Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays because I love to cook (and eat). A few years ago when I was living in New Hampshire, where all my extended family lives, I prepared a huge Thanksgiving dinner for them and made everything from scratch, including the pumpkin pies, which required baking, scraping, and pureeing two whole sugar pumpkins. I relied on several books and resources for recipes and cooking techniques, and I recommend them highly.
I'm not much of a meat eater and don't cook meat very often, but that Thanksgiving I prepared what my uncles say was the best turkey they've ever eaten. I owe all the credit to Alton Brown and his Good Eats Roast Turkey method, which involves soaking the turkey in a brine for a minimum of eight hours. I got the pumpkin pie recipe, which I must say was the best pumpkin pie I've ever eaten, from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook. Additionally, I referred to Pie: 300 Tried-and-True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie for tips on mixing and rolling pie pastry. I also used Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook for her multigrain rolls, which were tasty and much easier to make than I anticipated. If you're looking for vegetable sides, Recipes From the Root Cellar is a great book with tons of recipes for sweet potatoes, squash, Brussels sprouts, rutabagas, carrots, parsnips, beets, turnips-- all the great winter vegetables currently in season. The Maple-Balsamic Root Vegetables are a favorite. For past vegetarian Thanksgiving meals I've made a lentil loaf as the main dish, but that rarely goes over well with omnivores. I suggest Deb Perelman's Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Galette from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. It is so flavorful and satisfying, that I can't imagine even a meat lover not asking for seconds. The one dish that remains completely elusive for me is stuffing; I cannot find a recipe I like. I'll happily take your recommendations!
We have a bit more than two weeks to plan Thanksgiving meals. KPL has a wonderful cookbook collection, so you should have no trouble finding some great recipes to try. What will be on your menu this year?
Recipes From the Root Cellar
One of my absolute favorite cookbooks is the 1990 James Beard Award-winning Please to the Table: the Russian Cookbook by Moscow native Anya von Bremzen. The book allows me to recreate some of my delicious memories from the time I spent in Russia several years ago, with recipes for everything from adzhika to pirozhki to vareniki, originating from across the former Soviet Union. So naturally I was delighted to discover von Bremzen’s forthcoming memoir Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, and I devoured it almost as quickly as a plate of blini.
Von Bremzen’s book is not simply about food—something that is so inextricably bound with culture, tradition, politics, economics, the environment. And it is not only personal memoir and family history, but a sweeping account examining the twilight years of the Russian Empire, the nearly 70 years of the Soviet Union’s existence, the Russian Federation’s bleak early days, as well as its more recent economic boom. Into this epic history, she weaves in details of her family’s experience. Like her paternal grandmother Alla, who was born in Central Asia, orphaned, and then raised by an early activist for women’s rights who was later exiled to Siberia. Alla moved to Moscow as a teenager, and brought Uzbek recipes with her. Von Bremzen’s mother’s bout with scarlet fever, suffered while subsisting on wartime rations, contrasts sharply with her first taste of Pepsi-Cola a decade later. And von Bremzen’s own experiences – rejecting on principle difficult-to-procure products like special candy from the Red October Chocolate Factory at her school for children of Communist Party elites, to her confusion over Pop Tarts as an immigrant in Philadelphia – are shared with earnestness.
Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking is a satisfying read, and especially suggested for readers of food memoirs like Gabrielle Hamilton’s candid Blood, Bones and Butter: the Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef, or Russian culture enthusiasts who enjoyed Elif Batuman’s The Possessed: Adventures With Russian Books and the People Who Read Them.
Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking
In terms of food preparation, we're living in a time when even the microwave seems too slow. With that thought as a backdrop, please consider this 2013 offering by Ms. Caitlin Freeman. She has written this book of dessert recipes that derive their inspiration from famous artists and their works. I would probably have been one of the last on the library staff to pick up this book; however, I had a wonderful art history course at WMU during my undergraduate days, the memory of which this volume caused me to recall. I think it would take even an experienced cook a lot of time and patience to make these treats, but the pictures make them look so good that I'm sure someone out there will want to give Matisse Parfait, Mondrian Cake, and Warhol Gelee a try.
Modern art desserts : recipes for cakes, cookies, confections, and frozen treats based on iconic works of art
For most of my adult life my cooking repertoire has been severely hindered by both a lack of experience, and thus confidence, and by limiting myself to just a few very basic skills (think - boiling water, pushing down the toaster mechanism, or programming the microwave). But then just a couple years back, likely through a combination of my awareness of the seemingly endless supply of tantalizing cookbooks that KPL acquires for the collection and a growing interest in cooking that developed through the popularity of cooking shows on television and how easy they make things seem, I started to really read those cookbooks and began looking for things that I could actually attempt. It hasn’t taken me long to figure out that a good recipe makes all the difference. I can’t say that everything that I create would challenge Bobby Flay, but when it works it feels like nothing short of alchemy to me to be able to pull together a great meal from simple, healthy ingredients and with my limited culinary skillset. My favorite recipes and best results have come from Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food, but I’ve had success with other cookbooks as well. The latest recipes that I’ve tried came from Simply Ming one-pot meals: quick, healthy & affordable recipes by Ming Tsai. I’ve made Chicken & tri-bell pepper chow mein (pg. 34), Wonton shrimp & noodle soup (pg. 156), and Asian sloppy joes with hoisin sauce (pg. 71) and they were all just as advertised – quick, healthy, and really good!
Simply Ming one-pot meals: quick, healthy & affordable recipes
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/).