When it comes to handing over a cookbook as a gift, our most diverse food-obsessed friends tend to be the most challenging recipients -- particularly when you're trying to find the perfect book for that homegrown (as in backyard) roast turkey-obsessed friend or the couple with the bottomless Friday night pocketbook who knows more about high-end restaurant menus than anyone probably should.
A stretch? Maybe. Or perhaps simply the theory of culinary relativity at work. On kitchen time.
The Small-Scale Poultry Flock by Harvey Ussery
This isn't exactly a cookbook, although there are handy poultry carving and storing tips as well as a handful of recipes for liver pâté and such. The subtitle, An All-Natural Approach to Raising Chickens and Other Fowl for Home and Market Growers says it all, meaning expect a modern Recipe for Raising Chickens, which would, incidentally, make for a spectacular then-versus-now gift combo.
Here, poultry farmer Harvey Ussery offers up everything backyard chicken, geese and advocates need to know, from harvesting your own backyard worms for feeding to dealing with aggressive cocks. And yes, how to slaughter and gut that chicken -- complete with dozens of photographs for various chopping block, killing cone and manual versus automatic plucking machine methods ("Popping out the lungs can be a bit tricky" -- now you know).
If you know someone who wants to get into the backyard poultry business, this is one of the most comprehensive books written in an easily digestible format (as opposed to professional farmer lingo) that we've seen.
Off the Menu by Marissa Guggiana
Marissa Guggiana, co-founder of The Butcher's Guild and author of Primal Cuts, may be best known for her encyclopedic meat knowledge, but here she gets into the restaurant staff meal side of the equation (Primal Cuts profiled butchers and chefs around the country). And yet in what now seems can feel like an old-news topic, Guggiana manages to make a cookbook about staff meals at celebrated restaurants interesting again.
In this cookbook, some restaurants offer full menus, others a single dish (with wine pairings throughout). The occasional chef interviews are woven between the recipes -- albeit with that same My Last Supper: The Next Course somewhat staid angle (the questions are essentially the same for each chef).
But what's great here for the cookbook obsessed is that the restaurants and their menus are a truly diverse mix, from old school French-inspired New Orleans classics like Galatoire's (Yakamein, or "old sober" soup, a roast chuck and spaghetti-laced classic NOLA hangover cure) to trendy modern French bistros like Comme Ça in West Hollywood (buttermilk fried chicken, mashed potatoes, brownies).
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Hatfield's is also on the local list, with a gargantuan menu of pork meatballs, salsa cruda, endive-almond-apple-manchego salad, rosemary-goat cheese gratin and apple-huckleberry cobbler. But like The Small-Scale Poultry Flock, it's the simplest workhorse tips and menus (chicken and biscuits casserole and cheddar ale soup from Zingerman's Roadhouse, Ann Arbor) that give this book everyday home cook appeal. In other words, before those paying customers arrive, staff meals aren't all that different from the homegrown, home-cooked urban farming suppers we all, ultimately, crave.
[More from Jenn Garbee @eathistory + eathistory.com