On the Shelf – Book Edition

bestwinesAs I mentioned in yesterdays post – companies send us stuff. Often stuff that we can’t use in our regular articles because it’s not Toronto-specific. This includes books. Sometimes they just appear at my door unannounced. And while some readers might think this makes mine the dream job, keep in mind that I’m expected to write about said free books, so unless you were one of those keeners who loved writing book reports back in high school, the dream job might quickly become a nightmare. (Plus my job recently required me to eat bull’s testicles – bet you’re not so envious now, huh?)

The 500 Best-Value Wines in the LCBO 2009
Rod Phillips
Whitecap, 256 pages, paperback, $19.95

Ever stood in the aisle at the LCBO and didn’t have a clue what to buy? Rod Phillips aims to ease the stress with a handy list of his favourite picks of current wines. With easy to follow reviews and ratings, Phillips works his way through the world’s major wine regions with an overview of the industry in each country, and offers suggestions in all styles with witty (and occasionally punny)  descriptions. He also answers common questions about buying and serving wine, and matching wine with food.

olafOlaf’s Kitchen: A Master Chef Shares His Passion
Olaf Mertens
John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd., 224 pages, over-sized paperback, $28.95

Toronto beer lovers may be familiar with Olaf Mertens’ West 50 Pourhouse & Grille in Mississauga, but probably wouldn’t know from the upscale gastro-pub fare there that Mertens followed his family tree back to Germany where he trained as a chef in the 80s. And while Olaf’s Kitchen features many of the recipes from his restaurants, such as the ever-popular spicy peanut chicken, the star recipes in this book are the ones of German origin. Smoked pork baked in beer rye bread, a variety of spaetzle dishes and chocolate sauerkraut cake with boozy cherries all speak to an upbringing and culinary training featuring all things German. The book is beautifully photographed and speaks to Mertens’ modernized approach to presentation, but home cooks may find the recipes slightly complicated; many require multiple components – some of which are in different sections of the book – to pull a dish together. Also, while the presentation is gorgeous, home cooks might be intimidated by the work required to make the dishes as beautiful as they are in the book.

westcookbookWest: The Cookbook
Warren Geraghty
Douglas & McIntyre, 250 pages, hardcover, $50

Award-winning West Restaurant in Vancouver serves up outstanding contemporary regional cuisine. Just as Toronto diners revel in local seasonal fare, so too do Vancouverites, with the addition of splendid seafood, foraged mushrooms and other west coast goodies. Classically trained from the age of fourteen in a variety of Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe, UK native Geraghty has taken to Canada’s left coast with enthusiasm, embracing the local ingredients and bringing out their best attributes. The book itself is not just a cookbook but explores every aspect of the restaurant from the bar staff and their signature cocktails, to pastry chef Rhonda Viani’s delectable desserts. Recipes are arranged by season, and some could be created quite easily by the home cook. However this is probably more of a “looker” than a cooker, as many of the recipes, as with Chef Mertens’ cookbook above, require multiple components. Some ingredients may also be a challenge, either logistically or financially – while the recipe for roasted celeraic risotto with shaved black winter truffles is something I’d happily eat every day, the recipe calls for 1/2 an ounce of truffles. Ouch.

almondAlmond Inspiration
The Almond Board of California
131 pages, soft cover, available from Almonds Are In!

I feel slightly guilty recommending this book – it’s a promotional item created by the Almond Board of California, and isn’t available via retail, although the Almond Board’s website mentions that it will be available for sale there soon. I found a couple of copies on eBay as well, for anyone who really wants it. But despite its relative inavailability, it’s a really great little recipe book featuring almonds. From almond-crusted pork loin to almond cupcakes and spinach almond pesto, Almond Inspiration offers ideas to utilize the tasty and healthy nut. The recipes are accessible to the home cook, with simple preparations and common ingredients and techniques. Full-page photos are beautifully created and are likely to encourage people to try the recipes. There’s also some general almond info at the front and back, but the real draw here is the delightful recipes.

nononsenseThe No-Nonsense Guide to World Food
Wayne Roberts
New Internationalist Publications Ltd and Between the Lines, 192 pages, paperback, $16

Anyone who’s ever attended a food event in Toronto where the focus is on sustainable and local food is probably familiar with Wayne Roberts and his body of work. With a decades-long background in food systems and food policy, the award winning activist chairs the Toronto Food Policy Council, writes a regular column on food issues for NOW Magazine and is the author of a handful of books on food security issues, the latest of which is the No Nonsense Guide to World Food, published in part by the folks at New Internationalist Magazine. Roberts does a good job on this book, but the nature of the series leaves much unsaid, and I can’t help but sense a feeling of frustration throughout at how much the author had to cut out to keep the book to a tight 192 pages with chapter end notes. Each section feels as if Roberts is just getting started on the various subjects and locales when it has to end. From food sovereignty and the non-food benefits of gardening to projects in countries such as Brazil and Cuba, Roberts looks at many food programs throughout the world. He also takes aim at the Western world’s cheap food systems and offers a chilling commentary on the concerns around the excess use of corn (a topic now showing up in the news regularly). It’s not a definitive tome on the world food situation, but rather The No-Nonsense Guide to World food is a starting point which readers can use to further explore specific issues on their own.