From My Bookshelves is an occasional book review series – featuring my cookbook collection. A few years ago, I pared my burgeoning cookbook shelves back to just the essentials. It had to happen. No one likes a hoarder. If I recommend a book, it’s because I’ve cooked from it and love it – not because someone’s given me a free copy. Occasionally, I may review other types of food writing too.
Recipe: Bitter Greens with Spiced Almonds
Want to be a hero among your friends? Always volunteer to bring the salad. Much of the time, green salads are an afterthought – but they can be so much more. Salad opens the palate at the beginning of a meal, or provides a refreshing respite at the end.
My go-to salad evolved from a recipe in one of my favorite cookbooks.
My friend Lisa gave me Matthew Kenney’s Mediterranean Cooking for Christmas back in 1997, the year it was published. The book focuses on the flavors of the Mediterranean rim – in addition to recipes from Spain and Italy, the countries represented here include Morocco, Egypt and Turkey. Kenney states in the introduction that his recipes aren’t necessarily traditional in technique, or even ingredients. His goal is to bring traditional Mediterranean rim flavor profiles to American home cooks. And how did he succeed, at least in my kitchen.
I love flatbread. I adore the taste, the crispness with just the right amount of give – but really, flatbreads; naan, parathas, pooris, even pita bread – are a means to an end. They give me the freedom to eat with my fingers. The smallest bit of bread makes any dish manageable with just a thumb and two fingers.
For some Westerners it’s a skill that has to be acquired. Not for me. I jumped right in on my first trip to India – to the astonishment of my Indian family. Eating with your hands gives you a new way to appreciate the texture of food and for me, turns every bite into a conscious act. If I could get away with it, I’d ditch the silverware at every meal.
Recipes: Brioche and Pecan Sticky Buns
Sticky buns epitomize all that’s wonderful about weekend breakfast; indulgence, leisure, hanging out with people who are happy to see you in your pajamas, and of course, an excess of butter. They go perfectly with strong coffee too. And because I was lucky enough to be chosen as one of the hosts for this week’s Tuesdays with Dorie, I get to share the sticky bun recipe from Baking with Julia with you.
I’ve eaten and baked many a sticky bun. I’ve even written about them before. But this sticky bun recipe – made from brioche dough, is a keeper. Watch (part 1 and part 2) Nancy Silverton – the contributing baker and driving force behind the La Brea Bakery – make these sticky buns for Julia Child. See if you don’t end up wanting to run into the kitchen and bake.
I’ve made a lot of bread in the last month. I am, again, working on my sourdough bread baking skills. Every few years I seem to give it another try. Right now, I’ve got a great starter going, and the crumb isn’t bad. But I’m still challenged by many of the frustrations that William Alexander describes in 52 Loaves – not yet able to produce those wonderful, irregular holes that make good bread something great.
I’m working with three different flours, weighing the ingredients (most of the time), and struggling to master Baker’s Math.
Challenges you define for yourself are luxuries. Training for a marathon, reading the Brothers Karamazov, writing a novel in thirty days or learning to bake a loaf of bread – it all falls under the category of luxury.
My new challenge is unquestionably an indulgence. I’ve joined the Tuesdays with Dorie baking group in their new incarnation – working their way through Dorie Greenspan’s 1996 book, Baking with Julia, the companion to Julia Child’s last PBS cooking series.
It’s going to mean a lot butter, flour, sugar, yeast and learning. And that I might finally make a decent loaf of bread.
Recipe: Red Velvet Cheesecake Layer Cake
Many things in life are a hassle: doctor’s appointments, any kind of encounter with government or corporate bureaucracy, opening plastic packaging. Making a cake shouldn’t fall into that category.
I don’t need it to be fast – or easy. Just not frustrating or aggravating. Many culinary tasks have a learning curve – boning a duck, stuffing a sausage, even chopping an onion. You won’t (or at least I didn’t) get it right the first time – but by the forth, you’re relaxed and confident. No more tears.
Recipe: Tart Lemon Blackberry Swirl Ice Cream
After two full years of making my own ice cream, it’s become second nature; easy even. If I have eggs, sweetened condensed milk, half-half, and whole milk in the house, I can come up with almost any flavor, and end up with a creamy, yet firm texture.
I’m ridiculously proud of this skill. It’s a case where practice has made, if not perfect, at least a huge difference. I can look at the warm custard and tell if it is going to freeze properly – not too hard, not too chalky, but with just the right mouth feel.