Books for all cooks

Family tales mixed with homemade meals, an entire year of holiday delicacies and secrets of upscale fine dining are all up for grabs in these cookbooks.

The Holiday Kosher Baker By Paula Shoyer (photo credit: Courtesy)
The Holiday Kosher Baker By Paula Shoyer
(photo credit: Courtesy)

I’m a bit of a cookbook junkie, and I like to collect almost every kosher and Jewish recipe collection that comes out. But for those who prefer a more minimalist selection, the newest crop offers a wide variety of approaches for cooks at just about every level. From a famed restaurant spilling its secret dishes to established authors offering their newest takes and hardworking moms teaching tips and tricks, every cook is bound to find something here that will appeal.

Joy of Kosher By Jamie Geller William Morrow Cookbooks; 384 pages; $30

Perhaps the most famous name in kosher cooking today, Jamie Geller is back with her third cookbook. But taking a slight detour from her first two, Quick and Kosher: Recipes from the Bride Who Knew Nothing and Quick and Kosher: Meals in Minutes, Geller has put out Joy of Kosher: Fast, Fresh Family Recipes, incidentally the name of both her website and magazine.

The book contains more than 100 recipes of what she calls her “absolute best” recipes, with a fun twist: a “dress it up” or “dress it down” option.
Cocktail meatballs with sweet and sour sauce could become deconstructed meatball bruschetta, while stuffed veal rolls with smoky tomato sauce could be served as veal spaghetti and meatballs. But the execution can sometimes be silly. What dresses up a Yerushalmi (noodle) kugel? Adding ¾ cup of raisins. What dresses down wilted spinach with crispy garlic chips? Leaving off the garlic chips.
The book is intensely personal, with dozens of stories and anecdotes about Geller’s life along with copious pictures of her five children. She writes in a funny, self-deprecating and relatable tone. The food photos are beautifully composed and printed, but they’re often small compared to the full-page snapshots of family which seem unnecessary at times.
The recipes range from traditional Jewish food like baked herb gefilte fish and deep dish potato kugel; to Israeli-inspired dishes including felafel poppers and lemon lover’s humous (Geller moved to Israel last year); and modern innovative offerings like crispy salt and pepper chicken with caramelized fennel and shallots, teriyaki scallion rainbow trout and pumpkin spice ravioli with brown butter.
The Holiday Kosher Baker By Paula Shoyer Sterling 240 pages; $35

Three years after her landmark first cookbook, The Kosher Baker, pastry chef and culinary instructor Paula Shoyer is back with The Holiday Kosher Baker, offering desserts and snacks for the entire year of Jewish holidays. Cycling from Rosh Hashana through Shavuot, Shoyer offers more than 120 inventive and appealing desserts and snacks.

In each section she offers both easy snack ideas and fancier plated desserts. The High Holy Days could be sweetened with honey cake biscotti or apricot berry strudel; enjoy sticky toffee pudding or salted caramel banana tart tatin on Succot; try your hand at almond olive oil cake or churros with hot chocolate sauce on Hanukka; experiment with eight different types of hamentashen for Purim, including gluten free and green tea; and savor a cheese babka or a white chocolate mousse cake on Shavuot.
But it is the chapter on Passover, easily the most challenging Jewish holiday to bake for, where Shoyer really shines, with more than 45 separate recipes. From pistachio cookies to fruit pie bars, rosemary nut brittle, key lime pie and chocolate mousse macaroons, even the most frustrated Passover chefs will be happy to try something new.
Shoyer speaks with an authoritative tone and her instructions are clear and precise, including on how (and when) to remove cakes or cookies from the pan plus tips on storage.
The book is punctuated with truly beautiful color photos, many of which are full page, though sadly not every recipe is granted a picture.
The colors and styling of the book are very professional looking, though I would have loved to see each recipe get its own individual page as opposed to starting and ending midway. No baker with flour all over her hands wants to have to turn the page in the middle of mixing. Also, unfortunately more than a dozen of the recipes are reprinted or modified from her first book, which avid fans are sure to already own.
Starters and Sides Made Easy By Leah Schapira and Victoria Dwek Mesorah Publications 128 pages; $15.99


Family tales mixed with homemade meals, an entire year of holiday delicacies and secrets of upscale fine dining are all up for grabs in these cookbooks

41 Kids Cooking Made Easy By Leah Schapira and Victoria Dwek Mesorah Publications 144 pages; $15.99 Following the success of the first in their series, Passover Made Easy, Leah Schapira and Victoria Dwek have published two more cookbooks in recent months: Starters and Sides Made Easy and Kids Cooking Made Easy. The premise remains the same – tested and retested recipes that are foolproof guides to perfecting one element of your dinner table.

In Starters and Sides, the culinary duo offer inventive ideas for, you guessed it, starters and sides, from broccoli-stuffed artichokes to corned beef and spinach spring rolls, sea bass with sun-dried tomato tapenade and sweet potato and leek quiche. There are also sections on “building blocks” – from roasted veggies to creamy mashed potatoes and the perfect rice. The book is on the smaller side – only 40 recipes – but 14 of them offer suggestions to “make it a main.”
Kids Cooking Made Easy is not a guide to letting your children loose in the kitchen, but rather recipes you can make that will have them asking for seconds.
The recipes are, by design I would imagine, less inventive and innovative than the duo’s earlier books. But most kids prefer simple food, and these recipes are likely to give some ideas to tired moms bored with making chicken nuggets and pasta every night. I wasn’t thrilled to see ingredients like parve chicken powder, frozen french fries or packaged hot dogs in several recipes, but without kids myself I won’t judge a busy mother. Most of the recipes are fairly simple, some exaggeratedly so, making this book more geared to a novice cook than an experienced one.
Even without kids, I wouldn’t mind trying out their recipes for spinach quesadilla, meat and potato knishes, homemade fish sticks, roasted dijon potatoes or peanut butter granola bars.
The dessert section of the book is the most extensive, with 15 separate recipes, a bit of an overkill considering it’s not the hardest course to get children to eat.
The last section of the book is titled sweets and crafts, and though I can’t say I’d encourage kids to eat “candy spray” (sugar, water and flavoring in a spray bottle), the recipes for homemade play dough and edible sand art are sure to keep kids busy for hours.
Each of the books has built in colorful guides and tips from a four-page illustrated spice guide to conversions of cup to spoon measurements and how to perfectly dice onion and garlic. I’m beginning to think I’m going to need to collect the whole series.
The Prime Grill Cookbook By David Kolotkin and Joey Allaham Pelican Publishing 208 pages; $35 Homesick New Yorkers will find much to love in The Prime Grill Cookbook, a recipe collection put out by the founder and chef of the acclaimed Manhattan kosher restaurant.
The book includes the history and behind-the-scenes photographs of the restaurant, showcasing its role in “redefining the kosher experience,” as it proclaims.
But the centerpiece, of course, is the food, and it includes many of the restaurant’s most famous dishes, from rosemary potato chips to corn chowder, and its most popular dish, barbecued beef short ribs.
Many of the offerings are on the complicated side, including smoked salmon corn fritters with roasted jalapeño pepper aioli, chicken and waffle nuggets with maple syrup dip, or short rib empanadas with mango coulis dipping sauce.
Other slightly less complicated dishes include mustard and rosemary crusted rack of lamb, porcini burger and mojito- cured salmon.
Those that caught my eye as things I’d like to try at home on a rainy day were potato gnocchi with duck bolognese and sage and felafel crusted salmon.
Despite the complicated recipes, the instructions are not very adapted to the home cook, and read more like directions to an experienced chef.
Many steps don’t mention how long they will take or how much monitoring it might need. It is also a fairly short book for a rather steep price.
This book is ideally suited for adventurous home cooks, who want to bring a taste of upscale fine dining to their dining room tables.
Cooking Inspired By Estee Safra Feldheim 368 pages; $35.99

It’s a bit counterintuitive, turning a blog into a book, but it is the latest trend, and Estee Safra’s new book, Cooking Inspired, falls right in line. The cookbook is a compilation of Safra’s best recipes, along with contributions from chefs and food writers, similar to her, in partnership with the haredi Mishpacha magazine.

The book is intuitively organized, with sections on appetizers breads, soup, salad, fish, mains, sides and desserts. Many of the pictures are compelling but a good portion are fairly amateurish (the author took most of them herself), with poor lighting choices and awkward angles.
Althouh wide-ranging – over 200 recipes – it lacks any form of cohesion. The recipes range from goat cheese crostini with candied nuts to etrog jam, sesame hemp seed granola, olive and sun-dried tomato focaccia, pan roasted pear and goat cheese salad, sweet-and-sour tongue, lamb burgers and maple noodle kugel.
Some are fairly boring standards, like salmon with herb bread crumbs, egg salad and french onion soup. While most are home cook-friendly, a few, like roasting a whole duck just to shred it up to make won tons, are prohibitively time consuming and more suited to restaurant kitchens.
The recipes that caught my eye include tomato, herb and cheese galette; curried cauliflower and apricot soup; and layered no-bake blintz cake. But I had to wade through so many other things to find them.