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Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018 12:01 am

Two new cookbooks to give and get this holiday season

Cookbooks are some of the best gifts to give your food-minded friends and relatives for the holidays. Among this year’s new releases are two wildly different books that share a surprisingly common theme.

Joe Beef: Surviving the Apocalypse: Another Cookbook of Sorts
by David McMillan, Frederic Morin and Meredith Erickson (Alfred A. Knopf, $45).

Montreal’s restaurant Joe Beef is a study of contrasts. It is considered the second best restaurant in Canada and made it to 81 on the S. Pellegrino list of the “World’s Best Restaurants” a few years ago, though its co-owner/chef David McMillan stated, “We have worked all our lives to not be on this list.”

Joe Beef, named after the gruff but philanthropic tavern owner who oversaw the restaurant’s working class neighborhood in the 1800s, looks more like a woodshed than a fine dining establishment. It is small. Its decor is flea-market eclectic. The chalkboard menu is written in French, changes daily and always includes a horse dish. You’re encouraged to let the server order for you after polling your food preferences (useful if you don’t speak French). It’s where Barack Obama and Justin Trudeau like to dine when they get together. When Momofuku’s David Chang first visited Montreal, he ended up eating dinner there every night of his trip. It was one of Anthony Bourdain’s favorite restaurants; he filmed two episodes of “Parts Unknown” in Canada with Joe Beef’s owner/chefs, including an episode in Newfoundland the November before his suicide.

Joe Beef: Surviving the Apocalypse was conceived in 2014 and started out as tongue-in-cheek but became very relevant in light of the political and climate changes of the last four years. Rather than a survivalist’s “doomsday, boys-like-guns apocalypse vibe,” it is a guide for doing things for yourself: putting down your cell phone and spending more time with real people, turning off the TV, canning your own food, smoking your own sausage, cooking a warming stew, spending time with family … focusing on what’s truly important and living each day as though it were your last. “We set out to write a book about shutting out the noise, because that was the problem in our lives.”

Surviving the Apocalypse is fun. It is unpretentious – actually it is anti-pretentious. Subtitled “a cookbook of sorts,” in addition to its 150 odd recipes, it shows you how to make your own cough drops, Worcestershire sauce and even soap. What McMillan wants people to take away from this book is to “f**k around, get back into the kitchen and enjoy cooking. Spend more time cooking with family, go camping … preserve, can, grow things, go pick apples … take a look at what’s around you, get more in touch with the old ways of cooking, have more candlelight dinners, be more romantic …”

Ottolenghi Simple by Yotam Ottolenghi (Ten Speed Press, $35).

Yotam Ottolenghi is a celebrated London-based chef known for popularizing vegetable-centered, Middle Eastern-influenced cuisine. His flavors are vibrant. His dishes are brilliantly colorful. But his recipes have tended to be a bit unapproachable for the home cook with a typical pantry. Ottolenghi Simple is his attempt to make his approach to cooking more accessible. Its 140 recipes are full of all the delicious flavors and brilliant combinations that characterized his previous cookbooks but with quicker and easier instructions.

According to its author, the concept for this book arose a few years ago when the editors at The Guardian, for whom Ottolenghi writes a weekly column, asked him to do a series of simplified recipes. He realized that “simple” means different things to different home cooks. For some “simple” refers to uncomplicated technique. For others it means cooking with easily accessible ingredients. For working folks who get home at 6 and need to feed their family by 7:30, it’s about fast preparations.

Ottolenghi’s recipes are loaded with flavor and rely heavily on vegetables, herbs, spices and sauces. Consider his unlikely combination of hot, charred cherry tomatoes with cold yogurt: cherry tomatoes charred under the broiler with spices and herbs, then plated atop a mound of fridge-cold thick yogurt. Simple? Absolutely. Accessible ingredients? Totally. Quick? Under 30 minutes.

Like the authors of Joe Beef: Surviving the Apocalypse, Ottolenghi’s mission is to encourage its readers to reclaim control of what goes in their mouths and offer a viable antidote to commercially processed food-like substances.

The Apocalypse is a metaphor for many things. It is the future we are afraid of. It’s what makes us seek protection from “zombie” attacks. Despite efforts to make America great again, our life expectancy is decreasing. Chronic disease and death from opiates is on the rise. Our children are developing diabetes and fatty liver disease. No wall can protect us from these threats. Staying inside, watching TV and eating pizza won’t protect us. New drugs won’t cure us. Surviving the Apocalypse means doing things for ourselves. Finding deliciousness and nutritiousness in “simple” cooking.

HOT, CHARRED CHERRY
TOMATOES WITH COLD
YOGURT

From Ottolenghi Simple
Serves four as an appetizer
¾ pound cherry tomatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
¾ teaspoons cumin seeds
½ teaspoon light brown sugar
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced
3 sprigs thyme
6 sprigs fresh oregano, 3 sprigs left whole, the rest picked and roughly chopped, to serve
1 lemon – zest of one half shaved off in 3 wide strips, the other half grated
Sea salt and black pepper
¾ pound fridge-cold, extra thick Greek-style yogurt
1 teaspoon chili flakes

Preheat the oven to 425 F.

Place the tomatoes in a mixing bowl with the olive oil, cumin, sugar, garlic, thyme, oregano sprigs, lemon strips, ½ teaspoon of flaked salt and a good grind of pepper. Mix to combine, and then transfer to a baking sheet just large enough – about 6 x 8 inches – to fit all the tomatoes together snugly. Place the sheet about 2 inches beneath the broiler and roast for 20 minutes, until the tomatoes are beginning to blister and the liquid is bubbling. Turn the oven to the broil setting and broil for 6 to 8 minutes, until the tomatoes start to blacken on top.

While the tomatoes are roasting, combine the yogurt with the grated lemon zest and ¼ tsp of flaked salt. Keep in the fridge until ready to serve.

Once the tomatoes are ready, spread the chilled yogurt on a platter with a lip or in a wide, shallow bowl, creating a dip in it with the back of a spoon. Spoon the hot tomatoes on top, along with their juices, lemon strips, garlic and herbs, and finish with the oregano leaves and chili flakes. Serve at once.

"Hot, charred cherry tomatoes with cold yogurt" from OTTOLENGHI SIMPLE: A COOKBOOK by Yotam Ottolenghi, copyright © by Yotam Ottolenghi. Used by permission of Ten Speed Press, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

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