Articles in Chefs
Foraging is the best way I know to stay immersed in the landscape I love. Equally important, I forage because it stocks my kitchen with scrumptious, high-quality food. I live at the base of the Rocky Mountains, where there are booming growing seasons and long cold winters, so preserving my wild harvest is the ideal way to have access to foraged foods throughout the year. As someone who puts up wild goods regularly, I was very excited to read “Preserving Wild Foods,” which addresses how to take advantage of wild products through pickling, preserving, fermentation and curing.
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By Raquel Pelzel, Matthew Weingarten
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From the outset, it is apparent that author Matthew Weingarten not only forages, but enjoys it immensely. What is most intriguing about “Preserving Wild Foods” is the perspective the author brings to the subject as a chef working in New York City. He’s not someone who lives next to a remote stream in the woods. Rather, he’s a city dweller who still finds a valuable connection with the land through wild harvests. In this book, Weingarten and co-author Raquel Pelzel tackle products from environments ranging from ocean-side all the way to the countryside, transforming fruit, vegetables, nuts, mushrooms, fish and game, into tempting jams, chutneys, charcuterie and more.
Inventive wild food flavors
“Preserving Wild Foods” shines when Weingarten uses his sensibilities as a chef to both wake up standard recipes and introduce new flavor combinations. Take for example samphire pickles, in which he seasons the coastal plant also known as sea beans with chiles, coriander and garlic. Weingarten adds a slightly unexpected flavor twist in his old world rose hip jam by adding cardamom and grenadine. He also shares some recipes that may be new to the home cook, like crab apple mostarda, or frutti di bosco compote, which is made with wild mushrooms, blueberries and herbs.
Intrigued by the unusual flavor pairing, I tried my hand at a half batch of pecan and fennel seed brittle. I didn’t want to chance ruining the two cups of honey required by the full batch. The instructions were easy to follow, and even included a bit of advice I’d never before tried when making brittle: to put a second pan on top of the freshly poured candy, and press it with a rolling pin to made an evenly thick product. I found pecan and fennel seed brittle to be especially good crumbled over ice cream.
Foraged, feral and garden-grown
I was a bit surprised to find that one of the chapters in “Preserving Wild Foods” contains many recipes for agricultural or gardened food products. I appreciate the argument that feral foods, those that used to be kept but have since gone wild, bridge the gap between foraging and gardening. And I can also see that for a person operating in the heart of a major metropolitan area, visiting the farmers market feels a bit like foraging. But I found the appearance of a recipe for watermelon pickles in a book about wild foods to be a bit of an incongruity.
Instead of including recipes for dill cucumber pickles, pickled peppers and bacon, I would have preferred to see the chef share more recipes made with wild foods, perhaps with a focus on ways to preserve unloved weeds that thrive in the city. I’d love to see how the Weingarten would use his experienced palate to approach preserving lamb’s quarter, sow thistle, dock or the lemon clover he mentions in passing on a page dedicated to the joys of spring greens.
“Preserving Wild Foods” would benefit from a cleaner presentation. The mish-mash of recipe introductions, tips, drawings, formal photographs, and Polaroid-style snapshots seem to be an attempt at warmth, like reading the journal of a chef, but the overall effect is a bit jumbled. I would have loved to see this book broken into two volumes, one about plants, and the other with the focus on charcuterie. A full third of the recipes in “Preserving Wild Foods” are for meat or fish, so be aware if you are expecting all plant-based dishes or are vegetarian.
“Preserving Wild Foods” is a book packed with all manner of recipes for putting up wild products. I especially enjoyed the author’s clear delight in foraging. As someone who is adventurous in the kitchen, I was excited to see more unusual recipes like that for modern garum, a fermented fish sauce made from heads and guts. However, given the level of skill required to can and cure at home, this may not be the ideal book for home cooks who aren’t already fairly comfortable in the kitchen. Novices might be intimidated by some of the recipes, and it should be noted that this is a cookbook, not a field guide. While the author writes lovely introductions about the highlighted ingredients, there are no warnings to stay away from red elderberries or beware of angelica’s dangerous look-alikes. “Preserving Wild Foods” could potentially be a valuable book for aspirational foragers, preserving geeks, and people who forage regularly and serious about preserving their finds.
Chef Matthew Weingarten and “Preserving Wild Foods.” Credit: Storey Publishing
Suddenly street food is cool. Perhaps it’s a reaction to lofty trends like molecular gastronomy, vegetable foams and chefs in lab coats. People are ready for more accessible cooking. Some call it street food. Hugo Ortega, a home-schooled chef from Mexico, presents the most recent and best book on the topic in “Street Food of Mexico.”
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By Hugo Ortega
and Penny de los Santos
Bright Sky Press, 2012, 256 pages
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In my hometown of Mexico City, the phrase “street food” might connote a low-class, unsavory, health risk from which tourists and locals alike are warned to stay away. But foodies on the cutting edge are busy promoting this popular cooking. Restaurants with names such as Street in L.A., Fonda in N.Y. and Ortega’s own Hugo’s in Houston are pulling in crowds. Anthony Bourdain and the Los Angeles Times are touting street food as trendy, reminding us that the best cooking is often found in the most humble places. We fearless global eaters could have told them.
Writing about Mexican cooking in his heartfelt introduction, Ortega’s description could apply to the popular cooking of any culture:
“… street food is actually “slow food,” prepared in someone’s own kitchen with little to no shortcuts, from family recipes handed down through the ages. The food is cooked all through the night on the outskirts of the towns and villages, in kitchen ovens or in deep earthen pits, and brought into city and town centers each morning … Rich with tradition and heritage, street food is the purest form of true authentic … cuisine.”
While other cookbooks on the subject might employ “street food” as a catchphrase, an excuse for simple, plebeian cooking (“easy” usually shows up in the title of these books), this one is true to its subject. Recipes are for dishes really found at stalls on the street or in markets.
The book is divided into chapters delineating seven styles of foods by their Spanish titles: antojitos, tacos, salsas, tortas, ceviches y cocteles, dulces and bebidas. Thankfully, Spanish names come first with descriptions underneath in English — no condescension here.
Recipes reflecting the spirit of the street
Recipes are tweaked, updated but only minimally, without losing their true homey nature. For example, empanada de camarón (half-moon pie stuffed with shrimp) is commonly found at every seafood stand in Mexico. Here, the dough calls for butter and the filling for olive oil, two ingredients undoubtedly too expensive for market and street stalls to stock. But nothing else about this recipe is compromised. It’s just as grandma would want you to make it, with good old butter and olive oil instead of the cheaper versions thereof.
The section on tacos is especially informative, and again true to the streets of Mexico — the most interesting recipes have been culled from the author’s travels around the country and interpreted to re-create authentic flavors. Occasionally a cooking method is altered, but to good effect. Tacos al pastor, Mexico City’s famous spit-grilled marinated pork, is impossible to reproduce in the home kitchen. But Ortega’s oven-roasted version will approximate the flavor and texture of the original.
One of the most visually astounding features of street and market stalls is the rainbow of colorful fresh and cooked salsas. This chapter gathers the best multi-regional examples and explains the essentially Mexican techniques, such as dry-roasting chilies, in detail.
Tortas get their due in ‘Street Food of Mexico’
The torta, Mexico’s version of the sandwich is not well known outside the country, but ubiquitous within. Ortega covers the topic thoroughly — even a recipe for the bread is given. He includes interesting regional items, like the capital’s guajolota (a tamal within a roll), a “gilded lily” to some, a divine treat to others.
Although essential beach food, ceviches are found in street stalls throughout Mexico. Ortega’s simple ceviche de huachinango (red snapper) is a textbook example that should be in any Mexican cook’s repertory. The caldo de camarón, a rich soup made with chilies and dried shrimp, is true to the stand, Mexico City’s El Caguamo, from which the recipe is gleaned.
This is a fine cookbook — user-friendly, well written, uncompromising in transposing recipes for the home cook, and beautifully illustrated by renowned food and travel photographer Penny de los Santos. “Street Food of Mexico” is an important addition to any library of Mexican or world cuisine.
Gift shopping for gourmands is usually pretty easy. There is always a hot new cookbook or an expensive, must-have kitchen gadget (although these usually end up in the cupboard by the beginning of February, never to be seen again). But you don’t have to look far or spend much on a great gift for a tech-loving foodie. This season, there is an array of multimedia culinary iBooks, e-books and apps in the food and wine category. Plus, by going digital, you’ll avoid the shipping mayhem of the holidays (to say nothing of in-store shopping).
Most of these recommendations are more for the home cook or kitchen novice who wants some hand-holding, but others would also appeal to seasoned culinarians, like Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Selected Recipes.” This app includes charming recipe videos plucked from the PBS archives and current commentary from famed editor Judith Jones. And the pricey, professionally-geared industry bible from The Culinary Institute of America, “The Professional Chef” app, is an essential resource for any serious cook.
Here’s my take on some of the best titles out there. They are multimedia-rich and engaging at every level, with personalized video lessons from some of the best chefs and best-loved cooks in the country, people like Rick Bayless, Ree Drummond, Steven Raichlen, Amanda Hesser and Evan Kleiman. I’ve picked some old-school grand masters like James Beard and Julia Child, and some decidedly new school chefs like the Sussman brothers. You could even give a gift card and this list of suggestions, and let the recipient pick and choose whatever whets their appetite.
- “The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food From My Frontier” by Ree Drummond
It’s almost impossible not to love Drummond, whose popular blog, The Pioneer Woman Cooks, has grown into a sprawling lifestyle website. She’s a natural: Her writing makes you laugh, and her recipes, while not fancy, will appeal to most everyone willing to admit that we don’t all eat “gourmet” every night. I’m a huge fan of any cookbook published with Apple’s iBooks authoring software because of its intuitive, flexible interface. Embedded slide shows, videos, pop-up definitions and photo-enhanced navigation take cookbooks like this to a whole new level. $11.99
- “A Girl and Her Pig” by April Bloomfield
Chef Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig, The Breslin and The John Dory, offers a behind-the-scenes view of her Michelin-starred style. By the time you are into the first few pages of this iBook, she will have thoroughly charmed you with her British brogue and impressed you with her focus on perfection. Quirky illustrations and great food photography support her casual writing style. $12.99
- “Appetite’s Easy as Pie” featuring Evan Kleiman
If you are a pie-making beginner, you won’t be after you follow Kleiman’s master class techniques one video at a time. Each video screen features slide-out sidebars of step-by-step instructions and ingredient details. On-screen links to core crust recipes make the basics a single touch away. Kleiman, a former restaurant owner and the host of the radio show “Good Food” on Los Angeles’ KCRW (88.9 FM), takes the fear out of crafting the perfect pie crust. This app’s interface, however, is not as intuitive as most. $2.99
- “The Essential James Beard Cookbook” by James Beard, Rick Rodgers and John Ferrone
If this new Beard cookbook is not already on your shelf, it belongs on your tablet. A compilation of 450 of Beard’s best recipes with updated details from editor Rodgers, this e-book provides a window into the beginning of the culinary movement in the United States as seen through the eyes of the pioneer himself. Each chapter is enhanced with an interactive recipe index, note taking, bookmarking and enhanced search functions. $16.99
- “Holiday Recipes & Party Planning Guide by Food 52″ by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs
Stumped for what to serve for the holidays? Award-winning authors Hesser and Stubbs, who run the website Food 52, have assembled a wonderful assortment of party suggestions. Sprinkled with an occasional video, lots of instructional slide shows and links to shopping options, this app should be your go-to holiday cooking resource. The intuitive iPad-only interface from inkling is one of my favorites. $2.99
- “Gilt Taste” by Gilt Groupe
Curated by Ruth Reichl, former editor in chief of Gourmet, this app provides a seamless interface between well-vetted recipes, interesting articles and shopping for gourmet supplies on Gilt Taste, the food-and-wine branch of the Gilt designer flash sale site. Best of all, it’s first to offer the magic of hands-free technology. Wave your hand over the screen and it moves back and forth between recipe pages. No more sticky, flour-covered screen. Free
- “Panna” Best Chefs Best Recipes
One of the newest subscription video magazines features master chefs Rick Bayless, Jonathan Waxman, Anita Lo and Nancy Silverton. The premiere issue of this classy quarterly publication features 12 original Thanksgiving recipes totaling 198 minutes of high-def video. The video presentation is so well done, it makes the viewer feel as if they are getting a private one-on-one cooking class from each master chef. $4.95/single or $14.95/year
- “Mastering the Art of French Cooking – Selected Recipes” — by Julia Child
Lifted from the pages of culinary history, this is one of the first apps I felt like sitting down and enjoying with a cup of tea. With vintage clips from Child’s PBS show, photos capturing her early life and commentary by her editor, it’s not a grand undertaking, it’s just charming. $4.99
- “Martha Stewart Makes Cookies” and “Martha Stewart Makes Cocktails” by Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia
You just have to give props to the M.S. machine. Both titles are well-designed, easy to follow, inspirational in depth and plenty functional. Although the apps are free, all those advantages still come at a price: Both apps are memory hogs. Free
- “The Professional Chef” by The Culinary Institute of America
Produced by the top cooking school in the nation, this powerhouse app includes 1,200 pages and more than 100 instructional videos. If you need more reasons to check this out, read my earlier review in Zester Daily. $49.99
- “Secrets of the World’s Best Grilling” by Steven Raichlen
Raichlen has taken his bestselling book on grilling and gone digital with an iBook version, all for the better. There may not be as many recipes as in the printed version, but that doesn’t matter when you have well-produced videos and slide shows to guide your instruction. I just wonder if the grazing cows in the background know what he’s firing up on the grill? $6.99
- “This Is a Cookbook” by Max Sussman & Eli Sussman
This iBook is proof that digital cookbooks are meant to be ripped into and used, because tablets don’t look all that cool on a coffee table. Chefs and brothers Max and Eli capture their Brooklyn-based food-consuming lifestyle using plenty of digital tricks in a fun, graphical style, including embedded audio interviews, “back story” pop-ups and slide shows. They even serve up their favorite food-inspired iTunes playlists if you want to go really deep and match the mood. It’s cookbook-cum-entertainment. $12.99
Photo: Panna, a subscription food magazine. Credit: Caroline J. Beck, with permission from Panna
So much has been written about the wildly creative Spanish chef Ferran Adrià, who brought molecular gastronomy into the spotlight, that a fresh perspective seems impossible. But when journalists take trips that are more about the journey than the destination, they often discover something new. Such was the case for author Lisa Abend and filmmaker Gereon Wetzel in their separate explorations of the world created by Adrià at his now-shuttered restaurant, elBulli.
Neither one relates a single recipe or showcases the few fortunate patrons lucky enough to score a wundermeal at elBulli, which opened for a limited season each year. Instead, Abend, author of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentices: A Season in the Kitchen at Ferran Adrià’s elBulli” (Free Press, 2012 paperback) and Wetzel, director of the documentary “elBulli: Cooking in Progress,” (Kino Lorber, 2012 DVD) both focus on the creative process that was at the heart of Adrià’s success. In doing so, they capture Adrià’s true legacy to future chefs: license to break the rules and play with their food. They also offer a glimpse of Adrià’s next venture, a culinary research foundation that is to open in 2014.
Getting to know elBulli through its minor players
Before elBulli closed for good in July 2011, the only spot more coveted by foodies than at its tables would have been behind the scenes, watching the preparations for one of Adrià’s performance art-like exhibits. Abend got a backstage pass for the 2009 season, and “The Sorcerer’s Apprentices” became the theatre critic’s notes.
But Abend did not focus on the show’s director. Instead, she studied the 32 apprentices who toiled to serve Adrià’s imagination. Readers are introduced to the entire repertory cast, from Katie Button, the American biomedical engineer motivated by the disciplined process, to Gael Vuilloud, the stubborn Frenchman with a penchant for pushing his own creativity, and Myungsan “Luke” Jang, the meticulous Korean who sought a culinary education by immersion. Viewing day-to-day operations through the eyes of elBulli’s kitchen brigade, Abend uncovers the themes that drive Adrià’s work and the reason that some of the best chefs in training from around the world chose to work gratis for six months in hope that they would absorb some of his genius.
It might be counterintuitive to suggest beginning a book at the end — in the section that readers often gloss over — but Abend’s acknowledgments succinctly capture her education in the kitchen at elBulli and the essence of her book. Then, go back to the beginning, where Abend invites the reader to stay the course as she recounts, month by month, the interplay between the apprentices and their chefs. Her ability to find the spirit of elBulli in the elusive details of tension and triumph are what makes this book such an interesting and intimate read.
“The portrait of him that emerges is based in part on the perspective of those who work for him, and is therefore necessarily more complicated than often seen,” Abend writes. “But I hope it is no less admiring; in addition to convincing me of his genius, the times I spent at elBulli revealed to me the great depth of Ferran’s intelligence and courage.”
The visual art of Ferran Adrià
Director Gereon Wetzel ripped a page from Adrià’s textbook when he opened his documentary with a darkly lit single shot. Barely discernible, Adrià licks a sucker-like fluorescent fish on a stick that leaves an eerie residue of blue light on his lips and his tongue. It’s theatrical, unexpected and definitely not for the squeamish, but this first scene gets to the heart of Wetzel’s film, also made during the 2009 season at elBulli: Its head chef’s insatiable curiosity for exploring the edges of imagination to create culinary art.
The film is neatly broken into two halves: six months of research in anticipation of six months of operation. Like other documentaries about artistic genius, the film starts in the artist’s studio — or rather, the elBulli workshop in Barcelona where Adrià and his top chefs meticulously explore the possibilities of ingredients for the upcoming season’s menu.
“At the moment, taste doesn’t matter to us — that comes later,” Adrià explains to a visiting sommelier advising the team on flavor issues at the workshop. “At the moment, what matters is whether something is magical, and whether it opens a new path.”
Unfortunately, the lengthy observation of these lab experiments in culinary science could lull a viewer to sleep. Wetzel’s cinéma vérité style of an unobtrusive lens with no supporting commentary works better in the second half, when the camera follows Adrià and his team back to the restaurant, where the tension and energy of the real performance begins.
The strength of the story is its singularly focused view of chef as artist. Adrià’s canvas of choice is dinner-table linen; and the chef’s body of work is every experimental oddity that graces the table. As the film unfolds, it’s hard not to imagine that the director was exploring the chef’s cultural DNA. Was Adrià simply following in the footsteps of fellow avant-garde Spanish deconstructionists like Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí? Perhaps. In style and in execution, Adrià’s penchant for looking at dinner from a different perspective suggests he is just as much a master of his medium as his forebears.
In a final nod to the real talent of the film, the credit roll is given over to a photographic montage of the dishes created during the 2008-2009 season at elBulli, with the chefs following in supporting roles. By the film’s conclusion, it is clear that Adrià would agree with the billing.
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“elBulli: cooking in progress” (2010, Germany): Directed by Gereon Wetzel, based on a concept by Anna Ginestí Rosell and Gereon Wetzel; director of photography, Josef Mayerhofer; edited by Anja Pohl; music by Stephan Diethelm; produced by Ingo Fliess; released by Alive Mind Cinema. In Catalan, with English subtitles. Running time: 108 minutes.
Caroline J. Beck is a freelance food and wine writer and a strategic advisor to specialty food start-ups. Her articles and columns have appeared in such publications as the Santa Ynez Valley Journal, Michigan BLUE — Michigan’s Lakestyle Magazine, and The Olive Oil Source, the world’s top-ranked olive oil-related website, where she has served as editor since 2007. Caroline’s website, www.carolinejbeck.com, provides common sense advice for enthusiastic entrepreneurs looking to succeed in the specialty foods business.
Top photo: From left, Eduard Xatruch, Oriol Castro and Ferran Adria. Credit: Alive Mind Cinema
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Grilled Asparagus and Leeks with Romesco Sauce. Salted and Pickled Anchovies on Grilled Flatbread. Trout a la Navarra prepared with kale and Serrano ham. Confit of Duck Legs with Plums. I want to cook and eat all the dishes from Seamus Mullen’s first cookbook, “Hero Food: How Cooking With Delicious Things Can Make Us Feel Better” (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2012). That he tells us these recipes are healthy is almost beside the point. They all sound — and look — delicious.
Mullen, chef-owner of New York’s acclaimed Spanish restaurant, Tertulia, (and also a bit of a star thanks to his performance on the Food Network’s “The Next Iron Chef”) was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis after excruciating pain in his hip made it hard for him to move. The flare-up may have been brought on by the harried schedule and intense stress of running a restaurant (it occurred a few years ago while he was executive chef at Boqueria), but Mullen was determined not to let RA keep him away from the work he loves.
“I know there’s no silver bullet, but I have discovered that some foods can make dramatic differences,” he writes. “And here’s the good news: In that great fatalistic way of Mother Nature, what I like turns out to be good for me!” That’s good news for us, too. Zeroing in on 18 “heroes,” as he calls these foods that make him feel better — parsley, olive oil and almonds among them, and treating them in the Spanish style, Mullen offers recipes we’ll make because they’re delicious. Their benefits, which I suspect apply to all of us, with or without RA, are secondary.
The moderate omnivore
This isn’t a book that banishes certain foods. There are lots of vegetables in it but there’s also some beef, a little butter, some gluten and eggs included in the recipes. Mullen, it seems, falls into the Michael Pollan omnivore camp and quotes nutrition expert Marion Nestle: “You are better off paying attention to your overall dietary pattern than worrying about whether any one single food is better for you than another.” He’s never militant, but recommends avoiding refined industrial foods, eating everything in moderation, listening to your body and enjoying yourself. Good common sense.
Mullen’s food is straight forward. He’s offers a lot of good research on nutrition, and he shares a lot of information about technique and his ingredients, too. He tells us what makes Bomba rice so special and why it’s the best for paella. We get lessons on cleaning squid and extricating a quail egg from its shell. (Cracking it on the counter doesn’t work.) After reading about anchovies, you’ll want to give them a second chance. And he makes a case for buying local lamb.
“Hero Food” is proof that Mullen isn’t letting his diagnosis get in the way of eating well and enjoying life. Photos, taken by Colin Clark, show him in his beloved Spain, making chicken and seafood paella with friends on his city roof, digging in the garden with a child, sharing a toast surrounded by family. “Even if that fresh ear of sweet corn were to cause me a bit of discomfort,” he writes, “for me it’s a good trade-off … After all, just how unhealthy could an occasional ear of sweet corn eaten only in season really be, compared to the life-pleasure it delivers?”
Photo: Pickled carrots from Seamus Mullen’s recip. Credit: Colin Clark
As an avid seafood eater and occasional fisherman, I have amassed a boatload of fish cookbooks. Among my favorites is “The River Cottage Fish Book” (Ten Speed Press, 2012). Written by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Nick Fisher, British broadcasters, cooks and lifelong fishermen, this weighty tome explores the complicated issues of catching, selecting and preparing seafood both safely and sustainably. Part reference book and part recipe collection, it has become my go-to source whenever I have a question or concern about fish.
“The River Cottage Fish Book” starts off with engaging anecdotes about the authors’ first childhood fishing experiences. It then eases into three comprehensive but approachable chapters on sourcing, cleaning, storing and preparing fish and shellfish. Any quandaries readers may have about choosing ecologically sound seafood, killing a crustacean, filleting a flatfish or freezing and subsequently defrosting a whole fish are resolved here.
With facts and fundamentals established, the authors move on to the heart of any cookbook, the recipes. In “The River Cottage Fish Book,” Fearnley-Whittingstall and Fisher serve up 135 creative yet remarkably easy dishes, all of which focus on sustainable seafood. Mackerel stuffed with salsa verde, pike fishcakes with caper sauce and squid and tomato risotto dazzled but did not tax me or the sea ecology. Simple, British-inspired repasts such as smoked haddock-studded kedgeree, fish bubble and squeak, and the rich, oniony fish soup known as Cullen skink were equally sound and scrumptious.
Fearnley-Whittingstall and Fisher conveniently group their recipes according to technique. Yearning for beer-battered fish? Flip to the chapter on shallow and deep frying and you’ll find a tasty recipe for this very dish. In the mood for a savory seafood pie or gratin? You’ll come across several delightful concoctions in the chapter on baked and grilled fish.
In most instances, the recipes can be used interchangeably with other fish. Helpful sidebars point out specific substitutions. The head notes and ingredient lists often cite this information too.
Along with providing reliable and delectable recipes, the authors also delve into the art of preserving seafood. By the end of “The River Cottage Fish Book” readers know how to build their own hot- and cold-smokers and whip together pickling marinades and salt fish. They can create such renowned dishes as ceviches, escabeches, taramosalata and gravad lax or, in this case, the eco-friendly, salt- and sugar-cured mackerel.
The two likewise look at seafood affinities, discussing the foods and flavors that partner well with fish and shellfish. They explore the merits of raw seafood and consider which condiments, such as pickled ginger and shallot vinegar, enhance it. Additionally, they take readers step by step through creating such uncooked classics as sashimi, sushi, carpaccio and tartare.
First published in the United Kingdom in 2007, “The River Cottage Fish Book” features quite a bit of British seafood. A section titled “British Fish” showcases just that — the species caught and consumed in the U.K. The presence of European catches such as John Dory, wrasse and winkles doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book. I found it fascinating to learn what our neighbors to the east catch, cook and eat. Plus, should my fishmonger get in a rare shipment of cockles or sprat, I now know what to do with each. Anyone care for creamy cockles with tagliatelle or smoked sprat?
If the wealth of fascinating information and recipes hadn’t already sold me on “The River Cottage Fish Book,” then the powerful color photographs surely did. Both illustrative and captivating, the photos are a sumptuous visual feast. I could almost skip cooking and display this as a coffee-table book. However, with such quality recipes, insightful essays and useful tips, I’ll keep “The River Cottage Fish Book” close at hand in my kitchen.
Kathy Hunt is a syndicated food writer whose work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and VegNews, among other publications. She currently is working on her first cookbook.
Photo: British broadcasters and cookbook authors Nick Fisher and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Credit: Simon Wheeler
Vegan cookbooks aren’t just for people who follow the meat and dairy-free lifestyle. You are unlikely to find a person who enjoys meat and dairy as much as I do. Yet, I still see a lot of room for vegan recipes in my kitchen library, for several reasons. First, I’m a forager by trade, and have a deep love of wild vegetables. Over the years, I’ve often found the best way to showcase wild foods is to find how a similar commercial vegetable is used in a vegan recipe.
Also, vegan cookery is handy when entertaining. It is rare to throw a party these days without at least one vegetarian, or person with food-sensitivities in attendance. Dishes that are free of meat and dairy are the lowest common denominator for dinner parties. A host who offers a scrumptious vegan dish has covered many of those bases by cooking a dish most guests can enjoy.
If you are a card-carrying carnivore like me, perhaps you are under the impression that vegan fare is dull. Three new cookbooks from the Vegan Heritage Press offer up a wide array of vegan dishes that are anything but boring salads, sad crudite platters, and frighteningly wobbly eggless egg salads of eras past.
Seasonal and accessible “The Blooming Platter Cookbook” by Betsy DiJulio artfully takes advantage of the seasonal cuisine trend. Each chapter, from starters to soups to brunches, is arranged by season, with a visual icon (flower, sun, leaf, or snowflake) clearly marking each. Cooking this way just makes sense because you are using the tastiest fresh produce. With DiJulio’s versatile recipes, you could refresh in the springtime with a menu of fresh pea and tarragon hummus, caramelized onion and spinach quesadillas, and a slice of chocolate carrot cake. In the fall, you could cozy up with beet muhummara, white bean sausages and red apple sauerkraut, and pumpkin apple-butter cheesecake pie.
As someone who just loves good food, when I look through a cookbook in any genre, I expect to find appealing recipes. Even though I’m not a non-vegan, several recipes in “The Blooming Platter” had my mouth watering, particularly in the appetizer and salad chapters. Seasonal fruit and red wine onion jam? Yes please. Beet salad with horseradish-walnut vinaigrette? Don’t mind if I do. Thai rice noodle and plum salad? Yes, you could put some right here on my plate. Tunisian couscous salad with cumin-pomegranate vinaigrette? Make extra for me.
One aspect of DiJulio’s cookbook that I found particularly intriguing was the appearance of several meat and cheese-replacement recipes, which were make from white beans. Previously, I had thought that it was fairly standard to make this sort of thing with soy products. After having had some unpleasant tofu experiences, I think that white bean sausages sound like an appealing alternative.
Flavors from around the globe
“World Vegan Feast” by Bryanna Clark Grogan contains recipes that originate in more than 50 countries. Here Grogan offers a crafty answer to the question: “How do you make flavorful food if you can’t eat meat or dairy?” The answer, as it turns out, is to make use of the spices and seasonings of world cuisine. This book offers up such globe-trotting dishes as masa crepes with greens and black bean and corn salsa, Vietnamese-style mango salad rolls with smoked tofu, Greek nugget potato and kalamata olive stew, Egyptian-style beans, and Peruvian carmel-filled pastries.
Diner food without the meat
“American Vegan Kitchen” by Tamasin Noyes promises “delicious comfort food from blue-plate specials to home-style favorites.” At first glance, it would seem this book’s target audience is a younger crowd, possibly those who are vegan for political, rather than health reasons. I envision the college kid who just wants to eat the same foods her buddies are enjoying.
But let’s face it, everyone enjoys fun food every now and again, and this book delivers by retooling classic American fare. You could satisfy your cravings for diner food by saddling up to fried pickles, a mushroom burger, fries and coleslaw. Put a cap on a night out with stick-to-your-ribs pot stickers. Enjoy the big game with a room full of friends and spicy balsamic maple wings. Or kick back after a hard day at work with loaded baked potato soup and seitan on a shingle.
I’m guessing that even picky eaters could be won over by some of the popular dishes Noyes cooks up.
If you think that vegan food means endless meals of brown rice and kale, it is time to reconsider. Even while avoiding meat and dairy products, the modern vegan can take advantage of a colorful and flavorful assortment of foods, and even satisfy all of their cravings.
Vegans, non-vegans, and people who just love plant-based dishes will enjoy these books.
Zester Daily contributor Wendy Petty lives in the Rocky Mountains, where she is a forager, photographer and wild foods consultant. She writes about her adventures with mountain food on her blog, Hunger and Thirst.
Photo: Vegan cookbooks. Credit: Wendy Petty
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“I may have spent most of my life working as a professional chef, but in my heart of hearts, I am still a passionate amateur cook, a craftsman in the kitchen.” — Greg Atkinson
It’s easy to discount a book about home-cooking coming from a food professional like Greg Atkinson. After all, he has an unfair advantage. As chef-owner of Restaurant Marché on Bainbridge Island, Wash., and winner of the James Beard Foundation’s M.F.K. Fisher Distinguished Writing Award, Atkinson’s knowledge of cooking should disqualify him for writing a book about his own home-cooking. I suppose I feel that it seems somewhat unfair for a chef to expect average folks to live up to the standards of a professional.
But when Atkinson writes in “At the Kitchen Table: The Craft of Cooking at Home,” about his devotion to home-cooking, I believe him.
Atkinson writes from the point of view of a person who cooks for love: love of family, real food and the places we call home. Each story and recipe strives to connect the dots between these very personal elements. And it is because of the many connections he draws between food, family and the environment that I believe his assertion that he is not only a professional chef, he’s a passionate amateur.
Storytelling and family
Atkinson’s love of craft is clear. When he writes about co-hosting a traditional Pensacola-style fish fry at his home on Bainbridge Island, he explains the logic of the process in a way that makes it seem ridiculous to try it any other way. After reading this chapter, I believed I could host a Pensacola-style fish fry in my own backyard. Atkinson has convinced me that I could succeed at something new, simply by following his instructions. That’s the sign of a true craftsman and a great writer.
The most appealing element of “At The Kitchen Table” is that each chapter begins with a story. The story may be about a particular food. It may be about a specific recipe. Or it may be about Atkinson’s interactions with the rich and famous of the culinary world (like Martha Stewart or M.F. K. Fisher). And while the celebrity tales provided an enjoyable voyeuristic pleasure, it is Atkinson’s stories about his own family that I found most compelling.
Atkinson’s concept of “family” is an embracing one that includes not only blood relatives but staff and colleagues who work beside him. His discussion of the “family meals” — those meals served to restaurant staff before the restaurant opens — made me want to try the recipes in my own kitchen.
He tells of the camaraderie in making Okinawan doughnuts for his staff at Canlis Restaurant in Seattle. The doughnuts were always served at the end of a hard shift, he says, because they “kept everyone in good spirits, even on the toughest nights.” The story made me want to make the delicious treat, not only for the taste, but in hopes of creating the same sense of caring and support he clearly felt for the kitchens he has worked in.
I can now attest that these doughnuts work wonders with unruly toddlers as well. I made them in my grandmother’s deep cast iron skillet, and the simple but satisfying patterns of deep-frying dough not only intrigued my youngest daughter, but the fluffy, crunchy, sugar-covered results satisfied us both. I was cooking for my daughter in the same skillet that my grandmother cooked many a meal, and that knowledge made the doughnuts even better. This is exactly this kind of culinary linkage that Atkinson encourages by telling us about his own family stories.
How food movements become unintentionally elitist
Atkinson also puts his “craft” into historical perspective. He begins the book by comparing today’s organic food movement to the Arts and Craft movement of the 19th century. Arts and Crafts designers produced hand-made goods meant for everyone to use. Sadly, these beautiful artist-crafted objects were so expensive to produce that they ended up primarily in the hands of the wealthy. As Atkinson puts it, “their efforts at egalitarian art became elitist.”
Much like today’s fresh, organic, locavore gourmet foods that, ironically, only the elitist can afford.
Atkins makes the case that the recent farm-to-table movement has indeed produced an alternative to mass-produced agribusiness food, but he questions the viability of the often-high-priced movement for the average consumer.
Atkinson’s solution to this dilemma is simple: To offset the additional expense of buying sustainable food, Atkinson suggests that we all eat at home. Or at least eat there more often. Atkinson’s book makes the case that meals that come from non-professionals, using ingredients and recipes that have personal histories, are far better than any high-end restaurant meal.
The stories made me want to dig up my own family recipes and start cooking them again. By sharing his own stories, Atkinson makes family food seem vital. And perhaps more importantly, he fuels my desire to develop my own repertoire of family recipes and stories.
The gap between restaurants and home-cooking
Ultimately, I think Atkinson’s book — and others like it — point out the growing disparity between the kind of food we want to eat in restaurants and the kind of food we want to eat at home. He also points out that we are increasingly comfortable with this difference. There was a time when many cookbooks were geared to teach people to cook “restaurant food” in their own homes.
If the economic downturn has yielded any positive results, it’s been that people are looking inward and realizing that what they have at home is pretty good after all. Many of us have given up trying to do what restaurant chefs can do better. Restaurants like Atkinson’s have entire staffs to help them produce spectacular food. What do we have at home that no restaurant can provide? Family. And the stories that families share.
Those ingredients of family and stories are the ones that Atkinson clearly values above all.
Zester Daily contributor Susan Lutz is a photographer, artist and television producer. A native of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, she currently lives in Los Angeles, where she is writing a book about heirloom foods and the American tradition of Sunday dinner. She also blogs about the subject at Eat Sunday Dinner.
Photos, from top:
Author Greg Atkinson. Credit: Karyn Carpenter
“At the Kitchen Table” jacket cover. Credit: Courtesy of Sasquatch Books
Okinawan doughnuts. Credit: Susan Lutz
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