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Top 10 Food Books: Affordable Alternatives

In Bookshelf on January 17, 2009 at 6:52 pm

img_0383At the end of the year, I love to hear all the great top 10 lists for books that proliferate on the radio, newspapers and podcasts, especially those focused on  food. As I have been perusing the lists the last few weeks, I was amazed at how expensive it is to buy many of the books new. I don’t buy many cookbooks, I usually need to save that money for the actual food, so I rely on my library’s generous renewal system.  (By the way, I do buy regional cookbooks when I travel, much more useful souvenir than a snowglobe.) So I’ve put together a few alternatives to some of the top 10 list books from 2008. The alternatives are either a little older, so easier to find in a library, or available in paperback, so cheaper and more widely available used.  And of course, they’re great books.

1. A Day at El Bulli, by Ferran Adria. Recc. on KCRW’s Good Food.

This book has been praised for being a great insight into the life of a very famous restaurant and what gooes into getting that delicious meal to your table. If you love famous restaurant backstory, A Meal Observed by Andrew Todhunter is a lovely narrative centered around the famed Taillevant in Paris. Each chapter corresponds to a course or aspect of a dinner at Taillevant, and is based on  what Todhunter learned during his short apprenticeship (amazing!) in the kitchen. Wonderful restaurant  stories and widely available in paperback.

2. Chanterelle: The Story and Recipes of a Restaurant Classic, by David Waltuck and Andrew Friedman. Recc on  KCRW’s Good Food.

Ellen Rose, owner of Cook’s Library in Santa Monica, described this book as a good gift for customers who like challenging recipes. I love when other people cook challenging recipes, but I like to actually make things that are a bit more accessible. The first cookbook I ever asked for as a gift was Staff Meals from Chanterelle, Waltuck’s 2000 book with recipes and helpful stories from the family-style meals the Chanterelle staff shares before opening every night. My most romanticized restaurant myth is the staff meal; great cooks making good simple food. If you love Chanterelle the restaurant (or the idea of it), but want a book that’s more geared toward family eating, it’s a great pick.

3. How to Cook Everything 10th Edition, by Mark Bittman. Recc. by T. Susan Chang, National Public Radio

Ok, I’m cheating a bit on this one, because I actually bought it and it’s at the top of my personal top 10 list for 2008 ( and I have somewhat of an epicurean crush on Mark Bittman). I literally open it everyday, not neccesarily for precise instructions, but ideas to build my own recipes on. However, I only bought it after spending the entire summer with a library copy of How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. Every Saturday, I came home from the farmer’s market and looked up recipes by ingredient based on what I had purchased that day. Well-organized, not too Western-centric like so many cooking tomes can be and everything was not only delicious, but presented in a way that inspired me to improvise with confidence.  Many thanks to the San Bernardino County Library system for letting me renew this book 5 times and re-check it out 3 times.

4. Fish: Without a Doubt, by Rick Moonan and Roy Finamore. Recc. by Epicurious

I was happy to find this book at my local library. I use the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch App on my iphone to buy sustainable, clean fish, and Fish: Without a Doubt gave me the chops to expand my repertoire beyond tilapia and Alaskan wild sockeye. However, I also wanted to learn more about fish as food and The Story of Sushi, by Trevor Corson, was a great way to explore beyond recipes. It’s a fun read, loosely based around following a class of students at the California Sushi Academy, and packed with great historical and cultural anecdotes about every facet of sushi, including the fish. I’ve never been so amused by mackeral stories in my life. Widely available in paperback.

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  1. I checked out ‘Fish Without A Doubt” at my local library too. I stuck to the recipes that required saute-ing, broiling or roasting. Grilling seems too complicated.

    I also appreciated the chapters devoted to sustainable fish. vs. overfished fish. Eating is so political these days!

    • It’s pretty nuts. I spent the first half of last year cutting meat that walks out of my home-cooking, then the second half missing cheap shrimp. have you checked out mark bittman’s TED video about sustainable food? it got me hooked on ted videos in general. if you haven’t already seen them, ntr!….www.ted.com

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