Tag Archives: cooking

Greek Food Festival Season

realgreekHello everyone, if I’ve seemed grumpy for the past several months, I apologize.  I’m pretty sure I suffer from undiagnosed Seasonal Affective Disorder.  But now I’m ready to talk, ready to smile and ready to come out of my hibernation.  I love spring and summer, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this happens to be the time of year when my favorite events start popping up: Greek Food Festivals.  I think we should just call this time of year Greek Food Festival season.  

The season kicks off with the Saint Nicholas Festival in Oakland, right across the street from the Main Library. Usually the season ends with Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in the North Hills, with several others in between.  Last year we were extra lucky, with Saint Nicholas doing a mini festival in the fall.

I’m not Greek, so I don’t know what it is about Greek food and culture, but dining out, enjoying a glass of wine, listening to the Greek band and enjoying Greek dance equals an amazing spring/summer evening.  My kids often end up dancing when audience members are invited to join the dancers, and it’s an all around good time. This year I intend to recreate some of the Greek food festival flavors at home.  

I don’t have much experience making Greek food.  I’ve made this spanikopita recipe several times, I’ve made some Greek salads, and I’ve made this honey cake, but other than that, not very much. That will change this year with the help of my garden, some local businesses and some Greek cookbooks from the library.

My garden this year is being planned with the end goal of cooking Greek food in mind.  I’m planting cucumbers, eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, basil, parsley, lettuce and more.  We also have useful perennials like mint, sage, thyme and oregano that will be useful in celebrating the glory of Greek food.  I also plan on utilizing ingredients from some of Pittsburgh’s Mediterranean supermarkets like Pita Land in Brookline, the Greek Gourmet in Squirrel Hill and Groceria Merante in Oakland.  

Some of the books I’ve looked at so far are:    

ikariaIkaria: Lessons on Food, Life and Longevity from the Greek Island Where People Forget to Die by Diane Kochilas — The subtitle of this one says it all: recipes that are healthy and delicious, to be enjoyed slowly with friends and family.  

The Greek Vegetarian: More than 100 Recipes Inspired by the Traditional Dishes and Flavors of Greece by Diane Kochilas Another great selection by the author of Ikaria. To me Greek cooking evokes fresh and delicious vegetables.  The first thing I plan on making from this book is the Spinach and bechamel lasagne.    

The Real Greek at Home: Dishes from the Heart of the Greek Kitchen by Theodore Kyriakou — Great cookbook with excellent photography and information on the ingredients.  

 

 

By far my favorite title has been this one, so please give it a try:

The Greek Cook: Simple Seasonal Food by Rena Salaman — There are several things I love about this book.  One is that it is divided into seasons.  I try to cook using what is fresh and in season; it’s cheaper and more delicious.  Another thing I love about this book is the excellent photography of all of the recipes.  One precaution about this one though, some of the recipes don’t have volume measurements, which got me into trouble when I was making a recipe and it called for 3 oz of Greek yogurt, and I didn’t have a scale (although some of the ingredients in the recipe did include volume measurements too).  Other than that, this is a great cookbook.  

Unrelated note:  While you’re requesting all of the above cookbooks, you should also check out My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which is one of my wife’s favorite movies.  Its sequel is in theaters now, maybe good viewing before heading off to one of the Greek food festivals listed above!  

Enjoy Greek Food Festival season!

-Scott M.

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Get Into Cooking

bookcover_cookingI love food, especially desserts, but I hate to cook. Yes, I’ve been known to yell at kitchen utensils. Luckily for me, my husband has adopted cooking and baking as a hobby, and made it his mission to bake the perfect pound cake.

It may not be good for my waistline, but the rest of me is thrilled. He even made whipped cream from scratch recently. We had some pound cake and fresh strawberries, so naturally we needed some cream to complete the picture.

If you or someone you know shares his love of cooking, you may find these books instructive. My husband certainly has.

Cooking For Geeks: Real Science, Great Cooks, and Good Food by Jeff Potter

bookcover_kingarthur

The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion: The All-purpose Baking Cookbook

And, of course, where would we be without our old friend Betty Crocker?

The library has many more to help you get inspired. Maybe you’ll be the one to perfect your favorite recipe.

Tell us about your go-to cookbooks in the comments.

-Megan

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Suzy, my friend! Curry chicken?

My favorite take-out place closed on December 31. I am devastated. I never thought I would live in a world without Zaw’s Asian Food (2110 Murray Avenue, Squirrel Hill.) I was a college freshman, working at the Green Grocer on Hobart Street when Sonny Lee, the manager, convinced me to try something other than white rice (I’m that kid that didn’t let their food touch.). The first thing he introduced me to was their curry chicken. I’ve eaten it at least once a month since 1995. And I’m not the only person, according to this recent Yelp review:

I am so upset about this [closing] I can’t even express it. The curry chicken here was my favorite thing to eat to the point where I would consider it as a last meal. It was a red spicy curry sauce with garlic and ginger and chicken broth. I will miss it so much.

Last meal indeed. It is named Zaw’s Asian Food for a reason. Owners Marvin and Esther Lee are originally from Burma (Myanmar), so the food was never typical take-out; it was a little bit of everything. Through 20 years, 11 apartments, 6 boyfriends, 8 jobs, and 2 degrees, Zaw’s has been there. I live on the South Side. I willingly crossed a bridge for take-out. That’s some serious business. Not only did Sonny know what I wanted to order, he recognized my voice on the phone, he asked about my husband, he noticed weight loss and new haircuts! When I picked up my very last order, Sonny shook my hand and told me it had been a pleasure knowing me all of these years. His voice broke; I left in tears.

I sincerely hope the Lees have a wonderful retirement. And that they pass their recipes on to someone. I have a lead: Ron Lee, the owner of the Spice Island Tea House, is Mr. Lee’s nephew. Anyone have other ideas? I really don’t want to use these cookbooks. Let’s have lunch!

CompleteCurryBookComplete Curry Cookbook, Byron Ayanoglu and Jennifer MacKenzie

Authentic curries made easy. Curry is enjoyed throughout the world. This wonderful selection of curry recipes draws its inspiration from India, Thailand, China, England, Indonesia and the Caribbean. These quick, easy and tantalizing recipes feature ingredients found in supermarkets, yet the dishes maintain authentic tastes and flavors.

BurmaFlavors of Burma (Myanmar): Cuisine and Culture From the Land of Golden Pagodas, Susan Chan

Susan Chan depicts the culture and traditions of Burma, providing ample information on the Burmese market, commonly used ingredients, and eating and serving customs, explaining, for example, that Burmese eat with their fingertips. She also familiarizes her readers with the language, festivals, and principal cities of this country. Complete with b/w illustrations and photographs.

BurmaRIversBurma: Rivers of Flavor, Naomi Duguid

The best way to learn about an unfamiliar culture is through its food, and in Burma: Rivers of Flavor, readers will be transfixed by the splendors of an ancient and wonderful country, untouched by the outside world for generations, whose simple recipes delight and satisfy and whose people are among the most gracious on earth.

TheCurryBookThe Curry Book : A Celebration of Memorable Flavors and Irresistible Recipes, Nancie McDermott

Whatever its incarnation — in a lightly seasoned deviled egg, a cold chicken salad, or a spicy Indian- or Thai-style dish — curry is one of the most popular seasonings in the world. Nancie McDermott explores endless variations on the curry theme, from Jakarta to Senegal, Tokyo to Jamaica, and Sri Lanka to South Carolina. The result is an untraditional — and accessible — celebration

BigBookofCurriesThe Big Book of Curries: 365 Mouthwatering Recipes From Around the World, Sunil Vijayakar

The Big Book of Curries details the intricacies of these delicious dishes, from the numerous herbs and spices that flavor them to essential equipment and accompaniments. The recipes are organized by main ingredient–meat, poultry and eggs, fish, and shellfish–with a special section on vegetarian meals. Techniques for cooking the perfect rice are included, and there is even a selection of starters to prepare the palate. With these 365 recipes to try, an amazing culinary experience is only a few minutes away.

sad & hungry for curry,
suzy

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Yes We Can

One cooking project I’ve been scared to tackle is canning and preserving. A  year or two ago, I asked for a set of canning supplies for Christmas, received them, and promptly relegated them into the closet in my house where things go to be ignored, nestled cozily alongside an accordion binder of old tax returns and paperwork from the vet.

I did it!

I decided to get over my fear of messing up and give it a shot, and guess what? It’s not so difficult, after all.  I made some quick garlic pickles and a batch of strawberry jalapeno jam, and now I’m ready for more. Of course, I turned to some trusty library resources to show me the way:

Dare to Cook – Canning Basics (DVD) – Chef Tom doesn’t have the on-screen charisma of your favorite Food Network star, but what he lacks in panache he makes up for in know-how.  Watching this DVD is what finally convinced me that I could do this, and that my fear of giving all my loved ones botulism was unfounded, as long as I followed the clear and simple instructions.

Canning for a New Generation: Bold Fresh Flavors for a Modern Pantry – Almost every review you read of this book says something along the lines of: “If you think caning is just for oldsters, think again!”  It’s true that this book includes lots of contemporary twists on classic recipes and quite a few things you won’t find in other canning books, but it also has good practical advice and recipes for ideas on how to use the jams, sauces, relishes, and condiments you’ll be preserving.

The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving – I loved that this had a large number and variety of recipes, and small batch is just right for a beginner like me. It helped me feel like even if I messed something up, I wasn’t wasting a ton of ingredients.  There are lots of recipes in this book for sauces and jams that you don’t have to process and can, so if you are scared of pectin and want to get those skills down pat first, try this one out.

Strawberry Jam Print. Click through for the artist's portfolio.

Strawberry Jam Print. Click through for the artist’s portfolio.

More Canning & Preserving Resources:

-Ginny

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Recent Adventures in Library Cookbooks, Vol. 2

One of the ways I keep my menus fresh and my cooking skills sharp is to check out cookbooks from the library. Here’s a look at some of the recent happenings in my kitchen:

Dark Chocolate Stout Ice Cream with Chocolate Covered Pretzels

Ice cream…with beer in it. Does it get any better?

Ample Hills Creamery:  Secret and Stories from Brooklyn’s Favorite Ice Cream Shop by Brian Smith and Jackie Cuscuna
What I made:  Dark Chocolate Stout Ice Cream with Chocolate Covered Pretzels, Breakfast Trash ice cream
What I want to make: The Dude (White Russian) Ice Cream, Caught in the Rain (Pina Colada Ice Cream), Nanatella Ice Cream, Cookie Au Lait Ice Cream & the list goes on.
Quick Review: I had never heard of Ample Hills before I picked up this book while browsing the stacks, (My pretentious ice cream of choice to-date had been Jeni’s), but I’m not sure why because these people know what they are doing. The ice cream recipes call for nonfat milk powder, something I’d never seen used in ice cream before, but the authors promised it would make everything creamier and more scoop-able. Guess what? It did!  If you’re an at-home ice cream geek like me, pick this one up.

chiaquionakaleChia, Quinoa, Kale, Oh My! Recipes for 40+ delicious Super-Nutritious Superfoods by Cassie Johnston
What I Made: Greek Quinoa Salad, Rosemary Grapefruit Popsicles.
What I want to make: Chocolate Coconut Almond Butter, Coffee-Rubbed Ribeye, Bok Choy and Apple Slaw with Gogi Berries
Quick Review: There are two kinds of people: those who see the title of this book and are interested, and those who see the title of this book and kinda roll their eyes. I tend to be the former, while my husband tends to be the latter, but both of us were able to find something appealing inside. Besides recipes, this book features one-pager profiles of over 40 superfoods, breaking down the nutritional content, health benefits, and seasonal availability.  The recipes are very simple, so this would be a good choice for someone who is new to cooking.

reinventingtheclassicsReinventing the Classics – Simple and creative ways to rethink recipes America love best, with wine to match. Edited by
Dana Cowin

What I made: Roasted Garlic & Lemon Lamb Chops, Broccolini with Toasted Breadcrumbs, Roquefort Soufflé, Green Curry Chicken Wings, Parmesan-Crusted Rigatoni with Cauliflower
What I want to make:  Chili with Hominy, Quinoa salad with Sugar Snap Peas, Butterscotch Sticky Buns
Quick Review: This is another book I picked up on a whim, and I was happy I did, because it contains exactly what the title promises. This book won’t blow your mind with overcomplicated flavor combinations and hard-to-find ingredients, but it will offer you some simple changes and twists on recipes you probably already know pretty well. I recommend this book for intermediate-level cooks who don’t know what they’re having for dinner tonight. Bonus: it includes the best chicken wing recipe I’ve ever made, and trust me, I’ve tried many.

Afro Vegan by Bryant Terry

This spicy sauce has a secret ingredient: a mashed up banana!

Afro-Vegan: farm-fresh African, Caribbean, and Southern Flavors Re-mixed by Bryant Terry
What I made: Smashed Potatoes with Peas, Corn, and Chile-Garlic Oil; Chipotle-Banana pepper sauce
What I want to make:  Tropical Fruit Salad with Mango Lime Dressing, Fig Preserves with Thyme, Couscous with Butternut Squash, Pecans, and Currants, Grilled Corn on the Cob with Pili Pili Sauce and Spicy Mustard Greens
Quick Review:  If the title alone didn’t grab you, I’m not sure what else I can say except that this book is chock-full of great, well-researched recipes, beautiful photography, and each recipe comes along with a suggested soundtrack and reading material.  Oh, and did I mention the flavors are amazing? Don’t miss this one.

Fiesta at Rick’s – Fabulous Food for Great Times with Friends by Rick Bayless and Deann Baylessfiestaatricks
What I made: Roasted Garlic Guacamole, Roasted Vegetable Enchiladas with Tomatillo Sauce, Mango Guacamole, Coconut Hortchata, Creamy Chicken and Greens with Roasted Poblano and Caramelized Onion
What I want to make:  Tequila-Infused queso fundido, Frontera Grill’s Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars, Mexican White Rice with Sweet Plantains, and, well, let’s be honest, most of the cocktails and guacamole variations.
Quick Review:   To be honest, I wasn’t crazy about the format of this one, but the deliciousness-factor of the recipes is pretty hard to deny. My friend and I cooked up most of the dishes listed above in one night, and then I went back for this book a second time. If you’re into party planning, this will provide some good hosting tips and preplanned menus. If you’re just into good Mexican food, flip past the table setting and mood lighting sections and dive straight into the high-quality recipes.

So – what have you been cooking lately?

-Ginny


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Angels and Angel Food Cake

Today is National Angel Food Cake day. It’s true. In honor of this day, I decided to dedicate my post to books that have angel food cake in them…or are about them…or are about angels because there are actually not A LOT of books about angel food cake.Nancy Willard Cover

The first book is The High Rise Glorious Skittle Skat Roarious Sky Pie Angel Food Cake by Nancy Willard, because it has angels AND angel food cake. All her mom wants is a cake that her grandmother made for her birthday. The little girl thinks that would be easy enough, but soon discovers that the recipe is more difficult to find and the cake is more complicated to make than she originally thought. Throughout the work, she meets three angels who help her giver her mother exactly what she wants.

hidden

Hidden, by Marianne Curley, is a book about a hidden angel. Ebony knows she has been sheltered for most of her life. She is also aware that she is beginning to change. She is actually beginning to glow. Ebony is about to find out about her past, and why she has been sheltered for so long, because heaven wants its angel back and will fight anyone to get her.

Cooking Light

What kind of post would this be if I didn’t put a cookbook in it? Cooking Light is my secret (well not anymore) favorite cookbook. Mainly because it provides really good recipes that are healthier. I think they have some non-Angelic cakes in the book that are extremely delicious. So pick it up if you like the opportunity to have delicious food with less calories.

I hope you enjoy a piece of cake along with a good book!

-Abbey

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Fire and Rice

I don’t know about you, but I love food.  I think it’s one of the best benefits of being human, that we can manipulate things to make fire. Because of our ancestors roasting beasts over open flames we have inherited a rich tradition of transforming ingredients and flavors, and enjoying the result!

Now, I’m not a natural cook.  When I was a kid I wasn’t interested in what my parents were doing in the kitchen, so I’ve been learning as an adult.  I love instructional material on cooking, but am not particularly thrilled with books or TV shows that are jam-packed with recipes.  When I read a book on cooking, I want to learn skills, tricks, techniques, and principles.  Don’t get me wrong, recipes are great, too, but what I look for are tangible skills that I can use.  These are some titles from which I’ve picked up more than just recipes to try:

The 4-hour Chef : the Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life – Timothy Ferris – By the author of The 4-hour Work Week.  This “cookbook” covers topics from learning languages to gutting a deer to making a makeshift survival shelter, oh and cooking too.  Mr. Ferris boils cooking down to the bare essentials:  ingredients, techniques, science, and no-frills cooking.

How to Cook : an Easy and Imaginative Guide for the Beginner – Raymond Sokolov – An excellent primer on the basics of cooking.  The author describes techniques and preparation in detail with plenty of excellent tidbits to give you the skills to thrive in the kitchen.  This book has plenty of recipes, but the focus is on the principles of cooking, and the recipes have very detailed instructions for preparation.

How to Cook Everything : Simple Recipes for Great Food – Mark Bittman – The popular New York Times food journalist explains how to cook everything in this monster tome!  Literally everything, from how to boil water and strain noodles to how to make haute cuisine. Much like the above selection, this book has recipes, but it’s more of a how-to.  This book in ebook format has awesome links to navigate back and forth between recipes and technique descriptions!

The Flavor Bible : the Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America’s Most Imaginative Chefs and Culinary Artistry by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg –   This culinary couple has collected and distributed the culinary wisdom of the nation’s best chefs.  These books are filled with tips, principles, and charts to help you learn what works in the kitchen.  Excellent resources!

Jacques Pépin’s Complete Techniques : More Than 1,000 Preparations and Recipes, All Demonstrated in Thousands of Step-by-Step Photographs – Jacques Pepin – If you’re not familiar with Jacques Pepin, then it’s time to meet him!  He is everything a TV chef should be, and while enjoying his TV shows or books you will learn more principles and techniques than recipes.  He also did a great series with the legendary Julia Child, Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home!

How to Grill – Steven Raichlen – Definitive primer on grilling.  You learn how to work with different kinds of grills, the difference between “direct” and “indirect” grilling, and Steven Raichlen’s 3 rules for great barbecue!

My next venture is delving deep into the art of cooking rice.  Until recently, cooking rice for me meant just getting out the rice cooker, rinsing the rice one time and proceeding to cook it.  That is not the only way; actually there are MANY different ways to cook rice.  I love the way people in Latin America use an aluminum pot to cook rice.

rice

Obtained via Google Image search.

Often times they fry a little bit of rice in oil before adding the rest of the rice and the liquid.  Also, the hard rice that sticks to the side of the pan is highly prized and referred to as “pegao.”  Rice cooked like this is way better than anything I could make using my rice cooker.

I also heard the story of Korean chefs washing rice up to 10 times before cooking it.  Then there are the different types of rice, different types and varying levels of starches in rice, and infinite ways to prepare rice.  This is why I need more than just a collection of recipes, I need how to books to provide me with knowledge that is transferable from dish to dish.    To assist me in this new culinary journey I’ll be checking out and reading:

The Amazing World of Rice : with 150 recipes for pilafs, paellas, puddings and more – Marie Simmons

The Rice Book – Sri Owen

Rice : from Risotto to Sushi – Clare Ferguson

Again, when I check out these books I’ll be looking for the books that have information on technique, principles, and even the science of achieving the desired flavor, consistency, and presentation.  Do you have any cookbooks that have been instrumental in your development as a cook?  I’d love to hear about them!

–Scott M.

 

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Back in the kitchen with Suzi

Since we last met, some of you have told me that my last post made you want to cook again, and some of the books mentioned have made it onto your library accounts.

I won’t lie: as a writer and a librarian, these words make my heart sing.

I’ve been busy and lazy for the past month. Busy and lazy, you ask? Well, when you work a job from 9:30 to 6, sometimes you just want to spend the evening reading. So I’ve worked my way through Devil Bones, Bones to Ashes, and Fatal Voyage, all by my favorite forensic anthropologist turned bestselling author, Kathy Reichs. As a children’s librarian, I know that children read two reading levels below their optimal reading level for recreation, nothing wrong with that. Summer is a children’s librarian’s busiest season, so I doubt I’ll start reading Anna Karenina anytime soon. I’ve re-read both Devil Bones and Fatal Voyage. In fact, I’ve probably read Devil Bones more than twice, since I own it and it often lives in my car. I require a book when I eat out alone, and more than once, Devil Bones been my dinner companion.

 

 

 

 

 

While I like a good mystery, I read the Temperance Brennan books by Kathy Reichs for character, not plot. Our love interest is usually Andrew Ryan, a Canadian detective, but sometimes Pete Brennan, an American lawyer and Tempe’s estranged husband. Temperance is a recovering alcoholic, mostly comfortable with the crazy life she leads, living sometimes in Charlotte, North Carolina and sometimes in Quebec. I enjoy learning about the geographical particulars of these two locations. I keep reading the books to keep up with where Tempe is in her life. Will she and Ryan get together for good? Will she and Pete finalize their divorce? I’ve also grown attached to Tempe’s pets, a cat named Birdie and a bird named Charlie.

Besides lazing around with books, I’ve increased my kitchen repertoire. I now make a decent vinaigrette (the secret is the olive oil/vinegar ratio) on a weekly basis, and I bought a fancy (read: expensive) chef’s knife at Sur la Table. I used it last night for the first time and it cuts like a dream. It cuts so well that I didn’t even mind the humid heat in my third floor walkup as I boiled water for pasta and cut peppers, celery, radishes and onions.

I picked up some cookbooks and books on budgeting on a recent visit to the Carnegie Library — Squirrel Hill, where I picked up Poor Girl Gourmet. The author, Amy McCoy, worked as a freelance broadcast producer until the economy tanked in 2008. After an introduction to cooking and how to save money buying house brands (but good house brands, like Whole Food’s 365 Everyday Value), Amy starts you off with instructions for making 8 cups of vegetable stock for soup, which you can then freeze. Amy clearly has not seen my apartment-size freezer. But I’m determined to change my eating and cooking ways, so I’m sure I’ll try my hand at vegetable stock soon. I started my collection of vegetable scraps last night.

In another effort to work in the kitchen and economize, I have started making coffee in a French Press. I was going to buy an Aeropress, which was featured on CBSThisMorning last Monday morning, but as I was flipping through books (again, at Squirrel Hill), the author of Bitches on a Budget recommended buying a French Press.

 

 

 

 

 

My first cup was, well, strong. But I got the hang of it, after watching many YouTube videos.

 

Suzi’s Summer Pasta Salad

(based on Betty Crocker’s boxed Suddenly Salads, but with fewer chemicals.)

 

1 pepper (yellow, red, orange)

1 stalk of celery

1 small onion

1 radish

1 cup vinaigrette

Salt/pepper to taste

1 ½ cups Greek yogurt (1 single serve container)

1 can tuna (optional)

½ lb. Fusilli pasta

Start the water for the pasta. Follow the directions on the box, which will probably read something like this: in a big pot, boil lots of water to a rolling boil. Then add the pasta, cover, cook until the pot almost boils over, and then uncover, cooking for about 11 more minutes. Drain.

While this is happening: cut the vegetables into small pieces.

The pasta takes the longest, so while you are in the kitchen, do a load of dishes in your sink, or recycle some junk mail.

Once you’ve drained the pasta, pour some cold water on it. You don’t technically want to rinse the pasta, but you do want it to be cold, since you are adding cold ingredients. Put everything in a bowl and mix. Don’t add the vinaigrette all at once; once you add the yogurt, there is a point where you’re adding too much liquid. However, if you are not eating this right away, it’s okay to add a little more vinaigrette, as the vinaigrette will soak into the pasta while being stored in the refrigerator.

I packed this for lunch today and cut up a radish for garnish and some additional crunch.

–Suzi

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In the Kitchen With Books

We begin our library blogging week with a guest post from Suzi (not to be confused with Suzy), who will, hopefully, be joining us at least once a month going forward. 

***

Note: this post is not vegetarian. It is gluten-free, nut-free, and soy-free.

In her book, How to Save A Life, Sara Zarr writes, “Everything tastes better when someone else fixes it for you.” I love good diner food and a waitress refilling my iced tea. For too long I was seduced by advertisers who, wanting to sell me their packaged food, told me that chopping vegetables is too much work.

However, at some point, endless club sandwiches for lunch and frozen entrees for dinner dull the taste buds and rob the pocketbook (did I mention tip the bathroom scale?). I started taking cookbooks out from the library, but I still wasn’t cooking, so the books just sat there, silently, on my kitchen table for three weeks until their respective due dates.

It’s not that I never learned how to cook. But for me, cooking is like riding a bike: I do it so infrequently each time I try a new recipe is like the first wobbly time without training wheels. I make three things well: meatloaf, quiche, and scrambled eggs. My mother and I made meatloaf together when I was a child, I have made quiche a thousand times, a thousand ways, and doesn’t everyone know how to make scrambled eggs?

I came across The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: how a few simple lessons transformed nine culinary novices into fearless home cooks, one day at work. I started reading it and was hooked. Maybe there was hope for me (the subtitle serves as a good summary: a chef works with nine women who for one reason or another have been subsisting on prepared food and the women together learn how to chop onions, braise beef and make tomato sauce from scratch).

I still wasn’t cooking, but my interest was piqued.

In time, I found two more books: Charlotte au Chocolat and Bread and Wine.  I happened to walk past a shelf at work and Charlotte au Chocolat whispered my name. A pink book always catches my eye, and this book happened to be a memoir about a girl whose mother managed a restaurant called “Upstairs at the Pudding” in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The book starts when Charlotte is about five and ends when she is about twenty. It is the story about a girl growing up in a restaurant. It is romantic, well written, and it makes you hungry while you are reading it.

While this book is decidedly not about cooking, and contains no recipes, it is about good food, and the people in this book believe in eating well. I found that by reading about good food, I became inspired to root around my fridge and make something. Before I knew it, I was taking leftover rice and duck and creating a sauce using mustard and marmalade. Do not be deceived: I had not made anything initially with duck—I had leftovers from when my parents took me to The Original Fish Market on their way to Michigan.

Suzi’s Leftover Duck and Rice

Ingredients:

Leftover rice, 1 serving

Frozen broccoli, 1 serving

Leftover duck (or other meat),1serving

1 Tablespoon Mustard

1 Tablespoon Marmalade

Heat the rice and frozen broccoli in the microwave, about 1 or 2 minutes. Pull duck off the bone. While the rice and broccoli are heating up, take 1 T mustard and 1 T marmalade and mix them together, making a sweet and sour sauce. Serve immediately. Pour sauce over rice, meat, and broccoli. May be served with Greek yogurt. Makes 1 serving.

I found myself rereading Charlotte au Chocolat three times, for three reasons: it was well written, it fit in my purse, and I didn’t have another book about food on the horizon. That is when my friend Suzannah suggested the book Bread and Wine.

Bread and Wine is written in the same style as The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, essays with an occasional recipe. Shauna Niequist writes about food, writing, hospitality, and being the mother of small children and the wife of a musician. This was the book that wooed me back into my kitchen. The other night, I fixed chicken. I went to my cookbook shelf, found a recipe for chicken in Cheap Fast Good, and got out my dog-eared copy of The Kitchen Survival Guide to find out how to make rice. Yes, my skills are this basic.

I improvised. Instead of sautéing two onions, I used one, and I used the rest of the mushrooms in the fridge, since they were about to go bad. I forgot to add spices beforehand, so I added them afterwards, sprinkling my rice with dried orange peel, parsley, and basil. I had some salad, some Greek yogurt, and voila! Suzi is back in the kitchen, preparing food.

What are your favorite recipes? Cookbooks? Do you have trouble in the kitchen, or do you have tips for novice cooks? Talk to me in the comment section!

–Suzi

 

 

 

 

 

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Of Food & Science.

foodandcooking

I tend to improvise a lot when I cook. After mastering a few beloved recipes from favorite cookbooks, and learning that just about anything tastes good with a solid base of fried onions and garlic, I’ve found that I rarely need to measure ingredients while cooking. Sometimes though, it’s fun to take a closer look at what I’m preparing and think about what might be happening on a molecular level.

eggs Luckily, the library has many fine books on not only cooking, but the science of cooking. A recent interview on NPR’s Splendid Table turned me onto the new book Egg: A Culinary Exploration of the World’s Most Versatile Ingredient. If you’ve ever wondered not only how to make the perfect scrambled or poached egg, but also why cooking it a certain way yields varying results, then this is the book for you. Consider for a moment all of the wonderful joys the egg brings us—pasta, custards, cakes, quiches, cookies. If you are interested in learning more about all the wonderful foods that are dependent on the humble egg, then this is the book for you.

keys  Of course, if you are interested in the science behind cooking, you have to check out one of Harold McGee’s books. Both Keys to Good Cooking and On Food and Cooking: the Science and Lore of the Kitchen should give you plenty “molecular gastronomy” to ponder while working in the kitchen.

 

 

cheese And for those cheese enthusiasts out there (of which I’m one) there is a new book just for you, titled simply The Science of Cheese. If you are not content to simply eat cheese, this book will teach you everything from the history of cheese to how new cheeses are created.

 

 

gulpIf you would like to move beyond the science happening in your kitchen to the science happening in your belly, then by all means check out Mary Roach’s latest book Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal about that most taboo of topics: digestion. Like her other great reads, Ms. Roach is able to take a somewhat unsavory subject and spin it into a series of fascinating, informative, and often very funny reads.

 

So how about you? What books on cooking (or science) are you savoring right now?

-Tara

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