Books for Cooks from the USA

I am a particular fan of American food writing and here are some of my favourite books by authors from the U.S, some well-known, some less so.

 But Mama Always Put Vodka In The Sangria by Julia Reed

 

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Mississippi born, New Orleans resident and often writer for US Vogue, Julia Reed has written several books all soaked in Southern charm yet cognizant of its underbelly of oft-unpleasant history and torpid heat soaked Summers that can make people act a little crazy. 

Julia Reed takes the reader on culinary adventures in places as far flung as Kabul, Afghanistan alongside her native Mississippi Delta and the Gulf Coast. Along the way, Reed discovers the perfect Pimm’s Royale at the Paris Ritz, devours delicious chuletons in Madrid, and picks up tips from accomplished hostesses ranging from Pat Buckley to Pearl Bailey and, of course, her own mother. Reed writes about the bounty – and the burden – of a Southern garden in high summer, tosses salads in the English countryside, and shares C.Z. Guest’s recipe for an especially zingy bullshot. She understands the necessity of a potent holiday punch and serves it up by the silver bowl full, but she is not immune to the slightly less refined charms of a blender full of frozen peach daiquiris or a garbage can full of Yucca Flats. And then there are the parties: shindigs ranging from sultry summer suppers and raucous dinners at home to a Plymouth-like Thanksgiving feast and an upscale St. Patrick’s Day celebration.

LA Son- My Life, My City, My Food by Roy Choi

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From twice cooked duck fat fries and Chile Spaghetti in Koreatown; Horchata in Grove St through to Carne Asada and fried ribs in South Central and the Borrego Springs Desert, Roy Choi takes us on an autobiographical wild trip on the food side through culinary Los Angeles. 

This is the story of Choi’s love of food and his evolution from LA Low Rider to chef. Choi returns to his childhood afternoons at his parents’ Korean restaurant, his nights in L.A.’s illegal gambling halls, and his pizza-fueled studying at the Culinary Institute of America before making his way into some of the best restaurants in America. These recipes punctuate his life story and symbolise the great cultural melting pot that is modern USA at its best.

The Glory Of Southern Cooking by James Villas

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One of our favourite ever Southern food writers is James Villas who has had a long and esteemed career ranked equivalent to his peers- James Beard, Craig Clairborne and MFK Fisher (who were all his friends). This is THE definitive guide to Southern cooking by a Tarheel (Northern Carolinian) who is bursting with pride over his roots and heritage and whose writings teem with Southern vernacular, history and traditions. It includes traditional favorites, delicious regional specialties, and new recipes from some of the South′s most famous and innovative chefs, like Louis Osteen and Paul Prudhomme. Comprehensive and authoritative, the book features favorites like buttermilk biscuits, fried chicken, grits, cornbread, and pecan pie. Carolinian Low Country seafood are strengths as are his knowledge of Kentucky Burgoos and the regional ‘debates’ surrounding what a true Brunswick Stew is comprised of. And like all good Southern boys, James loves his Mama whose culinary legacy grounds his often amazing life experiences (crossing the Atlantic with Dali and his pet Ocelot on the Queen Mary) with a dose of down home. 

‘Momofuku Milk Bar by Christina Tosi and David Chang and Momofuku by David Chang

The phenomenon that is Momofuku and the Milk Bar in New York City comes to your home in the form of these two amazing books. In Momofuku, David Chang (who is behind the steamed pork bun resurrection) makes sexy recipes out of much berated and neglected ingredients. Roasted Brussel Sprouts? David Chang. New wave Korean quick dishes? David Chang. You will need to have access to some Korean ingredients so unless you either live near a city or are happy to shop for them online, some of the recipes may not be for you. But confident cooks can use his techniques and adapt his recipes or substitute other ingredients.

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The Milk Bar features Tossi’s insanely good and mindblowing sweet confections- cakes and patisserie, drinks and ice creams. Tosi is at the vanguard of new Wave Patissieres resurrecting what was considered to be an expensive and Cinderella speciality and combining low brow with high end turning out fresh interpretations of old diner favourites. 

Recipes combine Pretzels, potato crisps, cereal flavoured milk, marshmallows, apple crumble- you name it, in towering Southern style layer cakes, plate pies and giant cookies. Ice creams made from cereal milk are both nostalgic and fresh. Sweetcorn or crack pie anyone?

Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey: Desserts for the Serious Sweet Tooth by Jill O’Connor 

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We bought this book quite a few years ago and it is quite the most indulgent orgy of chocolate, sweet and unctuous you will ever read. When the most minimal recipe you can find is called Giant Coconut Cream Puffs you know you are in for a blood sugar Roller Coaster ride. The author is a skilled Patissiere and cook (although her assertion that us Brits traditionally eat Sticky Toffee Pudding on Christmas Day is a bit way off the mark) meaning the text is sprinkled with how-to’s on classic techniques such as Ganache making. Your Chocolate Caramel-Pecan Souffle Cake should turn out perfectly under her guidance. Just make sure you have a good dentist. 

Hidden Kitchens: Stories, Recipes, and More from NPR’s the Kitchen Sisters by Nikki Silva & Davia Nelson

 

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Now for something a little more offbeat for those of you who enjoy pure food writing. NPR (American radio) broadcast an appeal for stories about kitchens in unusual places and this book is an anthology of the many startling and sometimes heartbreaking stories that flooded in. What makes a hidden kitchen? For George Foreman (of the grill fame) it can be found through memories of childhood deprivation, of  hiding below the windowsill of a friends house, watching them eat. For a homeless man turned cooking equipment guru, the knowledge that homeless people use his grills by connecting them to street side power supplies is almost unbearably poignant. A hidden kitchen might be the San Fransciscan Cioppino cooked in a bay side hut for members of the local open water swimming club. Or it could be secret civil rights kitchens or the famous Chile Queens of San Antonio who sold their bowls of red in large tents catering to locals. If this book leaves you hungry for more, check out the original recorded oral testimonies on NPR’s archives. 

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The Food Of Morocco by Paula Wolfert – review

 

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This scholarly book exploring the cuisine and culinary traditions of Morocco is the result of more than forty years of experience of world travel and gustatory exploration. Interspersed with glossaries of ingredients and techniques are essays about Morocco, its history and people.  The recipes are comprehensive and even easier to achieve now because of the wider availability of the ingredients; when we first bought this book, living in a large city with an expat population was a must. Wide margins make it a book for scribbling in, adding thoughts and comments – it invites this and is definitely a book to hand down as it deliberately ignores culinary fashions for hard core exploration and is the perfect companion to Wolfert’s classic, Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco.

PAULA WOLFERT, a resident of Sonoma in California, is the author of eight previously published cookbooks, all considered classics. Among them: Couscous and Other Good Food From MoroccoThe Cooking of Southwest France, and five books on Mediterranean cuisine including the much praised Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean. She has won the Julia Child Award three times, The James Beard Award five times, The M. F. K. Fisher AwardThe Tastemaker Award and been a finalist for the British Andre Simon Award. She is the creator of the open Facebook Moroccan Cooking Group, an invaluable source of support, enquiry and information.

Some of our favourite recipes in this book are the blood orange and almond lettuce salad which is redolent with the colours, tastes and scents of this magical country. The Berber Couscous for Spring is a perfect distillation of the early season bounty- Broad beans, Courgettes, Spring Chicken meat, Cinnamon, early Tomatoes and the first of the years cream as cows start giving milk again. Wolfert ensures we understand why certain ingredients are the herald of their season meaning these recipes earn a place in the home of the local and seasonal food lover.