I write: for a living, for fun, because it’s what I want to do. And as a writer, and a reader, I love books. This week, I bring you three foody books that would be on my Christmas wish-list if they weren’t already in my bookcase: The Social Bite Cookbook, Taste: The Infographic Book of Food and Cooking for Geeks.
The Social Bite Cookbook, Margaret Callaghan (ed.)
What’s not to love about Social Bite? A social enterprise that gives its profits to charity and employs as many people as they can from a homeless background and makes good lunches? It’s perfect. I was very curious about their first cookbook.
The book is unpretentious and accessible. A great gift to unwilling cooks: the recipes are easy to follow, use a few easy-to-find ingredients and give great results. From lunches to go (I immediately cooked the frittata, a delicious and filling lunch dish), recipes that help you show off, one-pot wonders and sweets, this book has a good range of recipes and covers vegetables, meat and fish. Many recipes are illustrated by tempting photos, and all have stylish illustrations of the ingredients needed to cook them. They are all easy and delicious. The budget seafood stew is a very good idea and I can’t wait to try the easy cheese cake. There are some good options for vegetarians too: the black bean salad is scrummy.
Interspersed with the recipes are the stories of some of Social Bites’ staff. It’s unadorned and fascinating writing, helping you feel that every recipe you use does some good. But it’s not the fact that 50% of the profits go to charity, or that Sir Bob Geldof wrote an intro that are reasons you should buy this book: the recipes work.
The Social Bite Cookbook makes a great stocking filler for students, reluctant cooks and anyone who is new to looking after themselves.
The Social Bite Cookbook
Margaret Callaghan (Editor)
Illustrator Ottavia Pasta
Published by Freight Books, 2015, £5.00.
Taste: The Infographic Book of Food, Laura Rowe
Creating useful infographics, ones that are more than decorations, is an art. Taste: The Infographic Book of Food takes a graphic approach to sharing information about food. There are recipes in here, but this is not a cookbook. Each spread covers a different topic, sometimes listing and illustrating the difference between similar foodstuffs – types of bread, international sandwiches, pasta shapes, types of sushi – or telling you about the history and use of ingredients like honey, truffle or saffron. Recipes are detailed and instuctional. The spread on macaroons takes you through the process of making them, step by step, for perfect results.
The book is divided into sections, grouping subjects by where we’d find them: the plot, farm, water, larder, table, or the bar, and a section on other business which is where you find conversion charts, a guide to seasonal eating and other useful information. The big red cross over the mobile on the spread that shows how a table setting works made me laugh and started an animated conversation about phone etiquette. And that’s a good point about this book: infographics make great conversation pieces. This is the type of book that you can read on your own, but it is even more fun if you read it with someone else. It’s entertaining to leaf through it at random and you can also turn to it for information on particular topics. The sustainable fish chart is useful (eat more mussles!) and the spreads on what makes stews and pies work are fun.
Taste is a pretty book as well as an informative one. Vicky Turner’s illustrations are beautiful and each spread has its own personality: some are plain and light, others more striking and textured. All are a pleasure to look at.
If you’re a fan of Information is Beautiful, enjoy informative books, or know a foody who needs a good coffee table book, Taste is a great option.
Taste: The Infographic Book of Food
Images from Taste: The Infographic Book of Food by Laura Rowe, illustrations by Vicki Turner. Published by Aurum Press, £20.
Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Cooks, and Good Food, Jeff Potter
Earlier in the year I did an online course about science and cooking. This book takes the same scientific approach, explaining what happens to foods when you cook them and encouraging you to experiment both through labs and recipes. Everything about this says science: it’s by O’Reilly, one of my favourite academic publishers, it looks like a chemistry book and it is full of graphs and diagrams. I love it. If you’re looking for an inspirational book of pretty food pictures, this is not for you. If you are interested in what makes food work on the chemical, physical and gastronomic levels, however, this is a delight.
The book is divided into chapters on taste, smell and flavour; time and temperature; air and water; fun with hardware and playing with chemicals. Each chapter has a separate table of content as well as a list of recipes, interviews and labs. Added to the table of content and the index, this makes the book really user-friendly.
The interviews are fascinating and range from chats with myth-buster Adam Savage on scientific testing to Benjamin Wolfe on molds and cheese. The recipes cover everything from breakfast (the book’s American heritage shows. It has three recipes for pancakes and one for waffles), through breads (a small selection that includes how to make a sourdough starter), starters and sides, through salads, soups, mains, deserts and ‘components’, foods like mayo and pickles that are used in other recipes.
As you’d expect, Cooking for Geeks takes a systematic approach both to cooking and to science. I love the section on sauces: it sets out what the most common mother sauces are and gives lists of common variations. There are a lot of useful and interesting lists, as well as great recipes. I’ll be making peppermint chocolate mints for Christmas, and white bean soup just because it sounds gorgeous.
If you know a geek who cooks, or if you’re interested in the science of cooking, I can’t think of a better gift than Cooking for Geeks.
Cooking for Geeks (2nd ed.)
Published by O’Reilly, 2015