Two Great Cookbooks for Hanukkah 2014

My private cookbook collection can't compare to that of many of my colleagues -- my 500 or so seem paltry next to collections in the thousands. But at this stage of life, I carefully curate the books I want around forever. Here are two of them -- both recently published and perfect gifts for Hanukkah. 2014-12-01-61er1osP9gL.jpg Jewish Soul Food: From Minsk to Marrakesh by Janna Gur Schocken Books, New York NY 2014 $35.00 ISBN 978-0- 8052-4308-6

This is a rave. With striking photos and vibrant spirit, here is a cookbook that reads like a luscious travelogue built around the culinary narrative of the Jewish diaspora. The book's author, Janna Gur, is among the most knowledgeable representatives of Israeli cuisine (her first book, The Book of New Israeli Food, 2007 is already a classic) and of Jewish food and identity around the globe. Her new book, Jewish Soul Food: from Minsk to Marrakesh, is both prequel and sequel to Jerusalem by Ottolenghi. In a world cluttered with cookbooks, hers is a standout, a poignant journey of enforced migration and authenticity cast in a contemporary light. There is much to learn. I have never seen, eaten, or made many of these dishes: Her sabich (an egg and eggplant sandwich often eaten for breakfast) is gorgeous, as is hamim macaroni, mafroum (meat and potato "sandwiches"), Bulgarian feta-stuffed pepper "cutlets," and tantalizing fluden, made with poppy seeds, walnuts and apples, for dessert. Its diverse recipes paint much of Israel's culinary landscape, where Ms. Gur resides and publishes, with her husband, Israel's most prominent food and wine magazine called Al Hashulchan (At the Table). Born in the former Soviet Union, Ms. Gur emigrated to Israel in 1974 and since that time has scholarly untangled the global threads woven into the Israeli kitchen.

Some of my favorite dishes include sabzi polo, rice pilaf made with equal amounts of basmati rice and fragrant fresh herbs, and addictive ijeh b'lahmeh which are herb and meat latkes perfect for Hanukkah. Also appropriate for the holiday are bimuelos, a Sephardic dessert of fried dough, drizzled with cinnamon-scented honey syrup and garnished with walnuts. I look forward to making her orange flower butter cookies studded with almonds for gift-giving this season.

This book is important because of Janna's strongly held belief: The only way to preserve traditional cuisine for future generations is to cook it. Without her careful attention to this repertoire of priceless artifacts -- recipes from vanquished times and cultures -- these hand-me-downs would be all but lost. Jewish cuisine is unique because it reflects the histories of so many nationalities, wars and displacements. How Ms. Gur captures its essence in 100 recipes is the magic of this book.

2014-12-01-Delancey.jpg Eating Delancey: A Celebration of Jewish Food by Aaron Rezny and Jordan Schaps powerHouse Books, Brooklyn, NY 2014 $35.00 ISBN 978-1-57687-722-7

I don't know exactly where my grandparents lived as Hungarian immigrants in the early part of the last century, but they certainly climbed tenement steps and shopped on Delancey Street, as depicted in this sumptuous book with lovely essays by famous fressers (eaters) -- Calvin Trillin, Paul Goldberger (architecture critic of the New York Times), food maven Arthur Schwartz, legendary graphic designer, Milton Glaser -- and mouth-watering recipes. There are spectacular images of food, people, storefronts, and culinary ephemera, and an unexpected black-and-white photo of Janis Joplin smoking a cigarette at Ratner's, which is fabulous.

Eating Delancey, is Mr. Rezny's personal homage to the vanishing flavors of his youth. Similarly, Mr. Schaps waxes nostalgic about his bubbe Ethel Raben and the meals he consumed in her Russian-Yiddish-American kitchen. Mr. Rezny photographs the semaphores of their combined history -- bagels, halvah, knishes, seltzer bottles -- with the same intention. The photographs of iconic quaffs -- a bottle of Cherry Heering, Slivovitz, a bottle top of Cel-ray soda, tea in a glass are stunning in their simplicity. And the luster of the finished dishes -- a slice of creamy cheesecake, Schwartz's sweet and sour flanken, even matzo brei, a monochrome dish if there ever was one, here looks sensuous.

Joan Rivers would have kvelled from this book. Her poignant introduction, which in itself is poignant, is brilliantly alive with affection for Jewish food. She describes her mother, "a chic woman, very well read, a great hostess, and a horrible cook" and goes on to confess her love of singed chicken feet and gefilte fish with freshly grated horseradish.

Many books have delved into the psyche of Jewish people through their food -- but this book succeeds as a true work of art. I, for one, regret not knowing more about my grandparents' path, that of Joseph and Louise (Goldstein) Gold, who walked and ate with the best of them. More nostalgia: My best friend threw me a surprise wedding shower at Sammy's Roumanian on Chrystie Street -- imagine how classy that was -- a place where chicken fat is poured from a pitcher, garlic fills the air, and where time, for a moment, stands still.

Read All About It: Israel's Emerging Food Scene

cookbooks2Now that Jerusalem has become one of the best selling cookbooks in recent years, it may be time to look at it in context. The recipes are wonderful, the photographs are mouthwatering, the narrative is compelling and democratic. Beyond food, the book has touched something deeper in all of us. Jerusalem, home to more than 60 religious and ethnic communities, is a lodestar for spirituality, sharing and healing, along with a full measure of continuing strife. So beyond the book's virtues of history combined with recipes, unusual ingredients and flavors, it allows us to hold in our hands a gastronomic overlay to the region's millennial conflicts, through a universal experience that connotes peace and above all, pleasure. I had the rare opportunity last year to interview authors Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, the former is Israeli, the latter Palestinian, when they came to New York on a book tour. We three sat on the bima in a huge Park Slope synagogue, and gazed upon hundreds of fans who came to listen to their stories and then hungered for more. It was clear to all of us assembled there that their Jerusalem penetrated into a realm far deeper than cooking. The cuisine that the authors express speaks to ancient realities and present truths: The kitchen table knows no boundaries; and no wall, however high and long, can ever be so impermeable to prevent the vapors of the collective culinary consciousness waft through.

Just this weekend, I had pleasure of a parallel experience. This time, the talented and ebullient chef, Einat Admony, owner of New York City restaurants Balaboosta, Taim and Bar Bolonat, expressed the food of another diaspora. Vivid dishes -- cooked and served in her Brooklyn loft to a handful of journalists and friends - blended the recipes of her native Iran with Arabic verve, and Israeli cunning. Pomegranate mimosas, spicy Yemenite s'chug, brown-boiled eggs, delectable fried eggplant, osovo (an overnight peasant dish with myriad variations - ours included rice and marrow bones), kubaneh (a slow-cooked Yemenite bread), and malabi (a traditional milk custard) with red fruit conserve for dessert made an emphatically evocative case for "new Israeli cuisine." Best of all, the recipes are easily found in Ms. Admony's beautiful new book Balaboosta published this week by Artisan.

If asked who I'd have come to a last dinner, Yotam, Sami and Einat would certainly be among my guests. But so too would be the five journalists who graced the stage of the Museum of Jewish Heritage on October 6th for an event entitled "Frothed Milk and Truffled Honey." It was a nod to the ebullient creativity that's fermenting in the kitchens of Israel's best chefs. Janna Gur, food writer and publisher of Israel's most prestigious culinary magazine Al Hashulchan, said that the best word to describe the new Israeli cuisine is "fresh." Fresh referring to the abundance of Israel's technicolor produce, fresh referring to the culture's rampant innovation, and fresh also referring to the sassy ingenuity with which chefs there have absorbed culinary influences from the entire region and integrated them into a new, electrifying cuisine.

In 1996, I was one of four "Women Chefs for Peace" on a mission to Israel. Upon my return I wrote an article for the New York Times called "A Region's Taste Commingles in Israel." I predicted then that it was the trend to watch. And now, it's here.

The Magic of Three Ingredients

With a touch of irony, I note that simplicity has become trendy. Again. This September's cover story in Food & Wine breathlessly features their best "three-ingredient recipes ever." Real Simple magazine boasted similar stories over the past two years, as did Oprah magazine. I have to smile knowing that my 1996 cookbook Recipes 1-2-3: Fabulous Food Using Only 3 Ingredients launched a quiet revolution that now is being embraced by the food world's upper crust. Not surprisingly in the era of rampant borrowing, there's hardly ever any attribution to the concept's creator, but the nine books in my 1-2-3 series have been nominated for 5 James Beard Awards (with three wins) and one Julia Child/IACP award. Along with a smash hit called The 1-2-3 Collection, (going strong at Apple's iTunes store), these books continue to surface in stores and garner testimonials from devoted 1-2-3 practitioners.

It has been said, "Never trust a simple dish to a simple chef." And it was with that in mind that I devised my daring three-ingredient formula where every ingredient counted except salt, pepper and water.

Like the minimalist movement in art, which reacted to the excesses of abstract expressionism, I wanted to strip away the froufrou that accumulated during the last few decade that came to define "contemporary" or "creative" cooking.

Instead of competing by the number of ingredients they cram into a dish or how high they can pile it on a plate, I longed for the high priests (and priestesses) of culinary wizardry to let the "ingredients speak for themselves" and manipulate them as little as possible.

When Alain Ducasse opened at the Essex House, his press release boasted of cooking "with just a few ingredients and some herbs". Laurent Gras, made headlines at the Waldorf's Peacock Alley by cooking with only two ingredients. Daniel Boulud, said "cooking with three ingredients is the way a chef really wants to and does cook at home." Boston's Lydia Shire once said "some of the world's best dishes have no more than three ingredients."

Today's superstar chefs, when asked about what kind of food they're cooking, give the same trendy answer. "Simple," they say. But as I study menus from hot restaurants around the country, their offerings appear radically complex in both ingredient usage and cooking techniques.

As my three-ingredient philosophy has demonstrated over the years, there's lots of intellectual glue (like using one ingredients several different ways) needed to make simple recipes work. In addition, cooking simply teaches valuable lessons about the way we experience taste. It would be fascinating to get into the "mind" of today's top chefs as they claim to create their own streamlined dishes.

I like many of the recipes put forth by the test kitchen in September's Food & Wine issue. The rules of the game, however, have been altered: Olive oil has been added to the list of "free ingredients." That's a bit like lowering the handicap of a well-seasoned golfer, but the recipes still sound delicious.

I offer you two crowd-pleasing three-ingredient recipes of my own: Lemon-Buttermilk Ice Cream is the perfect dessert for the remaining lazy-hazy days of summer, and Mahogany Short Ribs proved to be one of the Washington Post's favorite recipes. You may want to check out the reservoir of three-ingredient recipes in my books (many still in print: Recipes 1-2-3; Recipes 1-2-3 Menu Cookbook, Entertaining 1-2-3, Healthy 1-2-3, Low Carb 1-2-3; Cooking 1-2-3, Kids Cook 1-2-3, Desserts 1-2-3, Christmas 1-2-3) and you'll understand the magic.

Mahogany Short Ribs (adapted from Recipes 1-2-3) This irreverent merger of foodstuffs results in a tantalizing dish that will amaze and amuse your guests. Prune juice tenderizes marbled ribs of beef, while teriyaki sauce ads a touch of sweetness and salinity. Nice with a bright, young zinfandel. Make sure the ribs are cut in between the bones to make 4 large thick ribs. These are known as "long cut" to differentiate them from "flanken" which is cut across the bone.

3 pounds short ribs, cut into 4 pieces 1 cup teriyaki sauce 1 cup prune juice

Place the ribs in a large bowl. Pour teriyaki and prune juice over ribs. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Remove the ribs from the marinade. Bring the marinade to a boil in a large pot with 1 cup water and 1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns. Lower the heat, add the meat, and cover the pot. Simmer for 2 hours, or until the meat is very tender. Remove the meat to a platter. Reduce the sauce for 5 minutes over high heat until syrupy. Immediately pour sauce over the ribs. This is also delicious the next day. Remove any congealed fat from the top of the sauce and slowly reheat ribs in the liquid. Serves 4

Lemon Buttermilk Ice Cream (adapted from Recipes 1-2-3) How luxurious only 2 grams of fat can taste. This is fabulous served over fresh strawberries tossed with sugar and spiked with grappa.

2 cups sugar 5 large lemons 1 quart buttermilk

Put the sugar in a large bowl. Grate the zest of 2 or 3 lemons to get 1 tablespoon zest. Cut lemons in half and squeeze 2/3 cup juice. Add zest and juice to the sugar and stir until sugar dissolves. Add the buttermilk and a large pinch of salt and stir until completely smooth. Chill well and freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. Serves 6 to 8

On the Road to Morocco (and Madrid)

I hope you are all having a wonderful summer. My husband, daughter and I are off to Morocco and Madrid and will be traveling for two weeks (I hope our house guests enjoy themselves!). We are returning to places we have loved in the past and visiting a dear friend in Morocco whom we haven't seen in 14 years.  His family has grown as has ours. It's been a time of rapid growth in the world and I know we will see many changes on our journey. Yet some images remain steadfast. I can already inhale the sweet fragrant mint tea that awaits us in Marrakesh. I look forward to "breaking bread" with our friend's family during Ramadan. Excitement rushes through me as I imagine a slow walk through the Prado; tapas at 11 p.m., and a bit of sultry Flamenco afterwards. It will be a joy to see all of it through the eyes of our 16-year-old daughter. During the next two weeks I will be sharing reviews of two new favorite vegetarian cookbooks, some news from our trip, and who knows what else. In the meantime, here are two recipes from Radically Simple -- with evocative flavors from Morocco and Spain -- meant to whet your appetite on a balmy summer night. Couscous Salad with Dates & Toasted Almonds

I developed this recipe for Bon Appetit magazine, and I'm told it became one of their most popular salads. Quite versatile, it can be part of a mezze offering or a great accompaniment to roast lamb. For best results, do not refrigerate and serve at room temperature.

1/3 cup slivered almonds scant 2 cups couscous 1-1/2 cups cooked (or canned) chickpeas 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil 2 scallions, finely chopped, white and green parts 10 large dates, pitted and finely diced 1 teaspoon ground cardamom grated zest and juice of 2 lemons 1/3 cup coarsely chopped cilantro

In a large saucepan, bring 2 cups of salted water to a boil. Lightly toast the almonds in a small skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes.  Set aside. Add the couscous to the boiling water and stir. Cover and remove from the heat. Let sit for 4 minutes. Uncover and fluff with a fork. Transfer to a large bowl. Add the almonds, chickpeas (drained and rinsed), olive oil, scallions, dates, cardamom, lemon zest, and 3 tablespoons (or more) lemon juice.  Stir in the cilantro, salt and pepper.  Serves 6

Avocado Soup with Fino Sherry

If you pre-chill the ingredients for this awesome soup, it can be made in a minute!  It has a mesmerizing flavor and velvety texture.  If making the soup ahead of time, chill well and add the sherry (and optional garlic) at the very end.  More awesome still:  crumble blue cheese on top and serve with Marcona almonds.

2 medium-large ripe avocados 3 cups chicken broth, chilled 2 cups buttermilk, chilled 2 tablespoons fino sherry 1 small garlic clove, optional

Cut the avocados in half and remove the pits. Scoop the flesh into a food processor. Add the broth and 1-1/2 cups of the buttermilk. Process until very smooth.  Stir in the sherry and garlic, pushed through a press. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Ladle into bowls and drizzle each serving with a bit of the remaining buttermilk which will float on top. Serves 4 or 5

Singapore Food Critic Loves My Mac-n-Cheese

It's amazing how recipes circulate around the world. Back in the early '80s it took about two years for "blackened redfish" to migrate from New Orleans, where it was invented by Paul Prudhomme, to Chicago. But that's because the primitive media of culinary exchange were cooking magazines and Wednesday's newspaper food sections.

By the time the blackening fad arrived in Australia, redfish had been over-harvested to near-extinction, recovering only after trendinista chefs moved onto something else. These days, of course, food news and recipes shoot around the globe in no time flat via the Internet -- which is why we're suddenly inundated with gilded "gourmet" hamburgers and bizarre pizzas everywhere in the United States.

I'm reminded of this by an email that just arrived from Singapore, where one of my own recipes recently appeared. Two years ago, Michael Whiteman, my husband The Restaurant Consultant, worked with Richard Helfer, the former far-thinking president of Raffles Hotels, to help create a fast-casual rotisserie chicken restaurant prototype that was slated to colonize numerous corners of Singapore and then beyond.

On one of his trips he brought as a gift a cookbook, which I'd written with my daughter, called Eat Fresh Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs. Every recipe is healthful and colorful, with major emphasis on swapping fresh vegetable purees for otherwise fattening cream and butter. For example, zucchini gets whirled into a gorgeous jade-green sauce for pasta primavera; cauliflower gets star billing in a delicious side dish called "Looks Like Mashed Potatoes;" and creamed spinach is enlightened with a puree of (yes!) cottage cheese.

Helfer named his chicken chain Charly T's, after a fictional gastronome who roamed the globe in search of recipes that would sate his infinite lust for chicken. Knowing that go-withs and flavorful sauces are at least as important as a well-lacquered bird, Helfer paid lots of attention to side dishes, one of which he happened upon in the aforementioned cookbook.

A Singaporean food writer alarmingly named "Little Missy Greedy" recently visited the newly opened second outlet of Charly T's to write about how to make the restaurant's celebrated mac-and-cheese -- and there it is, straight from Eat Fresh Food: my singular recipe that incorporates, among other ingredients, red peppers, chipotle powder, honey and cauliflower florets. Its gorgeous bright orange sauce is made from cooked red bell peppers and garlic that get pureed together until silky. The seven step-by-step photos all have captions in Chinese, which happens to be Greek to me -- but you can make this at home with your kids and be rewarded for being a terrific parent. You'll love it because it looks like it's oozing with cheese, but it has much less fat and is more nutritious than regular mac-and-cheese. And now it's among the trendiest dishes in Singapore. Singapore Sling, anyone? MAC-AND-CHEESE with Cauliflower and Creamy Red Pepper Sauce

4 oz. very sharp yellow cheddar 2 medium red bell peppers, about 12 oz. 3 large garlic cloves, peeled 1 tablespoon unsalted butter 1 teaspoon honey 1/8 teaspoon chipotle chile powder 8 oz. ziti or penne rigate (or elbow macaroni) 3 cups small cauliflower florets 3 tablespoons finely chopped chives


Shred the cheese on the large holes of a box grater and set aside. Cut the peppers in half and remove the seeds. Cut peppers into 1-inch pieces and put in a small saucepan with ½ cup water. Cut the garlic in half, lengthwise, and add to the saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to medium, and cover. Cook for 15 minutes, or until the peppers are very soft. Transfer the contents of the saucepan, including the water, to a food processor or blender. Add the butter, honey, chile powder, and salt to taste and process until very smooth. Return to the saucepan. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cauliflower and cook for 12 minutes, or until tender. Drain well and shake dry. Transfer to a large bowl. Heat the sauce and pour it over the pasta. Add the cheese and stir well. Add salt to taste. Sprinkle with chives. Serves 4 to 6

How I Bought 3,500 Cookbooks and Got 6,317

You may recall that when Gourmet Magazine was abruptly shut down in December 2009 there were 3,500 cookbooks on their library shelves that would have great value as a single collection -- but they were on the verge of being broken up or, worse, sold off by Conde Nast for just $4 a book. With some well-timed phone calls, a bit of luck, and surprise approval from my family, I shelled out $14,000 to buy them all. But not for myself. Instead, I donated them, down to the very last recipe, to New York University in honor of my Hungarian mother, a vivacious cook who was more Zsa Zsa than Julia.

I've just discovered that I'd purchased not 3,500, but in fact 6,317 titles. For a moment, I fantasized that the books had bred amongst themselves and that these bonus babies represented a new form of "fusion cuisine." The more prosaic answer came from Marvin J. Taylor, director of Fales Library and Special Collections at NYU. "It turns out that there were boxes and boxes of smaller pamphlets that pushed the numbers up."

What's more important than the numbers is that almost two years to the day the collection is now available for research and for posterity. Financed by a grant from Les Dames d' Escoffier, "We have just completed the cataloging of the Gourmet library," reports Taylor. For all of us in the world of food, that's exciting news. The collection is now ready for use by historians who live in research libraries and for the rest of us who'd just as soon troll through a cookbook as read a novel.

To that point, I'm eager to read The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman. It is a novel not about cookbook collecting, but whose premise serves as a metaphor for the substitutions we make in our lives when we can't find what we're looking for, i.e. reading cookbooks instead of actually cooking, collecting instead of living. My mother wisely noted that I enjoyed puttering in the kitchen rather than working on my master's degree in psychology. So that I wouldn't cook instead of work, she encouraged me to become a professional chef at a time when women were anathema in the kitchen. I'm proud that the woman who inspired and nurtured me is immortalized by having her nameplate in each book in the Gourmet collection.

Gourmet magazine made the world of food possible for many of us: We ate and drank its dreams. Its images and words shaped our aspirations, made us thirsty, piqued our curiosity, cajoled us to travel, and steered us to ancient hungers. We grew inquisitive as we sat at its table and became sophisticated at its knee. Few institutions can help us journey inside ourselves at the same time as we journey to the four corners of the world. The Gourmet library is so important because it means something unique to each of us.

Gourmet was where I had my first job interview after I graduated from college. I lived downstairs from their elusive photographer Luis Lemus. I didn't get the job, but years later I wrote for them, and was eventually written about and featured on one of their covers. No doubt, each of you reading this has your own special story -- even Nora Ephron, who said, "Every time I get married, I start buying Gourmet."

According to Taylor, the Gourmet library, consisting largely of volumes published within the past 30 years, was discerningly put together. "It really represents what the editors saw as the best of the best," he said. "It is fascinating because you can see the various trends Gourmet covered. There are shelves of Cajun books and many Mediterranean books. And there's a very large Asian selection."

NYU reportedly has the largest assemblage of cookbooks and other culinary miscellany in the country and I am happy that the collection will be available to chefs and food professionals forever and will keep Gourmet in everyone's heart.

And I raise a glass to Ruth Reichl, Gourmet's editor-in-chief, whose spirit guided the magazine so well.

Two Great Cooks, Two Great Cookbooks

'Tis the season to give and receive...and if you're lucky, this year's best cookbooks will be part of the exchange. I recently was given a gift of Ellie Krieger's new book "Comfort Food Fix" and later that week bought for myself Melissa Clark's "Cook This Now." There was something strikingly sympatico about both books -- each meant for a unique audience -- and I was eager to find the treasures within. Both titles are "calls to action," compelling the home cook to get into the kitchen immediately and do something! Their subtitles tell the rest of the story. Ms. Krieger's book is filled with "Feel-Good Favorites Made Healthy," while Ms. Clark offers "120 Easy and Delectable Dishes You Can't Wait to Make." As the author of twelve cookbooks, I know the vicissitudes of creating original dishes that satisfy home cooks' deepest wishes: Recipes that balance a sense of ease in both the time they take to prepare and the "stress factor" in making them. If the recipes "feel healthy," so much the better -- especially for weekday or family cooking. Add to that an interesting new ingredient, technique or combination of flavors, and you've got a book full of enticing new dishes to try.

While the food world is small and many of us know each other, I am only an acquaintance of the authors, meeting up for an occasional chat at a cookbook launch, a chance meeting in the farmer's market, or once an encounter at a very short lunch. But I have been a fan of both authors for years. Ellie is host of one of TV's more credible food shows --Healthy Appetite, shown weekday mornings on the Cooking Channel, and the author of "The Food You Crave" and "So Easy." Melissa is the triumphant food writer for The New York Times' column "A Good Appetite" and the author of 32 cookbooks.

I asked both authors which five recipes in their books were personal favorites. An unfair question, I know! Ellie selected her Blueberry Muffins, French Onion Soup, Shrimp and Grits, Scalloped Potatoes au Gratin, and Mini Cheesecakes, while Melissa highlighted her Roasted Cauliflower with Pomegranate and Salted Yogurt, Roast Chicken with Chickpeas, Lemons & Gremolata, Vietnamese-Style Steak with Cabbage. Pistachio Shortbread, and Maple Pecan Pie with Star Anise. Unknowingly they created little menus for you and me. Ellie's approach might seem the more familiar and homey to Melissa's more adventurous riffs -- the very embodiment of interesting ingredients and new flavor combos.

Each author has successfully carved out a special niche in the crowded marketplace of cooking and cookbooks. As a registered dietician with a master's degree in nutrition from Columbia University, Ellie brings formidable knowledge and expertise to her craft. Her goal in Comfort Food Fix was to re-formulate pleasurable recipes -- banana-walnut pancakes, oven-fried chicken, lasagna, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie -- so that you could include them in a healthier regime. Particularly useful, and insightful into her methodology, is her list of "The 15 Fix Factors" -- including ideas such as using low-fat milk thickened with a bit of flour or cornstarch to create a creamy mouthfeel; the concept of the "un-fry" -- achieving crispiness in a low-fat way; adding whole grains, cooking to keep nutrients, trimming portions, and sweetening smartly. I especially like the notion of keeping it real, and using a bit of butter to enrich foods. According to Ms. Krieger, only 1 tablespoon of sweet butter is needed to add supernal creaminess to her recipe for mashed potatoes. Another wave of her magic wand? A Mushroom, Onion & Gruyere Quiche with Oat Crust was 530 calories before her "fix" and only 290 calories afterward. It also looks delicious.

Melissa, on the other hand, in Cook This Now brings one of my favorite Japanese proverbs to life: "If you can capture the season on the plate, then you are the master." Her recipes feature organic, fresh ingredients that can be uniquely obtained during each month of the year and has us thinking about the procurement of ingredients and cooking as though there were 12 seasons in a year. I love that notion. December brings us Beet & Cabbage Borscht with Dill, Golden Parsnip Latkes, Braised Leg of Lamb with Garlicky Root Vegetable Puree, and lovely sounding Red Chard with Pine Nuts, Garlic, and Golden Rum Raisins. Know what, Melissa?  I am going to "Cook This Now!" Melissa's cooking style, as well as her writing style, is personal, knowing, and seasoned liberally with brilliance.

So there you have it. Two new books to curl up in bed with. Happy Holidays.

Melissa Clark's Pistachio Shortbread (from "Cook This Now") According to Melissa, if she had a signature dish, it would be shortbread.

2 cups all-purpose flour 3/4 cup confectioners' sugar 1/2 cup shelled pistachios 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt 1 cup chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes 2 teaspoons orange blossom water

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Combine the flour, confectioners' sugar, pistachios, and salt in a food processor. Pulse until the nuts are coarsely to finely chopped. Pulse in the butter and orange blossom water until a moist ball forms. Press the dough evenly into an 8-inch-square baking pan.  Prick the shortbread all over with a fork. Bake the shortbread until barely golden, 45 to 50 minutes. Slice the shortbread while warm.

In Time for the Holidays: Star-Chefs Keep it Simple

Most of us prepare traditional, time-honored, often-complicated recipes during the holidays as a tribute to the slavish hours put in by our mothers in years gone by. These elaborate dishes are the culinary equivalent of a photo album, honoring not only our ancestors but what they ate around a shared table. But what if we were “given permission” by today’s star chefs to keep-it-simple? Then maybe we would! During the holidays, when too many people are in the kitchen, too many meals to prepare, and expectations that are exalted, this approach allows the harried cook to have as much fun as their guests. The idea? To fulfill the promise of abundance without the burden. This year, some of the world’s most revered chefs inadvertently satisfy this need in new cookbooks coming out this season.  Many of the most illustrious --  Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Marc Vetri, Daniel Humm, Heston Blumenthal, and Ferran Adria – share some of their simpler ideas  in titles such as “Home-Cooking with Jean-Georges,” “Heston Blumenthal at Home”, Vetri’s “Rustic Italian Food,”  Adria’s “The Family Meal,”  and Jacob Kenedy’s (from London’s hot restaurant Bocca), approachable tome, “Bocca.” Even Daniel Humm, in his uber-sophisticated book “11 Madison Park,” presents some do-able, holiday recipes. If you look hard enough, you will find them. I have had the pleasure of browsing these inspiring books and found recipes that meet "radically simple" standards: not too many ingredients, simple procedures, with an existential trade-off of time and effort. These are the dishes that one craves during the busiest time in our lives. Sporting the colors and flavors of the season while they infuse the spirit of tradition with a shot of modernity. Crafting a holiday meal from these collective works would look something like this:

Jean-Georges’ Crab Toast with Sriracha Mayonnaise Heston Blumenthal’s Creamy Leek and Potato Soup Daniel Humm’s Almond Vinaigrette on a salad of endive, watercress & Roquefort Jacob Kenedy’s Duck Cooked Like A Pig Ferran Adria’s Catalan-style Turkey Legs Heston Blumenthal’s Slow-cooked Rib of Beef (1 ingredient/new technique) Daniel Humm’s Extreme Carrot Puree (two ingredients) Marc Vetri’s Fennel Gratin Heston Blumenthal’s Beetroot Relish Jean-George’s Fresh Corn Pudding Cake Marc Vetri’s Olive Oil Cake Heston Blumenthal’s Potted Stilton with Apricot, Onion & Ginger Chutney

Some of the above tomes are intimidating indeed. But if you are lucky to get any of these books as holiday gifts, you might have fun looking for radically simple recipes to call your own. And before too long, as lights alight on Menorahs and Christmas trees everywhere, look no further than here for this year's radically favorite holiday dishes, including some of my own.

Radically Simple Gets Top Honors

In conjunction with the 25th anniversary of the country's most beloved food magazine, the editors at Cooking Light have established the Cooking Light Cookbook Awards. Beginning with the November 2011 issue (on newsstands now), the 100 MOST IMPORTANT COOKBOOKS of the past 25 years were chosen. Each month will unveil the top picks across 15 categories. In the first category, General Cookbooks, only nine selections were made. I am pleased as punch that Radically Simple: Brilliant Flavors with Breathtaking Ease was one of them. According to Cooking Light's editorial team, more than 50,000 cookbooks will have been published in the U.S. in past quarter-century. Their observation is that, "Cooks love books for their ability to inspire, entertain, excite, soothe, teach -- and for their beauty as physical objects. The best are thrilling, whether they're eye-opening explorations of a single subject, seminal overviews, or beautiful obsessions." Many of the ones chosen are all of the above.

The CL team looked at best-seller and awards lists, and talked to editors, authors, and experts. For consideration, books had to be published in the U.S. since 1987 and be in print or easily available on line. "Winners emerged after passionate debate about voice, originality, beauty, importance, and a clear mission or vision." And yes, they went on to say, "We tested the recipes."

Other choices in the category include:  Martha Stewart's Cooking School (Lessons and Recipes for the Home Cook); The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser (which is on my shelf next to Craig Claiborne's cherished blue-linen bound edition written in 1961); Real Cooking by Nigel Slater (an original voice if there ever was one); Gourmet Today (edited by Ruth Reichl); Cook with Jamie:  My Guide to Making You A Better Cook, by Jamie Oliver; The New Best Recipe (by the editors of Cook's Illustrated); Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything; and Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller.

In addition to the personal and insightful write-ups of each book, are a few specially selected recipes, which makes this double issue of Cooking Light, especially magical.

Of Radically Simple, here are some highlights: "This is one of those books that make you want to leap up and start cooking." "This book importantly elevates the quick-and-simple concept to a new level, becoming a benchmark."

Next month?  Baking.

With heartfelt thanks to Cooking Light and to my readers who dare to be radically simple.

Best Cookbooks of 2010

I must say how delighted I am -- and how unexpected it was -- to have Radically Simple reviewed in Sunday's New York Times Book Review and then again in yesterday's New York Times dining section.  It was a rich year for cookbooks and so it was especially rewarding to be recognized.  Julia Moskin was the author of yesterday's review.  On top of a hand-held tray of a stack of ten books, was the story's title:  Inspiration, Anyone?  Subtitle: What the cook ordered -- a fresh batch of recipes.  And I suppose that's what we're all looking for.  I was not familiar with all the books on that tray and appreciated having them pointed out to me.  I am a big fan of chef David Tanis, whose sensibility about food is sometimes as radically simple as mine. His book, "The Heart of the Artichoke" is a lovely sequel to "A Platter of Figs."  I look forward to Madhur Jaffrey's book, I always do; I have had the pleasure of being a guest with Madhur on an NPR radio show not so long ago.  More recently, I have longingly gazed at a book called "India", divinely packaged in a white burlap rice bag.  How nice to know it's worth buying!  I look forward to purchasing "The Book of Tapas" by Simone and Ines Ortega (years ago our company created a tapas bar for the Hotel Arts in Barcelona), and Sarabeth Levine's beautiful book "Sarabeth's Bakery." I already own Dorie Greenspan's wonderfully evocative tome called "Around My French Table," and I am all too happy to read anything by Maya Angelou, especially something called "Great Food, All Day Long."

Here's an excerpt of what Ms. Moskin had to say:  "Rozanne Gold is the personal trainer of food writers: she has been on a strict regime of 1-2-3 cookbooks.  Her new book, Radically Simple (Rodale), has more flexibility, promising 'restaurant-worthy food without a single extraneous motion or ingredient.' She wrings stylish, streamlined, fabulous results with inspired combinations like avocado, lime and smoked paprika, and unexpected techniques, like roasting grapes, that restore drama to chicken breasts."

And I'm pleased that Quentin Bacon's photograph of  "Sauteed Chicken with Roasted Grapes" loomed so large on the page.  It looked really beautiful.  You will find the recipe in a previous blog.

Today I'll share the other recipe cited by Ms. Moskin.  It can be found in the chapter called "10-Minute Salads."

Spooned Avocado, Lime & Smoked Paprika This is a radically simplified version of guacamole that is very impromptu.  Serve it almost as soon as you spoon it.  Nice to serve with "batons" of crunchy jicama. Ripe avocados required!

4 very ripe medium avocados 2 to 4 large limes 20 grape tomatoes 1/4 large red onion, slivered 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika, or more to taste 2 handfuls baby arugula 1/4 cup olive oil

Cut the avocados in half; remove the pits.  Using a large spoon, scoop large pieces into a large bowl.  Squeeze the juice of 2 limes over the avocado.  Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise.  Add the tomatoes and slivered onion to the bowl.  Add the smoked paprika and salt to taste.  Add the arugula; drizzle oil over everything.  Toss, adding more lime juice, salt, and smoked paprika to taste.  Serves 4

Cookbooks Are Us

As many of you know, when Gourmet Library was suddenly shuttered, there remained a scholarly collection of more than 3500 cookbooks whose fate was undetermined.  Within the food community there was great concern about what was to happen.  Either someone buys the collection or regrettably the collection would be  broken up and each book sold for $4. The real value in keeping books together is their "curated content"  (a phrase I learned yesterday at the Publishers Weekly seminar).  I had the opportunity, and honor, to be the one to buy the collection and donate it to New York University in honor of my beautiful mother, Marion Gold.  She was the one who encouraged me, at a time when women were anathema in professional kitchens, to pursue my passion.   In 1976 I dropped out of graduate school (at New York University, no less!) and cooked in any kitchen that would have me. In 1978, I became, at age 23, the first chef to New York Mayor Ed Koch and lived in Gracie Mansion. And yes, it all started with a cookbook.  One that I carried around with me since I was five.  I don't think it was the "Joy of Cooking" but a simple "Golden Book" my mother had given me.  How I long to have that book in my library at home!  As I learned yesterday, cookbook sales are steady and strong, despite the millions of recipes available on the Internet.  I encourage you to read the lovely comment made yesterday by "Barn" (see comments below.) It best describes the reason there will always be a market for cookbooks.  For it is the experience we crave, not merely the mechanics of preparing a dish.

She says, "There isn't anything I enjoyed more after a long day than a cookbook on my lap and a cup of tea by my side.  As I flipped through the pages carefully considering each recipe, not only did I visualize myself cooking the dish when I would eventually get the time, but as I read the list of ingredients I could taste it."  Thank you, Barn, for sharing that.

So, too, are some of my happiest moments, even to this day.  Curled up in bed reading a book -- one of those special ones that creates a sense of longing and connects us to some ancient hunger.

I also want to thank Gerd Stern who commented on the inclusion of Neruda in my poem, for Mr. Stern is one of the great poets and multi-media artists alive today. And if that's not enough, he was also president of the American Cheese Society.  A man after my own heart.

What I learned yesterday:  The average cookbook has 225 recipes.  In order for cookbook publishing to thrive, publishers need to monetize recipes outside the book.  E-books are definitely on their way into our kitchens but their quality must be improved.  Will Schwalbe, founder and CEO of, said that the real competition of cookbooks was Jet Blue, Dr. Spock, and the local gym.  People don't read on planes anymore (they watch the news); parents actually spend time with their kids (and aren't reading), and they spend their free time at the gym (and aren't reading.)  The future?  People will have very sophisticated, high-quality printers at home and will be able to print books at a moment's notice.

Your turn:  Let me know which cookbook -- old or new -- has brought you the most pleasure.

Dish of the day:  In honor of Gerd, this is one of the most delicious cheese and fruit combinations I've discovered: Aged Gouda (as old as you can find it) and moist, fleshy Medjool dates.