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Archive for the ‘books and cookbooks’ Category

Quote: No Recipe Cooking

Once you have mastered a technique, you hardly need look at a recipe again.

–Julia Child, page 3, Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom

Potato and Leek Soup

It was so easy.

I cut up three leeks. I peeled and chopped three potatos. I simmered them in water for 20 minutes. I blended it with an immersion blender. I added some salt and pepper. And then we ate dinner.

Yum. My toddler son ate his all up and asked for seconds. We also had homemade bread (from the bread maker), which was yeasty and delicious.

I’ve always been afraid of Julia Child. I am not interested in mastering “French Cooking,” or at least I didn’t think I was. “Potage Parmentier” sounds very scary.

But Leek and Potato Soup I could make. Um. So maybe I’m going to trust Julia Child? I’ll try some more. Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom is right on my level and not overwhelming at all.

Onion Tart (Pizza) with Mustard and Fennel

I am afraid of yeast.

For some reason, I have always avoided breads and doughs that are made with yeast. But this week I’ve been reading Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom and Julia Child makes everything sound so easy. So I’ve determined to try yeast breads this week.

Last night, I made a simple onion pizza. My husband had made it a few weeks ago, so I knew it was going to taste good.

As I started with the first step, I was all nervous about making sure the water was the right temperature, making sure the bubbles were forming, etc. As I stood over the cup of yeasty water, my husband said, “Look! It’s farting!” Ha ha.

At any rate, I was nervous as I mixed the flour into the yeasty water. I was nervous as I kneaded it. And then all the sudden I realized that was  it! I prepped the onions (FYI, 3 pounds of onions was a bit too much) and an hour and a half later, I formed the now-risen dough into a few mini-pizzas, spread Dijon mustard on them, topped it with the onions and Parmesan, and there you had it! Onion Tarts!

We served it with an Arugula salad (I’ve been craving Arugula) with a mustard vinaigrette and bacon and apple slices.

“So Provencial!” my husband said.

“Pretty easy!” I said.

“Mmmmm!” toddler son said.

Get the recipe from epicurious >>>

Creating Happy Healthy Eaters Without Tricks

Too Many Cooks is my quest to create happy, healthy eaters without tricks (if you puree vegetables and add them to brownies, all you’re really doing is getting your kids to like brownies, which they probably already do). So this is not about sneaking healthy food into sweets. In fact, this is not about sneaking anything.

–Emily Franklin, Too Many Cooks, page 4

I really appreciate that, for that is my teaching method for my son too! I think he learns by experience and if something healthful, like vegetables, are tasty, he will learn to love them — that’s what I’m still learning myself!

Congee and Deep-Fried Sugar Taro

(I can’t believe the month is two-thirds over and I haven’t posted any recipes yet! Oops!)

I hosted a book club for a novel that took place in turn-of-the-century China, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. To make the book club fun, I made two foods that were mentioned in the book.

The first was Congee, which the main character, Lily served to her children and in-laws during a local outbreak of typhoid. While the other people ate diseased chicken and subsequently died, Lily kept her family alive with this simple rice dish.

I don’t think Lily’s congee was anything more than water and rice, but I added vegetables to mine, based on a recipe I found at the website Appetite for China. It was very good, although I put in too many sliced scallions. It was also easy; most of the work was slicing the vegetables, and then it simmered for a long time. I intend to make it again!

Get the recipe from Appetite for China >>>

For desert, I made Deep-Fried Sugared Taro. In the book, Lily met her friend Snow-Flower at a village every year, and they always ended their trip with a serving of this delicious desert.

Taro root is not a vegetable I’ve ever tried before. It tasted a little bit like potato, and so the deep-frying method made it a bit like French Fries. I then placed it in melted sugar, and so it was a sweet treat. Unfortunately when I made it, the sugar had been warmed for a little too long and had started to solidify again; it subsequently did not coat the fries very well. While I probably won’t ever try it again, I am nevertheless glad I gave it a try. Note that leftovers did not keep well as they got all soggy.

I got the recipe from Lisa See’s site. It was a fun way of making the book real for the book club meeting.

Get the recipe from Lisa See >>>

Sharpening Your Knives

I posted my book review of An Edge in the Kitchen at my book reviews site. I liked it, but when I went to try to sharpen my own knives, I found myself quite frustrated. Just the concepts of burr and angle were rather hard for me to comprehend.

My husband has sharpened his own knives with a stone before. He insists the problem was mine and not the book.He’s probably right, but reading a book really did not help me at all in the knife sharpening department.

Do you sharpen your knives on stone? How did you learn how to do so?

Cookbook Review: Pretend Soup by Mollie Katzen and Ann Henderson

Most mornings, after my son (age 23 months) finishes his breakfast, he jumps out of his chair and runs to the kitchen stool, yelling, “Cook! Cook!” He climbs the stool and pounds the counter, a big smile on his face, for he knows I’ll probably give in and cook something with him. (I normally prepare a batch of breakfast granola twice a week, so I think that’s when this obsession started.)

I’ve been looking for something to nurture this interest, and then I recalled a book that months ago Eva mentioned her niece enjoyed: Pretend Soup by Mollie Katzen and Ann Henderson.

I didn’t realize how wonderful Pretend Soup was until I consulted another preschool cookbook and compared the two.

The second book had cooking activities, and each treat was either in a shape (such as fruit pudding decorated like a cat, bread shaped to look like a bear) or the treat itself was a sugary desert (chocolate dipped fruit, fruit tarts arranged in a pretty pattern). These recipes seemed far too artistic for my creative design talents, let alone those of my one-year-old (or even an older preschooler).

While Pretend Soup does include some “decorated” food (“Bagel Faces,” decorated with vegetables, for example), the emphasis in the entire book is different. Katzen and Henderson assert that for a preschooler, the fun part of cooking is the actual act of cooking. Watching my son, I believe it.

The introduction provides numerous safety ideas (such as mark the handle part of the bread knife with masking tape to remind the child where to hold it), as well as ideas to ease the stress of cooking with a child (such as keep a baking sheet under the mixing bowl, so clean ups will be as painless as putting the baking sheet in the sink). Cooking with children will certainly be messy, but that doesn’t mean it’s a no go.

Further, each recipe is written twice, once for the adult in words, and then illustrated in a two-page color spread so the child can “read” the recipe himself. My son is still too young for that aspect, but I’m sure three- and four-year-olds love being able to “read” along.

And then the “critics” (i.e., preschoolers) also provide hilarious reviews of the food they’ve created.

“I wish I could have two bunches of them!” says Nathan, liking his plate after the “Zucchini Moons”

“This is so good, I can’t even say a word.” says Matthew about the “French Toast”

“It tastes so good, I’m gonna eat it ALL UP!” says Jessica on the “Oatmeal Surprise”

“Good! Very good! So really very good!” says Sammy about the “Pizza!”

What I like best about Pretend Soup is not the recipes; the end results seem mediocre and ordinary. My son and I have so far cooked the “Zucchini Moons” (sautéed zucchini with salt, pepper, and cheese), the “Hide and Seek Muffins” (with a hidden strawberry inside each one), and the “Pizza” (which he loved putting cheese on, and then some more). My son wouldn’t eat much of any of these, probably because he’s getting teeth this week and not eating much anyway. I didn’t think they were the most original or most delicious meals either.

No, what I like most about Pretend Soup are the tips and ideas for making the process fun. Cooking doesn’t have to be intimidating, and Pretend Soup makes even the most basic dishes into a game. I think the kids praised the end results (even the pretty ordinary sautéed vegetable dishes) because they had made it themselves. It was their creation: of course they liked it.

I have a friend that doesn’t let her son cook with her because “he wants to help me crack the eggs.” Apparently, she doesn’t want him to get that “hands on.” It’s messy, and eggs are, well, raw eggs.

Oh, my. How can I explain to you the look of absolute delight on my son’s face when he helped me crack open those eggs? That’s worth any mess. He had a blast: one minute the egg was hard, the next minute it was all runny. Enter: delighted screeches, loud laughter, and a largest smile I’ve ever seen. Plus, a mess on his hands and the counter, but hey, who cares?

Of the three recipes we made together from this book, I think my son had the most fun with the “Hide and Seek Muffins.” We had to roll the strawberry in sugar and dip it inside the muffin dough. My son would eat a strawberry, and then remember to get another and put it in the muffin dough. He also had fun putting the papers in the muffin tin, cracking the eggs, mixing the mix, and putting the dough in the papers. Yeah, pretty much all of it. He didn’t have patience to wait the 15 minutes for the muffins to be done: he said, “Eat! Eat!” as soon as he saw the strawberries. So we ate strawberries while we waited for the muffins. Altogether, it was a fun morning.

I look forward to many more mornings cooking with my son. It may not be recipes from Pretend Soup, but it will certainly be with my son! I may make more recipes from this book; if I do so, I may revisit this subject on this site.

Do you cook with your kids?

What are your favorite “kids cooking” recipes?

Cross-posted on Rebecca Reads

Another Reason to Have a Sharp Knife

Onions hold sulfur compounds in the liquids within the cell walls. When the cell is crushed or damaged, vacuoles containing an enzyme break open, allowing the enzyme to mix with the sulfur compounds and create a volatile compound that attacks the eyes and nose. It is this compound … that causes our eyes to water. … A keen edge [knife] will slice the cell walls rather than crushing them, limiting the amount of enzymes that get mixed in.”

From Chad Ward, An Edge in the Kitchen (color plate number 21)

I’m really enjoying this book and learning a lot about how my knives really can be an asset to my cooking and my kitchen. I’m learning how to use them correctly!

I grew up in a house where the knives were 20 years old and had never been sharpened for fear of someone getting cut. So needless to say, I’m learning a lot.

Recent Food Books

spice of life smallI recently finished two food books for the Spice of Life Challenge, the reading challenge I’m hosting. I posted them on my book reviews site, but I neglected to cross-post them here as I had intended to do. I’ve included relevant excerpts from those reviews below.

The first book was Molly Wizenberg’s memoir, A Homemade Life. I loved this book! As I mentioned in my previous post on this site, Molly’s life has been defined by food, and I envy that. As she explains each chapter of her life for us, she provides recipes so we can experience the integral food too, if we choose. It’s so much fun to see a life through the eyes of delicious foods. Molly shows that food is a communal part of our lives, helping to form lasting memories and lasting relationships. Food really can tell the stories of our lives, as Molly’s memoir/cookbook attests.

But A Homemade Life is not just about the food. Molly’s memoir is excellently written, easily readable, and absolutely delightful. I know “delightful” is a cliché, but this book seriously fits the word without being cliché. It is real, and yet amusing and engaging all at the same time. In fact, the only thing missing from this book are the gorgeous photographs Molly normally includes along with her blog posts on Orangette.

Many of the recipes Molly shares are a bit too “fancy” for my tastes. I’m primarily a family cook, and I don’t cook with specialty foods simply for cost reasons. “French style” cooking is not really my thing. But I do like simple food, and some of the recipes appear simple; at least a dozen and a half have entered my personal recipe file for future experimentation.

Molly’s story comes full circle, with the one center point in every part of her life being food.  In the end, I love the concept that foods, and not only the events, make up a life. In the end, I can say I liked reading Molly’s story so much I intend to reread it someday. And maybe cook some of her recipes. (Read the full review on Rebecca Reads.)

The second book I read was a cook book novel, Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel. The traditional Mexican recipes are provided in a novel format as it tells the story of Tita, Tita’s overbearing mother, and Tita’s lover, Pedro, who marries her sister. And yet, it’s not a cook book, and I don’t think it’s not an ordinary novel.

To learn the basic plot and some thoughts about magical realism, read the full review on Rebecca Reads. I will say here that I loved reading this book. It was part novel. It was part romance. It was part magic. It was part cook book (although I’d never attempt to create the meals, given the long-winded, unclear instructions that start with plucking feathers and so forth). Like Water for Chocolate emphasized the need to have a passion, a love, and a purpose in life, and Esquivel defined those aspects of life by the recipes and the sensual exaggerations common in magical realism. Certainly, Like Water for Chocolate had it faults in that it is short and all people in it were caricatures. And yet, I didn’t care. It was a fun book.

I’m giving away my lightly used paperback copy on that site if you want to give a read.

I also recently read a children’s cook book. My son is only 22-months old, but he loves to cook so I look forward to attempting some of the recipes in it. And then I’m also reading a book about knife care, something I desperately need to learn about.

The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters

In some respects, I miss the point of Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food.

Alice Waters is the original proponent of seasonal, local, and organic foods. But because I grocery shop for a family on a budget, I can never justify going “organic.” I also live in Chicago suburbia, which means that there are about two feet of snow on the ground for four months of the year, so I can’t ever imagine relying wholly on seasonal and local foods either. I’m sure organic and local foods taste better; I just can’t justify the cost difference.

All that said, though, I love The Art of Simple Food. I find myself referring to her pointers and recipes often. The aspect I love is this: Food should taste like itself. Don’t complicate things!

I’m a person that thinks a few fresh strawberries make a perfect dessert, so I really like her emphasis on simplicity. Her recipes are very basic essentials, so experienced cooks may find them dull or “too simple.” But as a beginning cook who loves simple dishes (both for cooking and for eating), I find her recipes refreshing.

For example, in the section “Out of the Frying Pan,” she provides a recipe for Pan-Fried Pork Chops. The ingredients? Pork chops, butter, salt and pepper. Her instructions show us how to recreate it, including what it should look like and why you should let the chops rest for four minutes before serving (it tenderizes them). She also provides four “variations” for added flavor. These are likewise very simple, things like “parsley butter” or “garnish with chopped parsley, garlic, and/or lemon zest” (a gremolata) (page 122).

The Art of Simple Food is subtitled “Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution,” and Waters does a wonderful job of introducing “simple food” to the home cook. She begins with some essential thoughts about the kitchen and pantry. These ideas are pretty basic (such as basic foods with which to stock a pantry) and simple menus, both for a small family and for entertaining. I liked her thoughts on picnics, and how a picnic should still emphasis good food. Every time I read it, I want to go on a picnic!

In this first part of the book, Waters discusses the basic techniques for various types of food and food preparation. For each type, she also provides three recipes. The categories are these: sauces, salads, bread, broth and soup, beans, pasta and polenta, rice, roasting, sautéing, slow cooking, simmering, grilling, omelets and soufflés, tarts, fruit desserts, custard and ice cream, cookies and cakes.

The second part of the book has additional recipes in each category. The recipes aren’t as detailed, but the basics have already been outlined, so it is sufficient for our needs.

I have only read the first part in full, but I’ve also browsed through the recipes on the second half. I’m not sure I’ll go through and completely cook my way through the book (as I’d intend) but I certainly love the “variations” and technique overview that I find in this book. I’m all for simple food.

Do you eat organic or local food? What do you like best about it?

What simple foods do like best?

This review is for The Spice of Life Challenge. It’s cross-posted on Rebecca Reads.

Blog Post BINGO “review” post. Details here.