Nobody would be surprised should you conclude from the last several month here that I own only one cookbook. Ms. Greenspan’s tour de force does seem to occupy a disproportionate amount of my culinary bandwidth here these days doesn’t it? During the three-plus years I have visually fed from her book each Friday I remain both hopelessly devoted to her, the culinary spirit which oozes out of her book, and to the now infamous gaggle of spatula wielding kitchen denizens known as “Doristas”. There is a reason for this level of attention: The book is damn good.
(This Dorie situation is likely to continue throughout 2014 and the following year because, well, we’re just not done with the book yet. French Fridays will necessarily peter out somewhere into 2015 when I have I have Bonn’d my last Ideé and the material runs out.)
I assure you, however, that I do own other cookbooks. I own dozens of them. Hundreds even. My decades-old collection grows weekly (to my husbands chagrin) as I seek out those that interest me enough to buy and publishers and PR hacks send me even more in the misguided hope that I can compel at least one of my lucky 10 readers to shell out cash and buy one.
I read them all and yet you won’t see much mention of them here beyond the occasional recipe citation. They mostly fail to foster any sense of personal connection the way Dorie has done with hers and there certainly is no sense of urgency as a reader to jump up and cook them all — or even to share them with you one at a time.
Instead of answering questions I might have about the ‘topic’ most of these books just leave me with more questions: who decided the world needed an entire book devoted to making marshmallows? Did anyone laugh out loud when someone pitched a book of chicken recipes themed with sado-masochistic preparations? Does anyone really believe Gwyneth Paltrow cooks her own food? And while we’re at it, how many “paleo-cookbooks” need to be published each year? Certainly there are only so many ways to cook seeds and dirt into breakfast muffins, right?
Each of these books were well-received and found many devotees among bloggers eager to share them which just goes to show you how very little I know about these things. I just can’t understand the online enthusiasm they get unless it could have something to do with the fact that so many of these books arrive on our doorsteps for free. Nobody is breaking down my door and demand I write a book and connect with more readers so again, what do I know? (Sorry, its not in the plan. Besides, my marshmallow idea is already taken.)
Someone is making money with these publications so you have to imagine there is a market for these ill- defined” and narrowly constructed titles. They aren’t for me, however, and they aren’t going to get the same level of my attention that a book like Dorie’ will. For the kind of attention that will hold me enrapt for 5 years as I work through each and very recipe I will need more:
- I need a culinary focus with broader based appeal. An theme that promises to take its subject to “a whole new level” and actually delivers on the promise. If the book isn’t asking me to reconsider what I think I may already know about the, leaving me eager to experience it on the author’s terms, then this book will languish in the garage next to my copy of “Fat Free Italian Cooking”.
- A good cookbook needs good recipe headnotes. I need to understand why the author included a particular recipe in their book. Why is this so difficult? Geesh. If I wanted a cookbook without headnotes I’d just go back to the 1950’s and get one.
- It helps a book to have sidebars that teach me something new or includes useful bits of information. Perhaps they might suggest alternate ways to to enjoy the recipe itself. Sidebars that teach me something I don’t already know about the ingredients or what to look for when buying them are golden. Even better, suggest alternative preparations of the same recipe. When you do this then you are teaching me how to cook and not just giving me a list of instructions to follow.
- Is it too much to ask for great visual design, well written recipes, and enticing photography? You would think this was taught in cookbook writing 101 but so often all I see is failure here. Please don’t write the book so I have to turn to page 230 to get a recipe for an ingredient spec‘d out for a recipe I am reading on page 57. I really, really hate that. Also, if you can’t make the food look good in your own book then what hope do we unpublished mere mortals have of doing any better? Please remember this point before you set out to write a book about stew.)
- Also, above all, take me somewhere exciting. I can download recipes ad-infinitum on the Internet but I need a book to actually go to places I’ve never been to before. Just as you have to spend more than a day in a new city before you can really understand it you need time with a book to truly get its message from it. If you haven’t made a nice place so I can stay awhile you have written a reference book and not a great cookbook.
Why am I telling you all of this? I may have found just such a book in the newly published “MELT: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese by Stephanie Stiavetti and Garrett McCord. Not only do I want to curl up and stay with it awhile but I am pretty close to committing to cook my way through the entire thing.
No, seriously, I think I do.
With “Melt”, authors Stephanie Stiavetti (The Culinary Life) and Garrett McCord (Vanilla Garlic) give us “more” and then some. With this book they have managed to take the already unniversally appealing macaroni and cheese thing, a dish we all like and think we know pretty well, and run with it to an exotic and delicious place you didn’t know existed but can’t wait to go to. It is the cookbook equivalent to having you spouse come home with a ton of travel brochures and plane tickets. If you ever assumed mac and cheese was ‘simple’ then the inventiveness of these two force you to reconsider that notion. The first thing you do on your journey with them is toss out your cheddar! These guys are intent on teaching you quite a bit about today’s cheese varieties along the way while they convince you take that Petit Basque and Brillat-Savain off of your appetizer cheese boards and toss them into the casserole.
The book is chock full of instant classics such as the Pumpkin Stuffed with Fontina, Italian Sausage, and Macaroni you see here – a dish I have already made nearly half a dozen times. (If you double the filling you can make it two nights in a row no problem.) Heck, even the old classics you think you know like Tuna Noodle Casserole get a MELT treatment here to purposely disavow you of any repressed nightmarish memories you might still have of your grandmother’s version. For lovers of all things new and trendy the “Drunken Goat with Edamame, Fennel, and Rotini” or the “Savory Sheep’s Milk Ricotta with Raspberries and Capellini” are certain to please. (How is that for inventiveness?)
Matt Armanariz does the honors with the gorgeous and colorful photography here and nearly every recipe gets its own full sized photo treatment. If you were ever wondering whether or not photographing 50 versions of mac and cheese could get tedious and redundant Matt’s beautiful photos won’t let on one bit.
But guess what? Not only do I own more than one great cookbook, I now happen to know more than one great cookbook author as I count Garrett McCord amongst my friends. I had been a fan of Garrett’s amusing and honest blog writing for quite some time so when I saw he would be attending the same International Food Blogging conference I was going to attend last September I made it my mission to track him down while I was there. Lo and behold we ended up spending quite a bit of time together while this book was still on the cusp of its release. I’m sure that when he told me it was a cookbook about mac and cheese I didn’t look too enthused. Sorry Garrett, but you most certainly got the last laugh as I never could have imagined it would be anything like this.
Pumpkin Stuffed with Fontina, Italian Sausage, and Macaroni
Garret and Stephanie’s book was barely out for 5 minutes when it became abundantly clear that this Pumpkin Stuffed with Fontina, Italian Sausage, and Macaroni recipe was going to be an early favorite and “instant classic”. Food bloggers went nut for it. My own creative twist was to substitute rotini for the macaroni. Bam! This I did not so much out of any spasm of creativity or requirement to fix a recipe flaw. No, my inventiveness was merely because rotini was all I had on hand. Nothing suggested changing – it all seemed so perfect –including its table-ready presentation. A full meal in a gourd? Yes please. Bring it to the table and slice it up. Bravo guys. You should expect to see a lot more from this book here, Dorie permitting.
Disclosure time: I did not receive a free copy of “Melt” and I had to buy my own copy! I’ve bought at least 5 since for lucky friends and family. You will need to buy your own too since I am not giving any away. Shell out your cash and get your own. You will be glad you did.
The wine featured here, on the other hand, was a gift from the fine folks at Alamos Wines. I’m not in the habit of accepting freebies but how was I to refuse this? Not only did I meet Garret at IFBC last September but I also met the fine people from Alamos Wines and they were a hoot. They were serving up some mighty fine Argentinian wines and I must have been hanging around their booth so much that they finally promised to send me wine to get rid of me. Bottles of Malbec and the lovely Torrantes showed up on my doorstep not long after I got home. It was probably casting against type to serve the citrusy, peach Torrantes with a Fontina cheese and sausage pasta but I the crisp finish I remembered so well from my first tasting was a welcome foil for the roasted pumpkin. (I’ve earmarked the Malbec for something coming up soon. Thanks Alamos!)