We’ve all heard of books being adapted into Netflix series or blockbuster franchises, but what about cookbook authors who make the leap from page to screen? The media landscape for foodies is rich and varied. More and more, food writers are being asked to extend their skills to media production. I wanted to share some of the books and authors who have meant something to me in my life because of both the quality of their writing and their charismatic presence on my computer or television screen.
After the fallout at Bon Appetite magazine and YouTube channel regarding allegations of inequitable practices and unfair treatment of racialized staff, Claire Saffitz made the move to her own YouTube channel, penned Dessert Person. Her new cookbook of the same name arrived shortly after. Dessert Person videos are somehow both calming, leisurely strolls through a recipe and, at the same time, bely an immense need to achieve perfection at all costs. Saffitz is methodical, analytical, and measures every ingredient to several decimal points (I’m mostly kidding).
The great thing about her recipes is that she embodies something Julia Child would have loved, which is scientific workability, or the ability to reproduce anything she makes in your kitchen at home. She includes a lot of detail, specific descriptions of how things should look, and alternative methods if you don’t have the time or equipment to make it her way. Saffitz is in no hurry with her baking, which over the years I have found is a good mindset for baking. If you’re in a hurry for your dessert to be done, the dessert doesn’t care. It simply deflates, overcooks, undercooks, doesn’t combine properly, or the carrots in your carrot muffins turn green. Don’t get me started. Don’t be in a hurry. Let your ingredients and recipe set the pace for you. Your baking will turn out better for it.
Try her wonderful chocolate chip cookie recipe (page 133). It’s worth the extra faff to pre-form the cookies, chill them, and then bake them in the oven. I made them for our staff holiday party and received several compliments before the day was done. Scientific workability.
As was previously stated on this blog, taking good pictures of food is quite hard.
The Barefoot Contessa
When I was young and I had to stay home sick from school, I would always watch Barefoot Contessa on Food Network. Those were the good ol’ days of daytime food television where reruns of shows like Michael Smith’s Chef at Home and Rob Rainford’s License to Grill felt like invitations to come over and have a nice home-cooked meal with a friend. Ina Garten (as she’s more commonly referred to) feels like a close friend to me, in the tradition of parasocial relationships we all cultivate at some point (even more so since the pandemic began). I’ve been making her recipes since junior high, and they never disappoint. Never one to shy away from flavour in the form of fat, carbs, and sugar, Ina Garten dishes are special occasions in themselves, but also good for special occasions. Weekend meals, birthday dinners, Galentine’s Day suppers.
For instance, I made her Roasted Vegetable Lasagna from Make It Ahead when my sister came to visit, and it was delicious. This recipe also requires a little more time to pre-roast eggplant and zucchini and evaporate some of the moisture that would water down the finished product. My memories of it are very fond indeed. I’ve also made her Shrimp & Linguine Fra Diavolo, Penne Alla Vodka, and Broccoli and Kale Salad with Caesar Dressing from Modern Comfort Food. All triumphs. Every last one of them.
The Barefoot Contessa has written several excellent cookbooks over the years that have been added to our collection, so you can’t go wrong picking up any one of them.
The Great British Baking Show has been a revelation in my life. Seriously, my life could be divided into two periods: Before GBBO and After GBBO. Chetna Makan was a contestant on series five of the show who gained notoriety with audiences for her yummy-looking bakes that featured traditional Indian spices and flavours.
Fast forward to 2023 and Chetna has written several cookbooks and has her own YouTube channel called Food with Chetna. Her videos are fixtures in my life, and I’ve tried several of her recipes. As a pescatarian, I love Indian food because it often centres on non-animal protein like paneer or lentils. When I saw her video on Vegetarian Kofta Curry, I knew I had to try it. The combination of potato, paneer, red onion, and spices is saliva inducing, both in person and through the magic of YouTube.
Several of her recipes are also vegan or she makes a point of providing substitutions to make the dish vegan if you like. I’ve dabbled with vegan cooking, and I’ve found there are many delicious recipes out there worth trying. Check out this staff-curated list if, like me, you want more ideas for how to incorporate an entirely plant-based dish into your weekly routine.
I love Italian food, like many others in this world. It’s not hard to be won over by the attention to ingredients, patience for long cooking times, simplicity of approach, and awesome flavours. Several years ago, my aunt gave me Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, her twirling cursive waiting for me when I opened the cover.
pages I’ve tried
152 – Tomatoe sauce
154 – “
156 – “
My handwriting has joined hers, a line drawn between the two.
215 – Baked Green Lasagna with Bolognese Sauce (203) + Bechamel (39) (Made before I became a pescatarian)
160 – Eggplant Sauce with Tomato + Red chili pepper
And on and on.
Next to the first entry my auntie wrote I’ve drawn an arrow to the words, “REALLY GOOD” all in caps. This tomato sauce is the one I keep going back to, over and over. It is so simple, so tasty, and has butter in it, so you know it’s good.
As I write this, I made this sauce for dinner last night with gemelli pasta. I added a crispy fried egg and red pepper flakes to my version, but that’s just me. Hazan has appeared on the small screen as well, in the PBS series Mind of a Chef. Anthony Bourdain was an executive producer and narrator for the show. It’s a tranquil, relaxing episode focused on the well-known British chef April Bloomfield. Her friendship with Hazan is foregrounded, and they cook a couple of dishes together. Her deference to Hazan is lovely and her dish of gnudi with fried sage is improved by the older chef’s recommendations. What could be better than learning from a ninety-year-old cook with so much wisdom she can’t help but share it?
Mind of a Chef is available on the free streaming platform, Tubi. There’s no subscription or anything required, but you do have to put up with some ads from time to time.
Let me know in the comments what you think of these cookbooks, YouTube channels, and cooking shows. I’d love to hear from any foodies out there with recommendations for me. Until next time.