Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Cooking the Books ... on Your Blog

The fact that the viewership on the blogs is far below what's needed to earn a living is fine with these writers, who say there are ample other rewards for their efforts. Cathy Irish of Maryland, who in November -- after three years, 45 pounds of butter and a pint of vanilla extract -- finished baking everything in "Maida Heatter's Cookies," says she came away from the experience with many new friends, including several with whom she has since visited in real life.
The Wall Street Journal is catching up with bloggers who pick a cookbook and cook straight through. (Via Slashfood.) The most famous example of this is the Julie/Julia project where Julie Powell cooked straight through Mastering the Art of French Cooking and journaled the results on her blog. Unexpected results were a book deal and a movie. As seen above, most bloggers understand just what blogging is going to get you and so they have a good time without expecting a big pay off.

Kind of a fun overview article of various people who have chosen books to cook through. I found it a valuable resource for a few new blogs as well, having only come across about half of the ones they mentioned.

The links to bloggers with a brief synopsis is here

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Lagniappe ... Chinese Style

A little lagniappe for the ears is available at Forgotten Classics featuring a taste of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles ... what makes Chinese food in America so ... American?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Everything Old is New Again: Spain and the World Table

To comprehend the culinary explosion that has been taking place in Spain over the last twenty years it's important to understand the country's recent history. For nearly four decades following the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939, Spain was cut off from the rest of the world by Franco's ultra-conservative government, and its strong creative spirit (think Picasso, Dali, Gaudi) was nearly crushed. Regionalism was repressed, and many local foodways risked annihilation. The government went so far as to make it illegal to make artisanal cheeses!

Since the death of Franco and the restoration of democracy in spain, there has been a cultural explosion that has found a voice in gastronomy as well as the other arts. Regional food traditions are being revived all over the country. In contemporary restaurants everywhere humble traditional dishes have attained cult status. There is a regional exchange going on that is very new in Spain. Today Andalusian specialties like gazpacho and salmorejo are served in trendy Barcelona restaurants, something you never would have seen twenty years ago. Local products are being recognized and protected by the government with Denomination of Origin status. And creative chefs, now unfettered , are pushing the envelope with a cuisine that borders on science, and blurs the lines between what has gone before and what is possible in the future, while never losing sight of its Spanish core.
In a nutshell, this sums up what CIA chefs discovered when they attended their 2006 Worlds of Flavor International Conference & Festival. The emphasis was on the best of traditional and contemporary Spanish cuisine and its influence on world menus.

This cookbook which resulted from the conference features star chefs' recipes for Spanish recipes as well as feature articles about ingredients and regional cooking. It also could stand as an exploration of how chefs take an understanding of a dish and then tweak it to emphasize a feature ingredient or change its nature entirely. I found it fascinating when looking at solidly traditional recipes to see what other cooks had morphed them into on other pages.

Perhaps the Rice section gives the best example of this. When we think of rice and Spain, naturally paella comes to mind. The section begins with a classic country paella of Valencia and then gives a more contemporary vegetarian paella. We are shown a typical Valencian Seafood Rice and then a Caldero, a traditional fisherman's stew. However, these are followed by Rice with Duck, which is a fusion between the cooking of Peru and France, followed by a Sushi Paella framed in sheets of nori seaweed. Suffice it to say there is something for everyone. This pattern is seen again and again throughout the book.

I know I keep using word "fascinating" but that is exactly what I kept thinking as I paged through these recipes. The pride shown in the old classics and the excitement and innovation exhibited in the new creations cannot help but show anyone interested in food that Spain is experiencing interesting culinary times. Undoubtedly some of these will be looked back on as fads and some will carry forward as new standards for restaurants and eventually home kitchens. The question, of course, is what will prevail. This book gives a wonderful overview from which to watch that progression.

This is an oversize book with DK publishings trademark simple, elegant design and glorious photography which makes the recipes spring to life. The recipes are clearly written in steps that make it easy to see just what will be involved.


For the reaction of someone who has cooked from the book (which I should have done, I know, I know) ... check out Winos and Foodies.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

What I've Been Reading ...

... catching up ... on this list of what I've read this year.
  • The Last Chinese Cook by Nicole Mones***** ... Maggie, a recently widowed food writer, discovers that her husband may have betrayed her and left a daughter in China. Sam, a young half-Chinese chef strives to please his three uncles by winning a prestigious cooking competition in China. They encounter each other in China and wind up becoming friends. The story is interesting and, more importantly to me, we see what food means in Chinese life and history ... and what it can mean in each person's life. One of my favorite books read this year.

  • 12 Kitchens by Jake Tilson***** -- artist Jake Tilson tells a biographical tale of his life as seen in the 12 kitchens he has cooked in and eaten from. I had not heard of Tilson before on any level and found that he writes engagingly of food and its connection with his life ... which can by extension be related to ours as well if we stop and think about the kitchens of our own lives. Includes recipes which look very practical and Tilson did the book art which I found just as engaging as his writing.

  • Mouth Wide Open by John Thorne***** - John Thorne fans already know that this book will be chock-full of contemplations about ingredients, specific dishes, and the way we eat. As in his previous books and his long-running quarterly newsletter, Thorne's ruminations hit us where we live and make us take a fresh look at the familiar, whether it is a specific foodstuff or a habit of our lives with food. You'll want to read this with a pen and paper by your side as I eventually did, to make note of the many food books and sours that Thorne references on the way. I have received permission to podcast this book and am doing so a bit at a time; links can be found here.

  • A Love Affair with Southern Cooking: Recipes and Recollections by Jean Anderson**** - Anderson is a well known food author and this comprehensive compendium of Southern recipes and stories will merely add to her fame. Similar in layout and style to her iconic American century cookbook, this intersperses Anderson's personal recollections with those who have a lifelong attachment to Southern cooking, both famous and unknown. Along the way, Anderson gives a time line for important developments ... such as when did the Moon Pie come along ... and indepth looks at such subjects as Martha White flour, Krispy Kreme doughnuts, and Moon Pies (naturally!).

  • Hallelujah! The Welcome Table: A Lifetime of Memories with Recipes by Maya Angelou***** - This book is rightly subtitled with the "lifetime of memories" being the main focus. There are recipes, that is true, but the recipes are the illustrations to the vivid and deep memories that Maya Angelou shares with us. From her childhood to finding herself as an artist and within society, Angelou gives us much to treasure in a clear voice that calls forth our own feelings to match hers. And I'm pretty sure that the recipes are good too ...
Find reviews of non-food books here.

Weekend Joke

Via Coffee Klatch.
A newly-married wife, trying to impress her husband, woke up early to make him breakfast. She made bacon and eggs, toast, and juice, and brought him breakfast in bed.

He was very appreciative and enjoyed it, and said, “This is really good, but it’s not like Mom used to make.”

The next day, she arose earlier, made an omelet with his favorite ingredients, cut the crusts off the toast and served it with marmalade, and squeezed some fresh orange juice, and brought it to him in bed.

He was surprised and ate every bit, but said, “This is great, but it’s not like Mom used to make.”

Frustrated, the young bride got up even earlier the next day, cooked eggs benedict, baked scones, and made sure to strain all the pulp out of the freshly-squeezed orange juice.

“Wow! This is terrific, but it’s not like Mom used to make.”

Now she was angry. The next day she burned the toast, left the scrambled eggs runny, and left seeds in the orange juice, thinking, “This will fix him!”

He got the meal, took one bite, and said, “Now THIS is like Mom used to make!”
For another weekend joke go here.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Now Serving Hot LInks ...

Tiramisu Italian-Style
Scott at Coffee Klatch couldn't find a tirimisu recipe that duplicated what he'd eaten in Italy so he tinkered around until he had a reliable recipe ... which he is now sharing.

Press in the Pan Pie Crust
Ward Bistro has a photo-by-photo, step-by-step tutorial for a Cook's Illustrated easy pie crust that looks very good.

€25.5 a day: Rome
My Roman Adventure takes us through the day with her for three meals, plus a snack and dessert. So it can be done ... we have the proof!

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food
I just finished reading this, which is the author's tracing of Chinese food history in America. She does an excellent job of not glossing over the sad history of Chinese immigrants' bad treatment while not trying to make us take on the guilt for it as modern Americans. Refreshing! Also a lot of great food stories. Just in case you don't believe me, Tiger and Strawberries has a much more indepth review.

Catholic Cuisine
A new blog that is going full-tilt with "recipes for celebrating the feasts and seasons of the liturgical year." No kidding. Fig Bars for St. Rita of Cascia's day, traditional pierogi with potato and cheese filling for John Paul II's birthday, a post celebrating wine (hey, that just makes it even better to be Catholic, ya know...) ... they've got it all and in an attractive package. Check it out.

10 Main Dish Salads
Start Cooking has 10 salads, some familiar, some maybe not so familiar, to help feed families while keeping your cool this summer.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Fragmentation of Rods by Cascading Cracks ...

OR ... why doesn't spaghetti break in half?

You know, I never wondered about that ... until I saw the question. I knew instantly what they were talking about, having experienced spaghetti "fly-by" quite often. I was pretty surprised that it took physicists from the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris to answer this question though.

You can get the scoop at Mental Floss Blog.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Let the Joyful News Be Spread ...

... the foie gras ban has been repealed in Chicago. As the mayor pointed out:
He pointed out that foie gras never really went away. It remained legal to buy it at gourmet shops, and restaurants found ways around the ban.

"They can't sell it to you [but] they can put it on your salad and increase your salad by $20," Daley said. "They can put in on a piece of toast and charge you $10 for a piece of toast.

"Does that make sense? This is what government should be doing? Telling you what you should put on toast or on a salad? I mean, think about that."
Read it all here. Via Slashfood.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

So Eric Gave Me a Good Ad Buy Tip ... and I Gave Him a Couple of Free Sample Tips

May 15 : McDonald's will give away 2 million Southern Style chicken biscuits and 6 million Southern Style chicken sandwiches.

May 15: Dunkin' Donuts will hold its second-annual Iced Coffee Day and expects to give away 4 million cups of coffee.
We're not quite even but he's actually going to MacDonald's to see what their chicken sandwich is like. 

Me? I'm not going for a sample but I'd grab a chicken biscuit. It sounds interesting and I'm a longtime fan of their sausage and biscuit combo.

Reports due back to this spot...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Fire up the grill. It's time for ... pizza?

We arrived at our apartment after midnight. I fired up our little Smokey Joe grill and rolled out the dough. Once the coals were ready, I tossed the dough onto the grate. The fire came up immediately and singed the hair off my arm. After I finished my little dance, found out that the fire was too hot and I used too much oil, a volatile combination.

But Karla was going to have her grilled pizza. When I tried again, I tossed the dough onto the grill and watched a network of bubbles rise on the surface. We tapped our first grilled pizza and set it under the broiler to crisp. We knew we had found our ticket, even before we tasted it.
Many of us are used to the idea of grilling pizza to emulate the effects that restaurants achieve with wood-burning ovens. However, how many of us have really ever tried it? It sounds like a good idea but when we're getting right down to it, the idea of tackling grilling pizza is kind of intimidating.

That's why it's a good thing that pizza grilling pioneer Craig Priebe has written this book. He demystifies the whole process by sharing the knowledge gleaned in his years of expertise as a grilled pizza restauranteur. There are step-by-step instructions for prepping ahead of time, simplifying the process, and even party planning. Don't have a grill? He has tips for grilling inside. This guy is not taking anything for granted and that takes the pressure off the tentative cook nervous about watching pizza dough slide into the coals.

I was especially intrigued by some of the unique combinations that Priebe offers. He has the standard Margherita and American style "combo" pizzas that we might expect. However, he also has some ideas that literally had my mouth watering when I was reading the ingredients. For example:
  • The Moroccan (curried chicken, roasted garlic, and Kalamata olives)
  • The Asperago (asparagus with pesto, pine nuts, and Brie)
  • The Millennium (ground lamb, feta, and Kalamata olives)
He also introduced me to the concept of Piadinas which are a popular Italian flatbread sandwich. After the flatbread is grilled for a minute or two on each side, they are filled with various tasty combinations of ingredients.

Ideas for salads are also included as are grilled pizza ideas for desserts. I must say that I usually am not interested in the idea of "dessert" pizza which I occasionally encounter in various cookbooks. However, the Cinnamon Churros, or as he describes them, "sugary crusts with ice cream and syrup" did capture my imagination ...

Combine this intriguing content with DK Publishing's trademark lush photography and clear, simple layout and you have a single subject cookbook that is a winner. When our "festival month" of May is over and I have time to think about cooking then you may be sure I will be exploring some of these recipes.

Now Serving Hot Links ...

The New York Times food section has a story about those who get creative with food carving. A fun piece with a nice slide show of sample carvings.

How to Render Lard
Homesick Texan not only uses "the L word" but tells us how to do it ourselves. Mmmm, lard ...

Basic Cooking Advice
Both of the girls will be in their own apartments next fall. I will be giving each of them a notebook with best loved "home cooking" but they will also need a basic cookbook and such things. When fellow food lover Siggy sent me a link to Start Cooking blog the timing seemed perfect. This is a wonderful resource for those exploring the world of cooking for the first time, with videos, printable "recipe cards" and more. Check it out.

Hunger in Burma
Problem is, they already were hungry. I remember years ago meeting a young man named Etan employed at a restaurant in the tourist town of Kyaiktiyo. He worked seven days a week to earn $7 a month. He slept in the restaurant dining room, “on that table, only one blanket and one pillow,” he said. He sent money home to help feed his mother and three sisters.
For Karen at Rambling Spoon the plight of the Burmese is not simply intellectual. She's been there and gives us a personal view.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Old Versus New: Middle Eastern Food

I have been reading Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon by Claudia Roden. It is fine as it goes with introductory pages for each country, sumptuous photography and exotic recipes. However, I was left cold as somehow I didn't feel Ms. Roden's personality shining through. If one wants a cookery manual, this is doubtless a fine one. However, I have come to demand more. (Yes, I know ... picky, picky, picky). Truth to tell, I am not so much interested in making Middle Eastern food as I am in reading about it. So that's a personal flaw as we can all see.

However, what that book did was make me go pick up my long-time favorite old edition of A Book of Middle Eastern Food.

I am reposting my review of it as compared to Ms. Roden's updated version which I believe that some visitors may not have seen as I wrote it some time ago. Bon appetit!

A Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden

The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden

The collection began fifteen years ago with a recipe for ful medames. I was a schoolgirl in Paris then. Every Sunday I was invited together with my brothers and a cousin to eat ful medames with some relatives. This meal became a ritual. Considered in Egypt to be a poor man's dish, in Paris the little brown beans became invested with all the glories and warmth of Cairo, our hometown, and the embodiment of all that for which we were homesick.

Our hosts lived in a one-room apartment, and were both working, so it was possible for them to prepare only with tinned ful. Ceremoniously, we sprinkled the beans with olive oil, squeezed a little lemon over them, seasoned them with salt and pepper, and placed a hot hard-boiled egg in their midst. Delicious ecstasy! Silently, we ate the beans, whole and firm at first; then we squashed them with our forks and combined their floury texture and slightly dull, earthy taste with the acid tang of lemon, mellowed by the olive oil; finally, we crumbled the egg, matching its earthiness with that of the beans, its pale warm yellow with their dull brown.

I always have loved A Book of Middle Eastern Food even though I have never cooked anything out of it. My affection stemmed from the fact that it has qualities no long found in most cook books. Roden is passionate about the food of the Middle East and writes with a charm and enthusiasm that is infectious. Throughout are stories of her life growing up and old folk tales from the region. Although the writing styles are very different, this book makes me think of M.F.K. Fisher's which have a connection to times past and human experience.

I have known for some time about the updated version but didn't become curious about it until recently. For one thing, I wasn't cooking from this book, which is perhaps all to the good as many of the Amazon reviews of this older edition are not very happy with recipe quality.

After reading the updated book I am sure that the recipes probably are more accurate and better written. However, much of the charm is gone. Roden herself admits that, upon rereading the original, she was embarrassed at the youth and passion which poured out of it. It is all too obvious where her prosaic, modern voice is inserted and many of the stories that flowed naturally in the original are now broken out into boxes which I thought broke up the book in a choppy manner.

I am happy enough to go to local restaurants for Middle Eastern food. If you want to make it yourself I am sure the new book is the best bet. I will stick with the original, however, and the passionate voice of Roden's youth.

A "Pick Your Own" Resource

I am going to have fun investigating the Pick Your Own website from the Texas Department of Agriculture. There is nothing like picking your own blueberries for some reason.

The Dallas Morning News had a little story on it (and some other links are in there for different resources) and I haven't thought about picking berries in years.

Monday, May 05, 2008