Cookbooks by Andrea Carlson and Questlove make for good eats and good reads

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      Graphic novels, crime dramas, nonfiction, or art books: what’s on your bedside table?

      For food lovers, the answer might be cookbooks. A fantastic cookbook doesn’t necessarily have to be a good read; take Jamie Oliver’s 5 Ingredients: Quick & Easy Food, for instance.

      But sometimes a cookbook offers the best of both worlds: recipes you can’t wait to try as well as colourful, compelling stories.

      Here are two new releases that are as fun to use in the kitchen as they are perfect to curl up with under a blanket.

      Burdock & Co: Poetic Recipes Inspired By Ocean, Land & Air

      By Andrea Carlson with Clea McDougall. Penguin Random House

      The most anticipated local cookbook of the year, Andrea Carlson’s Burdock & Co. features recipes that have appeared on the menu at the chef’s cozily delightful Mount Pleasant restaurant at some point since its 2013 opening. Fiercely original, Carlson is a culinary mad scientist, incorporating all sorts of unusual and wild foods in her cooking: think spruce bud, cattail (with its cucumber flavour), epazote (a herb with “base notes of cilantro and petrol”), miner’s lettuce (a leafy ground cover), and staghorn sumac (citrusy and bright).

      Through Carlson’s memories, descriptions of techniques she favours (like fermentation and pickling), and profiles of foragers and farmers, we get a glimpse into the daily workings at her restaurant. (She also runs Harvest Community Foods in Chinatown.) She doesn’t test and retest recipes but explains how she is very in the moment, with some botanicals being in peak season for only a day or two or fresh for mere hours after picking. We also learn about her evolution as a chef, from her days at Sooke Harbour House to Savary Island (where she and her life/business partner, Kevin Bismanis, ran a bakery) to Raincity Grill and beyond.

      Adventurous home chefs will be able to re-create dishes like blood cake with green fennel seed and fried duck egg; black trumpet mushroom risotto with sour bran bubble (which gives the starch an effervescent acidity); and burnt leek terrine with hazelnut romesco and heirloom tomatoes. There’s whimsy, too. Take Carlson’s sour cherry, rose honey, and caramel ice-cream sandwich, and “Presto Pesto (for the Unicorn)”, a simple pasta dish with asparagus, toasted almonds, and garlic that she whipped up for guest Gary the Unicorn of CBC Kids. Burdock & Co. devotees will also be thrilled to get their hands on the recipe for its famous buttermilk fried chicken and pickles with dill-pickle powder, potato, and dill-pickle mayo.

      Mixtape Potluck

      By Questlove. Abrams Books

      If Questlove were to have a dinner party, who would he invite and what would be on his playlist? The co-frontman of legendary hip-hop band the Roots (and the Tonight Show Band) answers those questions in his latest cookbook.

      The silver hardcover book is a guide to the most awesome party the artist born Ahmir Khalib Thompson could ever throw. Who wouldn’t want to nosh alongside the likes of Fred Armisen, Padma Lakshmi, Lilly Singh, Zooey Deschanel, Natalie Portman, Jimmy Fallon, Stanley Tucci, Q-Tip, and many others among the coolest of the cool? There are plenty of revered chefs on his guest list too; Questlove is accustomed to having his own personal chef and being able to hire the world’s best for private dinner parties and events.

      Notching up the amazingness at this imagined bash is every one of those guests contributing a dish and Questlove selecting a track to accompany it. Here’s an example: Mashama Bailey runs a restaurant in Georgia called the Grey and earlier this year won a James Beard Foundation medal for best chef, Southeast. She chose Country Captain Chicken for the potluck: a savoury, sweet, and spicy comfort dish that calls for two whole chickens and a full head of garlic. Questlove taps her birthplace for musical inspiration; being from the Bronx means that “it was nearly impossible for her to avoid early hip-hop,” he writes. “The actual story of hip-hop’s birth is twisty and complex, but most people accept the Bronx as the borough of its birth: first through the turntable parties of DJ Kool Herc, then through various other innovators, few as innovative as Afrika Bambaataa. I didn’t want to pick ‘Planet Rock’, not because it’s not great, but because it’s almost too iconic at this point. For Mashama, a better match was ‘Renegades of Funk’, equally great and full of rebellious attitude and a respect for history.”

      You get a musical-history lesson in every bite, with the recipes ranging from Martha Stewart’s grape focaccia (set to Snoop Dogg’s “Life of da Party”) to ginger beer by Thelma Golden, director and chief curator of Harlem’s Studio Museum (cue Solange’s “Fuck the Industry”, for its “principled statement of creative identity”).

      Click here for more Georgia Straight coverage of fall 2019 cookbook releases.