As we browsed and mused, cooked and tasted our way through the fall's annual offering of cookbooks, our attention was caught -- and held -- by a smattering of unrelated but worthy subjects. From cooking game and making old-fashioned preserves to ethnic tributes to Greece, Italy and China and a class dessert act from a surprising source, these are laudable books.
With a touch of the trendy, a sprinkling of nostalgia or plenty of common sense, these are books to enrich your collection or to solve a gift-giving dilemma.
Among the best buys of the season, "New Game Cuisine" by Janet Hazen (Chronicle Books, $16.95), with truly lovely photographs by Joyce Oudkerk Pool, is a lavish, slick, upscale paperback that addresses much that is on the cutting edge of recipe ideas today. It actually presents a philosophy of eating -- acknowledging the controversies that surround hunting and imbibing (including an essay by Brian St. Pierre that attempts to trace an alcohol-trauma theory to explain Americans' schizophrenic approach to wine).
The presentation is organized by menus with wine recomendations. Considerable care is given to dishes in supporting roles to emphasize the relationships of colors, textures, and compatibility of flavors. Game confuses many, but here is a clear guide, a chapter on the basics of preparation and a glossary with realistic substitutions noted. Sources for game and specialty foods are supplied. Worth trying are the Grilled Game Hens with Two-Mustard Sauce, the Smoked Turkey Tostadas with Salsa Cruda and the Roast Wild Turkey with Cranberry-Apricot Glaze. The Green Onion Cakes were a smashing side dish.
Preserving holds back the hand of time, puts us in touch with the efforts of our forebears and reveals their knack for turning mere winter survival into a enlivening array of flavors. Among the revelations derived from START NOTE: I presume we're talking about the book that follows, not the game book. BobK. END NOTE"Country Harvest: A Celebration of Autumn," by Rosamond Richardson and photographer Linda Burgess (Prentice Hall, $29.95), is that there's virtually no limit to the fruits and vegetables one can combine into chutneys, relishes, butters, jams, etc. This is, in fact, a celebration of the tradition of putting foods by.
With its large format, drop-dead photography and even a bit of poetry, "Country Harvest" evokes the advance of autumn at the start of each chapter by way of introducing techniques and recipes. Short truisms and old-fashioned trivia dot the margins. In addition to preserves there are chapters on preserving flowers, baking, cordials and teas, vinegars and nuts, among others. The Spiced Pear Pie with its very short crust tasted like autumn incarnate.
Of the several books out this year on Italian cuisine, the most arresting is "Celebrating Italy" by Carol Field (William Morrow, $24.95), an original and fascinating book devoted to Italian feast and festival days, the history and explanation of which make the book worth all the attention it's getting. The recipes work, and are helpfully indexed by celebration for anyone wishing to plan a party, as well as individually. One thing that might stop you, though, is that the meat recipes frequently call for game; and wild duck, kid and boar are trouble to find, even for a holiday.
The regions of Greek cuisine are as rich with flavorful dishes as any in neighboring Italy, and as books on Italian and other Mediterranean cuisines have proliferated, Greek cuisine has remained almost undiscovered.
There has never been a better, more comprehensive or authoritative book on Greek cuisine than "The Food and Wine of Greece" by Diane Kochilas (St. Martin's Press, $22.95). It is a must for all cooks who are interested in learning more about the diverse regional foods of Greece, its indigenous ingredients and culinary culture. From the hot and cold appetizer chapters to exceptionally delicious savory phyllo pies to simple ways to cook fish and elaborate ways to treat meat, every recipe tried was easy to follow and produced delicious results.
Kochilas should be congratulated for writing a book that has been sorely needed. One can only wish that the production had lived up to its contents; it is visually dull and uninspired in its presentation of the fascinating information and recipes.
In bringing the East to the West, Ken Hom has once again done a beautiful job with his new book, "The Taste of China" (Simon and Schuster, $29.95). It's coffee-table glamorous with fine photographs of food, people and markets in villages and cities across China; even the shots of lunch in state-run restaurants make one envy the workers their steaming bowls of noodles.
Some of the recipes favor exotic ingredients, and Western markets don't usually provide eel and jellyfish, but most of the dishes can be made from readily available products. The recipes for the Bean Thread Noodles with Pork and the Crispy Beef were not assertively flavored enough, but the Shrimp in Dragon Well Tea was surprisingly good, with a faintly smoky and clean taste.
Sophisticates will go on alert the minute they read the words "Better Homes and Gardens Old-Fashioned Home Baking," by a group of editors (Better Homes and Gardens Books, $27.95), but that would be a misapprehension of the facts. This is a wonderful book, purged of references to whipped topping and pudding mix and full of the recipes most of us want on most days. Both desserts and baked goods are included, so that the whole-wheat bread baker is satisfied along with the craver of chocolate mousse cake.
This is a generalist book and it makes a nice antidote to the racks of one-trick ponies that cookbook publishers have offered lately. The graphics here are interesting but not obtrusive, useful bits of miscellaneous information nestle in boxes on nearly every page, the print is readable and the recipes work.
-- Also contributing to this review were Ellen Brown, Kristin Eddy and Linda Greider.
GREEN ONION CAKES WITH FIRE-PRUNE DIPPING SAUCE (4 servings)
The sauce improves the second day, after flavors have had time to blend; batter can be made a day ahead as well. The cre~pe-like pancakes should be cooked just before serving.
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup homemade chicken stock or low-salt canned chicken broth
3 tablespoons Asian (toasted) sesame oil
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
4 eggs, lightly beaten
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
6 green onions (scallions), minced
About 2 tablespoons vegetable oil for cooking
Fire-Prune Dipping Sauce (recipe below)
Cilantro sprigs for garnish
Place flour in a medium bowl. Combine stock, sesame oil, vinegar and eggs. Slowly add mixture to flour, stirring constantly, to form a smooth paste. Add garlic, pepper and green onions; mix well. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours, or until batter coats the back of a spoon and is the consistency of heavy cream.
Heat a thin layer of oil in a 6-inch nonstick saute' pan or skillet. When oil is hot, but not smoking, spoon 3 to 4 tablespoons of batter into pan, swirling to pan's edge, as if you were making cre~pes. Cook over moderate heat for about 1 minute. When edges begin to turn golden brown, flip pancake and cook second side until golden brown. Cook remaining batter in this fashion, keeping pancakes warm.
Fold pancakes in quarters and serve with sauce. Garnish with cilantro.
Per serving: 360 calories, 11 gm protein, 27 gm carbohydrates, 23 gm fat, 4 gm saturated fat, 274 mg cholesterol, 265 mg sodium.
FIRE-PRUNE DIPPING SAUCE (Makes about 1 1/4 cups)
6 pitted prunes, chopped
1/2 cup raisins
1 tomato, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, roasted, peeled and seeded
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons Chinese black rice vinegar (available in Asian markets) or red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons dried red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper, to taste
Place all ingredients in a medium nonaluminum saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Allow to cool slightly. Transfer to a blender or food processor and pure'e until smooth. Strain through a fine sieve and return to saucepan. Thin with a little water or more vinegar, whichever your palate prefers. Serve at room temperature. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
Per 1/4-cup serving: 108 calories, 2 gm protein, 27 gm carbohydrates, .3 gm fat, 0 gm saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 425 mg sodium.
"New Game Cuisine" by Janet Hazen (Chronicle Books, $16.95) SPICED PEAR PIE (8 servings)
FOR THE PASTRY;
6 tablespoons superfine sugar
1/2 cup, plus 2 tablespoons, melted butter
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
Milk and superfine sugar, to glaze
FOR THE FILLING:
6 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Grated rind of 1/2 lemon, plus 1 tablespoon juice
Grated rind and juice of 1 orange
2 pounds pears, preferably Williams, peeled, cored and sliced
1/3 cup sultanas (golden raisins)
3 tablespoons butter, melted
To make the pastry: add the sugar to the melted butter in a pan, and stir over gentle heat until dissolved. Stir in the flour and work into a smooth dough. Chill.
Divide the pastry in two. Roll out half the pastry and use to line an 8-inch pie pan.
To make the filling: Mix together the sugar, flour, spices, lemon and orange rinds. Arrange the pears in the pie pan, sprinkling each layer with the raisins, sugar-and-spice mixture, citrus juices and melted butter.
Roll out the remaining pastry and use to make a top (or cut into strips to form a latticed top). Press the moistened pastry edges together with a fork and make a few slits in the top with a sharp knife to allow steam to escape. Brush lightly with milk and sprinkle crust with a little sugar.
Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for 20 minutes. Reduce temperature to 375 degrees and continue baking for 25 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through. Cool on a wire rack, and serve hot or warm.
Per serving: 584 calories, 5 gm protein, 88 gm carbohydrates, 26 gm fat, 5 gm saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 293 mg sodium.
From "Country Harvest" by Rosamond Richardson (Prentice Hall, $29.95) SPAGHETTI WITH CRAYFISH SAUCE
2 1/2 pounds crayfish or prawns
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 1/2 tablespoons brandy
1/3 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
4 fresh basil leaves
9 ounces fresh tomatoes, cut in narrow slices
1 whole red chili pepper
Salt, to taste
14 ounces spaghetti
Cook crayfish by boiling in 2 quarts of salted water for about 5 minutes. Remove and let cool. Peel and devein crayfish or prawns.
Warm the oil in a saucepan and let garlic stew without browning for 2 to 3 minutes. Roughly chop crayfish and warm briefly (if you are using prawns, chop and cook until they turn pink). Add brandy, flame it, and let it burn off. Add parsley, basil, tomatoes and chili. Cook over low heat for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook pasta in salted water, drain and add directly to sauce. Mix well and serve.
Per serving: 388 calories, 42 gm protein, 26 gm carbohydrates, 11 gm fat, 2 gm saturated fat, 289 mg cholesterol, 287 mg sodium.
From "Celebrating Italy" by Carol Field (William Morrow, $24.95) MACEDONIAN PORK SAUSAGE WITH LEEKS AND ORANGE (8 servings)
1 1/2 pounds ground lean pork
1/2 pound ground pork fatback
1 to 2 leeks, cleaned, steamed and finely chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 heaping teaspoon dried oregano or thyme
Grated rind of 1 orange
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon allspice
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
Pork casings, rinsed
In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except casings. Knead until well blended. Refrigerate until ready to use. Keep bowl in a bowl of ice cubes to keep cool while filling casings.
Fill casings with sausage mixture, allowing some space in between to form links. When all filling has been used, knot boths ends of each link.
To cook, fill a skillet with enough water to cover sausages and bring to a boil. Simmer, covered, for 1 hour. Drain thoroughly, then grill or fry.
Per serving: 359 calories, 29 gm protein, 3 gm carbohydrates, 25 gm fat, 9 gm saturated fat, 103 mg cholesterol, 76 mg sodium.
From "The Food and Wine of Greece" by Diane Kochilas (St. Martin's Press, $22.95) SHRIMP IN DRAGON WELL TEA (2 servings)
3/4 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon Long Jing (Dragon Well) Tea or any Chinese green tea
1 cup boiling water
1 1/2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 tablespoons rice wine or dry sherry
Rinse shrimp well under cold running water and pat thoroughly dry with paper towels. Rub evenly with salt and set aside.
Put tea leaves in a heat-proof measuring cup and pour in hot water. Let tea steep for 15 minutes.
Heat a wok or large skillet until hot; add oil. Then add shrimp and rice wine or sherry and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Pour in tea and half of the leaves and cook for another minute. Remove shrimp with slotted spoon to a serving platter and reduce liquid in wok by half. Pour over shrimp and serve at once.
Per serving: 280 calories, 35 gm protein, 2 gm carbohydrates, 13 gm fat, 2 gm saturated fat, 260 mg cholesterol, 2398 mg sodium.
From "The Taste of China" by Ken Hom (Simon and Schuster, $29.95) CREAM CHEESE SAVORY MUFFINS (Makes 12 muffins)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3-ounce package cream cheese
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup snipped fresh parsley
1 beaten egg
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup margarine or butter, melted
Grease a dozen 2 1/2-inch muffin cups or line them with paper bake cups. Set aside.
In a large bowl stir together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Using a pastry blender, cut in cream cheese until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in onion and parsely. Stir together egg, milk and melted butter. Add all at once to flour mixture. Stir just until moistened (batter should be lumpy).
Spoon batter into the prepared muffin cups, filling each 2/3-full. Bake in a 400-degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes until done. Remove from muffin cups and cool slightly on a wire rack. Serve warm.
Per muffin: 157 calories, 4 gm protein, 18 gm carbohydrates, 7 gm fat, 3 gm saturated fat, 33 mg cholesterol, 195 mg sodium.
"Better Homes and Gardens Old-Fashioned Home Baking," by the editors (Better Homes and Gardens Books, $27.95)