Book 'em: If you're one of those people who loves chain food--and I know you're out there, furtively wolfing down T.G.I. Friday's potato skins--then Top Secret Restaurant Recipes will let you hide your problem in the privacy of your own home (and keep you from throwing any more of your hard-earned cash at those corporations). Written by Todd Wilbur, the same guy who painstakingly uncovered the workings of such convenience foods as Twinkies, Big Macs and Oreos in his Top Secret Recipes book a few years ago, this cookbook explores the nuances of such delights as the Outback Steakhouse Bloomin' Onion and the original Big Boy burger, along with four or five other specialties from some of the best-known chains. I have proof that at least one recipe works: the formula for the pumpkin cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory (a branch of which is now open for business--lots of business--at 1201 16th Street). I quickly whipped one up and was elated to find that it tasted just like the real thing, which happens to be about the best thing on the Factory menu.
If desserts are what you're sweet on--and you aren't concerned about excess fat--pick up a copy of Rosie's Bakery All-Butter Fresh Cream Sugar-Packed No-Holds-Barred Baking Book ($13.95). Author Judy Rosenberg runs the popular Rosie's on Chestnut Hill in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and her brownies are famous all over the country. This book includes her fudgy but not-too-rich version, along with hundreds of other sinful finales.
Along healthier lines and in plenty of time for this fall's overabundance of vegetables is The Vegetarian Hearth ($26), which is now on the favorites shelf of my cookbook bookcase. Author Darra Goldstein, a professor who's known for her Russian cookbooks, has assembled divergent vegetable recipes from around the globe, with an emphasis on comfort foods such as curried potato casserole and stewed mushrooms (the recipe for which, incidentally, came from Leo Tolstoy). Another recent release that's reeled me in is the Pike Place Public Market Seafood Cookbook ($19.95), by Braiden Rex-Johnson, who's compiled not only recipes for just about every available fish and shellfish, but also fish facts, tips and anecdotes from the people who make Seattle's infamous fish market happen. It's a good read, too.
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For a survey of foods closer to home--focusing on ingredients easier to procure around these parts--pick up a copy of the beautiful Spirit of the West: Cooking From Ranch House and Range ($35). At first I thought that authors Beverly Cox and Martin Jacobs had trespassed on the territory of Sam Arnold, owner of The Fort restaurant in Morrison and an illustrious gatherer of information about the West, especially its food. But I should have known better: A quick glance at the opening found that Sam'l wrote the introduction to this treasure. His tale is of a buffalo drive, and by the time I got to the end, I couldn't wait to put a kettle on the fire and follow the real-life cowpokes and ranchers who offer their family foods and stories. And the recipe for capirotada, a bread pudding with the flavors of caramelized onions, cheddar, pinon nuts and raisins, would blow away a Bloomin' Onion anyday.