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Cooking up some gift ideas

Wed., Dec. 9, 2009, midnight

Cookbooks make a great holiday present

Want a holiday gift that is sure to bring tidings of comfort and joy? A cookbook is always a welcome gift. The hardest part will be deciding which of the beautiful tomes released this year will look best under the tree. (Or, which one to put on your own Christmas list.) For help, we turned to Cathy Routen at Auntie’s Bookstore in downtown Spokane. Routen oversees the cookbooks section of the store and she loves talking about her favorites. Just ask. She gave us four recommendations, and we threw in a few more for good measure. And because ’tis the season for excess, we also chose a few recipes from the books for holiday cooking.

“Mother’s Best: Comfort Food That Takes You Home Again,” by Lisa Schroeder with Danielle Centoni

The Taunton Press, $28, 396 pages

Routen says, “My favorite is comfort food and I’m round to prove it. … It’s nice because she has some variety, but it has some good, old basics in there, too.”

The beautiful hardback book includes 150 favorite recipes from Schroeder’s restaurant in downtown Portland, Mother’s Bistro and Bar.

Schroeder changed careers at age 35, enrolling in The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. After finishing school and then working 90 hours a week in Manhattan restaurants raising her daughter, she decided it was time to travel and see what it was like to work in a French kitchen and eat the foods of France, Italy, Spain and Morocco.

“That’s when I realized that the soul of a country’s cuisine is not found in its restaurants, but rather in the foods cooked at home – what I call ‘Mother Food’ – meals made with love and shared by families,” Schroeder writes in the book.

Already have it? Consider “Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It: And Other Cooking Projects,” by Karen Solomon instead. This hardcover book from Ten Speed Press ($24.95) urges cooks to rediscover traditional kitchen projects such as pickling, preserving and curing. (There are also great ideas for holiday gift-giving if you want to buy yourself a little present.)

“Gourmet Today,” edited by Ruth Reichl

Conde Nast Publications, $40, 1,024 pages

This giant green volume is the swan song for Gourmet magazine and editor Ruth Reichl. Conde Nast shuttered the magazine this year as part of its restructuring.

Routen says it would make an impressive gift hardback. The book’s subtitle says it all: “More than 1,000 All-New Recipes for the Contemporary Kitchen.”

“It doesn’t really have a lot of color photographs, but, boy, it’s got a lot of great recipes,” Routen says.

The South American Corn Packets (similar to corn tamales) is one that caught her eye.

Already have it? Consider “Cooking Know-How” by Mark Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough ($34.95.) This cookbook from Wiley focuses on techniques that will help you get dinner on the table. Start with master recipes for basic dishes and follow step-by-step photos and advice from the authors

“Emeril’s 20-40-60: Fresh Food Fast,” by Emeril Lagasse

HarperCollins, $24.99, 257 pages

Emeril Lagasse is making Fettuccine with Peas and Ham, Gaahlicky Sizzling Shrimp and Steak Au Poivre, and he’s doing it all in 20 minutes or less. (There are recipes for 40 and 60 minutes too, if you have more time on your hands.)

“He’s pretty fast with the skillet,” says Routen. “I really like this and it’s a little less expensive.”

The second in Lagasse’s new series of paperback books, it includes lots of ideas and shortcuts for healthful family meals.

Already Have It? Wrap up a copy of “Good Eats: The Early Years,” by Alton Brown (Abrams, $37.50), This fat book commemorates the 10th anniversary of “Good Eats,” covering 80 episodes, and includes more than 140 recipes and 1,000 photos. It would be especially loved by fans of Brown or anyone interested in the science behind cooking.

“Jamie’s Food Revolution,” by Jamie Oliver

Hyperion, $35, 360 pages

Here’s a great gift book for a college student or someone who is just learning to cook, Routen says.

British cooking sensation Jamie Oliver wants people to rediscover how to cook simple, healthful meals.

“This book is inspired by all the people I’ve met who thought they could never and would never learn how to cook,” Oliver writes.

“I believe that good home cooking is one of the most essential, fundamental skills that every single person on this planet should have in order to look after themselves, their families, and their friends.”

The book is packed with essentials for basic cooking with lots of step-by-step photography.

“He takes a tomato salsa and shows it to you in all of these different varieties,” Routen says. “He’s got the picture on one page and all of the suggestions on the other.”

Already have it? If healthy cooking is a goal for the person on your list, try “So Easy,” by Ellie Krieger (Wiley, $29.95). Krieger, the host of “Healthy Appetite” on the Food Network, includes 150 light recipes that can be whipped up in less than 30 minutes.

Here are some recipes from the cookbooks:

Gingerbread Pancakes

From “Mother’s Best: Comfort Food That Takes You Home Again,” by Lisa Schroeder

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon kosher salt

5 teaspoons ground ginger

2 teaspoons ground nutmeg

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 3/4 cups buttermilk

1/2 cup brewed coffee, cold or at room temperature

4 large eggs

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Vegetable oil or clarified butter, for brushing the griddle or pan

Softened or whipped butter, for serving

Maple syrup, for serving

Pear-Ginger Compote, for serving (optional)

Heat the oven to 200 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves.

In another bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, coffee and eggs.

Make a well in the dry ingredients. Slowly pour the buttermilk mixture into the dry ingredients while stirring gently. Mix until just combined. (Do not over mix.)

The batter is supposed to be lumpy. If you see lumps larger than a dime, just squish them against the side of the bowl. Anything smaller will disappear when the pancakes are cooked. Stir in melted butter.

Place a griddle or wide (14-inch) sauté pan over medium heat for several minutes. If using an electric griddle, set heat to 350 degrees.

Sprinkle the griddle with a few drops of water; they should bounce around before evaporating. If they sizzle away quickly, the heat is too high. If they just sit there and slowly steam, the heat is too low.

When the griddle is properly heated, brush with oil or clarified butter.

Use a 4-ounce ladle to pour several 6-inch pools of batter onto the griddle, an inch or two apart.

Cook until bubbles begin to pop on the surface of the pancakes, the edges look a little dry and the underside is golden, about 2 minutes. Flip them over and continue cooking until the pancakes are cooked through, about 1 minute more.

(These pancakes tend to get a little dark faster than normal because of the extra sugar in the recipe. If the underside of the pancakes are browning or burning before the tops get a chance to form bubbles and dry out, the heat is too high. If it’s taking much longer than 2 to 3 minutes for the bubbles to form, the heat is too low. Adjust the temperature accordingly.)

Repeat with the remaining batter. Keep pancakes warm on a heatproof platter or baking sheet in the oven.

Served with softened or whipped butter and maple syrup, and/or Pear-Ginger Compote, if desired.

Yield: 16 pancakes, 8 servings

Pear-Ginger Compote

From “Mother’s Best: Comfort Food That Takes You Home Again,” by Lisa Schroeder

2 pounds firm-ripe Bartlett or d’Anjou pears, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks (about 4 cups)

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup pear nectar, apple juice or water

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon peeled and grated fresh ginger

Place pears, sugar, pear nectar or juice, lemon juice and grated ginger in a medium (4- to 6-quart) saucepan. Stir to combine. Cover the pot and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.

Remove the lid, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pears are tender, but still hold their shape (you don’t want mush), 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove from heat and serve warm, or let cool and refrigerate or freeze.

Yield: About 4 cups

Rich Chocolate Mousse

From “Gourmet Today.” “Although trends come and go, chocolate mousse never fails to impress,” Reichl writes. “Not only does it manage to convey both indulgence and comfort, it couldn’t be simpler to make. This version is a true classic mousse in that the eggs are not cooked. You’ll find it unbelievably smooth and voluptuous.”

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (no more than 60 percent cacao), chopped

3/4 stick unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces

3 large eggs, separated

1 tablespoon Cognac or other brandy

1 cup very cold heavy cream

1/8 teaspoon salt

Melt chocolate and butter in a large metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, gently stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, beat yolks in a small bowl with an electric mixer until thick enough to form a ribbon that takes a few seconds to dissolve, 2 to 4 minutes. Whisk yolks into chocolate mixture along with Cognac, then cool to warm.

Beat cream in a medium bowl with cleaned beaters until it just holds stiff peaks.

Beat whites with salt in another bowl with cleaned beaters until they just hold soft peaks.

Fold whipped cream and beaten whites into chocolate mixture gently but thoroughly. Transfer to stemmed glasses, 4-ounce ramekins, or a serving dish.

Notes: The eggs in this recipe are not cooked. Raw eggs may contain the bacteria salmonella and should be avoided by the aged, the very young, pregnant or those with suppressed immune systems. The mousse can be chilled, its surface covered with parchment paper, up to 2 days. Let stand at room temperature at least 30 minutes before serving.

Yield: 8 servings

Garlic and Cheese Crostini

From “Gourmet Today.” “These toasts are topped with a light sprinkling of minced garlic, olive oil, and sharp Pecorino Romano before being baked. Garlicky and salty, they are a great accompaniment to cocktails,” Reichl writes.

24 (1/3-inch-thick) baguette slices

1/4 cup olive oil, divided

3/4 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano (preferably imported)

5 large garlic cloves, minced

Kosher salt

2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf  parsley

Preheat oven to 350 degrees with rack in middle.

Arrange bread slices in 1 layer on a large baking sheet and brush tops with 3 tablespoons oil.

Stir together remaining tablespoon oil, cheese, garlic, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl. Sprinkle each slice with about 1 teaspoon cheese mixture, mounding it slightly.

Bake until topping just starts to melt, 6 to 8 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley and kosher salt to taste. Serve warm.

Yield: 24 hors d’oeuvres

Peanut Butter Cups

From “Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It,” by Karen Solomon. “Chocolate and peanut butter together create one of my favorite candy confections,” she writes. “This version has everything going for it: a sweet and salty peanut butter filling and the opportunity for a high-quality chocolate of your own choosing to balance it out. …For better flavor, roast your own peanuts or freshen roasted peanuts in a heavy skillet until lightly browned. You’ll need paper (or silicone) cupcake pan inserts for this recipe, which, along with the finished product, create a handsome gift.”

For the filling:

11/3 cups fresh roasted and salted peanuts

2 teaspoons honey

1 teaspoon neutral vegetable oil, like canola or sunflower

2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

 For the coating:

2 cups chocolate chips or chopped chocolate

To make the peanut butter filling, place the liners in cupcake pans and have a holding dish standing by. In a food processor, puree the peanuts for 3 to 4 minutes, until very smooth. Add the honey, oil, sugar, vanilla and salt and puree until completely combined, scraping down the sides as you work.

Take about 2 teaspoons of the peanut butter mixture into your clean hands, roll into a ball and flatten into a disk that will fit into the center of the cupcake liner but not touch the sides. Shape the remaining 11 centers. The peanut butter should be evenly distributed.

To prepare the coating, in a microwave-safe bowl heat the chocolate on high for 1 minute, and stir well with a fork to distribute the heat. Heat for 1 minute more and stir again. Heat for an additional 30 to 60 seconds, stirring thoroughly. The chocolate should be melted and quite satiny and you should be able to drop it in ribbons from the end of the fork.

To assemble the cups, working quickly, spoon about 2 teaspoons of melted chocolate into the bottom of a liner, being careful to coat the bottom in a complete, thin layer and to coat the sides about halfway up. Gently drop each of the peanut butter disks into the center of a cup and give it a gentle tap to secure it to the chocolate (but don’t push it all the way through to the bottom.)

Cover each center with an additional teaspoon of chocolate, covering the top completely, and allow it to surround the sides of the peanut butter, enclosing it completely. Gently smooth out tops with the back of a spoon or by giving the pan a gentle shake. Let sit, undisturbed, for at least 4 hours, until the cups harden completely.

Devour immediately or store up to 2 weeks in an airtight container. Do not refrigerate.

Yield: 12 individual cups

Lamb Chops with Mustard Herb Crust

From “Emeril’s 20-40-60: Fresh Food Fast.” He writes, “Sear. Slather. Coat. Roast. Eat. Impress your friends with this one.”

1/2 cup Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 cup unseasoned dry breadcrumbs

1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1/4 cup chopped fresh rosemary

2 teaspoons dried Italian herbs

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

16 (2- to 3-ounce) baby lamb chops

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the broiler, and line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil.

Combine the mustard and garlic in a small mixing bowl. Set aside. Combine the breadcrumbs, cheese, rosemary and dried herbs in a shallow dish; whisk to mix well, and set aside.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Using a paper towel, pat the lamb chops dry. Season them with the salt and pepper. Add the lamb chops to the pan and sear on both sides until nicely browned and caramelized, about 2 minutes per side.

Transfer the chops to a plate and using a basting brush, lightly coat them with the mustard mixture. Then dredge them in the bread crumb mixture. As the chops are coated, transfer them to the prepared baking sheet.

Place the baking sheet under the broiler and cook until the chops develop a nice golden crust and reach an internal temperature of 145 degrees when tested with an instant-read thermometer, about 5 minutes.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven and let the lamb chops rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Yield: 4 main course servings

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