Articles in Home Cooking
It used to be that Asian foods served in American restaurants had to be Anglicized into submission, leading to such hybrid creations as fried chicken coated in lollipop-sweet lemon sauce or California rolls stuffed with avocado, crab and mayo. But nowadays sophisticated diners enjoy the real stuff with a passion, tweeting news of the best Uyghur barbecue or the freshest pho in town.
Even fervent fans of Asian food rarely get to know the comfort food made in the homes of Asians whose families have been in the U.S. for a couple of generations. Other than in ethnically diverse places such as Hawaii, this subject has been strangely overlooked — until this book came along.
“The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook” is a compilation of recipes by home cooks whose bloodlines lead back to Korea, Japan, China, Southeast Asia and India. What they cook in the U.S. has often morphed into something new and exciting, dishes that take advantage of American ingredients and kitchens while satisfying the palates of their children and grandchildren. First released as a hardback in October 2009, “Asian Grandmothers” was recently issued in paperback just as the hardback edition was about to sell out.
By Patricia Tanumihardja
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Author Patricia Tanumihardja was born to Indonesian parents and grew up in multicultural Singapore before settling in the States. She has worked as a food journalist and created an iPhone app glossary, “Asian Ingredients 101.” The book, her first, had its origins in a blog, where she recorded interviews with and recipes from grandmothers as well as aunts, mothers, fathers and “anyone who had a family recipe to share,” she explained in a note. “Several recipes were also from my mom and her mom, and a few were mine.” In addition, she found a few of the recipes in old cookbooks.
And so, with this book, Tanumihardja has cracked open the door to some of those mysterious kitchens, allowing non-Asians to finally enjoy all sorts of dishes that rarely appear in restaurants and which — at least up until now — could only be tasted when a friend’s popo or lola or ba ngoai would carry something insanely aromatic to a table surrounded by family and the occasional hungry friend.
That has happened to me over the years. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and then attended the University of Hawaii. An invite home for dinner or a party meant that I soon would be happily munching on chewy fried chicken coated in rice powder, siphoning down slithery japchae noodles, or weeping tears of joy and pain over the insanely hot sausages my Lao friends brought to college parties. (Recipes for all those delights are included in this cookbook, although as might be expected with food designed to feed one’s offspring, this book’s Lao grandma considerably toned down the heat of her sausages.) For someone who was raised on tuna fish casserole and meatloaf, these were revelations of a whole new sensory spectrum.
The author makes the reader feel as if these Asian grandmothers were in the kitchen too, happy to offer the little asides, like “don’t worry if the custard falls a little” or “cilantro changes its flavor when it comes into contact with steel, so pick the leaves off the stems,” that make you feel part of an extended family. And it perhaps is this intimacy that makes me feel as if I finally have a permanent seat at those old friends’ family tables.
The recipes are a smorgasbord of some familiar and not-so-familiar foods, with some wonderful takes on old classics. For example, there’s the perfect recipe for chicken adobo, one that tasted rich and tart as it should, but also mellow and tropical thanks to the suggested addition of coconut milk. We devoured it along with bowls of the garlic fried rice that — as promised — were the perfect accompaniment.
“Asian Grandmothers” is a book to treasure, and all the recipes I tried worked perfectly. On a warm spring evening, following that chicken adobo dinner, I treated some friends to tall glasses of the Vietnamese classic parfait called che ba mau, which layers sweet beans with tapioca, crushed ice and fragrant homemade pandan syrup. We dug down into the colorful layers as we watched the sun set, sucking up the sweet liquid through thick straws. Hot Pakistani chai (the best spiced tea I’ve ever had, by the way) followed, and it would be difficult for anyone not to feel absolute contentment — and for some of us, nostalgia — after a meal like that.
Top photo composite:
“The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook.” Courtesy of Sasquatch Books
Author Patricia Tanumihardja. Credit: Mars Tanumihardja
Professional food writers may know more than other people about searing duck breasts à point or detecting hints of locally sourced turpentine in some chef’s spruce-needle sorbet. But do we really understand cooking — the intrinsic humanity of the act — any better than anybody else? Not on your life. I’ve never seen a book that drove home the point more devastatingly than Alex Witchel’s “All Gone: A Memoir of My Mother’s Dementia. With Refreshments.”
For the benefit of the very young: Witchel is a longstanding New York Times fixture who at different times dished on the theater scene and became known for celebrity profiles that often reduced the subjects to chunks of shish kebab quivering over the fire. Subsequently the paper turned her loose on the dining beat in a monthly column titled “Feed Me.”
In a startling change of course, her new book relates the dreadful fallout from several unsuspected mini-strokes that her mother suffered in late middle age but that remained undiagnosed until crucial brain functions began disappearing. Over about a decade, the family would watch memory, reason and finally all but a bare shred of identity depart from the woman who used to hold up the sky. A blow-by-blow chronicle of Barbara Witchel’s advancing illness, and its effect on Alex, is one of the two main intertwined narrative threads of the book. The other, a stormy saga tracing aspects of Witchel family dynamics and Alex’s adult life, spans close to 50 years and includes a strong emphasis on food.
“All Gone” can be read as a quasi-sequel to “Girls Only,” Alex Witchel’s 1996 valentine to the loving but prickly mutual irritation society formed by her mother, herself and her much younger sister Phoebe. But it stands on its own as a far fiercer postcard from some unthinkable edge. A relatively mild sample is this theater-of-the-absurd exchange partway through the wrecking process, when Alex tries to bounce the terrible maternal plea “I want you to kill me” back into Barbara’s court:
“She was monumentally offended. ‘Committing suicide is against the Jewish religion!’ she declared.
“I was dumbfounded. ‘So is committing murder!’ ”
Family recipes in ‘All Gone’ not what you might expect
Though food becomes a unifying leitmotiv of the two interwoven stories, it’s emphatically not the kind of food you might expect from anyone with Witchel’s reputation as mistress of the lethally sophisticated putdown. It comes from a different quadrant of her universe, a space where she can hold a sort of mental conversation with a beloved parent no longer able to converse.
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By Alex Witchel
Riverhead, 2012, 224 pages
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And what a parent! Barbara Witchel diligently raised four children and kept a kosher kitchen for a demanding husband while (successively) teaching school, earning two graduate degrees and becoming a college professor. Nobody else’s mother was doing such things in 1960s and ’70s Passaic, N.J., or Scarsdale, N.Y. The woman had a tight ship to run, and her gallantry in running it made her the eternal heroine of Alex (the oldest child, and her deputized lieutenant).
Alex can still taste in memory the standbys and special treats of her mother’s (or occasionally her Witchel grandmother’s) culinary repertoire. She’s able to make the rest of us sense how meatloaf anchored the universe, how Chicken Polynesian hinted at voyages to its very margin. Thirteen selected recipes — the “refreshments” of the sardonic subtitle — appended to the book’s eight chapters document some of the dishes in question, and most will be quite a surprise to anybody expecting chic, sleek “foodie” food.
Alex has presented these pieces of the Witchel culinary heritage pretty much as she remembers them — the rough and ready, shortcut-bolstered labors of a resourceful Jewish wife, mother and career woman who, according to her daughter, treated cooking as a far from welcome duty but understood how to make dinner “the center of the day, its organizing principle.” The recipes are all meant to fit into kosher “meat meals” (ones from which dairy products are excluded). They’re also meant to deliver the fastest possible results with the least possible trouble. Hence the meatloaf bound with canned tomato soup (not cream of tomato) and cornflakes, the nondairy creamer in spinach kugel, the canned tomato combo in Frankfurter Goulash, the mixture of garlic powder and Lawry’s Seasoned Salt used to season a roasting chicken. No clever airbrushing of family snapshots here.
Two recipes stand as telling bookends for everything else, while also pointing to a kind of relay station between past and present generations. The first is the talismanic meatloaf, the Barbara Witchel perennial that Alex instinctively begins re-creating in her own kitchen while watching her mother’s memory and intellect disappear. It’s an attempt to salvage something permanent from chaos, the edible equivalent of T.S. Eliot’s “These fragments I have shored against my ruins.” The other formula, which concludes the book, is not Barbara’s recipe but one that came to serve the same purpose for Alex, her husband and her cherished stepsons: a mammoth dish of skillet-braised chicken breasts with 80 (yup, you read right) cloves of garlic and enough rosemary to fumigate a hospital ward; three cups of olive oil first go into the cooking and then do duty as a serving sauce.
Anyone who doubts that those two dishes, in unvarnished form, were and are the food of love needs remedial tutoring in family values.
My mother, like Alex’s, cooked the day’s meals not for pleasure or adventure but as an unromantic responsibility that maintained stable, loving order in our small bit of the cosmos. I read “All Gone” marveling that I could ever have looked down on, rather than up to, such an achievement. It’s an honor to meet Barbara Witchel as she was before her mind was ravaged, and celebrate the kind of cooking she stands for.
Top photo composite: “All Gone” book cover. Alex Witchel. Credit: Fred R. Conrad
The cookbook “Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens,” first published in 1970 and still in print, documented the history of cooking in the Canadian province. The book, written by Marie Nightingale, is still celebrated today. This story is the second in a two-part series and will explore the cookbooks impact on cooks and chefs in Nova Scotia. The first story in the series examined Nightingale’s efforts to write the book.
Marie Nightingale’s “Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens” was first self-published in 1970. After its first few printings, however, Nightingale found a new printer with Nimbus Publishing. The book is still a top seller with the company, with more than 200,000 copies printed. “It speaks to the timelessness of the recipes,” says Patrick Murphy, the managing editor at Nimbus. He points out books like “Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens” help keep Nova Scotia’s culinary traditions alive. “The historical aspect to the book keeps it a favorite. They are classic recipes from this corner of the world, and so there has never really been a danger of them becoming ‘out of fashion’ just by the nature of what they represent.”
‘Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens’ serves as a useful tool
For some people, the book represents a culinary heritage that could have easily disappeared. Craig Flinn is a chef and cookbook author. “Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens” was the first cookbook his mother owned, and he still owns the very same copy. For him, the book is not just as a repository of information, but a tool to be used by home chefs. “‘Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens’ is about keeping those dishes alive and to the forefront,” he says. “We tend to be a busy culture and we don’t have mothers and granddaughters teaching their kids how to cook anymore. Cookbooks have become more important. ‘Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens’ made me understand that every region’s culture was greatly influenced and represented in the food we ate.”
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By Marie Nightingale
Down East Books,
2011, 208 pages
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Another big fan of Nightingale’s oeuvre is Michael Howell. He’s the president of Slow Food Nova Scotia and a former chef. Like Flinn, Michael remembers his mother owning a copy of the book, an edition he still owns. “It has some food stains that I can almost remember when they splattered the pages,” he says. Howell’s relationship with “Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens” is special. A few years ago, Nimbus publishing decided to prepare a 40th anniversary edition for 2010. He and Nightingale updated a few recipes, and Howell himself wrote a new foreword for the book. In it he describes the recipes that gave his copy its own distinctive spots and splatters, dishes of “colcannon, baked beans [and] blueberry grunt.” His copy may have lost its front and back covers, but that just speaks to how useful the book has been to him. “I learned that recipes did not have to be complicated to be delicious,” Howell says, “one of the central tenets that my cuisine has adhered to over the years.”
“In most cases, a cookbook has a market span of a year or two,” Nightingale writes in the preface to the 2010 edition of her book. But most cookbooks don’t give readers — as well as those who cook from it — such an immediate connection to their past. A past that could’ve been lost in a food world that values the modern and the contemporary. Not bad for a little book that was published with a plastic coil binding. “I think part of the charm of ‘Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens’ is that it is unassuming,” Flinn says. “It’s all about the content, not the glitz and the glam. I think she would be surprised that it’s been around this long. I don’t think she thought she was writing a classic when she started. You feel like you’re buying a piece of history.”
Here is one recipe from the book.
(A dinner of new vegetables)
The recipe below is written as is in “Out Of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens,” with very few measurements and relying on the home chef to know exactly how much they would have and want of each vegetable found in the dish. Hodge Podge is usually served in early summer, when the variety of vegetables is at its best in Nova Scotia.
1 cup diced salt pork
1 cup cream
1 cup vegetable stock
1. Prepare new vegetables. The string beans, carrots and potatoes may be cooked together in boiling salted water. Cook the peas and cauliflower separately.
2. Fry the salt pork to a golden brown and add the cream and an equal amount of vegetable stock. Season with chives.
3. Bring to a boil quickly and serve over the vegetables.
From “Out Of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens,” with permission from Nimbus Publishing
Top photo: A vintage copy of “Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens” by Marie Nightingale. Credit: Simon Thibault
I love cookbooks, and although I’m inspired by them throughout the year, I particularly love them in winter when I can settle in a favorite chair with a new discovery. One of my recent finds is “Salt Sugar Smoke — How to Preserve Fruit, Vegetables, Meat, and Fish” (Mitchell Beazley, 2012). It contains a great selection of recipes that boosted my confidence as a novice preserver, as well as more challenging recipes that experienced preservers will appreciate. And for people who love reading cookbooks more than making the recipes in them, “Salt Sugar Smoke” offers great food writing. It’s a triple threat.
By Diana Henry
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The book’s author is Diana Henry, a food columnist for Britain’s Sunday Telegraph magazine. She has won numerous awards and has written three other favorite cookbooks of mine: “Roast Figs, Sugar Snow: Food to Warm the Soul”; “Plenty” (in which she helps you make the most of the foods you have at hand); and “Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons: Enchanting Dishes from the Middle East, Mediterranean and North Africa.”
I loved this book on sight because of its burgundy spine and its portability — the lovely hold-in-your-hands size makes it easy to take to friends’ kitchens — but I felt some trepidation when I first opened it. After all, preserving food sounds difficult and fraught with possible disasters, but I trusted Henry’s thoroughness and her enthusiasm for her subject. She didn’t let me down.
Preserving food fell out of favor for a while; it was part of other generations. But thankfully it has experienced a renaissance in recent years. For three years, Henry “preserved food every day, often well into the night.” I now understand her enthusiasm. Once I processed my first batch of strawberry jam, I was hooked.
Sweet and savory in ‘Salt Sugar Smoke’
“Salt Sugar Smoke” offers much more than strawberry jam for those with a sweet tooth, as well as for those who prefer savory tastes. For others, like me, who prefer both, Henry covers a lot of ground, from jams to mustards, spoon sweets to chutneys.
Her recipes are well set out, with clear instructions. The photography, by Laura Edwards, will inspire you.
One of the things I loved about this book was the way Henry’s “how to use” tips helped me see how a recipe can expand my meal possibilities. For example, having Thai Sweet Chili Sauce on hand lets me make a simple breakfast omelet something special; it also adds great taste to a shrimp stir-fry for dinner. A little Hot Date and Preserved Lemon Relish on a chicken sandwich elevates lunchtime.
“Be careful about hygiene, which is essential,” Henry stresses, and adds that, “The recipes have been tested according to the sterilizing and potting practices followed in Great Britain, where jams and chutneys are not treated in water baths.” For North American readers, though, she provides guidelines for processing jars in a water bath. She also reminds you to label and date what you make so you won’t have to guess what is in a jar.
Tucked among the recipes are short pieces — such as “Sharbats and Mint Tea: Middle Eastern Pleasures”; “Perfect Partners: The Surprising Possibilities of the Cheese Board”; and my favorite, “Ash Helicopters and Mangoes on the Roof: Pickling in Britain and India” — that offer extra reading delight.
My favorite of her recipes to date includes Nearly Strawberry Jam. I love this because I can make just enough to keep in a bowl in the refrigerator for a few days. It’s fast, not as sweet as many jams and versatile. For a last-minute dessert, some of it spooned over good vanilla ice cream is just the thing. It’s also delicious on French toast or stirred into Greek yogurt.
Queen Henrietta Maria’s Marmalade of Cherries (adapted from a 17th century recipe Henry “stumbled across in Florence White’s ‘Good Things in England’”) is a recipe I love as much for its name as its intense cherry flavor. Purple Pickled Eggs, with beets providing their neon color, are just the thing to spice up a cold plate.
Home-Salted Cod (which is easy to make) brought back memories of my grandmother, for whom preserving food was once vital. With five children, a husband, two sisters-in-law, a mother-in-law and boarders to feed during the Depression, she couldn’t afford to allow any food to go bad. She lived on a small island in Newfoundland, Canada, where cod was a staple, and dried the salted fillets on large wooden racks. Later, she transformed them into filling and delicious meals, such as Fish and Brewis — cod, potatoes and scrunchions (rendered pork fat).
For me, her granddaughter, unburdened by the imperative to feed many mouths, preserving is a new adventure I am appreciating at my own leisurely pace. I also appreciate Henry’s focus on small details, such as a “good jam for your toast” or “chutney that is made from apples you gathered last fall” and how such details help add happiness to life.
Photo: “Salt Sugar Smoke: How to Preserve Fruit, Vegetables, Meat and Fish” by Diana Henry. Credit: Author photo and book cover courtesy of Mitchell Beazley Publishers Limited
British food writer Fuchsia Dunlop focused tightly on single regions of China in her first two cookbooks, “Land of Plenty” (Sichuan) and “The Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook” (Hunan). But in her latest endeavor, “Every Grain of Rice,” she expands her scope to easy comfort foods from a wide swath of China.
“Every Grain of Rice” is the perfect introduction to cooking the way Chinese people do at home, with simple, clear instructions opposite lovely full-color photographs of almost every dish. For those who are just beginning to admire Chinese food, this book could nudge them over the edge into hopeless devotion.
By Fuchsia Dunlop
W.W. Norton & Co., 2013, 352 pages
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The beautiful photography is enticing, helpful and very welcome, for the lack of ample illustrations was one of the few quibbles I had with Dunlop’s first book, “Land of Plenty.” Drawing on her experience as the first foreign student at the acclaimed Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine, her debut became an instant classic, enticing readers to succumb to the spell of central China’s chili-laden foods.
Dunlop is a wonderful guide to the cuisines of China. Rather than shy away from unusual vegetables or distinctly Chinese sauces, she educates her readers while spreading the gospel of good food by introducing exotica that become delicious once you get to know them. Dried shrimp, fava beans, fermented tofu, garlic stems, silk gourd, yellow chives, sesame paste, winter melon … these all get their moment in the sun here.
She gives bean curd, for example, a chance to shake off its tiresome reputation as bland hippie food. Although we in the West “still seem to think of tofu as some sackcloth-and-ashes sustenance for vegans and a sad substitute for meat,” Dunlop notes that in China, bean curd “is one of the most ubiquitous foodstuffs and wonderful when you acquire a taste for it. In its most basic form it may be plain, but then so is ricotta cheese.”
Simple as the dishes are — and with few exceptions they are so basic that even neophyte cooks should be able to attack these recipes with ease — they remain authentic. Most of these are stir-fries; the remainder encompasses meats, vegetables, soups, rice dishes and pastas, and every one of them is a familiar feature on Chinese tables. (She mainly covers recipes from southern China, with a few northern dishes thrown in for good measure.) Clear, reliable recipes are a hallmark of Dunlop’s cookbooks, and this one is no exception. Desserts, beverages and sweets rarely appear in ordinary Chinese family meals, and so they are not covered in this book.
Treasuring distinctions in Chinese food
A few of the recipes were recycled from Dunlop’s previous cookbooks, but that fits with her approach of introducing everyday Chinese dishes to the West. The ones from Sichuan and Hunan that have appeared before benefit from the additional attention paid to them here.
Sichuanese wontons in chili oil sauce, for example — a Chengdu classic — were relegated to a single paragraph in “Land of Plenty”; here they get a full page and a photograph that is sure to cause intense hunger pangs.
To my mind, Dunlop’s attention to the roots of each dish is one of the most refreshing things about this book. She doesn’t speak generically about “Chinese food” — she tells you that a particular beef soup comes from Chongqing in Sichuan. Moreover, you get to experience her delight as she brings you along on a trip through her memories of Chinese dishes past and present, taking the time to explain why she loves them and how you should enjoy them as the Chinese do: with great enthusiasm.
It’s been close to five years since Dunlop’s last cookbook, and I’m happy to report that “Every Grain of Rice” is well worth the wait.
Top photo composite:
Fuchsia Dunlop by Colin Bell. Book cover courtesy of W. W. Norton.
Once in a great while, a little-known cuisine gets itself introduced to the English-speaking world via a well-written cookbook, and life for those who love to eat and cook changes for the better.
This usually has a lot to do with how sublime that cuisine is — a cookbook can crystallize whatever innate qualities make a particular food culture unique and unforgettable.
But what really matters is how much the writer loves that cuisine, how much she understands the people who make it and how much she is willing to submerge herself in this completely foreign approach to food. And no one does this better than Naomi Duguid, whose most recent book, “Burma: Rivers of Flavor,” opens the long-locked doors to Myanmar and allows us to partake of its exciting food.
By Naomi Duguid
Artisan Books, Workman Publishing, 384 pages
Much like the award-winning cookbooks Duguid co-authored with ex-husband Jeffrey Alford, this one moonlights with equal aplomb as a travel guide, a history book, an ethnographic study, a photographic essay and a guide to understanding a culture totally foreign to the West. Short chapters — often not more than a page in length — succinctly describe the intersection of Duguid’s personal experiences with the history and heritage of a remarkable people.
Several of Duguid’s cookbooks with Alford, such as “Seductions of Rice and Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet,” also cover Southeast Asia. However, “Burma” is her first solo effort and the first one to concentrate on a single cuisine — to write it, Duguid lived in and traveled extensively through Myanmar — and she has managed to stick the mat here with a 10-point landing. And while the duo’s previous tomes are brilliant, cooking from them is seriously cumbersome because of their bulk. “Burma” is easier to handle and feels much more like a true cookbook, albeit one with beguiling pictures and stories about this secluded land. If Duguid’s photographs are to be believed, the Burmese are some of the most charming and beautiful individuals in the world. Their expressions are open and welcoming, and some are just flat-out endearing, such as the woman balancing a huge pumpkin on her head and a little girl shyly looking up at the camera with pale smears of thanaka paste on her face acting as a sunblock.
What’s stunning about this book is that the reader so easily gets sucked into another world, another time, another way of life. … even with the most cursory reading. And yet, the beautifully written essays and affectionate photos are just the superficial layers of this book, which is a cookbook, after all. Some of the dishes are glorious reinterpretations of what can only be interpreted as transmogrified newcomers to the land, such as an Indian-influenced semolina cake (page 276) and the very Chinese sticky-rice sweet buns with coconut (page 286); while others show startling originality, such as the herbed catfish laap (page 150), seasoned with a rainbow of aromatics and savory touches; or the banana flower salad (page 57) that cooks the mashed main ingredient to magnify its suggestion of artichokes and then balances that with crunchy seeds and nuts. Burma is clearly home to a cuisine so good that “delicious” seems like faint praise. Exquisite? Astonishing? Unforgettable? Words fail.
I write about Chinese food for a living, and I first picked up this book because Duguid and Alford have proved to be such consistently wonderful writers about the foods and culture of Asia. Once I cracked open the covers, though, something quickly struck me: The food of Burma was key to understanding heretofore hidden culinary treasures along China’s border with Southeast Asia. Whereas another one of their books, “Beyond the Great Wall,” looked at what is eaten by ethnic non-Chinese in the country’s landlocked regions, “Burma” takes us into a singular country that nevertheless shares many cultural and dietary roots with the minorities who live along China’s southern edge in the tropical highlands.
I lost count of the many “aha!” moments I had as I read this book with ever-increasing hunger and fascination. As Duguid described the taste and the method for preparing the Burmese fermented soybean discs called tua nao, I started to draw a connection over the long, snaking, mountainous border Burma shares with China’s Yunnan province, where they have similar dousu balls used to make a heavenly bean sauce full of crunch and chilies. I was stunned by the simplicity of this connection — the discs even appear in a photo in “Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet.”
Whatever their points of origin, the foods in “Burma” are alive with sparkling flavors and pungent aromas, and suggest a subtle web of influences undulating throughout the region. A dish of Burmese rice noodles called khaut swe looks for all the world like a bowl of hefen as served in Guangxi, its touch of five-spice powder sending a sly salute to China, while the curry in a plate of chicken speaks of an Indian chef somewhere upstream who introduced a spectrum of warm aromatics to the local cuisine.
With a complex past interwoven with the tastes and history of its many neighbors, Myanmar has a cuisine worth knowing, and Duguid has written a book about it that is truly worth treasuring.
Top photo composite:
Author Naomi Duguid. Credit: Laura Berman
Cover of “Burma: Rivers of Flavor.” Credit: Courtesy of Artisan Books
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
I’ll admit it: before kids, the only things in my freezer were ice cubes, vodka and a pint of gelato. Oh how the mighty have fallen. With kids, I use my freezer for everything: homemade baby food, meat, vegetables, ice cream, chicken stock, shrimp shells, fruit and yes, ice cream. Forget making 30-minute meals every night; with two kids, I want to be able to pull a meal out of my freezer.
So I welcomed the addition of “The Foolproof Freezer Cookbook“ to my kitchen. I needed more inspiration (and more instruction) about what is (and isn’t) freezer-friendly. British cookbook author Ghillie James gives recipes and detailed instructions for stocking the freezer with weeknight meals and party food. And parents of young children, take note: There’s an entire chapter devoted to homemade baby and toddler food.
By Ghillie James
Kyle Books, 2012, 176 pp.
What I love most about James’ approach is her no-nonsense tone and factual information. She gives her many “reasons to freeze,” with guidelines on freezing and thawing. You don’t need a microwave to thaw frozen food, by the way. I don’t use one, I just use the refrigerator.
Freezer cookbook has adventurous side
I’m crazy about the idea of freezing as way of preserving the fruit of the season. Who doesn’t love the taste of a juicy summer peach on a cold winter morning? And James tells you how to freeze things you might otherwise have thrown out, such as excess egg yolks and white wine. There are flavorful recipes for everything from the more familiar (gazpacho, beef and spinach lasagna, sausage rolls with mustard and poppyseed, and quick double chocolate sheet cake) to the more adventurous (lamb and prune tagine, smoked fish, crab and watercress tart, and mojito sherbet). There are some decidedly British recipes — mincemeat, and orangy syrup tart that won’t be on the top of my must-try list — but there are plenty of others that are now in permanent rotation.
I was skeptical about losing flavor and any icicle freezer burn, but recipe after recipe thaws perfectly and you would never know it came from the freezer. The gorgeous photos and cheerful design add to the appeal.
Here’s a comforting recipe to transition into fall that the whole family will eat. And it’s the perfect way to try out your new freezer skills because the leftovers freeze beautifully. Note: Flageolet beans are immature kidney beans and can be hard to find in the United States; Great Northern beans are a good substitute. The recipe doesn’t call for a specific cut of meat, but I used pork shoulder, which worked well.
Pork and Flageolet Bean Stew
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large onion, cut into wedges, or 3 good handfuls of frozen chopped onion
1 pound frozen cubes of pork leg, or fresh pork, cut into bite-size pieces
1½ inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 large garlic clove, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 medium baking apple, peeled, cored, and sliced, or a handful of frozen apple slices
heaping ⅓ cup white wine
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1¼ cups vegetable stock
6 mushrooms, sliced, or 2 handfuls frozen mushroom slices
1 (14-ounce) can flageolet beans, drained and rinsed
1 medium zucchini, trimmed and sliced
1. Preheat the oven to 300 F.
2. In a heavy-bottomed casserole dish, heat the oil and add the onion. Soften over medium heat for 5 minutes.
3. Increase the heat and add the pork. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes, then add the ginger, garlic, carrot, and apple and cook, stirring, for an additional 5 minutes.
4. Add the wine, Worcestershire sauce, honey, soy sauce, and vegetable stock. Season, stir, bring to a boil, and then cover and cook in the oven for an hour.
5. Remove the casserole from the oven and add the mushrooms, beans, and zucchini. Stir, cover the casserole, and return to the oven for an additional 30 minutes, or until the pork is tender.
6.Taste for seasoning and sweetness, then serve.
Top composite image:
“The Foolproof Freezer Cookbook” cover. Credit: Courtesy of Kyle Books
Author Ghillie James. Credit: Tara Fisher