Cookbooks take you to Yukon, France, Italy and back

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      In the summer, when Vancouver’s daylight stretches past 9 p.m., it’s easy to imagine the pleasures of living even further north. Cookbook author Michele Genest transports us to the land of the midnight sun, and through food, we learn about life in the Yukon.

      Her recent book, The Boreal Gourmet (Harbour, $26.95), is subtitled Adventures in Northern Cooking for a reason. Genest grew up in Toronto but moved to Whitehorse for love in 1994. There, she plunged into an exploration of northern ingredients, such as wild elk and trout, fireweed honey and sage. She now forages for wild blueberries and shaggy mane mushrooms for risotto and picks spruce tips (the buds of spruce branches) for spruce tip shortbread, a “quintessential northern pantry item”.

      Anecdotes enliven the recipes, including the tale of her “first and only moose hunt”, during which she “was barely able to keep it together” as she watched the animal die. But that traumatic hunt yielded a year of gourmet experiments such as moose ribs braised in espresso stout and chocolate, and moose moussaka.

      This is a gorgeous cookbook, and much of its pleasure is in the reading. But it also offers recipes that are easy to duplicate in the urban kitchen. Simple Blueberry Jam; cornmeal, Cheddar, and sage muffins; and home-smoked salmon stand out, as does a tempting recipe for Stellar Smoked Salmon Lasagna. There’s also a chapter on sourdough, including a step-by-step “sourdough boot camp” that teaches you the proper care and feeding of a sourdough starter.

      Vancouver’s Barbara-jo McIntosh also transports readers to another land with her new book, Cooking for Me and Sometimes You: A Parisienne Romance With Recipes (French Apple Press, $29.95). This is a real book lover’s book, with its compact size, winsome grey-cloth binding, and charming drawings by local artist Bernie Lyon. Everything between the covers is intimate too. McIntosh gives a day-by-day account of the month she spent exploring the bistros and markets of Paris and the pleasures of cooking up her findings in her rented apartment.

      The book is surprisingly personal. McIntosh describes herself as “a single woman of a certain age” who has “chosen a single life” and is generally happy with that decision. Her tone makes the book compelling: not every woman would cook a dish like Pan-roasted Rib-Eye Steak with Roquefort and Red Pepper Butter just for herself. She pairs it with steamed green beans with toasted almonds and enjoys the meal alone—no apologies—at a candlelit table with a cloth napkin and a full glass of Bordeaux. This speaks to a pure joy found in food and cooking, and an admirable dose of self-respect. Recipes for one (and sometimes two) punctuate the entries, inspiring by example.

      For those who hope to one day be like McIntosh but aren’t there yet, there’s Gourmet Meals in Crappy Little Kitchens (HCI Books, $23.95). If you have a crappy little kitchen—which author Jennifer Schaertl affectionately nicknames CLK—you know the challenges. Terrible storage space. No counter space for the food processor that most cookbook writers assume you have. No dishwasher.

      No matter—Schaertl’s motto is “Just because you cook in a CLK does not justify a crappy meal!” Once Schaertl had made lobster for her friends in her tiny Brooklyn brownstone apartment with its hotel-minibar-sized fridge, there was no stopping her. She’s now a Dallas chef, and shares how to make the most of a CLK, from a list of essential supplies (digital meat thermometer) to nonessential ones (a roasting pan; she urges you to buy a disposable one for those rare roasting occasions). Recipes are basic, aimed at beginner cooks who appreciate being told that “hors d’oeuvre is the French word for appetizer.” They use everyday ingredients, but, as the title indicates, aim to impress. Examples include Get Freaky Tzatziki, My Big Fat Greek Salad, and Perfect Pot Roast. Depending on who’s coming to dinner, you might want to make Show-Your-Sensitive-Side Sautéed Vegetables or Make-You-Want-to-Marry-Me Mussels Marinara.

      For the more experienced cook eager to celebrate the sun, there’s Recipes From an Italian Summer (Phaidon, $45). This collection of over 400 never-before-published recipes is edited by the test-kitchen team behind The Silver Spoon, the English edition of a best-selling Italian cookbook. In customary Phaidon style, the hardcover book is easy to read and well laid out and features evocative photos of both food and the Italian countryside.

      Recipes are grouped by occasion: picnics, light lunches and suppers, summer entertaining, and so forth. Many are short and sweet, with few ingredients and minimal fuss: panzanella bread salad, grilled sardines with rosemary, stuffed zucchini flowers, melons in port with mint. This is food that makes you want to start living the dolce vita pronto.