Monday, November 12, 2012

Tasty Morsels: My Three Favorite New Cookbooks of the Season

Food for Thought: Thought for Food  Stylish, informative, and fresh cookbooks with literary-level writing have always been a passion of mine. I like cookbooks with a strong point of view—and insider expert knowledge.

I've collected cookbooks by the English writer Elizabeth David, and I devour everything by Thomas Keller, and I read Alice Waters (a David acolyte) avidly.

As my Thanksgiving ‘thank you’ to my lovely readers, here’s my pick of the three best cookbooks for fall/winter 2012. They are all instant classics, produced at the highest level of creativity and ideals.

This handpicked trio of delights (and there’s one extra, the witty Todd Selby and his ‘Edible Selby’ cookbook) is inspiring in many ways.

It’s true that I don’t cook—vibrant salads are my focus—but I’m always hungry for knowledge and insight and new ideas about food and cooking.

Come with me on a discovery of my three favorite new cookbooks. Each of them is completely different in approach and style. Great gifts, too. 

My three favorites vividly reflect the experience ideas, voice, beliefs, creativity, force, power, and sense of delight of each author. Each offers a Ph.D. in baking, Burma, and Vervoordt style, with tutorials on how to make everything perfectly.

The food, the imagery, the personal stories and the inspirations will start you dreaming.

So pour a glass of wine, make a pot of Bellocq tea, and settle into your favorite chair. I’ll open the pages of these great books, reveal their secrets, and tell you why I love them all. 

‘Bouchon Bakery’ by Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel, with Susie Heller, Matthew McDonald, Michael Ruhlman, and Amy Vogler. Photography by Deborah Jones. Published by Artisan.
I have signed first editions of all of Thomas Keller’s elegant, perfect cookbooks. Like his impeccable dishes, his books are full of flavor, wit, teamwork, good company, high ideals.

‘The French Laundry Cookbook’, the first of Thomas Keller’s five books, has sold over 600,000 copies. ‘Ad Hoc at Home’ serves up ideas for casual and fun daily food inspiration.

Now ‘Bouchon Bakery’, with classic American and French recipes, will make you fall in love with his methodical and perfectionist and romantic/logical approach to cookies, scones and muffins, confections, breads, tarts, puff pastry, chocolates, and croissants.

It’s like a private course with a top pastry chef—with techniques and tips in ingredients, an outline on how to make multi-grain bread, or a illustrated ways to make chic pate a choux swan. Lime Coconut Eclairs! Apricot Flan Tart!

Photography, by the great Deborah Jones, is elegant and infinitely helpful. 

What’s great and why you must collect and give ‘Bouchon Bakery’:

Thomas along with pastry chef Sebastien Rouxel tells you his biographical baking, the inspiring stories, childhood memories, dreams. They practically will you to create beauty and to perfect the infinitely exquisite sweet treats and hearty bread.

The team of bakers and Thomas and their cohorts describe and list, in infinite detail, principals of working with and getting the best out of ingredients like sugar or butter. They patiently spell out how to craft the bread or rhubarb tart of your dreams. 

There’s a sense of community here, a feeling of the seriousness and joy and generosity of everyone involved in the book.

Think of this book as higher learning, a gift to be savored, with ideas and concepts and pointers and comments that will not only make you a better cook, they’ll make you a better person.

‘Patience and practice,’ says Sebastien. Good to remember.

Recipes I love: Glazed Rum Cake, Olive Oil Cake, Madeleine Cake topped with fruit and flowers; Rhubarb Tart, Gougeres (a signature of The French Laundry), along with Cherry Whipped Cream Donuts, White Peach Pate de Fruit, and easy to make Witches Hats. 


‘Burma Rivers of Flavor’ with text, recipes and photographs by award-winning author/photographer Naomi Duguid (Artisan).

Brilliant Naomi Duguid is the most intrepid of all cookbook authors. In her compelling new volume, she presents fresh, complex and deliciously surprising Burmese recipes, painting a picture of a country with a unique history.

Duguid also takes readers on daring, insider, inventive, curious, and rare trips into the heart of Burma. She has been traveling there for many years, from her home base in Bangkok and she goes out into the back-of-beyond to villages, rivers, and hidden corners. 

Her vibrant and rare photography of Burmese markets, people, landscapes, local scenes, ingredients, tools, offer an intimate portrait of a vivid and unknown country. I felt rather homesick for Burma, which I visited last August.

Check THE STYLE SALONISTE ARCHIVE for Burma stories. Naomi’s book (published by Artisan) veers away from cities and lingers on dusty monasteries, pagodas, early-morning vistas and vegetables, to breath life into her dream of Burma. 

Recipes include salads (many of them thrillingly tart), soups, ‘mostly vegetables’, spicy and versatile condiments and vibrant sauces, quick noodles, rice and sweet treats (fried bananas with sesame seeds). Throughout the book she celebrates foodways, traditions, and culinary culture of Burma (also known as Myanmar).

She describes, warmly and with great insight, the country and the people, and the flavors and dishes that are distinctly Burmese. Think of the food as somewhat like Thai, but with distinctive and spectacular salads, always with explosions of flavor, and often a jolt of tart or bright acidic fruits like pomelo or green mango. 

There’s Shrimp Salad with the tartness of lime juice (a constant, along with fresh ginger, shallots, and chile), and a Green Mango Salad with toasted sesame seeds and cayenne chile. And the energetic and curious Duguid has endless pungent sauces and relish-like condiments with a kick that will enliven every dish.

Sliced pomelo fruit, and lemongrass, and Kaffir limes make perfect palate refreshers. I loved the bite and tartness when I first encountered and discovered the pleasure of Burmese food last August.

Naomi traveled all over Burma, including remote tribal districts that few outsiders ever visit. From these regions, she gathered variations on classic Burmese fish dishes, and in Rangoon she discovered a range of sweet and savory street food ideas that are easy to make with few ingredients or implements. 

DIANE SAYS: Books are an essential food group 

Books! I’ve written 21 books, and I’m working on the next ones. 

I am in love with books. I love them. I love writing them, and I love reading them. I have thousands of favorite books and I buy more every week. 

Books! No matter where you buy them, always buy them. Books are as nourishing and essential as food, as delicious as the ripest heirloom tomato, and necessary for our wellbeing and excitement and pleasure as air and water and light. 

‘Burma Rivers of Flavor’
What’s great and why you must get this book:

I traveled to Burma in August and fell in love with the country and the people, Buddhists. Naomi, an expert researcher, presents compellingly simple and flavorful recipes, and outlines all basic ingredients, tools, oils, spices and sweet treats.

She grabs her camera and takes the reader on bike, foot, boat, and train to meet Burmese people and learn about the culture and daily life in the country, closed off from the world for fifty years. Photos illustrate her ideas and cooking. Recipes are not complicated.

Highly recommend.

‘At Home with May and Axel Vervoordt: Recipes for Every Season’  Written with Michael Gardner, with Patrick Vermeulen for the recipes. Photography by Jean-Pierre Gabriel (Flammarion) 

Winter view of the castle at s’Gravenwezel (Antwerp, Belgium). 

A selection of pumpkin-based dishes is ready to be served from a tower in the cellar. 

I have long admired the design and décor and style of May and Axel Vervoordt. And I’ve been fortunate to enjoy delightful lunches and dinners with the Vervoordts and their fascinating family, and guests.

In this book, readers meet the Vervoordts, and learn May’s elegant approach to seasonal fresh food, and her concepts of healthy, natural cooking. Photos are straightforward, chic.

‘I prefer to offer a variety of dishes with subtle connections in taste and flavor, so every dish is carefully considered while always offering guests an enjoyable range of choice. The joy of cooking at home is trying to capture each unique moment of the seasonal garden by presenting the ingredients on the plate in a way that is memorable and timeless.” —May Vervoordt

I first dined with Axel and May at their romantic 17th-century castle residence near Antwerp in the depths of a dark, cold winter. I arrived at their gatehouse, plunged in darkness, and could see candles glimmering in the castle windows, across the misty moat. I’ll never forget the theatrical scene—and the pleasure of enjoying warming soups and steamed pike with the family at a table set beside the fire in the study. 

In early summer, I joined the family and friends beneath the dappled shade of a blossoming apple tree. The astringent fragrance of grass, daffodils and jonquils in parterres framed with clipped box swirled as we bit into salads made from lettuces and greens picked just moments earlier. There are images in the book showing the apple tree, with the old wooden table beneath.

The cook had gone out into the garden, picked the ripest and freshest ingredients, little leaves, tiny carrots, and created vivid salads and pretty deserts. 

Red, yellow, green, orange, and brown leaves line an avenue of trees and hedges in the park. It’s important to use the natural colors and textures of the environments we live in to offer guidance for recipes, table decoration, and food presentation. Be on the lookout for colors that offer inspiration and take clues from the weather and the season when creating menus. During autumn's slow transition into colder temperatures, May Vervoordt often turns to food that helps warm the body, such as soups and cooked vegetables and grains. A particularly useful ingredient throughout the season, lentils are a versatile choice as they easily adapt the flavor and seasoning from other dishes. They are also low in fat, and in calories, and free from cholesterol. In addition to their valuable nutritional content, May Vervoordt also loves to use lentils because they are quick and easy to prepare. 

Winter Vegetable Salad with Pumpkin Seeds. 

Butternut Squash with Winter Vegetables 

Turnips with Fresh Herb Oil 

‘At Home with May and Axel Vervoordt’
Why I recommend this book:

Followers of the Doctrine of Vervoordt will love images of festive tables at the castle, set with armfuls of red amaryllis in winter. I love the bountiful style ideas for outdoor dining the moment sunshine warms their terrace and the boxwood-framed gardens.

Photographs take readers up close with table settings, improvised dining rooms, moody lighting, table décor, and a multitude of easy-to-copy ideas. 

A rutabaga, wild mushroom, and hummus “tartlet” is prepped for a large gathering in Venice at Palazzo Alvera to celebrate the opening of an exhibition. 

Hummus, Dried Tomato, and Olive Bruschetta 

A popular choice for soups and salads, cabbage is high in vitamins A and C and has several important health benefits in terms of proper digestion. Oxheart cabbage is even said to help relieve headaches. When pickled to create sauerkraut, which is also a delicious option, the fermentation process offers helpful probiotic benefits. 

Roasted Cod Fillet with Lemon and Sage 

Dishes are presented simply and without overt styling, so that a well-versed cook could create the dish from the images.

Recipes to consider: Winter Vegetable Ragout with Pumpkin Seeds; Zucchini Tartlets with Cumin; Leek and Broccoli Soup with Cardamom; Nettle Soup; Poached Apples with Turmeric and Blueberries, along with Pumpkin Risotto, Rhubarb Tiramisu (someone make it for me, please), and Molten Chocolate Cake with Ganache, Pear, and Pear Sorbet.

“Food—like freshly cut flowers—offers an ephemeral beauty, because it soon disappears. For our family, ephemeral things are just as important as timeless ones as they give quality to life.

Cooking can be a great pleasure, and just as for the potter who sculpts clay, the skill is a craft and the creation is a work of art.”

—Axel Vervoordt

A Cookbook to Inspire, Amuse, and Get You Traveling 

‘Edible Selby
 by Todd Selby (Abrams)

Todd Selby is a witty and radical blogger ( who travels to Japan and Sweden and Denmark and …Brooklyn and Berkeley…to photograph and write about and interview the world’s avant-garde artists and designers and gurus of greens and foraging.

It’s a collation of delicacies like a starter of fresh fennel juice, fennel and celeriac (the picture is worth the price of admission), and there’s white asparagus, salty cheese and green strawberries to encounter. 

Selby offers the world of Kirk Lombard, the sea forager in San Francisco who at one point in the book is fishing in a kayak beneath a pier, and on the next page is grabbing a weird fish from a storm drain.

There are Tartine Bakery (a San Francisco treat) and the Nordic Food Lab (purple seaweed), and wild chocolatiers, gardeners, cheese-makers and lots of sketches, drawings of food, scrumptious photos (Todd), and Tuscan hills and meaty cuts.

This book will make you very happy—and inventive. There are no recipes, exactly, and Todd warns not to actually cook from them (or at least he takes no responsibility that the sketches and notes would work) but it’s so fearless and original.

Highly recommend.

Where to buy:

I like to buy books at independent booksellers. I have a great bookshop in my neighborhood, BROWSER BOOKS on Fillmore Street at the corner of Sacramento Street in Pacific Heights, San Francisco.

I go there on my way home from the gym, while doing errands (buying fresh Blue Bottle coffee), and after dinner (they stay open late) or when I’m out for a walk. I’m always buying books.

I appreciate an independent book seller’s selections. I can always find a compelling book to keep in my stacks of books-in-waiting.

Among many favorite categories, I gather travel literature, and among many books I’m currently reading are a Laotian detective series (Dr Siri Paiboun mysteries set in Laos, by Colin Cotterill).

I also picked up a new edition of ‘Jane Eyre’ because I can’t find the two copies already somewhere in my library.

Yes, at midnight, I click on and low and behold, books appear a week later. Or after a marathon of writing, I click onto in London—to order signed books by Deborah Devonshire or books on Lucian Freud.

I just ordered the new biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor by Artemis Cooper from Hatchard’s (signed copy).

Ten minutes away from my neighborhood is the brilliant GREEN APPLE BOOKS on Clement Street, where I can spend many a happy hour poking around the stacks and selections and the out-of-print shelves (old Paul Bowles) that I desperately seek for my collections.

And when I’m in London or Paris, or taking a fast trip to Los Angeles, or in Jaipur or Istanbul or New Delhi or Phnom Penh or Rangoon, my favorite destinations are the best and oldest and quirkiest bookshops where I linger, chat to the booksellers, breath the papery air, poke around dusty corners, and add more rare books to my collections.

COMING UP IN THE NEXT WEEKS: My pick of the best design books of the season.
Stay tuned.

Photo credits: 

Images from ‘At Home with May and Axel Vervoordt’ courtesy of Rizzoli.  Photographs and recipe adaptation by Jean-Pierre Gabriel.

Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2012. Photographs by Deborah Jones.

Burma: Rivers of Flavor by Naomi Duguid (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2012. Photographs by Richard Jung.


Lauren Smith said...

The turnips look amazing, and I don't even like turnips! Great pick on cookbooks. I think that they are WAY out of my cooking league. I am quite new to cooking and have started with the cookbook, "Holly Clegg's trim&TERRIFIC KITCHEN 101: Secrets to Cooking Confidence" by author Holly Clegg. This a how to book on cooking, which includes tools, tips and recipes for anyone who wants to learn how to improve their cooking.
I would love to be able to cook some of the recipes posted above, it just may take me awhile to get there!

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Dear Friends-

Kathy Geissler Best sent a great comment that 'my holiday gift book selections are now solved...your books looke fantastic'.
I've had great messages on FACEBOOK as well, where lots of 'like's appear instantly and the book selection sells books, I hope.
I also had a wonderful message from Carolyn Hartley in Arizona, and here it is:

I loved this article. In lived in San Francisco for many years and spent long happy hours at Green Apple and City Lights. I ventured out most nights in search of books. I loved the antiquarian bookstore up by the university hospital. The name of the street escapes me. I too am a Bowles fan and want a 1st of Sheltering Sky. I recently started cooking again...and have narrowed my focus to baking (I'm quite a good baker), salads, and cheese plates. I can't abide frying or cooking oil and burned butter smells. They linger smelling up the house. I am going to the bookstore this weekend to check out your recommendations. I'm also a design book junkie so can't wait for your next story. Thank you for the style salon saloniste. I subscribe to only a few feeds...there are just too many so I'm choosy and enjoy keeping up with your news. From Arizona...Carolyn.

P.S. I was in Brussels last week on a furniture buying trip. It was fast and tiring. I did enjoy a home cooked meal in the apartment of a business associate. I forgot how nice it is to eat in. All too often in Arizona we take our guests out to dinner. I miss the bonding (for lack of a better word) that occurs over a good meal prepared at home and enjoyed with family and friends.

Sent from my iPhone

peggy braswell said...

I am sure anything recommended by DS is grand. I read cookbooks + look at the beautiful photos then see if I can make my dish look like they did. Can't wait to see the design books recommendation.

shiree segerstrom said...

Diane, I received May and Axel's cookbook as a wedding present recently. It has some wonderful vegetarian recipes too. Very inspired! Shiree'

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

That Axel Vervoordt cookbook is going to several friends for Christmas...and I will be ordering an extra copy for myself too!

Incredible post, as always!


Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


Hello, Sheree-

Congratulations on your wedding and marriage. I am so happy for your--and I'm so pleased that you rec'd this book. Wow...a tasty friend.

I also received the following wonderful message from the great and wonderful MARSHA OLSON:

"Hello Ms Diane,
Oh my gosh... thank you for your newest blog today....Loved your selection of favorite new cookbooks
of the season !
I love cookbooks,as well.
I have to tell you I really enjoyed this edition...and, looking forward to your favorite design books.'
Best regards,

MARSHA--is a tasty and stylish woman and a longtime friend and I'm so happy she found these books were inspiring. Happy cooking, DIANE

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Dear Friends and Dear Lisa-

Thank you for your enthusiasm.
The surprising thing is that the Vervoordt book has had hardly any attention, anywhere--and especially not from the style books and design magazines that would usually be writing about it. It was overlooked.
Vervoordts, cooking? It is not obvious. But if you have dined with them this book is essential and truly inspiring.I have been incredibly fortunate...spring lunch in the garden with Axel and May and friends, a divine first dinner with the couple in his study in the middle of winter--and a lovely family lunch in the white dining room with blue and white porcelains on brackets on the walls (Rose Tarlow turned up unexpectedly...a treat) and with the Vervoordts' younger son, then called Dickie, now called Dick and with two children--and Boris of course, now taking control of the company. Real estate expert Dickie, I recall vividly, was then an avid ice hockey player, and he was displaying a broken front tooth as his trophy.
The Vervoordts are lovely is so smooth and elegant and polished, and even an informal bite on the terrace overlooking the parklands, has a certain infused magic and delight.
They usually have music...often the Labeque sisters, friends of theirs, can you imagine the delight!
Thanks, Lisa...your friends are fortunate you are selecting it...the recipes are generally subtle and surprising and not the usual. Principles are there. Health.
very best, DIANE

*Chic Provence* said...

Diane they all look wonderful but I think I will choose the Burma cookbook... how deliciously enticing it looks, both in recipes and her stories about traveling there... like you, she seems an intrepid traveler, fearless and adventuresome!

Have a great weekend

xoxo Kit

lindaraxa said...

I have been waiting for a new cookbook since forever. Thanks for these three.

When I am in London I always stop at Hatchards. They seem to have books that no other bookstores have and if you ask for recommendations they are the best! I have never been disappointed in anything they have ever recommended.

Philip Bewley said...

Dear Diane,
What a sensational group of cookbooks. We actually do cook quite a bit at home, but I think that these examples are so much more than recipes, as you point out. The photography alone is a visual feast for the senses, from the elegant minimalism of Bouchon Bakery; the vibrant and scintillating color palettes of Burma, Rivers of Flavor, and the sublimely atmospheric presentation by the Vervoordts -the winter view of the castle is jaw dropping, the soup served in a raku bowl and charger on that scored, earthy farm table. And have turnips ever looked so good? A collection of superb photographic still lifes as well as healthy and inspired cooking.
All so incredibly inspiring in so many ways.

A Super Dilettante said...

My dear Diane,

What a fabulous post! Thank you so much for introducing us the book by Naomi Duguid titled Burma: Rivers of Flavour. I've never heard about this book before. It must be the first Burmese cookery book written in English by someone who is a non-Burmese. This is definitely on my list of books to read. The pictures look absolutely stunning. The picture with a bowl of noodle soup takes me back to my childhood. I suppose one could call it as the ‘Proustian moment’. In his novel, Remember of things past, Proust recalls vividly the taste of the little scallop-shaped cakes, ‘les petites madeleines’, which were given to him by his Aunt Léonie when he was a child.

I believe the eggs inside the noodle bowl are quail eggs. In Burma, quail eggs are very common. One see them selling in little packets on a peddler's wicker tray by the rail tracks. Although they are boiled, their freckled shells are incredibly hard to peel. Many years later, I read something about quail eggs in something totally different from my own experience of quail eggs, humble delights. It's in Evelyn Waugh's novel, The Brideshead Revisited where the main protagonist, Lord Sebastian Flyte gave a posh luncheon party at his Oxford college where he was found eating quail eggs with his friends. It amuses me that in one culture, a certain type of food is eaten by peasants and ploughmen and in others, it is the food for the aristocrats.

With best wishes, ASD.

PS. I agree with you on your comments about books. I love books. They are my perfect companions.

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


I love your comments.

I especially love your insights, your stories, your personal notes and your illuminations.

Linda-yes, Hatchard's. It's also in the heart of Piccadilly, so that when you depart from Hatchard's, with your arms full of books, you can go and have a cup of tea at Fortnum's...or simply buy some Earl Grey or Assam tea to take home. Loose leaf, of course.

The Vervoordt cook book received very little press and very little attention. It at first seems rather a quiet and 'non-vivid' book as the images and the food are quite understated. But each image, on close inspection, has a mood and a quiet loveliness and simplicity that draw in the reader. The recipes--healthy is the focus--are worth full attention.

Burma--yes, Griffin, your personal notes and vibrant recollections are so appreciated. I am so happy when my stories and reports and reviews can set my readers into a reverie.

KIT--I always love to hear from you.

Philip--you're the knowledge of design, the voice of an art world and design world insider. The ultimate researcher and erudite voice. Thank you.

Looking forward to hearing from you all soon, DIANE

Coulda shoulda woulda said...

Great choice on the cookbooks - the Burmese one is a cracker