Pasta, pasta everywhere.

It's not like pasta books ever take much of a break - they're seasonally evergreen (baked ziti in the winter, pasta salad in the summer, every other kind of pasta the rest of the year), so I'm used to seeing a couple every month or so.  But three in one week! is unusual even for pasta.  And all of them are worth a look.

Jenn Louis' Pasta By Hand: A Collection of Italy's Regional Hand-shaped Pasta offers a thoughtful selection of rustic shapes - the ones that are forgiving if they turn out a litte squat or rubbed or frayed: malfatti, gnocchi, ricotta gnudi.  Though not entirely familiar, they're mostly very approachable; few will bring your day to a complete standstill.

Even more ambitious is Mastering Pasta by Marc Vetri, co-written by the very able and seemingly ubiquitous David Joachim.  This is the one you want if you want to attempt Doppio Ravioli, Chestnut Tagliolini, or Stuffed Paccheri.  You also get some no-nonsense talk like "You know those commercials where they show a plate of cooked pasta with a pile of sauce on top?  That's bullshit."

On the other end of the spectrum is Healthy Pasta: The Sexy, Skinny, and Smart Way to Eat Your Favorite Food. It's by Joe and Tanya Bastianich, son and daughter of Lidia.  These are mostly low-sauce pastas and on the easy side; despite the name it's hard to distinguish just what's extra-healthy about them.  But they're likely to make for weeknight favorites.

Roots and Sprouts and Fire

It's March! and that means fresh starts and kitchen adventures and maybe a break from the routine.  It's the smell of dirt and the fresh air.

Blogger Sarah Britton has My New Roots, full of seed butters and sprouts and bright-colored salads.  Meanwhile, the Sprouted Kitchen's Sara & Hugh Forte are back with a second opus, Bowl + Spoon,  focusing on single-bowl meals. Don't forget Sara's entire Sprouted Kitchen blog can be added to your Bookshelf.

Then there's the meat books - a little earlier than the usual Memorial Day extravaganza, but you can almost smell the grill smoke emanating from them.  There's Franklin Barbecue (after Aaron Franklin's Texas restaurant) and Oklahoman camp cook Kent Rollins' A Taste of Cowboy.  Both will make you test your outdoor-cooking skills - once the snow has finally left the ground.

And then of course there's The Wild Diet, by Abel James, last seen in advance galley form in my Men in T-shirts post.   His book is out now, leading me to inevitably ask: Are "Mustard-roasted chicken legs with Peach Salad" wild?  Are "Pulled Pork Sliders" wild?  Are pancakes wild?

To be truthful, the wildest part of these books is what each reader brings in their imagination.  But that's probably true of most books and most cooks.  What wakes you up as a cook, in spring?

New York: 48 hours and approximately 12000 calories

So this weekend my 14-year-old and I took a long-anticipated trip to Manhattan.  I prepared my usual database of places to eat, and was mildly dismayed to realize that, between old favorites and new must-try's, I had put down 17 restaurants for 5 meals.  This, of course, would not do.

I started out fabric-hunting in Little India, where I stopped at KoKum, a relatively new South Indian, for a masala dosa.  Now it's my favorite place for dosas.  At Kalustyan's - still my favorite spice shop after all these years - I got some dried hominy, dried orange peel, and Aleppo pepper.  Then I picked up my son - starving from an afternoon of fencing - and we stopped at his personal favorite, Eddie Huang's Baohaus, where he wolfed down a couple of bao and I had a sarsaparilla soda.

Then we headed down to Chinatown, where we conducted an experiment in comparative soup dumplings (Shanghai Cuisine vs. 456 Restaurant) in which the newcomer, 456, won by a nose.  We picked up a dozen pork buns on Mott Street and then wandered off and got lost in the non-tourist part of Chinatown, finally ending up at a literal hole in the wall (Lam Zhou) where we sat at a tiny counter in a tiny corridor and ate beef noodle soup with handpulled noodles, back to back with the noodle-maker himself.  The pounding of dough on marble shook our bones.  The noodles were chewy, irregular, and divine.  On the way back to the train we stopped at the one and only, incomparable Russ & Daughters to pick up whitefish and gaspe nova and matjes herring. 

The next day our equally food-obsessed host packed us prosciutto sandwiches ("just in case") and we headed straight to Chelsea Market.  I methodically demolished a truffled mozzarella crepe and a straciatella gelato.  We somehow managed to escape after purchasing only: 3 speed pourers for my oil bottles, some dried porcini, a set of edible ink markers for decorating iced cookies.

All restraint was left behind at dinnertime, which we spent in Koreatown (chosen for proximity to train home) and had a blowout in the form of Korean pork belly barbecue.  And then we got on the train.  I, at least, felt certain I would not need to eat again for 3 days.

But Noah needed a burger an hour later.

Round the world and back again

Every once in a while, after a long drought, we get a spate of internationally-flavored cookbooks to enjoy.  In fact, I'm starting to wonder if February/March might be an ideal time for publishers to release these books - halfway between the holiday rush of big-name books and the May onslaught of grills and cocktails.

We've had a seemingly endless parade of French cookbooks, regardless of season, but now we're finally getting some variety.  Irish TV chef Clodagh McKenna has a re-evaluation of her native cuisine.  And Philadelphia-based Jeremy and Jessica Nolen do the same for their own heritage in New German Cooking.

Rosa's Thai Cafe takes its name from the London restaurant run by Saiphin Moore.  They're bright, streamlined dishes, though the recipes may require some interpolation.

And then there's Puerto Rican Cuisine in America: Nuyorican and Bodega Recipes - paying tribute to a seriously underserved corner of our culinary mosaic.  It's a revised book, but no less timely for it.  It's a must if you need to revamp your goat repertoire.

It's a funny thing that all of these books (except the Irish one) celebrate countries that their authors have left.  Absence, I guess, may or may not make the heart grow fonder.  But it certainly does wonders for the stomach.

White Pages & Glossy Photos: A Rubric for Titling Cookbooks

"Well, this is lovely,"  I thought as the new cookbook slid out of its padded envelope.  "Rose Water and Orange Blossoms," it read, in a curling thick cursive.  I scanned downward to see what kind of Middle Eastern food we were talking about - Lebanese, it turned out.

Inside, the format didn't seduce me as readily - double-columned, unnumbered steps, wide leading but tight kerning.  But each time I closed the book, that title just pulled me right back in again.  "Now that's some powerful marketing,"  I thought.

There is something just instantly evocative, for me, in titles that use the formula XY & X'Y', where X is an adjective and Y is a concrete noun.  You instantly start visualizing, and once you've done that your senses are trapped.  Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - another juicy-looking book from this season using the same ploy.

In fact, when I think about it, there have been many cookbooks that have trapped my senses and caught my attention - Sweet Cream & Sugar Cones, the terrific ice cream book from Bi-Rite Creamery.  Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume, Silvena Rowe's well-received title from a couple years before that (by "Purple Citrus" she just means "sumac," but doesn't "Purple Citrus" sound better?)

The farthest-back one I can recall off the top of my head is Blue Eggs & Yellow Tomatoes, from 2008 (though I'm sure there are earlier instances).  It's a gorgeous book, and it was popular too, yet I can't recall a single recipe from it that's gone into regular rotation for me.  Do I really only love it for its title?

Have you, too, ever been a sucker for this kind of title?  And how did it work out, in the long run?

Green Mountain cookbooks

Quiet, small-scale food revolutions are happening all the time, all over the country.  You might not think it to be the case in Vermont, with its tiny geographic footprint and forbidding New England winters, but it is.  And they've got the cookbooks to prove it.  

You may have heard of the Cabot Creamery Cooperative, whose dairy products penetrate markets throughout the Northeast.  What you might not know is that its named after the small town of Cabot, Vermont, where in the early 20th century a group of dairy farmers agreed to collectively churn their excess milk into butter. Mostly the new  cookbook revolves around cheddar, the signature product of Cabot, though there's a lesser focus on yogurt and butter and cream as well.

I learned about Hector Kent and his new book, Dry Curing Pork, in the most serendipitous way.  There was a Vermont wedding in our family, and our household ended up enjoying the hospitality of Kent's parents during our weekend stay there.  There we feasted on homemade yogurt, hand-picked berries, the morning's eggs, and some truly remarkable bacon.  Afterward, Kent's mother brought us downstairs to show us "something we have in our basement which most people don't" : a handmade, climate-controlled chamber full of works of art: prosciutto, coppa, salami, and, of course, bacon.  This was the work of all the Kents, but instigated by Hector, who explains how in his remarkably fleet yet thorough book.

It's easy for me to imagine popping over to the store for some Cabot products.  It's hard for me to imagine building a climate-controlled chamber in my basement, or cultivating a sustainable curing practice of my own.  On the other hand, it's very easy indeed for me to imagine eating some more home-made dry-cured pork.  And every day it's getting easier for me to imagine inviting myself back up to Vermont, with arrival scheduled right about mealtime.

Chefs, simplified.

Geoffrey Zakarian - chef-entrepreneur, TV food show judge (and contestant), big-shot restaurant consultant.  (You might remember his very classy last book, Town/Country, where he presented the same ingredients in "upscale" and "rustic" versions.)

But his current book, which was one of my favorite picks last year, is approachable to a fault.  My Perfect Pantry scours your storage areas for things you always have on hand - pasta, flour, canned tomatoes -  and offers an abundance of easy, flavorful recipes you don't have to go out in the snow to shop again for.

Zakarian may be the media-mogul type of chef, but the other kind of chef - old-school kitchen generals never seen without their whites - is going back to basics too.  I did a double take when I saw the slender new Paul Bocuse book, because it looks - from the front though not in profile - a lot like his signature, doorstop cookbook from 2012.

The new one has under-an-hour recipes like wild mushroom omelets and baked potatoes and tomatoes and lemon tart.  I seriously doubt anyone's going to take up his "easy" recipe for sea bass encased in puff pastry incised to look like...a sea bass.

Still, it's a canny move on the part of any chef who wants to stay relevant in a digitally democratize age.

Under pressure

I know, I know, it's a completely ridiculous question.  What does that even mean?

I ask because this season has been remarkably light on slow cooker books, which I had always thought of as a 4-season staple of the cookbook industry. I'm as devoted to my slow cooker as ever, but right now it's mostly being used as a sous-vide machine for yogurt and buttermilk.

I haven't yet sprung for a pressure cooker. In fact, it may be the one single gadget my kitchen lacks.  

But that intrepid pair, Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough, may convince me otherwise with their forthcoming The Great Big Pressure Cooker Book.    Lamb stew in 20 or 30 minutes?  Seriously?  Black beans in 18 minutes?

When you think about it, slow cookers and pressure cookers are simply different responses to the same problem: a chronic shortage of prep time before the dinner hour.  Do you deal with that shortage by anticipating it?  Or do you wait till the last moment and scramble around for an answer?  (Another way to put it: Do you clear out your roof gutters by Labor Day?  Do you buy your Christmas tree on December 10th or 24th?)

Considering how much of a scrambler I am, it's surprising I haven't considered getting a pressure cooker till now.  I guess, in theory, since I work at home, I should never need a shortcut to dinner because I can start hours in advance if I want.  Somehow it doesn't work out that way, though.

So, poll: do you own a pressure cooker?  Do you use it all the time?  And - most importantly - do you regularly resort to a pressure cooker cookbook to use it?

Blizzard cooking

Snowmageddon hasn't been so terrible in our valley so far. Some wind and a lot of powder in the air. But my 8-year-old, bundled in her snowsuit, has been happily making snow angels and tunnels and castles for an hour.  

Our local weather guru counseled us to make a big pot of chili ahead of the storm, in case we lost power and couldn't cook. (Our stove's gas, though, and we'd only be out an oven.)  I didn't bother, but it got me thinking about storms and food preparedness.

At this time of year you don't worry about food storage without power so much, since the whole world's a fridge.  If you're organized enough to cook in advance, you haul out the big stuff - slow cooker for a crowd-type recipes which will yield enough for a few powerless days. You grind the coffee in advance, you fill up the bathtub, you locate the snow shovels and D batteries and wait.

If you haven't prepared, and you're caught out without power, winter food suddenly turns into something a lot like summer food:  salads, cold cuts, smoothies.  Or camping food: jerky, granola, trail mix. Fun for a day or two, but not what you long for when the winds are gusting the snow sideways and in circles just outside the window. 

No matter what you eat, the candles and firelight can cast a glow over your impromptu meal. But then there's that throbbing hum and a bunch of beeps as the lights come on and the appliances wake up and there you are, delivered straight back to reality, all the modern conveniences, and a pile of dirty dishes as a souvenir.

Men in T-shirts, cooking

I noticed something funny in my "Discards" pile this morning - a trio of men in T-shirts and jeans. looking at out me with bright eyes and white teeth.  What's going on with  that?  I thought.

It turns out that two of them - Jorge Cruise in The 100 and Abel James in The Wild Diet - were suggesting that I lose weight.  Abel says I can lose 20 pounds in 40 days.  Jorge says I can lose 18 pounds in 2 weeks. Jorge is faster.  But Abel actually has food on his cookbook  jacket.  Neither says anything about the losing 5 pounds in one week with a stomach virus, which I just successfully did. 

Fortunately, not all the men in T-shirts are so obsessed with my weight.  The one with the most facial hair and tattoos wants to help me make fast, delicious food for my family.  Dean McDermott (that's Mr. Tori Spelling) offers up straight-ahead family recipes that lean on flavor amplifiers like bacon and mushrooms and coconut oil.  It's just normal, good-tasting food, although sometimes he styles it in animal shapes.

I'm all for more men in cookbooks, especially men who aren't in chef whites.  I'm a big fan of T-shirts.  And by March I imagine I'll fit back in my jeans.  But I draw the line at tattoos.  You can lead a girl to water - or get her to make animal shapes out of food, or eat less sugar, or go Paleo - but you can't make her get inked.

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