The festivities are over. We've had our fill of rich food and wines. Calendars are blessedly light on upcoming social events. Now is the perfect time to curl up with a good food book. It's instant therapy.
Here's a selection of volumes that I've come across in the past months that come highly recommended. Not all are specifically kosher cookbooks, but all provide good reads while also containing scores of recipes to enhance a kosher repertoire. A sampling of recipes are included at the end of this column.
· Baking for All Occasions by Flo Braker (Chronicle Books): Braker is an inspiration. Her introduction traces her passion for baking from the time she was a curious 9-year-old to her continuing search to duplicate the very best recipes gleaned from her travels throughout the world.
The more than 200 recipes are set out with step-by-step instructions, and Braker generously shares "tricks of the trade."
Head notes are fascinating, discussing the recipe's origin and what it tastes like, with a few personal anecdotes mixed in.
A longtime baking teacher, Braker makes you feel as though you have a good friend alongside guiding you through to completion.
· 1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes by Carol Fenster (Wiley Publishers): Because a careful diet is the only treatment for celiac disease, preparing food at home is the best way to know what's really on your plate.
Carol Fenster, Ph.D, an internationally recognized expert on gluten-free cooking, answers the hungry call for gluten-free favorites. There's no need to cook separate dishes. Grilled Teriyaki Tuna, Crispy Baked Smashed Potatoes and Cranberry Shortbread Bars can be served to the entire family to rave reviews.
· The Military Wives Cookbook: 200 Years of Traditions, Recipes and Remembrances by Carolyn Quick Tillery (Cumberland House Publishing): Written by an Air Force officer and military wife, this is not only a collection of recipes, but brings into sharp focus the commitment and sacrifice of military families.
Although this is not a kosher cookbook, the stories and photographs from remarkable women will captivate the reader.
· Cooking Beyond Measure: How to Eat Well Without Formal Recipes by Jean Johnson (76th Avenue Press): This is required reading now that more people are cooking at home. Johnson, historian turned cookbook author, was amazed when she learned that Americans didn't have measuring cups 100 years ago.
In her book, she advocates a return to the roots of American culture. She insists that formal recipes with measurements are "small chemistry experiments" designed to frustrate and send us flying to the nearest restaurant. She notes that, on a daily basis, all we want is dinner — not a complicated meal with an exotic, often hard-to-find ingredient tossed in.
Johnson helps today's busy men and women reconnect with the true pleasure of cooking without hassle — and to use whatever is on hand. Her meals are mostly doable in half an hour, and are healthy, affordable and fabulous.
· Upper Crusts: Fabulous Ways to Use Bread by Sheilah Kaufman (Capital Books): Don't be fooled by the title. This is not a book about how to bake breads. Upper Crusts, a kosher cookbook written in Kaufman's user-friendly manner, is a tantalizing collection of recipes using bread as the basic ingredient.
Recipes utilize leftover breads, store-bought breads, stale breads or sourdough rolls and croissants — whatever you may have in your pantry.
Best of all, recipes may be assembled in less than 30 minutes, then frozen. What could be more appealing to busy folks combining home and careers — especially since the author proceeds with an eye toward the budget?
· 2500 Recipes, Everyday to Extraordinary by Andrew Schloss with Ken Bookman (Robert Rose Publishers): True to their passion and expertise, the authors have created a recipe compendium sparked by the success of their parent book, Fifty Ways to Cook Most Everything.
All of the recipes are brief and clearly written, and the recipe name is printed in bright red, so that you're not searching through a page of black type.
This is a cookbook that will be an inspiration and a constant reference guide.
· Single Malt Scotch by Bill Milne and Roddy Martine (Michael Friedman Publishing): For anyone who has a taste for single malt Scotch (not the blended variety), this book is a glorious celebration of the amber water, and its place in history, culture and society.
The author and photographer have combined their talents to produce a magnificent-looking volume in which the romance, tradition, mystery and warmth surrounding Scotch whisky are vividly brought to life.
· V Cuisine: The Art of New Vegan Cooking by Angeline Linardis (Whitecap Publishers): With the growing demand for vegetarian and vegan dishes, this is an essential tool for people who want or need to live healthier lifestyles.
Going beyond the vegan/vegetarian route, Linardis takes the terror and mystery out of tofu, and makes vegan cooking appealing to everyone, even devoted meat-lovers. The recipes are all about vitality and good taste, with the bonus of being naturally low in fat and high in nutritional value.
Whole grains, beans, vegetables and fruits — with as little processed food as possible — star in this cuisine, and since there's no deep-frying, there are no butters or margarine. Only olive oil is used. Many recipes have high kid appeal, including finger-food snacks that are colorful and portable.
For holiday foods, such as Thanksgiving sans turkey, there are rich sauces, seasonal vegetables, fluffy stuffings, heavenly salads and irresistible desserts.
As Linardis explains, "V cuisine is about creating new traditions that don't pop the zipper on your pants … ."
From V Cuisine by Angeline Linardis
1 cup bulgar wheat
2 ripe avocados
1 red onion, finely diced
2 tomatoes, finely diced
1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil
drizzle of lemon or lime juice
salt and pepper to taste
Soak the bulgar wheat in hot water to cover it, plus a little extra, for about 20 minutes. The bulgar wheat will expand.
Cut the avocados in half and remove the pits. Carefully remove the green flesh. Set aside.
Combine the bulgar, onion, tomatoes and cilantro in a bowl. Pour on a generous drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice.
Season with salt and pepper.
Refill the avocado shells with the mixture.
Slice the reserved avocado and place on top.
Sprinkle with salt, if desired, and garnish with extra sprigs of cilantro (optional).
Serve with warm tortilla chips.
Makes 4 pieces.
Approximate nutrients per piece: calories, 350; protein, 7 g; carbohydrates, 36 g; fat, 22 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 19 mg.
From Military Wives' Cookbook by Carolyn Quick Tillery. These cornmeal dumplings are a Southern specialty. Serve with fish.
1/4 cup chopped onions
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 egg, slightly beaten
2/3 cup buttermilk
vegetable oil for frying
In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs and buttermilk.
Add the egg mixture to the cornmeal mixture and mix well.
Drop the batter by heaping teaspoonfuls into hot vegetable oil (375° on a deep-frying thermometer).
Cook, turning often, about 3 to 5 minutes or until golden-brown.
Note: For buttermilk, add 11/2 teaspoons lemon juice or vinegar to 2/3 cup milk. Let stand at room temperature 10 minutes or until beginning to curdle. Do not stir.
Makes 2 dozen.
Approximate nutrients per piece: calories, 124; protein, 1 g; carbohydrates, 8 g; fat, 10 g; cholesterol, 9 mg; sodium, 75 mg.
Chocolate-Cherry- Croissant Bread Pudding
From Upper Crusts by Sheilah Kaufman
1 tsp. butter
3 stale croissants
1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup dried cherries
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup cream
2 large eggs
1 Tbsp. Cassis or vanilla extract
Generously butter a 9×9-inch baking dish.
Cut croissants into 1/2-inch pieces (as best you can) and scatter cubes, chips and cherries into prepared dish.
In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, cream, eggs and Cassis until sugar dissolves. Pour the sugar/cream mixture through a sieve into prepared baking dish. Gently push down cubes so that they absorb the egg mixture. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.*
Preheat oven to 350°.
Bake for 30 minutes or until center is puffy and golden. Serve hot.
* If in a rush, skip chilling.
Instead pour only half the egg mixture in, push down to absorb; wait 5 minutes before pouring on some more but not all, leaving tops of cubes just above liquid line.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 395; protein 6 g; carbohydrates, 36 g; fat, 26 g; cholesterol, 144 mg; sodium; 188 mg.
From Cooking Beyond Measure by Jean Johnson This is reproduced exactly as written in the cookbook with the recipe note and details or background on each recipe.
Mix one part rolled oats with half-parts wheat germ, oat bran and flax meal. That's the basic cereal, which you can enjoy with fresh fruit.
Or, if you want something mixed up ahead of time and ready to go, try adding raisins and walnuts, dates and almonds, or dried peaches and pecans for a Southern twist.
Store your muesli in the refrigerator to keep the flax meal and wheat germ fresh.
Birchermuesli Backgrounder: Maximilian Bircher-Benner, M.D., created this dish around 1900. Departing from the wisdom of the day, he concluded that diets of uncooked cereals, fruits and vegetables — peasant food scoffed by his critics — would produce a vitality that rivaled the Swiss mountain air. Many patients whose conditions had confounded traditional physicians were cured.
From 1,000 Gluten-free Recipes by Carol Fenster. Xanthan gum is a corn-syrup derivative used as a thickener, emulsifier and stabilizer in foods.
2 cups sugar
11/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-process or alkali)
1/2 tsp. xanthan gum
1/2 tsp. salt
4 cups water
1 cup freshly brewed espresso or coffee
1 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. brandy or 1 tsp. brandy extract
In a heavy, medium saucepan, whisk together the sugar, cocoa, xanthan gum and salt.
Add the water and coffee, and whisk to blend.
Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Simmer for 20 minutes, or until the mixture is slightly reduced. Stir occasionally.
Add the vanilla extract and brandy. Refrigerate the mixture to 40°F.
Pour the sorbet into the freezer container of an electric ice-cream freezer and freeze according to manufacturers directions. Or pour into a shallow dish.
Freeze until tiny crystals form at sides of dish. Scrape down sides. Whisk and return to freezer. Freeze until firm.
Makes 1 quart.
Approximate nutrients per 1/2-cup serving: calories, 234; protein, 3 g; carbohydrates, 59 g; fat, 2 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 149 mg.
Ethel G. Hofman is a past president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals.