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Posts Tagged ‘Cookbooks’

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The New York Times International Cookbook ‘by’ Craig Claiborne is among my small gathering of long-time book companions. I put the quote marks there because I’m not sure I see Craig anywhere in the book, aside from a preface where he lists a zillion names and gives thanks to a large city.

This is a book of recipes. Period. No commentary, no cultural notes, no cute little stories, no stressing over ingredients or substitutions, no ‘how to cook’ notes, no pages of equipment with details.

The collection of recipes is good and basic. So much so that the book feels substantive. But in terms of cooking from it – no, I never really did. It feels substantive, the book, but it is more on my shelves just because it feels substantive. Not because it is substantively useful to me.

There are several recipes in this book that were worthwhile to me, though. Very basic recipes but simple and delicious. Pastisio is the first – and the best of the lot. And if you don’t have pastisio every once in a while there will be a part of your soul lost. You will forget the glaring sun upon the open-aired sea, lose the taste of Retsina burning at the back of your throat, and rue the memory of cats sidling round your feet at the taverna.

Therefore it is important to keep the pastisio fires burning. One recipe. That’s why I keep this book.

You have to eat oatmeal or you’ll dry up. Anybody knows that. (Kay Thompson)

Kay was really talking about pastisio when she wrote that.

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Have you ever really wanted a book of some sort so much that you started to fantasize about owning it? I don’t mean like owning it part-time, taking it out of the library then returning it. I mean like a book you just have to own.

I have, and it’s strange, because I don’t really want to own a lot of books. Most books I read and give away, if I own them. Yes, even cookbooks. Because the ones that are pretty, really pretty – are mostly just that – only really pretty. Ultimately they are boring. And the ones that talk of one thing or another – or perhaps they have stories in them – unless there is something startlingly exceptional I really don’t want to have to have those books staring at me accusingly from my shelves as I once again run my fingers right past their spines when looking for inspiration or entertainment.

But this one book, I really want right now. It’s not available in the US as far as I know. And since it takes every bit of all my energy and resources to sit right here at home taking care of the usual things of children and life, I’m not about to hop on a plane to Paris to get this book.

But I have had a fantasy about getting the book delivered. And I assure you, this fantasy surpasses by far any fantasy a girl is supposed to have about her wedding. My fantasies about weddings mostly go as far as seeing the cake and wondering what it tastes like. Rather compressed, this wedding fantasy. Oh well.

But my book. Now that’s a different matter. This is how it would happen: I’d be sitting in my kitchen writing on my computer. I can see out the window next to me as I do this. The mailman would appear around the corner, spindle-shanked in his shorts and socks and sandals. My mailman I am sure listens to NPR in his spare time. He is of medium height, has curly dark brown hair and round wire-rimmed glasses and he looks as if he frequents the health-food store, worrying about things that people worry about who frequent the health-food store. But no, this is wrong. I can not have my book delivered by my mailman, for several reasons. One is that his shanks are too skinny. It worries me, his shanks. If they were lamb shanks sitting wrapped in a styrofoam tray wrapped in clear plastic at the grocery store I would not want to buy them.

Do you remember the song from the Sixties that had a phrase in the middle of it ‘Who wants to dance with the lady with the skinny laiiiigs?’ the guy mockingly sang out right in the middle of it, and boy, I’ll tell you at the age of five or six or seven that song made me feel quite discouraged. Apparently nobody wanted to dance with ladies with skinny legs, at all! And my legs were very skinny. I felt terrible.

But anyway. At least that now I have acheived a more Botticelli-like form I don’t have to worry about that anymore! At least now I can look at the Venus-Clamshell lady and closely analyze as much as one can do without a microscope exactly how rounded her tummy is and whether it is more or less rounded than mine, and how all this will affect my outlook on life.

So forget the mailman. My book will be delivered by the UPS guy. The big brown truck will pull up, and park. The UPS guy will hop out of the truck door and walk towards my door. Now I always get a little nervous when the UPS guy delivers anything because of one particular thing. Fact is, the guy is just about my height. And since I’m pretty short, this doesn’t happen too often. But when it does it can be a little weird, because guys whose eyes are pretty much on a level with mine have an unusual aura. At least they have an unusual aura with me, when their eyes meet mine, and this is what makes me nervous when I have to sign the UPS thingie. There is a strange energy emitting from the guy who is pretty much my height. He is looking at me, and as I have the ability to see parallel worlds that exist alongside this regular one every once in a while I know the parallel world that is existing here, coming from the short guys eyes out towards me.

In his parallel world, both he and I are in the same place at my door but in a flash he is no longer a UPS guy. In a startling instant his UPS uniform sort of rips off all by itself and he is dressed in a Tarzan outfit. He is King of the Jungle.

Trust me, I cut that parallel universe thing off right at that point. I don’t want to know any more about it.

But here he is, anyway, with my book. He greets me, does the parallel universe thing, I sign the UPS magical signing thing, and I have a cardboard box in my hand with ‘Amazon’ printed on it. Joy! Oh joy! My book is here!

The rest, dear reader, you must imagine. How I rip open the cardboard, lovingly caress the cover, gently turn then wildly flip through the pages, staggeringly thrilled at the entire thing!

I went through my shelves the other day, to see what books I’d kept through many travels, too many damp cellars, and much giving-away of books. Here’s the list:

Waverly Root – Food

Time-Life Series Cookbooks – Vienna’s Empire

Ellen Brown – Cooking with the New American Chefs

Lenotre’s Desserts and Pastries

Craig Claiborne – The New York Times International Cookbook

Judith Olney’s Entertainments

Witty and Colchie – Better Than Store Bought

Alan Davidson – North Atlantic Seafood

Evan Jones – American Food, The Gastronomic Story

Maria Polushkin Robbins – The Cook’s Quotation Book

Roget’s Pocket Thesaurus

One book short of a dozen, in this category! To have almost a dozen books of my dreams – this is good.

But I can still dream of yet another. Even if I do have to meet Tarzan’s eyes momentarily to get it.

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A few months ago I saw a bakers rack stuck in the middle of the cookbook section of my local Barnes & Noble. I got confused for a minute. It was like having a TJ Maxx Moment, if you know what I mean. Now the stuff on the rack, the ‘cookware’ to use the correct term (though usually I call them pots, pans, and ‘that thingie over there’) was very cute. And there was this big book with a photo of Mario on the cover hovering over the whole thing. Now Batali is no little flit in the night sort of chef. He knows what he’s doing, so I stopped to take a look. A song popped into my mind: Al Green, of course! ‘Love and Happiness’.

Oh yeah! I was feeling it. Mario was into it. Into what, you ask? Into spreading the love, the happiness, the sheer joy of having the right cookware (which we know as pots, pans, and ‘those thingies over there’)! And he’d brought it on home, baby. Right home to the center of the cookbook section.

I must not have been feeling the love that day, for apparently a noise inbetween a gasp, a guffaw, and a sad moan escaped my lips, which made several of the customers lounging about in the deep fat corporate-style beige chairs reading cookbooks while drinking up their jumbo-size Starbucks lattes slowly, like good little people, glance up at me cautiously.

Much as I respect Mario (and have no doubt, I do!) my traipse to cashier’s aisle was filled with a sort of bewilderment tossed with a hint of sadness. Where would it all end? Would the right sort of cookware to buy soon be falling off bakers racks towards me at Office Max? At the dentist’s office? Or maybe at the oil change place . . .

Yesterday as I drove by Barnes & Noble, I noticed a change. The Racks of Mario (as I’ve come to think of them) have moved forward and are now placed smack-dab in the front window of the store. No longer do they need hover self-effacingly in the cookbook section. No! The display window of the entire bookstore is the right place for cookware! (which we know as pots, pans, and ‘that thingie over there’).

Either that or those pots and pans need to be sold. Like, now.

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Mmm mmmm. Love and happiness. It make you wanna do wroooong, make you wanna dooo right.

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I had an epiphany this morning.

As I sat at the red light in light traffic in my car after dropping off the kids at school, I realized I’d forgotten to throw on a coat.

And in that exact moment, as the radio blasted Steppenwolf’s ‘Born to Be Wild’ loud enough to be heard by anyone close enough and as I sat there with it blasting dressed in my fabulous pink bathrobe, I realized that I looked ridiculous.

Thank goodness there is a recovery plan for these sorts of epiphanic moments, the basis of which is one three-syllable word: Chocolate.

Francois Payard’s ‘Chocolate Epiphany’ is the best book to consult, and I’ll tell you why.

How many times have you looked at a cookbook to find exactly the same recipes as the last cookbook only written with different names and different recipe formats?

I find this happens more often than not.

Unless the book is one of the few designed to be at the forefront of cutting-edge (haute – sorry, these things cost money) cuisine (though it won’t be called ‘haute cuisine‘ for the term is passe) the recipes circle around each other – distinguishing themselves pretty much by a sense of style or by a hint of one or two small-yet-intelligent differences created by the author.

Cookbooks specializing in chocolate can often seem to be repetitive even more often than other cookbooks, for the genre is limited.

‘Chocolate Epiphany’ has more to say (on a variety of levels) than any other chocolate-based cookbook I’ve recently seen.

Try these on for size: Kougin Amanns – distinguished by Payard morphing the recipe into one with chocolate imbued throughout . .  . Chocolate Pavlovas with Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse – the pavlova shaped into a two-piece half-sphered ball which is then filled to break open with the touch of a fork to utter the syllables of its filling . . . a Honey and Saffron Apple Tart with Chocolate Chiboust, startling in the conceptualization of flavors . . . a Gateau de Crepes with Green Tea Ice Cream . . . and a Chocolate Paris-Brest which makes one wonder why the Paris-Brest was not made chocolate in the first place.

I’m off on the road to recovery – pink bathrobe and all. It doesn’t mind a splash or two of chocolate on it – and seriously, neither do I.

The only remaining question is what music to blast to best suit Orange Custards with Dark Chocolate Foam.

I’ll definitely get dressed up nice to eat my chocolate recovery prescription, though. Then I’ll wait for my next epiphany.

Hopefully it won’t be yet another one where I feel ridiculous.

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It startled me to see The Fireside Cook Book peering out from the bookstore shelf. The biggest surprise was how very new the book looked. The editions I’ve seen have been battered and worn, food-speckled, and with the non-shiny essence of the year 1949 – the date when The Fireside Cook Book was published for the very first time.

The new edition is red and green and yellow-brown and bright, and the illustrations – tossed in as if by a mad generous cook into a huge happy salad – are a look into another age of cookbooks.

Playful line drawings seem to be on almost every page, each one broadly drawn and colorful: An enigmatically smiling woman holds a garden spade as she bends over the earth almost-bursting out of her clothes while planting cauliflower in a garden as a little bird sits nearby watching her closely . . . a black-coated coachman throws delicately curled reins around the neck of a lime-avocado-green horse resembling a Lippanzauer as it pulls along a Cinderella-story coach labelled (writ large and bold and even saucily) SAUCES, and there upon the top of the coach sit the sauces in their jugs and bottles, merrily bumping along.

It all sounds just too precious. But it’s not. The book’s content crunches any initial questioning thoughts of ‘just too precious’ into a puff-ball which disappears with a slight ‘pouff!’ noise somewhere never to be seen again in the 1217 recipes on the 306 pages.

In this book are recipes, menu planning ideas, information on food purchasing, notes on seasonal cooking, the food of other lands and more. The recipes are written by someone who knows them too well to make a great fuss over them, someone who knows that any recipe ultimately answers to the cook, not the other way around – where cooks answer to the recipes which have somehow transformed themselves into pettily demanding divas. And yet the recipes in this book are far from unsophisticated.

This is not a specialist cookbook, though specialized ingredients and methods can be found in any given section. Beard’s mention of chayote, in 1949, is an interesting example of how very unassumably forward-looking he was.

Mark Bittman writes the foreword, and at the end of it comments:

“The man was born to teach cooking”.

I’m glad he wrote this, for the book jacket bio draws a strong picture of the other aspects of Beard: the well-qualified expert; the world-traveller; and the man who was quite intensely industry-connected.

My vision of Jim Beard (drawn from stories told to me by those who knew and worked with him during his later years in Manhattan) is in alignment with Bittman’s comment. I imagine him as consummate teacher first, bon vivant second, and writer through it all.

‘American Cookery’ is still my favorite book by Beard, but The Fireside Cook Book – this bright new edition – is coming right up close behind it as a very near second for my affections in the world of his writings.

Bread of a day, wine of a year, a friend of thirty years. I’ve always loved that saying. Maybe I’ll tag on to the end of it ‘a book of sixty years’.

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Holiday gift-giving. Three little words.

How often two little words of response come to mind!

It’s funny how gifts (meant to be things of grace) can become more like things of measurement.

And when measuring begins, in comes arithmetic.

Arithmetic:

‘Reeling and Writhing, of course, to begin with,’ the Mock Turtle replied, ‘and the different branches of Arithmetic – Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision.’

Nevertheless, like lemmings, we must persevere. The path must be followed! ~ the race is on and hopefully it will not lead over the cliff.

Here are some ideas for things to put in boxes under the tree. They just may bring delight. It’s even possible they might end up being the lucky gifts not destined for the Dreaded Closet of the To Be Re-Gifted.

Mathematically, from the most expensive to the least:

1. A pair of MBT shoes. Happy feet make happy cooks. There is no shoe on earth that makes happier feet. Granted, one has to plan one’s other clothes around these shoes rather than trying to fit them in with most any usual outfit one would want to wear or risk looking like Yertle the Turtle, but it is worth it. The shoe for kitchen people, without question.

2. A huge electric griddle with warmer pots attached along the sides to melt fondue-y things. There is one on Amazon which is designed for eight people. Just imagine the elbow-bumping, cheese drips, sibling bickering, and friendly angling for the best spot on the griddle for one’s personal skewer this electronic marvel could inspire!

3. A stacked insulated bento thingie to bring lunch into work. Fashion-forward foodie, YEAH! Plus very practical and wonderful.

4. The Nanny Ogg cookbook. I’m sure I don’t have to explain this.

5. A collection of various misos, wrapped in a basket. Smart and useful, inspiration-oriented.

6. Pismaniye (Floss Halvah). Heaven.

7. Edible Gold Leaf. Nice stocking stuffer.

Seven ideas.

If none of them work, the only other thing I can think of is to put together a Sauerbraten Kit.

I bet they wouldn’t dare re-gift that.

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Katerina

Books and Media by Katerina la Vermintz

Cooking Light Complete Cookbook- A Fresh New Way to Cook

This is a large book, a colorful book, newly released this April. To my surprise it is also a ring-bound book, just like the old Betty Crocker bibles – which gives it an initial air of practicality without pretension. Happily this lack of pretension does not lead to recipes for casseroles using canned cream soups or “ethnic” dishes reeking authenticity on a minus rather than a plus level.

There is something for everyone in this book, from pad thai to fettucine alfredo. And though these recipes are designed to be “light”, they work as real recipes for real food without the strange lurking oddness that some “diet” recipes may have.

The fact that the book is ring-bound is actually a plus, in the kitchen. No need to try to keep the gorgeous book with glorious photos open on the counter somehow stacking cans and coffeepots and forks on it to keep one’s place. Just click click and out comes the page which can sit nice and polite and flat on the counter for use by the cook.

Calorie and nutritional analysis is provided for all recipes so that menu planning within this category of thought is easy – even pleasant – considering the wide variety of choices in each section.

Whenever I peruse a cookbook I seek the section on peas. Why? Because eating fresh peas with forks in France was quite the social enterprise in the late 1700’s or so, and I so loved that time. The forks had two tines. Peas were the “new” thing. Forks were the new thing too. At least with peas. We wore our hair up on top of our heads like small pyramids and we wore our dresses very low cut. I was there.

Can you imagine what happens at a formal dinner with Talleyrand when your pea falls off your fork down the front of your dress? My dears. I will let your thoughts dwell on this atrocity.

In the Cooking Light Complete Cookbook there are six recipes for peas (and though not all the peas are green they all are good). As one of my many mother-in-laws used to say “That’s enough for any pig.”

A bonus offered with this volume is the “Dinner Tonight” cookbook on CD-Rom, tucked nicely into the front cover.

Allow me to resume my yoga now. And to all of you . . . may you

Peas

Using the Cooking Light Complete Cookbook just might help.

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