/3 cup of the onion mixture. Sprinkle the chopped mushroom stems on top. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle 1/3 cup of the onion mixture on top.

Top the casserole with a single, dense layer of mushroom slices. Distribute the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil on top. Pour the chicken broth into the casserole, cover with aluminum foil and bake until the potatoes are tender and the mushrooms have softened, about 50 minutes. Serve immediately.

Serves 8.

-- "The Tucci Cookbook" by Stanley Tucci (Gallery, Oct. 2012, $35)



"THE DAILY COOKIE"

By Arlene Burnett

If you like to bake cookies you have to check out "The Daily Cookie" by Anna Ginsberg. This cookbook features 365 cookie recipes loosely based on the concept of national food holidays --in other words cookie recipes for any occasion. The Food Columnist Rebecca Sodergren loves it, too. This recipe, Triple Chocolate Bites, is loaded with chocolate and tastes heavenly. Top them with a dollop of fresh whipped cream before serving and you have a cookie fit for any occasion.

Triple chocolate bites

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  • 8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature

  • 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar

  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsweetened natural or Dutch-processed cocoa powder

  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

  • 3/4 cup (3.4 ounces) all-purpose flour

  • 4 ounces milk chocolate, chopped

  • 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

  • 1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped

  • 8-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature

  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar

  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 1 large egg, room temperature

Lightly sweetened whipped cream or topping, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place a rack in the center. Line an 8-inch square metal pan with nonstick foil.

Beat butter and confectioners' sugar on medium speed until creamy. Beat in the cocoa powder and salt, add the flour and stir until mixed. Press into the bottom of prepared pan and bake for 8 minutes.

Combine milk, bittersweet, and unsweetened chocolate in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave at 50 percent power, stirring at 1-minute intervals, until the chocolate is fully melted, set aside.

Beat cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla on medium speed until well mixed and smooth. Stir in the slightly cooled melted chocolate, beat in the egg.

Spread over the chocolate crust and bake for 20 to 22 minutes. Let cool in pan 1 hour, then chill 3 hours or until very cold. When ready to serve, lift from pan, set on a cutting board, and cut into 64 squares. Serve in mini cupcake liners with a dot of whipped cream if desired.

Makes 64 tiny bars.

-- "The Daily Cookie: 365 Tempting Treats for the Sweetest Year of Your Life" by Anna Ginsberg (Andrews McMeel, Nov. 2012, $24.99)



"JAMIE OLIVER'S GREAT BRITAIN"

By Bob Batz Jr.

Of the piles of cookbooks I looked through this year, "Jamie Oliver's Great Britain" is one I and my wife wanted to cook from again and again, and one that I really enjoy perusing and reading. I know Mr. Oliver is a media machine, but through all the slickness, his sincerity shines through. And in this book, he teaches several things about British cuisine, which is much better and more fusion than the old jokes about it.

As much as I like the recipes, I also like the bits narrating artisan aspects of British cuisine such as the little photo essay on Arbroath Smokies, or hot smoked haddock, an ingredient in an open-faced poached egg and spinach sandwich and in classic Kedgeree. The fact that Jamie Oliver made a splashy, if brief, trip to Pittsburgh for the One Young World Summit helps cement it as my cookbook of 2012.

Neeps and tatties

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This is one of the recipes under the title, "Mashed Potato Four Ways." I made this on a weeknight, with Beaver County rutabagas, and it was a simple epiphany.

Fill a large pan with cold water, add a good pinch of sea salt and put it on a high heat. Peel 1 large rutabaga (roughly 2 pounds) and cut it into 1-inch chunks. Once the water is boiling, add the rutabaga and cook for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, peel 2 pounds of potatoes and cut them into 1-inch chunks. When the 15 minutes are up, add the potatoes and cook for a further 10 to 15 minutes, or until everything is soft and cooked through. Drain, leave to steam dry for a minute, then mash with a good pinch of salt and white pepper and knob of butter.

-- "Jamie Oliver's Great Britain" by Jamie Oliver (Hyperion, Oct. 2012, $35)

Jammy coconut sponge

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"This is a classic school dessert that many of us Brits grew up loving with a passion: warm soft sponge cake smeared with delicious sour jam and covered in coconut," writes Jamie Oliver. "A little slice of this is brilliant with a pot of tea for a midday treat, or as a dessert with a splodge of hot or cold English custard. Just pure nostalgia through and through."

For the cake

  • 7 3/4 ounces unsalted butter; softened, plus extra for greasing

  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

  • 4 large free-range eggs

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

  • A splash of milk

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 1 cup dried sweetened coconut

For the blackberry jam

  • 9 ounces blackberries

  • 2/3 cup sugar

  • 1/2 lemon

Grease and line the bottom of an 8-by-12-inch cake pan with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cream the butter and sugar together until lovely, pale and fluffy, then beat in the eggs, one at a time. Fold in the flour and baking powder, add a splash of milk and the vanilla extract, and mix again. Pour into the lined pan and cook in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes. While your cake is cooking, get on with making the blackberry jam.

Mash the blackberries and sugar together in a small pan, using a fork or potato masher, then add a squeeze of lemon juice and bring everything to a boil. Turn down to a medium heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lovely and thick. Skim away any foam that rises as the jam cooks, then take off the heat and leave to cook slightly.

By now, the sponge should be golden and cooked through, so remove it from the oven and leave to cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Turn it out onto a board, then pour the jam all over the sponge and use a palette knife to move it all around the sponge and the sides. Sprinkle over the dried coconut and serve.

Serves 16.

-- "Jamie Oliver's Great Britain" by Jamie Oliver (Hyperion, Oct. 2012, $35)



"FROM A SOUTHERN OVEN"

By Susan Banks

As an adherent of slow foods, before that term was coined, or to put it simply, peasant food, because that is what I grew up on, I've been interested in the Southern cooking movement. Most probably because much of it is down-home cookin' like momma put on the table. Heavy on local ingredients and rib-stickin' goodness, short on pretention, there is much to recommend the Southern way of cooking, just as there is much to recommend Jean Anderson's newest cookbook, "From a Southern Oven."

Ms. Anderson, a Raleigh, N.C. native, has published more than 20 cookbooks in her long career, including the recent "A Love Affair With Southern Cooking" and "Falling Off the Bone." This cookbook, she says, "is to honor the South's great tradition of baking. All of it."

With recipes such as Chicken (or turkey) and Dressing Casserole and Pimiento Mac 'n' Cheese to sweet delights such as Appalachian Apple Crumble and Hummingbird Cake, I found something to drool over on every page. I own more than 200 cookbooks, but this one is a keeper.

If you are looking for something new, how about whipping up Sausage Loaf for dinner. If bacon is the king of foods, sausage comes in a close second. This recipe uses easily available ingredients and it's a twist on regular meatloaf that is sure to please.

Sausage Loaf

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"Because fresh sausage meat contains considerable fat, I call for lean (about 10 percent fat) ground pork," writes Jean Anderson. "But if your sausage seems to lack fat, choose ground pork flecked with plenty of it. Rarely one to use mixes, I call for onion soup mix here because its intense flavor isn't overpowered by the seasonings of fresh country sausage. It's a shortcut cooks in a hurry will welcome. But, make note, because the soup mix and sausage are so salty, the meatloaf, itself, needs none.

"Additional time savers: Processor-crumb the bread (for 2 cups you'll need 4 slices firm-textured white bread), and add to the mixing bowl, then add soup mix on top of crumbs. Now, processor chop about 3/4 cup washed and wrung dry parsley leaves and add to bowl along with remaining ingredients."

She notes that the best accompaniments are mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes plus boiled collards or turnip greens and, "Leftovers make dandy sandwiches."

Leave meatloaf in pan, otherwise it will crumble when sliced.

  • 2 cups moderately coarse soft white bread crumbs

  • 1 envelope dry onion soup mix

  • 1/2 cup moderately finely chopped fresh parsley

  • 1 teaspoon dried leaf sage, crumbled

  • 1/2 teaspoon dried leaf thyme, crumbled

  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 11/2 pounds lean ground pork

  • 1 pound fresh country-style sausage meat (regular or with extra sage)

  • 10-ounce can diced tomatoes with green chilies, with their liquid (as mild or hot as you like)

  • 2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spritz a 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

Place all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix thoroughly with hands.

Pack sausage mixture into pan, mounding in center and making a little trough around edge to catch drippings.

Slide pan into middle of oven shelf and bake, uncovered, for 1 hour and 20 to 25 minutes until loaf is richly brown, firm, and has pulled away from the sides of the pan.

Cool loaf in upright pan on wire rack, 20 to 30 minutes.

Turn out, if you like, on heated small platter. Or do as I do: Slice loaf right in the pan, spacing cuts at 3/8-inch intervals, then plate, spooning a few drippings over each slice (there won't be many).

-- "From a Southern Oven: The Savories and the Sweets" by Jean Anderson (Wiley, Oct. 2012, $32.50).



"TO HAVE ANOTHER"

By Bill Toland

Even if you have never read a book by Hemingway, you may know that the man had a certain fondness for alcoholic libations. Sadly, he was born in the era before the celebrity cookbook -- Coolio, I believe, has his own cookbook, as does Victoria Gotti, as does Tony Danza -- so Ernest Hemingway, having taken his own life in 1961, missed out on a golden opportunity to write and sell his own. Philip Greene has stepped into that Papa-sized void, with a recent release called "To Have and Have Another: A Hemingway Cocktail Companion" (Perigree, Nov. 2012, $24). (Another good title for this book might have been "A Drinkable Feast," but I wasn't consulted.)

The book, naturally, includes dozens of cocktail recipes, as well as short essays about Hemingway's favorite drinks -- not to mention, some of his own prose and letters about his favorite drinks (which were numerous -- as with his books, he seems to have had a hard time picking his favorite drink): "Got tight [on absinthe] last night and did knife tricks. Great success in shooting the knife underhand into the piano."

One of my favorite recipes from this book is the little-known Bailey -- not the Irish cream, but the gin cocktail.

Bailey

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  • 2 mint sprigs

  • Ice

  • 11/2 ounce gin

  • 1/2 ounce grapefruit juice

  • 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice

  • 1 teaspoon simple syrup

Place 1 torn-apart mint sprig in cocktail shaker. Add gin and let it steep with mint for a minute or 2. Add ice, then both juices, then simple syrup. Stir vigorously with ice, serve very cold, garnished with the left-over mint spring.

The recipe comes from Hemingway pal Gerald Murphy, who loved entertaining and mixing drinks for his artist friends summering on the Cote d'Azur during the 1920s (the Hemingways, the Fitzgeralds, Picasso, and many others made up this Parisian bohemian class). One of Murphy's favorite one-liners, when asked what ingredients he had just mixed into a secret drink, was "just the juice of a few flowers."



"CANAL HOUSE COOKS EVERY DAY" AND "FOOD 52 COOKBOOK VOL. 2"

By Miriam Rubin

These two books present fresh ideas for that age-old problem: What's for dinner?

"Canal House Cooks Every Day" by Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer came about, said the authors, who work together cooking and photographing food, "because of lunch. We needed to eat."

Their book contains seasonal recipes with simple, appetizing photos and appealing dinner ideas, such as Roasted Chicken in a Pot with Spring Onions, Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce and Ricotta and Roasted Kabocha Squash with the tagline: "Some nights, a big wedge of roasted squash is all we need for dinner. Who needs meat?"

Thick and Chewy Brownies

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Wait until these cool, I know it's tough. They're much better cold. This is the other part of dinner, sometimes. They're thick, chewy and utterly irresistible.

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter (plus 1 tablespoon for the pan)

2 cups granulated sugar

4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped

1 teaspoon instant espresso powder

1/4 teaspoon fine table salt

4 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup all-purpose flour (spooned into cup and leveled off)

1 cup chopped walnuts, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 9-by-9-inch metal baking pan with the 1 tablespoon butter; dust with flour, shaking out excess.

Melt the 12 tablespoons butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add sugar, stirring until consistency of very soft slush and mixture just begins to bubble around edges, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat; add chocolates, espresso and salt, stirring until smooth (it might look grainy, don't worry.)

Beat eggs in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed. Gradually add warm chocolate mixture, 1/4 cup at a time, beating constantly until smooth and glossy. Stir in vanilla. Add flour and walnuts, if using, stirring just until mixed. Pour into prepared pan. Bake until puffed and toothpick comes out clean, 45 to 60 minutes. (Mine were done in about 40 minutes). Cool in pan on wire rack, cut into squares.

Makes 16 squares.

-- Adapted from "Canal House Cooks Every Day" by Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer (Andrews McMeel,

Oct. 2012, $45).

My other choice is "The Food 52 Cookbook Volume 2: Seasonal Recipes From Our Kitchens to Yours" by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, along with contributors to their popular website, Food 52. Maybe "Food 52" is a bit more urban and "Canal House" more country or casual. Both highlight a working friendship/partnership between two women, creating a warm and inviting atmosphere. You believe that they cook these dishes for their families. Either or both would be a great gift for friends or yourself.

From "Food 52," the other night, I made Tamatar Biryani, a vibrant Indian-spiced tomato rice. When I make it again, I'll cut down on the chiles.

Roasted Butterflied Chicken with Cardamom and Yogurt

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This was delicious. To butterfly the chicken, with poultry shears, cut out the backbone, saving it for soup or stock. Place chicken skin up on a board and with the heel of your hand, press down in the center of the breast to flatten it. That's it! Butterflied.

If you don't have the whole spices, which add a more vibrant flavor, use a scant 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom and 1 teaspoon each ground coriander and cumin.

  • Seeds from 6 cardamom pods

  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

  • 2 teaspoons sea salt or kosher salt

  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground coriander (start with 1 heaping teaspoon whole spice)

  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground cumin (start with 1 teaspoon whole spice)

  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 1/2 cup whole milk yogurt (I used Greek yogurt)

  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

  • 3- to 4- pound chicken, butterflied

  • Fresh cilantro leaves for garnish

In spice mill or mortar and pestle, grind cardamom seeds and peppercorns to fine powder. If you used a spice grinder, transfer to mortar and pestle. Stir in salt, coriander and cumin. Add garlic and smash it. (Instead, I chopped the garlic on a cutting board, then added all the spices and salt and mashed the mixture with the side of my chef's knife.) Add oil and work everything together to form a paste. Transfer to small bowl; stir in yogurt, ginger and lemon juice.

Place chicken in large bowl or baking dish. Rub about half the yogurt mixture underneath skin and meat over breast and thighs. Smear remaining yogurt all over chicken, front and back. Cover and refrigerate at least 3 hours and up to 24.

Thirty minutes before roasting, remove from refrigerator. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Place chicken breast side up in large, lightly oiled cast-iron skillet or baking pan. Roast 45 minutes to 1 hour, until internal temperature in thickest part of thigh (not touching bone) registers 165 degrees. Let rest 15 minutes before carving. Garnish with cilantro.

Makes 4 servings.

-- Adapted from TasteFood in "The Food 52 Cookbook Volume 2: Seasonal Recipes From Our Kitchens to Yours" by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs and the Food52 Community (Morrow, Dec. 2012, $30)

food - recipes - books

Nancy Hanst: nhanst@zoominternet.net. Arlene Burnett writes The Kitchen Mailbox column: aburnett@post-gazette.com. Bob Batz Jr.: bbatz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1930 and on Twitter @bobbatzjr. Susan Banks: sbanks@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1516. Bill Toland: btoland@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2625. Miriam Rubin: mmrubin@gmail.com and on Twitter @mmmrubin. First Published December 16, 2012 5:00 AM


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