Talk about apples and oranges. In one corner we have Well-Preserved, essentially a book about canning or preserving fish, meat, seasonal fruits and vegetables, and all the wonderful things you can make with what you preserve, and on the other side of the ring, I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti, a memoir of broken relationships, tied together with recipes.
Let's start with the spaghetti. Giulia Melucci has done it. She's gone ahead and fulfilled every dating single girl's fantasy who has suffered through boyfriends that should have come with warning labels tattooed to their foreheads, by writing a wickedly vengeful tell-all about these yo-yos. Her one anchor of sanity through the storms of her lost loves is her cooking. Giulia loves to cook, and she's pretty good at it. She woos men with halibut, survives dating droughts with "no nookie gnocchi," cooks farfalle for dates, and makes F-You cupcakes when things invariably come to a crashing end.
Every chapter details a different relationship, and the food that went with it. The chapters (and relationships) start out hopeful, each one a new possibility. But the signs of impending disaster are usually there, even early on, and as someone who has been-there-done-that, half the time I just wanted to take Guilia by the shoulders and shake her -- "NOOOOO, RUN, THIS GUY IS NOT FOR YOU" -- while reading, watching, in frustrating fascination as Guilia throws herself at men that don't deserve her. But just as I want to put down the book because it's all too hopeless, up pops a recipe, and a pretty darn good looking recipe at that.
Guilia's next book should be a cookbook, really. Every recipe I made from her book was outstanding, and food is so much more life affirming and fun than relationship ruins. The "Unforgettable Halibut," baked with caramelized onions, honey, vinegar, currants, and mint? Delicious. "First Date Butterflies" and "Lachlan's Farfalle with Zucchini and Egg" are two of the easiest and best pasta recipes I've ever made. And the chocolate bourbon frosting on her "F-You Cupcakes"? I was eating it with a spoon. I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti is worth getting if just for the recipes.
Now on to Well-Preserved. Is canning the new black? If so, Eugenia Bone's Well-Preserved is certainly well timed. The book covers the basics of water bath and pressure canning, freezing, and curing through salt. For those of us who are used to making jams and jellies, the idea of branching out beyond sugared fruits into vegetables and meat can be intimidating (can you say botulism?). But Eugenia soothes our anxiety by carefully walking us through the steps of how to preserve food safely, including how and when to use a pressure canner, and when a simple water bath is sufficient.
Each chapter is a new preserved food item, followed by creative recipes of what you can make with it. There's a seasonal focus -- useful, since what one would normally want to preserve is the bounty of the season. One puzzling omission is the lack of any discussion of the role of sugar as a preserving agent (at concentrations found in jams and jellies, sugar literally sucks the moisture out of bacteria, making it impossible for them to survive). But most of the book is focused on all the things you can preserve other than jams and jellies, such as tomato sauce, pickled asparagus, canned tuna, sauerkraut, tomatillo sauce, smoked chicken, bacon, gravlax, etc.
I made four recipes from Well-Preserved, each excellent. The olive tapenade couldn't have been easier and made a lovely sauce for the recipe that followed of sautéed chicken thighs. I've roasted red bell peppers plenty of times before, but never thought to can them in a marinade, and now because of Eugenia can do so with confidence. Her chicken with sausages and marinated red bell peppers is rich and satisfying.
So, which one of these titles gets the nod to the next level? Although I loved many of the recipes in I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti, the story around it ultimately wore me out. The winner of this round is Well-Preserved, which although not nearly as titillating as Spaghetti, is thoughtfully written, has inspirational recipes, and encourages all of us to try our hand at something new.
Elise Bauer is the founder of SimplyRecipes.com. Formerly a Silicon Valley marketing exec, she now spends her days cooking and blogging about it. She makes her own elderberry jelly. She once seduced a man with a peach.
What Rose Levy Beranbaum did for cakes, Eugenia Bone has done for preserves: she's created a canning bible that, should you so choose, will keep you knee-deep in jars for years to come. And we're not talking plain old strawberry jam, people -- where else can you find a recipe for Veal Tails with Pear, Port and Thyme Conserve?
Giulia Melucci's book makes me hopeful about finding love (and coping with the turmoils that ensue from that quest), and about the notion that anyone can cook. With few ingredients and uncomplicated techniques, she produces results that make even stove-a-phobes want to give pasta a go. The fact that she doesn't take herself too seriously as either an expert at relationships or at culinary endeavors makes her prose all the more winning.
Inspired by The Morning News' Tournament of Books, we got together with
our friend Charlotte Druckman and created the Tournament of Cookbooks.
Here on Food52, you can watch the action and weigh in on the results as
the 16 most notable cookbooks of the year vie for the coveted Piglet
trophy. The tournament features top food writers and chefs as judges.
Play will take place over the course of 3 weeks, with a decision
published each weekday.
The 2010 Judges