Cookbook Roundup: April 2015

A look at what’s simmerin’ on the shelves this month.


As a foodie with an entire bookshelf devoted to cookbooks, I appreciate thumbing through recipe-filled pages with drool-worthy food photography as much as I love sinking my teeth into an epic novel. This month’s diverse roundup of cookbooks doesn’t disappoint! There’s everything from a refreshed take on classic German cuisine, to recipes culled from some of America’s best mystery writers. Let’s dig in!

A Taste of Cowboy: Ranch Recipes and Tales from the Trail by Kent Rollins (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Kent Rollins is a chuck-wagon cook, first and foremost. What you’ll find in his book A Taste of Cowboy, however, is that his knowledge of cooking ranch recipes goes beyond ingredients and steps. Rollins is a “life on the trail” historian, with tips for modern, back-to-basics foodies who can appreciate detailed explanations for cast-iron care techniques, how to create and recharge sourdough starters, and cowboy lingo. The recipes are hearty, but not difficult or daunting to make — and, yes, they’ve been converted for preparation in a regular kitchen, though it’d be fun to try making them over a campfire (if only I had access to Bertha, a chuck box, and…well…a chuck wagon). And, for a special treat toward the end, fans of Bobby Flay will enjoy reading about Rollins’ Throwdown-Winning Chicken Fried Steak (including the recipe)!

Das Cookbook: German Cooking…California Style by Hans Röckenwagner (Prospect Park Books). Hans Röckenwagner appreciates a wide variety of food, cultures, and cuisines, thanks to his years spent as a chef in L.A. More recently, he pays homage to his childhood by reinventing German recipes to fill a gap in the cookbook-cuisine landscape. Of the hundreds of cookbooks published annually, not even a handful showcase German cuisine! Röckenwagner takes an autobiographical approach to Das Cookbook, kicking things off with a story about becoming an “Accidental Baker.” The recipes continue, interspersed with reflections and musings, beginning with a variety of breads (both savory and sweet), and rolling through the day’s meals with headings like "Guten Morgan" and "Mittagessen Hour." I’m a sucker for any type of eggs Benny, and his Quinoa Benedict makes for a fun and tantalizing vegetarian brunch option!

The Great Cook: Essential Techniques and Inspired Flavors to Make Every Dish Better by James Briscione (Oxmoor House). The eternal question of foodies everywhere: “How do I become a great cook?” Whether you’re a novice or an expert, there’s always room to grow and become even greater. James Briscione paired up with a team from Cooking Light to help everyday people discover how simple, healthy, and satisfying cooking at home can be. The Great Cook is chock full of recipes and alluring food photography showcasing key steps, tips, and tricks to mastering each menu item. What sets Briscione’s cookbook apart are the sections that go deeper into recipe preparation — pantry-stocking, tools needed, and techniques to practice. In “Kitchen Essentials,” for example, he plucks out the 16 key gadgets every well-stocked kitchen needs, including an instant-read thermometer and a food scale. Recipes are broken down into lessons where you learn not only how to make chicken stock, but also how to keep stock clear, how to remove fat from stock, what goes into a master recipe, different variations of chicken stock, and mise en place to prep your station. Brilliant!

The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook: Wickedly Good Meals and Desserts to Die For, edited by Kate White (Quirk Books). Over 100 authors lend stories and recipes to this, a unique take on the standard cookbook, incorporating recipes from mystery novels and the folks who wrote them, like Sugarloaf Café Sweet Rolls from Edge of Evil, by J.A. Jance, and Brad Meltzer’s Italian Chicken that a high-school girlfriend’s mom always used to make. Recipes aside, my favorite parts of this cookbook are the insightful shorts peppered throughout the chapters, giving us a glimpse into a writer’s backstory or fun “Did you know” passages. For example, the various foods and drinks that are doctored with poison in Agatha Christie’s novels include coffee, tea, hot cocoa, gin, beer, whiskey, champagne, wine, port, milk, water, trifle, chocolates, fig paste, marmalade, and curry. Who knew? Bonus: This cookbook comes with a yellow satin bookmark ribbon!

Liza Hawkins is a self-proclaimed #wordnerd who loves getting sucked into whimsical novels and epic movies, frequently flying under the coolness radar with her laidback, practical attitude toward life. A foodie at heart, she relishes the chance to both cook and eat. (She's not picky.) She’s on the hunt for the perfect mojito, inspiration for a third tattoo, and world peace. You can also find Liza sharpening her knives over at (a)Musing Foodie.

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