Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
I roasted it! It’s 10x easier than you think. (1) get a hot air popcorn popper. Yep, that’s right: popcorn popper (got mine from Target); (2) get green beans (got mine from local roastery, also check out sweetmarias.com they seem really good); (3) put 1/3 cup in the popcorn popper, wait 5-8 minutes (listen for the “second crack”); (4) cool beans, grind, and enjoy. Done. (Obviously it’s a bit more complicated…visit sweetmarias.com or youtube for how-to videos). The longer you roast coffee (“dark roast”), the less caffeine.
It’s amazing that every single coffee bean that you see was probably individually picked by someone’s hand (machines aren’t smart enough for them yet). Coffee is born on coffee trees by the equator. The beans are actually found inside little red fruit cherry balls. Coffee beans are the seeds inside the fruit, small green hard beans that smell like spicy bread. It’s hard to imagine why someone roasted them in the first place, but very old civilizations certainly had coffee (there are various theories about how they stumbled on it).
Oh yeah, the biggest question of all: taste. My first batch tasted great and had a distinct smell. Not as good as a fresh cup of Starbucks or Waterstreet, but extremely close. I imagine they will get better. If you are looking to satisfy your do-it-yourself impulse, save some money (about 15-25%), and have the freshest coffee you’ve ever had, I recommend giving it a try. If you don’t like it, perhaps because of the smoke it fills your kitchen with, you’ve only wasted 25 bucks.
Home Coffee Roasting
You don’t need a chemistry degree to bake great whole grain bread, but the better you understand things like enzyme activity and gluten development, the easier it will be to create loaves your family loves, rather than cardboard health food. This is what the master does so well in Peter Reinhardt’s Whole Grain Breads. He has developed techniques that take what is great about artisanal bread, and brings it to the world of 100% whole grain. He describes why it works at the molecular level, so that you can use his basic recipes to develop your own signature creations. If your idea of homemade bread is frozen dough that you pop out of a can, then this is probably not the book for you. But as someone who has always enjoyed baking, I found that his techniques are simple to follow, and yield delicious results.
Peter Reinhardt's Whole Grain Breads
Though I find stories of heroines from the renaissance, medieval saint’s lives, and stories about art forgeries fascinating, these are not the best subjects for books blogs. I mean, there’s just not enough widespread interest in these topics. But that’s one of the great things about the library isn’t it? Everyone can find something they are interested in to read and enjoy. So I am taking this opportunity to transition out of my “I Geek Art History” mode into something more widely enjoyed…food!
I saw this book pop up on our new book feed and I almost ran down to the rotunda to check it out. Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales…oh my! The pictures look good; the food tastes better. Here’s an overview of what I made, how it tasted, and what I recommend.
“My doctor told me I had to stop holding intimate dinners for four unless there are three other people.” – Orson Welles
Recipes: Tacos of Roasted Poblanos and Cream (p. 16), Tomatillo-Árbol Salsa (p. 134), Refried Black Beans (p. 148)
Tunes: Moondance by Van Morrison
Before I begin talking about this meal, I will give a little information about my cooking style. I view recipes as suggestions, not rules. As a result, it’s common that I make substitutions (in this cookbook, oregano for epazote leaves) and I often don’t measure. I also live alone and frequently halve recipes. Some people like cooking once and then having the same thing as leftovers for a week but I get bored! I must confess, there is one ingredient I never halve: garlic. Sometimes I halve a recipe and add more garlic than what the full recipe asks for. A little extra garlic never hurt anyone (unless you’re a vampire, in which case you wouldn’t like these recipes anyway!).
This evening found me roasting both tomatillos and poblanos. I am not sure I toasted the tomatillos long enough to get much of a smoky flavor out of them. Another recipe I have found advises dry roasting tomatillos in a pan for closer to 30 minutes. In the future, I would like to repeat this salsa but roast the tomatillos in the oven like you would tomatoes (halve, place on baking sheet, drizzle with oil and salt, 450° for maybe 40-50 minutes). However you decide to prepare your tomatillos, they’ll go well with the remainder of the ingredients. Depending on your preference for spiciness, you may use less árbol chiles (they had me shedding a layer on a cold winter night) and I will likely add a couple tablespoons of lime juice next time I make this. The salsa was fresh and earthy and continues to be quite delicious with tortilla chips.
The tacos themselves were tasty, though I may add bacon to them next time as a recipe later in the book does. (Is bacon ever a bad addition??) A note to readers and my future self: it is much easier to char the skin on poblanos that can lay flat on the burner rather than peppers that have a bend in them. The black beans were an earthy, delicious, and simple accompaniment. It was as I was making my black beans though that a sad thing happened…as I was reaching into the cupboard a jar of spicy mustard came tumbling out. I am happy to say the jar didn’t break and no mustard was lost however my blender that it fell on was not so lucky. To be truthful, this blender had seen much better days and I wasn’t that sad to lose it. But I was bummed that I had no way to make the Mexican Limeade from the cookbook. I’ll be watching sales on blenders and making the limeade in the near future.
“My weaknesses have always been food and men – in that order.” – Dolly Parton
Recipes: Potato and Chorizo Tacos (p. 39), pickled red onions, Fresh Green Salsa (p. 133)
Tunes: Robinella and the CC Stringband
Wow, this was a good meal. I generally like chorizo a lot so I can’t say I was surprised. I added eggs instead of potato to the tacos. I garnished them with pickled red onions (I used a recipe that I really like from bon appétit Magazine instead of the one found in the book) and the fresh green salsa. If you check out this book and only make one thing, let it be this salsa. I made the alternate recipe for the salsa adding more jalapeno peppers and avocado and it was fantastic! It was light, creamy, and a little spicy. And the combination of the fresh salsa, sweet and tangy onions, and spicy chorizo was excellent, plus it was pretty. As my mom always says, “pretty is important” when it comes to food. I have repeated this meal since I first made it and enjoyed it each time.
There are a number of other things I didn’t get a chance to try that sounded great from this book: Thick Mexican Hot Chocolate; Ground Beef, Olive and Raisin Tacos; and Yucatán-Style Pork Tacos. I was tempted by the Mexican Chocolate Ice Cream since I have made some before and it was excellent. If you are ever up for a little more intensive recipe I would recommend this one: Mexican Chocolate Ice Cream Cake with Orange Meringue. Definitely take a look at this book if you get a chance and enjoy your tacos, tortas, and tamales!
Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales: flavors from the griddles, pots, and streetside kitchens of Mexico
Culinary Visions® Panel says pickling and fermenting are going to be big in 2013. Get on board with The art of fermentation, the latest book from Sandor Ellix Katz, an expert in the fermentation field.
The art of fermentation
For many more years than I would like to admit to, I remember spending innumerable Saturday afternoons enjoying Julia Child’s cooking shows on the local PBS station. First, there was her classic “French Chef” series, then “Julia Child & Company,” followed up by “Julia Child and More Company.” All in all, her television career lasted for over thirty-seven years, and included nine more separate series in addition to the ones already mentioned. Considering the hundreds of episodes that she appeared in, it isn’t all that surprising that in 1996, TV Guide named her to their list of the “Fifty Greatest TV Stars of All Time.”
Of course, fine food was the centerpiece of all these programs, as it also was in Julia’s personal life. But there was an additional source of great pleasure for her that until recently was not all that well known. Cats!
When Patricia Barey’s and Therese Burson’s book entitled Julia’s Cats: Julia Child’s Life in The Company of Cats appeared late last summer, I immediately placed a hold on the title. Being unabashedly cat crazy myself, and admiring Julia Child’s spunky, unpretentious, joie de vivre style, I very much looked forward to reading this slim volume, which is enhanced with many black and white photos of Julia and her felines.
As is told in the book, Julia’s story begins in 1948 as a newly wedded bride of thirty-six, who is madly in love with her husband Paul. They start married life living in Paris, France, a country and city obsessed with food and romance. There, Julia and Paul begin to collect the first of many cats who would grace their lives, several of whom adopted the young couple rather than the other way around. By throwing in their lot with Julia and Paul, these felines ended up winning the cat equivalent of the lottery, going on to live in the lap of luxury with a master chef and hanging out as the perfect kitchen comrades with the couple who truly adored them.
But this book is not only about cats. It also follows Julia as she begins attending the world renowned culinary school, Le Cordon Bleu. Here, she receives a failing grade in her final exam at the hands of her instructor and nemesis Madame Brassart, who states that, “Julia does not have any great natural talent for cooking.” Over time, this has come to be recognized as one of the greatest misjudgments in the history of culinary arts education. In 1961, after her well received book titled The Art of French Cooking hit the stands, Julia went on to become an overnight sensation, and her name is still synonymous with fine cuisine to this day.
In addition to this adult account, released at about the same time was a children’s volume about Child and one particular cat. Minette’s Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat by Susanna Reich is a forty-page book about Julia learning to cook in Paris with her devoted feline friend, Minette, at her side. Although she has the best products of fine food preparation within constant reach, truth be told, Minette is not too fond of gourmet meals, often preferring the taste of a freshly killed mouse instead.
So, whether you are a Julia Child admirer, a cat devotee, both or even neither, you are in for a treat with these two volumes. As Julia might have said, “Bon Appétit, happy reader, Bon Appétit!”
It should be noted that had she lived, Julia Child would have celebrated her 100th birthday last August.
Julia's cats : Julia Child's life in the company of cats
If you dabble in interior design or take a lot of pictures of the food you make, chances are I’ve read your blog. I’m a regular reader of a number of blogs that focus on DIY house projects or made-from-scratch recipes, and lately it seems as though the writers of all my favorite blogs are getting book deals. I’ve been really excited about the release of Deb Perelman’s book, The Smitten Kitchen. The Smitten Kitchen is my favorite food blog, mainly because the author uses simple ingredients to create mouthwatering dishes in a tiny, tiny kitchen—in other words, she makes me think I can recreate her recipes in my own kitchen. Perelman’s photography skills make the blog particularly appealing, and I’m hoping that the cookbook has the same appetizing look.
In addition to The Smitten Kitchen cookbook, I’ve been looking forward to the book from Sherry and John Petersik, creators of the house blog Young House Love. Like the blog, the book Young House Love is full of do-it-yourself projects to decorate the home. I’d categorize their style as bright and cheerful with modern elements, and their casual manner and detailed instructions make it easy to bring their look into your own home. They’re very inspiring for people slightly afraid of a DIY challenge.
The Smitten Kitchen and Young House Love aren’t the only blogs that have made their way to print recently. Checkout Joy the Baker (http://joythebaker.com/), Dinner: a Love Story (http://www.dinneralovestory.com/), or Design Sponge at Home (http://www.designsponge.com/).
Cookbooks are one of my reading weaknesses; the best ones have lovely photos, recipes that are unique but not silly, and are written with an interesting voice.
The Back in the Day Cookbook has all that. It’s cheerful and fun to read . . . and now my “Bake This” list is even longer!
The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook
The recording-breaking heat this summer has lead to an abundance of reddening tomatoes in my garden—a bit earlier than usual. I love growing lots of tomatoes because they can be preserved easily and they make great additions to soup and stews in the winter months. It’s always a nice reminder of summertime when I open a can of homegrown tomatoes in the dead of winter!
Although preserving vegetables isn’t difficult, in order to ensure safety, canners must be precise. I use the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving to get canning recipes and tips for problem-solving. It includes recipes for jams, salsas, and all sorts of canned vegetables. It’s a great guide for beginners, but offers plenty of great recipes for experienced canners.
Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
If you or a family member are one of the estimated 1 in 133 people needing to avoid gluten, due to celiac disease or gluten intolerance, look to KPL for more information. We have dozens of gluten-free cookbooks. Most have helpful suggestions in front about navigating a gluten-free lifestyle, like which foods to avoid and what ingredients to keep on hand. And the recipes are inspiring!
Consider these options:
Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking, by Kelli and Peter Bronski. Check out the Crab Cakes recipe on p. 52.
Getting your Kid on a Gluten-Free Casein-Free Diet, by Susan Lord. Filled with straightforward advice and easy tips from a registered dietician, whose daughter was diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder and has been on a gluten-free, casein-free diet for many years. The “Nutrition First” chapter has wise tips for anyone pursuing a gluten-free diet. I can’t wait to try the Pad Thai recipe.
Deliciously G-free: Food so Flavorful They’ll never Believe it’s Gluten-Free, by Elizabeth Hasselbeck, co-host of The View. Chock-full of delicious recipe ideas, such as Smoked Salmon on Corn Fritters, Chocolista Chocolate Cupcakes and French Toast with Caramel Rum Banana. This one is even available in an e-book.
Getting your kid on a gluten-free casein-free diet
The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making is a compilation of recipes for pantry stapes by food blogger Alana Chernila. Mother of two young children and avid home cook, Chernila shares her recipes for such stapes as sandwich bread, ketchup, jam, salsa, and even vanilla extract. If you’re really adventurous in the kichen, you can try her recipes for homemade mozzarella, toaster pastries, or peanut butter cups. Although she does include recipes for entrees such as lasagna (with homemade noodles!), generally you won’t find full meals here, but recipes for food that most people probably buy prepackaged and that might be a component in a meal or snack—breads, condiments, soup, dressings, etc.
Chernila admits that buying prepackaged food certainly is faster and easier, especially for busy families for whom dinnertime can be rushed and chaotic. She gives five reasons in particular for making the effort to prepare more food at home: 1. Food made at home is better for you; 2. Food made at home tastes better; 3. Food made at home usually costs less; 4. Food made at home eliminates unnecessary packaging; 5. Food made at home will change the way you think about food.
While I agree with her reasons, I seriously doubt that I’m going to make potato chips or fruit roll-ups any time soon, and I feel no guilt about that whatsoever. Food can be a very sensitive subject in our culture, with plenty of judgments being passed around regarding what and how people eat; I’ve glanced through plenty of cookbooks that come off as snobby or authoritarian, but this isn’t one of them. Chernila is simply sharing recipes for food she likes to make at home, and she makes home cooking look easier and more worthwhile than always relying on prepackaged food.
The Homemade Pantry