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The 10 Best Downtown Restaurants

More than tunnels and tourist traps.

4. Modernist Cuisine at Home

If your son or daughter is a cooking fanatic and loves the science behind cooking, then this book is for him or her. Rather than buying the complete six-volume set of Modernist Cuisine, simply give your child the at-home cookbook filled with basics for a modern kitchen and more than 400 recipes. If your graduate loves to experiment with different techniques, equipment and foods, then he'll have a blast cooking out of Modernist Cuisine at Home.

3. Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything: The Basics

Irma Galvan at her namesake restaurant.
Stephanie Meza
Irma Galvan at her namesake restaurant.
Venison carpaccio at Quattro.
Mai Pham
Venison carpaccio at Quattro.

Anyone who reads this cookbook will gain useful information about basic techniques in the kitchen, providing him with the skill set he needs to prepare basic recipes. For someone who's living life on his own, a basic cookbook like this is exactly what he or she needs to learn how to cook. It's filled with photo illustrations to better teach each recipe, as well as 185 recipes.

2. Martha Stewart's Cooking School

When I left for college, my mom gave me this cookbook, and it has proven to be a useful guide whenever I'm searching for tips and steps on certain techniques, like peeling and de-veining shrimp, preparing certain vegetables and learning what different cooking terms mean. Having this reference guide on hand has definitely made life much easier in the kitchen, and the techniques include easy-to-follow photographs. With the pictures, simplified lessons and 200 recipes, this is a must-have for recent graduates, high school or college.

1. Joy of Cooking

Joy of Cooking is a staple for any household, the encyclopedia of all encyclopedia cookbooks. With basic recipes and techniques, it's a cookbook that will stand the test of time. Whether you want to pass down your Joy of Cooking or buy your son or daughter a revised version from the bookstore, he or she will definitely love the recipes, tips and techniques it provides.
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Here, Eat This

What's Wat ?
A beginner's guide to Ethiopian cuisine.

Katharine Shilcutt

African food is diverse and distinct, especially in Ethiopia — a country with incredibly fertile land and a rich history. Indeed, this corner of the world is the site of the earliest human habitation. The country has been marred by war and famine in its more recent history, however, which tends to overshadow its immense contributions.

Houston's newest Ethiopian restaurant, Lucy, is looking to change this perception by offering inexpensive, accessible food in a modern, attractive setting. Even its name calls attention to the positive aspects of Ethiopia, which is where the 3.2-million-year-old skeletal remains of Lucy — an Australopithecus afarensis and one of our earliest ancestors — were found.

The rest of the world is slowly discovering Ethiopian food, too, thanks in no small part to people like Marcus Samuelsson, the Ethiopian-born, Swedish-raised chef who owns the renowned Red Rooster in Harlem, and to the large Ethiopian diaspora in cities such as Washington, D.C., where the cuisine is as popular as Indian food is in Houston.

You'll notice that there's no pork or shellfish of any kind served in Ethiopian restaurants. This is due to the major religions that have influenced the country over thousands of years: Judaism, Islam and Orthodox Christianity. The Kingdom of Aksum, encompassing what are now Ethiopia and Eritrea, was one of the first Christian countries in the world, having officially adopted Christianity in the 4th century. Today, nearly 50 percent of Ethiopians identify as Orthodox Christians, while 34 percent are Muslim and 19 percent are Protestant.

This also means that you will find stimulants in Ethiopian restaurants, in particular coffee and alcohol. And if you look around, you'll probably also find at least one icon of Saint George slaying a dragon. Ethiopia shares this patron saint with Greece, and it's just one reminder that the country has shared such a fascinating history with Western culture over the years.

Injera

This is perhaps the most important foodstuff in Ethiopian cuisine, since it serves not only as a source of protein and vitamins but also as your serving utensils and, often, your plate. Injera is a flatbread made from teff, a grass (not a grain, like wheat) that's fermented with water for several days before being baked into large, floppy pancakes that have the texture of crepes and the taste of sourdough bread. Teff flour is incredibly high in fiber, iron and calcium. It has all the amino acids required to be a complete protein, but it's also gluten-free. It's kind of a miracle food.

To eat Ethiopian food, simply tear off a piece of injera, grab some food with it, roll it up, pop the whole thing into your mouth and repeat until finished. Most restaurants will bring you silverware if you ask for it, but eating food this way is traditional and shows camaraderie among your dining companions — especially as everyone usually eats from the same plate and most Ethiopians feed each other as they dine, not just themselves.

Berbere

This is the chief spice blend found in Ethiopian cooking, a fragrant mix that's somewhere between Indian curry and Southwestern chile powder. Berbere is a dark red blend of sun-dried chiles, ginger, garlic, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, cumin, coriander and other spices. In his memoir, Yes, Chef, Samuelsson describes berbere as "both masculine and feminine, shouting for attention and whispering at me to come closer. In one sniff it was bright and crisp; in the next, earthy and slow."

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