The Stew: To dream, perchance to cook
There are 49 cookbooks on my desk. On a file cabinet to my left are 28 others, stacked like cords of firewood. Across the newsroom, atop an auxiliary backup filing cabinet, 29 more stand at attention, awaiting a call to duty. Day after day they arrive in the mail, some days five or six at a time. Hold on. Eight more just arrived. If you love cookbooks, this sounds like a dream scenario.If your job is to sift through them and figure out which are worth writing about, it's a little slice of hell. I love cookbooks. I'd write about all of them if I could, but I can't. No one person ever could. Julia Child, for whom a prestigious cookbook award is aptly named, wouldn't be able to keep up with the flood. Three local authors wading into the rapids this year include: Jaden Hair, Bradenton blogger at www.SteamyKitchen.com and, yes, a columnist here at The Tampa Tribune, has launched her debut, "The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook." The book is a great reflection of Jaden's personality and the many culinary friendships she's made. She makes Asian cuisine fun, fresh and accessible. You should buy this book for the beautiful photos alone. Tampa writer Paul Abercrombie, whose "Organic, Shaken and Stirred" is a fun look at making delicious adult beverages with the best organic ingredients the bar can offer. Great ingredients make for great drinks, and Paul shows how to get the most out of them. He even shows you how to make great ice. This book made me thirsty. That's a good thing. Laura Schmalhorst of Chefs on the Loose in Tampa collaborated on a book due this spring with writer Kimberly Lovato on "Walnut Wine and Truffle Groves: Culinary Adventures in the Dordogne." The book examines the cuisine of France's Dordogne region. Occasionally, one or two books catch my eye. "This Is Why You're Fat" by Jessica Amason and Richard Blakeley takes the blog approach to American heart-attack food and not only displays the most noxious culinary creations, it gives you a recipe for Bacon Beeritos and something called The Porkgasm. "Michael Symon's Live To Cook" is a great glimpse into the nose-to-tail eating that has made the "Iron Chef" such a landmark cook for the Great Lakes region at his restaurant Lola in Cleveland. Peter Reinhart, the great baking instructor at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte, N.C., unleashes another fantastic bread book this year, "Artisan Breads Every Day." They ought to just mail him the cookbook awards in advance. As wonderful as these titles are, I've come to realize that cookbooks are rarely about cooking. They have recipes, yes. They involve ingredients and instructions. There might be an actual photo to refer to so you can see what the author would like the dish to resemble. But most cookbooks are about the idea of cooking. They tempt us with the promise that one day when we get an abundance of free time, we could cook zuppa di piselli spezzati (split pea soup) like Tessa Kiros makes in her book "Venezia: Food & Dreams." I'll never look like Curtis Stone, but I can make food like him. At least, he shows me how in "Relaxed Cooking with Curtis Stone." (With almost two dozen photos of the hunky Australian chef, the book treads closely to food foreplay for female fans.) Learning Italian dishes at the Culinary Institute of America probably isn't in my future, but with my copy of the school's Italian home cooking manual, "A Tavola!," I can get a glimpse of what tomorrow's culinary wannabes are learning in the Hudson Valley. Very little of what I see in the cookbook ranks reflects my life, which I guess is why I read them. Escapism is a great appetizer. If I wrote a cookbook that accurately depicted my life, the title would be, "Slapped Together: Easy Ways To Ruin Dinner With An Intemperate Crock Pot." I smell a best-seller.
Reporter Jeff Houck can be reached at (813) 259-7324.