Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Read 'em and eat.

Erudite Mondays at HalfSoled Boots
(Whassamatter, don't you know what day it is?)
Volume 7, Number 2, 3, and 4

Twas the week before Christmas and all through the kitchen
I was cooking and baking and moanin' and bitchin'

Oh, wait......I think somebody already wrote that poem.

Today I'm showing you three cookbooks I love. 'Tis the season for rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands floury, lads, so you should take a look at these.

First off is The Gingerbread Architect. FANTASTIC book for us gingerbread divas...even though this year it looks like I'll be reading about it more than actually doing it. Time, unlike my to-do list, grows short.

The Gingerbread Architect is a collaboration between a pastry chef and an architect, who present twelve designs for awe-inspiring gingerbread houses. The designs are all based on American architecture, and each includes a set of blueprints and exhaustive directions. There is an Antebellum Plantation house, a Cape Cod house, a Tudor Revival house, and my personal favourite, the Urban Brownstone. (It reminds me of Lizbon.)

The authors give all kinds of interesting tips on gingerbread house construction, from tinting the mortar icing brown (HOW COME I DIDN'T THINK OF THAT) to how to light your house from the inside. Get an eyeful of these photos, and if you have a gingerbread artist in your family, think about this book for a Christmas gift.

It's my photograph, not the book's, that is askew.

Next up: The Complete Canadian Living Baking Book. The author, Elizabeth Baird, is the no-nonsense Granny (or maybe mother-in-law) of every single Canadian. She urges you to try your hand at yeast bread, braiding a festive challah, weaving a lattice-top pie crust, and complicated pastries. She breezily states that Canadians are the best home bakers in the world - and makes a pretty good case for it, too - and I can imagine her waving a dismissive hand at anyone who tries to claim that, say, the Scandinavians are also very good.

Elizabeth Baird is the fondly stern Granny of my heart, for sure. She makes me want to grab her and kiss her on the top of her head, just to show her that I'm taller than she is. She's smack me one, though - she's feisty.

Mwah! Mwah mwah!!

The one thing about this book that is quite hilarious is the advice she includes, such as, in regard to Turtle Bars, "'s hard to stop at one, but you must." Then there's this finger-shake, "a small piece of this is totally satisfying". One wonders whether Elizabeth Baird is a little too concerned that we watch our figures. On another page, though, she says "don't deprive yourself of whipped cream on this cake", so I guess she loves us after all.

I want Granny to make this Plum Sour Cream Kuchen for me.

I think that if you wanted to teach yourself how to bake, or simply needed to improve your skills with an oven, you could do no better than to get this book. I'm so glad I have it, if only because it is completely stuffed with recipes, and with this one acquisition I have probably multiplied my recipe collection by about forty times. I've been thinking it over, and I believe Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess is the only baking book I value more...I'm so sorry, Granny....please don't hit me.

Which brings me to Nigella's new Christmas book. A thing of beauty is a joy forever, they tell me, and this book is a case in point. Nobody but me has even been allowed to look through it since I got it. I haven't finished feasting my eyes on the beautiful pictures yet, never mind the wry, fondly-written text and the mouth-watering recipes.

Maple Cheesecake, people, MAPLE FREAKING CHEESECAKE.

Nigella is the Elizabeth Zimmermann of cooking. She is with you in spirit, leaning over your shoulder and pointing out things in her book, or in your food, or in your life in general, that you might have overlooked. Her style of writing is charmingly conversational and utterly appealing. She is my favourite cookbook author by far, partly because one can read her books from cover to cover as if they were fiction or, more accurately, a letter from a friend. It makes it so easy to remember what's in her books, as well as making it much more likely that I'll try a recipe when she has chatted me up about it.

Mince pies - haute cuisine, only appreciated by the truly haute. Such as myself.

As to Christmas, Nigella's philosophy is that a certain amount of fuss and bother is necessary and inevitable for us to feel that a celebration is taking place, at all. She does give heaps of advice on practical things like timetables though, to minimize the Christmas kitchen-angst.

See the caption on the mug?

Generally speaking, her approach to food is unfussy and prosaic, very taste-based - I find her recipes fairly reliable. The cakes I don't care for, being a North American - British cakes tend to be dry for my taste. Everything else, though - very keen. I can particularly recommend her glorious roast potato recipe, which involves goose fat and butter and is what the angels eat cold out of heaven's fridge.

Oh roast potatoes how I love thee.

Nigella Christmas is a lovely book. It is packed with good advice and chatty writing, and also looks great on my coffee table. It has joined Domestic Goddess, Feast, and Nigella Express on the bookshelf, and is a wonderful addition to my collection.

Now I'm hungry, so I'm going to go bake something. After all - we Canadians are good at that.


knititch said...

that is a great gingerbread house. remind me next year. my sister and her friend loves to make these. and are both interested in architecture :-))

Anonymous said...

As a Canadian living away from home, I certainly appreciated your writings today. Mincemeat - must smuggle some through customs for next Christmas.
Ron in Mexico

Sandy said...

I have cookbook envy. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I left a comment. Hooray for me!

Sandy said...

By the way, you can fictionalize me any time you want - appearing on your post, no matter how "spun", is always a bit of a thrill.

Sandy said...

Oops - that "anonymous" was me. Not so "hooray" apparently.

kate said...

OK, now I'm hungry for mince meat tarts. Mmmmm. No one else in my family likes them, however.

The first book overwhelms me, but the other two look awesome! (The first one looks awesome as well, but would put way too much pressure on me if it were in my house.)

Gwen said...