Gorgeous Cookbooks: Inspiration between the covers

The husband and I are both voracious readers, but voracious readers of different types of books. This is us going into a bookstore:

“Ya got money?”
"Yeah. Get something nice. And find me afterward.”
“Yeah, okay. You, too. Bye.”

And he heads over to science fiction or business or technology and I head to the good stuff: Cookbooks.

I have done this so much that I have a massive stack of books to tell you about. Some good, some great, and some neither. So before you spend your heard-earned money, listen up. Because I hereby declare this week Cookbook Week!

Glorious, glorious coffee table books
This is my coffee table cookbook find of the summer: The Country Cooking of France.

First, at nearly 400 pages, this is a hefty tome, indeed. Hefty because it consists of some truly gorgeous photographs married with 250+ scrumptious recipes. Sure, you'll want to skip past the meat-based ones (as you will in all these books), but there are tons of vegetarian recipes to enjoy, including salade tiede de lentilles (warm lentil salad), confit d' oignons (onions confit), and petits pignolas (pine nut tartlets).

That fact that this book is also loaded with picturesque historical stories made this a curl-up-on-the-sofa read treat.

Second, jumping from dinner straight to dessert, we have Tartine. Another achingly beautiful book, it is written by the husband and wife team of pastry chef Elisabeth Prueitt and baker Chad Robertson (a team which owns the Tartine Bakery and Bar Tartine restaurant in San Francisco which I am now dying to visit).

More glorious photographs and recipes from Pumpkin Tea Cake and Apple Crisp to Brioche Bread Pudding, Devil's Food Cake, and Banana Cream Pie. But wait, there's more! There are also savory recipes, such as Wild Mushroom Tart.

What's especially nice about this book are the tips for everything from how to make a flaky crust and core an apple.

And, yes, this is also a curl-up-on-the-sofa treat.

Working hard or hardly working?
Jamie Oliver has that adorable cockney lisp thing going on, so, sure, we're listening. And, damn, if he isn't fun in the kitchen, too.

So we sure were interested in getting our hands on Cook with Jamie: My guide to making you a better cook.

First off, we've got more than 150 recipes such as a risotto with apples, walnuts and gorgonzola that just calls to me. But it is not the recipes that will have you coming back, it is the information on everything from kitchen equipment to making pasta in a variety of shapes (and, boy, are those photographs helpful).

Good clean photographs of the food, which is always appreciated, and lots of definitions (the section of sponges and cakes and the information on whisking and creaming and melting and which to use when is incredibly handy) make this a good starting point. But, alas, it is only a starting point. Because once you have read it through, if you are as hungry for technique as I am, you'll be looking for something with even more, dare I say, meat (and if you are looking for more in-depth technique, stay tuned because later this week I'm going to talk about some Culinary Institute of America books well worth looking at).

And while we're speaking of Jamie, damned if that prolific little Englishman hasn't come out with yet another book: Jamie at Home: Cook Your Way to the Good Life.

Part cookbook and part gardening book and looking like one of the old schoolbooks from the 1950s (complete with cute drawings of peas and strawberries), Jamie at Home is broken into seasons, with each season rich with related information and recipes.

For example, under autumn, we have information on everything from pickles to orchard fruit to mushrooms and recipes ranging from roasted peppers with chillies and tomatoes to Plum Bakewell tart.

Along the way, you will also find some incredibly sumptuous pictures as well as incredibly handy information. How handy? Take the section on pickles. Not only does he provide a quick (quick as in perfect for a beginner but too simplistic for anyone looking for in-depth information) overview of preserves, but he accompanies this with recipes for Homemade tomato ketchup and Amazing pickled and marinated veg so you can put what you learn into practice.

So what’s the downside here? Well, of course, as a vegetarian browsing non-vegetarian books for inspiration, I will, of course, bang into my fair share of meat-based recipes. These I can just skip. But there are a few pictures I would rather not have seen at all. Not bad enough to haunt me, mind you, but I did want to give you a heads up. What I recommend is you skip past the meat sections and read the “How I grow . . . “ sections. That should perk you right up!

I see England, I see France . . .
Has anyone seen The Oprah Magazine Cookbook? Well, I will talk about it in my next post, but suffice it to say that The New York Times Country Weekend Cookbook is the book Oprah’s book should have been.

Just like with Oprah’s book, we have a multitude of chef’s contributing recipes. And, just like with Oprah’s book, this is not a vegetarian cookbook. But, unlike Oprah’s book, I can find all sorts of recipes I would be interested in making. Such as Mark Bittman’s Cold Eggplant with Sesame Dressing which only uses six ingredients to deliver some amazing flavor. And Nigella Lawson’s Jumbleberry Crumble which is such a marvelous and easy way to use up berries. And Le Bernardin’s Tomato Provencal which marries ripe tomatoes to thyme and rosemary for a refreshingly easy treat.

Vegetarian recipe: Mark Bittman's wonderful Cold Eggplant With Sesame Dressing
4 to 6 small to medium eggplants, or 1 large one, about 1 1/2 pounds
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
2 tablespoons soy sauce, or to taste
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon sugar

Trim eggplant, and cut into cubes of 1/2 to 1 inch. If using large eggplant, sprinkle with salt, put in a colander, and let sit at least 30 minutes, preferably an hour. Rinse.

Boil large pot of water. Blanch eggplant in boiling water 2 minutes, no more. It will become just tender. Drain in colander as you would pasta.

Toast sesame seeds in small dry skillet over medium heat, shaking frequently until they color slightly. Dry eggplant with paper towels. Combine remaining ingredients, and toss with eggplant and sesame seeds in bowl. Serve at room temperature, or refrigerate until ready to serve. Covered well, the salad will remain flavorful for a day.