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Books for Cooks

A history of curry, a guide to local mushrooms, a year on a sustainable farm, and more

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Here's a roundup of locally written books on food and drink, in no particular order.

Curry: A Global History
Colleen Taylor Sen
(Reaktion Books, $15.95)

The latest in the Edible series of easily digested food histories distributed by the University of Chicago Press, this one is by local Asian food specialist Sen. Curry may have its origins in India, but she scrutinizes the effect British colonialism had on the dish—the word itself is an Anglicism—and from there charts its progress and permutations all over the globe via the Indian diaspora, from the Caribbean's callaloo to South African's bobotie to the color-coded curries of Thailand and the sweet-potato-and-carrot-studded Japanese varieties. As with all the books in the series, there's an appendix of recipes—some practical, others not—revealing the dish's historical scope, this time beginning with a recipe from a 15th-century Moghul court and ranging on to Fijian tinned fish curry.

Edible Wild Mushrooms of Illinois & Surrounding States: A Field-to-Kitchen Guide
Joe McFarland and Gregory M. Mueller
(University of Illinois Press, $24.95)

"It's like being opposed to music based on a specific hatred of the zither." That's what Mueller, formerly a fungi curator at the Field Museum and now Chicago Botanic Garden veep, and McFarland, a staff writer for Outdoor Illinois, have to say about people who decide they don't like mushrooms before sampling more than one species. Their statement reflects the impish sense of humor in the common American mycologist and underscores the incredible diversity of edible fungi within our own state's borders. This beautifully photographed, chummily written guide is testament to both, and while it purports to be a beginner's book, its commitment to detail puts it on a much higher plane, beginning with a chapter on the sort of fungi you should stay the hell away from and moving on to individual groups of edibles: morels, boletes, chanterelles, puffballs, and other tree and grass growers. Each specimen (with tasting notes) is lovingly photographed from multiple angles, and toxic look-alikes are given the same treatment. I don't know if I'll ever come across a lion's mane, an organism that looks like a snowball and is said to taste like lobster, but I'll certainly be keeping my eyes open. There's a bonus appendix of recipes by the likes of Paul Virant, Charlie Trotter, Rick Tramonto, and a number of downstate chefs. I'd never heard of Tom's Place in DeSoto, Illinois, but morel tiramisu makes me want to pay it a visit.

250 True Italian Pasta Dishes
John Coletta with Nancy Ross Ryan
(Robert Rose, $24.95)

Pasta books are a dime a dozen, but that's no reason to ignore this contribution from Quartino chef John Coletta, who acknowledges that pasta is one of the few things home cooks can make better than most restaurants. But while anyone can dump noodles in boiling water and pour a jar of sauce on top, it's useful to be reminded that making good pasta is only simple and elementary if you follow simple and elementary rules. Without neglecting the classics, Coletta, teaming up with Nancy Ross Ryan, has included lots of appealing and intriguing recipes—for example, fusilli pudding with ricotta and honey or bucatini with skate and potatoes. He also pays considerable attention to making fresh pasta, and includes a visual encyclopedia of 55 shapes.

The Berghoff Cafe Cookbook
Carlyn Berghoff with Nancy Ross Ryan
(Andrews McMeel, $24.99)

It's Ross Ryan again, this time in her second collaboration with the fourth-generation Berghoff scion in two years. The biggest surprise here is that there's apparently a public clamoring for another Berghoff collection so soon after 2007's The Berghoff Family Cookbook, in which "Classics" were given much more space than the contemporized "Carlyn's Favorites." Here it's all Carlyn, which with some exceptions—such as a whole chapter on pizza—means simple stick-to-your-ribs, vaguely midwestern Germanic recipes, or as she would put it, "tradition with a twist." There's stuffed celery, spaetzle, and Salisbury steak, and if you just can't live without the Berghoff's take on an egg sandwich, this is the book for you.

Sweetness: A Girl's Guide to Delicious Baked Treats for Every Occasion
Sarah Levy
(Surrey Books, $20)

Surrey, an imprint of Evanston's Agate Publishing, is filling a valuable niche by publishing the work of notable but not celebrity-level local food personalities such as mixologist Bridget Albert, wine distributor Anthony Terlato, and Tribune food editor Carol Mighton Haddix. Now it's Levy's turn, with a collection of extraordinarily detailed and beautifully photographed recipes from the Gold Coast pastry shop owner, ranked by level of difficulty. The range is wide, with a few curveballs thrown in, such as Levy's mom's granola and a tequila cocktail by Alinea sommelier Craig Sindelar. But with only 31 recipes in all, Levy resorts to a somewhat forced and awkward organization scheme, classifying them by highly specific situations that might appeal to fans of Bridget Jones. For some reason chocolate-covered strawberries are just the thing for meeting the boyfriend's parents, and for a recent breakup, the "naked cupcake is perfect for a girl who has just realized she is going to be keeping her clothes on for a while!"

Rogue Cocktails
Kirk Estopinal and Maksym Pazuniak
This slim volume compiled by former Violet Hour barkeep Estopinal—who's now behind the stick at Cure in New Orleans along with his coauthor, Pazuniak—is largely composed of contributions from present and past TVH associates, including lead alchemist Toby Maloney, chef Mike Ryan, Stephen Cole, and alum Brad Bolt, now at Bar DeVille. Preceded by a manifesto against the creeping complacency that's infected the "international cocktail renaissance," its recipes are meant to break the rules governing cocktail construction. While some of these complex and challenging drinks—such as Maloney's spicy Dark and Stormy and Estopinal's mentholated Tiger Balm—will be familiar to fans of the Violet Hour, others are gradually achieving infamy, like Bolt's Cynar Julep, made with oak-aged rum and Italian artichoke liqueur, and the Gunshop Fizz, a drink based on an astonishing two ounces of Peychaud's bitters.

The Culinary Professional
John Draz and Christopher Koetke
(Goodheart-Willcox, $66.64)

This textbook for high schoolers by Kendall College Culinary Arts dean Koetke and ex-faculty member Draz isn't likely to be of much interest to general readers, but it covers every conceivable aspect of the restaurant and food-service industry, and will quickly disabuse starry-eyed young culinarians of the notion that they'll be rocketing up to Top Chef's judge's table without a hell of a lot of hard work and study. Bonus local touches: a shot of Koetke in the kitchen, submitting to a health department inspection, and a scan of the Phoenix's dim sum menu. Comes with an interactive CD.

The Seasons on Henry's Farm: A Year of Food and Life on Henry's Farm
Terra Brockman
(Surrey Books, $25)

Brockman, founder of the not-for-profit Land Connection, turns in this journal-memoir of the 52 "seasons" on her brother's Central Illinois family farm, whose 600-plus varieties of vegetables will be familiar to shoppers at the Evanston Farmers' Market. If you're thinking that meditations on garlic planting, wily turkeys, seed catalogs, and the peak of pea season make for dull reading, you're underestimating Brockman's considerable talents as a storyteller. The book comes with recipes including Bristol chef Chris Pandel's Grandmother's Lazy Pierogies With Fresh Italian Sausage.   

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