Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Simple Gifts

I couldn't be happier that baking season is back.  I've tried to give my waistline a rest from the calories over the summer, but I'm gagging for a slice of cake.   My moderation is giving way to desperation!

Last week's survey indicated that many of you readers like the baking books, so break out the flour and sugar and let's dive into The Amish Cook's Baking Book by Lovina Eicher with Kevin Williams. 

published by Andrews McMeel, 2009, $29.99

The Amish, like the Shakers, came to the US from Europe seeking religious freedom.  As the introduction to the book says, "The Amish are self-described 'plain people,' with a religion defined by simple dress, devout faith, and a desire to live unchanged by the touch of time."

Nowhere is this more evident than in a Walmart parking lot in Tennessee where automobile parking spaces share the pavement with parking spaces for "Horsedrawn Carriages Only" - complete with a watering tank.  It was a real eye-opener for the Englishman and myself when we first saw that scene a few years ago. 

The Amish are known for their simple lives free of electricity and modern conveniences.  They use kerosene or gas to light their homes and bake, but this varies from settlement to settlement because some communities still use wood-fired ovens.  Without the distractions of modern life, the Amish women focus their energies and talents on food and are able to express themselves through their cooking and baking.

Simplicity and unadornment applies to their baking, too.  You won't find Baked Alaska or Croquembouche in an Amish baking book.  That doesn't mean their baking is boring, though.  Because self-sufficiency is a big part of Amish culture, butter is churned at home and eggs are gathered from their hens; their ingredients couldn't be fresher.  Imagine how delicious a simple buttermilk pie must taste when the milk has only traveled as far as the nearest udder?

I'm enjoying peeking into the Amish kitchen without feeling like an intruder on a quiet and private way of life.  The Amish keep themselves to themselves.  For them to share a piece of their culture via a cookbook is a lovely gift to the rest of us who are gently curious about them. 

The recipe ingredients and measurements are American.  For some of you it means finding chocolate chips or corn syrup might be problematic. (Note to  Londoners, you can buy Karo light and dark corn syrup at Partridge's). 

One other point to keep in mind is that the recipes have been translated from the Amish baking terminology of "hot oven" or "slow oven" to Farenheit which suggests there will be some trial and error.  Keep a close eye on your baking temperatures and times when using these recipes.     

Simple delights from the book include:
  • Dilly Bread
  • Soft Pretzels
  • Shoofly Pie
  • Pear Cake
  • Sour Cream Spice Cake
Here is what I rustled up in the Kent Test Kitchen from the book to satisfy my sweet tooth - 

Butterscotch Brownies (adapted from The Amish Cook's Baking Book)

1/2 stick (2 oz or 50 g) butter
1 cup (200 g) packed light brown sugar
1 large egg, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 c. walnuts, chopped
Powdered (icing) sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 F/ 180 C/ Gas Mark 4.  Grease a 7 x 11-inch pan and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the brown sugar and stir for 1-2 minutes until it has a thick, peanut butter-like consistency.  Remove from the heat.  Stir in the beaten egg and vanilla followed by the flour, salt and baking powder.  Once combined, stir in the nuts.  Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the edges begin to brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  (In my oven this took about 15-17 minutes, but you will have to watch closely depending on your oven).  Cut into 2 x 2-inch squares while warm and dust with powdered (icing) sugar.  Store in an airtight container.

I can only sum up Amish baking as plain and simply one big hug from the oven.  Enjoy!

Monday, 27 September 2010

Leon Rides Again

What's better than one Leon cookbook?  Two Leon cookbooks!  Leon Book 2 by Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent is finally here. Whew! I've been waiting for this.

published by Conran Octopus, 2010, £20

For those of you haven't seen a Leon restaurant, here is a little sample:

 (Thanks to Jess of The Curiosity Workshop for snapping these pics for me in Canary Wharf)

Leon is turning the negative perception of fast food on its head.  Fast food does not always equate to a cheeseburger, french fries and a milkshake.  When I go for fast food at Leon, I have a sweet potato falafel wrap and a fresh-squeezed lemonade.  It's fast, fresh and fantastic! 

Leon 2 continues from the original Leon cookbook (which was one of my favorite cookbooks for 2009).   Although the authorship has changed (Allegra McEvedy has passed the baton to Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent), the excellent content and design of the book has remained.  When you first open the book, it's like stepping into a Barnum and Bailey circus - "The Greatest Show on Earth."  I am crazy about it!

The book is divided into two parts - fast food and slow fast food.  The fast food recipes are intended to be knocked up in 20 minutes or less.  The slow fast food is for making in advance and reheating later - a great help for the time starved.  

Leon recipes are thoughtful, playful and colorful.  Excellent tips accompany each recipe so you can go off on tried and tested tangents.  Playing with ingredients is encouraged.  The colorful results will lure you to your nearest Farmers Market toot sweet to stock up on fresh veggies and meat.

Recipes to get your pulse racing include:
  • South Indian Pepper Chicken
  • Persian Onion Soup
  • Roast Crispy Cauliflower with Turmeric
  • Ultimate Mushrooms on Toast
  • Spice Fried Fish with Red Onion
  • Leon Salted Caramel Banana Split 
The old maxim says good things come to those who wait, but with Leon's food, good things come to those who are in a hurry, too.  Thanks, Leon!!

Saturday, 25 September 2010

We're Jamming!

The Great Recession has wrought great anxiety among many of us the past couple of years.  Question marks have been looming large over our jobs and financial stability.  When we are constantly reminded of how crummy the economy is, turning inward is our only escape.  That's why baking has had such a resurgence and now - drum roll, please - jam.

 published by Andrews McMeel, 2010, $35 

The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook by Rachel Saunders is an intense look at jam making month by month.  It proves that there is always something in season which is worthy of plopping in the jam pan.

Rachel Saunders is the founder of Blue Chair Fruit, a California Bay Area artisan jam company.  She has spent a decade perfecting her jam flavors and textures.  The result is 372 pages of an upper-level jam tutorial.  This goes way beyond Jar Sterilization 101.  The author focuses on the fruit which goes into the jam and the interplay of flavors achievable through quality fruit and the proper handling of it.

I knew I found a kindred spirit when I read the author's recipe for rhubarb jam - not rhubarb strawberry or rhubarb cherry, but pure, unadulterated rhubarb jam.  That is just how my grandmother used to make it and I would slather it on her homemade Swedish rye bread.  (I'm welling up just thinking about how deliciously wonderful it was.)

Now with the help of jam expert Rachel Saunders, we can get that proper taste of homemade jam back on our toast in the morning.  Of course you will need some jam-making kit.  I've gone weak in the knees over the Mauviel copper jam pan.  According to the book, the ideal pan for preserving is copper, so it's practical as well as handsome.  

The recipes feature fruit that is locally available to the author.  Don't let that put you off if you don't have ready access to organic pink grapefruits or Rangpur limes.  Use this book as a launch pad for combining your local fruit and your creativity to come up with your own artisan jam.  The techniques, inspiration and recipes are here.  You just need to stir in your passion and ingenuity to the mix and you'll be on your way.  I like jamming and I hope you like jamming, too. 

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Recipe for Murder

Today is the first day of  Autumn, my favorite season.  As the nights draw to an early close and the leaves start crunching underneath our footsteps, it's an ideal time to get stuck in to a good book.  For those of you who like to read good fiction in addition to good cookbooks, I have a delightful little surprise for you.  

  published by Flammarion, 2010, £14.95

Recipe for Murder is a collection of 31 recipes inspired by the scoundrels of literature and fairy tales.  The recipes have been created by French culinary journalist and cookbook author, Estérelle Payany.  

Not only are you introduced to classic stories you might have missed along the way, but you get quality recipes to accompany each story based on food passages from the book.  For example, a lovely treacle tart recipe follows on from the story of Alice in Wonderland's Queen of Hearts.

Illustration by Jean-François Martin from Recipe for Murder

The illustrations are fun, the recipes are high quality, and it's a great all around read.  This would make an ideal gift for bookworms who are interested in food. 
Illustration by Jean-François Martin from Recipe for Murder

Other scoundrels and their recipes include:
  • Long John Silver - Sea Biscuits
  • Dracula - Paprika Hendl
  • The Big Bad Wolf - Pigs in a Blanket
  • Iago - Othello Cake
  • Tom Ripley - Venetian Lemon Chicken 
This is one cookbook you can sink your teeth into and find yourself deliciously satisfied.

p.s. If you tried to answer the survey questions in the last blog post via your e-mail subscription, please try again directly on the blog here.  Feedburner must have been having a bad day since it didn't deliver the survey questions to you properly.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Time for a Check Up

Just like a nurse takes a patient's pulse and temperature, it is important for me to pause and take the pulse of you readers.  

It would help me to know what types of cookbooks appeal to you.  After all, this blog is a community affair.  It's not just about me, me, me. 

So if you could give me a minute of your time and answer three questions below, it will help me gauge if I am on the right track with you or not.

Thanks for participating and helping me build a better cookbook community!

Monday, 20 September 2010

Flipping Out Over Sushi

Get this.  The Englishman broke the news to me over the weekend that he has been invited out for a company dinner at Benihana one night this week and, erm, spouses aren't invited.  Ouch!  It's one of my favorite restaurants due to the delicious Japanese food and the entertainment.  I know I fall into the category of easily amused, but seriously, the chefs flip prawns into the air and catch them with their toques while building a Mt. Fuji volcano out of a stack of onion rings.  How can you not enjoy that?

I have decided that while the Englishman is being wined and dined with outrageously delicious Japanese food, I am going to find my inner zen with Sushi: Food for the eye, the body and the soul by Ole G. Mouritsen.

 published by Springer, 2009, £29.99

Surprisingly this book, that is a thorough examination of the culture and food science of Japanese sushi, is written by a Danish professor of biophysics.  It is intensely in-depth - right down to the process of fermentation or the etiquette for drinking maccha in polite company.  

It's the sort of book that would make Heston Blumenthal rapturous.  It's a molecular gastronomist's dream book for sushi.  Don't worry, it's not entirely about molecules and enzymes because there are plenty of recipes and instructions for preparing sushi.

For those of you who can't get enough of sushi (including myself), you can immerse yourself in the subject while learning things like:
  • Properly cooked rice is the determining factor for a successful sushi meal (p. 155)
  • Sesame seeds should be crushed in order to release the maximum flavour and aroma (p. 148)
  • Under no circumstances should the water be boiling when you make green tea from the better varieties (p. 281)
I hope the Englishman enjoys his meal at Benihana, but I am savoring every morsel of information from this excellent book.  Before you know it, I might be flipping my own prawns at home.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Ad Hoc at Home

I haven't deserted you, gentle readers.  It's been a crazy busy week with ad hoc jobs around the house to finish before the sun decides to retire for the winter.  Autumn is just around the corner and it always manages to direct my attention to household tasks which I choose to ignore during the heyday of summer.  

Since I am up to my neck in ad hoc activity at the moment, what better cookbook to chat about than Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home?   

published by Artisan, 2009, £40

Thomas Keller is a famous American restaurateur.  The French Laundry is his Napa Valley restaurant which regularly appears in the World's Top 50 Best Restaurants list.  His kingdom also includes  Per Se, Bouchon, and Ad Hoc.  He's a busy man.

Lucky for us then that he found the time to assemble such a great cookbook for those who can't easily get to his restaurants.  Ad Hoc at Home is a magnificent collection of Thomas Keller's family-style recipes.  Additionally he shares flashes of genius in his light bulb moments which are liberally sprinkled throughout the book.  Wherever there is a hanging light bulb, the author gives a great tip to help you become a better cook.  

The tutorial on becoming a better cook opens the cookbook followed by enticing recipes for poultry, meat, fish, soups, salads, veggies and sides, lifesavers (not the sweets), breads-crackers-cheese, desserts and basics.  It is thorough and it is a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach. 

Recipes to impress your family include :
  • Chicken Soup with Dumplings
  • Iceberg Lettuce Slices (done the Thomas Keller way is a work of art)
  • Roasted Monkfish
  • Creamed Summer Corn
  • Flatbread
  • Lemon Bars with Meringue
With the long nights soon upon us, this is great cookbook to curl up with.  It will help you forget about pruning the magnolia or filling plaster cracks.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Putting the "Yo" in Yogurt

Yo!  Do I have your attention?  Arto der Haroutunian's The Yogurt Cookbook has just been republished.  Why is this such a big deal?  Because Arto der Haroutunian is one brilliant cookbook author you need to know about.  I have already sung his praises in a previous review.  But this time it's his yogurt book that has me all atwitter.   

published by Grub Street, 2010, £14.99

This book is great because it takes a rather common food, yogurt, and brings it to life in new and interesting ways.  That is the hallmark of Arto der Haroutunian and why I will forever be a fan of his.  When he puts something under the microscope, he sees shapes, patterns and relationships whereas the rest of us might see only a blob.

In this book, he examines yogurt in all of its various guises - as a condiment, as a marinade, as a soup, as a cheese component.  Did you know that yogurt could be so versatile?  You will after dipping in to this cookbook. 

 That's the stuff - yogurt!
The recipes are given wonderful historic and geographic introductions so you can put them into context.  The author knew his food history so well that he could pinpoint the fried carrots in yogurt recipe as a popular Turkish and Balkan dish.  

Recipes that make you say "Yo" include:
  • Curried meatballs in Yoghurt
  • Eggs on Toast with Spiced Yoghurt
  • Brussel Sprouts in Yoghurt
  • Pistachio and Ham Salad
  • Radishes with Yoghurt
  • Chicken with Pomegranates
Packed full of recipes, information, and passion - this book is something to shout about. 

Sunday, 12 September 2010

What's for Lunch?

This is the final installment of my back-to-school trilogy.  This past week we have looked at an academic food text, a food science reference book, and now we're going to look at a cookbook for making healthy and fun lunches that will nourish, amuse and satisfy the lunchtime hunger pangs of your little scholars.  It's bento.

published by Quirk Books, 2010, $16.95
Playing with your food has never been more fun! Yum-Yum Bento Box is a new cookbook which gives you everything you need to know to get started crafting your bento box lunches.  Yes, I said crafting. (All of you scrapbookers reading this will LOVE bento).

What is bento?  It's a Japanese boxed lunch.  But it's a bit more than that.  It is a lovingly crafted,  well-balanced and healthy meal which Japanese mothers consider an expression of love for their children.  When bento is made for children, it is largely character driven.  When it is made for adults, it is more of a colorful combination of healthy finger food.

I have made a feeble attempt at making a children's bento box so you can see for yourself what I'm talking about.  First you need to assemble your ingredients and your bento box:

(It's already looking like fun, isn't it?)

I made a base of Japanese crab fried rice (from a packet) and topped it with farm characters stamped out of sliced turkey and Havarti cheese.  The shrubbery is broccoli and I included a halved strawberry and a grape to add a punch of color.  Bento is meant to be very visual and colorful.

  I call my bento creation Down on the Farm.

The eyes were paper punched out of sushi nori (sushi wrap)This is why I think all you serious scrapbookers would love making bento.  You already have the paper punch tools and the creativity which would allow you to create imaginative bento designs.

So here is what I will be taking in my lunch to work tomorrow:
One part of the bento box will be my Down on the Farm bits and the other box will have Japanese rice crackers adding a bit of crunch.  When you put it all together this is what you have:

stacked boxes of a healthy and fun lunch

I can tell that bento is going to be making its way into my lunchbox from now on.  Yum-Yum Bento Box is dripping with ideas and resources for bringing your bento creations to life.  It is a superb place to start your venture into the world of bento.  Your lunchbox will never be the same.  

Friday, 10 September 2010

Class is in Session

Settle down students, class is in session.  As I am on an academic bent this week, I thought I would introduce you to Harold McGee and his fascinating book McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science,  History and Culture.   

 published by Hodder and Stoughton, 2004, £30

Harold McGee writes about the chemistry of food and cooking - not an easy subject to tackle, and he does it remarkably well.  Although his book is not a cookbook per se, it's a book about food and cooking science.   

You won't feel like you are being lectured when you are reading this.  McGee's curiosity and enthusiasm are the bricks and mortar of his work.  When you dip into this book, you are on a magic carpet ride with the author himself.  It's fantastic and it's the type of reading that would keep Heston Blumenthal up all night.  

This is a reference book for the interminably curious (like moi) that just need to know things like: 
  • limes are the most acidic of the citrus fruits
  • the English word flour arose in medieval times from flower, meaning the best part of the ground grain
  • Coffee trees are native to East Africa
  • Eggs can be stored frozen for several months in airtight containers (they need to be removed from the shells first)
So if you want to sharpen your knowledge on the nature of emulsions or the evolution of beer, then sit down and have a session with Harold McGee.  You won't regret it.


Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Back to School

The sight of school uniforms and the absence of ice cream van tinkly music is a good indication that school has started once again.  

So if all the young 'uns are back in school straining their brains, what are we adults doing to keep our grey matter firing on all cylinders? 

published by Wiley and Sons, 2010, $70

For those of you wanting to take your cooking to a higher level, you might consider taking an academic approach to cookery.  Professional Cooking by Wayne Gisslen is the book to help you master the basics of the craft. 

Professional Cooking is an academic text, but it is an excellent reference for the serious home cook.  For somebody wanting to pursue a career in food, this would be a very appropriate resource to build your knowledge.

The book begins with an overview of the food service industry before moving on to sanitation and safety , tools and equipment, food science, menus and cost management.  A myriad of recipes and cooking techniques are featured.  No stone has been left unturned in this book!

Top tips from this book that have already expanded my cooking knowledge include:
  • "The most important time for seasoning liquid foods is at the end of the cooking process"
  • "Kosher salt is prized in the kitchen because of its purity.  Unlike table salt, it contains no additives"
  • "With a few exceptions, do not soak vegetables for long periods.  Flavor and nutrients leach out."
So if you don't know your snapper from your mullet or consommé from purée, then get busy and crack the books.  You're never too old to learn.  


Monday, 6 September 2010

She's Back!

published by Chatto and Windus, 2010, £26

N - new cookbook
I - incredible recipes
G - great variety 
E - engaging prose 
L - lovely photos
L - looks like a huge hit
A - available, at last. 

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Food Trails

When most people go to Ireland for a holiday, they bring back a t-shirt or Celtic knick knacks.  Not us.  We brought back an Irishman.  We've been over in Ireland for a few days soaking up the beer, music and Irish hospitality of our cousins in West Cork.  We have so much fun with our cousins that we brought one back to England.  No need to stop the fun just because we had to fly back to the UK. 

In between all the fun and festivities with the family, the Englishman and I took a look at what's going on with food in West Cork.  Talk about a vibrant food culture!

Starting in Cork city, you can follow your nose on a trail of locally produced Irish food.  You need to start your journey with a huge appetite and an open mind (don't discount the black pudding until you have tried Clonakilty black pudding).

We had a good look around Cork, starting with the English Market in the heart of the city.  This market has been trading since 1788.  It's an Aladdin's cave of fresh meats, fish, vegetables, breads and pastries.   

Isn't that a fine looking specimen? (The fish, that is).

Ireland is wise to showcase its wonderfully fresh food.  It's yet another great reason to visit the Emerald Isle besides the music and the Guinness. 

Cork city also happens to be home to Denis Cotter's Cafe Paradiso, which is a vegetarian restaurant and has spawned the very excellent Cafe Paradiso Cookbook.   

published by Atrium, £25.50, 1999

Every time I thumb through this cookbook, I marvel at how these recipes are able to maximize the flavor and freshness of vegetables with a deft combination of herbs and spices.  It's truly a work of art.  

Denis Cotter might be a chef, but he must be a bit of a magician because his food looks magical.  The pictures which accompany the recipes bring the vegetables to life as do his recipe introductions.     

Recipes to help you reach your 5 A DAY include:
  • Beetroot Mousse
  • Thai Tofu-Cashew Fritters
  • Couscous-crusted Aubergine
  • Wild Rice and Parsnip Fritters
  • Gingered Sweet Potato Spring Roll
Ireland proves that fresh food can play an integral role in the quality of life as well as boosting the economy.  So the next time you go to Ireland don't just lift pints - lift your fork and give their fresh food a try.  I guarantee you will blaze a trail back to Ireland for more.     

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

The Sweet Life

Many of us (including yours truly) have been sucked into the sugar vortex of cupcakes, macarons and whoopie pies this year.  It's completely understandable, but it's also easy to overlook proper desserts when we're starstruck by buttercream and sprinkles.

Dulce: Desserts in the Latin American Tradition by Joseluis Flores is the cookbook that's helping me come down from my perpetual sugar high and rediscover fruity and creamy desserts.  

 published by Rizzoli, 2010, $29.95
Until now, Latin American desserts have been largely overshadowed by the main dishes.  But this book corrects the imbalance by throwing the spotlight on sweet endings to our meals.   

Latin American desserts are fruity, creamy and chocolaty.  For all of you chocoholics out there, you can thank your Latin American stars for the Mayan development of chocolate and sharing it with the rest of the world.  Where would we be in life without the "food of the gods"?

Dulce is delightfully packed with interesting and unusual recipes, pictures and loads of information and instruction.  It's 266 pages of seriously delicious desserts and I'm jumping into it with both feet.

Recipes which make me say ¡Olé! include:
  • Mango and White Chocolate Cheesecake
  • Coconut Three Milks Cake (Tres Leche de Coco)
  • Fried Custard (Leche Frita)
  • Venezuelan Chocolate and Hazelnut Bombe with Caramel Sauce
  • Spiced Ice Cream
  • Caramelized Banana Ice Cream
Once you start playing around with Latin American desserts, you will open up a whole new world of exciting and sweet creations for you and your guests.