Book-o-Rama: Odd Bits, Rock Stars, Feasts, Cooks and Bitters

The O-Rama writing team is finishing out the year with a series of gastronomical book reviews. With the generous help of our friends Don and Samantha Lindgren at Rabelais each of the bloggers was able to select a food book to read and review. If one of the titles below tickles your fancy stop by 86 Middle Street where you’ll an extraordinary selection of books on food, drink and gardening to select from.

The group has selected a book for just about any mood. Feeling contemplative, then read Jillian’s review of The Feast Nearby at From Away, or perhaps, you’d like to add some adventure to your cooking then read Dawn’s write up of Odd Bits and about her experience cooking a pig’s head. Looking for more basic instruction? then read about the Cooks Illustrated Cookbook or up your game a bit with Cook Like a Rock Star at, respectively, the Blueberry Files or Edible Obsessions. Easily my favorite selection this month is Vreylena’s pick of Bitters: A Spirited History. I just picked up my first bottle of Angostura to mix some Airmail cocktails (stay tuned for more on that next week) but am intrigued by the potential to use bitters in savory recipes as well.

Appetite PortlandOdd Bits by Jennifer McLagan

Best of all, McLagan makes every recipe sound manageable – be they challenging, day-long adventures or quick dinners. Many re-imagine the common with odd bits. Ravoli of Brains and Morels, for example, sounds simple and succulent. While copping to it as a way to sneak brain to the unsuspecting, she insists that the recipe also plays to calf brains’ rich texture. I’ve dog-eared that page for a future meal – if I can find brain anywhere in the mad-cow fearing US! read the full review

Edible ObsessionsCook Like a Rock Star by Anne Burrell

Her book has the usual suspects: favorite tools and pantry staples, as well as a guide to her lingo (fond=”Crud”; “BTB”=bring to a boil) and a lovely forward by Mr. Batali. When you get to the heart of it her recipes are mostly, and understandably, Italian influenced and pretty decent. Without a doubt, they are definitely geared towards those looking to graduate from easier cookbooks, but aren’t quite ready to put out a Thomas Keller level dish. There’s a whole chapter on homemade pasta, one of her specialties and one which I would have enjoyed if I had a pasta maker, but the recipes can easily be made and adjusted to use dried. Her ‘Piccolini’–or, as she calls them “My little nibbles”–recipes are some of the most interesting, especially the one for the Mortadella Mousse.
read the full review

From AwayThe Feast Nearby by Robin Mather

The Feast Nearby is a valuable little book for those of us who wish to recalibrate our days with the calendar, who want to stretch an overtaxed food budget in tough economic times, and who must begin again with hope and self-reliance, after years gone by without authenticity or reflection. It’s simply written, with a pleasant tone that is neither didactic nor long-winded. Ms. Mather is a wise aunt gently guiding us back to tradition, hard word and constancy, those things that keep us truly alive amidst change, grief and bafflement. In this handbook, the practice of canning is brimming with meaning; being mindful of what we eat is quite simply the onus of all of us. It teaches us how to retreat, how to retrieve our heritage of cooking and eating, and how to enjoy the journey of our lives, however painful and surprising. read the full review

The Blueberry FilesThe Cooks Illustrated Cookbook

And this is where Cook’s Illustrated and I fail to see eye-to-eye. Developed in ‘America’s Test Kitchen’ these recipes have been deconstructed and tested from the ground up. So if they tell you to use a shallot, that means they’ve tried the recipe with yellow onions, without shallots, etc. When they say shallot, they mean shallot. read the full review

Vrai-lean-uhBitters: A Spirited History by Brad Thomas Parsons

That’s not to say I’m not fond of it. On the whole it is a very good and thorough book that left me with a deeper appreciation of bitters than I had before. It covers enormous ground: historical background, tutorials on making your own bitters, a buying guide, extensive cocktail recipes, and a small selection of cooking recipes. The writing was engaging enough that it carried me from the Carthusian monks of the 1700s brewing Chartreuse through The Great Angostura Shortage of 2009-2010 with a minimum of eye-rolling. I not only have a better grasp of bitters, but I have ideas for how to use them in drinks and cooking.read the full review