Cookbooks to Savor

By Andy Harris

As a part-time resident of Greece since childhood, Andy Harris knows the food well, and his book is comprehensive. Best are the recipes for mezedes—the small snacks like Wild Greens Fritters or Feta and Mint Dip that are served in countless Greek tavernas. Americans who think Greek food is Spinach Pie and Pastitsio will be surprised by the depth of flavors here—as evidenced by Spiced Swordfish Fillets with Amaranth (a green similar to spinach). In contrast to the exciting food (and enticing photos), the book's prose is strangely dispassionate; we want to know more about where Harris discovered these recipes and what he likes about them. Less travelogue and more culinary context might have made this book an Olympian. (Chronicle, $22.95)

Bottom Line: Not quite a classic

By Jamie Oliver

When hunky Brit TV chef Jamie Oliver isn't whipping up Pan-Roasted Guinea Fowl with Pomegranates and Spinach for his pubmates, he's surfing, shopping or smooching his adorable new wife—and this, his third cookbook, has the photos to prove it. To keep the recipes as "easy-peasy" (one of his favorite phrases) as his avidly photographed life, Oliver writes breezy instructions ("Drizzle with three good glugs of olive oil") that may leave novice cooks puzzled. The food isn't bad—but I was afraid to try World's Best Baked Onions, which Oliver assures are "smashing, pukka, the absolute dog's kahunas!" Down, boy! (Hyperion, $34.95)

Bottom Line: Beefcake lovers will go bonkers

By Martha Rose Shulman

You'd expect a slim volume on food around the world—including history and agricultural traditions—would be impossibly shallow. But Shulman covers lots of ground in her concise prose. Hundreds of photos and more than 80 intriguing recipes make it a real meal. Just don't make us eat the Cambodian Fried Spiders. (Firefly, $35)

Bottom Line: Exotic and informative

By Sara Moulton

Food Network star Moulton (Sara's Secrets) is that rare breed, a sensible celebrity chef. So it's not surprising to find lots of great ideas in her first cookbook—from ethnic twists on old standbys (Indian-Style Shepherd's Pie, for instance) to family oddities like her Aunt Rifka's Flying Disks (basically, they're matzo balls). Best of all are dozens of forehead—slapping kitchen tips—like the one on how to pit an olive by putting it under the flat side of a knife and giving it one good whack. "This," Moulton reports, "is a very satisfying exercise." So, it turns out, is cooking from her book. (Broadway, $29.95)

Bottom Line: Keep this one close to the stove

By Lois Anne Rothert

This 224-page book is almost too beautiful for its own good. The glossy design and hefty price tag put it in the art-book category; in fact, it's a carefully researched study of more than 80 regional French soups—by a woman who owns a catering company in Fort Wayne, Ind., no less. Evocative photos of medieval farms, quaint villages and overflowing market baskets make us long for comforting classics like Chicken-in-the-Pot and Beef in Its Broth with Vegetables (Pot-au-Feu), as well as more unusual fare like Stinging Nettle and Potato Soup. (Chronicle, $50)

Bottom Line: A winning tour de France

By Ken Haedrich

"Apple pie," writes Haedrich, a food writer and baking teacher, "connects us to our past." So, taking this most American of desserts seriously, he gives us the rundown on apples, the secrets of a good crust and, of course, the pleasures of Traditional Lattice-Top Apple Pie. What more could you ask? Maybe some ice cream. (Harvard Common Press, $29.95)

Bottom Line: The core curriculum

By Patricia Yeo

Don't ask Patricia Yeo what's in the soup. Yeo, the chef at Manhattan's hot restaurants AZ and Pazo, studied to become a biochemist before switching to the kitchen. She grew up in Malaysia, a culinary crossroads, and her food, such as Gingered Hash Browns and Goanese Coconut Chicken Curry with Puri Bread, has a boldly international flair. Yeo takes some pretty complex taste ideas—including Duck Schnitzel, the restaurant's specialty—and makes them accessible to home cooks. (St. Martin's, $35)

Bottom Line: Daring, original tastes that are of the moment

By Elizabeth Coblentz with Kevin Williams

On the subject of catsup, Amish homemaker Elizabeth Coblentz writes, "I prefer homemade because you know for certain what's in it." No wonder her syndicated column touched a nerve with the organic generation. Coblentz, who died on Sept. 17 at age 66, lived without electricity, cars or plumbing on her Indiana farm yet seems to have wanted for nothing. The book includes her thoughtful musings on horse-drawn buggies and homemade laundry soap, but mostly it's about comfort food like Company Chicken Casserole, Delicious Mashed Potatoes and Simple Seven Layer Salad. And catsup. (Ten Speed, $27.95)

Bottom Line: Soul food at its most elemental

By Michael J. Rosen and Sharon Reiss

This is one of those why-didn't-I-think-of-that books—a breezy look at creative ways to satisfy the food cravings that come calling when decent folks are abed. It's meant to be read by the light of an open refrigerator door, as you ponder the question: What the heck is there in here to eat, anyway? I've been making my own version of Parmesan Popcorn for years and, until reading this book, didn't even know there was a written recipe for it. (This one adds paprika and turmeric.) But we'd bet an extra hour of sleep that the authors don't actually come stumbling downstairs in their jammies to make Simple Tomato Gazpacho with Goat-Cheese Croutons. (Broadway, $16.95)

Bottom Line: Honorable munchie mention

By Corby Kummer

The title refers to the international organization called Slow Food, which promotes local food from small farms. That shouldn't connote expensive and gourmet but often does. Here food writer Kummer bridges that gap in a book that includes ambitious but earthy recipes from top chefs (such as Soft Shell Crab Bisque from Alice Waters) and profiles of dedicated farmers (like Jim Gerritsen, who left San Francisco to grow potatoes in Maine). If you've got the time, they've got the grub. (Chronicle, $40)

Bottom Line: Rush to buy—then take it slow

  • Contributors:
  • Max Alexander.