Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

From My Bookshelves: Matthew Kenney’s Mediterranean Cooking

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.

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Eating With My Fingers

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.

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Sticky Buns: Brioche, Butter And Another Tuesday With Dorie

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.

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Irish Soda Bread And A Food Legend

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.

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Baking with Dorie and Julia

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.

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Valentine’s Day for many more than two: Red Velvet Cheesecake Layer Cake

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.

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It all started with an Ice Cream Manifesto

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.

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Summer Sunshine for the New Year

Chicken Corn Soup

One of my favorite rituals is hanging up new calendars. All the promise of a New Year, held in your hand and hung on the wall; the illusion that the way we order and divide time matters. Or maybe the allure lies in just being able to flip ahead from January to June and be reassured that summer is just a few page turns away.

It’s important to believe in that possibility on days when the sun sets at 4pm. And it can be vital to eat something restorative and colorful at this time of year – something like Chicken Corn Soup. Who can think of corn without thinking of sunshine?

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Seeking New Traditions: Indian Food

Recipe: Chicken with Red Chilies

K.M. and I tend to make the same few Indian favorites, over and over again. Chicken Rolls, Chicken with Almonds and Sultanas, and Shrimp in a Dark Sauce, (both from Madhur Jaffery’s Indian Cooking), and Alu Kabli. They are all spectacular dishes – but how did we end up reducing the cooking of one of the worlds’ most vibrant and interesting countries down to four dishes?

It’s not like K.M. grew up eating just these four dishes. Not one of them is even a Bengali recipe. So one of my goals for the New Year is to break out of the rut – use the cookbooks I have and look for some new ideas. I went to a food photography workshop back in November and was lucky enough to meet Sala – the talent behind the blog Veggie Belly. I was blown away by her photos and her Indian recipes – and I’m excited to start cooking from her blog.

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A Five Dollar Fairy Tale

Recipe:Black Bean Soup with Roasted Corn and Indian Spices

Slow food shouldn’t have to cost more than fast food. This was the tag line for Slow Food USA‘s recent $5 challenge: sharing a fresh, healthy meal with loved ones, friends, or strangers for less than $5 a person.

I’m not sure how much of a challenge it was – the reality is that anyone who participated in the challenge, is probably already a slow food cook; someone who has the knowledge, access,
resources and the time to cook from scratch with real ingredients. If you work a 16 hours just to make ends meet, or live in a food dessert, a cooking challenge from Slow Food USA is about as interesting as a green energy tax credit. It’s a fairy tale.

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