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All I Want for Christmas… Is a Great Cookbook! (December 18, 2013)

Gorgonzola and Cannellini Dip with a Tricolore Flourish
Herb-Roasted Lamb
Ruby Red Shrimp with White Beans and Kale Salsa Verde
Roasted Butternut Squash and Red Onions
Chocolate and Caramel Tartlets with Fleur de Sel
Pears Portuguese Fashion with Currants

Running a bit late on presents? Quick, get yourself to your local bookstore, and pick up a new cookbook! These don't get returned after Christmas; it's the ideal present for everyone, from newbies in the kitchen to Cordon Bleu trained experts. Cookbooks are fun, inspiring, informative and used again and again. So get out your list – here come some great suggestions.

History buffs and foodies alike will love Setting a Fine Table, a charming compendium of desserts and drinks from the officers' kitchens at historic Fort York in Toronto. Edited by popular cookbook author and food writer Elizabeth Baird and culinary historian Bridget Wranich, with research and testing by the Volunteer Historic Cooks at the Fort, the recipes are based on ones found in British, American and Canadian cookbooks of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and are featured favourites in the Historic Foodways Programme at Fort York National Historic Site. The programme recreates the cooking practices and lifestyles of British officers living in a fort in Upper Canada in the early 19th century, and rest assured, it's not all hard tack!

The 30 recipes include the original, historic recipe as well as its modern equivalent, many with colour photographs. Each recipe is introduced by an explanation of why it was chosen, how it would have been used at the Fort in the past and how it is used at the Fort today. From Chocolate Cream to Ginger Ice Cream, Pippen Tart to Fresh Strawberry Water and many mouthwatering more, Setting a Fine Table is a perfect stocking stuffer! For information on ordering, go to For more information about historic Fort York, visit

Nigellissima indeed! The culinary goddess Nigella Lawson is everywhere these days and no wonder. The bestselling author of eight cookbooks which, with her television shows on Food Network Canada and (of course!) her iPhone apps, have made her a household name around the world. Her latest, Nigellissima, serves up 120 mouthwatering yet straightforward recipes that are quick and easy; these will elevate weeknight meals into no-fuss feasts! Before all the fame, Nigella says she decided to be Italian, and found her way to Florence, where she learned to cook; her gastronomic heart is indeed in Italy and in Nigellissima she conjures the warmth, simplicity and directness of this cuisine. We love you, Nigella!

We've been waiting for this one: bestselling cookbook author and Food Network star Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, has a boxed collection that unites her initial three titles in one beautiful package.

Here are the books that started it all for Garten, who turned a passion for food into a successful specialty food store in the Hamptons and is now beloved by millions for her Barefoot Contessa television show and cookbooks. The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, Ina's first book, has all of the fabulous, easy recipes that won Ina a loyal following at her retail shop, including Perfect Roast Chicken, French Potato Salad, and those irresistible Coconut Cupcakes. In Barefoot Contessa Parties! Ina shares her very best menus, divided by season, for fuss-free yet gorgeous entertaining, from a summer garden lunch for eight to an intimate fireside dinner for two. Barefoot Contessa Family Style is full of crowd-pleasers you'll make again and again, like roasted asparagus showered with freshly grated Parmesan and a French toast made with challah and just the right amount of grated orange zest and pure vanilla extract to make it sing.

Almost a coffee-table book, The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook features recipes from the eponymous New York culinary landmark that has been changing the face of American dining for decades. Opened in 1994, the Gramercy Tavern restaurant instantly became a New York institution, garnering dozens of accolades, including six James Beard awards. The brilliant partnership of Danny Meyer, founder of Union Square Hospitality Group, and Michael Anthony, the executive chef of Gramercy Tavern, have guaranteed the continued success of this group.

The book features many of the restaurant's signature dishes, and every recipe embodies the spirit of the place while being simple enough for any home cook. Have a copy of this book already? Then move on to Family Table: Favorite Staff Meals by Michael Romano and Karen Stabine, two more in Meyer's group. As restaurateur Daniel Boulud commented to his team, "Cook the staff meal with the same care as if you were going to serve it to your mother," and this book reflects just that. We'll be doing more on these two must have books again!

Jerusalem, A Cookbook is the most talked about cookbook in New York and flying off bookstore shelves everywhere. We've all been eating mid-Eastern food for ages; what is it about this collection of recipes? Here's what The New York Times says:

[It] was written by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, chefs who grew up on opposite sides of the divided city, Mr. Tamimi in the Arab East, Mr. Ottolenghi in the Jewish West. Both left Israel decades ago, live in London and are hardly celebrity chefs, although Mr. Ottolenghi's last book, "Plenty," was admired here among the vegetarian set.

The book's recipes are traditional in Jerusalem, or loosely inspired by the city, gathering influences from the Christian, Muslim and Jewish cooks who live there, with flavors from almost everywhere else: Iran, Poland, Syria, Italy. Many of them have long lists of ingredients, including spices like sumac and za'atar, and are based on vegetables and grains. Chickpeas, lamb, eggplant and eggs turn up over and over again.

So? Who would have guessed that Jerusalem would become an almost overnight success, especially with so many who have never even been to the city! Timing is most everything, and looking back on books that have clicked we remember The Joy of Cooking was an early best seller in 1931, elevating meal standards for depression-weary women; a few years later, Julia Child was teaching us all French cooking. In the 1980s, interest in new appliances put Microwave Gourmet by Barbara Kafka on the best-selling list, and Martha Stewart became a household name. Today, politics and the fascination with this historical, turbulent city enticed interest in this peaceful joint collaboration, and social media started spreading the word about the book. Jerusalem pot luck dinner parties were on everyone's list, and boom! A bestseller was born. A must-have!

Love baking? Just for you is The Model Bakery Cookbook, with 75 favorite recipes from the beloved Napa Valley bakery. Karen Mitchell founded the Model Bakery in 1984, drawing on her cherished family recipes for breads and pastries. It quickly gathered a large following; daughter Sarah Mitchell Hansen joined the team after college and the corporate world and expanded the business, which now and now serves a thousand-plus visitors a day, plus supplying many of the restaurants and wineries in the Napa Valley. From divine yeast confections to the most glorious wedding cakes, you'll find the recipes here!

Looking ahead: in coming columns we'll be featuring Fine French Desserts: Essential Recipes and Techniques, a glorious dessert bible; French Food Safari, where the authors seek out France's top chefs and providers; and Naomi Duguid's Burma: Rivers of Flavor, another expert book by this acclaimed culinary anthropologist, world traveller and great cook! We'll be featuring more books from specific locations: Karen Brooks's The Mighty Gastropolis Portland, Anita Stewart's Canada, Jeff Loehler's Spain, Louisa Shafia's The New Persian Kitchen, Leanne Kitchen's Turkey, and Suzanne Husseini's Modern Flavors of Arabia.

And much much more! Stay tuned!

On today's menu:

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Gorgonzola and Cannellini Dip with a Tricolore Flourish

Gorgonzola and Cannellini Dip with a Tricolore Flourish

Nigella loves this combination of blue cheese and white beans, and adds that the gorgeousness is due in no small part to the mascarpone and Marsala that add creaminess of texture and smoky depth of tone respectively. We agree, and found it to be the perfect party starter in almost any season. From Nigellissima.

Makes 3½ cups (Serves at least 12 people as an appetizer, many more as part of a buffet)

  • One 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 12 ounces gorgonzola picante (rindless weight)
  • 1/2 cup mascarpone
  • 2/3 cup plain yogurt
  • 3 Tbsp grated parmesan
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 2 Tbsp Marsala
  • 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil or to taste
    To serve:
  • 1 red chili
  • 1 scallion (green part only, or 1 Tbsp chopped chives

Put the beans, drained and rinsed, into a food processor (or you could mash everything by hand or with an immersion blender) and drop in the Gorgonzola, broken loosely into chunks. Add the mascarpone, yogurt and Parmesan and grind in some pepper enthusiastically. Put on the lid and blitz to mix.

When it's a stiff purée, still slightly grainy, blitz again, pouring the Marsala and then the olive oil down the funnel. Taste for seasoning (remembering that the top is to be sprinkled with chili) and texture; you may want to add extra oil for a more fluid, dressing-like smoothness.

Remove the blade carefully, then scrape the dip into a bowl or divide between as many little bowls as you want.

Just before serving, seed and finely chop a thin red chili and slice the green part of a scallion into teeny-tiny pieces (or just finely slice some chives), and sprinkle both red and green decorations over the waiting dip. Serve with crudités or whatever takes your fancy!

Tony's wine recommendation:
Late Harvest Riesling or Oloroso Sherry



Herb-Roasted Lamb

Herb-Roasted Lamb

Holiday birds left you wanting? Ina Garten has the answer: it's her herb-roasted lamb that will serve a hungry crowd. Doesn't it sound delicious to roast a rosemary leg of lamb over a bed of potatoes so the juices of the lamb flavor the potatoes while they cook? Oh yes... and the best part is that the dish goes into the oven almost two hours before dinner so you can actually relax before your guests arrive. Garten reminds us to have the butcher remove the leg bone but leave the shank intact. Another helping? Why, thank you...and some potatoes please! From Barefoot Contessa Family Style.

Serves 10

  • 12 large garlic cloves, diced
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 6-pound boneless leg of lamb, trimmed and tied
  • 4 to 5 pounds small unpeeled potatoes (16 to 20 potatoes)
  • 2 Tbsp good olive oil

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Place the oven rack in the lower third of the oven so the lamb will sit in the middle of the oven.

Peel 6 of the cloves of garlic and place them in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Add the rosemary, 1 Tbsp salt, 1 Tsp pepper and butter, and process until the garlic and rosemary are fine minced. Thoroughly coat the top and sides of the lamb with the rosemary mixture. Allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour.

Toss the potatoes and remaining unpeeled garlic in a bowl with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Place in the bottom of a large roasting pan. Place the lamb on top of the potatoes and roast for 1¼ to 1½ hours, or until the internal temperature of the lamb is 135°F (rare) or 145°F (medium). Remove from the oven and put the lamb on a platter; cover tightly with aluminum foil. Allow the lab to rest for about 20 minutes. Slice and serve with the potatoes.

Ina Garten's Hint: Fresh rosemary is important for this dish. And... it's not easy to know when the lamb has reached the right temperature. She uses an instant-read thermometer and sticks it in 4 to 5 places near the middle of the leg to make sure that none of the meat at the center is below the desired temperature.

Tony's wine recommendation:
Château-bottled red Bordeaux, Chianti Classico Riserva, red Burgundy



Ruby Red Shrimp with White Beans and Kale Salsa Verde

Ruby Red Shrimp with White Beans and Kale Salsa Verde

Holiday dinner party? Surprise and please your guests with this gorgeous, colorful starter or main dish From The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook.

Use the freshest shrimp from the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico if possible, for these wild beauties have a soft, meaty texture and rich flavour that complement the subtle complexities of the beans.

Chef Michael Anthony says he makes the salsa verde with kale, but you can pack a mortar with any combination of fresh herbs and greens you like, such as Swiss chard or spinach, and he comments that it's really satisfying to make the dish by hand, observing the leaves transforming into a condiment. Enough, pass the dish, please!

Serves 4

  • 2 cups cooked white beans
  • 1 cup vegetable broth, or bean liquid plus water
  • 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tsp minced garlic, plus 2 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1/4 cup chopped mixed herbs, such as parsley, cilantro, chives, and or tarragon
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 20 medium shrimp peeled and deveined
  • Large leaves from 4 Brussels sprouts
  • Kale Salsa Verde (recipe follows)

Combine a cup of the beans with 1/2 cup of the broth and the extra-virgin olive oil, season with salt and pepper and process in a blender until smooth. Transfer the bean purée to a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat. Add the remaining cup of beans and heat through. Stir in the minced garlic, the herbs, and the remaining 1/2 cup broth. The bean mixture should be quite loose and creamy. Keep warm.

In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the smashed garlic and the shrimp; season the shrimp with salt and pepper and cook, turning once, until they just become opaque, about 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat the remaining 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium-high heat, then add the Brussels sprout leaves and toss for a minute. Add a splash of water, cook a minute more. Drain.

Dividing the bean mixture among bowls, add the shrimp and Brussels sprout leaves and drizzle the salsa verde over the top.

Kale Salsa Verde

  • 2 cups kale leaves (center ribs discarded)
  • 2 tsp pine nuts
  • 2 Tbsp roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 Tbsp roughly chopped cilantro
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped chives
  • 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil or more if needed
  • Salt and pepper

Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Add the kale and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain the kale and shock it in ice water. Drain again and squeeze it between your hands to remove excess water.

Transfer the kale to a mortar or food processor, add the nuts, and pound with the pestle or pulse until coarsely chopped. Add the parsley cilantro, chives and olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and pound or process, adding more olive oil if needed, until the mixture thickens.

Tony's wine recommendation:
Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or Pouilly Fumé



Roasted Butternut Squash and Red Onions

Roasted Butternut Squash and Red Onions

Whatever your holiday meal is, large bird or otherwise, this side dish will make the meal! It's been adapted from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi for The New York Times, and this version is true to the cookbook recipe but simplified just in case you absolutely must fix it for dinner tonight. And we add, you should! It's a highly versiatile dish boasting some very substantial flavors – ideal as a starter, vegetarian main or a dinner party side!

Time: 1 hour

Yield: 10 to 12 servings

  • About 1/2 cup olive oil, plus extra for pans
  • 4 large red onions
  • Coarse salt and black pepper
  • 4 pounds butternut squash chunks or wedges, peeled or unpeeled
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts or shelled green pistachio nuts (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley, mint, cilantro or a combination, for garnish
    For tahini sauce (optional)
  • 1/4 cup tahini paste
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 small clove garlic, crushed
  1. Heat oven to 475°. Lightly coat two large baking sheets with olive oil.
  2. Peel onions, leaving root ends intact. Cut each onion in half from stem to root. Cut each half into 4 wedges, leaving the root intact so that each wedge holds together. Spread on a baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with oil.
  3. Put the squash in a large mixing bowl. Add 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and about 1/4 teaspoon pepper; toss to coat. Spread on a baking sheet, peel side down (if intact).
  4. Place both pans in oven and roast for 30 to 40 minutes, until the vegetables have taken on some color and are cooked through. Keep an eye on the onions, as they may cook faster than the squash and need to be removed earlier.
  5. If using pine nuts, pour 1 tablespoon oil into a small frying pan and place over medium-low heat. Add nuts and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook for 2 minutes, stirring often, until the nuts are golden brown and smell toasty. Immediately remove from the heat and dump onto a cutting board to stop the cooking. If using pistachios, chop coarsely when cool enough to handle.
  6. To make tahini sauce, place tahini in a bowl. Add lemon juice, 1/4 cup water, garlic and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Whisk until sauce is the consistency of honey, adding more water or a tablespoon of olive oil if necessary.
  7. When the vegetables are cooked, set aside until ready to serve. (The vegetables should be served the same day they are made. They can be served at warm room temperature, or reheated just before serving.)
  8. To serve, arrange vegetables on a large serving platter. If using tahini sauce, drizzle on top. Sprinkle herbs and, if using, nuts on top and serve.

Tony's wine recommendation:
Unoaked Chardonnay, Soave or Verdicchio



Chocolate and Caramel Tartlets with Fleur de Sel

Chocolate and Caramel Tartlets with Fleur de Sel

No wonder they love Model Bakery. This desert has been a best seller in the shop, and patrons begged for the recipe. Good thing, too, it's such a winner! The surprise touch of salt elevates these tartlets from delicious to divine!

Makes 6 tartlets

Note: we used frozen tart shells with great success; if you are making your own, you'll need 6 5-inch tartlet pans with removable bottoms.

  • 1/2 cup/65 g sugar
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • 1/2 tsp light corn syrup
  • 1 Tbsp heavy cream
  • 6 tart shells
  • 1 cup/240 mL heavy cream
  • 8 oz/225 gbittersweet chocolate (no more than 55%) cacao), coarsely chopped
  • About 1/2 tsp flaky sea salt or fleur de sel, such as Maldon or fleur de sel de Guérande
    To make the caramel:
  1. Stir the sugar, water and corn syrup together in a small heavy saucepan over high heat until the sugar dissolves. Stop stirring and boil, occasionally rotating the pan by the handle to swirl the syrup and washing down any crystals that form on the sides of the pan with a bristle brush dipped in cold water, until the syrup is smoking and the color of an old copper coin, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Add the cream and stir until dissolved. Transfer to a small heat-proof ramekin or bowl and let it cool.
  2. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400°F/200°C/gas 6. Have ready the tart dough in pans. Freeze until the dough is firm, 15 to 30 minutes.
  3. Place the tartlet pans on a large rimmed baking sheet. Line each shell with aluminum foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake until the dough looks set and is beginning to brown, about 12 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven. Remove the foil and pie weights. Pierce each tartlet shell a few times with a fork. Return to oven and bake until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a wire cooling rack and let cool completely.
    To make the ganache:
  1. Heat the cream in a small saucepan over medium heat until small bubbles form around the edges. Put the chocolate in a medium heat-proof bowl. Add the hot cream and let stand until the chocolate softens, about 3 minutes. Whisk just until smooth. Set aside until slightly cooled, about 30 minutes.
  2. Pour an equal amount of the ganache into each pastry shell. Refrigerate until the ganache is set, about 1 hour.
  3. Check the consistency of the caramel; it should flow easily from a spoon. If necessary, warm gently in a bowl of hot water, stirring the caramel until fluid. Spoon a ¼-inch/6 mm-wide ribbon of caramel across the top of each tartlet. Sprinkle each ribbon with a generous pinch of the salt. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Just before serving, remove the sides of the tartlet pans.

Tony's wine recommendation:
Tawny Port, Cream Sherry, Banyuls



Pears Portuguese Fashion with Currants

Pears Portuguese Fashion with Currants

What a glorious finish to your winter feast! Light the candles, put on a fanfare and present this ruby jewel of a dessert in a cut crystal bowl. No wonder it's been popular for more than two hundred years! From Setting a Fine Table.

Makes 6 generous servings

  • 6 pears, about 3 lb (1.5 kg)
  • 4 cups (1 L) water
  • 3/4 cup (185 mL) currants, rinsed
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) granulated sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
  • Thinly pared rind of a lemon

Peel, halve and core the pears. In a large, wide saucepan, bring the water to a boil, then add the pears. Cover and simmer until very lightly softened, about 10 minutes. Reserving 2 cup (250 mL) of the poaching liquid, drain the pears.

In the same saucepan, bring the reserved poaching liquid, port, currants, sugar, cinnamon and lemon peel to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the partially poached pears. Cover the pears with a round of parchment paper cut to fit over top. Put the lid on the saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently, turning the pears halfway through cooking, until tender but not mushy, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool in the cooking liquid. Remove the cinnamon.

(Make-ahead: Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerator for up to 2 days.)

Remove the lemon rind. Serve the pears in stemmed glasses or bowls, with a generous amount of the syrup and currants.

Tony's wine recommendation:
Ontario Icewine, Muscat Beaume-de-Venise



We wish to thank the following for permission to publish material and photographs:

Whitecap Books and City of Toronto for Setting a Fine Table, © 2013 City of Toronto. Photography © Pat Crocker/Kate Carlsen. Available from Amazon.

Clarkson Potter, Publishers, New York, Member of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. for:

Nigellissima, by Nigella Lawson. © 2012 Nigella Lawson, photographs © 2012 Petrina Tinslay.

Barefoot Contessa Family Style, by Ina Garten. © 2002 Ina Garten. Photographs © 2002 Maura McEvoy.

The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook, by Michael Anthony. © 2013 Gramercy Tavern Corp. Photographs © Maura McEvoy.

Appetite by Random House, a division of Random House of Canada, Limited, for Jerusalem: A Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. © 2012 Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. Food photographs © 2012 Jonathan Lovekin.

Raincoast Publishing Vancouver and Chronicle Books San Francisco for The Model Bakery Cookbook, by Karen Mitchell and Sarah Mitchell Hansen with Rick Rodgers. Text © 2013 The Model Bakery. Photographs © 2013 Frankie Frankeny.


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Happily enjoyed by Helen Hatton and Ron Morris.

Helen Hatton and Ron Morris at Le Caveau des Gourmets in Gigondas




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