Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
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
You won’t find ghosts, ghoulies, or anything supernatural in Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Cooking and Super Natural Every Day, but you will find delicious recipes made with all natural, whole ingredients. San Francisco-based Heidi Swanson is well known to foodies in the blogosphere for her site 101 Cookbooks, where she posts recipes for food simple in nature but complex in flavor. It doesn’t seem to matter what vegetables, grains, or dairy she uses, she knows how to put things together to bring out the best in every ingredient. I’ve been a fan of her blog for ages, so I was very happy to find that KPL has copies of both of her cookbooks. My favorite recipes are for Straw and Hay Fettuccini Tangle, a pasta dish that uses asparagus and spinach to create a really tasty nontraditional pesto, and Double Broccoli Quinoa, a recipe that might convert even the strictest of broccoli haters. If you’re looking to incorporate more whole foods into your cooking, Super Natural Cooking and Super Natural Every Dayis a great place to start.
Super Natural Every Day
Now that you've all had time to put tips from the book I last blogged about into practice, here's the follow-up you’ve been waiting for. Your time to cook : a first cookbook for newlyweds, couples & lovers by Robert Blakeslee will tell you everything you need to know to keep yourself and your new friend(s) fed. It could just as easily be titled So you’ve never used a stove: what to do when you’ve just moved out of your parents’ home and all you eat now is take-out, for this well-illustrated tome will walk you through every step, almost as though you are in the author’s kitchen. On my to-try list: stuffed mushrooms, and basil & cheese twirlies. Yum!
To justify the name, before every chapter is a page with marriage trivia, some romantic and some shudder-inducing, but really this book is just a solid introduction to culinary magic with a few exciting frills.
Your time to cook : a first cookbook for newlyweds, couples & lovers
I have always struggled with feeling good about the dinners I prepare for my family. And now that I have teenagers whose extracurricular activities decrease the likliehood that we'll all be home during the conventional dinner hour--whatever that is--it has become all too easy to leave them to their own devices to find something they WANT to eat, WHEN they can, and just take care of it themselves. But then I feel guilty about not sitting together at the family table because that connection is still important to me. It's an ongoing battle.
So you can imagine how interested I am in this new book (currently on order) by Jenny Rosenstrach based on her blog of the same name. According to the author:
Family dinner is a mindset, and once you get comfortable with the idea of not doing it, the harder it becomes to make it happen. But the more you force yourself to make meals for your children, the more it will become second-nature, and the more addicted you’ll get to all the pleasures and dividends a family meal can yield.
At this point, I'll take all the help I can get!
Dinner: A Love Story