The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

November 9, 2007

Book review: Titles offer mouth-watering reading

Several weeks ago, I wrote about NPR commentator Bonny Wolf’s interest in food as described in his book, “Talking With Your Mouth Full.”

The following titles are the others I promised to write about in a future column. They, too, are food related, sort of.

‘Saving Dinner Basics: How to Cook Even if You Don’t Know How’

By Leanne Ely

This is a book for those of you who are truly just starting to cook. This is an easy-to-read, easy-to-follow primer on everything from choosing the right knife, to what you should have in your pantry, to properly setting a table. Also covered is how to select meat, fruit and vegetables when you shop.

Ely, a syndicated newspaper columnist, does an excellent job defining the various cooking processes and explaining what knife is for what purpose, among other things.

A number of simple recipes are included in this chatty how-to book.

‘I’m Just Here for the Food’

By Alton Brown

While Food Network star Alton Brown includes recipes in the book, this is not a cookbook in the traditional sense. Instead, this is much of a how-to book that explains everything from how to read a recipe to an explanation of microwave cooking.

One appendix shows “blueprints” of a cow, a lamb, a chicken and a pig so the reader becomes familiar with what cuts of meat come from what part of the animal. Another talks about what goes into a basic “toolbox” of kitchen gadgetry. The information on cleaning the kitchen is very informative and useful, as is the reading list and list of places mentioned in the book.

The recipes are broken down into Software (the ingredients), Hardware (a list of pots, pans, utensils, etc.) and the Application (the directions.) There are lots of sidebars throughout, as well as additional information and definitions (e.g. “piccata is Italian for ‘sharp’ and refers to the bright snappy flavor of this classic one-pan dish,” from the recipe for Chicken Piccata, page 180.)

This is definitely one of those cookbooks that makes you want to sit and read first so you aren’t so distracted by the wonderful commentary and information while making dinner. Index included.

‘Betty Crocker Easy Everyday Vegetarian: Meatless Main Dishes You’ll Love’

This book has a little bit of everything, from appetizers, to casseroles, to wraps, to using the slow-cooker.

Each recipe gives the prep time as well as how long it should take from start to finish, along with the nutritional information. Hints, alternatives or comments pertaining to each recipe are included and are easily distinguished by the tan strip in which they are printed.

Pages interspersed between chapters contain information on cooking grains, legumes and soy, using the slow-cooker and “kid-pleasing meal options.” The last few pages include information about stocking the veggie pantry, nutritional guidelines, a glossary and a metric conversion guide. The recipes are indexed.

The roasted-garlic hummus and the zesty black bean soup made in the slow-cooker are very easy to make and taste great. This is another cookbook I’ll end up buying, as there are many more to try.

This is a great cookbook for those who are vegetarian or those who like to make meatless meals on occasion.

‘Gordon Ramsay: The Biography’

By Neil Simpson

Gordon Ramsay. What do you say about this well-known, volatile chef?

Gordon Ramsay may be seen as the rude, arrogant, foul-mouthed (the f-word is his swear word of choice) chef and star of the television hit, “Hell’s Kitchen,” but Neil Simpson is able to show another side of Ramsay in this biography.

Not only is Ramsay’s cooking career and rise to Michelin star (and three stars, at that) restaurateur discussed, but so is his life growing up in an abusive household, his continued effort to save his drug-addicted brother, his marriage, his children and his charity work.

Offering no apologies for the way he trains staff in his restaurants or on television, this book may not change anyone’s opinion of the famous chef, but it does offer another side.

Not for anyone offended by swearing, as the f-word is dropped often.

‘The Mere Mortal’s Guide to Fine Dining: From Salad Forks to Sommeliers, How To Eat and Drink in Style Without Fear of Faux Pas’

By Colleen Rush

This how-to book isn’t about cooking, but about eating out in fancy, high-priced restaurants without feeling like a fool and being out of place.

Rush does an excellent job of defining and explaining every aspect of high-end eateries. She talks about how to become a regular if that’s your desire, place settings (which fork is used for what), manners, tipping and terminology. She includes a very good chapter on how to choose wine even if you are not a connoisseur. There are several chapters on cheese, and there is one chapter dedicated to vegetarians.

For anyone interested in going to school, there is a chapter on culinary schools and organizations.

Many of the chapters include sidebars listing additional books to read, Web sites or food-related facts.

It’s a quick, easy-to-read book to dispel the mystery around eating in fancy restaurants.

Susan Wray is the director of Joplin Public Library.