Separating the essential cookbooks from the filler can be as daunting as separating egg white from yolk, especially since everyone and their sous chef is writing a cookbook. The market has become saturated with recent coffee-table foodie porn like The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller and Toronto writers Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid's Hot Sour Salty Sweet. These are pricey references whose gorgeous photography and expensive paper are as much a sensuous experience as eating the food they describe how to prepare.
American-born but UK-based author Celia Brooks Brown bucks the trend with Low-Carb Vegetarian (Whitecap, 192 pages, $16.95 paper, NNNN ), a slim, stylish yet straightforward all-veggie interpretation of the popular Atkins dietary regime. Much like her earlier, equally indispensable New Vegetarian, her latest tome is beautifully packaged, with a centre spread of colour photos and easy-to-follow recipes for interesting stuff (whatever your agenda) like spicy jerk tofu and spaghetti squash with smoked chili pesto.
Jumping on the bandwagon, former Rivoli cook and current executive chef of Vancouver's vaunted Fish House Karen Barnaby gives us Low-Carb Gourmet (Harper Collins, 328 pages, $39.95 cloth, NNN ). She does include a short meat chapter - check out her time-saving recipe for 90-minute Miracle Turkey - but focuses mainly on vegetarian fare like tasty tofu fries and nori sesame crisps with miso cream cheese. Good layout and occasional colour, too.
Self-published in tandem with a kitchen appliance manufacturer, TV food dude Ken Kostick 's just-released Countertop To Table Cuisine (196 pages, $24.95 paper, NN ) spares no expense when it comes to production, packed as it is with gorgeous food-styling photography printed on glossy stock. These recipes are innocuous - just like the television personality himself - and, not unsurprisingly, all of them require the use of a blender, toaster oven or food processor.
In interviews to promote the hefty The Gourmet Cookbook (Houghton Mifflin, 1,040 pages, $55 cloth, N ), even Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl expressed disappointment with the dreary, textbook-sized end product. And while the recipes selected from 60 years' worth of the food bible's archives are impeccably sound, they're presented in such an unappealing manner. Instead of photographs, the illustrations are indiscernible line drawings printed in pale yellow. It turns what should have been as vital an all-round cookbook as The Joy Of Cooking or The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook into a real eye-glazer. Reichl, who's transformed Gourmet from a stuffy rag for pretentious swells into an accessible and must-read forum, deserves better.