Saturday, September 12, 2015

International Cookbook Roundup Reviews

I have a vast and ever growing cookbook collection. It's sorted into 3 major groupings- international cookbooks (sorted by country), US regional cookbooks (sorted by state or region), and the hodgepodge that is the rest of the books (sorted by unifying theme such as "salads", "pressure cooker cookbooks", "cheese course", "desserts", etc). 

Just like it's a good idea to systematically rotate through one's closet at least once every few years - challenging yourself to find a way to incorporate each outfit you own before you allow for a repeat - it's a good idea for cookbook collectors to cycle through our culinary volumes.  

This summer I started working my way through the international cookbook section of my collection, starting with African cuisine. So far I've only made it up to Canada (cooking a few culinary treasures out of my Canadian cookbooks this week) and I have some thoughts to share on the various cookbooks I've been cooking out of the past two months. 

Africa

Cooking with an African Flavour (Sapra Safari Guide)
by Rosanne Guggisberg  (Author), Elaine Mwango (Editor)
My mother-in-law picked up this cookbook for me on one of her trips to Africa. It has a very colorful softcover binding. A fairly basic guide written for the English speaking audience on staples of African cuisine, it makes for a good introduction to the continent's ingredients. I've made chicken in yoghurt as well as glazed sweet potatoes following the recipes in this cookbook and both turned out well.

Recipes from the African Kitchen 

A friend of mine picked up this hardcover edition for me on his travels and I was delighted to receive it. The recipes are all very appealing and presented in an easy to follow format that will work well for both beginner and intermediate/advanced cooks. I like that the recipes often indicate where in Africa they originate (several are from Morocco for example) and that snippets of text on African culture are sprinkled throughout. The rice pilaf recipe is really good. I'd definitely recommend picking up this cookbook - it's easy to find on Amazon and it has a large variety of recipes to try. 

Andorra

Catalan Cuisine, Revised Edition: Vivid Flavors From Spain's Mediterranean Coast 
Many people associate Catalan cuisine with Spain (and indeed, the author writes extensively about the Catalan culture in Spain within this cookbook). but I was introduced to Catalan Cuisine on a weekend trip to Andorra (that tiny country nestled between France and Spain) a few years ago. It was love at first sight and I knew I wanted a Catalan cookbook to add to my collection. Spanish tortilla, shrimp in garlic butter, creme Catalan - all the classics are here in one volume plus so much more. I love to put together dinner parties featuring an assortment of small plates drawn from this cookbook and there hasn't been a recipe I've tried yet from Colman's book that hasn't turned out well.

Australia

Tastes of the Outback


On my first trip to Sydney, I came across this cookbook in one of the local big box bookstores. The recipes looked very good, especially as I'd just had my first taste of Barramundi in one of the fish takeout shops downtown and wanted to know how best to prepare it. But I didn't want to haul the book around on vacation, so I noted the title and ISBN and made myself a promise to order it from Amazon when I got back home. Big mistake! Amazon.com does not carry the title and by the time I tracked it down on a rare books site out of the UK and paid shipping it was nearly twice the price of what I'd seen it going for in Sydney. Still, it was well worth the price because the recipes are fantastic. A few weeks ago we made the crisp skinned Barramundi (head to Whole foods to source this fish in the US) and the apple hazelnut cake. Just perfect in terms of flavor. One area where the cookbook could use some improvement though is in the editing of the detailed instructions for each recipe. The wording can be a bit vague and some of the ingredients shown in the finished dish and listed in the ingredient list aren't directly mentioned in the recipe text so it's a bit of guesswork to figure out plating and intent of the author. Because of this, I recommend this cookbook only for intermediate or advanced cooks who can handle such curve balls.  

Austria

Plachutta - Best of Viennese Cuisine 
A few winters ago I spent some time meandering around Austria and taking in the Christmas Markets. The food experience was unforgettable - the most delicate apple strudel, belly warming soups, schnitzel (the ancestor of American chicken fried steak), just to name a few. One night I dined at Plachutta. This restaurant in Vienna is known for their Tafelspitz, which is quite an involved culinary affair. You roast a cut of beef, create a flavorful soup out of it, then serve it in this way: first serve cups of broth from the soup (no meat) as an appetizer; then serve portions of the meat and vegetables from the soup as the entree with the accompaniments of potato pancakes, horseradish sauce, chive sauce, and applesauce. One of the best things I have ever eaten. Plachutta cookbook not only covers Tafelspitz step by step but also includes recipes for almost every other well known Austrian dish, such as those I've mentioned above. One of the best recipes in the book is for Salzburg Nockerl, a light an airy souffle type dessert that is heaven by the spoonful. BUY THIS BOOK. BUY THIS BOOK RIGHT NOW and be transported to the culinary wonderland that is Austria.

Belgium

The Food and Cooking of Belgium: Traditions Ingredients Tastes Techniques Over 60 Classic Recipes 
I really love this cookbook. I spent a couple of hours pouring over the available cookbooks on Belgian cuisine and this one best captured the essence of the culinary scene I experienced during my travels to Brussels and Bruges. Full color pictures, detailed expose on the culinary culture of Belgium, and recipes that are easy to follow and taste great. So far my favorites include mussels et frites, herbed crepes with cheese (I also serve with fresh fruit), and the recipe for rabbit stewed with cherries.


Belize

U Toucan Cook Belize 
by Alice Nord 
My father is French, born and raised in Haiti, but, while I grew up eating stewed chicken, rice and beans, and fried plantains, I didn't realize my culinary imprinting was influenced heavily by Caribbean cooking. That was, until I took a trip to Belize and was immersed in Caribbean cooking. In addition to Belizean versions of my Dad's recipes, I had a chance to sample a lot of other specialties of the region such as conch fritters and thick coconut pie. And fried jacks. MMM, the fried jacks! Similar to sopapillas, fried jacks are typically eaten with black beans for breakfast in Belize. 

I scoured the bookstores in Belize, and again after returning home, to find a really great cookbook featuring Belize cuisine. This was the best I could locate. It's missing some of the favorites I had in Belize (the coconut pie in this cookbook is nothing close to the fresh coconut pie I had in Caye Caulker and there are no spicy chicken soft tacos like I enjoyed at Lucy's taco stand in San Ignacio) but it's the best of what's available on the market. Alice writes in the style of your mom or your grandma, and sometimes the recipes are skimpy on important details (like temp of the oven) but the essence of the recipes shine through. 

This cookbook+Marie Sharp's Hot Sauce= happiness.

Note that the people of Belize have quite the cheeky humor as this book is title "U Toucan (toucan, get it?) Cook Belize", and another title out on Amazon is "I Belize you can Cookbook". 

Britain

Brian Turner's Favourite British Recipes 
This was a difficult review for me. Sometimes it's hard to separate my feelings about the subject matter from those about the writing. And Brian Turner's writing here is very good; his instructions are easy to follow, his recipes are formatted nicely on the page, there are lovely pictures included, and his little stories sprinkled throughout the cookbook are fun to read. The problem is that it's quite challenging for me to find a recipe in the book that I enjoy, as a lot of British food just isn't that appealing to me. Still, for the sake of authenticity in my international cookbook collection, I didn't want to neglect to add a well written British cookbook to my shelves, and this seemed the best of the lot.  Recently I attempted the Jubilee Salmon dish and found it to be wonderful. Salmon, cooked just perfectly, topped with an herbed hollandaise and paired with asparagus.  That same week my kitchen partner prepared the Welsh rarebit and that was rather a disaster. I still don't know if we did something wrong or if the dish is supposed to taste like that (ugh) but it was just a more Cheddar-y version of Velveeta. 

Burma

Burma: Rivers of Flavor 

One of my favorite cookbooks in my international collection. Naomi has put together *the* best English language cookbook on Burmese cooking. And it's so much more than just a cookbook, as she weaves in stories of Burmese culture and her travelogue throughout the pages. This is a book that fun to read from beginning to end, before you ever sit down to make any of the recipes. When you do get to making them, you won't be disappointed. Everything I've tried here has been fantastic. Most recently, I made a late summer supper pairing of lemongrass chicken soup and shrimp salad (with the addition of fresh tomatoes from my garden). It was very well received. This is an essential cookbook on Southeast Asian cuisine to add to your collection. 
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