I like a cookbook that reads like a book–not an instruction manual. For a cookbook with personality, read The Sweet Life in Paris. When good writing accompanies recipes that make you want to start cooking NOW, you’ve got a winner. If you want to read a food blog with real personality, I recommend Peggy Bourjaily’s Almost Slow Food.
And if a cookbook explores a region in depth like the Dordogne, then you have the best of all worlds, a travel cookbook.
Book: The River Road Plantation Country Cookbook by Anne Butler (NEW 2010)
In the introduction to River Road Plantation Country Cookbook, the reader gets a bit of history — the Mississippi’s impact on the development of Louisiana and the business, culture, and cuisine of the row of plantations built between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana along River Road. Butler says, in her introduction:
The refined culinary customs transported from France soon mingled with hot seasonings and cooking techniques from other countries and incorporated native game, seafood and fresh local produce unknown in European kitchens. The resultant dishes were and are superlative…
Although the sepia tone photographs used throughout the book give it a historic feel, the author swerves back and forth from historic recipes in plantations to much more modern developments and modern recipes. You soon figure out the book is not all about plantations.
The recipes come from a variety of sources and many are skimmed from other cookbooks (with attribution). I think I might have been more charmed by one of the plantation cookbooks quoted that gives both the old “receipt” and the modernized version.
The travel part of the book held my interest more than the hodgepodge of recipes. The author introduced me to the LSU Rural Life Museum, which sounds particularly fascinating, and she also clarified which plantations are open to the public, their hours, their restaurants and gardens. She tempted me to show up for the Jambalaya Festival some late May in Gonzales, when a cookoff is held. Possibly the best ever recipe for Jambalaya (a former champion contributed it) is included in the book. Another place I’d like to visit, the Cabin (restaurant, cottages, a whole Cajun Village of historic structures) will lure me to Burnside, Louisiana some day to try the Buttermilk Pie.
But overall, this book was disappointing. The layout and graphics did not inspire me. A prime factor in a good cookbook , the index, also left me searching. Despite the fact that the book is more travel book than recipe book, the index lists only recipes and not destinations.
Book: The Tex-Mex Grill and Backyard Barbacoa Cookbook by Robb Walsh (NEW 2010)
Texas and Louisiana, neighboring states, are about as alike as Hawaii and Alaska. As Robb Walsh talks about food as culture, it becomes clear why they are so different. In this book he is writing particularly about the Mexican influence on Texas cooking, and some of that sounds very familiar to an Arizonan like me.
I laughed out loud when I saw that he included a chapter on Taco Trucks. We have those portable restaurants in profusion in Tucson. The nickname here is Roach Coach, but in fact the cooking is good and inspected by the health czars just like restaurants.
It should not come as a surprise that Walsh includes those humble Taco Trucks–he does not leave anything out. I’m still flipping through the pages and learning new things about cuts of meet, types of charcoal, varieties of chiles, and much more.
This is a lively, colorful cookbook with terrific black and white photos–many historical. How can black and white be colorful? You will have to see the great design work to understand. Full page and double page spreads of closeups of food and/or people include a priceless picture of Fidel Castro in a ten-gallon hat tucking into some barbeque on a visit to Houston in 1959.
“I hope this book encourages you to get out your grill. I also hope it puts you in closer touch with the foodways of Texas and Northern Mexico and brings some exciting new flavors to your table. Most of all, I hope it makes your next fiesta a lot of fun.”
You see, he assumes that you are going to have a fiesta–and the whole book assumes you are going to have fun cooking. Now there’s a book with personality.
I want to thank Pelican Publishing Company for sending me a review copy of River Road Plantation Country Cookbook and Broadway Books for a review copy of the Tex-Mex Grill.
How do you read cookbooks? Only when you need them? Or curl up with them like a sizzling novel?
And by the way, have you subscribed to A Traveler’s Library? Next week we’ll visit India, Carmel California, Arkansas and Arizona. Now surely you would not want to miss a line up like that.