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Wednesday, Feb 25, 2015
Jennifer McLagan loves a controversial ingredient. Her cookbooks include works on bones, fat, and the scary bits. Now it's time to get bitter.

“I need a cigar,” I said to the tobacconist. 


He gestured toward a locked cabinet. Behind its glass doors, cigars were arrayed floor to ceiling. The chocolate truffle recipe called for an inch of cigar, preferably Cuban, infused in heavy cream. Cuban cigars are illegal in the United States. I could choose a cheap cigar stinking through the glass like hell’s own aftershave, or do the bling thing and blow 30 bucks.  Aiming for middle ground, I spent $9. 


“For your husband?”  The man asked, ringing me up.


“For a recipe.”


What?


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Thursday, Jan 22, 2015
A relentless sales pitch aimed at Midwestern "moms" grates in this Indian cookbook. Ignore the patter and focus on the recipes.

Readers demand far more from modern cookbooks than just useful recipe collections. Authors must be Personalities, expertly ushering readers through a dish’s every possible nuance. We turn to cookbooks for lifestyle advice on diet, decor, and entertaining. Increasingly, cookbooks are art objects, brimming with gorgeous photography. Authors like Naomi Duguid, Claudia Roden, and Paula Wolfert publish meticulously researched cookbooks delving deeply into various cultures through food. 


Atop this sits the world of social media. It’s no longer possible to publish a cookbook without a website, a blog, a twitter feed, a Facebook page. 


What, then, defines a good cookbook?


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Friday, Dec 19, 2014
With Jewish Soul Food Israeli Food Writer Janna Gur tries to create a "greatest hits from our Jewish Grandmothers." Only the grandmothers aren't around to help.

With Jewish Soul Food, Israeli food editor and cookbook author Janna Gur hoped to create “a kind of greatest hits from our Jewish grandmothers.” Yet a book about Jewish soul food was problematic, for the very people who produced these iconic dishes—the bubbes (plural Yiddish for grandmother) were no longer available for consultation. Theirs was a generation that cooked by hand and eye, writing nothing down. Their grandchildren, now adults, want to recreate the meals of their childhoods but cannot. Nobody knows how. The recipes, sadly, died with the grandmothers.


Gur’s exact words are: “the grandmother is gone.” In the case of Jewish Soul Food, this is a mixed blessing. Good because no Ashkenazi grandmothers are around to shri (shriek) at the liberties Gur takes with classic recipes. Bad because they aren’t around to set her straight.


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Wednesday, Nov 12, 2014
Ovenly's recipes are hip, exciting, and accessible. If only they worked.

Sometimes I can’t wait to get home before opening my mail. Instead, after stopping at my Post Office box, I tear into my packages indelicately on the Bay Area Rapid Transit, trying not to appear overly animated. As all public transit regulars know, it’s essential to maintain “train face” at all times, lest you attract the attention of transit crazies. But I must have failed to keep my blasé BART face when I brought the Ovenly cookbook home. 


When I looked up from its pages, I noticed people starting. This should tell you how excited I was about the book.


At least, how excited I was at first.


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Friday, Oct 10, 2014
My lips went mildly numb. Not dentist-visit numb, or certain illegal drugs numb. Just pleasantly numb. Comfortably numb.

It took three tries to figure out what all the excitement was about.  An ardent lover of Chinese food, I drooled my way through Fuchsia Dunlop’s three cookbooks on the subject. Two of them are devoted to Sichuan cookery, a cuisine famous for its extensive use of chili and Sichuan peppercorns. 


Dunlop’s rapturous descriptions of the Sichuan peppercorn’s mysterious tingling and numbing effects piqued my curiosity. My quest took me to the local 99 Ranch, the West Coast chain of Chinese supermarkets. No Sichuan peppercorns. I did, however, find a dusty canister at my local American market. When I opened it, I found what looked and tasted like brown woodchips. I tossed them, rooted around in another market, bought another packet. More woodchips. On my third attempt I ripped open the tiny bag and popped a couple into my mouth while unloading groceries.


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