Monday, June 30, 2008

Holy Chuckwagon, What a Cookbook!*

I have been very privileged to read Legends of a Range Cook, a cookbook that is in the process of being submitted to a publisher ... and was blown away by it. We know the photographer and while I have always admired his prowess this book highlights it in an amazing way that makes the reader feel as if they were dropped into the middle of the Old West.

How to describe it?

Here is what they say at their site:
This cookbook is the real deal. It isn't written by a historian or a researcher or a cowboy cook wanna be. Legends of a Range Cook is written by a true trail cook whose life's work has been keeping working cowhands happy after a long, hard day with a hot, satisfying meal. Red Cloud Wolverton's recipes are seasoned with memorable stories of the challenges of cooking on the range. Hugh Beebower's photography and the panoramic layout transport the reader into The Real West.
It is a gorgeous coffee table book (check out the photography at the site link above), a fascinating look at the real world of cooking on the range, a book of interesting stories told about his experiences by a seasoned range cook, and a primer on how to recreate this cooking for yourself whether in your kitchen or on the range.

They have gone to the trouble to layout and hand produce several copies, one of which I got to take home but didn't have time to cook from. However, I can tell you that I am scheming to get my hands on one again so I can give some of these recipes a whirl.

Interestingly, Hugh tells me that he has cooked extensively from them and they are both simple and delicious ... as one would expect since they would have been produced from a chuckwagon and yet needed to keep hungry cowboys satisfied at the end of a long day. In fact, one of my favorite stories in the book is about the time when there was a range cook (not Red Cloud Wolverton) who severely neglected his duties in that area.

There is a spot on the site where you can submit some contact info so that you will be informed when the book comes out. Of course, I'll also keep y'all updated on any publishing news.

All photography is the property of Hugh Beebower and copyrighted by him. Used by permission.

Fair Disclosure
Our company laid out the web site for the cookbook. However no business connection would ever make me feel that I had to give a glowing endorsement or any endorsement at all for that matter. Like the cookbook, my endorsements are the real deal. I want this book published ... so that I can buy one! And give one to my parents, and to my sister, and to my brother ... well, you get the idea.

* With apologies to the original King Kong movie which contains one of my very favorite lines, "Holy mackerel, what a show!"

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

East-West Spaghetti and Meatballs

This is from my cookbook of choice for the week, Easy Family Recipes from a Chinese-American Childhood by Ken Hom. I always try to pick a different one from my embarrassingly large collection of cookbooks for each week. Do I always manage to cook from it? Depends on how busy it is during the week. This week ... so far, so good.

I absolutely love this cookbook. Not only is it a treasure trove of reminiscences about growing up as a first generation Chinese American but so far it has worked every time. Yes you read that right. Every time. I wish that wasn't such a shock but I have learned through sad experience that however much I love Jean Anderson's cookbooks there is a 50-75% success factor in any recipe I pick of hers.

This is a variation on Lionhead Meatballs that Hom's mother served often. We found it to be a wonderfully light and refreshing take on spaghetti and meatballs. The water chestnuts chopped into the meat mixture were a brilliant addition, adding just a bit of crunch but not a "water chestnut-ish" flavor which both daughters reject out of hand.

I had a few problems since I used ground bison and it tends to get rather dense. It probably would work just as described below with regular hamburger ... or even a nice meatloaf mix. Also it wasn't until typing this recipe that I realized I shouldn't have just chopped up all that garlic and cooked it with the onions and ginger. Oops! It was delicious that way though.

I chose not to saute the meatballs first, not wanting the splatter and another pan dirtied. (I know, I know, but our dishwasher hasn't been working for months, ok?) I formed the meatballs and gently put them in the sauce to simmer. They were wonderful. However, I would have liked more sauce to meatball ratio and wound up chopping up my meatballs and mixing them in the sauce on my plate. So did everyone else when it came down to that. Next time (and there WILL be a next time) I will make a variation where I just pinch off little bits of the meat mixture into the sauce to simmer.

Serves 4

Tomato Sauce
1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped red onions
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed (oops!)
2 teaspoons finely chopped ginger
4 cups canned crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 pound ground beef
1 egg white
2 tablespoons cold water
1/2 pound fresh water chestnuts, peeled and coarsely chopped, or 6 ounces canned, chopped (for the rest of us)
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
1 teaspoon five-spice powder
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Potato starch, for dusting
4 tablespoons peanut oil

1 pound Italian spaghetti

Heat a heavy saucepan and swirl in the olive oil. When it is hot, toss in the onions, garlic, and ginger and cook for 2 minutes over medium heat. Then dump in the tomatoes, sugar, salt, and pepper, lower the heat, cover, simmer for 20 minutes and set aside.

Put the beef in a food processor and mix with the egg white and cold water for 1 minute. The mixture should be light and fluffy. Do not use a blender, which would make the mixture too dense. Then toss in the water chestnuts, soy sauces, rice wine, five-spice powder, sugar, salt, and pepper and mix for another 30 seconds. The mixture should be slightly coarse, with bits of the water chestnuts adding texture.

Divide the mixture into 16 equal parts and roll each part into a large meatball. Dust each meatball with the potato starch. Heat a wok until it is hot, then swirl in 2 tablespoons of the peanut oil. When the oil is hot and slightly smoking, drop in half of the meatballs, turn the heat down, and slowly brown the meatballs. Swirl in the additional 2 tablespoons of oil and fry the remaining meat balls. Drain them on paper towels.

Place the meatballs in the cooked tomato sauce, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to the package instructions or according to your taste and drain well.

Arrange the pasta on a platter, lay the meatballs on top, pour the sauce over the dish and serve at once.

Now Serving Hot Links ...

An Oyster with an Eye from Blogging in Paris. And she's right ... it does look as if an eye is peeking out at us!

The Right Beer for PB&J
And they all rejoiced ... yes it does exist!

Chocolate Mint Panna Cotta
From A Foodie Froggy in Paris comes one of my favorite flavor combinations ... and the photos just make me want one even more.

10 Foods Named After People
2. Salisbury steak was invented by Dr. James H. Salisbury. He thought that fruits and veggies were bad for humans and caused heart disease, tumors, mental illness, tuberculosis and all kinds of horrible ailments. He invented the Salisbury steak (which is really just hamburger steak) to convince people to change their diet to mostly meat.
From Mental Floss blog ... an interesting list.

There's Something to Those Big Irish Breakfasts
The only time I ever lost weight on vacation was on a trip to Ireland, where we stayed at different B&B’s almost every night. The “big Irish breakfast” was wonderful, every day, and we ate it all - cereal or porridge, black bread with butter, yogurt with berries, eggs, sausage, bacon, potatoes and fried tomatoes and lots of coffee with cream. It would keep us quite filled and energetic until supper (I don’t believe we ever ate lunch, although we took a break each day for a Guinness and some days for gelato), and supper was fairly light - a bit of fresh fish and veggies or the like.
The Anchoress's experience backs up a new study talking about the best way to eat ... read it at her place.

With Beans Comes Rice
I usually pass up the rice at Mexican restaurants. Let's face it, they use it as an inexpensive filler and rarely lavish the time or care needed to make it delicious. In fact, along with the tortilla chips and salsa, that is one of my tests to see just how much a restaurant cares. Confusingly, my favorite Tex-Mex place, Mariano's, falls very far short of the mark in this category ... on the salsa front as well as the rice ... while still turning out some very good dishes otherwise. Homesick Texan gives us the low-down on how to produce the real thing ourselves.

Fried Catfish Japanese Style
Tigers & Strawberries has a new favorite way with catfish. You guessed it. She uses Panko instead of breadcrumbs. Which leaves me asking ... am I the only person on the planet who has repeatedly tried Panko for breading and not fallen in love with them? In fact, found that they soaked up oil, didn't brown, and just didn't make that big a difference? Must be ... I'm probably doing something wrong but I've never had any problems with plain old breadcrumbs.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Fine Art Friday

Some of the delicious art I've found at some of my favorite places this week. Click on the title links to see more of these artists' work.

PB&J No. 8 by James Neil Hollingsworth

Gale's Restaurant by Belinda Del Pesco

Pasta of the Day by Edward B. Gordon

More art is on exhibit at Happy Catholic and Forgotten Classics

Thursday, June 19, 2008

So we were sitting around at lunch, talking about recipes and copyrights ...

Isn't that what everyone does at lunchtime?

This was prompted by hearing from a pal that a columnist who she had praised, posted a recipe, and linked to reciprocated by threatening her with copyright violation over said recipe. You can't bring up a subject like that without Tom checking out the details.

Now, I don't know just how much of the column's artistic interpretation was used as I haven't seen the actual post, however, if it was just a recipe and the instructions ... the columnist was uninformed about copyright law and recipes.

Here is a link to the place that was the most understandable on the whole issue. Interesting reading, especially as they show the derivation of reasoning for various judgments. In a nutshell, lists of ingredients and whatever method is used in preparing and combining the ingredients are not copyrightable.

Plain common sense.

This blogger went to a lawyer who gave her the same answer about the issue.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Now Serving Hot Links ...

Scanning the blogosphere to bring you fresh, tasty posts ...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

New Orleans Barbecued Shrimp

I suddenly realized how long it's been since I posted a recipe. Well, there's a good reason for that. I haven't been cooking anything new much. In fact, I haven't even been looking through my listed recipes for old favorites. Too many things like blogging, podcasting and such have pushed aside the time that I used to devote to recipes and menus.

However, as with many other things I am making a mid-year resolution (to nicely balance out those forgotten New Year's resolutions don't cha know?) to begin rediscovering ... my kitchen!

I believe I got this from a Jane and Michael Stern cookbook. Sadly, it is so long ago that I can't be more specific than that. What I can tell you is that it is simply delicious ... as well as being simple!

Step 1:
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon minced onion
3 minced cloves garlic
1-1/2 teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 pounds large shrimp

Combine all and marinate in the refrigerator 30 minutes to 1 hour. Select a skillet large enough to hold shrimp in one layer (not nonstick). Warm the skillet over high heat. When very hot, pour shrimp and marinade into skillet, watching out for splatters. Liquid should bubble and hiss.

Step 2:
1/4 cup water

Quickly rinse out bowl that held shrimp with water and pour it into skillet. Scrape shrimp and sauce up from bottom several times while liquid reduces.

Step 3:
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup butter cut into chunks (1 stick)

When sauce thickens and just begins to stick stubbornly, pour in lemon juice and add butter. Keep scraping until butter melts and both it and lemon juice are incorporated. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

In Which I Am Displeased With Type ...

Although I'm grooving on the writing and references in How to Eat Supper and, well, on pretty much all of the info included ... wow, is the type design terrible!

I try not to be too picky but it is clear that someone was encouraged to "have fun, be playful" and all those other little expressions that have to be done gently, gently in order to be well done.

Bright red pages with little black type ... tough to read.

Stories that abruptly plunge into teeny, tiny type. Ouch.

A kajillion differing typefaces and styles all jumbled together.

Tags labeling valuable reference books being quoted that are clearly copied after "tag clouds" from the internet and ... it doesn't work in a book.

I could go on, but you get the point.

I know that trends come and go, but I have seen this one creeping back into style, especially in food books ... it is not welcome. Food books are essentially technical manuals and to junk them up in such a way that reading them is a chore is to do a grave disservice to the writing. It is almost as if the designer was trying to distract from the writing. Or as if they only know how to lay out fun advertising. However, a book is not an ad.

To see a well done version of this, check out A Tale of 12 Kitchens. A fun, playful layout ... but done with restraint, letting the writing carry the book. But, then, that was done by an artist for his own work. Not by someone hired for the job who doesn't love food writing ... or at least that is the impression one gets from the book.

Update ... Two Things
First, I forgot that I had done a review, albeit a brief one, of Twelve Kitchens.

Second, Jake Tilson made my day by commenting on this post. (Yes, it takes only a celebrity comment to make my day. Sad. But true.)