Video gaming is one of the most rapidly growing and ever evolving hobbies of the 21st century. The gaming industry grosses more money each year than the movie and music industries combined. With figures like this, it’s no surprise that a gaming counterculture has arisen, eager to create and share games that shun traditional styles in favor of a more indie appeal. In The State of Play: Creators and Critics on Video Game Culture, notable game designers, players and critics sound off their opinions on the current trends and directions of both the AAA and indie game movements.
One of the topics most frequently discussed in The State of Play is the concept of player identity. Evan Narcisse’s “The Natural,” Hussein Ibrahim’s “What It Feels Like to Play the Bad Guy,” and Anita Sarkeesian and Katherine Cross’ “Your Humanity Is in Another Castle” all make great arguments for more diversity in every aspect of the characters players control and interact with.
Zoe Quinn, creator of the notable indie game Depression Quest, details her harrowing experiences developing, launching and living through her game and gives readers a glimpse into what it was like to come under fire during the infamous #Gamergate movement of late 2014. Merritt Kopas’ essay “Ludus Interruptus” makes a great argument for much more open-minded views of sexuality and acts of sex in Western gaming. Despite making massive strides in both technical and creative compositions in the past few years, video games have still remained very old-fashioned when it comes to sex and how it’s initiated, portrayed and perceived in media.
Readers who identify as gamers or are interested in the increasingly complex culture of video games should read The State of Play. Games are currently one of the most powerful creative mediums for expression, offering users the chance to become fully immersed in their experiences through interaction. The State of Play is a fantastic, unprecedented collection of reflective literature on different experiences from every angle. Every essay is spliced with Internet links and footnotes leading to resources for further exploration, and there is much to be learned.
In Oyster: A Gastronomic History (with Recipes), Drew Smith delves into everything you ever wanted to know about the briny bivalve, and then some. Smith takes a fascinating, in-depth look at the oyster's place in history — important in the diet of many cultures throughout the years but also to their economies. You would be hard pressed to find a better source of overall nutrition than the oyster. Low in fat and calories, it’s high in protein, calcium, vitamin B12, thiamine, riboflavin vitamin C and zinc, with trace amounts of other vitamins. Oysters eventually became an important industry in the colonies, with jobs for harvesting, opening, washing, measuring, selling and, eventually, canning. These jobs often went to those who would otherwise have had difficulty finding employment, including African Americans, women, immigrants and children. While people think of crabs when they hear Baltimore, we have been an oyster mecca for far longer. Baltimore was the first to become a canning center (way before any other city) in the early 1840s, where the stock was also labeled and shipped.
Oysters have long been celebrated in writing as well as art — and of course they have a long-standing reputation as an aphrodisiac. Smith has included numerous color illustrations, photographs and maps to enhance the reading experience. There are recipes throughout the book, and even recommendations on what to drink with oysters. This scholarly yet entertaining and accessible look at oysters would make a great gift for the foodie and/or historian on your gift list. Fans of Mark Kurlansky’s microhistories Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World or Salt: A World History will be entranced by Oyster.
As a serious home cook who loves to read cookbooks, I was excited to get my hands on 101 Easy Asian Recipes, by Peter Meehan and the editors of Lucky Peach. I’m a longtime fan of Lucky Peach magazine, a quarterly journal that focuses on food writing of all kinds. Their first cookbook is very approachable. It features simple, clear instructions, plenty of procedural drawings (like how to properly fill and seal a dumpling) and glossy color photographs of finished dishes. Meehan admits that “Asian” is a wide catch-all term — for example, there are no Indian recipes in the book — and they’re not necessarily aiming for authenticity. A recipe for “mall chicken” is a nod to the sauce-doused chicken chunks sampled on toothpicks at nearly every food court you’ve ever visited. This version is baked rather than fried, but is no less craveable.
A trip to an Asian supermarket to stock your pantry is a must as you’ll need things you probably won’t find at your local supermarket. Not only does the book provide a frequently used ingredient list, but there are photographic spreads of the actual items. This helps remove any possible confusion, as many of the ingredients may be unfamiliar. These include things like black vinegar, fish sauce, sesame oil, sambal oelek, dashi and white pepper. Recipes call for all types of noodles, from ramen and udon to gluten-free Korean glass noodles (made from sweet potato starch) and rice sticks.
Meehan has a great sense of humor that shines through in the notes, the recipes are easy to follow and the results are impressive. I’ve made several dishes with great success in the last couple of weeks, including a smashed cucumber salad with chili, cilantro and peanuts; braised baby bok choy with oyster sauce and crispy garlic; and homemade “dollar dumplings” with dipping sauce. Borrow 101 Easy Asian Recipes now and you’ll likely buy your own copy later.
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Who doesn’t love a cookie? As a baker and lover of cookies and all things sweet, I couldn't pass up this book once I saw it on the new book shelf. Cookie Love by Mindy Segal is getting some love from the critics. It even made the Epicurious list of 30 spring cookbooks. They are excited about it, and for good reason.
Deliciousness abounds in eight chapters of various types of cookies, from drop to sandwich to twice baked. You'll want to bake all 60 recipes. Segal provides us with an introduction to each cookie, how she came to love it, tips for baking each cookie and information about the ingredients. As any baker knows, Segal says she never bakes a recipe just once, but rather tries to improve upon it each time. Segal is a James Beard Award-winner for Outstanding Pastry Chef, so this book is sure to please.
If you're looking to satisfy your sweet tooth, this is the book for you! The recipes are detailed enough that any baker new or old will be at home in the kitchen. I can’t wait to try out some of these recipes. Chunky Bars were my favorite candy bar as a child, so I'll be making Ode to the Chunky Bar very soon.
Katie Lee’s Endless Summer Cookbook embodies all the smells and tastes of a warm July day. A West Virginia native, Lee has relocated to the Hamptons, and now co-hosts "The Kitchen" on Food Network. Her enthusiasm for using farmers’ market ingredients in her largely simple recipes shines through. Burger variations, beverages (honeydew margaritas!), and seasonal sides — everything that you can imagine for a summer party is included in this beautifully photographed paean to summer entertaining.
Cassie Johnston’s Chia, Quinoa, Kale, Oh My!: Recipes for 40+ Delicious, Super-Nutritious Superfoods combines nutritional research with healthy recipes featuring over 40 superfoods. While the title ingredients have been some of the darlings of the clean-eating food world for the past few years, Johnston, author of the popular Back to Her Roots blog, introduces the reader to many other common superfoods, such as barley, grapes and sweet potatoes. She explains the reasons why a food is considered super, and stresses the importance of looking beyond calories to determine the real value of the plate of food before you. Keep your partygoers nibbling on these delicious and sensible snacks and entrées.
And what is a summer party without a table full of desserts beckoning? The Norske Nook Book of Pies and Other Recipes by Jerry Bechard and Cindee Borton-Parker uncovers the recipes of the famous northern Wisconsin restaurants’ pies and treats. Starting with the basics of crusts and puddings, each of the many desserts featured is simply laid out so that the home cook can have as much success as the Nook’s pastry chefs. Rounding out the cookbook are a few “Scandinavian specialities” that harken back to the old country. Sky-high lemon meringues, lingonberry-apple cream cheese and sour cream peach pies will have you throwing caution to the wind and putting your beach body diet off…for one more day.
We have become a food-obsessed society, and no wonder. Besides providing necessary sustenance, the right meal has the power to transform, transport, unite, comfort and even show love. Three new memoirs center on very different culinary experiences. In Fed, White, and Blue: Finding America with My Fork, British expat Simon Majumdar ventures near and far from his adopted hometown of Los Angeles to find out more about Americans through food.
Majumdar, a food writer and frequent face on the Food Network, uses his impending naturalization as the impetus to embark on an authentically American culinary tour. Each chapter of his book describes a different food-related experience, from fishing in New Jersey to making cheese in Wisconsin. As the husband of a Filipino wife and a transplant himself, he is quick to point out the influences of immigrants on our national table. He cooks traditional Filipino fare under the tutelage of AJ, the head chef at Salo-Salo Grill in West Covina, California; and “tours Mexico” by eating his way through an array of diverse food stands in South Los Angeles. Majumdar is an affable host, and readers will enjoy his journalistic efforts, which are liberally dosed with historical facts to provide background. Fed, White, and Blue is an enjoyable, distracting read.
Graham Holliday looks back to his experiences working and eating in Vietnam in the late 1990s and early 2000s in Eating Việt Nam: Dispatches from a Blue Plastic Table. British-born Holliday travelled to the country to teach English, eventually becoming a journalist. It doesn’t take him long to realize that some of the most delicious, authentic, vibrant food to be had was found off the path beaten by tourists. The term “adventurous eater” doesn’t even begin to describe Holliday, as he takes on all manner of offal from stalls, restaurants and makeshift kitchens that know nothing about health code. He enters the world of blogging with noodlepie, a blog dedicated to the street food of Saigon. From duck fetus eggs to the more approachable banh mi and pho, Holliday’s prose celebrates the country’s distinctive dishes in a way that will make you eager to seek out a stateside Vietnamese restaurant.
Writer Sasha Martin is well known for Global Table Adventure, a blog dedicated to virtual travel around the world. Martin spent four years cooking and sharing approachable recipes from 195 countries in her Tulsa, Oklahoma, kitchen. When she began writing a book intended to chronicle that undertaking, Martin found herself on a journey of introspection that resulted in Life from Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family and Forgiveness. Hers was far from an idyllic childhood, raised in poverty in working-class Boston by a single mother who struggled in myriad ways to take care of herself as much as her children. When her mother failed, she did so dramatically — leading to visits from social services and ultimately the decision to put her children in the hands of family friends in order to give them what she thought would be a better life. The thread that runs through the poignant, heartrending story of Martin’s early life is the anchoring, inspiring power of food — learned from her erratic, mercurial mother — and eventually passed on to her own family.
As the temperatures cool down and the days become shorter, a new season has arrived. With leaves falling and warm sweaters unpacked comes the desire for foods that exemplify warmth and coziness. Three recently published cookbooks express strong autumnal flavors that will surely bring pleasant aromas to your kitchen.
One style that always warms the heart and belly is Indian cuisine. Aarti Sequeira, winner of season six of Food Network Star, brings her winning personality and complex-tasting but simple-to-create spice blends to Aarti Paarti: An American Kitchen with an Indian Soul. After a short introduction discussing her background, she explains the many spices in the Indian pantry as well as a quick guide to lentils and the mystery of curry powder. Vegetarian dishes are well-represented, as well as Sequeira’s fondness for sweets and desserts. Her recipes incorporate exotic flavors into American favorites, creating intriguing concepts such as South Indian Tomato Soup, Bombay Sloppy Joes and Masala Shrimp ‘n’ Grits.
Averie Sunshine, the popular food blogger at AverieCooks.com, has her finger on the pulse of one of this decade’s hottest food trends in Cooking with Pumpkin: Recipes that Go beyond the Pie. She brings 50 of her favorite savory and sweet recipes together to create a group of mouthwatering fall dishes. From Parmesan and Cream Cheese Pumpkin Puff appetizers to Soft Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies, this is a book for the pumpkin lover. She also has suggestions for perfectly roasted pumpkin seeds and a number of pumpkin beverages that surpass the tired spiced latte.
A well-known British chef and international culinary superstar is back with Jamie Oliver’s Comfort Food: The Ultimate Weekend Cookbook, a compendium of hearty-but-healthy recipes perfect for the home cook. Each recipe includes the preparation time and the caloric intake per serving, in addition to attractive photographs of the foods. Oliver states in the introduction that these recipes are intended for a leisurely experience, to celebrate and savor, and not simply for the everyday routine. Respected for his charge to improve school lunch menus worldwide, the chef returns to his roots with this cookbook to pore over and plan cold-weather weekend meals around.
Fabio Viviani, chef, restaurateur and charismatic entertainer is a familiar face from Top Chef where he was voted Fan Favorite. He is also becoming a major player in the world of American restaurants, owning spots in California, Chicago and, soon, Miami. In his newest cookbook Fabio’s American Home Kitchen, Fabio offers over 100 recipes for American classic dishes, from Chicago-style deep dish pizza to spaghetti carbonara all with his own Italian flair. The recipes include basic ingredients that can be found in any well-stocked supermarket and are accompanied by stunning photographs and a taste of Fabio’s charm. Between the Covers was lucky enough to ask Fabio a few questions in the midst of his hectic schedule which includes opening a new restaurant and embarking on a book tour. Buon Appetito!
Between the Covers: Readers will relish your newest cookbook, Fabio’s American Home Kitchen, which is a feast for the eyes. What prompted you to put your Italian spin on American recipes?
Fabio Viviani: I’ve been in America for many years now, and I love it and wanted to put my Italian spin on American food. In my new cookbook, I try to keep my Italian heritage by keeping dishes lighter but also incorporating the deliciousness of American food with approachable recipes.
BTC: Your suggested menus are so helpful, as are your ideas for entertaining and make-ahead dishes. What are the five ingredients you think a home pantry should never be without? What is your best tip for saving time in the kitchen?
FV: Five ingredients a home pantry should never be without: olive oil, cold cuts, fresh pasta, eggs, herbs/spices. You can make anything with these ingredients in your pantry! My motto for saving time in the kitchen is always, ‘Keep it simple stupid, keep it stupid simple.’ If a recipe feels very complicated then it’s a problem! Simple recipes will always come out the best.
BTC: Thank you so much for making your recipes incredibly accessible to the home cook and your style so easy and encouraging. Who gave you your love for food and cooking? When did you realize you wanted to be a chef? Did you have any tough teachers or bad experiences that made you want to throw in the apron?
FV: For me it always comes back to my family. When I was eleven, my mom developed a problem with her hands and had to quit her job, so I decided to find a job since there was no money. I ended up working a night job unloading 50-pound bags of flour and baking pies from one in the morning until seven and did that job for two and a half years, which was how I was introduced to the kitchen for the first time. From a very young age I was surrounded by cooking with my family so I knew I loved it, but it wasn’t until I had my first kitchen job that I realized I wanted to be a chef. My grandma was my toughest teacher, probably because I wasn’t always the best student!
BTC: You grew up in Italy - was there much culture shock when you moved to the United States? What do you miss most about living in Italy? Do you get a chance to go return often?
FV: I go back to Italy about twice a year. What I miss most about Italy is the smell. Italy smells different; it smells of fresh cut grass. There are no traffic noises or people screaming, and very little trash around. If you ever find the smell of paradise, you will know you’re in Italy.
BTC: We know all about your hatred of cilantro and your love of Nutella. Any other food favorites or dislikes? What is your number one comfort food? What is your go-to dish for a romantic dinner?
FV: My number one comfort food is pasta, and, of course, a jar of Nutella if it’s available. My go-to dish for a romantic dinner is wine. If you have lots of good wine, the rest will take care of itself.
BTC: As a former contestant on Top Chef and Top Chef All Stars, what’s your take on reality television? Would you do it again?
FV: Reality TV is great exposure and it’s good for your business. However, there are many situations where reality TV does not make you look good and that can be bad for your business. Reality TV should be taken with caution, but I would definitely do it again if the opportunity came up.
BTC: Sienna Tavern Miami is about to open. As you build your restaurant empire, can those of us living in Baltimore hope to see a Fabio restaurant close by in the near future?
FV: Baltimore is a beautiful city and I would love to have a restaurant there one day!
Most home cooks are now acquainted with at least one family member or friend who is vegetarian, or may be vegetarian themselves. Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough, authors of over 20 cookbooks, have now published Vegetarian Dinner Parties: 150 Meatless Meals Good Enough to Serve to Company. In an extensive, chatty and humor-filled introduction, the pair discuss the value of dinner parties and the fallacy that these gatherings are in the midst of a comeback — it is their assertion that they’ve never gone away. They also admit to being “lapsed vegetarians,” but encourage the use of vegetables and fruits as the stars of any meal course. As they learned upon putting together this book, many of the recipes could easily be turned vegan, and over 40 percent of the dishes are fully vegan. The men also give suggestions for easy tablescapes and music to enhance any dinner party.
The authors describe the importance of prep work, and divide the book into seven courses that “follow the arc of a dinner party:” cocktails and nibbles, small plates, soups and salads, pastas, large plates and desserts. But they caution that there is no need to have all or even most of these courses depending on the guests, the hosts, the kitchen and time. Among the recipes themselves, there are helpful hints that indicate what part of the process can be done ahead of time, what can be skipped if time and/or ability is limited and what potential garnish and beverage would go best with each dish. Additionally, a suggestion is made as to how, within a full dinner party, the recipe would best complement other recipes in the book.
Weinstein and Scarbrough’s take on vegetarian cooking is very 21st century in its outlook. As they worked to perfect the recipes, they quickly realized that there is no need to hide fruits and vegetables with heavy creamy sauces or cheese, or to relegate these ingredients to sidekicks for a historic protein. Instead, the fresh, bright elements shine through as the brilliant features of the party.