Not every cookbook aspires to be grand and comprehensive, thank goodness. Three recent titles offer modest amounts of surprise and charm, with friendly price points to match. All offer opportunities for fun with food.
Appreciate a sense of humor? You’ll want Ann Hodgman’s “ Beat This! Cookbook ” (Houghton Mifflin, 2011; $14.95; 100-plus recipes) even if you own a copy of her 1993 “Beat This!” If you’re not familiar with the author’s chatty, funny headnotes, plan on adding this to your stack of commuter reading.
Hodgman’s preference for alphabetizing recipes instead of categorizing main dishes and sides, etc., means that her fried chicken rubs elbows with fudge. Shortbread follows salmon. Thing is, the recipes are practical and appealing. Make them, and expect requests to make them again. The author has corrected the earlier book's “runny” lemon square filling, adding even a grapefruit variation. Nice.
“ Alice’s Cook Book ” (Lyons Press, 2011; $19.95: 125-plus recipes) brings the food of hip London chef Alice Hart to our shores, with an emphasis on dishes that are seasonal, crowd-friendly and uncomplicated. Hart, a former editor of Waitrose Food Illustrated magazine, pairs flavors that make sense; they make complete palettes, such as a super-moist banana bread with mango and macadamia nuts. A relatively inexperienced, 30-something cook can pull off Hart’s recipes and will appreciate its modern sensibility.
“ Bite Me ” (Kyle, 2010; $24.95; 175 recipes) is the cheekiest of the trio. Toronto sisters Julie Albert and Lisa Gnat are not above illustrating recipes with kitschy images and quotes from pop culture. The food is mostly comfort, eclectic and festive. There might not be a completely original dish in the bunch, but the recipes are clearly written, and the sisters’ version of sugar cookies has ended my annual search for the perfect holiday specimen. And there’s no reason to wait till December to make them.