Posts Tagged ‘cookbook’

Unforgettable Paula Wolfert: A Tribute


When I was in my early 20s and becoming aware that I was by far my happiest in the kitchen and my interest in flavor and food was on a level that was not entirely normal, America was obsessing over classic French and Italian cuisine. Anxious cooks were obsessed with anything Julia. Later there was anything Marcella. But it was an oddly joyless time. If you went to a dinner party, you were expected to talk all evening about the food. Very little ever got said about anything but the food. There was a lot of competition involved, and the kitchen ethic that I grew up with in Louisiana, that of getting over yourself and cooking something good and inviting people in to enjoy themselves and each other, did not seem to be there.
Fortunately in Manhattan in the early 80s there was joyful food to be had. I would make the very long walk to Manhattan’s Chinatown, where there were basins full of wriggling seafood and strange vegetables all along the sidewalks, and ginger and wild-looking dried things that might be fungal or might be animal, and the elderly vendors would hand me unfamiliar vegetables with the invariable instruction “cook in soup.” There were the Indian markets on Lexington Avenue, full of wonderful spices with a combined aroma that seemed like Nirvana, where a passing shopper in a gleaming sari might easily stop and spent 20 minutes telling me how she cooked greens or chappati like the ones her grandmother made. There was a Greek market on Ninth Avenue that sold green coffee beans for roasting at home and olives from enormous barrels and where the proprietor might cheerfully pass me a shot of Greek brandy as he wrote up my modest purchases, for the pleasure of watching me gasp and sputter as I tried to swallow it.
And there was Paula Wolfert. Instead of the staid rhythms of a classic cuisine, she wrote about the bold, the unexpected, and the renegade food of the world.  Her recipes were long and extremely detailed and assumed that you loved to be in the kitchen and that spending a few extra hours there was nothing but a pleasure.  She wrote about food that was not for showing off, but intended to warm and nourish people and make them incredibly happy.   Her name became a kind of secret code among enthusiastic home cooks, and we might have long pleasurable arguments about which of her books was best.  I bought my first couscoussiere, a huge tin lined copper beauty that was the glory of my kitchen and astonishingly cheap at the time because few people in America wanted one.  I preserved lemons and cooked chickpeas  and developed a serious addiction to coriander leaves and toasted my own spices and longed for an exciting life like Paula’s.  As Paula went on through various Mediterranean cuisines, I went with her, loving every minute of the journey.  My Paula Wolfert cookbooks are ragged, broken backed, and splashed with food, which is as it should be. In some cases they look less blemished, because I wore out the original copy and got a new one.

In 2013 Paula was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and consistent with her personality, she not only tried every way she could to maintain her own health but became a spokesperson for others with the illness.

The cookbook Unforgettable, with the story of Paula’s life woven through recipes that she loves, has just been published through a Kickstarter campaign, and all diehard fans will want to own it. You can find it on Amazon. But don’t forget all the other books that chronicled her passionate interests through the years and gave us recipes that we will never forget.
Even though we never met, Paula was my constant kitchen companion for decades. My hat is off to her, now and always. And by the way; best Paula Wolfert cookbook ever? Mediterranean Grains and Greens. No question. Or if you aren’t convinced, meet me in the kitchen sometime and we can have a lovely argument about it.

The Semi-Permaculture Kitchen

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Recently I read a cookbook which I am not going to name because I was quite disappointed in it but can’t stand to pan such clearly goodhearted efforts. So I will only say that it is from my favorite publisher and has the word “permaculture” in the title. The recipes are perfectly good vegetable based recipes, similar to those in many, many other good cookbooks on the market. My disappointment is this: it concentrates on the usual annual vegetables that everybody grows, with occasional vague mentions of foraged greens or wild mushrooms, and seems to me to have very little to do with permaculture. So, uh, why call it that?
So today I’m going to indulge myself and make a plea to all potential authors, and talk about what a real permaculture cookbook would offer, with great hope that somebody knows of one or will sit down and write one. I am a semi-permaculturist at best, and even so some very strange produce indeed comes through my kitchen. Some examples: nettles, bladder campion, hops shoots, green garlic, blackberry shoots, cattails, unripe as well as ripe apples and plums, Goumi berries, clove currants, wax currants, linden leaves, mulberry leaves and unripe fruit as well as ripe berries, rau ram, ginger and turmeric leaves, radish pods, chicory leaves and roots, burdock stalks, milkweed, daylilies, hosta shoots, groundnuts (Apios americana, not peanuts,) goji shoots and berries, canna leaves and bulbs, quinces, salsify, and scorzonera as well as the more usual veggies and fruits. Bamboo shoots and the Japanese perennial vegetables Fuki and Udo should be ready to harvest in the next year or two. All these things grow well in semiwild tangles that can be managed with little or no soil disturbance after the initial planting. I would love to read a cookbook about foods like this. I would love to read knowledgable descriptions of their flavor and texture profiles and how they change through the season, how other cultures have used them, and how to make them respected at the modern table. That, to me, would be a real permaculture cookbook. I know that all over the world there are committed permaculturists working with these plants and eating them. I do hope that somebody will put it all in print. I’m hoping for a cookbook as weird and thoroughly wonderful as Baudar’s The New Wildcrafted Cuisine but devoted to the daily surprises, wild and cultivated and in-between, that can be offered by a single piece of land.

While I wait for this book to be brought to my attention, or written, I hope that you will comment with something unusual that you’ve eaten recently and what you thought of it.
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A Cookbook to Make You Cook

Right now I am reading two cookbooks that could hardly be more different from one another. Both are large, high quality, available only in hardcover, and gorgeously illustrated. One will make you cook, and one will make you think. The think-book will be reviewed tomorrow.

The one that will make you cook:

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I have owned Sarah Raven’s addictive book about garden-based seasonal cooking for years. It has stood the test of time. Each spring I rediscover it, and it is on my bedside table right now. It seems to be neglected these days, which is why I’m doing my bit to get people to remember that it’s there. It is chock full of pretty photographs and, far more important, recipes that work and taste good. You can flip it open almost at random and come to a recipe that will become a kitchen favorite. It will help you cook your way through your garden or farmer’s market, and while your seasons might not correspond exactly to British seasons, you will cook through the seasons at your own pace in practice. The recipes are never tricksy or overly fussy, and lean toward full pure flavors.

Favorite recipes: Peaches with Bourbon, Romano Beans with Cream and Savory, Lamb with Thyme Tapanade, Cranberry Beans with Sage, Braised Celery, Parmesan and Walnut Crisps, scores of others.

Conclusion: buy it and cook from it. You will eat more fruits and vegetables and you will thereby be healthier and happier.

 

Wild or Cultivated? Both. Also Delicious.

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As a general rule, I try not to review cookbooks until I have owned them for at least a year.  I buy them at retail, paying the same price that my readers will eventually pay, and then I read them, cook from them and think about them.   Many cookbooks that seemed very enticing when I first brought them home are relegated to distant shelves a year later.

This one still has a prominent place at my bedside, which is my favorite place for reading and thinking about food. Chef Emmons  writes about a year that she spent cooking from a wildly varied organic vegetable farm, Eva’s Farm.  This farm seems to be doing on a very large scale what I am trying to do on my property on a very small scale, i.e. there is a little bit of everything and no clear line between the cultivated plants and the wildlings.  Lambsquarters and nettles are given the same culinary consideration as spinach and chard, but there is no particular emphasis on their wildness; they’re just there.  This is absolutely as it should be, in my view. The difference between a cultivated plant and a weed is a rather slight one.

The recipes read as an ongoing series of seasonal improvisations on the level of “see it growing, cook it, eat it.”  They certainly work if you want to follow them closely, but in my view are better read as a vision of the garden through the eye of a cook, who might see infinite possibilities but can only cook one of them at a time. There is an emphasis on frugality but not an obsession with it. The use of herbs in lavish free-form ways is a delightful subtext. The sidebars are full of interesting thoughts about farming, cooking, and just being alive. The recipes include meat and dairy products and, in general, everything that might grow on a vegetable farm or be bartered for.

In brief, I love this book, use it, and recommend it. I put it aside this winter, but when the first greens showed above ground, it was back at my bedside. It looks a bit worn and has a food stain on the cover, which tends to distinguish the cookbooks that I read from the ones that I use.

A Veggie Cookbook Worth Owning

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There are a lot of vegetable cookbooks on the market currently,most of them much of a muchness and pretty forgettable as far as I’m concerned, but now and then I come across one that must be bought. I bought this one. Then I bought another copy for a friend. It’s of special interest to anyone who grows their own vegetables or gets a CSA box for a few reasons:

1. The organization is by vegetable type, so if you have leafy greens in the garden you can turn to the leafy greens chapter and consider some cooking options.

2. It offers suggestions for vegetables, or parts of vegetables, that aren’t usually eaten. Broccoli leaves, for example, which are good to eat and highly nutrient-dense ( be careful how many you harvest, though, or your broccoli-bud crop will be significantly reduced.) Ms. Ly’s improvisational kale-stem pesto gives you a flexible way to use up the “nasty bits” of your kale. Tomato leaves are used well as a seasoning, and no, they aren’t poisonous. There are numerous other examples: I am looking forward to trying her chard-stem hummus later in the season. The recipe for pan-charred beans with bean leaf pesto looks like another winner.

3. The recipes that I have tried work and taste good. This does not go without saying. I have come across recipes, especially no-waste recipes, that look lovely in the picture but aren’t really edible. Ms. Ly’s recipes are good.

Oh, and 4. It’s available on Kindle if you need to save space on your cookbook shelves.

I don’t accept review copies of cookbooks. I buy them at my local indie bookstore, paying the same price that you will pay. That’s the only way that I can judge whether the value/ price ratio is really favorable. I think this one is worth the money. Even an old hand in the kitchen will pick up some new ideas for using vegetables.

 

 

 

 

Vegetable dinners: a roasted melange, and notes on gochujang


On frazzled days, one way to save time when making dinner is to put food in the oven and pretty much forget about it until it’s done. Many vegetables respond beautifully to this treatment, especially if flavored a little. I have a large clay Spanish cazuela about 14″ in diameter that I use for these impromptu roasts because I’m convinced that the clay improves the flavor, but you can use your standard 9X13 pan if you prefer. I am using a lot of sweet potatoes right now because I dug a lot of them recently, but I’ll include suggestions for substitutions. The idea is to use what you have and like.

You will need:
for the vegetables: 4 medium/large sweet potatoes cut in 1″ chunks (I scrub them well and leave the peel on), or a medium-sized winter squash peeled and cubed, or 6 large carrots scrubbed well and cut in 1/2″ chunks, or some combination of the above. I used sweet potatoes.
For the greens: 1 bunch of kale cleaned and cut in 1″ slices crosswise, or half a small green or red cabbage cut in thin slices, or 3/4 pound of sturdy leafy greens cleaned and cut in 1″ slices, to total about 3/4 pound. I used half Tuscan kale and half sliced green cabbage.
For the seasoning:
a handful of bacon, bacon ends, or pancetta, cut in little cubes. I used the tail end of a bacon slab.
3 large cloves garlic, chopped
3-4 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of Korean gochujang paste (see below) or a teaspoon of Tabasco or other red chili sauce, or a teaspoon of red pepper flakes
about half a teaspoon of salt, or to taste
1/2 cup good stock or water

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Prepare the vegetables and toss them in the cazuela or pan. Mix the seasoning ingredients and pour over the vegetables, tossing with your hands to distribute. Try to end up with the chunky stuff mostly on top and the green stuff mostly on the bottom. Put the cazuela in the oven. Half an hour later turn the veggies with a spatula, and if the bottom seems dry and things are starting to stick, add a little more stock or water. Again, try to keep the greens mostly below the other stuff, where they won’t dry out. After an hour, check the vegetables for doneness. You don’t want them crisp for this dish; they need to be cooked through, a little soft, and well impregnated with the seasoning ingredients. When done, drizzle a tablespoon or so of your best olive oil over all, bring to the table in the cazuela, and eat with a crusty baguette or toasted whole-wheat bread, as you prefer. It couldn’t be easier or healthier.
You can leave out the bacon or pancetta and have a vegan/vegetarian meal. I don’t recommend it, because the pork has a wonderful alchemy with the sweet winter vegetables and the chili paste, and creates a whole much greater than the sum of its parts.

Now and then we find an ingredient that represents the Platonic ideal of its kind. For me, the Korean chili paste gochujang is the seventh heaven of the chile pepper. There is nothing quite like its deep, intense, fermented flavor, unctuous texture, and exquisite mahogany color, and it has a special affinity with pork and a thousand uses outside of traditional Korean cooking. These days the only gochujang that I will use is the one from Mother-in-law’s Kimchee, which does have some sugar in it but no high-fructose corn syrup and is properly fermented and deep and delicious. If it isn’t available in your area, you can order it online. I like the original one, called “concentrated” on the label.

I talk a lot about making dietary and lifestyle changes slowly and one at a time. This is a great time to start thinking about eating more green leafy vegetables. Salads are great, but cold weather is a perfect time to incorporate more cooked greens as main dishes, side dishes, or soups. If you garden, kale and cabbage will help get you through the winter. If you forage, dock, chicory, and dandelion greens are among the few wild foods available in winter in our area (plan to mix them with milder greens from the garden or store.) If you buy at the store, Tuscan kale is everywhere, and since there is no better leafy green, go for it. I do recommend sticking to organic greens wherever possible. If you always have garlic, olive oil, and a little good bacon or pancetta in the house you are always ready to make a lovely dish of saute’ed greens, and there are lots of variations. Check out my “greens” category on this blog for more recipes. I know I have said this before, but I’ll keep saying it: don’t undercook them. The thicker tougher greens like curly kale are acutely unpleasant to eat when undercooked and tough, so taste before sending to the table, and if chewing requires a ruminant level of effort, cook five minutes longer and taste again. Mark Bittman is now galaxy-famous as the author of many authoritative cookbooks, but few people are aware that his first effort was a little gem called “Leafy Greens.” You can still find it second-hand, and it’s worth tracking down. Read it and use it, and your family’s health will benefit.