Book Notes: Cookbooks to make fresh food fabulous
“Food with Friends: The Art of Simple Gatherings”
By Leela Cyd. Clarkson Potter Publishers. New York. 2016. $25.
“Love and Lemons: An Apple-to-Zucchini Celebration of Impromptu Cooking”
By Jeanine Donofrio. Photos by Jack Mathews. Avery, an imprint of Penguin Random House, New York, 2016. $35.
Our easy access to fresh farm foods may be revolutionizing the way we eat. Instead of starting with a recipe and an empty casserole dish that we pile high with cheesy pasta, we start with that bunch of fresh beets and greens we made a beeline for at the farmers market or that came in our CSA box. We want those gorgeous orbs to taste like beets — sweet, earthy and oozing beet-iness. But we also want the robust power of complementary flavors we find in herbs, sauces and toppings that we pull from the wide world of cooks. The universal and the local unite in America’s kitchens these days.
A new era of food bloggers and cookbook authors focuses on seasonal foods prepared in ways that deliver high-flavor and smaller, more intense morsel-like portions. The two beautiful cookbooks reviewed here today — “Food with Friends: The Art of Simple Gatherings” by Leela Cyd, and “Love and Lemons: An Apple-to-Zucchini Celebration of Impromptu Cooking” by Jeanine Donofrio, feature foods that radiate color, texture and transporting aromas. It was only after I finished reading both books that I realized I had selected two books with no meat or fish recipes. With farmers markets nearing peak output, these are precisely the books I want on my kitchen counter right now.
“Food with Friends” is an enchanting tour of a food-oriented way of life heavy on the romance of loving kindness and gorgeous visual appeal. Leela Cyd is a stylist and photographer who has a way with food and a fondness for thoughtfulness. Do not be turned off when she tells you she used to give Pink Parties when she was young. Her palette still leans heavily pastel — as in sugar cookies decorated with candied violets or her book’s No. 1 show stopper, Beet-Pickled Eggs or the Think Pink Faloodas.
“Food with Friends” is a clever arrangement of recipes by type of gathering, from brunch to teatime to happy hour. Cyd is a visual person who counsels us on our presentation. After all, this is a book about sharing food for any reason and any occasion. There must be small plates, tiny sauce dishes and pretty cloths for the table. Cyd’s Style File, at the front of the book, gives us affordable ways to display and serve food. Visit flea markets and yard sales. Buy a small bowl or dish. There’s greater appeal to a “tablescape” with a few mismatched but lovely pieces. She uses textiles of all kinds, paper, handkerchiefs, tea lights, flowers and small gifts like tiny notes or a lollipop to add interest to the table.
Dimension, comfort and abundance are words that Cyd uses to guide her food aesthetic. Her Anything-Goes Breakfast Board full of cheeses, olives, breads, fruits, jams and condiments is utterly splendid to behold. Any guest would swoon for this rustic pleasure. Sweet Potato Tortilla Espanola is a simple combination of chopped sweet potato and onion on an egg pancake topped with thyme sprigs — resembling a colorful pizza. The Cotija, Apricot and Rosemary Crisps take five minutes to assemble and broil, and less time for company to devour. “Totally addictive,” writes Cyd. Oatmeal? She gives you nine unique toppings such as The Greek: Dried figs, pomegranate seeds, pistachios and Greek yogurt, or The Tropics: Coconut, pineapple, passion fruit and cashews.
“Food with Friends” will come in handy for those who love to eat with friends and family but find entertaining demanding and exhausting. In Cyd’s world, everyone brings something. When it’s time to clean up, the dishes disappear into a sink of soapy water and Cyd goes back to her guests.
Books refuse to go the way of the Edsel. Cookbooks are a good example. While it’s convenient to pull up a recipe on your phone, what’s better is to sit down with a gorgeous book filled with full-page color plates, artful formatting, brightly colored title pages and at-a-glance presentation that turns a recipe into marching orders.
“The Love and Lemons Cookbook,” by Jeanine Donofrio, like “Food and Friends,” is a masterpiece. These are works of book art that, when delivering creative food ideas, inspire the reader to pickle some onions and display them in the fridge in a glass jar — right now. Roasted Red Pepper and Carrot Soup practically jumps off the page. Each recipe is notated as to gluten content, number of servings and vegan status. What neither book does is indicate preparation time.
“Love and Lemons” is arranged A to Z, by vegetable. The Apple, Brie and Thyme Crostini, like all Donofrio’s crostini, is made of one part savory, one part sweet and one part fresh herb. Loaded Sweet Potato Nachos substitutes thin, crispy slices of sweet potato for corn chips, but includes black beans, avocado, radish, mango, serrano pepper and adobo sauce, and cheese for a colorful, flavorful alternative.
Donofrio says she likes to top off a dish with a squeeze of lemon. The flyleaf pages in the book are bright lemony yellow, as are the color accents throughout. Food styling on the full-page color plates rivals that of the book design itself.
— Rae Padilla Francoeur’s memoir, “Free Fall: A Late-in-Life Love Affair,” is available online or in some bookstores. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org Read her blog at http://www.freefallrae.blogspot.com/ or follow her @RaeAF.