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Bitter Honey: Recipes and Stories from Sardinia

Letitia Clark. Hardie Grant, $40 (256p) ISBN 978-1-78488-277-8

British transplant Clark offers a wide-eyed look at Sardinia, an Italian island featuring a spectacular coast and a rural interior with an “almost biblical” landscape. Interstitial mini-essays describe some of the local products, such as sheep’s cheese (“sheep outnumber people three to one” on Sardinia) and bottarga, a “sort of fishy fruit gum” transformed into a spread with anchovies and tuna and grated over linguine with clams. In a chapter on vegetables, Clark covers every aspect of preparing and consuming artichokes, then provides recipes for preserving them in oil and braising them with olives. She states up-front that she is not aiming to adhere to tradition and readily mixes Sardinian classics with dishes from elsewhere: egg ravioli with pumpkin filling from the mainland sit side by side with Sardinia’s “iconic” malloredu and hedgehog-shaped culurgionis stuffed with potato and mint. In the seafood chapter, salmon—not a Mediterranean fish—appears along with the local dishes of baby octopus and cuttlefish. Likewise, for desserts Clark includes a recipe for seadas—Sardinia’s famed fried pastries with cheese and honey—as well as one for a liquored-up tiramisù from northern Italy. The recipe instructions are clear and chatty, with a generous number of variations and accompaniments suggested. Home cooks will delight in this charming, culinary look at this Italian island. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Rental Style: The Ultimate Guide to Decorating Your Apartment or Small Home

Chelsey Brown. Skyhorse, $24.99 (176p) ISBN 978-1-5107-5813-1

Renters who drool over HGTV decorating shows but don’t have the freedom to knock down walls will swoon over this practical guide on how to cultivate maximum style in a nonpermanent setup. Brown, a Manhattan interior decorator who has lived in a number of tiny New York City apartments, starts by providing tips on landing the perfect pad, especially in markets as competitive as N.Y.C. (“sign [a lease] as soon as possible”), then moves on to advise which items are worth investing in (mirrors, wall art, curtains) and which are not (area rugs, couch, coffee table). Narrow entryways—the bane of many a big-city apartment—are made beautiful with runners, floating shelves, and mirrors. Love wainscoting but live in an apartment without it? Brown demonstrates how this distinctive “character feature” can be created with painted lightweight boards and Velcro tape. No room for a dining room table? Brown has a variety of solutions, such as a wall-mounted folding table or a lift-top coffee table. She also shows that furniture with built-in storage is worth its weight in gold, as are shelf risers. This’ll be a hit with anyone who writes a rent check and wants to add a bit of flair to their home. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Ana Ros: Sun and Rain

Ana Ros. Phaidon, $59.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-7148-7930-7

In this exquisitely illustrated, if challenging, cookbook, Slovenian chef Ros, who was featured on Chef’s Table, shares recipes from her restaurant located in a village near the Italian border. In elegiac prose accompanied by arresting photos, Ros and other contributors describe local landscapes or celebrations, including bees in hives that “look like small Russian dachas” as well cake decorated with butterflies purchased last-minute from a Trieste pastry shop for the 80th birthday of Italian president Giorgio Napolitano, who was visiting the area. A fairy tale quality is established in an essay from Italian food critic Andrea Petrini, who first “discovered” Ros (“Once upon a time there was a little girl,” he begins). Recipes are bunched at the end, far from the photographs of them spread throughout the narrative. Dishes are complex, and intricately designed and balanced: a dish of beef tongue contains eight different components, including oyster mayonnaise and pickled purslane; a popcorn dish features beer gel, cheese ice cream, and wild hops. Clearly, items like cuttlefish lard—made by brining cuttlefish, then cooking them sous-vide, then roasting them, and finally pressing them together and freezing them—are not going to make the regular rotation on home tables. The dreamy affect that pervades this entire book—and Ros’s cooking—are transporting, even if the recipes themselves are mostly aspirational. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 04/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Eventide: Recipes for Clambakes, Oysters, Lobsters Rolls, and More

Arlin Smith et al. Ten Speed, $30 (272p) ISBN 978-1-984856-32-6

This hip collection from the owners of a “modern seafood shack” in Portland, Maine, strikes a breezy tone with contemporary takes on New England classics. Fish recipes include a miso-glazed cod and a char that’s salted and sugared, then paired with balls of dough that are coated in seeds and fried—the result of a happy accident in flatbread making. The authors lay out two versions of a clambake—the deluxe backyard option and the indoor variety downsized for a small kitchen, for which the authors recommend using a wok and a bamboo steamer basket. A love of Maine permeates the volume, as does a spontaneous and fun attitude: a fried oyster bun was created on the fly before the restaurant’s soft opening and has remained on the menu ever since; and perfect for feeding “a good-size crowd,” a brined then roasted giant fish tail coated in barbecue sauce can be picked apart and eaten in lettuce cups. Imagination rules: batter for savory waffles incorporates pureed scallops, and lobster with sweet potatoes is stewed in coconut milk and green curry. A brief chapter on desserts includes blueberry pie and four cookie options for ice cream sandwiches. This generous recipe collection bursts with personality. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Happy Bonsai: Choose It, Shape It, Love It

Michael Tran. DK, $14.99 (144p) ISBN 978-1-4654-9142-8

Tran, a nursery owner and longtime bonsai grower, earnestly approaches his craft in this overly abbreviated how-to guide. He encapsulates the form as an “idealized representation of nature in miniature” and briefly touches on obtaining a specimen (buying or collecting one from nature), where to grow them (“most will only flourish outside”), choosing a container and tools, potting, maintenance, and pruning, but will leave serious bonsai students wanting more. On aesthetics, he contrasts the classical Japanese style with the approach developed by modern American practitioners, which is to “accept the natural growth habit of trees, often making them older and wilder in appearance.” He also profiles 40 specimens, including the Japanese maple and Chinese juniper, accompanied by beautiful color photographs, with information about origins, growing habits, watering, feeding, pruning, and repotting, along with suggestions for both traditional Japanese and contemporary displays. However, since Tran maintains that “the art of creating and maintaining a beautiful tree in a small pot requires care and skill,” readers may feel a more comprehensive look at process is warranted. This skimpy guide doesn’t give enough room for Tran’s expertise to fully express itself, and seems intended for couch admirers rather than serious practitioners. (May)

Reviewed on 04/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Lit Stitch: 25 Cross-Stitch Patterns for Book Lovers

Shawna Tang. Abrams, $19.99 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-4197-4317-7

Tang, of the Etsy store Jim Jam Crafts, savvily combines literary themes and cross-stitch designs in this visually appealing collection of projects. Early on, Tang defines this slightly idiosyncratic embroidery form’s quirks and requirements, one of which is to use Aida fabric, which (on average) has a count of “14 squares per inch.” Other useful introductory sections concern how many plies of embroidery floss to use, how to cut and place patterns, and how to mount them when finished. While the patterns aren’t organized by difficulty, it’s pretty easy to suss out the simpler and harder ones. Bookmarks make up the fastest projects, and among these, the cross-stitched Book Riot motto “Read Harder” and the “Books!” bookmark, patterned after a college sports logo, offer simple cross stitching options. Some of the most striking patterns are more elaborate, such as the tattoo-inspired “Book Life” project, which will “let the edgier side of your bookish identity out for a joyride.” The ample crossover between book lovers and crafters should ensure a sizable audience for Tang’s delightful resource. (May)

Reviewed on 04/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Kitchen Remix: 75 Recipes for Making the Most of Your Ingredients

Charlotte Druckman. Clarkson Potter, $28 (224p) ISBN 978-0-553-45968-5

Druckman (Women on Food) proves to be a home cook’s savvy companion in this helpful cookbook. The recipes are grouped by food groups (dairy, seafood, vegetables, etc.), and are presented as sets of three main ingredients used to create trios of dishes. Some trios are familiar but with twists, such as the oats-focused group that skews savory with dishes including an oats-apple-gouda combo that yields a fruity “oatotto” in which grated cheese is stirred in just at the end, and a dressed salad of sliced Granny Smith apples topped with a caraway–fennel seed–oat granola. Vegetables are a highlight: Celery root can be braised, caramelized, or pickled, then served with salmon and peas. As for main dishes, chicken legs, apple, and shallot can go into a roasting pan or Dutch-oven, or can be baked as a stunning tarte tatin entree. Other trios are more unexpected, such as the squid, cornmeal, and peppers used in a polenta dish ; or shrimp, tomatoes, and almonds, which yield a bright buttermilk-dressed salad, a Spanish-inspired almond soup, and a Sicilian-pesto pasta. Druckman closes with appendices offering ingredient resources and a recipe list by course. The author’s conversational tone enlightens and entertains in this quirky collection of innovative dishes. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Simply Laura Lea: Balanced Recipes for Everyday Living

Laura Lea. Blue Hills, $35 (368p) ISBN 978-1-951217-22-8

Chef Lea presents over 130 healthy, flavorful recipes made of “nutrient-dense, whole foods” in this thorough cookbook. Understanding that “we cannot appropriate another person’s diet and assume it will work for us,” she encourages readers to “listen to your body” by following a balanced approach to food, and labels each dish by diet (e.g., vegetarian, keto-friendly, paleo, gluten-free). For instance, some of her dishes, such as chive and goat cheese fluffy baked eggs and hot honey cheddar-stuffed sweet potato skins, call for dairy products, but other rich dishes, such as creamy corn and chive farro (made with coconut milk and tahini) and Cajun cauliflower potato soup are vegan. Other flavor-packed recipes include chicken pineapple paprika (paleo and gluten-free); baked goods like maple bourbon baked pears (vegetarian and paleo); and such beverages as a coconut milk and lime macadamia smoothie (vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free). Throughout, Lea shares instructions for beginners, among them tips for using an Instant Pot (“Don’t use the Instant Pot directly under shelves or cabinets”) and mastering cooking techniques (“When a liquid simmers, you will see very small bubbles around the edges, but not in the middle”), to ensure success in the home kitchen. This excellent volume is perfect for beginning cooks looking for healthy options. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Amboy: Recipes from the Filipino-American Dream

Alvin Cailan, with Alexandra Cuerdo. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35 (352p) ISBN 978-1-328-93173-3

In this exciting debut cookbook, chef and restaurateur Cailan shares recipes inspired by his Filipino immigrant parents. Here he reflects on his culinary growth from childhood as “a knucklehead kid who wanted to be Gordon Gekko,” through a period living “the extravagant, hip-hop baller lifestyle,” to his becoming the chef/owner of the Usual in Brooklyn and several other restaurants across the country. Chapters are devoted to places and people and foods associated with each: Cailan’s great-grandmother Lola smelled of baby powder and whipped up dishes like cheeseburger lumpia (the Philippine version of spring rolls). A chapter recalls his teenage stint as a dishwasher and prep cook at a convent, cooking the likes of chicken sprinkled with Knorr tamarind soup mix. Recipes run the gamut from simple (tilapia fish sticks; ratatouille adobo) to a seven-day roast pig project that includes instructions for laying a brick fire pit. All showcase in-your-face attitude: a bacon-and-egg banh mi, for instance, is titled “The Bone Mi.” Though there are nods to healthier eating (lentils with peanut butter offer “the Filipino flavors without the bypass surgery,” that is, without the traditional ox tail), these are generally high-fat and high-flavor options, including ramen with fermented shrimp paste and ground pork. The many short q&a’s interspersed are often funny and always candid, such as one that chronicles Cailan’s disintegrating relationship with his one-time best friend and cocreator of his first restaurant, Eggslut, in L.A. This wild ride of a collection has bluster, but also heart and personality to spare. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 04/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Fresh From Poland: New Vegetarian Cooking from the Old Country

Michal Korkosz. The Experimen, $19.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-61519-655-5

Born and raised in Poland, food blogger and food photographer Korkosz shares his favorite dishes from his home country in this impressive debut collection of vegetarian fare. Korkosz covers well-known favorites such as pierogi, a dumpling here stuffed with such combinations as sauerkraut, mushrooms, and orange zest; spinach, goat cheese and salted almonds; or lentils and sun-dried tomatoes. Korkosz shares plenty of inventive dishes, such as a creamy sauerkraut soup; dill pickle soup with buttered potatoes; and barley risotto with asparagus, cider, and goat cheese. Other recipes include a can’t-miss buttermilk honey french toast; and a salad of baked beets, apple, and feta with a walnut vinaigrette. Desserts are a highlight, with a riff on the classic mazurek, a flat short-crust pastry that’s filled with raspberry jam, mascarpone, and rose petal preserves, then topped with slivered almonds; the traditional Polish cheesecake, made lighter with cottage or farmer cheese in lieu of cream cheese; and the Polish doughnuts known as paczi. Home cooks, whether vegetarian or not, will appreciate this creative take on what is traditionally meat-heavy fare. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 04/03/2020 | Details & Permalink

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