It's about focusing on a small detail and allowing it to drive the creative process.
It's about focusing on a small detail and allowing it to drive the creative process.
We stumbled across this book during a sidewalk sale in Concord, MA. It was on a folding table in front of Concord Cookware. Of course we had to go inside and Alex picked up a few other things but this book was the gem. Pasta Modern, New and Inspired Recipes From Italy, by Francine Segan, photographs by Lucy Schaeffer is the kind of book we love. It is grounded in history and full of creative ideas and interesting (and well written) techniques. This is a book to inspire you to get in the kitchen and start cooking.
Just a few pictures of the photos to tease you along. If you want recipes and more involved techniques you'll have to get your hands on a copy. If you love pasta you should definitely try to find one.
July 28, 2010
by Lee Brian Schrager with Adeena Sussman. This just arrived and I'm so excited. Can't wait to dive in and see what cool techniques await and plan my fantasy road trip. Is there anything better than fried chicken (today)?
I found an old favorite today while we were shopping at the Concord Antique Gallery. I bought this book years ago in Newport, Rhode Island, or was it Watch Hill? I've always been a fan of used bookstores, though they seem to be slowly disappearing, and had my favorites in both towns that I would visit religiously every summer when we went up to Charlestown Beach. This book was an impulse buy that turned out to be a gem. It's chock full of information, salty stories, New England lore and line drawings. It's compulsively readable and entertaining and you actually learn a thing or two hundred along the way.
I have no idea where my original copy is, somewhere buried in boxes of books. But this afternoon I'm revisiting an old favorite that reminds me why I love New England and why I am so happy to be back here again.
July 6, 2010
It's Easter weekend and hard boiled eggs are everywhere so we decided to share the following recipe from our latest book, Maximum Flavor. It's slightly modified, we left out the pepper jelly recipe and encourage you to use your favorite red pepper jelly instead. You can brine the eggs or not as you wish, it could be considered a different and more delicious technique for coloring Easter eggs, though you won't get sparkly pastel colors. Even eliminating these two steps these are darned good eggs. The recipe is worth trying for the glazed bacon alone.
Bacon and Deviled Eggs
Classic deviled eggs are always a favorite. We’ve come to prefer the technique of steaming eggs to hard cook them, because it gives very consistent results with the added benefit of making the eggs easier to peel—you can say goodbye forever to that green tinge around the yolk and also to whites that are pitted and unattractive to set out as deviled eggs. A tea brine bath seasons the eggs after they’re cooked and makes them look beautiful and festive. The glazed bacon is crisp, sweet, spicy, and the perfect accent to the creamy eggs. While you can use your favorite store bought pepper jam, we encourage you to try the recipe below. It’s worth the extra effort, and you will find it useful for a wide variety of dishes once you have it in your pantry.
12 large eggs
½ ounce/ 15 grams Lapsang Souchong tea (about 6 teabags)
3 teaspoons/ 18 grams fine sea salt
½ cup/ 110 grams Dukes or other mayonnaise
1 tablespoon/ 14 grams Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon/ 14 grams sweet pickle juice
6 slices of bacon
¼ cup/ 85 grams red pepper jelly
6 teaspoons/ 43 grams red pepper jelly
Put 2 inches of water in a medium pot and set it over high heat. Bring the water to a boil. Put the cold eggs into a steamer basket and suspend them over the boiling water. Cover the pot and steam the eggs for 14 minutes. Transfer them to an ice bath and let cool for about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine the cranberry juice, Lapsang Souchong tea, and salt in a large bowl, stirring until the salt is dissolved. Use the back of a spoon to uniformly crack the eggshells all over without piercing the eggs or removing any of the shell. Put the cracked eggs into the brine and put another bowl on top of the eggs to keep them submerged. Refrigerate the eggs for 48 hours.
After 48 hours, take the eggs out of the brine and peel them, discarding the shells. Cut each egg in half vertically. Remove the yolks and set the whites aside. Put the egg yolks, mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, and pickle juice into a small food processor and puree until smooth. Scoop the deviled egg mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a star tip and put the bag in the refrigerator.
Preheat the oven to 350°F/176°C.
Lay the bacon slices on a cutting board. Brush the top of the bacon with some of the 1/4 cup/85 grams pepper jelly and then lay the slices on an oven rack set over a foil-lined sheet pan. Put the bacon into the oven and cook for 15 minutes until the bacon is just crispy and glazed. Remove the bacon from the oven, brush both sides of the bacon with the jam, and put it back in the oven for 3 more minutes. Remove the bacon from the oven and let cool. Cut each slice of bacon into 4 pieces so that you have 1 piece for each deviled egg.
Put the egg whites on a cutting board or other flat work surface. Spoon ¼ teaspoon of the remaining pepper jam into the bottom of the each egg white. Pipe a rosette of about a tablespoon of the egg yolk mixture on top of the jelly. Top with a slice of bacon. Arrange the deviled eggs on a cutting board or platter to serve.
April 18, 2009
This week in the New York TImes Jeff Gordiner wrote interesting piece on Laurie Colwin. She is, unsurprisingly, one of my favorite authors though I may be in the minority in that I enjoy her fiction as much as her food writing. Truth be told, there's a lot of food in her fiction and having spent my high school years in the eighties in New York City I found her writing to be very true to life as I knew it. It was fresh and unique with a distinct voice as all the best writing often is. Now I have bookcases full of food writing and still Home Cooking and More Home Cooking are among those that I reach for the most.
In my younger days I was a huge fan of James Beard and MFK Fisher. I bought The Art of Eating when I was working at Metropolitan Museum of Art one Christmas season. I managed to find quite a few great cookbooks in the stores there but MFK was by far my best purchase. I read it over and over again and it seemed to embody the kind of writing I most enjoyed. Autobiographical, food-centric, and slightly eccentric. Each book in the series was clearly written in her voice and yet there were distinct variations in style and tone, time and space. She also wrote a tiny bit of fiction and I greatly enjoyed her novel Not Now but Now, and it sits alongside her other books on my shelf. James Beard's Delights and Prejudices is still a favorite and though it may have been years since I last cracked the cover I can close my eyes and conjure up stories of summertime in Olympia, French markets, sand tarts, curries, and Dungeness crab.
John Thorne was my go to for developing opinions and learning to cook on my own. His stories embody a journey of culinary evolution. Not in a fancy or snooty way, just the stories of an opinionated cook who often finds cooking and eating to be a solitary pleasure. He has both a website and a newsletter and his books are an extension of these. Some of his most popular pieces are on breakfasts and midnight snacks. These are highly personal meals that we may never want to recreate ourselves but then we all have our secret passions and strange meals that we enjoy most when we are alone. John Thorne invites us into his world without imposing his ideas upon us. Recipes are given but there's no pressure to run to the kitchen or follow them exactly. Instead they are a natural unfolding of whatever story they originate from.
Growing up with a Jewish uncle I was especially fond of books describing Jewish food. There's a whole culture to the cuisine, similar to what we see in Southern food writing, another favorite of mine. From My Mother's Kitchen by Mimi Sheraton was a keeper comfort read. Her voice is clear and informative as she matter-of-factly explains her mother's preferences in the kitchen and her own variations. It is as much a story about their relationship as it as about the food. Perhaps that's what makes the very best comfort reads, they give you something to relate to and something you can build upon for yourself. Of course these few books are just the tip of the iceberg. I could go on for days but instead I'll leave you here, so I can go curl up with a good book.
Hardie Grant Books has published Maximum Flavour, Recipes That Will Change The Way You Cook, across the pond and we couldn't be happier. For those of you in London there are signed copies at Foyles bookstore. To commemorate our first release in the UK we wrote about pie over on their blog. It includes the recipe for our butter piecrust and for Kitty's strawberry pie. We were also over at The Independent recently, talking about ways to make your food more flavorful.
And while we're here, a big thank you to everyone who has bought our books. Every time you buy one it helps support what we do here, there, and everywhere. We appreciate it.
I came across one of my favorite Chinese cookbooks in a used bookstore recently. It is Chinese Technique: An Illustrated Guide To The Fundamental Techniques Of Chinese Cooking by Ken Hom. It's no longer in print so if you find it in a used bookstore it is almost always a bargain. Totally worth the money. I could tell you all about but I think I'll let the book speak for itself.
Normally I would take a picture of the book myself but I bought this as an ebook to read on my phone. Children's books and cookbooks are basically the only two kinds I still buy physical copies of. Alex has a pathological dislike of clutter and my stacks of non-cookbooks and non-food related magazines are often the target of his ire. Ebooks are wonderful because I love being able to read a book in the palm of my hand and to carry a stack of them anywhere I go. As long as I have my phone I am never without something interesting to read and that makes me a happy camper.
I loved No Experience Necesary: The Culinary Odyssey of Chef Norman Van Aken on many levels. Norman Van Aken is a very well respected chef and to me this was a memoir written by a chef rather than a food book. There are recipes and restaurant stories galore but it is about one man's journey and that is what caught my attention. It doesn't cover his entire career, maybe just the first half or even the first third, depending on what he does next. The book charts his formative years, the ones that shape us all into someone who is comfortable in their own skin. It covers those years of experience that teach us who we are so we can spend the next several years, hopefully, making the most of it.
The book opens with a story about him and Emeril and Charlie Trotter, made much more poignant given Chef Trotter's recent and untimely passing. Interestingly that story from the beginning of the book takes place almost at the end. So it might give you a false sense of what comes next. In some ways I think it's a hook, meant to lure in young cooks and dreamers who might not understand that the best parts of this story are about how he came to be a chef. Norman Van Aken was both cursed and charmed in many ways throughout his career and it's so much fun to see the story of play out.
One of my very favorite parts of this book is the way Norman teaches himself to be chef. There are mentors and teachers and other chefs throughout his career but in the end I think that the discipline and ambition come from within. He happily notes the many books and authors that he read and was inspired by. I had countless "me too" moments when he would discuss a particular cookbook and it's impact on his views on food. I remembered that feeling of reading something and wanting to rush into the kitchen and make it my own and my fingers itched to find each book and read it anew. No Experience Necessary is fun to read because the journey is both common and unique. Any cook can relate to Norman's path and still be beguiled by his particular story. It could not have happened to anyone else and he shares it openly and without apology or visible hesitation. If you like memoirs of any kind or foodie books or chef stories or want to become a chef this is a book for you.
January 17, 2005
It's been a heck of a cookbook season thus far. Suffice it to say that our credit cards are smoking because there were so many that we just couldn't live without. Of course buying the books is only a first step. Once we have them we have to find some time to actually read them. If your life is anything like ours you'll understand that is easier said than done.
I have a tendency to suffer insomnia on a somewhat regular basis. This becomes the time I indulge my penchant for reading. Once I've been awake long enough to know there's no going back to sleep I reach for a book. A good portion of the time I choose to read novels, biographies, or travelogues on my phone, but if I'm motivated/awake enough to leave the bedroom I go for the giant stack of cookbooks waiting to be read. This morning round about 3am I was thinking about ramen. So I dragged myself downstairs, put a pot dashi on to simmer, and picked up Ivan Ramen.
This book was one of Alex's picks and it had the words ramen, love and obsession on the front cover so I figured it would be right up my alley. From the introduction by David Chang right through the end I was completely hooked. Ivan even includes the recipe for his signature Shiyo Ramen, dough and all, which I love. As he rightly notes in the text ramen chefs are known for their secrets and it is beyond frustrating to try and track down authentic recipes for the various components. He has nothing to lose by publishing his now because Ivan Ramen has become an institution. I am a sucker for chef stories and this one is engrossing. I'll keep the details to myself because you should buy this book, though I will say that that the recipe section at the end is both useful and unique. In a season full of stellar books, many of which we hope to talk about sooner rather than later, this one is very special.
Smoke and Pickles by Edward Lee may be my favorite book of the season, smart, flavorful and well-written. It's gotten a lot of press and all we can say is if you haven't picked it up you should. Newly arrived via Amazon are The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart and The Animal Farm Buttermilk Cookbook by Diane St. Clair and we can't wait to dive into them. What are you reading this summer?
It is billed as a graphic novel. I guess that is a popular genre today. It doesn't matter how it is being described. In the Kitchen with Alain Passard is an incredible introduction to the processes of Alain Passard. It shows his approach to ingredients. It explores his passion for flavors. The book captures the essence of a culinary icon. The drawings bring the ideas into action. The small selection of recipes are smart and engaging. They provide a platform to build and grow upon. And if you have Alain Passard: The Art of Cooking With Vegetables this graphic novel brings life to those recipes too.
June 5, 2005
True Brews did not disappoint. The writing has a straightforward tone. It is easy going and approachable while communicating all of the pertinent information. Emma Christensen covers a wide range of recipes from gluten free pale ale to cloudy cherry sake. The recipes span the globe and I was especially intrigued by the wide range of flavors. There is a Mexican Pineapple cider known as tepache and a blueberry-lavender mead. Every chapter begins with a master recipe for the brewing technique followed by variations. There are interviews with brewers and precise recipes to extrapolate from. It's a great book and we are so happy to have found it. We encourage anyone with an interest in home brewing to check it out. It's the perfect summer read for those of us obsessed with food and drink.
May 17, 2005
What are you doing this Sunday? We'll be hanging out at Stockton Market in Stockton, New Jersey. It's just across the rive from PA. It's one of our favorite places, you can find us there almost every weekend, especially in the winter. We go for Amaya's favorite cookies,the macaron from Sciasa Confections. We're always excited to see what new things Bret Cavanaugh has on display. He makes beautiful and functional wood carved items like the candle holder pictured below. If we're there around lunchtime it's the perfect place for barbecue at > than Q, formerly named Mighty Quinn's Barbecue. Or if we've already had lunch we can often be found savoring a scoop of ice cream from Half Pint Kitchen. Last weekend we bought a Calamansi lime tree, from the flower guy inside the front door, that we're doing our best not to kill. Hopefully buying an established potted tree will work in out favor. There's lots to do and plenty of other food and farm stands to check out. So come join us on Sunday March 10, 2013. We'll be there all day, from 10am-3pm, selling and signing copies of our book Ideas in Food, Great Recpes and Why They Work and enjoying the market. We'd love to meet you there.
There are lots of reasons to love this book. Japanese Farm Food written by Nancy Singleton Hachisu with photography by Kenji Miura is a gem. It's easy to read and engaging, describing life on Japanese farm full of anecdotes about family, friends and good food. It's a glimpse into a time and a space that most of us will never have access to on our own. My family is Japanese but I don't speak the language and I have spent relatively little time there over the years. My only real exposure to my family's culture while growing up in New York City was through the food. My mother often took me out to eat and had a small repertoire of Japanese dishes that she would prepare at home. I loved going to Japanese restaurants even though most of the people there didn't speak English. They were usually dimly lit, felt exotic and I loved the food. Nabeyaki udon was my very favorite dish in the whole world although I was happy to nibble at gyzoa, negimaki, chawan mushi, chilled spinach with bonito flakes, and various other small bites as I waited for the main event. Sushi restaurants were fun in a different way, more brightly lit and quieter, with platters of beautiful fish and the quick, graceful movements of the sushi chefs. Katsudon at an itzakaya style place was a special treat. I loved the crispy coating on the tender meat contrasting with the slightly sweet rice, the pickles and the egg. Now many of these dishes have merged into a Japanese-American style of eating. They no longer seem so exotic or as wonderful and special as they were when I was younger. But perhaps that is in their commercialization and in their preparation at a variety of fast casual and chain restaurants around the country. The focus is blurred and flavors are blunted by the lack of care in their preparation.
The food in this book is Japanese home cooking, soul food if you will. The dishes are relatively simple, full of flavor, embracing a variety of techniques. Yes, you will learn about new ingredients and new ways of preparing food. The real gift here is that the food is from the heart, as simple as tomatoes drizzled with soy sauce vinaigrette and sake steamed bass to slightly more elaborate dishes like sukiyaki and hanfdmade udon noodles. Overall the ingredient lists are short and the flavors are full. It's food that you will be happy to cook and eat with your family.
There's an essay in Japanese Farm Food about washing rice and fully experiencing the task. It's a small step that is often forgone, in fact many American cookbooks and recipes recommend against washing rice because they are coated with nutrients and additives that make it more nutritious. In Japan you wash your rice before cooking it, rinsing it several times by hand until the water runs clear. There's no discussion of skipping the step because it is considered essential. It's a difference in culture and mindset. It's that kind of perspective that dominates the book. Written by a transplanted American who makes no bones about the difficulty in transitioning and learning ins and outs of the Japanese food culture. The photographs tell stories, as all the best photography should, acting as a wondow into the world described by the author. This book is full of small stories and kitchen tips that will make you want to be in the kitchen. That desire to cook is the most important tool for anyone who is going to cook well, whether they are preparing a meal for one or one hundred. This book will get you there.
We are loving this new book by Adam Perry Lang with Peter Kaminsky. We actually met Peter at the IACP conference this year and he was telling us about these steaks that Adam cooked directly on the coals that were perfectly medium rare, pink and juicy throughout in way that is hard to come by these days without a little help from an immersion circulator. We were immediately intrigued, good cooking is always of interest and put the book on our "to be read" list. Time passed and somehow we missed the book's release. We stumbled upon it just a couple of weeks ago and immediately picked one up. While some may say it's a little late in the season we grill almost into winter so there's plenty of time to play with these recipes. It'll be a nice counterpoint to Alex's grilled pizzas.
This is a wonderful reading book and there's lots to learn. The steak Peter described comes in the section on "clinching" an interesting technique that Adam explains with style and absolute clarity. I'm not going to tell you about it here because you really should buy the book but I will say that I appreciate the fact that explains why the technique works in addition to how to do it. Because as we've learned, if we know why, when push comes to shove, we can extrapolate and figure out the rest for ourselves. I love when cooks and chefs are willing to share their break-through moments to make us all better in the kitchen.
Charred and Scruffed is a book with a definite personality. Adam has strong views on how he likes to cook. He's not afraid to break with tradition, hence a chapter on cooking high and slow rather than the expected low and slow of classic barbecue lore. There are some great salads and side dishes, spackles, sauces and even an array of finishing salts. The photography in this book, by Simon Wheeler, tells a story. It is the perfect accompaniment to the writing and recipes in a way that we don't often see in traditional cookbooks these days. There really isn't anything I don't like about this book. It makes me want to run from the kitchen and start cooking.
Michael Natkin of Herbivoracious is coming out with a book on May 8. He was gracious enough to send us a galley copy and we have to say that we were both impressed. What struck me immediately as I flipped through the pages was that if I didn't know it was a vegetarian cookbook I wouldn't notice that at first glance. It's so full of interesting and accessible recipes that it wouldn't occur to you that anything was missing. Of course as soon as you begin reading the introduction Michael introduces you to his personal thoughts on food and why he chooses to cook and eat the way he does.
Herbivoracous is full of interesting information and cooking tips. The recipes span the world and still manage to be easily approachable and relatively simple to prepare. A few that jumped out at us are the Roasted Maitake Mushrooms in Smoked Tea Broth, the Persimmon, Parsley and Olive Salad and the Spicy Tamarind Glazed Potatoes. They are clearly written with background information on unusual ingredients and straightforward directions. There is an emphasis on bright flavors that makes you want to try his dishes. It's a fun book that will teach you some new tricks and get you excited about getting into the kitchen. Michael has a passion for food that he brings to life within its pages and that is what great cookbooks are all about.
PS: If you can't wait till May 8 to check out the book, visit his website Herbivoracious. There are previews of some of the recipes with videos for you to get a taste.
April 10, 2006
If one chef has quietly set the pace for what is possible and what should be done in the kitchen it is Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Simple Cuisine is one of those break-through books which should be required reading for all cooks, young and old. To think that this book was published in 1990 is mind blowing because the techniques and the approach to food are essential and still relevant today. Simple Cuisine explores the uses of juices, oils and Asian seasonings through the perspective of classic French technique. Beyond the actual recipes and ingredients is a style and an ethos, which resonates from the pages. This book is a snapshot of a moment in time that still manages to present the future of what is possible with food. And it is done simply. Easy is for everyone but beauty and flavor through simplicity can be the hardest thing to achieve.
And so this week we are giving away a copy of Jean-Georges Vongerichten's book Simple Cuisine. To enter for a chance to win share your "a-ha" moment experiencing or creating simplicity in food in the comments below. One entry per person please. Comments are moderated and will not appear immediately. Winner will be chosen on Friday, March 2, 2012 at 2pm EST. This giveaway is now closed. Our winner has been notified via email. Thanks for all your comments.
This is one of my favorite books because it has a little bit of everything presented with knowledge and humor and an irrepressible love of sweets. While there are many comprehensive dessert books out there, this one covers a wide range range of American classics with solid recipes and real personality. From St. Louis Gooey cake to coconut tapioca pudding, there is a variation on almost every well-loved dessert you can think of. The techniques are solid and easily extrapolated and the stories are priceless. We love dessert because it makes us happy and reading the stories behind the individual recipes makes you love them that much more.
This week we are giving away one copy of Classic Home Desserts by Richard Sax. To enter to win please leave us a comment telling us about one of your favorite desserts. Comments are moderated and will not appear immediately. One entry per person please. Winner will be picked randomly on Friday, February 24, 2012 at 2pm EST (we'll be on the road.) This giveaway is now closed. Winner has been notified via email. Thank you for all your comments.
February 21, 2005
This week we are talking about Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz. It's no secret that we're fans of fermentation. Several chapters in our book were devoted to the subject and there there is always something new to learn about. Fermentation, in its various forms seems to be found in the food of every culture on earth. It changes ingredients and makes them more digestible and in many cases, more delicious. So when we stumbled across this great book devoted to the subject we knew we had to pick it up.
Many of the most informative fermentation books out there are textbooks, which are heavy on information but not very readable or approachable. This book is everything a cook needs it to be. The beginning discusses the history and culture of fermentation and touches on the health benefits of eating fermented foods. Then it gets down to the practical aspects of making fermented foods. The recipe and technique chapters are broken down by the type of fermentation involved. It begins with vegetable ferments. These are the pickles that are most familiar to the home cook. We all make them in some form or another, even if it's just lightly pickling summer vegetables in a vinaigrette for a few hours. Then it moves on to beans. Beans? Actually it is mainly a chapter on miso, making your own and using it in recipes. From there we move through dairy, breads, grain porridges and beverages, wine, beer and vinegar. There is more than enough information and basic recipes to get you started in your own kitchen and once you've begun, the possibilities are endless.
This week we are giving away one copy of Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz to one of our readers. To enter to win please leave a comment telling us about one of your favorite fermented foods. One entry per person please. Comments are moderated and will not appear immediately. Winner will be chosen on Friday, February 17, 2012 at 9am EST. This giveaway is now closed. Our winner has been otified via email. Thanks for commenting.
February 14, 2009
February 14, 2005
...book day. At least this week. We are facing a couple of challenges here in the kitchen. Amazing how one email can throw off an entire day, I'm sure you've all been there. The book we should be giving away this week is The Power of Positive Thinking by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, not because we've actually read it but because it's probably what we should be reading at the moment. But hell if we're going to give in to a few obstacles in our path. Competition makes us competitive and roadblocks simply force us to be more creative. This is never a bad thing. Today we're shaking off the negative mojo on our own and moving on to bigger and better things.
Some of the best chefs and entrepreneurs out there got to the top of their game simply by doing things differently. There's a lot of commonly held wisdom that isn't always correct and the real trail blazers have never been afraid to cut a path straight through uncharted territory just to see what would happen. David Burke is one of those chefs. Alex worked for him way back in the day. Back then The Park Avenue Cafe was, in his words, a crazy busy hard core kitchen. If you were willing to work hard and had a real passion for food there was a lot to learn and you could find mentors willing to teach you but only if you were willing to put in the time and effort to prove that you really wanted to learn. There were no easy work days or short shifts. It was sink or swim, survival of the fittest, but if you had the stamina and the desire there was a lot to be taken in.
Today we are giving away Cooking With David Burke of The Park Avenue Cafe. This is an older book that has weathered the test of time. Burke has a sense of whimsy that has never deserted him. He is known for over the top presentations and big flavors. The book is full of building blocks recipes and components that marry beautifully with a variety of dishes even though they are set into his creations for the recipes. There are flavored oils, pickling liquids, batters and brines and a bird's eye view into the mind of the chef, with thoughts on how to build dishes and why layering flavors and textures into beautiful creations is such an important part of his cuisine. And the dessert section is full of wonderful things. All in all it's a book you want to have in your personal library. As you read through the pages you will see countless ideas and techniques that are now commonplace but were groundbreaking at the time. Of course David Burke is still a chef at large and there are new discoveries to be found in his kitchens today.
This week we are giving away one copy of Cooking With David Burke At The Park Avenue Cafe by David Burke and Carmen Reingold. To enter to win please a comment telling us about the most creative and enjoyable meal you've ever experienced. One entry per person please, comments are moderated and will not appear immediately. Winner will berandomly picked on Friday, February 10, 2012 at 9am EST. This giveaway is now closed. The winner has been notified via email. Thanks for all your great comments.
February 8, 2005
*the above picture is of a recent cartoon print by Hugh Macleod, of gapingvoid which now hangs in our kitchen. Appropriate to say the least.
We wrote about The Creative Habit: Learn It And Use It For Life by Twyla Tharp back in August of 2005. We can honestly say that this is a book that has stood the test of time. It's one that we revisit occasionally when we need a little bit of inspiration because it helps remind us that creativity is something that we need to work at every day. This website is all about creativity in the kitchen and we think it's a skill that needs to be used in every part of our daily lives. It's easy to fall into a rut and do things the same old way. The harder choice is to push yourself to think of a different aproach, to find a path and try something new. This is post #3000 here at Ideas in Food and so instead of a cookbook we are giving away some creativity in the form of Twyla's book.
We will be giving away one copy of the book to three different readers this week. Please leave a comment below telling us why creativity is important to you. One entry per person please. Winners will be picked randomly on Friday, February 3, 2012 at 9am EST. This giveaway is now closed. WInners will be notified via email. Thanks for commenting.
This is an iconic cookbook, the stuff of legends and dreams. Marco Pierre White was that chef that almost every young, ambitious (mostly male) line cook that I came up through the ranks with wanted to be. Alex has an old tattered copy of White Heat that he used to keep in his bag for inspiration. He eventually got Marco to sign it and then it was retired to the bookshelf for fear that it would get destroyed. In his youth Marco Pierre White was a passionate, driven chef who inspired many of us to push harder and do more. The food may look slightly dated today but there is no denying its inherent beauty and thoughtfulness.
It's not an overly long book, 126 pages in the copy I'm holding. It begins:
You're buying White Heat because you want to cook well? Because you want to cook Michelin Stars? Forget it. Save your money. Go and buy a saucepan.
You want ideas, inspiration, a bit of Marco? Then maybe you'll get something out of this book. I warn you though, it's a jigsaw, and there's a hundred pieces missing. What do you expect? I'm at the beginning of my career. You're not going to see the true Marco until I'm 35 or 40. I haven't even been to France yet. But what's here is me, 1990 vintage, built on a foundation of energy, honesty and quality.
I still have a huge amount to learn. Everything changes in the restaurant, every day. By the time you read this, by the time you start using my ideas, the recipes will have changed. I'm never satisfied with anything I do, never. Almost never. The tagliatelle of oysters, I'm satisfied with that. I can't do anything better with it. Or the pig's trotter - but that's Pierre Koffman's dish, that's his perfection. Everything else I'm still thinking about, I'm still working on. Why do you think I still wear a blue apron?"
There are seventy-three recipes and endless inspiration in White Heat. This week we're giving away one copy of the book to one of our readers. To enter to win please leave a comment telling us why you love the kitchen. One entry per person please, comments are moderated and will not appear immediately. The winner will be picked randomly on Friday, January 27, 2012 at 9am EST. This giveaway is now closed. The winner will be notified via email. Thank you for all your comments!
January 24, 2005
Madeleine Kamman is one of those food writers that is very well known in certain circles and yet, puzzlingly, has never really dominated the food scene. She writes books that are educational, informative, opinionated and readable, all very important things. Back when I was in culinary school, one of my instructors held up her book, The New Making of a Cook, and told us all to go out and buy it if we were serious about heading into fine dining. I immediately went out and picked it up and then proceeded to slowly collect every single book of hers that I could get my hands on. Her books make you smarter in the kitchen. Unfortunately the New Making of a Cook is not as easy to find as it should be, large comprehensive culinary tomes have a very specific audience. Fortunately she has written several other slightly shorter books that are equally wonderful and today we are giving away her memoir/cookbook When French Women Cook.
I'm a sucker for gastronimic memoirs. There's something in the way that the stories are woven around the recipes that makes them both stay with me longer. A well written memoir is something special. I cut my teeth on MFK Fisher's The Art of Eating and James Beard's Delights and Prejudices, moved on to John Thorne, Roy Andries de Groot, Calvin Trillin, and Laurie Colwin and a lifelong obsession was born. There are a lot more food memoirs out there now, some are pretty wonderful and others are only loosely about food. The very best food writers understand how to draw you into their culinary lives while still establishing a boundary. There is sharing and then there is over-sharing. A good writer knows exactly where their personal line in the sand is drawn and can write beautiful stories and recipes right up to that point.
I happened to pick up When French Women Cook this afternoon and randomly opened it to a recipe for Heavy Cream Brioche. It was a reminder to me that everything has been done before as the recipe is basically a no-knead brioche recipe developed long before the idea of no-knead bread became mainstream. It is made with melted butter and forms a very loose, liquid batter that is allowed to rise in the pan that it will be baked in. While written in an old fashioned voice, which is one of the things I love about Kamman's writing, it has very precise instructions and looks to be something I may have to try in the very near future. The recipe is part of a group at the end of a chapter titled "Henriette," which takes place in Normandy, 1939. It is a snapshot of a time and place that no longer exists, told with such evocation that you'll wish you could travel back in time to experience it.
I think that When French Women Cook will be an admirable addition to the library of anyone who loves food. Unsurprisingly the dishes are very French. The recipes are relatively short and encompass a wide range of preparations including Oysters with Muscadet Fennel Butter, several different pates and terrines, Poached Chicken in Vinegar Sauce, Lobster with Garden Vegetables, Artichokes with Tomato Fondue and several regional breads and desserts. It is a wonderful book and a good introduction to the world of Madeleine Kamman. To enter to win a copy of the book please leave a comment below telling us about a woman who has influenced you in the kitchen. One entry per person please and please be sure that there is an email address attached to your comment so that we can contact you if you win. Comments are moderated and will not appear immediately. Winner will be picked on Friday, January 20, 2011 at 9am EST. This giveaway is now closed. Our winner has been notified via email. Thank you for all your great comments.
January 17, 2005
In the kitchen, as elsewhere, sometimes a bit of homespun wisdom can be more helpful than the fanciest education. In our library the books range from printed pamphlets to glossy coffee table tomes. All are there for a reason. While many of these books have been read from cover to cover, others are consulted for specific purposes. There are books that are fun to read, books that we must read and books that are like encyclopedias, used for the purpose of looking up information. Cookbooks, due to their size, are notoriously difficult to curl up with in bed. Hence the popularity of food writing in all of its myriad forms. That said some cookbooks are chatty and conversational and bursting with good information. That old adage "don't judge a book by it's cover" is true. Sometimes the ones that look fluffy actually have a lot of depth.
The Olive and The Caper, Adventures in Greek Cooking by Susanna Hoffman is one of those books. Unassuming in appearance, splashed with colorized boxes and pages, and full of quotes and stories you might think it was more lacking in substance. You would be wrong. There is an incredible amount of information packed between these two soft covers. Even better it is presented in such an easygoing manner that you will learn tons without ever realizing that it's happening. There is history and folklore interspersed with some really good recipes for Greek food. It fulfills the requirements of being a book you will enjoy reading and enjoy cooking from.
Having grown up in New York City my childhood was filled with Greek diners and the occasional trips to Astoria for Greek dinners. It is one of my favorite foods. Good books about Greek food were hard to find so when I stumbled across this one several years back I knew I had found a winner. It emphasized the bright, intense flavors that I love, the use of fresh herbs and the romantic nature of both the culture and the cuisine. This is a wonderful book for anyone who loves Greek food or just loves reading about food. In the last ten to fifteen years Greek food has been elevated to the level of fine dining. Chefs like Michael Psilakis have put Greece back on the menu in a whole new way. It's a cuisine worth exploring because there is so much there to work with.
So if you'd like to win a copy of The Olive and The Caper, please leave a comment below telling us about a Greek meal that made an impression on you. One entry per person please and make sure there is an email attached to your comment so we can contact you if you win. Comments are moderated and will not appear immediately. WInner will be randomly chosen on Friday, January 6, 2012 at 9am EST. This giveaway is now closed. The winner has been notified via email. Thanks for all your comments.
I think that it's safe to say that The French Laundry Cookbook changed the way modern cookbooks are written. Unsurprisingly to anyone familiar with Thomas Keller it raised the bar to a new standard, where the recipes accurately reflected both the chef and his restaurant. It wasn't simplified or dumbed down, it included stories about the place and the purveyors, and it painted a picture of exactly what professional cooking could be if you and your staff were willing to work hard enough. Thomas Keller is perhaps the most venerated American chef in our time, his name is practically synonymous with the idea of finesse, which is appropriate since it is the word that stands as both inspiration and motto in his kitchens. The attention to detail in the recipes is amazing. The French Laundry Cookbook gives you the ability to recreate his dishes if you are willing to follow them to the letter.
Any serious professional cook or chef has this book on their shelves. It has become the gold standard in such a way that no other book out there even comes close. Not even the many other excellent books written by Thomas Keller himself. It is equally at home in professional kitchens and in the homes of epicures and enthusiastic home cooks. It has reached that rarefied status of appealing to people across the board and that is because it is a book of substance and beauty. It's the kind of book we all strive to write because as you flip through the pages you are inspired and educated at the same time. In spite of being published in 1999, the dishes could easily appear on restaurant tables today. Keller's approach to cooking, to the entire dining experience, will never go out of style because he understands that every detail matters all the way down the line from the purveyor who brings his ingredients to the final farewell as guests walk out the door. A lot of people talk the talk. Here is someone who teaches people how to make it a reality. This book chronicles his food and philosophy for everyone who hasn't had the pleasure of visiting his restaurants although I guarantee that once you own the book you will be sure to seek out the experience.
We have not had the privilege of working in any of his kitchens but we have had the pleasure of experiencing some of the best meals in our lives in his restaurants. I think that our favorite meal of all time was at Per Se, in New York City. It was February 12, 2006. Jonathan Benno was the Chef de Cuisine. A blizzard blanketed New York City in snow the day before. As we sat at a window overlooking cross country skiers in Central Park we enjoyed an epic 16-course dual tasting menu (not including the amuse bouche or mignardises.) We have that menu framed in our dining room and we refer to it as the benchmark for fine dining in our minds. It was not the only meal we enjoyed at Per Se, Bouchon Bistro, Bouchon Bakery or The French Laundry, but it is the one that stands out in our minds as the very best. Sometimes the stars align in such a way that you know that you must revel in the moment because you may never experience anything quite like it again. That meal was one of those moments and I am guessing that more people have experienced those moments at Thomas Keller's restaurants than at any other.
In honor of the the upcoming New Year we are excited to be giving away a signed(!) copy of The French Laundry Cookbook donated from an anonymous donor. This is the time of year to reflect upon the good things that have happened in the past twelve months and plan the things you want to accomplish in the year ahead. To enter to win the book please leave a comment below telling us what special places are on your wish list for the coming year. It can be anywhere from a fine dining mecca to your grandmother's table to Nick's Nest, we just want to know what places will inspire you in the year to come. One entry per person and please be sure there is an email address attached to your comment so that we can contact you if you win. Comments are moderated and will not appear immediately. Please be patient, unless you receive an error message they will appear once we have a chance to review them. The winner will be randomly chosen on Friday, December 30, 2010 at 9am EST. This giveaway is now closed. Thanks for all your great comments. Our winner, Kurt Tarpley, has been notified via email.
It's the Tuesday before Christmas and we planned to give away a signed copy of one of our favorite classic cookbooks but things went awry. So here I sit pondering which book to write about today. There are several great books that have been recently released but I would like to wait a while for those. People tend to do a big PR push when books first come out and then after a few weeks or months sales start to drop and people move on to other books. That's when I like to talk about the books we really like because they deserve to be remembered long after their release date. Hmm, with that in mind, maybe classic books are the way to go for Christmas.
When I arrived at NECI for culinary school I really had no idea what I had gotten myself into. In spite of the fact that I had worked front of the house for years and done some baking and catering on the side, restaurant kitchens were someplace I visited, not the place I called home yet. My roommate was a perky blonde from the Midwest who arrived, boyfriend in tow, posessing the kitchen experience I lacked. She had been working in a small restaurant in her hometown and her trip to culinary school had been encouraged by her chef. We were equally excited to be there but in my mind she had an edge because she had worked in a professional kitchen for a year.
That first evening she proudly showed me her copy of Becoming a Chef, by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page. It had been inscribed by her chef and was her personal talisman to help her stay focused on her goal. I flipped through the pages and was immediately intrigued. So much so that I went out and bought my own copy the very next day. Over the next week and a half we were both introduced to a different world than the one we had come from. She missed her boyfriend terribly and found culinary school to be much more challenging than the kitchen she had come from. He proposed a week after her arrival and shortly thereafter she was driven to tears by her cafeteria instructor and headed back home. I, on the other hand, had found my calling. I loved the challenge and the competition, and knowing that even when I failed at something in the kitchen, I had found something I was truly good at. There is that camaraderie that can be found nowhere else, we are an incredibly dysfunctional family that chooses to be together to work towards a common goal. We voluntarily share that race through (hopefully) perfect mise en place every day, the feeling of elation that comes after a challenging service or that sympathetic ear when you royally f--k up in the kitchen. People come and go in and relationships often disintegrate with distance. But for those hours and days when you work together in the kitchen you know more about the people by your side than anyone else in the world and you are part of their team, whether you like it or not. That is both the beauty and the beast of the kitchen.
This was in 1996 and it was endlessly fascinating to me to read about the different chefs, their histories and philosophies, the myriad paths to the top of the brigade. It was long before chef bios were television shows and we were able to find out more than we wanted to about anyone via an internet search engine. There was still an aura of mystery about becoming a chef and how and why people were able to make it happen. The book made me see how much experience I lacked and it also made me see that anything was possible if I worked hard enough and smart enough in the right kitchens. While until recently I hadn't opened it in years, it stayed with me as part of my library when I traveled from place to place because it was such an inspiration when I began my journey.
We joke about the harder tasks in the kitchen and by hard I mean boring and laborious. Especially in fine dining, there are many, many jobs that are painstaking and take what seems like forever to accomplish to the standards of the chef. We chafe silently, determined to conquer them and relieved when we do because that usually means a step up the ladder and handing off that baton to the person behind you. What if you knew that for an entire season you were never going to climb very far? If, as part of an entire brigade of stagieres, mind numbing tasks were what you had committed to in order to be in the kitchen of one of the greatest chefs in the world? That is the premise of The Sorcerer's Apprentices: A Season in the Kitchen at Ferran Adria's El Bulli, by Lisa Abend. I'll admit that I orginally had no intention of reading this book. When we gave away Volt ink., by Bryan and Michael Voltaggio we asked readers about their favorite food books and one commenter's description made download it and begin to read.
In many ways it is the antithesis of Becoming a Chef because it chronicles the lives of the stagieres, the very bottom rung of the ladder. Of course everyone must begin somewhere and it is impossible to become a chef without being a stagiere at least once and probably many times in the course of a career. It is a unique view of what was a very special restaurant. Perhaps more than any chef, Ferran was an artist, creating individual experiences and using food as his medium. Dinners there are called pilgrimages for a reason and although we never made it, the stories we read and heard about were culinary legend and lore. While people may not always have agreed with his approach, there was no arguing with success. Ferran taught us all that if you believe enough in what you do and work hard enough at perfecting and presenting it, no matter how unusual your passion may be, your audience will find you. HIs restaurant would be impossible without the work of the stagieres and attracting the stagieres would be impossible without immense passion and dedication. It's a perfect circle where one cannot exist without the other in that particular place and time. Lisa Abend's book beautifully chronicles both the routine of days at the restaurant and the motivations of the stagieres who make it possible.
This week we are giving away a set, one copy each of Becoming a Chef by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page and one copy of The Wizard's Apprentices by Lisa Abend. Please leave a comment sharing an experience overcoming an obstacle in the kitchen. Comments are moderated and will not appear immediately. One entry per person please. Winner will be randomly chosen on Friday, December 20, 2011 at 9am EST. The give away is now closed. The winner has been notified via email. Thanks for all your great comments and Happy Holidays!
Don't be fooled by the title of this book. Rustic Italian Food, by Marc Vetri, with David Joachim, is no simple little Italian cookbook. Then again, if you know anything about Marc Vetri, a chef's chef if there ever ever was one, this will not surprise you. Vetri is one of those guys who should inspire you to reach for the sky. He shows young (and not so young) cooks what it is possible to achieve if a person is passionate, motivated and focused. As you read his narrative it's easy to see why he is where is. Vetri shares laugh out loud stories, tinged with the passion of a chef. Both the narrative and the recipe headnotes are treasure troves of both information and entertainment. These tales will seem familiar to many, not because we were there, per se, but because we've "been there" at one time or another. His passion for food, the frustrations of an experienced chef, the nuances of the craft of cooking, and his unwavering (but not inflexible) belief in his vision of food are all there in a remarkably conversational style. It's almost like having Marc Vetri in your kitchen, which is a pretty cool thing.
If you simply flip through this book it's easy to miss how detailed the recipes are. It begins with bread, as most restaurant meals do. Vetri explains why it's such an integral part of his meal. It's the first book that I've come across that includes a recipe for the dough for either a chef's pasta extruder or the home cook's Kitchen Aid pasta extruder attachment. Vetri explains why he likes fresh extruded pasta, how to make it, how to dry it out for texture, and then gives us several great dishes, each easily adapted to dried pastas for those without an extruder. He continues on to fresh rolled pasta, giving special emphasis to the techniques that make each one special. There is a whole section on sausage and charcuterie, a particular passion of his. From beef speck to warm pork belly, from lamb mortadella to chorizo, from a potted trout terrine to swordfish sausage, there is something for everyone. The primer at the beginning of the chapter thoroughly explains the entire process with temperatures, ratios and background information presented to make the reader feel comfortable and well-informed. Meat fermentation, in spite of the success of CharcutePalooza, is still an intimidating prospect for many and Vetri gives us the tools we need to go forward with confidence. This chapter is followed by one on pickles and condiments that could be served with the charcuterie and could just as easily go with several other dishes, both sweet and savory, scattered throughout the book. I can't wait until spring to try my hand at artichoke mostarda. Just looking at the pictures fills me with ideas. Fresh herbs are everywhere in the book and that only makes sense because they add freshness and flavor to every dish they appear in.
Marc Vetri's rustic food is very family friendly, big on flavor, with detailed recipes that will make you want to cook. This is complemented by the photography. Pictures of food, cooking and his family are scattered through the pages. There are step by step photos of various techniques, and several include Vetri's family in the kitchen, mostly his older son Maurice, bringing home the idea that great food begins at home and anyone can cook it as long as they are willing to try. Recipes continue through vegetables, desserts and his version of basics, including a hand crushed marinara, corn crema, and chocolate sauce.
A great chef is always a good teacher. It is that particular skill that makes it possible to train your staff to reproduce your food to your standards, inspires your cooks to be excited to come to work in the morning and keeps you on your toes, constantly pushing yourself to learn more so as not to fall behind your students and peers. It's easy to sit at the top of the hill, it's much harder to build a castle there, fill it with people and defend it. A well seasoned chef acknowledges that not everyone may agree with their take on food and flavor but there's no arguing with solid technique and information. Those are presented in this book in spades.
Alex was at Amis last Sunday, scouting out the brunch scene. We like to make sure places are kid-friendly before bringing Amaya to dine. During the course of his meal both Brad Spence and Marc Vetri came in separately for brunch with their families. Clearly we'll be going back with our girl sometime very soon. While he was there, Marc graciously donated and signed a copy of his book for us to give away to one of you. To enter to win please leave a comment below telling us about someone who helped you learn to love cooking. One entry per person and please make sure there is an email address attached to your comment. Comments are moderated and will not appear immediately. If you have problems posting a comment (error message from Typepad) please email us and we will post it for you. Winner will be chosen on Friday, December 16, 2011 at 9am EST. This giveaway is now closed. Our winner C. Smith has been notifed via email. Thanks for all your great comments.
I never knew how hectic a third birthday could be. The party was over the weekend, there were cupcakes for playschool today and a birthday dinner tonight. We did a strawberry birthday cake on Saturday for the party, with a center layer of icebox cake. For that we layered strawberry macaron shells and Meyer lemon curd lightened with whipped cream. For this morning's cupcakes I made strawberry-Meyer lemon cupcakes with strawberry frosting. Tonight for the birthday dinner there will be an ice cream cake. Unsurprisingly Amaya chose strawberry and lemon-ginger as her two ice cream flavors with a chocolate brownie center. Not from Carvel, this cake is from a local ice cream place, O Wow Cow. They make really delicious ice cream with unusual flavors like torrone, chartreuse, cranberry-blood orange, mango-habanero, and whatever else happens to strike them on any given day. O Wow Cow uses locally sourced ingredients when possible and there are only two stores. We love that in addition to eating yummy ice cream we are also supporting a local business when we shop there. This will be our first taste of their cakes and I'm definitely looking forward to it.
In honor of our love of ice cream, today we are talking about Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams At Home, by Jeni Britton Bauer. We actually got to try Jeni's ice creams this summer when we were in Rhode Island. The local gourmet grocery carried them and although we winced a little at the prices we had to try it. Needless to say after the first pint we went back and bought more. It was creamy and wonderfully delicious. When we got back we tried to get our local Whole Foods to carry it to no avail. So instead we had to comfort ourselves with her book. This was not a hardship because the book is equally easy to love. Jeni brings a unique approach to her ice cream making, eschewing eggs for cornstarch and corn syrup. This brings a clarity to her flavors and creates a great, smooth texture that we enjoy. It's a well written tome and the stories and the recipes will have you happily turning the pages until the very end. She has space in each recipe for you to write your personal tasting notes so that you can tweak them to your heart's content. There's a lot of great background information and I think you'll find the book to be both inspirational and educational. It will make you think about what you can do with a bowl of ice cream and how you can incorporate all of your favorite flavor memories.
For this week's giveaway we are asking you to share a memorable ice cream experience. It could be any kind of ice cream from down home to high end and it could be about eating it, sharing it, making it, as long as it makes you happy when you think of it. We will be giving away one copy of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams At Home to a winner who will be chosen randomly from among the commenters. One entry per person please, comments are moderated and will not appear immediately. Please make sure there is an email attached to the comment. Winner will be chosen on Friday, December 9, 2011 at 9am EST. This giveaway is now closed. Our winner, DominiqueN, has been notified via email. We've been hearing about some issues with commenting and so if you were unable to post a comment below we apologize.
Years ago, when Alex and I were at our first consulting job, revamping a menu for a restaurant in Westchester, I discovered Nancy Silverton. At that time she had three books out: Desserts, Breads From La Brea Bakery and Pastries from La Brea Bakery. I read them all from cover to cover. Even though I had graduated from culinary school and done more than my fair share of baking through the years, I quickly discovered how much I still had to learn. The books were well written, informative and comprehensive. I still have all three in (almost) pristine condition. I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that I've never made it out to actually taste any of her food, but when we heard about the Mozza Cookbook it was an auto-buy. We couldn't wait to read about what she was currently doing with pizza, pasta, dessert and everything in between.
One of the things that characterized SIlverton's earlier books and is definitely in play here is the attention to detail that runs through all of the recipes. Whether it's the step by step technique for cutting carrots for coleslaw or the two and half pages of tips in "matt's scuola di pasta," everything you need to know is right there in front of you. That's an invaluable thing in a recipe and in a book. One of the other great things about the Mozza Cookbook is that there really is something for everyone. Meat dishes, seafood dishes, vegetarian dishes and gluten free dishes, are all scattered throughout its pages. From how to roast fresno chiles to how to toast walnuts for your biscotti, from making rabbit stock to salsa verde, from cannole di gelato to Nancy's chopped salad, these recipes are appetizing and comprehensive. They are easily adaptable and the techniques and information are worth their weight in gold. This book is everything we hoped it would be and more. It's traditional Italian through a modern American lens with food you'll want to cook and eat. It isn't dumbed down and some of the recipes will challenge you in the best possible way because they will give you confidence and make you a better cook.
On to this week's giveaway. We will send one copy of the Mozza Cookbook, by Nancy SIlverton with Matt Molina and Carolynn Carreño, anywhere Amazon will ship it. To enter to win please leave a comment describing one of the most memorable Italian meals you've ever had, at home or anywhere else. Comments are moderated and will not appear immediately. One entry per person, only comments that answer this question will be eligible, and please make sure there is an email address as part of your comment profile so we can contact you if you win. Winner will be picked randomly on Friday, December 2, 2011 at 9am EST. This giveaway is now closed. Roberta, our winner, has been notified via email. Thanks for all your great comments! They were a pleasure to read and full of inspirations.
As I sit here writing this post I am contemplating the negative connotations of being a food blogger. Alex was just a guest at the Inn at Palmetto Bluffs at an amazing food event, Music to Your Mouth (more on that in another post) and on his last night in the south he headed to Charleston for dinner at McCrady's. He was sitting at a table with the Ulterior Epicure when a woman wandered over from another table and demanded to know which one of them was the "food blogger." Bonjwing happily pointed at Alex and skedaddled, after which Alex was subjected to a diatribe about how food bloggers and people from Yelp were ruining her restaurant. She explained, at length, why she believed all food bloggers were self entitled S.O.B.s with no respect for the hard work of people in the restaurant business and no respect for anyone at all. Alex sat through this relatively politely, probably because he was fighting off the death plague at the time and full of DayQuil, making it relatively easy for him to zone out and distance himself from the conversation. Because it wasn't about him, she was just looking for a captive punching bag, so to speak, and any food blogger would do. Never mind that he is also a chef, that we still work extensively with chefs, restaurants and food service professionals, and that he had never set foot in this woman's place of business. He was a food blogger and that was enough for her to tell him off on behalf of every annoying food blogger that ever walked into her restaurant.
Note that I said every annoying food blogger because guaranteed, for every blogger that pissed her off, at least four or five others went through her restaurant without her ever knowing they were there. Food blogging is by design a very personal thing. People write about food because they are passionate about it. For every person that writes any level of restaurant review there are countless others that write about grilled cheese sandwiches, creative culinary explorations, down home cooking, restaurant exploits, baking delicacies or disasters, the list is endless. And to be fair, you may not like them, but the people who care enough to hit every new and interesting restaurant or established great restaurant and write about them are a big part of why these places stay in business. They're not all jerks, the obnoxious ones are usually the ones who are in it for the perks instead of because they love food. People blog because they have something to say and they hope the right audience will find its way to their website. People who come into restaurants expecting free courses and kowtowing have personality issues that have nothing to do with the fact that they might write a blog. Likening every blogger to a few bad apples is akin to affecting the attitude of the few crass construction workers who pull the corners of their eyes or gyrate their hips and yell "ching chong china girl" as I walk past them on the street. It's prejudice pure and simple.
WIth that off my chest I'd like to move on to what's good about food blogging. I'm the first to admit that there are dozens, if not hundreds of blogs out there that we should be reading and haven't found yet. The very best ones have a distinct point of view, good writing and/or photography and are fun to read. They speak from a very personal point of view and the best ones tell stories that entertain and teach and reach inside us and make us feel good. Food writing used to be a tough nut to crack. Very few writers managed to get books published and make a name for themselves. One of my favorite food writers, who in my opinion, epitomizes what good blogging should be, is Laurie Colwin. She wrote a column for Gourmet magazine that was groundbreaking because it wasn't about travel to exotic places or glowing reviews of fancy restaurants. It was the thread that brought all of its far flung epicurean articles home and made the magazine accessible to everyone. It was opinionated, forthright and utterly enchanting. It talked about home cooking with equal parts respect and irreverence and was full of great recipes and stories that made you want to cook them. In many ways her writing is the gold standard for food writing today. It wasn't fancy but it always left you wanting more.
Since it is Tuesday and I love her books, we are giving away a set of Home Cooking and More Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin to one reader. We'll send the books anywhere Amazon is willing to mail them. To enter to win please leave a comment below tellng us about a favorite food writing blog or book. Please make sure there is an email address attached to your comment so we can contact you if you win. One entry per person please. Comments are moderated and will not appear immediately. Winner will be picked randomly at 9am EST on Friday, November 25, 2011. Giveaway is now closed. Melissa, our winner has been notified via email. Thanks for commenting, now we have lots of new things for us to check out.
I am a book lover. I read at least a few week, all different genres, and I have since I was a child. Escapism and education all rolled into one tidy package, what's not to love? The best books have personality. They are not always the most well written, with the strongest storyline or the most informative with clear illustrations or vivid photography. The best books speak to us on some level, reaching out and pulling us into their pages so that we are compelled to finish them, drawn back again and again to reread them, and live in our memories long after we put them down. They can be fiction or essays, cookbooks or business tomes. They can be any kind of book at all as long as they are written with passion and care and with that special, indefinable something that makes the words leap off the page and into our brains. This new Tuesday feature is about finding cookbooks that fit into that category. Some of them will be more compelling than others, some of them will be more beautiful or more homespun, but all of them will have something wonderful to offer or we wouldn't bother to mention them. Cookbooks are always there for us. There are ones we treasure for the stories or for the techniques, others for their insight into worlds beyond ours or the nuts and bolts of how food works, some we love for the amazing photography or simple inspirations. Each book is its own treasure and will appeal to different types of cooks and readers. All of them are worth mentioning and seeking out. FIfty-two books may seem like a lot, until you consider the sheer number of cookbooks published every year. In that light they are a drop in the bucket, especially if we don't confine ourselves to the recently published. Of course this has been an amazing year for cookbooks and we'll stay in the present crop of books for a while yet. This week we're going to Kansas City to read Blue Stem, a new collaborative cookbook by Colby Garrelts and Megan Garrelts with Bonjwing Lee.
We actually received our copy as a gift from Bonjwing. Since it was already on our TBR list it was a welcome one. Of course giving us a book doesn't automatically mean we will like it or write about it. There has to be more and from the very first pages of this one there was. Blue Stem straddles the line between restaurant cookbook and kitchen primer in a very good way. At a glance it resembles the genre of chef cookbooks, with pictures of plated dishes and ingredients, lifestyle photography in and out of the restaurant and...a quick glance doesn't do justice to this book. And as you're flipping pages you realize that the photography is telling its own story in a very cohesive way. Those plated dishes have combinations that you may not have seen before, the technical pictures look alive and the people are vibrant, seemingly caught in a passing moment of life. You go back to the beginning, turning the pages more slowly this time, absorbing the feel of the book, and then you begin to read. The next thing you know an hour has gone by and you're wondering whether or not you can plan plan a trip to Kansas City to see if this place really exists.
The recipes are both whimsical and practical. They are clearly written with doneness cues and variations that will allow you to make them your own, a trait we love. Reading them will make you a better cook. More importantly they are personal. There is a clear point of view behind each one and as you read them you begin to understand the perspective behind them. It's not easy to make food that appeals to a wide audience and still remains true to your own taste. The biggest difference between restaurant recipes and home cooking is the attention to detail. Those myriad small steps that take your food to the next level. This book makes you feel like you could make all these recipes if you wanted to, but why would you got to the trouble if you're lucky enough to live in their home town? It makes you want to visit the restaurant and experience that world. For those of us too far away, we can comfort ourselves in the kitchen with their recipes. For chefs and restaurant people this book reminds us why we do what we do.
The authors of this book: Colby Garrelts, Megan Garrelts and Bonjwing Lee have generously offered us one copy of the book to give away. To enter to win please leave a comment telling us about your favorite hometown restaurant. Other comments are welcome but will not be entered in the drawing. One entry per person please. Comments are moderated and will not appear immediately. Please include an email in your profile so we can contact you for a mailing address. Winner must have a mailing address in the continental United States. The winner will be picked randomly on Friday, November 18, 2001 at 9am EST. This giveaway is now closed. Brian, our winner has been notified via email. Thanks for all your comments and stories. Now we have a new list of restaurants to try on our travels.
This book is as beautiful as you would expect from a restaurant with four stars from the New York Times, three Michelin stars and five James Beard Awards. It is in a word, stunning. The recipes are layered and focused. There's no feeling that they simplified for the home cook*, on the contrary, they realized people were looking for the real deal. Restaurant recipes are not generally characterized by difficulty, rather they are about attention to detail the subtle layering of flavors and components that would be too laborious or time consuming for the average dinner at home. Restaurant meals, especially high end restaurant meals, are also punctuated by the beauty of ingredients that it is almost impossible for the home cook to easily source or justify paying for. We go to restaurants of this level to be indulged, to be pampered, to see and taste things that we wouldn't find anywhere else. The beauty of the modern restaurant/chef cookbook is that it allows us this same indulgence without ever leaving the comfort of our homes. We may not be able to afford a meal at Eleven Madison Park with good friends and a dizzying array of wines but we can all afford this glimpse into another world.
The photography is striking. While I understand the allure of artful blurring, I love that you can see each tiny detail from the faintly blushing hue of perfectly cooked meats to the tiny striation on the leaf of an herb. Chocolates are glazed to a mirror finish, precisely cut chives grace the top of seared foie gras and minced cucumber caviar is almost exactly the same size as the grains of couscous just to the side of it. According to the book jacket, the photographer, Francesco Tonelli, is an Italian Master Chef and it shows in his work. There is an appreciation for color and the beauty of the ingredients that runs throughout the book. The photography is a perfect match for the food.
The food is artful and yet when you read the recipes, the flavor combinations make perfect sense. You can see how things blend together and frankly they make me want to run out and make a reservation, although my bank account precludes that particular urge. It's the kind of of food that makes you want to be a better cook, that sends us back into the kitchen to try again to make that perfect dish. It's inspiring to see that someone is out there doing things so well. To see that balance of flavor and color and texture, food that reads as well as it looks. These days we read more about food than we actually go out to enjoy it, so cookbooks that read well are important to us.
*The only quibble we have is a small one, Alex quickly pointed out that there were no metric conversions or weights in the book, especially surprising considering Daniel Humm's Swiss background. But then most published cookbooks are aimed at a large market of home cooks. Given the complexity of the recipes it is understandable that the publisher would want to make them as accessible as possible. And truly, if that's the only caveat we have, the real question is what are you waiting for? Go and buy your copy now (we got ours from Amazon because you can't beat the price.) You won't regret it.
Because we found this book so inspiring we are going to give away one copy of Eleven Madison Park the Cookbook. To enter to win please leave a comment below describing your most indulgent restaurant experience. Only comments that actually do this will be entered to win. Please make sure that there is an email address where we can contact you and that you have a mailing address in the continental US to receive the book. The winner will be picked randomly and announced Friday morning (November 11, 2011) at 9am EST. One entry per person please.
This giveaway is now closed. Nomi, our winner, has been contacted via email. Thank you to everyone who entered. We enjoyed all of your stories.
Given the popularity of the Momofuku cookbook, the restaurants, and Milk Bar itself, this may have been one of the most hotly anticipated books of the fall season. Momofuku Milk Bar by Christina Tosi definitely lives up to the hype. This is a compulsively readable book, filled with personality and information alike. Tosi has a straightforward storytelling style that makes everything in this book approachable and easy to swallow. It's one of those cookbooks that you will read from cover to cover and emerge entertained and a better cook for your efforts.
What we like about all of David Chang's places is that they always put flavor first. Momofuku MIlk Bar is no exception to this rule. The recipes in the book are streamlined and easy to follow. They appear to be true to life and it's the little things, like glucose in the cookie dough or cornstarch in the liquid cheesecake, that make all the difference. We love that Christina Tosi brings back childhood favorites like Confetti Cake (the cake mix classic) and Grasshopper Pie (always considered and "adult dessert" at our holiday table) and gives them a modern reinterpretation. Though to be honest even if you never make a single thing, buying the book is still money well spent for the ideas and inspirations.
We bought our copy of Momofuku Milk Bar as soon as it was released. Because we liked it so much, we asked Clarkson Potter for one copy to gve away to our readers. If you'd like to enter to win please leave a comment below telling us about your most memorable dessert experience. It could be one you cooked, one you enjoyed or one that made you run screaming from the table. We're just looking for a good story. Please make sure that there is an email address where we can contact you and that you have a mailing address in the continental US. The winner will be picked randomly and announced Friday morning (November 4, 2011) at 9am EST. One entry per person please.
The giveaway is now closed. Our winner, Irene, has been notified by email. Thanks for all the comments. We enjoyed reading them. Lots of great inspirations in there.
This is a great fall season for cookbooks. There are so many good books that have already been released, with more coming that we're going to try and feature a new book once week for a while. As avid readers and cookbook writers we just can't get enough of them, even when it puts a strain on our bank accounts.
Some of you know that we had a hand in Volt ink., Brian and Michael Voltaggio's new book. It was a fun and challenging project and we think that they've accomplished something pretty extraordinary with their first book. Instead of feeling short-changed because it's one book instead of two, readers will be excited because they get two for the price of one. While there may be some similarities between the brothers: they both have a great passion for cooking, a love of ingredients, and a dedication to sustainability; their personal styles are very different.
It was inspiring to work with them both. They put their heart and souls into making this a great book, no easy task, given their other responsibilities. It shows both in the recipes and in the stories that pepper the head notes. From the emphasis on families in the structure of the book to the recurring theme of relationships in the food pairings and food memories, this book is a window into the lives of two chefs and the way they shape their food.
There is a good spread of recipes from simple to complex but there is none of the dumbing down or simplification of techniques that used to be so popular in "chef books." It's their food exactly the way they would cook it in their restaurants, with a few optional alternatives offered here and there to allow home cooks to approximate their results without investing in expensive equipment. There's complexity and inspiration to be found in these pages, which is only fitting as Michael and Brian are both chefs who care deeply about what they do. The photography by Ed Anderson shows it all off beautifully. The book and its extended iBook will is available now and we encourage you all to go check it out.
**Weldon Owen has generously offered 2 copies of Volt ink for us to giveaway here. To qualify leave comment below telling us what your favorite cookbook/food writing book is and why. You must have a valid email address with your comment so we can contact you to get your mailing address. Winners wil be chosen randomly on Friday morning at 9am EST and announced on this post.
***Winners will also get 1 copy of our book, Ideas in Food, Great Recipes and Why They Work.
Giveaway is now closed. Stattrek was used to generate 2 random numbers from the list of comments. Winners are Joana Ang and Judith Klinger.
One of the interesting characteristics of the book Pasta by Design, is that each page highlights a noodle shape and each shape is shown as a CAD. The computer drawings isolate the noodle and shows it as an individual design. The books layout of shapes sparked an individual organization for our pasta dies. Now, each die is stored on its own ready to be used. Like the book, the order is just the beginning. Looking at what is possible with these beautifully machined pieces of bronze kick starts the mind. Having them arranged allows for ease of use and adjustment in pasta making. Not every dough is right for a certain shape. With the dies easily within reach we can change dies and find the optimum shape for a specific dough or make several shapes with one dough and see how they eat on their own and in sauces. Organizing frees the mind from thinking about finding and allows it to work on combining and creating.
This is quite simply a beautiful book. (Picture via Amazon.) What we love about Pasta by Design, by George L. Legendre and Stefano Grazini, is that it takes an ingredient that we use all the time, is in almost every pantry across America and in much of the world and elevates it to an art form. There is a whole world behind that cardboard box in your cupboard. There is detailed design work that goes into every piece and there was thought involved in creating the different shapes and the myriad culinary applications that they were meant for. It's a wonderful reminder not to overlook the obvious. Just because something is in front of us all the time doesn't mean that we remember to take the time to appreciate it. The things we take for granted are often the things it would be the most difficult to do without.
Sometimes we get a book and for whatever reason it doesn't resonate. We read it and it just doesn't work for us. Sometimes a little time and distance can give us a new perspective on a formerly unappreciated tome. While it can be frustrating to realize that you had a hidden treasure sitting in plain sight, the fact is you have to be ready to appreciate it. When Gray Kunz's book The Elements of Taste came out I read it from cover to cover, underlined various points (to Aki's chagrin) and then set it aside. I had four star expectations for the book and for my younger self it failed to deliver. The book's comfortable approach to a complex topic flew well over my head. It sat on our book shelves for years, untouched, occasionally referenced but never fully explored.
Fast forward to a week ago and a conversation with a good friend and fellow chef who loves the book. His enthusiasm inspired me to take another look. The next time I wanted something to read I casually reached for The Elements of Taste. As I looked through it I was shocked to realize that what I had formerly dismissed as simplicity was actually the distillation of the myriad experiences of a culinary mastermind. It was incredible going through the book and seeing what I had underlined ten years ago, seeing what struck my fancy, what I was intrigued by and how those same sparks get ideas flowing today.
I opened to a random page and saw a beautiful gratin of fresh peas, pistachios and tarragon. It was one of those, "of course it's been done before" moments. Not that we thought we did something particularly unique, but to see the exact combination of ingredients and flavors beautifully presented over ten years ago was, well, humbling. It reminded me of the fact that while ideas may be new to us, chances are good that someone else had them before. Still it put a small smile on my face. If we are harnessing the flavor combinations of Gray Kunz then we can't be doing too poorly.
As summer approaches, a new wave of cookbooks is hitting the shelves. We've been lucky enough to purchase two winners.The Japanese Grill: From Clasic Yakitori to Steak, Seafood and Vegetables by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat is one of those books. While the recipes may seem deceptively simple, they are full of bold flavor and as you flip through the book your fingers will literally itch to grill. Broiled salt cured salmon served with hot rice was one of my favorite childhood dishes and it made me happy to find a version here. It's a great example of what I love about Japanese home cooking, it can be simple in technique and execution and still somehow both comforting and delicious. The side dish section at the end of the book is really a salad section and this is a good thing because raw vegetables in a variety of rich and acidic dressings are a perfect accompaniment to the deep, smoky flavors of the grill that precede them. There's a wide range of dishes to appeal to any palate from chicken oysters, hearts, livers, and skin grilled yakitori style to garlic and soy marinated porterhouse, lamb shoulder steak with Japanese curry oil to grilled lobster with ponzu-brown butter. It's a pretty wonderful book and I challenge you to read it without getting hungry.
Another great buy was Sugar Baby: Confections, Candies, Cakes & Other Delicious Recipes for Working With Sugar by Gesine Bullock Prado. Yes she's the sister of Sandra Bullock but that has absolutely no bearing on this book. Organized by temperature starting with simple dissolve to hard crack and beyond, it is a clever and beautiful book showcasing a wide range of recipes capitalizing on the diversity of sugar. Sugar is one of those ingredients that seduces and confounds many cooks, including myself, of both the sweet and savory bent. It is endlessly intriguing for it's flexibility and beauty. From spun sugar cotton candy to candy corn, from whoopie pies to French macaroons this book is an odd mixture of old fashioned pleasures and modern sensibilities that manages to be charming in a straight-forward, slightly smart alecky way that I totally appreciate. Buy it if only to encourage the production of cookbooks with actual personality and keep it because there's so much to learn between the front and back covers. Candy cookbooks that cover a wide range of textures and flavors beyond the basic chocolate-caramel-hard candy type treats are few and far between and we should appreciate the ones that appear and enjoy them.
A few weeks ago we were in San Francisco and of course we found ourselves wandering into Omnivore Books. While we were there we managed to do some damage to our bank account and one of the things we discovered was that there is a series of River Cottage Handbooks. We bought three: Hedgerow, Veg Patch, and Edible Seashore. As spring slowly starts to emerge we are contemplating the next steps for our kitchen garden, so the first two books seemed particularly appealing. And seafood is a passion of ours and as we begin to move towards warmer weather, lighter meals and bright flavors, the idea of fish becomes infinitely more alluring. The handbooks are chock full of information and have photographs and recipes for inspiration. We highly recommend them. Of course even though most of the links here are to Amazon, (and everyone knows we are big fans of Amazon) we also encourage you to contact your local independent cookbook store, I'm sure they'd be happy to special order them for you.
you may not have heard of. This was an amazing year for books and many very good books run the risk of being overlooked. Because of that we've put together a short list of books we loved that aren't getting as much buzz as other, more well known authors. Along those lines we tried to pick books that we haven't mentioned here yet.
Encyclopedia of Pasta, by Oretta Zanini De Vita and translated by Maureen B. Fant is a wonderful, comprehensive book that has more information and inspiration than you ever thought you could find in pasta. It has history, mythology and practical knowledge, everything you need in a great book.
A World of Cake by Krystina Castella is an odyssey spanning the globe, chronicling the world of cake. I confess that I bought the book for the Kasutera Cake recipe, a Japanese sponge cake that I've been chasing for years. Once the book arrived I was completely seduced by it's wide array of stories and recipes. As a lifelong cake lover it provided a surprising number of completely new and unique recipes that I can't wait to try out, in one form or another. Another fascinating read for anyone with a sweet tooth.
Secrets of the Red Lantern by Pauline Nguyen is a book we discovered it this year and felt compelled to share. This is both book and cookbook, for those who like to armchair travel it will take you to another time and place, from Vietnam to Australia, with a family who's life seems defined by food, both good and bad. The recipes are a welcome counterpoint to the stories and give you the tools ncessary to feed the hunger that builds as you read the book.
Asian Dumplings, Mastering Gyoza, Spring Rolls, Samosas and More by Andrea Nguyen, the title and tag line basically say it all. This book is a must for anyone who loves these rich, delicae morsels. It is broken up into categories like thin skins, rich pastries, and translucent wheat and tapioca starches. Nguyen covers every aspect of dumpling making from flour to cooking method. There are photographs and line drawings to illustrate the techniques and recipes are clearly written and easy to follow.
Please feel free to chime in with your recommendations. We're always looking for new inspirations!
I found this book through sheer dumb luck, surfing the Amazon book section, as I am known to do on occasion. Forgotten Skills of Cooking, the Time Honored Ways are the Best, by Darina Allen is a treasury of information for any cook or lover of food. It seems to have everything from classic rib roasts and steamed puddings to beef tea and carrageenan moss syrup for those feeling under the weather. There's information on dairy products from beestings (colostrum) to homemade junket, how to keep hens, make charcuterie, build a smoker, compost, bake, pickle, preserve, and clean your kitchen when you're all done. 25 years of running the Ballymaloe Cooking School brings a whole lotta practical knowledge to the table.
Occasionally publishers contact us to ask if we'd like a copy of a book or two. We have a big enough library that we tend to be somewhat choosy about which books we say yes too. (A lucky place to be in, as we well know.) Recently Harper Collins offered us a copy of Adam Perry Lang's new book BBQ 25 and Farm to Fork by Emeril Lagasse. We said yes to both and they arrived today. Now it's a rare day when we can be surprised by a book but BBQ 25 was so darned smart right out of the box that I couldn't help but share. It's a board book with plastic coated pages, compactly sized at 8"x5". With a little pressing it happily seems to stay open for easy access and even better, every single recipe is written and illustrated on two pages facing each other, so whatever page you turn to has all the information you need to complete the dish. Pretty cool. Now we haven't actually tried any of the recipes but the design was so clever that we couldn't resist writing about it anyway. It's inspiring just to flip through it and we don't say that about every book that we open.
And for the record the new Emeril book surprised the heck outta me. It's got some really fun stuff in it, and this coming from someone who's never bought an Emeril cookbook. After reading some of these recipes I can honestly say the man can cook.
* It turns out that Adam Perry Lang also has a more complex and equally intriguing BBQ cookbook out this spring which we did not know of until after writing this post. It looks like I will be off to the bookstore to pick up this companion piece.
Now it's no surprise that one of Amaya's two favorite bedtime books is Green Eggs and Ham, but have you ever heard the story of Scrambled Eggs Super, special deluxe a la Peter T Hooper? It's another great selection for young foodies from Dr. Seuss. Consider the first page:
Said Peter T Hooper, but speaking of toast
And speaking of kitchens and ketchup and cake
And kettles and stoves and the stuff people bake...
Well I don't like to brag, but I'm telling you Liz,
That speaking of cooks, I'm the best that there is!
Why, only last Tuesday, when mother was out
I really cooked something worth talking about!
If ever there was a children's book about an aspiring young chef, this is it. It chronicles the adventures of Peter T Hooper as he searches for the finest freshest eggs pilfered from the best tasting birds from around the world, culminating in the very finest Scrambled Eggs Super the world has ever seen. As always Dr. Seuss delights in taking personalities and situations to the extreme while beginning with a very plausible scenario. It's a tongue in cheek look at cooking written over fifty years ago that still manages to remind us (the parents) of modern day gourmet clubs that focus on extreme eating and exotics from around the world. At bedtime Amaya chooses her two books. Most of the time we start with "Ham" and end with "Super" and by the time Daddy is done reading Amaya is usually sound asleep.
I'm always happy to see the UPS man. I probably order an appalling amount of stuff online but it is both cost and time effective for me, something I can do one-handed on my iphone while Amaya sleeps. And frankly, in most cases I can get better prices online than I can in stores. When I can't then Alex shops for us. This week I was particularly happy to see the UPS man because some of our favorite cookbook authors have relatively new books out. (Hey I have a toddler, I can't keep up with all the new releases anymore.) David Lebovitz's new book Ready For Dessert was a no-brainer. We own all of his books and they are always great. He has a wonderful palate and his recipes are solid gold. The second book to arrive is Turquoise by Greg and Lucy Malouf, another automatic buy because they produce books that are beautiful and informative. They transport us to far off lands and always provide inspiration in and out of the kitchen. Now I just have to find the time and space to read them...
We decided to pair the potato pearls with actual tapioca. Alex wanted to try out a technique he found in Francisco J Migoya's new book The Modern Cafe. We've been fans of tapioca for years. As a child I loved bubble tea and the slippery, chewy texture of the pearls. Later we took the method that we learned for finishing rice pudding back in the day from Ken at Clio. This involved having a cooked rice base that was finished a la minute with creme anglaise and whipped cream. When applied to tapioca the results are spectacular especially since the anglaise and the cream can be flavored in any number of different ways. As always it is one small step from sweet to savory and in this case we liked the idea of juxtaposing the large potato pearls with small tapioca ones.
The technique in question involved adding the tapioca to cold water and bringing it to a simmer, rinsing the pearls under cold water to remove any tapioca slime and repeating the process four times. It worked beautifully and is just one more reason to take a closer look at The Modern Cafe. (We were lucky enough to get a review copy.) The book is about opening a modern style cafe and is as thoughtful and well researched as one would expect from a book by Francisco.
Thanksgiving looms on the horizon. Each year we try and improve on what and how we cook. Last year we took a Turkey hiatus and prepared traditional raclette. It turns out Amaya loves turkey and with that love cancels all my plans for Chinese take out on Turkey Day. Instead, we are working on new turkey preparations and presentations. One which recently passed muster is a turkey thigh, boned, seasoned with harissa, bonded back to its bone and wrapped in thick cut bacon. The roll is then cooked sous vide and finally roasted to crisp the bacon.
Those brownies were a riff off the cocoa brownie recipe in Alice Medrich's book Bittersweet. I sometimes up the butter by an ounce or two and I bake them at 325 degrees Fahrenheit with convection, which I think is slighly different from her recipe, but other than that her technique is unchanged. We played around with adding a teaspoon of powdered harissa to add heat and depth. While it was a fun twist, frankly for me the cumin became a bit much. So that a batch of brownies that normally lasts two or three days at the most never actually got finished. The harissa was a good idea that tasted great for the first brownie and sated the palate quickly. Interestingly this tends to be the issue when trying to update classic recipes in general. We love them for a reason and it's very hard to improve on the tried and true. I suppose that's why we use Heinz's (organic) ketchup instead of making our own. Not that we haven't tried, per se, but because new isn't always better. A hard thing for a chef to admit, on the other hand, new classics are created all the time.