181 of 190 people found the following review helpful
I'm going to discuss what I don't like about the book first. I don't like the white space being taken up by introductions so that the recipes can no longer be put on one page, but even if it won't fit on on one page, how about facing pages? I have a lid in one hand, a spoon or spatula in the other, trying to add or flip or figure out what to do next, and now I have to turn pages also? That is such a pet peeve of mine in cookbooks that it is a rare cookbook I can overlook the inconvenience. Cookbooks are made to be used, so make them easy to use.
Okay, end rant. Let's get to the indifferent parts of the book. Most of the recipes can be found at the website. For me that isn't a deal breaker. I like having the cookbook in hand, I buy plenty of books from food network and their cooks/chefs, even though I can get the recipes online, so that is totally a personal choice, just thought it was worth a mention.
A lot of page space is taken up by introducing the recipe, again at the end of the recipe, talking about the cook and what the online community from the website thought of the recipe. I do feel it stretches 140 recipes into a 400 page book and, for me, that does impact my perceived value of the book.
Now, let's talk about what works. Amanda Hesser recently tackled the Essential New York cookbook, so I'm familiar with her. A book that she edits will be well edited and the recipes will work.
There are a wide variety of recipes, sorted by season (which, living in New Orleans, isn't all that helpful, I'd rather it be by category but that's really neither here nor there. The index isn't super easy to use but finding a recipe isn't difficult.
It's also not difficult to find recipes that are appealing and not hard to make. This is good food and I can see why the recipes included were the winners. The two or three pages recipes require are not because the recipes are complicated or labor/ingredient intensive, it's just the layout. The recipes themselves are ones that are destined to become family favorites, the ingredients easy to find.
The pictures are lovely, you can see the end result, mouthwatering pictures can help me choose a recipe, so that is a selling point for me. There are also a lot of tips and techniques sprinkled throughout the book, mostly at the end of the recipe.
95 of 102 people found the following review helpful
I love reading through new cookbooks, earmarking new recipes to try. These are recipes submitted by home cooks, and I was eager to find a new set of delicious but hopefully relatively simple things to try. This cookbook is beautiful, well written, and beautifully photographed--but is not for the unadventurous. Overly fussy titles like "Saffron Semifredo with Cherry Cardamom Syrup and Salted Honey Hazlenuts" left me puzzled and scared. Mostly, because I'm not sure I want anything with saffron, cherries, cardamom, and salted hazlenuts, but also because I can't envision a time when I'm going to want to put that recipe together. Many of the other recipes, to be fair, do seem more sensible, but overall this cookbook feels like it is grasping to be more a fine dining cookbook and less a home chef oriented cookbook, but it lacks the technique to be a truly adventurous fine dining experience, while requiring too much technique for those who are not pretty advanced at home. While home chefs may have come up with these recipes, I'm not going to be able to pull most of these off after work.
The book itself is great fun to peruse, however. As I said before, the photos are beautiful, the tips are interesting, and the recipes themselves look quite follow-able, assuming I have access to some of the harder to find ingredients and a fair amount of time to invest. Another complaint for me was how the recipes were put together. I know that this book was organized based on a web community and sort of contest mentality, and so seems to have been aimed towards folks who have some familiarity with that web site and contest. I have no such familiarity, and I found the organization of the book frankly baffling. Recipes are thrown together with little regard to how they might be used by the average home chef who is looking for a particular topic. This led to a sort of refreshing sense of discovery as I turned the pages--what will come next? Wow, why did they put that there? Oooh, what a cool idea to serve these things perhaps together...and I get that. But when I think about trying to use the book over the long haul, I'm a little concerned that it's going to be hard to flip through and find something that I need.
Ultimately, there are some recipes I'm going to try. But I don't think that this book will be a go-to cookbook for me. Rather, it will be something to be taken out and enjoyed occasionally.
59 of 63 people found the following review helpful
What a beautiful cookbook! Full of wonderful photos, beautifully designed with black print on white pages (this is not a small matter in a cookbook). The book is large enough to lay open, flat, while cooking, another thing that is very important if a cookbook is to be used by real cooks.
Each recipe is a little love note from its creator, who "won" a weekly contest for best recipes, managed by the two cookbook authors. It's a great concept for getting really good recipes.
However, it is organized by season, not by types of food. That makes for cozy bedtime reading (I promise!) but is not a design decision that turns a cookbook into a "go to" cookbook in the home cook's kitchen. Also, its index is not as complete as an everyday cookbook meant to be "cooked from" should be. For instance, there is no "Cookies" listing in the alphabetical index of some 15 pages. Each cookie is listed only by its name, ie, "Sugar cookies, chewy" is the listing, under the S section. The authors knew to list "Strawberries," with the subsequent alphabetical list of recipes containing strawberries, and "Ciabatta," etc., but no cookies. I didn't look for other examples. In fact, I turned to another, more conventionally organized cookbook (Betty Crocker) to find some cookie recipe suggestions when I felt like baking last week.
I would also like to say these recipes do lean more towards "gourmet" and unusual. You'll find calls for flaky sea salt, "fregola," which the book says is a "Sardinian pasta resembling couscous" (then why not use couscous?), and other delicious, fun, interesting ingredients. This is not a book for 30-minute recipes to feed the kids between soccer practice and homework. These are recipes to enjoy and savor, so ...this cookbook won't ever be the one you grab for nightly dinnertime solutions.
Recommendation: Definitely, for food lovers everywhere, however, not a "go to" cookbook for nightly dinner solutions.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Wow. I suppose it is somewhat bad for to write a review with reference to other reviews, but it's hard not to notice how much perceptions of what is frou-frou or pretentious or what have you figures into the assessment of...okay, cookbooks in general. As someone lucky enough to have grown up with a lot of cultural and culinary diversity, I'd argue that it's an oddly American thing to not be all that interested in where your food comes from, to not necessarily be all that into "fancy" cooking unless as a kind of luxury hobby, and to be turned off or offended by exotic meats (cheeks, brains, liver, etc.) or rely on a relatively limited set of produce staples.
That said, yeah, I can see a little pretentiousness in the Food52 Cookbook - I just don't know how much of it is a *fair* perception and how much of it is about prejudice and preconceptions I bring to the subject.
And the subject, simply, is obsession. Obsession with making the perfect example of some kind of recipe is what fuels the recipe contests that are continually running on the Food52 website, for which this cookbook is named. I'd seen the website before, several times, and although I frequently visit the FoodTV and Epicurious sites for recipes and inspiration, I have to admit I was underwhelmed by Food52. For one thing, it reminded me of the current yuppie fad of taking pictures of one's meal at home or even a restaurant (!) and posting it to Facebook or wherever. I note that the Food 52 site has readers rating both the recipes (with stars) and the pics (with thumbs up or down) - to me, that seems to border on fetishism. (Not that I see any inconsistency (COUGHCOUGH) between this view and my general enthusiasm over a different sort of "fetishism" evidenced on knitting websites - so okay. Maybe I'm just being overly puritanical about food, here.)
In any case, I never really "took" to the Food52 site, which - in retrospect - is too bad. Thousands of cooks submitting their best recipes and rating each other is a brutal, darwinistic battle that results in some...really, really good winning recipes. There, I said it. And critics are right, "fregola sarda with caramelized squash and charmoula" sounds like something you'd want to run away from, screaming, after a long hard day, but I suppose that "winter squash with couscous and herbs" sounds a little prosaic if you've been trying to perfect the recipe (and then get the right picture taking exposure) for a week!
I've been very happily trying out the recipes from this book. Pretty much the highest praise I can give for a cookbook is that you want to try these specific recipes in this specific book, as opposed to just being inspired to find something similar, and by that criteria, I have to give a high rating to Food52.
Some very basic salads like Argula, Pear and Goat Cheese or Chopped Beef Salad are great precisely because they are pretty darned simple, and they make a pretty persuasive argument for organizing the cookbook by seasons. Right now, pear and pomegranates are on sale and at their peak at my market. You can work hard on a fussy recipe or work magic with a few really good ingredients that taste almost as wonderful individually as they do together.
I notice that this cookbook has a penchant for repeating some ingredients more often than you'd expect, strictly speaking. (Groupthink? Terminal trendiness?) Crème Fraiche is in innumerable recipes, and yet there is no basic recipe for that ingredient, which is made simply by mixing cream with a bit of yogurt or buttermilk, then leaving it out at room temperature to culture for 24 hours. Or, you can buy it in a more well-stocked market. (One different from my current hometown grocery, where the most exotic item in the store is pre-packed sushi.)
So yes, if convenience makes for fun, it's someone in a diverse and larger urban community who'll have the most fun with this cookbook. I'd say seek it out anyway, or find the Food52 website, because you're probably in a rut. After making a half dozen recipes from this book, with mixed success (I'm no baker, and really went after some of the desserts), I can certainly say that I was in a rut. And maybe that's what an old-fashioned honest-to-goodness-PAPER-cookbook is for, with all due respect to Food 52 *online* and the other wonderful online recipe sources out there. With a physical cookbook, you sit down and look at what has been winnowed down for you, from endless possibilities, and NOT according to your personal search criteria or perspective. On my own, I never would have tried Ciabatta Stuffing with Chorizo, Sweet Potato, and Mushrooms, and now my family has been nagging me for an encore, all week.
A grudging tip of the hat to the uber-trendy phenom of "crowd sourcing". This term references the the fact that this cookbook is the effective product of multi-contributor blog postings. In fact I believe that Food 52 is claiming to be the first cookbook to do so, which to my mind doesn't hold water because food company recipe competitions and other "101 recipe" type cookbooks have been soliciting online for some time now. Notwithstanding, Food52 is a book (and a site) that enhances reader contributions while always respecting and recognizing those efforts. It is indeed the real deal.
34 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on November 23, 2011
I apologize for giving my impressions of a cookbook I've only had for a month. I've been a home cook long enough to know that the worth of a cookbook can only truly be measured when - and if - it remains in one's kitchen library for YEARS. This cookbook may yet nudge me beyond the 2 stars that I'm giving it. If this happens, I will come back and update my review.
Positive first impressions: This cookbook is beautifully illustrated with clear and thorough recipe instructions. The comments, tips, and community opinions included with each of the recipes are interesting and helpful in suggesting practical variations. I enjoyed "reading" the cookbook. There are numerous recipes I am going to try, but...
Negative first impressions: I cannot foresee these recipes ever becoming "family favorites" for my suburban family. I am almost certainly not the target audience of the authors. How likely am I to make a Moroccan Carrot Salad with Harissa or Tuscan Chicken Liver Pate? I trust that these dishes are delicious; however, would I waste kitchen shelf space on the chance that I might one day have an urge to make a Mediterranean Octopus Salad? Doubtful. It saddens the old-fashioned girl in me to say it, but cookbooks are becoming increasingly obsolete; these days the Internet offers immediate access to a virtually unlimited amount of fanciful, unique recipes. The cookbooks that manage to remain in my kitchen now are the ones that I return to again and again, the ones that bail me out on harried days when I'm not up to Internet searches and have to create with items I have on hand. This is definitely not one of those cookbooks. Wild Ramp Pesto? What the heck is a wild ramp? From the photograph I'm guessing it's a bulb-type plant that Ina Garten probably grows in her garden (although in truth I've never even heard HER mention a wild ramp). My point is that this cookbook is full of such unique recipes - lovely to read and probably fun to try, but recipes you'll return to often enough to justify purchasing this book? Probably not.
* Nov 2012 update * - One year later and I'm sorry to report that this cookbook indeed did not last even 2 months in my kitchen. The first time I needed more shelf space, this book was off to the second-hand store. There simply wasn't anything in this book to miss.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Food52 is a food blog, but now is a cookbook, filled with recipes from different cooks. And I was so pleasantly surprised by this book. Almost all the recipes turned out fantastic, although there were a few duds. It is a higher end, tougher cookbook; but I think that it would appeal to a wide range of people.
To date (4/1/2012) I have made 22 of the 140 recipes within this cookbook.
This book is separated into seasons. Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring, based on the ingredients available during the season and the general theme of food. As said before, a good portion of these ingredients are higher end. So this isn't a budget cookbook, nor is it a quick fix cookbook.
At the front of the book is actually a bonus chapter, known as the test run that has three recipes. I haven't tried either, but they seem simple enough, although the one calls for an obscene amount of butter. They include a salad, pasta dish, and a dessert.
The first recipe in this section is the Summer Corn Chowder. This is one of the ones I've made and it was extremely good. The removal of the corn from the cob took a little time, but otherwise it wasn't a complicated dish to make. It just took a little time. The Blueberry-Coconut Muffins were also extremely good, with healthful ingredients, and were a quick mix to stir up. They'd probably be good with another kind of berry as well. Daddy's Carbonara was interesting, because of the use of eggs. But it tasted good and it didn't require a lot of prep work. I do think it could have used a touch more seasoning. A snack of Rosemary Thyme Pita chips was simple to make, although I found peeling apart the pita layers much more difficult than the book would leave me to believe. But they tasted much better than any pita chip you could find in a bag at a store. For cookies, the Zucchini-Lemon Cookies were very healthy tasting and almost made you feel like you were getting away with something even though you were having a cookie. Another dessert, the Simple Summer Peach Cake, was enjoyed by my coworkers, but it was kind of dry and crumbly. For another Zucchini Dish, the Zucchini Pancakes did not turn out well at all. I had an inkling at the beginning that they wouldn't hold together based on the ingredients and I was right. The taste was a little bland too. The Eggplant Parmesan was another one of those failed recipes for me. It was complicated to make and definitely not worth the time it took. It wasn't very flavorful.
There were plenty of other recipes from ribs, to fried chicken, to other things, and I definitely plan on trying some more of these dishes. They fit the Summer theme well and I imagine the vast majority of them are tasty.
I absolutely loved the Savory Bread Pudding. It was easy to make and with the mushrooms and gruyere cheese, it was definitely savory. I really enjoyed it. Continuing with the mushroom theme, the Creamy Mushroom Soup was delicious as well, although it was quite time consuming to make. A great snack was the Smoky Fried Chickpeas. They didn't last very long because they were so good though. I didn't really enjoy the Chicken with Creamy Dijon Mustard Sauce. It sounded so delicious but was quite plain and took a long time to make. It should be forewarned that the Double Chocolate Espresso Cookies will keep you up all night if you eat too many of them. I speak from experience. I do have to say, as delicious as they were they would have been great with some dried cherries added in. The Southwestern Spiced Sweet Potato Fries with Chili-Cilantro Sour Cream turned out some fantastic fries, but the sour cream dip was not very good. I ended up using ranch dressing instead.
There's once again some great recipes I haven't yet got to try in this chapter. I look forward to some of the heavier meat dishes, like the Rib-Eye with a chocolate sauce. It just sounds intriguing.
Lentil and Sausage Soup for a Cold Winter's Night was exactly that. Perfect for a colder day. It was heartier healthier fare. It did take awhile to make though. Moving on to the Roasted Bagna Cauda Broccoli, I just wasn't impressed. The flavors, despite having somewhat bold ingredients, weren't very strong. The Creamy Sausage Stuff Mushrooms were easy to make and had a fantastic flavor. I liked the use of Asiago cheese in the filling.
I have to admit, there just weren't as many recipes that intrigued me in this chapter. There were a couple of seafood recipes that would probably be good. But I didn't really see the heartier fare that I expected. There also weren't as many desserts in this chapter either, as compared to the others.
The Chewy Sugar Cookies were not very flavorful, but they were easy to make. A great spring ingredient is asparagus, and the Absurdly Addictive Asparagus is extremely good. I loved the pancetta that was mixed in with it. It was even easy to make. Pasta with Prosciutto, Snap Peas, Mint and Cream was also another wonderful dish. And again, east to make and a quick fix. The Maple Yogurt Pound Cake has been voted the best baked good I have brought into work thus far. It was just moist enough, and had great flavor. My mom is the connoisseur of Creamy Cucumber dishes, and the Creamy Cucumber Side is one of the best she's ever had.
I haven't tried too many recipes from this section yet, but I'm eager to. Since we're just getting into spring I look forward to trying more of these. Especially the Caramelized Pork Bahn Mi, it just looks delicious.
So overall everything in this book was very good. Its rare to find a cookbook that has every recipe turn out perfect or be tasty, so the few that aren't are acceptable. I do think that the expensive or odd ingredients might make it difficult to make some of the recipes, or turn more strictly down-home type of cooks off. Because some of them can be hard to obtain, and my family didn't even know what a good portion of them were (porchetta, Sriracha, etc.). So this book is definitely more of an adventurous culinary trip.
The layout of the book is nice. Despite having a hard back cover, it sets open easily enough. The recipes are easy to read with a large enough font, and almost every recipe has a picture. Some even have some preparation pictures the ones that are taken are quite beautiful and make the food look delicious. I do have to complain though about the way the recipes are sorted. Since its by seasons I didn't expect desserts, main dishes, etc. to be in separate chapters. But I at least expected them to be organized within the chapters themselves. This book had a week type structure, but I think it would have been better served to have everything separated by type of food within the chapters. I didn't enjoy flipping one page from a main dish, to the next to a dessert, to a side dish, back to a main dish, another dessert, etc. It just makes it harder to find things as I'm not one for really looking at the appendices or table of contents.
I do like this book, and its definitely deserving of a permanent position on my cookbook shelf. I plan to refer back to it again, especially for some of the recipes I have already tried, like the chickpeas and a few others. They seem to be good standbys with great flavor.
Review by M. Reynard 2012
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on December 7, 2011
The food looks delicious, but a first recipe yielded disaster. The crispy polenta with caramelized onions and goat cheese called for a surprise 2 cups of water, plus the 2 cups of milk mentioned in the ingredient list. The result - liquid gruel. Clearly the 2 cups of water not listed in the ingredient list was a typo no one caught. Very frustrating with hungry kids waiting at the table. Who was supposed to vet the recipes? Tread carefully...
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
I rather like the premise of The Food52 Cookbook. The Food52 website is an online community that holds contests: Submit "your best chili" or "your best citrus recipe." Members try the recipes, and vote for their favorites. This cookbook is the best-of-the-best, which certainly led me to think that I'd get 140 no-fail recipes. And so it does... with two caveats.
First: A cookbook's appeal is based on trust. When you cook a recipe, you are betting your dinner's success (and your family's happiness) on the book's instructions. With each success, you become more comfortable at putting yourself in the hands of the cookbook author. I know, for instance, that Nigella Lawson rarely steers me wrong, and that Rick Bayless' recipes are easy to follow. So The Food52 Cookbook is a little odd, in that it has something like 100 contributors. If I like one recipe, it doesn't tell me all that much about the trustworthiness of the rest.
The other thing is both a strength and a weakness: This book doesn't pigeonhole easily. It has everything from soup (roasted cauliflower soup with chimichurri and poblano creme fraiche) to nuts (ancho chile-cinnamon chocolate bark). Just about every "ethnic" is represented, and the recipes range from "easy to throw together" to "a big honkin' effort but assuredly worth it." (My categories, not theirs.) If you want a cookbook with some-of-everything, that's certainly an advantage. For me, though... I suspect that next Thanksgiving I will remember that I had looked at a great-sounding recipe for a roasted cauliflower soup, but I will have no idea where it was. Perhaps that is merely my own problem, since I grab from my extensive cookbook library based on categories ("Let's make something German" or "What do we have that'll fit into this too-busy week?").
It's organized by season (spring, summer...) rather than food category (soup, appetizers). That is fine except that the index rather stinks; i.e. no "soup" listing in the index, so good luck finding all the options. There's lots of very-nice photos, though those rarely make a big difference for me in choosing a cookbook.
Enough whining, though, because I gave this cookbook four stars for a reason: It's chock-full of good-sounding stuff. I typically mark "recipes I intend to cook" with Post-it Arrow Flags (and when I am feeling especially organize I color-code the recipes I'm making right now) and this book is fluttering with blue flags. The "leek, lemon, and feta quiche" was a delicious midweek meal (sped along in part by using frozen puff pastry; I never seem to be willing to make tart dough on a weeknight). Solid, easy-to-understand instructions; good commentary from the website community; a nice-to-know background about the recipe author.
Other items that call to me: roasted duck breast with sour cherries; chicken with creamy Dijon mustard sauce; pear, brandy, and walnut cranberry sauce; shrimp biryani.
In short: This is a good cookbook, but I'm not sure exactly who will say "This is SO perfect!" I hope I've given you enough information that you can recognize if that target reader is *you*.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
"The Food52 Cookbook" is a community cookbook, just as surely as the kind of spiral bound book put out by the ladies fire auxiliary or the PTA. However, in this case the community is not a local but a virtual one. It comprises people who uploaded their prized recipes to a year's worth of weekly contests (hence the "52") sponsored by the Food52 website, whose principals are Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs. While the subtitle of the book refers to "140 Winning recipes by Exceptional Home Cooks," these home cooks are pretty much not your Aunt Minnie. The community includes not just fine home cooks, but also a fair number of people with a professional or semi-professional interest in food--food bloggers, folks with culinary school training or restaurant experience.
With its many glossy photographs, "The Food52 Cookbook" hardly resembles its paperbound, simply produced community cousins. However, it is more like them than not, primarily because of the uneven quality of its recipes. The authors, who tested all of the recipes and whose testing activities appear in numerous photographs, have arranged them seasonally. The best recipes are the simplest ones: a fine chocolate bundt cake, a tasty corn chowder, a meat loaf with an interesting sauce, a nice minestrone, to name some. Others are far more complex, with long prep times (1/2 cup of thyme leaves stripped from the stems!) and titles that read like those on restaurant menus: "Grilled Bread with Thyme Pesto and Lemon Cream," for example, or "Saffron Semifreddo with Cherry-Cardamom Syrup and Salted Honey Hazelnuts." An ingredient like crème fraiche gets its very own index entry and more than one recipe looks appealing until you read down to "preserved lemons" and realize that you have none and neither does the Safeway. (Oddly, an index entry for plain old "soup" does not appear in my copy, although there are several soups in the book.)
As with most community cookbooks, the people who will most enjoy this book are likely to be its contributors and those who love them. All of the recipes are still readily available on the once quirky now exceedingly glossy Food52 website. Interestingly, the website has a section of non-community "genius" recipes---that is recipes from well-regarded cookbook authors that are notable for both their simplicity and their deliciousness. One wishes that there were more of these in "The Food52 Cookbook," some of whose recipes are keepers and others of which are likely to go the way of Aunt Minnie's Three Layer Company Jell-O Salad, which got its share of "oohs" and "ahs" back in the day.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
There are two kinds of cookbooks these days - the ones you use to look up a recipe, when you found a bunch of frisee at the farmer's market, or top round was on sale, and the kind you browse through at your leisure, looking at the pretty pictures and saying "Hmm. I should try this." This book is firmly in the second camp.
The work is a compendium of best recipes from Food52.com, an online community for "home cooks." The recipes are mostly of the "something special for dinner" type - not too many outrageous ingredients, and no extensive prep or odd equipment, but a little extra umph in the results.
The book itself reminds me of a community cookbook, sorta like those church and ladies auxiliary collections that used to be popular in the 50s. (I kept expecting it to be spiral bound). This is only enhanced by the "what the community said" comments at the end of some recipes, and the "about the cook" notes. Those, plus lots of pictures, stretch 140 recipes into more than 400 pages.
Because the book is arranged by week (each week's "best" recipe winners), it doesn't have any organization by type - appetizers are mixed in with vegetables and mains and stews and even occasional drink recipes (alcoholic and non). And because the recipes come from different cooks, amounts vary widely, anything from "serves 2 to 4" to more than a half-gallon of spiced cider. The index helps somewhat, and the aggregators/editors have added cooking and serving tips, and a list of possible menus at the back, but this still has a somewhat chaotic social media feel to it. (NTTAWWT)
This isn't a book for professional cooks, who just want to look at ingredients lists and cooking times. Nor is it a book for the utter novice - despite the tips, there isn't really a lot of hand-holding here. But it would be a nice gift for a mid-range foodie, the kind who cooks by inspiration and substitution, and nevertheless comes up with things that are delicious.