Cookbook Review

If you've been to the cooking section of a bookstore lately, you can understand the sometimes overwhelming selection available today. Interested in baking? How about grilling? How about vegetarian thai cuisine? It's all there and more.

It's wonderful to have such a huge selection of cookbooks available. You can stick with the tried and true meat and potatoes selections that grandpa would have been lost without and explore uncharted waters with new recipes that include international overtones and new techniques for preparation. There are even books dedicated to helping you create such dishes in ways that are healthier, faster, and more fun than they have been in the past. You've never had such a good excuse to keep your table from getting monotonous.

In an effort to help you sort through just a few of the options available to you, I've provided four reviews of some of the cookbooks I've gotten over the last year. They are:

To be fair, I've tried to include information about the general layouts of each books, some of the topics and recipes covered (recipes cannot be reprinted due to copyright laws), and how each book might be best used. I've also included some information about the authors and where you might find these books for purchase.

Before we dig in, I'd like to encourage you to suggest other cookbook titles for review. We'd like to feature cookbook reviews periodically in Seasoned Cooking and are interested in your suggestions and submissions. With that said, let's get on with the reviews!

Cook Smart: Camilla's Catering Secret's for Home Cooks About the Author
    Camilla Koenigseder is a Texas-based caterer and author who has been perfecting her culinary abilities for more than 25 years. More than a decade ago, she established Camilla's Catering and began offering cooking classes. She has also been writing a monthly cooking column for the Fort Worth Boulevard Banner for 3 years.
About the Cookbook
    Cook Smart takes a unique approach to cooking by offering the reader tips that are often employed by successful caterers. As a result, many of the recipes in this book can be made quickly and efficiently without sacrificing flavor. While it includes a multitude of recipes appropriate for "everyday living", it focuses on party foods and preparing for a large number of people. Throughout the book, helpful tips for using and storing leftovers, freezing advice, and variations on recipes are given.

    Since this book does offer recipes that serve a large group (usually eight), it is a great resource for anyone who enjoys hosting parties and get-togethers. With the holidays here, it comes in handy when unexpected guests arrive at your door. Many of the recipes included can be prepared in 15 minutes or less, so all you need to do is mark a few favorites and have ingredients on hand for quick entertaining. Just because the portions are large doesn't mean that couples can't benefit from this book. I experimented with several of the recipes by halving them and following freezing instructions. I ended up with a quick dinner and another for later in the month. Every recipe includes freezing and storing information, so you needn't worry about reheating disasters.

    Safety, seasoning, condiment, and ingredient tips are found throughout Cook Smart. Want to know how to store garlic puree? Want to know what it is? It's in there! There are even some great entertaining tips from someone who's a pro. Imagine your guests' surprise when you treat them to the kind of style that professional caterers present!

    For an extra element of fun, Camilla adds witty quotes alongside her recipes. One favorite is:

      "Tis an ill cook that cannot lick his own fingers."

    Do you know who coined that one? Good 'ol Bill Shakesphere!

    Of course, the most important part of the cookbook is the collection of recipes. And what a collection it is! The Table of Contents gives you a glimpse of the over 180 recipes in this book:

    1. Appetizers (like Crab Fondue)
    2. Soups (like Tortellini Soup)
    3. Meats
      • Beef, Lamb, Pork (like Honey Baked Ham)
      • Chicken (like Chicken with Raspberry)
      • Fish (like Shrimp with Feta and Tomato)
    4. Starches
      • Potatoes (like Fried Polenta)
      • Rice (like Spanish Rice)
      • Pastas (like Fettucine Alfredo)
    5. Vegetables (like Chinese Stir Fry Veggies)
    6. Salads (like Pasta Salad with Shrimp)
    7. Desserts (like Bavarian Apple Strudel)
    8. Drinks, Brunches, Sauces and Other Special Recipes (like Fruit Mimosas)

    If the examples above have you yearning for more, Cook Smart will probably be a welcome addition to your cookbook collection. With all of its time-saving ideas and helpful hints, the only thing it lacks is illustrations of the finished products. Of course, there is a solution to that problem -- get out your pots and pans!

Where to Buy Pasta Classica About the Author
    Julia Della Croce is a well-known cookbook author, journalist, lecturer, and teacher. Her knowledge of Italian cooking began at her mother's knee and continued throughout her numerous stays in Italy. She has appeared in television and radio programs and has written for many newspapers and magazines in addition to her several published cookbooks.
About the Cookbook
    Pasta Classica is one of those rare cookbooks that strives to do much more than offer its readers wonderful recipes. Of course, it does that too, but what sets this book apart is what else you take away from it. Imagine taking one of those wonderful Italian history books and a great Italian cookbook and combining them. The result would look very much like Pasta Classica. By the time you finish reading this cookbook (yes, a cookbook that you can actually read), you not only want to start making your own pasta and fresh sauces, you actually understand their origins and why Italians take their pasta so seriously. After all, in Italy, there are over three hundred names for one hundred pasta shapes. Now that's devotion! Pasta Classica offers 125 authentic Italian recipes for pasta and sauces. If you have the urge to brush up on your Italian, all of the recipe names are given in both Italian and English and many recipes present brief summaries of techniques, words, and ingredients that may seem unusual to the novice Italian cook. In addition to directions on how to make fresh pasta "from scratch", there are recipes that call for dried pasta and others that present sauces that can be mixed with either variety.

    The recipes serve between two and six people, with most recipes serving four. I found that most recipes are easily halved or doubled. While there are few suggested variations, most seasoned cooks will find that variations seem to suggest themselves as you explore the ingredient lists. However, I would suggest that you stick to the lists when making fresh pasta unless you are experienced with pasta-making.

    The recipes presented in the book are sure to please, but unless you are interested in discovering more about the art and history of Italian cooking, you might do better to find a different book. After all, the recipes first begin on page 63! Prior to that, the reader is taken on a culinary journey through time and space. Julia recalls fond memories of her mother's cozy Italian kitchen and the lessons she's carried with her from it. She also writes about the in's and out's of cooking pasta properly -- a technique that any true Italian will tell you is almost important as breathing!

    To give you some ideas about the recipes included in Pasta Classica, here is a portion of the Table of Contents and some examples of the recipes you'll find in it:

    1. Pasta Basics (like How to Cook It Right)
    2. Making Fresh Pasta (like Chocolate Pasta)
    3. Basic Sauces (like "Long-simmered" Beef Sauce)
    4. Pasta Soups (like Pasta and Bean Soup)
    5. Gnocchi and Stuffed Pasta (like Tortellini)
    6. Fresh Noodles (like Spinach Trenette with Creamy Tomato-Sausage Sauce)
    7. Dried Pasta (like Spaghetti with Raw Tomatoes and Avocado)
    8. Festive and Baked Specialties (like Timpano of Eggplant and Macaroni)
    9. Regional Specialties (like Ziti with Rapini)

    If the examples above have you wondering what else is offered, Pasta Classica will probably be a welcome addition to your cookbook collection. It is one of those rare jewels that will do more than sit next to your stove. You could actually curl up with it by the fire and learn something about pasta and the Italians. Happy reading!

Where to Buy
    If you are interested in purchasing Pasta Classica by Julia Della Croce, you are likely to find it among the international cookbooks at any large bookstore, such as Barnes and Nobel or Borders. You can also consult one of the online booksellers made available at the end of this article. The publisher's price of the cookbook is $19.95.
Good Food F-A-S-T About the Author
    Malcolm Hillier has a background in advertising, but his interests involve plants, flowers, gardening, and -- of course -- cooking. His interest in cooking was piqued by his aunt, who introduced him to fine cuisine in London's Soho. His interests have led him to write several books focusing on them.
About the Cookbook
    Good Food F-A-S-T is made for people who love food and cooking, but don't have much time for either. All of the recipes included in the book can be prepared in 30 minutes or less and most use ingredients that we all have on hand. All of the recipes are ordered by the time it takes to prepare them, so if you find you only have 10 minutes to make dinner, you can quickly find a Pasta with Figs recipe that fits the bill. You can pair that with Crostini as an appetizer and Strawberries in White Wine as a dessert just as quickly. An added benefit are the full color photographs of every prepared recipe.

    However, what really makes this book unique is its format. Unlike your normal cookbook, the format of this book allows you to plan an entire menu by choosing an appetizer, main course, and dessert and seeing them side-by-side. This is made possible by physically splitting pages 12-104 into thirds and placing all of the appetizer recipes in the upper third, all of the main course recipes in the middle third, and all of the dessert recipes in the lower third. If your menu requires an additional side dish, several quick options are suggested in pages 106-113. If that isn't easy enough for you, Malcolm includes some simple seasonal menu suggestions too.

    The unique format of this cookbook makes it a natural choice for cooking with children. You can emphasize the importance of planning a balanced menu by allowing them to take part in choosing menus. You can let them experiment with different colors, tastes, preparation times or techniques, and ingredients. Because the longest any recipe takes to prepare is 30 minutes, you don't need to worry about losing the interest and attention of your youngsters. Also, many of the recipes in the book can be completely prepared by children without the danger of burning or cutting. In those recipes that do require the use of knives or the stove, allow your child to help you wherever possible.

    All of the recipes in the book are designed to serve four people. You can halve or double recipes, but you might have trouble with halving in some cases in which whole vegetables or fruits are called for in serving. If you run into trouble, you can always use dishes instead and skip the extra flair.

    Because Good Food F-A-S-T is organized in such an unusual manner, its Table of Contents is split into three sections: Appetizers, Main Courses and Desserts. Here are some of the 150 recipe names and sections to give you an idea about what you'll find in it:

    1. Appetizers
      • Soups (like Thai Coconut Soup)
      • Eggs & Cheese (like Goat Cheese with Peppers and Pecans)
      • Pastry (like Stilton, Celery, and Macadamia Tarts)
      • Fish (like Scallops Foo Young)
      • Rice & Pasta (like Seafood Risotto)
      • Salads (like Pear Salad)
      • Vegetarian (like Tempura)
      • Meat & Poultry (like Chicken Liver Salad)
    2. Main Courses
      • Fish (like Pernod)
      • Poultry & Game (like Chicken Cacciatora)
      • Beef & Pork (like Ham with Cherry Sauce)
      • Lamb & Veal (like Skewered Lamb)
      • Vegetarian (like Orange, Nut, and Raisin Risotto)
      • Rice & Pasta (like Penne with a Fiery Sauce)
    3. Desserts
      • Fresh Fruit (like Raspberry Tartlets)
      • Cold Desserts (like Tiramisu)
      • Hot Desserts (like Melon Tart Tatin)
      • Pastry (like Almond Cream Tart)
      • Ice Creams and Sorbets (like Tomato Granita)

    If you love to mix and match your menus, you'll probably enjoy Good Food F-A-S-T. If you love fine food, but don't think you have the time to enjoy it, then you'll love it!

Where to Buy
    If you are interested in purchasing Good Food F-A-S-T by Malcolm Hillier, you are likely to find it among the international cookbooks at any large bookstore, such as Barnes and Nobel or Borders. You can also consult one of the online booksellers made available at the end of this article. The publisher's price of the cookbook is $24.95.
Quick & Easy Indian Cooking About the Author
    Madhur Jaffrey is a well-known authority on Indian food and cooking. She is the author of many cookbooks and hosts three television series on Indian cooking. They include: Indian Cookery, Far Eastern Cookery, and Flavors of India. In 1994, she won the James Beard Award for Best Cookbook with A Taste of the Far East.
About the Cookbook

    When I was in college, I often joined a few friends at a favorite Indian resturant in Manhatten. The food was expensive, but -- frankly -- the aroma that floated around the place was worth the price alone. If you're like me and enjoy Indian food, you'll love Quick & Easy Indian Cooking. It offers the best flavors and aromas of authentic Indian cuisine with methods that even a novice cook can handle.

    One of the most important aspects of proper Indian cooking is the amazing blends of spices used. As an extra help to people starting out, Madhur includes an extensive section near the end of the book about what to have in an Indian pantry. It covers everything from coconut milk to the famous curries. For the beginner, it helps alleviate any anxiety about whether or not you have what it takes to cook Indian cuisine.

    While this cookbook is geared towards the novice, an expert cook can find ways to keep challenged by choosing several dishes and variations. Suggestions about menus and entertaining are also included for those chefs who are bold enough to dare! Madhur also encourages the reader to mix and match Indian dishes with Western dishes. Mix a chef's salad with an egg curry or a spicy fish with simple boiled potatoes. Try an Indian-style chutney with your grilled chicken. Who says it shouldn't be done?

    The recipes presented in Quick & Easy Indian Cooking serve between two and eight people. Halving and doubling are possible, but you must be careful with the spices or you will be unhappy with the results. Since many of the dishes freeze well, I suggest you make the larger servings and freeze or otherwise store the leftovers. Do you really think your family will complain about smelling wonderful Indian food twice in a month?

    The over 70 recipes in the book are organized into eight catagories and each catagory begins with its own list of recipes for quick reference. Illustrations are provided throughout the book to show the finished product and some serving suggestions. Here are some examples of what you'll find in it:

    1. Soups, Appetizers, and Snacks (like Sandwiches with Mint and Chili Butter)
    2. Beef, Lamb, and Pork (like Lamb Stewed in Coconut Milk)
    3. Eggs and Poultry (like Garlicky Mushroom Masala Omelet)
    4. Fish and Seafood (like Curried Tuna)
    5. Legumes and Vegetables (like New Potatoes with Cumin)
    6. Bread and Rice (like Turmeric Rice)
    7. Salads, Relishes, Chutneys, and Pickles (like Fresh Red Chutney with Almonds)
    8. Drinks and Desserts (like Banana Halva)

    If you think you want to add Indian cooking to your list of specialties, Quick & Easy Indian Cooking is for you. Whether a novice cook or an executive chef, you can benefit from this book.

Where to Buy
    If you are interested in purchasing Quick & Easy Indian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey, you are likely to find it among the international cookbooks at any large bookstore, such as Barnes and Nobel or Borders. You can also consult one of the online booksellers made available at the end of this article. The publisher's price of the cookbook is $15.95.
Some Suggested Online Booksellers Editor's Note: None of the cookbooks mentioned in this review are in any way associated with Seasoned Cooking or its publisher.