Cookbook Tour of New York City

Last week, I posted about a dinner featuring the new Honey & Co. cookbook – filled with recipes from the Honey & Co. restaurant. To know whether these recipes matched the real deal restaurant food of the book’s authors, we’d have to hop a plane to London. I’m not opposed to doing that, but other restaurant – eponymous cookbook comparisons are possible without crossing any oceans. I spent the last week in New York City doing more or less nothing but eating (there was also a great deal of walking in between eating locations – for the record) and following a mini-scavenger hunt of eateries with recent cookbooks.

The overall conclusion? Yup, the cookbook recipes produce food that tastes the same as the stuff at the restaurants. If I lived in NYC it would be a whole lot easier to get the food takeout instead of attempting it myself. I happen to enjoy spending a day on a cooking project. Some of these cookbooks feature cooking projects that take several days. Sometimes a full week. But hey, they’re still fun to read and daydream about New York City. Below are the highlights with links to reviews of the relevant cookbooks. 

Prune by Gabrielle Hamilton – This cookbook has relatively easy recipes, except that they are written in the style of a notebook for staff and you need to be a confident cook to understand the style of minimal instruction. That works out nicely for people like me who rarely follow directions to begin with. I really enjoy this book. The Tipsy Baker review site hated it, then loved it, then probably hated it again, then. . . well, here are some samples: “She can infuse a recipe for banana bread with hostility” followed by “And I’m not even that strong” (the title doesn’t actually relate to the book review). I like people being able to go back and forth on a book. The only inexcusable thing in Prune is the lack of index. 

Momofuku Milk Bar by Christina Tosi – Christina Tosi is a celebrity chef with great skills in recipe creation, as well as in television appearances and interviews and everything else celebrity. Producing at a wholesale-level for a chain of Milk Bar outposts? Maybe not her strength. The cookie I bought tasted so old, I threw it away after two bites, then ate a chocolate sable from the box of homemade cookies I was carrying with me to remove the aftertaste (never travel to NYC without a back up supply of homemade cookies!). That doesn’t mean the cookbook is bad – this set of pieces on summarizes Tosi’s signature dishes (think stuff made with cereal milk) and give some sample recipes. 

Di Fara’s Pizza – from Delancey by Molly Wizenberg. The book associated with the slice of pizza pictured above is really a memoir about opening a pizza restaurant in Seattle. It involves much pizza research, like Di Fara’s, and has simple recipes at the end of each chapter. I’ve got an awesome home oven pizza almost perfected, for the record, and I pair it with sides from Delancey (if you have this book and haven’t made the ricotta yet. . . get going). If you want a sense of Wizenberg’s style, check out her blog Orangette. ˆ

Robicelli’s: A Love Story, with cupcakes by Allison & Matt Robicelli – I bought the book after reading this Food for the Thoughtless review. The review is worth reading, even if you have no intention of getting the book. If you want a sense of the Robicelli writing style, check out this page from their website. While you’re exploring the site, browse the menu – I got a Tres Leches cupcake and a Pistachio Cannoli Cookie. The kid working the counter told me that my food scavenger hunt through NYC sounded both ridiculous and insane, but I’m sure secretly he was impressed. These are honest cupcakes, and while you may not be able to tell from the angle of this photo, they do not overwhelm the cake with the frosting and they are a normal size. Plus, the Robicelli recipe for French buttercream is the only buttercream frosting I’ve ever liked. 

Pok Pok by Andy Ricker (a Vermonter, thank you very much) – Cooking a menu from Pok Pok this winter involved driving to Montreal in a blizzard to track down ingredients on a 62 item shopping list (to be fair, we were also shopping for pantry staples for Every Grain of Rice), and then setting aside a week to work on the components of the dishes, and also a realization that if you think fish sauce has a strong smell, well. . . in relative terms it doesn’t. If you’re willing to do that, the steps in making the dishes aren’t too hard and the results taste really good. The visit to the restaurant made me think that more summer cocktails should involve celery flavor. Here’s the NPR interview that inspired the cookbook purchase

Dominique Ansel: The Secret Recipes by Dominique Ansel – Yes, the ice cream-filled S’More pictured above looked prettier before I ate half of it. Dominique Ansel’s aesthetic sensibility is perfect to the point of sterile so I think it did the S’More good to be half eaten before the photo op. The photographs in the cookbook keep the essence of Ansel’s sensibility while bringing the food alive visually, and I appreciated that even more after visiting the pristine bakery (the food doesn’t taste lifeless). This cookbook gives excellent instructions for making his elaborate pastries, and you read those instructions and think “it would take significantly less time to drive the 5 hours to NYC and wait in line for this.” I can’t find any reviews of the book that I find accurate, so instead I’ll mention this: Ansel invented the Cronut (croissant meets donut). While that sounds like a corporate gimmick, it isn’t and he is in fact a high end, French pastry chef – here’s an interesting New Yorker article on Ansel and the Cronut.  

Liddabit Sweets Cookbook by Liz Gutman and Jen King. The Liddabit candy bars cost $9 each – plus assorted subway fares as I made my way to their retail store and production center in Brooklyn’s impressive Industry City incubator space. Why $9? Because making a filled candy bar (as in layers of candy enrobed in chocolate) takes forever. And ever. Some of us love playing with all sorts of candy-from-scratch combinations. Some of us have burned our fingertips so many times that it’s remarkable any fingerprints remain. The cookbook is playful, which I love. If you’re going to buy it, I recommend pairing it with some basic candy books like the Field Guide to CandyThe Liddabit retail operation relies on the theory that homemade candy bars and the familiar, mass produced ones aren’t even the same species. . . and they aren’t wrong. If you want a (literal) taste of this perspective, try their Dorie Bar recipe which is part of this longer interview about their book on The Splendid Table.

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