Articles in Book Reviews
When holiday time rolls around, thinking of good gifts for foodies can be a challenge. You can send food of course, but serious foodies love something that anyone can give, and it will last a lifetime.
Cookbooks, memoirs with recipes — in other words, food porn.
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Whatever you call it, for a food fiend, a cookbook is always a welcome gift.
This year, when Jewish-ish cooking is en vogue and Israeli food is hotter than a Scotch bonnet pepper, the choices can be a bit vexing.
Let me help.
Five cookbooks published in 2015 warrant serious excitement. They are great reads and feature recipes that are interesting, innovative, and they work. Any of them would make a wonderful gift to give, and even better to receive.
‘Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking’ by chef Michael Solomonov and restaurateur Steven Cook
Cookbooks by James Beard-award-winning chefs are often stuffy, with recipes that are difficult to make at home. This is not that book. Chef Solomonov’s story is genuine and sincere, filled with the pathos of the loss of a brother in the Israeli Armed Forces, his American upbringing and his journey to find the new world of cooking in Israel. I have made over a dozen of his recipes — but his incredible hummus recipe is worth the price of the book.
‘The Feast Goes On’ by the Monday Morning Cooking Club
When a group of Australian women decided to get together on Mondays and cook each other’s treasured recipes, magic happened. Each was from a different Jewish ethnic group, each with a world of stories. With honesty and solid testing, their first book, “Monday Morning Cooking Club,” was a trove of wonderful recipes and stories. The second one is just as good, if not better. This book is a sleeper and will be splattered with cooking stains in no time.
‘Modern Jewish Cooking: Recipes & Customs for Today’s Kitchen’ by Leah Koenig
Leah Koenig is a top-flight Jewish food writer and editor, and this book showcases her thoughtful variations on Jewish classics. Her take on Jewish American millennial food is second to none. This book is perfect for a recent grad, the newly married or a couple who’ve just moved in together.
‘The Covenant Kitchen: Food and Wine for the New Jewish Table’ by Jeff and Jodie Morgan
This smart cookbook is full of recipes just waiting to be prepared for a dinner party or a fun weekend dinner. Great for the sophisticated home cook.
‘The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen’: A Fresh Take on Tradition by Amelia Saltsman
Inspired by the Jewish calendar, the author of “The Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Cookbook” brings her locavore, produce-heavy, California-inspired approach to the home kitchen with recipes that focus on her eclectic and fascinatingly global background. A great book for the modern cook looking for something new and altogether genuine for any season.
Main photo: Korean-Style Flanken With Asian Slaw and Red Potato Salad can be found in the new cookbook, “The Covenant Kitchen: Food and Wine for the New Jewish Table,” by Jeff and Jodie Morgan. Credit: Copyright 2015 Ed Anderson
You open an old cookbook and out flutters a fragile, stained piece of notepaper. On it there is some spidery handwriting in fading blue ink for a long-forgotten cookie from a long-forgotten aunt in a long-forgotten language. Or perhaps, like Budapest-born Tomi Komoly, you have a carefully bound journal filled with exquisitely rhythmic italic notations. Hastily scribbled or meticulously inscribed, old family recipes are a gift from the past. But bringing them back to life in modern kitchens can present today’s cook with some unexpected problems.
Unforeseen problems: handwriting, culinary shorthand
When Komoly, who now lives in the United Kingdom, took the task of painstakingly transcribing, testing and updating many of his Austro-Hungarian grandmother’s recipes, he encountered a number of unforeseen problems. Not least, the recipes were written in a narrow, cursive script in old-fashioned German and Hungarian often using the shorthand style of a culinary expert for whom the manuscript was more aide-memoire than intended manual. It took him more than six years to translate and edit — and enter the mindset of his late grandmother to identify the many details and techniques she would have assumed needed no explanation. Sometimes, with heirloom recipes, it is what is left out that is as important as what is included.
Concessions to modernity
The aim of recipe rescuers is always to be as authentic as possible but, as Komoly found out, there have to be concessions to modernity. Today’s cooks may not have the stamina of their ancestors, but few would want to turn back every clock. As Komoly says, “Granny used to laboriously beat the egg whites with a little whisk or large fork, but I use a machine except for rising dough, which I prefer to feel by hand.” Ready-made noodles, dried yeast and strudel dough are also innovations that prove that progress can mean just that.
Advances in cooking equipment
Technical advances can also affect the success of updating recipes: Even the material out of which cooking tins and utensils are made may alter cooking times, and when all the cooking and baking was done on a wood-fired, cast-iron stove with hot plates, as with Komoly’s family, oven temperatures and timings can be another source of error. As he says, “How do you interpret instructions such as ‘Do it on a high flame’ or ‘Bake until it is ready’?” In addition, in quite a few recipes I had to work out the sequence of adding ingredients by patient trial and error. Luckily, on the whole, Granny was very reliable, so I didn’t have too many disasters.”
Our kitchens today also boast luxuries unheard of in prewar Europe, or available to only a few, such as refrigeration. As Komoly recalled, “We would get great blocks of ice delivered, we never had a fridge. Or we would keep food in winter on the floor of the freezing, unheated bathroom.” Restoring old recipes in light of the “new” technology means you may have to expect new timings, new procedures, new methodology.
Account for changing ingredients, tastes
Family recipes often are short on details, especially when orally transmitted, but even when written, many instructions can be vague to the uninitiated. Often, cooks would vary the way they cooked and baked according to whim, the weather and whether or not certain items were available.
“Although many recipes had quantities, in those days they didn’t specify things they would take for granted, such as the size of eggs. I came to the conclusion, for example, that over-egging a cake really doesn’t hurt too much,” Komoly said. “I’ve also had to play around with sugar quantities; there’s a massive difference in our tastes these days. I found I only needed about two-thirds of the original amount.”
Short on details
A rose is a rose is a rose, but the saying does not always hold true. Take a cherry, for example. There are sweet ones, sour ones, red ones, black ones and unique regional varieties that add different dimensions to a dish. Fresh produce was usually a given: In Hungary, Komoly’s grandmother would assume the fruit and nuts were there for the taking from the family’s own trees, but a stale supermarket walnut or hazelnut can turn yesterday’s delight into today’s disaster.
Cooking vs. baking
There’s many a recipe handed down from generation to generation that involves good old-fashioned instructions such as “Take a pinch of this” or “Add some of that.” In many Italian-language cookbooks, recipes often include qv (quanto vale — how much you want) or qb (quanto basta — as much as it needs) in the instructions. The size of a “handful” may not matter too much in general cooking, but baking is more of an exact science than a free-form art.
A century of changes
Another problem, common to all who undertake the rescue and restoration of heritage recipes, are ingredients. Soft cheese, butter, flour, chocolate and so on may not always be the same as those used a century ago. Take flour, for example. Italian heritage recipes use different types of flour to those we are accustomed in the United States and United Kingdom. Komoly encountered the same difficulty, “The flour we used in Hungary was quite different, but most UK flour is highly refined. Eventually, I found that if I made a cake with a large percentage of flour, it was best to use a ‘strong’ Canadian flour.”
Komoly is also fortunate in that he can still recall helping his grandmother in the kitchen — always rewarded with a lick of the spoon or bowl — as well as being able to hold in his memory the taste of the end products.
Having survived the Holocaust, his grandmother, Vamos Kathe, relocated to Nairobi. Her recipe book was a precious reminder of a lost world, inscribed with the words, “With God’s Help.” He must have been listening.
Hungarian Cherry Pie (cseresznyès lepèny)
Recipe taken from “My Granny’s Gift: 55 Delicious Austro-Hungarian Dessert Recipes” by Tomi Komoly, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014, 124 pages.
Prep time: 30 to 40 minutes
Baking time: 50 minutes
Total time: 1 hour 20 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes
Yield: 8 servings
2 tablespoons (15 grams) plain flour
9 tablespoons (125 grams) butter or margarine
1 whole egg
6 tablespoons (80 grams) superfine sugar
About 4 cups (500 grams) cherries, unpitted
4 egg whites
2 tablespoons (15 grams) powdered sugar
1 cup (70 to 80 grams) bread crumbs
1. Mix the flour, butter and egg with 4 tablespoons (60 grams) of the superfine sugar and roll out to about 1/4-inch (7 to 8 mm) thick and transfer into a 12-by-8-inch (30-by-20-cm) baking tray. Alternatively, just place in the middle of the tray and “pat” until it is spread evenly over the whole area.
2. Bake in a moderate oven 350 F (175 C) for 35 minutes. (It may take less time, so if it smells like it is burning, it may well be!)
3. Pit the cherries and drain the fruit of all excess juice and spread evenly after scattering the bread crumbs over the pastry. Sprinkle the remaining superfine sugar on top. (If the cherries are very sweet, then you may not need the extra sugar. CH)
4. Beat the 4 egg whites with the powdered sugar until very firm, spread over the cake, and bake for another 15 minutes or until lightly browned and semi-hardened. Allow to cool, cut into squares and serve with whipped cream.
5. Instead of the bread crumbs, ground walnuts or hazelnuts could also be used.
Main photo: Hungarian Cherry Pie, cseresznyès lepèny, served with whipped cream. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman
There are more than 3,400 craft breweries in America, with another 10 breweries opening each week. Retail sales of craft beer grew 22 percent in 2014, as overall beer sales stayed flat with the popularity of Budweiser and Miller dropping like a stone. The incredible consumer demand for craft beer makes the failure rate for new craft breweries … effectively zero.
Across the nation, beer lovers are daydreaming about jumping on the craft beer bandwagon and opening their own brewery.
Last fall, Zester contributors fanned out across the country interviewing craft brewers, distillers and cider makers for a book we’d been commissioned to write on how to start these ventures. We had a fabulous time talking with a number of unusual characters working in these fast-growing sectors. Our book — “Start Your Own Microbrewery, Distillery, or Cidery” — will be released June 30 by Entrepreneur Press.
In the process of writing our book, we read extensively about the craft beer business. Obviously, we think our book is an invaluable addition to the collection, but it tells only part of the story. Our “beer library” is a list of must-read recent releases for everyone interested in craft beer. There is no homework here. These are fun, entertaining reads.
10 beer books reviewed by Zester Daily:
Main photo: Greg Koch, co-founder and CEO of Stone Brewing Co. in Escondido, California, and co-author of “The Brewer’s Apprentice.” Credit: Copyright 2011 Quarry Books
For the second time in two weeks, the California wine industry is under fire. First, it was a class-action lawsuit aimed at inexpensive wines with moderately elevated levels of arsenic. Now, it’s cooties. And they’ve been spotted in the proverbial good stuff.
Cooties — formally Cutius terrebilis, a childhood condition associated with social dysfunction, formerly believed to be something people grow out of naturally by the time they are teenagers — have apparently been detected in a broad cross-section of California wines.
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Curiously, the cooties-bearing wines are not connected by their region of origin or varietal makeup, but rather by their rating on the so-called 100-point scale, popularized during the 20th century but inexplicably still finding traction in lesser-evolved pockets of the U.S. wine scene today.
Dr. Isiah B. Wright — who holds degrees in medicine, enology, viticulture, psychology and statistics — revealed his research yesterday at a news conference where he also announced he is not initiating a class-action suit. Wright explained that the presence of cooties is fortunately limited to wines that have been rated 90 points or higher, and is not as pernicious or contagious as it can be in elementary schools and summer camps.
Symptoms of cooties
Symptoms of cooties transmission from wine to humans are subtle, and mostly psychological rather than systemic. “Given that said ratings are purported to provide guidance, and in turn confidence, in the drinker, the 90-point wines are particularly risky,” Wright continued. “Exposure to too many could leave imbibers with subconscious anxiety, a creeping doubt, if you will, that their own taste in wine is merely pedestrian.”
He went on to explain that, unfortunately, 90-point wines are “about 9 cents a dozen these days,” and thanks to complicity of online and traditional retailers too lazy or too unsure of their own palates to review wines themselves, these ratings have proliferated to the point where exposure is difficult to avoid.
Of course, cooties in humans under the age of 10 are fairly easily treated; once cooties are contracted on the playground, a four-finger squeeze applied within one day by a merciful peer does the trick. In adults, Wright said he knows of two treatments: “The first thing people can do, as a prophylactic measure, is to immediately reject the usage of any wine ratings outside their original habitat, i.e., in the pages of magazines that no one actually reads anyway. This is quite easy, actually. Wine ratings derived almost exclusively by middle-aged men sampling 20 wines at a pop ‘blind’ and without a crumb of food — who would consider their advice useful in real life, where people, food and context are in play?”
The second, he explained, is even simpler: “Pour yourself some wine of the masses — a crisp dry rosé, a humble Prosecco, a refreshing sangria. Go tap a box wine, pound some Pinot Grigio or share a magnum of Merlot. And then — are you listening? — add some food. Adds 10 points to every wine, every time” — especially on April 1.
Main photo: California’s wine woes continue to mount. Credit: Copyright iStockPhoto/Avalon_Studio
The differences between Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jewry’s foodways are clearest at Passover. Sephardim traditionally ate rice, legumes and other foods verboten to those from Northern and Eastern Europe and Russia, which makes borrowing traditions for an all-inclusive modern Passover table a bit challenging.
But an Ottoman lasagna, called mina, also known as miginas, meginas or mehinas, is easily suited to Jews of every ethnicity and historical identity. By any name, these savory layered matzo lasagnas are found in Jewish cuisine from Egypt to Turkey to the Isle of Rhodes. And they are anything but new.
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Mina originated from medieval pasteles, according to John Cooper in his book, “Eat and Be Satisfied: A Social History of Jewish Food.” “Small meat pies, or migina, the equivalent of strudel … [were themselves] a variant of migas, and [were] filled with empanada-style fillings,” Cooper writes. Those Old World migas were filled with chopped meats or seasonal vegetable purées such as calabaza, aka pumpkin or eggplant, or a creamy, cheesy spinach version.
Traditionally, minas are cut into small mini-appetizer-sized bites and become a part of the Mediterranean mezze table — the selection of small dishes served at cocktail hour or as a long, lingering supper that is common everywhere from Greece through the Levant.
I love serving mina in the mezze style, filled with mint-infused roasted eggplant and lamb for a meat-based Seder alongside caponata, garlicky fried olives, bay-leaf-brined carrots and braised burnished leeks. But for a midweek meal, I go all cheesy and ooey-gooey.
Many recipes soak the all-but-hardtack matzo in water to soften. I rinse it lightly. I like the textural difference in the mina. I also go crazy with cheese sauce. During Passover, when that feeling of deprivation for “regular” foods has become more than a little bit wearing by midweek, a cheese-and-vegetable pie is a respite, one that offers a mac-and-cheese-like familiarity.
I lean toward Alsace, France and northern Italy for the flavors that have the heft to give this lasagna serious substance.
Spinach, Butternut Squash, Sweet Onion and Fontina Mina
Sephardic Passover lasagna, mina, can be — no, it should be — on every table at some point during Passover. This version, influenced by the cuisine of Ferrara, Italy, eats like a great mac and cheese packed with vegetables, but since it can prepared in stages over a few days, it’s as easy to make as lasagna. Great for a midweek Passover meal for a big family — a truly satisfying one-pan wonder. In fact, it’s a tasty change of pace at any time; feel free to add a few minced sage leaves if it’s cold outside for an autumnal feel.
Prep time: About 40 minutes
Cook time: About 1 1/4 hours
Total time: 1 hour, 55 minutes
Yield: About 12 pieces
½ cup (8 tablespoons/227 grams/1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
3 pounds fresh baby spinach
3 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 large red onion, peeled and cut into into 1/2-inch dice (about 2 cups)
3 cloves garlic, peeled, halved and grated, any green centers discarded
1 cup Gewürztraminer or dry Riesling wine
2 large butternut squash (about 2 1/2 pounds), peeled and cut into rough 1/4- to 1/2-inch dice
Leaves of 8 fresh thyme sprigs, minced
Leaves of 3 small sprigs fresh marjoram, minced
1 quart milk
7 tablespoons potato starch
1 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
1 pound shredded Gruyère cheese, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
5 sheets matzo
2 cups (about 9 ounces) diced Fontina cheese
1. In a deep saucepan set over high heat, heat 2 tablespoons butter and swirl until it is just foaming. Add half the spinach, 1 teaspoon of the salt, 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper, and with tongs, toss gently in the butter. Cover, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, until just wilted.
2. Add the remaining spinach, tossing to coat. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 4 to 5 minutes, until all of the spinach is fully wilted. Transfer to a colander and drain. When the spinach is cool enough to handle, squeeze out excess liquid. The spinach will have shrunk quite a bit. Set aside. This can be done up to 2 days in advance, and the spinach stored in a covered container in the refrigerator.
3. In the same (now cleaned) saucepan, set over medium-high heat, heat 2 tablespoons butter and swirl until it is just foaming. Add the onions, garlic, 1 teaspoon of the salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of the black pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes, until the onions are soft and the edges browned.
3. Add the wine, butternut squash, thyme and marjoram and cook for about 20 minutes, until the liquid is reduced in volume by at least half. Set aside. This can be done up to 2 days in advance, and the mixture stored in a covered container in the refrigerator.
4. When you are ready to make the mina, preheat the oven to 350 F. Spray a deep 9-by-14-inch lasagna pan or glass Pyrex pan with nonstick vegetable oil spray.
5. Heat the milk in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat until hot but not scalded.
6. In the same (again, cleaned) deep saucepan, heat the remaining 4 tablespoons butter over medium heat until it begins to foam. Immediately whisk in the potato starch and quickly add the warm milk, still whisking over medium heat, making sure there are no lumps. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until the mixture thickens slightly and comes to a gentle but active boil, adjusting the heat as necessary.
7. Reduce the heat to a simmer, add the crème fraîche and cook, whisking gently, until blended into the sauce.
8. Add about three-fourths of the shredded Gruyère cheese, reserving the rest for topping, and with a spoon, stir until the cheese melts. Add the nutmeg and stir to blend.
9. Spoon 1 cup of the cheese sauce over the bottom of the lasagna pan. Break the matzo into 3-inch wide slats, rinse them under cold water for about 5 seconds, and arrange them over the sauce in a single layer, breaking the sheets at the perforations as necessary. Add the spinach, arranging it in an even layer, and top with another cup of cheese sauce. Arrange another layer of matzo on top and spoon another cup of cheese sauce over it. Cover with the Fontina cheese and the remaining salt and pepper. Add another layer of matzo and top with the onions and butternut squash. Spoon the remaining cheese sauce over the top and scatter the reserved Gruyère over it.
10. Prepare a sheet of foil big enough to cover the lasagna pan and spray it with nonstick vegetable oil spray. Cover the mina loosely with the foil, greased side down. Bake for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, or until bubbling hot. Remove the foil, increase the heat to broil and broil for 2 to 3 minutes, until the top is lightly browned. Serve immediately.
Note: You may use frozen spinach, if you wish. Thaw it, rinse well, drain, squeeze out any excess liquid and proceed with the recipe.
Main photo: Great for a midweek Passover meal for a big family — this lasagna is a truly satisfying one-pan wonder. Credit: Copyright 2015 TheWeiserKitchen
The International Association of Culinary Professionals announced the best cookbooks published in 2014 at its annual convention, held March 27 to 30 in Washington, D.C.
Winners were chosen in 19 categories, including American and international sweet and savory cooking; restaurant- and chef-centered books and those homing in on culinary travel; e-cookbooks and culinary history; and literary food writing and photography. The IACP program is widely lauded as the most selective in the industry due to its two-tier judging process that requires recipe testing in all relevant categories.
“A New Napa Cuisine,” by Christopher Kostow, was chosen the IACP 2015 Cookbook of the Year, and won in the Global Design category as well. Among the other winners was Zester Daily contributor Ramin Ganeshram, whose book “FutureChefs: Recipes by Tomorrow’s Cooks Across the Nation and the World” won in the Children, Youth and Family category.
Celebrity chef Curtis Stone was the emcee at the IACP awards event.
This slideshow provides the winner in each category and a brief summary or review of each cookbook.
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I was tasting the 2012 Grand Veneur Côtes du Rhône “Les Champauvins,” a smooth, nicely structured red with flavors of black and red berries. It was so cozy and friendly that, dear reader, I felt a Cole Porter song coming on: “You’d be so nice to come home to. You’d be so nice by the fire. …”
At $15 to $20, I could imagine coming home to that wine when a bit of self-pampering was warranted.
“Les Champauvins” was made by the Jaume family, whose winery is located in Orange in France’s Rhone Valley. Created in 1826, the domaine is now run by the sixth generation: Sebastien Jaume, 36, the winemaker, is an enologist who worked at the Erath Winery in Oregon, Château Gruaud Larose in Bordeaux and Clos des Papes in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Christophe, 35, handles marketing, and Helene, 25, oversees the newest acquisition, Château Mazanne in Vacqueyras.
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The domaine originally comprised 12 hectares (almost 30 acres) of vines when Alain Jaume took over in the 1970s. It has since expanded to 90 hectares (about 222 acres), spanning the southern Rhone. Wines made from these vines are sold under the Grand Veneur label.
There is also a negociant line labeled Alain Jaume that encompasses an encyclopedic range of wines from simple Côtes du Rhône to Gigondas. As if that weren’t enough, the family rents out a vacation home at Château Mazanne that sleeps 17, has a pool and endless mountain vistas.
But I digress — back to that Champauvins.
Champauvins, a rich blend
Like all of Grand Veneur reds, this is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, though percentages vary according to the wine.
Grenache brings a unique, sweet smoothness to a blend and accounts for 70% of Les Champauvins. Syrah deepens color and adds exotic scents. Mourvedre delivers tannins, power and age-ability. In general, both the Syrah and the Mourvedre mature, at least partly, in oak barrels, whereas the Grenache ages only in tanks.
Viticulture at the estate-owned properties is organic. Grapes in Châteauneuf-du-Pape are hand-harvested; most of the others are as well, except when climatic conditions demand speed.
Les Champauvins is located 10 feet beyond the Châteauneuf-du-Pape zone, not far from Jaume’s vines in that appellation, and its soils are similar: red clay carpeted with large rocks streaked with quartz called galets roulés.
Another major Jaume property is in the Lirac appellation, across the Rhone from Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It’s the site of the deservedly popular Domaine du Clos du Sixte. The lip-smacking 2012, rich and velvety, mixes light oak flavors with those of black cherries and herbs like thyme and bay leaf ($12 to $25).
Three heroic red Chateauneuf-du-Papes
Three red Châteauneuf-du-Papes are all in the northern sector of the zone. In addition to varying percentages of the three grapes, differences in the three bottlings can be accounted for chiefly by the age of the vines and choice of fermentation techniques.
The basic Châteauneuf-du-Pape, 70% Grenache, is a delicious mouthful of the savory flavors of herbs as well as sweet ones like black cherry. Its texture is velvety, revealing the dulcet character of Grenache combined with the exoticism of Syrah and the muscle of Mourvedre. It’s nicely priced at under $40.
Next, “Les Origines” is made from a northern sector of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyard. Its grapes are painstakingly sorted before fermenting for three weeks with regular punching down. Its dark robe presages deep flavors of gently crushed black and blueberries, licorice and coffee bean. The wine is fresh and smooth and lifted by a hint of menthol.
The vines for Grand Veneur’s Vieilles Vignes are more than 75 years old. Grenache makes up 50% of the blend, Mourvedre, 40%. Nearly pitch black with purple reflections, it’s a potent weave of blackberry, blueberry, herbs, dark chocolate and licorice. Rich it is, but cool, too, with no jagged edges, no heaviness and a long finish. It’s Jaume’s priciest wine, at around $96.
Ideal food pairings
You can cellar all these wines for decades. Or drink them now. In the latter case, decant them a good two hours in advance and put the carafe in a basin of cool water in order to serve the wine at about 60 F.
One dish the Jaumes pair with these wines is wild duck with roasted figs — which sounds yummy. What’s more, it evokes the culinary association that inspired the domaine’s name. The term dates from the Ancien Regime’s chasse au cour. The results of the hunt would be served with a blood-thickened variation on the sauce poivrade called Sauce Grand Veneur.
But Easter is approaching and these wines are superb with lamb, my current favorite. My late uncle Bill, however, traditionally baked ham with pineapple. With that, I’d want a special white.
Jaume’s oak-aged Chateauneuf-du-Pape “la Fontaine” is pure and quite plush Roussane ($80) that I’d save for lobster. For a marriage truly made in heaven, however, I’d grab their discreetly fragrant Viognier, a Cotes du Rhone ($12), with mingled flavours of apple, litchi, pear and white-fleshed peaches. I feel a song coming on.
Main photo: Alain Jaume and two sons. The family winery was begun in 1826 and today spans the southern Rhone Valley. Credit: Copyright Alaine Jaume & Fils
Culinary icon Anne Willan has just released “Secrets From the La Varenne Kitchen,” a brief compendium of “50 Essential Recipes Every Cook Needs To Know.” This amazing book includes the recipes that are the backbone course for professional chefs and that Willan’s legendary school Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne in Paris has been creating since 1975.
Among the dishes are fish aspic, exquisitely specific details on puff pastry and 10 types of sorbet. But one recipe caught my eye: Court Bouillon — or in rough English translation: “Quick Broth.” As a mom who doesn’t have the time for more intricate recipes and whose two young girls don’t have the palates for aspic yet, I liked the sound of that. I called Anne Willan to get her thoughts.
“It’s very interesting that you’ve chosen court bouillon,” Willan said from her home in Santa Monica, California, “because it’s not something anybody thinks of using nowadays. It really is right in sync with contemporary cooking,” she continued. “It’s very useful because today people always want to cook things healthfully and simply.”
Willan’s definition of court bouillon is simple and clear: “It’s a meatless and fatless broth, so very simple, but something that just adds flavor to whatever’s cooked in it.” The recipe, which is included below, is easy, but I was hoping to get some insider secrets. Willan was happy to comply, although clearly none of this seemed like a big secret to her: “Thinly slice the carrots,” she told me, “so that they give up their flavor in 15 or 20 minutes. Slice the onions fairly thinly, but not to worry about it. The green herbs you just drop in, keep the stems, they have lots of taste.”
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The real secret of court bouillon is properly pairing the food being cooked in the broth with a sympathetic acidic ingredient. Traditionally, the acid used in court bouillon would be vinegar, wine or lemon juice. Willan provided more nuanced distinctions: “For whitefish, I’d probably go for wine, because you don’t want too strong a flavor. For darker fish, possibly lemon juice or vinegar because it balances the stronger flavor of the fish.”
In traditional French cuisine, court bouillon is a liquid used for simmering, and then it’s tossed out. But as we discussed using the broth as a part of the meal, Willan became intrigued, because that’s simply part of her cooking ethos. “Never throw anything away,” she said. “When you’ve got lovely cooking liquid from something like a big salmon, do something with it — fish soup with the leftover.”
I could hear her brain begin to click as she explored the Culinary Thought Experiment: “The liquid will have acquired the flavor of what’s been cooking in it,” she said. “So what I would like to do is boil it down, and make a little sauce with it, mount it with butter or something.”
Then her brain went into high gear: “You could do lovely experiments with it. I certainly haven’t gone into it myself, but you could do an Asian court bouillon, or a hot court bouillon. You’d use chili peppers, wouldn’t you? It’s got to be something pure, hasn’t it?”
From the wisdom behind La Varenne
This was more intriguing than interview questions: Willan was asking and answering herself, giving me a view into a creative culinary mind that has long fascinated me as I’ve gobbled up her writings and her recipes from the classic “From My Château Kitchen” to her dish-y memoir “One Soufflé at a Time.” As she brainstormed the possibilities for court bouillon, her encyclopedic knowledge of cooking became clear, as did her passion for food and good eating.
“Perhaps I’d use coriander instead of parsley. And then, what would you use it for? If you push it a little bit, you could use it for a risotto or cooking quinoa. Or even grits or corn meal.”
By the time we were done, Willan had improvised a court bouillon for down-home Southern cooking and an Asian-influenced broth with the addition of soy sauce, cilantro and rice wine vinegar. She cautioned me against using too much chili pepper if I wanted to try a hot version because the flavor of the pepper would concentrate as the broth cooked down. It was an invigorating conversation — an insight into a culinary mind-set deeply rooted in the basics, but excited to jump in and experiment.
I love my copy of “Secrets from the La Varenne Kitchen,” and I intend to use it to build those basic skills that every cook needs to know — whether they’re a chef at a high-end restaurant or a mom with kids to feed. And court bouillon seems to be an inspired place for me to start. Check out the slideshow that includes Willan’s secrets and two dishes that riff on the recipe.
By Anne Willan, courtesy Spring House Press
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Total time: 25 minutes
Yield: 1 quart
1 quart water
1 carrot, sliced
1 small onion, sliced
1 bouquet garni
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup white wine or 1/3 cup vinegar or 1/4 cup lemon juice
1. Combine all the ingredients in a pan (not aluminum), cover and bring to a boil. Simmer uncovered 15 to 20 minutes and strain.
Main photo: Court Bouillon is tap water with a little bit of salt, peppercorn, sliced onion, parsley, bay leaf, sliced carrot and something acidic — often lemon juice, but equally often white wine and occasionally vinegar. Credit: Copyright 2015 Susan Lutz