Cookbook Reviews

"Cowgirl Creamery Cooks," ($35, Chronicle Books)
If you love cheese as much as I do, you will have tried -- and loved -- at least one of the many cheeses made by Cowgirl Creamery, the iconic cheese company based in Point Reyes, CA. The company, founded by Sue Conley and Peggy Smith, a pair of passionate cheesemakers who are humble, creative and ridiculously energetic when it comes to learning about and making cheese that reflects the land, the animals and their creativity. It's no surprise that this new title is a "take no shortcuts" kind of book, packed with information, musings and great recipes that include cheese. The cover of the book is standout -- it's an actual cutout of a cowgirl on a horse. But what impresses me more is the approachable text that makes me understand cheese better, and the simple, intuitive recipes for using cheese in ways I have never even considered: endive in blue cheese sauce, cottage cheese dumplings in parmesan broth, tomato-watermelon panzanella salad with feta. Absolutely killer is the recipe for Three-Cheese Lasagna with Mushrooms and Spinach. If you have a cheese-lover on your gift list, your shopping is done.
Find the recipe for the lasagna on the recipe page -- click the tab to the right.

"COME IN, WE'RE CLOSED: An Invitation to Staff Meals at the World's Best Restaurants," ($35, Running Press)
After many fun conversations with chefs who have described how they celebrate holidays in their own restaurants, I was delighted to open the covers of this book to see actual pictures and recipes that make those many fun stories come to life. The book is all about the staff meal -- not just holiday meals -- and includes fun interviews about the topic with some of the world's top chefs. This is both a great read and a terrific resource.
"The New Way to Cook Light: Fresh Food & Bold Flavors for Today's Home Cook," ($34.95, Oxmoor House) by Cooking Light team
MY COLLECTION OF cookbooks has surpassed my wildest dreams. I have multitudes of books, each offering fresh ideas for what to cook next. One might think I'd grow weary of the topic. But no. Far from.
About three weeks ago, this thick book thunked on my doorstep. I opened it and have not been able to put it down. It's packed with pictures of dishes that span a broad range of cuisines -- perfect for someone like me who thinks she can cook everything.
Even better, every recipe I've tried from this book is terrific. The Thai chicken soup was so good; the chicken-enchilada casserole -- my kind of comfort food. If you're looking for a perfect gift for a foodie, this may be it.

"The Wholesome Junk Food Cookbook," ($17.95, Running Press) by Laura Trice

AFTER WAY TOO many cookies, candies and more cookies this holiday season, every morning, I promise myself that I will eat better. I start out eating a healthy breakfast, then I slip up and end up eating all kinds of make-me-feel-bad foods.
The problem is that I don't take the time to plan how I will eat better. What will I eat when I feel hungry before lunch? After dinner? When I want something sweet? Something salty? Trice, who also markets a line of delicious Wholesome Junk Food treats, provides a host of ultra-simple, healthy, fiber- and nutrient-rich foods that can be eaten any time of day. She has recipes for granola and power bars, healthy oatmeal "fudge" and ice cream made with fresh banana whirled with coconut milk. It also includes salty snacks such as squares of roasted butternut squash, rounds of fried sweet potato, and latkes made by stuffing raw, unpeeled, cubed potatoes, onion and egg into a blender before cooking on the stove. To learn more about the author and her products, go to

"Bite Me," ($24.95, Kyle Books)

If you are looking for a totally off-the-hook, slightly off-color, sassy take on food, this cookbook is worth a look. The pictures alone are worth the price. One giant pic shows a busted bottle of ketchup and a woman's shoes. The chapter? Recipe for Disaster. Toy firemen play in a bowl of spicy hot pasta, and caution tape is wrapped under a pecan pie. Recipes are simple and inspired. Note that due to some provocative photos and such, not everyone would want to share this book with young chefs.

"The Good Housekeeping Cookbook," ($35, Hearst Books)

This basic, all-everything cookbook from the editors at Good Housekeeping has lots of competition from other books -- including revamped versions of The America's Test Kitchen's Family Cookbook and Bon Appetite's newest -- but this one scores high for short recipes, readability and LOTS of small pictures showing ingredients, how-to steps and finished dishes. Since this is a such a visual generation, this would be my top pick for any young or novice cook who doesn't yet have a go-to. or
"The Wild Table: Seasonal Foraged Food and Recipes," ($40, Viking Studio)

This gorgeous book by Connie Green and Sarah Scott has garnered quite a buzz amongst top chefs, as it pushes the current trends of local, seasonal and sustainable to the very edge, featuring foraging tips, preparation notes and recipes for foods that grow in the wild. Even if you can't picture yourself forafor your own ramps, persimmons, fiddleheads or nopales, it's a fun book to peruse. And you just never know. The book gets a thumbs-up from Thomas Keller, Todd Humphries and Hiro Sone. Green is a professional forager who sells to restaurants such as The French Laundry; Scott is a recipe developer.

"The Earth-Bound Cook: 250 Recipes for Delicious Food and a Healthy Planet," ($20.99, Workman) by Myra Goodman

This gorgeous cookbook by Myra Goodman, founder with her husband of Earthbound Farms in Carmel Valley, includes a broad range of fresh, simple and quick to prepare. Recipes range from classic shrimp scampi and chile verde to vegetarian mushroom-gruyere crepes and pineapple-jicama salad. I'd love nothing more than to cook and bake my way through this book. Realistically, I know that won't happen. But I did make the Thai Cabbage Salad, which was perfect; and I (kind of) made the spicy asparagus with tofu (I substituted green beans.) Loved it. If you're looking for a book to quash the what's-for-dinner-blues, this is it. To see the recipe for Thai Cabbage Salad, click on the recipes page.

"Nuts in the Kitchen: Recipes for Every Taste and Occasion," ($21.99, William Morrow) by Susan Hermann Loomis

Nuts have become the newest darlings of the health-conscious, being touted as the solution to all kinds of ailments -- from warding off heart disease to controlling Alzheimer's. The problem is that I personally don't know much about using them in savory cooking.
That is about to change, thanks to this idea-packed book by Loomis. Not only does she include recipes for some obvious ways to include nuts in my daily diet -- toasting them into my granola and sprinkling them on my salad -- she also has recipes for folding them into main dishes, side dishes and more.
Among her many ideas are to serve gingered fish atop macadamia-nut butter, make a dip with pine nuts, roasted peppers, fresh parsley and feta, roll eggplant around saffron and walnuts, cook up butternut squash with leeks and pecans.
Kudos to Loomis for thinking outside the recipe box to come up with so many creative nut-and-food combinations that truly work. If you're wondering what's for lunch, click on the recipes tab on the main page to find Fiona's Almond and Olive Sandwich, a Tunisian-inspired meal in the hand.

Butternut Squash with Leeks and Pecans
Serves 4-6

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 large leeks, cleaned, trimmed and cut into 1/4 inch rounds
Sea salt
1 small butternut or other winter squash, cut into 1/2 inch cubes (6 cups)
Zest of 1 lemon
1/3 cup parsley leaves
1/3 cup pecans, lightly toasted

Place the butter and olive oil in a large skillet. Stir as the butter melts. Add leeks, stir to coat, season with salt. Cover and cook, stirring regularly, until the leeks are tender and slightly golden on the edges, about 8 minutes.
Add the squash, zest and 3 tablespoons water. Season with salt, stir, cover and cook, stirring carefully. Add water if needed to keep squash from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Cook for about 16 minutes, or until squash is tender.
Mince parsley and chop pecans. When squash is done, fold in the parsley and pecans. Season to taste and serve.

Southern Living Farmers Market Cookbook: A Fresh Look at Local Flavor," ($29.95, Oxmoor House)

NOT EVERY cookbook that arrives in my mailbox captures my attention, but those that are filled with pictures of and recipes using the freshest seasonal produce always get opened, and often get splattered with ingredients as I work my way through the pages, trying, tweaking and ultimately feasting on the ideas inside. 

Among the newest titles I've been playing with is "Southern Living Farmers Market Cookbook: A Fresh Look at Local Flavor," ($29.95, Oxmoor House.)
I love that it's arranged according to the season, which means all I need to do is open to the correct season to find out what I might cook tonight. I loved the Yukon Gold Mash with Morel Sauce, and plan to make the French Onion Soup this weekend. But the recipe I'm going to share today is so crazy-easy that I know lots of people will love it. It can be on the table in less than an hour, and it's so packed with fiber and vitamins that you can skip your one-a-day.

Grilled Sweet Potatoes with Creamy Basil Vinaigrette
Serves 6
3 pounds sweet potatoes
Vegetable cooking spray
Creamy Basil Vinaigrette (recipe below)

Place potatoes in a pot of water and bring to a boil. Cook for 12-15 minutes, or until slightly tender. 

Plunge potatoes into ice water. Drain. Let stand for 10 minutes. Peel potatoes and cut into wedges. 

Heat a stovetop grill on high heat until it is very hot. (Yes, the outdoor grill is a better idea, but if it's raining, frankly I'm just not up for it.) Coat cooking grate with cooking spray. Place potatoes on the grate and grill, covered, for 6-7 minutes, or until potatoes are totally tender and have pretty grill marks.

1/2 cup plain fat-free yogurt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons balsamic salad dressing (Newman's brand suggested)
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Place all ingredients into a blender or food processor. Process until smooth. Serve right away. If you're making it in advance, be sure to bring the vinaigrette to room temperature before serving.