Monday, 31 May 2010

Climbing with Juan Valdez

Do you remember the television commercials in the 1970's featuring Juan Valdez, a fictional Colombian coffee bean picker in the mountains of Colombia?  Embarrassingly, coffee beans were the extent of my knowledge of Colombia until recently.

I sat down with my colleague, Alexandra, over lunch one day to plug my knowledge gaps about Colombia and its food.  Armed with a Colombian cookbook, Alex was ready to take on my questions.  Brave girl.


I assumed Colombian food would be similar to Mexican food due to their shared Hispanic roots.  How wrong I was.  Colombian food tends to be heavy with lots of meat, rice, beans, potatoes and corn.  So far so Mexican, but where their paths diverge is that Colombian food is not particularly spicy.  There is no heavy-handed use of peppers.  Main seasonings for Colombians are onions, tomatoes and coriander.

Regionality has everything to do with their food.  Depending on whether you live near the mountains or the coast will be a determining factor in a Colombian diet.  Alex grew up in the mountainous region of Colombia (Juan Valdez's patch) and therefore ate lots of corn, beef, pork and chicken, but not much seafood.  

Alex says the national dish of Colombia is Bandeja Paisa (Paisa is a region in Colombia), but when I asked her what food she misses the most she told me it would be the arepas.  These are cornmeal patties which are either fried, grilled or baked.  The way she described them made me miss them, too, and I've never even had one!

So let's have a look at Alex's cookbook, Secrets of Colombian Cooking.
published by Hippocrene Books Inc. (2004), £20.99

Here is the recipe that gave me a mighty fine taste of Colombia -

 Arroz de Camarón 
(adapted from Secrets of Colombian Cooking)

2 pounds fresh shrimp in the shell
1 shrimp or seafood bouillon cube (I used a fish bouillon cube)
2 1/2 cups rice (I used Spanish paella rice with excellent results)
1/3 cup oil
1/2 cup minced green onion
1 1/2 Tblsp. mashed garlic (I mashed 3 cloves)
1/2 cup minced red bell pepper
1/2 cup grated carrot
1 cup peeled, seeded and diced tomato
3 Tblsp. minced aji dulce (sweet green pepper) 
4 Tblsp. minced parsley
3 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. Tabasco sauce (optional)

1. Wash and peel the shrimp and set aside in the refrigerator.  Place the shells in a large pot with 6 cups of water and the bouillon cube; simmer for 15 minutes.  Set aside to cool.  Puree in a blender for 1-1/2 minutes and pass through a very fine sieve.  Discard the shells and set the stock aside.

2.  Wash the rice and drain thoroughly.

3.  In a large pot over medium heat, add the oil.  Add the green onion and saute for 2 minutes.  Continue with the garlic, red pepper and carrot and saute for 3 minutes more.  Add the tomatoes, sweet green pepper, parsley, salt and black pepper.  Saute 5 minutes more.  Add the shrimp and Tabasco (if desired); stir, and saute for 5 minutes.  Add the rice and stir.

4.  Pour the stock into the vegetable-shrimp mixture and simmer until you see the rice very close to the surface of the liquid.

5.  Cover, lower the heat to minimum and cook for 20 minutes.  Uncover and serve.

6.  Prepare for all the compliments you will receive for making this.  It's colorful, it's flavorful and altogether an impressive dish. 

Like Juan Valdez, I feel like I am scaling new heights with Colombian food and hope you are, too. 

Friday, 28 May 2010

Hula Girl

A little of parcel of sunshine landed on my door mat recently.  My dear friend Jenny, who helped me scrape through high school chemistry with a passing grade, has just returned from a holiday in the Aloha state and sent some Hawaiian flavor my way.

She sent some Hawaiian souvenirs including this:

But then you were expecting something like that, weren't you?  Yes, I thought so.
Hawaiian food is influenced by the Orient, but also by locally grown ingredients like pineapple and macadamia nuts.  Hawaiian pineapple is the best I have ever tasted, so anything made with Hawaiian pineapple is a special treat.  And as for the macadamia nuts - ever heard of white chocolate and macadamia nut cookies?  Sublime.   

This Little Hawaiian Cookbook is popping with great recipes like Mochiko Chicken, Hawaiian Teriyaki Burgers and Shrimp Lumpia.  Be aware that some of the ingredients might need to be found in an Asian supermarket instead of your local supermarket.

For a zingy and tropical taste of Hawaii, this recipe might help you get your hula going:

Aloha!  (And thanks a million, Jenny.)

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Looking Good

Most of us equate style with fashion or architecture or automobiles.  But forget the Jimmy Choos or the Bentleys, I'm more interested in a perfectly fried egg or a knob of butter melting on top of a blueberry muffin; in other words, food style.  

We are all impacted by food style. It's everywhere!  From the picture of the dripping spoon on your box of Grape Nuts  to the scoop of ice cream on your Häagen-Dazs container, those picture perfect photos have been meticulously styled by a food stylist.

But how does one become a food stylist?  Most of us get urged by our guidance counselors in high school to follow practical professions like being teachers, doctors or lawyers.  Food styling isn't usually thrown into the mix.  For those of you who choose to take the road less traveled, there is now a cracking good book on the subject.  It is Delores Custer's brand new book - Food Styling: The Art of Preparing Food for the Camera.  

published by John Wiley & Sons, 2010, $75

Delores Custer is a professional food stylist from the US who has been styling food for over 30 years.  She has now distilled 30 years worth of food styling knowledge and techniques into 398 pages of pure fascination.  Although this is more of an academic book for food styling, it will certainly be appreciated and utilized by anyone already working with food or for the interminably curious (such as yours truly). 

Thoughtfully arranged and sizzling with food styling photos, this book is the best I have seen on the subject.  (You might think this book is a departure from my usual cookbook reviews, but fear not,  there are even a few recipes sandwiched in between all of the excellent information.)  I am gaga (not Lady) over this book.   

The essence of food styling is quite beautifully summed by the author when she says "While most people prepare food to eat, the food stylist prepares food to feed the eyes and the imagination."  Delores Custer has put this philosophy to work when she styled food for the great one herself, Julia Child.  Wow!

It seems to me that food styling is a bit of art and a bit of science.  Who would have guessed that you need to remove the hairs from a raspberry before photographing?  Or that there are 3 different types of whipped cream dollops for pumpkin pie depending on the audience?    

Food styling is becoming increasingly important with the proliferation of food blogs, cookbooks, and food magazines.  I remember the days when a sprig of parsley on top of a deviled egg had us in a frisson of excitement.  Haven't we come a long way?  We'll go even further with the advice of Delores Custer in Food Styling.  

Monday, 24 May 2010

The Geometry of Pasta

I've never been overflowing with talent in mathematics.  So I was unsure of how I would fare with the new cookbook The Geometry of Pasta

published by Boxtree, 2010, £14.99

The good news is that I can handle it.  The only formula you need to know is:
  • the perfect shape + the perfect sauce = the Geometry of Pasta

With the dizzying array of pasta shapes on offer, you can be forgiven for getting your ziti confused with your ditali.  This book aims to introduce you to the majority of pasta shapes available and matches them with toothsome sauces or alternative pairings.

The author of this book, Jacob Kennedy, is the chef and co-owner of Bocca di Lupo.  His depth of pasta knowledge runs deep.  What the book lacks in terms of photos (there aren't any) makes up for the quality of information about pasta and sauces filling all 288 pages.  Yes, it's thick and meaty  - just like a good portion of lasagne.  (You need to know that all of the measurements are in metric and no conversion charts are included.  So you might have to use your noodle for this one or just use a conversion chart in a different cookbook.)

The timing of this book's release is perfect.  Summer will soon be on its way when pasta dishes are quick and easy to throw together.  This book is quirky and fun and measures up to a good pasta resource.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Great British Food

We are coming in to the season where British food really shines.  The variety of fresh British fruit and vegetables on offer multiplies.  This translates into glorious pies, side dishes and puddings. 

Showcasing British food at its classic best is the new cookbook from Canteen entitled Great British FoodCanteen is a London restaurant which is unapologetically nostalgic about affordable, honest British food.

published by Ebury Press, 2010, £16.99

The food and recipes are comfort food through and through. (If you have ever experienced a British winter, you will quickly understand why hot, stodgy food is key to surviving the gray, rainy days.)  The measurements in the book are metric, but there are conversion charts to assist if metric doesn't work for you.

Pies are the signature dish of Canteen.  British pies are savory as opposed to the sweet ones served in the US.  Common pie fillings would be steak and kidney, chicken and mushroom, or even rabbit. (Sorry, Thumper!)  All of these pie recipes and much more can be found in the Canteen book. 

One of the great pleasures of British food is pudding (dessert); steamed puddings in particular.  Oh my. They are a bit of work, but well worth the effort.   Equally as delicious is treacle tart, trifle or rice pudding. 

Rice pudding the Canteen way

Canteen's Great British Food is an excellent way to immerse yourself in traditional British food.  Whether it's pies, vegetables or puddings, I think you will be pleasantly surprised at just how satisfying and great British food can be.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Truly Tasty

Do you ever take a moment to appreciate your kidneys?  When they are working properly, you probably don't.  But when they are malfunctioning, they can turn your world upside down.

Think of them as a fist-sized processor.  After your body uses the good stuff to nourish and self-repair from the food you eat, the kidneys take the bad stuff and process it into liquid waste so you can eliminate it.   They also regulate important chemicals and hormones for survival.  We should all be giving our kidneys a big thank you for the little workhorses that they are.

For people living with chronic kidney disease, what you eat is critical to your health.  Food has to be chosen to help the impaired kidneys minimize the waste build-up in the blood.  This usually means no salt and low fat.  In other words, rather bland.

But thanks to a new book from Ireland, Truly Tasty is here to show that a renal diet does not have to be uninspired or insipid. 

 published by Atrium (an imprint of Cork University Press), 2010, £17.95
all royalties from the sale of Truly Tasty go to the Irish Kidney Association 
 (If on a renal diet, readers are advised to discuss the recipe with your dietitian before using.)

Valerie Twomey is a kidney transplant recipient in Ireland, so she knows firsthand the challenges of eating for the health of your kidneys.  Her gratitude for her new kidney has manifested itself in the Truly Tasty project.  She has harnessed the talent of Ireland's top chefs and challenged them to create menus suitable for those with kidney disease.  The result is a book rich in information and zesty recipes.

Irish chefs like Rachel Allen, Paul Flynn, Denis Cotter and many more have created a fine collection of recipes which have eliminated the salt but packed the food full of flavor using other ingredients.  There are meat as well as vegetarian recipes.  The measurements are in metric and imperial with plenty of conversion charts. 

Here is a taster of what you will find in the book.  (All photos are from Truly Tasty courtesy of the publisher - thanks Mike and Maria!) 

Paul Flynn contributions include:

Brandade of White Fish

Tuscan Lemon Chicken with Provencal Couscous

Tarte Tatin

The book wisely urges readers to seek professional medical advice in relation to any changes in their diets.  With kidney disease, one diet does not fit all.  But with the guidelines in this book and the advice of your medical professional, you should be able to convert your diet to one that is truly tasty.   
(p.s. you do not have to have kidney disease in order to appreciate or use this cookbook.  It is chock full of tempting recipes.  Besides, would it really hurt any of us if we cut out salt or reduced our fat intake?  I didn't think so.)  

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

A New Kind of Tikka

It's been a busy few weeks of politics here in Great Britain with deals being made and politicians playing musical chairs in Parliament.   Now that the dust is settling and the politicians are rolling up their sleeves and packing away their campaign cliches, we can all get back to life. 

So in the spirit of change, let's forge a new coalition in the kitchen with Rasoi: New Indian Kitchen.   

 published by Absolute Press, 2009, £30  
(photo courtesy of Absolute Press)
Just when you think you have seen it all with Indian food, along comes a cookbook that blows you away with its originality and food artistry.  

When I came to England nearly nine years ago, I didn't  know a poppadom from a prawn bhuna.  Indian food just wasn't on my culinary radar in Nebraska since there was hardly any of it available.  Fate intervened early on after I landed in the UK.  And it was at a colleague's birthday dinner at a Brick Lane curry house where I had my first taste of Indian food.  I fell hard and fast for it.  

Now that the Englishman and myself have clocked up an unimaginable number of curries, I was beginning to think I had seen every possible type of Indian menu.  How many permutations of tikka and dopiaza can there be?  Seriously.  That was until the Rasoi cookbook entered my universe and brought about more change than David Cameron or Nick Clegg could ever dream of doing.  

Rasoi is a Michelin-starred Indian gourmand restaurant in Chelsea (a rather leafy borough of London).  Vineet Bhatia, the chef and owner, has written a cookbook to accompany the Rasoi experience. From the minute you pick up the damask-covered book, you will enter a world of Indian food like you have never seen before.

You don't have to be Egyptian to appreciate these rice pyramids.  Aren't they great!?!

photo from Rasoi (courtesy of Absolute Press)

Admittedly, the recipes are not for the novice.   As the introduction rightly says, this book is for the keen enthusiast.   For those of you looking to move beyond your Saturday night roghan josh and set sail on a different type of Indian food adventure, this book is for you.

  photo from Rasoi (courtesy of Absolute Press)

The recipes are a marriage of Indian ingredients and nouvelle cuisine with a few international flavor surprises thrown in.  As for measurements, the book has excellent conversion tables as well as guidance for American readers who might be unfamiliar with the terminology. 

This is the first nouvelle cuisine Indian cookbook I have seen and it proves there is a brave new world of Indian food on the horizon.  It's a world full of change and flavor coalitions that work well together. 

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Mr. O is back!

Fresh from giving Americans a helping hand with their waistlines, Jamie Oliver is back on our shores and our boxes with a new series on the foods of Europe.  It's called Jamie Does...

published by The Penguin Group (2010), £26

This time Jamie is exploring -

He's putting a Jamie twist on classic European food.  So what's the Jamie twist you're asking?

Jamie Oliver has a knack for taking a standard dish like meatballs, for example, and adding a laundry list of spices and herbs in an effortless way and creating a work of art on a plate.  

Mr. O also has a charismatic and carefree way with food.  He brings out the fun and adventure of knocking up something as basic as a stew.  Nothing is too daunting for him, even though it might be for the rest of us mere mortals.  In his energetic way, he emboldens us to roll up our sleeves and get busy with the beetroot gravadlax or the spaghetti vongole.   You can see some of his European recipes and works of art on a plate on his website.

This latest output from Jamie Oliver is one of his finest.  Not only is Jamie Oliver interested in food, he's interested in the people and stories behind the food.  That's a big reason why this book shines.  

Wherever Mr. O ventures next with his curiosity and Vespa, I will be eagerly awaiting the next cookbook. 

Thursday, 13 May 2010


I am only too happy to go food scouting on your behalf.  It took no arm twisting to get the Englishman to accompany me to Notting Hill for my recent food expedition.  (It was a great coincidence that some of his favorite pubs are in the area.)

If I'm going to introduce you to Yotam Ottolenghi, then you need some background information on his deli/restaurant to put his cookbooks into context.  This meant a trip to the eponymous Ottolenghi take-out deli in Notting Hill for a few snaps so you can get the picture. 

Readers, meet Yotam Ottolenghi, one of the most creative and exciting food sensations in London at the moment.  Here is the man himself.

(photo courtesy of Ebury Press - thanks, Ed!)

And here is his deli in Notting Hill.  Prepare to be bowled over.

How can you walk by a window like this and not be impressed?

And how can you walk by this and not drool?

Adding to the temptation was this - 

And one more (sorry, I couldn't resist)-

The windows of Ottolenghi are overflowing with good things.  So imagine his latest cookbook.  It is appropriately entitled, Plenty.

published by Ebury Press (2010), £25
This is the second cookbook of Ottolenghi.  While the first one featured recipes from the deli/restaurants (and was a monster of a hit, I might add), this second book is about vegetables and pulses and will make any vegetarian's pulse race.

Ottolenghi himself is not a vegetarian, but due to his Mediterranean backgound (Israeli and Italian) he has a knowledge and talent for combining everyday ingredients to move vegetables from the side of the plate to center stage.

The Ottolenghi magic is also apparent in his food presentation.  (I had to pick my jaw up off the ground the first time I walked by the Ottolenghi window.)  To see recipes and pictures, take a look at his website.   

Now that you've met Yotam Ottolenghi, you might find that you start looking at your vegetables and ingredients in a different way.  If you find that your cooking becomes more colorful, inventive and interesting after perusing a Yotam Ottolenghi cookbook, you can thank him.  I'm just the messenger.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Meals in Heels

We all have little secrets about ourselves that we would rather be swept under the rug, don't we?  I've decided to share mine with you in case anybody else shares my guilty pleasure.

My addiction has been going strong for several  months now and I can't seem to break its grip.  It's called Come Dine With Me.  It's a television program in the UK where 4 or 5 strangers have a dinner party competition.  They each take a turn at hosting their best dinner party.  Fussy food, cooking tips, lots of vino, dinner table spats - it's compulsive viewing.  The prize is £1,000.  (Now that would buy a lot of cookbooks!) 

The recession and Come Dine With Me have influenced people to entertain at home more these days.  If you're a dinner party diva, you will be pleased to know that help is at hand.  It's called Meals in Heels by Jennifer Joyce.  

published by Murdoch Books (2010), £12.99

This is a fantastic cookbook for those who like to entertain.  Not only are the recipes impressive, but the dinner party advice is indispensable.  The author, Jennifer Joyce, is a professional food writer, stylist and chef.  She is a regular contributor to British food magazines.  She knows her stuff.

The "Getting Started" chapter which opens the book will get your dinner party off on a good footing.  Advice for creating the perfect menu, determining the right amount of food to make, and food styling tips will help make your dinner party a wild success.

Recipes which will make you click your heels include:
  • West Indies Chicken with Mango Salsa
  • Mini Beef Wellingtons
  • Sugar-rubbed Pork with Bourbon and Maple Glaze
  • Green Beans with Sticky Soy Cashews
 Meals in Heels will definitely help you entertain in style.  Now put on your heels and get busy.

"I don't know who invented high heels, but all women owe him a lot” - Marilyn Monroe


Sunday, 9 May 2010

Motherhood and Apple Pie

Happy Mother's Day to you moms in the US celebrating your special day today.  Hopefully your children are spoiling you or giving you some peace and quiet - or both!  

My Mother's Day gift to you is letting you know about DamGoodSweet: Desserts to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth, New Orleans Style by David Guas.  

published by Taunton Press (2009) $25

David Guas was born and raised in New Orleans and grew up to become a pastry chef.  Although his career has taken him away from New Orleans, his love of his native city and its rich food history have stayed with him.  

His book is part travelogue and part memoir but fully loaded with recipes and pictures of N'Awlins desserts.  (I think I have put on weight just reading the book.)  

New Orleans has always been a unique American city.  Once you experience the jazz, the architecture, the hospitality and food, you wonder why more cities can't have the verve that underpins life in New Orleans.

Now let's talk desserts.  Just like gumbo, the desserts of New Orleans are full bodied,  full of life and full on.  We're talking Lemon Doberge Cake, Buttermilk Beignets, King Cake, and Bananas Foster.  

It is apparent the desserts of New Orleans are heavily influenced by the European immigrants who settled by the Lakes of Pontchartrain to make Louisiana their home.  There's an olde worlde feel to many of the recipes in this book.  And then there are the desserts which might have originated in Europe but have been given an American twist such as the Sweet Potato Tart Tatin or Watermelon Granita.

So if you want to spoil yourself for Mother's Day, you can't go wrong with giving yourself a DamGoodSweet from David Guas's book.

Some things in life are indisputably good like motherhood and apple pie and now New Orleans desserts.  

Friday, 7 May 2010


Today is a bittersweet day for me.  It would have been my very dear friend Eileen's 50th birthday.  It's also my friend Jörg's last day at work.  He is going home to Germany after a 4-year secondment in London.  

It's always hard to say goodbye to friends, so instead of being sad, let's say hello to Bill Granger and his most recent cookbook, Feed Me Now, and get bittersweet with chocolate rather than teardrops.

 published by Quadrille (2009), £20

If you haven't met Bill Granger yet, let me introduce you.  He's the boy wonder from down under (Australia) and he's making a big splash here in the UK for very good reason.  He has a breezy, easy-going approach to food, which appeals to the time-starved and stressed out posse of home cooks.

He learned to cook in a domestic kitchen which means his techniques and recipes aren't cheffy; they're perfectly positioned for home cooks like ourselves.  

I first discovered Bill Granger via a Rachel Allen cookbook.  She included his recipe for a banana butterscotch pudding which I have now made, oh, at least half a dozen times.  Quite simply, Bill Granger recipes work and they work very well. 

For today I've made a cake from Bill's book Feed Me Now.  It's his recipe for gooey chocolate cake with raspberries.  Just for today, though, I'm calling it Forget-Me-Not Cake, in honor of Eileen, Jörg, and the fact that once you try a Bill Granger recipe, you will never forget him.

Forget-Me-Not Cake 
(Bill Granger's Gooey Chocolate Cake with Raspberries)


100g good quality dark chocolate
150g raspberry jam
125ml single cream


30g good quality cocoa powder
60ml milk
1/2 tsp. natural vanilla extract
90g raspberry jam
115g butter, softened
65g caster sugar
2 medium eggs
125g plain flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
pinch of sea salt
80g raspberries, plus extra to serve

Preheat the oven to 180 C/ 350 F/ Gas 4.  Generously grease a 22cm round cake tin.  For the topping, put the chocolate, jam and cream into a small pan over a medium heat.  Stir until smooth, then pour into the prepared tin.

In a bowl, mix the cocoa powder with 125 ml boiling water, stirring until smooth, then add the milk, vanilla and jam, whisking to combine.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each.  Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a separate bowl.  Using a large spoon, fold the dry ingredients and the cocoa mixture into the creamed mixture, alternating the two, then fold the raspberries through.

Pour the mixture into the cake tin ensuring you spread it right to the edge and cover the topping completely.  Bake for 30-35 minutes or until firm.  Leave the cake to cool in the tin for 15 minutes.  (If not serving straight away, you can refrigerate the cake in the tin, but you will need to warm it in the oven before turning it out.)

Turn the cake out onto a plate.  You may need to scrape some sauce out of the tin and spread it over the top of the cake.  Serve warm or cold, with fresh raspberries.

(Fresh raspberries aren't on our shelves yet here in London, so this cake is sans raspberries this time around.)

  I had a taste for you.  You would have devoured this.

So, Bill Granger.  One word, five syllables - unforgettable.