What’s Cooking This Holiday Season

What’s Cooking This Holiday Season

Tired of the same old same old holiday recipes? Our seasonal cookbook roundup offers a plethora of recipes, presentation ideas and even 160 non-dairy kosher desserts to top off your festive meals.

 Kosher by Design

 Susie Fishbein continues her trademark “Kosher by Design” series with “Cooking Coach: Recipes, Tips and Techniques to Make Anyone a Better Cook” (Artscroll, $36.99).

And she means it! This volume, similar in style to her seven previous volumes, is full of educational photos that show you how to accomplish kitchen magic.

There are tips on the best equipment to use, charts on how to pick the right meat for the right job, Susie-inspired secrets to make your dishes look delectable and even inventive ways to use leftovers.

“If I don’t like it, I don’t cook it, and I don’t write it. It’s how I feed my family,” Fishbein said. “This book is modern, quick and easy, colorful – what my readers expect from me. I like the freedom to reach out and grab and turn out fabulous results.”

I know that I personally want the ability to take fresh, simple ingredients and make them look like they’d been served by a world-class chef. Fittingly, that’s half the fun of the book; your cooking skills are brought up a notch when you can present dishes that look as great as they taste.

Fishbein recently told me how she laid the book out:

“The upfront section, the playbook, takes one third of the book,” she said. “It tells you what to do with the leftovers, to make them into something different; [these are] cool and exciting things to do when you’ve already spent the money and time. I want people to have that in mind.”

She went on to explain her game plan for each individual section. For example, she has dedicated a certain amount of space solely to understanding meat and its preparation.

How she does it is beyond me! This book is, in my mind, what Julia Child’s books were to our mothers’ generation, a must-have volume to read, absorb and use over and over again.

What a perfect gift when you’re invited out during the holidays.

 Healthy and Tasty

Second on my list is “The Whole Foods Kosher Kitchen: Glorious Meals Pure & Simple” (Levana Cooks, $48), foodie and restaurateur Levana Kirschenbaum’s contribution to healthy, tasty eating.

No, it’s not affiliated with the supermarket of a similar name, but their philosophies are just the same: For the best results, use the best, freshest and least-processed starters.

The best word I can think of for Levana’s food is “clean.” It’s all about pure ingredients, simple tastes and exquisitely beautiful food you’ll be both proud to serve and contented to eat. While her restaurant caters to an upscale crowd, her cookbook tells people how to make things that look and taste rich but don’t cost a fortune. 

 “This book is the culmination of all my life’s work,” said Kirschenbaum. “It fits my philosophy of cooking. I made a $12 meal that looked like a hundred bucks – not a cheap imitation of a seven-layer cake, but a real cabbage cake, a chocolate cake. I do real things; no powders, no imitations.”

Kirschenbaum believes in quick, healthy meals; economical, sensible and cheap, for which you can buy the ingredients around the corner. Every page of her cookbook reflects this attitude.

Each spread features explicit, easy-to-follow instructions, explanations of ingredients and methods, mouthwatering photos and foods from all over the world, many with a pronounced Moroccan accent, reflecting her birthplace.

Every one of us can profit from her genius with great ingredients, simple cooking methods and just pure common sense.

 Dairy-Free Recipes

Next, we have one of the most exciting concepts out there. I love to bake, but having made a commitment to the kosher life, I’ve had to jettison most of my butter-laden recipes, since you can’t serve milk after a meat meal (and most Shabbat meals tend to be meat-based).

Imagine my joy when Paula Shoyer’s new book, “The Kosher Baker: Over 160 Dairy-free Recipes from Traditional to Trendy” (Brandeis University Press, $35), appeared on my desk.

If the author’s name sounds familiar, you might have seen her on Food Network’s “Sweet Genius,” in the episode for which the secret ingredients were chili sauce, jelly beans, curry power, ostrich eggs and durian.

I can’t promise you’ll be on television, but I’m pretty sure you’ll come up with some very fabulous desserts from “The Kosher Baker.” Reading it was like reading a novel; I couldn’t wait to see what happened next.

The book is divided into three sections, from quick and easy to two-step to multiple-step desserts and breads, all accessible, with easy-to-follow recipes and plenty of how-to pictures. I was most interested in how to substitute non-dairy ingredients for butter, cream cheese, cream and milk.

Shoyer explains what to do, but reminds us that every recipe is unique and that if you try to use your old favorites with Tofutti and other non-dairy substitutes, you may have to experiment before finding success.

That’s why her book is so great. She’s done the work and has published only the gems – the recipes your guests will beg for. Whether you share is up to you, but as for me, this book is going to be on my gift list for favorite people.

The flavor profiles Shoyer creates are innovative and unique, like adding rosemary to lemon biscotti. She looks for trends, like green tea powder or olive oil in baked goods.

If you try the baklava, please let me know how it works. As for me, the chocolate almost-toffee bars sound heavenly and easy. Or maybe go for the cranberry pumpkin frangipane tart, the chocolate mousse truffle cake or molten chocolate cakes.

A Stylist’s Dream

For some really unique treats, check out “CHIC Made Simple: Fresh, Fast, Fabulous Kosher Cuisine” (Feldheim, $36.99). The title sounds like a tall order to live up to, but author Esther Deutsch pulls it off.

This book is a food stylist’s dream, fun to leaf through without ever looking at the recipes. But once you look, you’re hooked: From scallion quinoa patties with lemon garlic paprika aioli to powdered chocolate wontons with caramel sauce, every recipe looks tantalizing – to make, to serve and to eat.

There are some amazing serving ideas as well, like making ice bowls for serving sherbet or ice cream. And how about fruit tartare, gorgeous chocolate gift ideas or gefilte fish gift squares?

With “CHIC,” you’ll be set to not only entertain for months to come; you’ll wow your guests at every meal.

I was especially intrigued by the simplicity of the recipes in this time; there weren’t too many ingredients, nothing too hard to follow, and the photos gave me some great presentation ideas, which I can use with any recipe.

In today’s world, as got-to-top-that cooking shows and food columns proliferate, books like Deutsch’s (as well as the others reviewed here) are a blessed relief, a reminder that good food doesn’t have to be fussy food; that we don’t need complex sauces to make fresh, clean food taste wonderful; and that jarring taste combinations don’t always work.

Deutsch delivers just what she promises – food that’s fresh, fast and fabulous.

 Southern Cooking

And now, closer to home – but a universe away from kosher cooking – is the new book “Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking” (Gibbs Smith, $45), co-authored by Atlanta cooks and cookbook authors Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart and featuring a foreword by Pat Conroy.

You might remember Nathalie from her days as Rich’s resident culinary expert.   Cynthia was the producer for Nathalie’s early cooking show, and they’ve been friends and collaborators ever since.

At over 700 pages, “Mastering” is heavy lifting, but not heavy reading – its stories and descriptions are a delight, and they convey the spirit of the South flawlessly.

Grits pudding? Not everybody’s taste. But the old “1-2-3-4” cake is a reminder of the way our mothers baked and taught us in turn.

And what cookbook could call itself Southern without a Coca-Cola (or, as my daddy said, “Co-cola”) cake with Coca-Cola icing?

Skip the shellfish recipes and head for the whole sautéed trout in butter pecan sauce or the sautéed flounder strips with raisins and pecans – there are detailed photos and descriptions of how to skin and fillet fish.

Beyond that, lots of vegetarian soups and vegetable recipes, biscuits and other meatless ideas will attract the innovative chef lurking inside you.

Graubart, who attended the University of Georgia, lives in Atlanta and sent her children to the Davis Academy, knows her readership will enjoy the entirety of the work.

 “With 1000 recipes, we wanted to keep them short, but we can’t make the assumption that people know what they’re doing,” Graubart explained. “We have to teach people.”

And so they’ve done here, with crystal-clear, easy-to-follow recipes and easily obtainable ingredients.

One word: Yum!


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