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Archive for the ‘Cookbooks’ Category

Spring has finally, finally arrived for good. Besides an abundance of blossoms, sunnier days, and friendlier people, long stalks of crimson rhubarb are back in the grocery produce section.

Say the words “rhubarb” and most people think of warm rhubarb and strawberry pie topped with vanilla ice cream. Yum! But Louisa Shafia in her lovely cookbook “Lucid Food: Cooking for an eco-conscious life” offers another tasty use for one of spring’s first vegetables: rhubarb spritzers.

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It’s getting really complicated around here. Our next storm is on the way and conversations at work are beginning to take on new levels of strategic intricacy:

I’m planning on driving in after rush hour and get a snow pass for my car to leave it in the garage over night and then I’ll take the early train home because the snow storm is supposed to hit just as the evening rush hour begins. If I can’t make it in tomorrow on the train then I’ll have to work from home and hope the power doesn’t go out again.

When you work for a news organization that doesn’t recognize “snow days,” surrendering to the weather is not an option. Ever. This is why I keep wading through blizzards wearing my ski goggles on my way to the train. (Strangely, whenever I wear my goggles walking down the sidewalk neighbors out shoveling always say hello to me and tell me what good idea I had to wear my goggles. These are people I don’t know. I’m not making this up. Try it sometime.)

So. Since we have no control over the complicated weather, this calls for simple food. Really, really simple food. Like blue cheese melted on sourdough toast, slabs of thick bacon, drizzled with honey, and sprinkled with cracked pepper. If you want to get fancy, you can brush each side of the sourdough bread with olive oil and broil it for 2 minutes a side in the oven. Or just toast it in your toaster. Whatever you want. Do I need to say more? No, I do not.

I found this recipe in “Harvest to Heat” by Darryl Estrine and Kelly Kochendorfer. It is a wonderful cookbook that tells you where your food came from, how it was grown, and who loved it before it arrived on your plate. Their Blue Cheese Tartine (a fancy French word for open-faced sandwich) is the first recipe and says hello just the way it should. (more…)

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‘Tis the season for lounging about on the grass. There’s nothing like getting down low on a blanket under a leafy canopy, or a starry sky, or an illuminated cityscape and just … being. It’s even better if food is within lazy reach.

Last weekend I did some serious lollygagging. I can justify this because there was some serious high-minded expression of artistic talent going on not too far away. (more…)

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Potato and Chickpea Stew

My friend Nate has what I call a kitchen ministry. He gathers people around his table and showers them with affection and food on almost any night of the week. More than once I have gotten a “dp?” text message (meaning “dinner party”) that has pulled me out of the grooves my routine and into his kitchen just a few blocks away. It’s warm in there. The walls are painted reddish orange. And we always say grace before we eat. People depart transformed.

If there are more people than soup spoons, 15 was the count one night, Nate hands out measuring spoons as substitutes. I gave him a shoebox full of extra silverware for Christmas but I am pretty sure this box sits under his bed. He admits he likes the spontaneous creativity that comes with solving the problem of too many friends and too few spoons.

This stew reminds me of a dp at Nate’s house. A lot is crammed in and it exudes warmth. It’s from Deborah Madison’s “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.” I’ve left out a few fancy things below such as a bread crumb picada thickener and a romesco sauce to add zest. You don’t really need them, and if you think you do, you should just go out and buy the cookbook because it is full of great recipes. (more…)

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“American are the most open-minded eaters in the world, constantly looking for new flavors and experiences. The way we eat has changed constantly throughout history, but now, as we welcome a new generation of cooks, we are thinking about food in a particularly interesting way.”

– Ruth Reichl, “Gourmet Today

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“During the many years that I have taught cooking, I have noticed that of my students, all are enthusiastic, many are quite sophisticated, but more than a few regard cooking as a quirky process that’s hard to grasp. Unnerved, they fail to notice that indeed there are unpredictable things about food, most of the time cooking is guided by common sense and even logic.”

– Deborah Madison, “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

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“Cooking creates a sense of well-being for yourself and the people you love and brings beauty and meaning to everyday life. And all it requires is common sense – the common sense to eat seasonally, to know where your food comes from, to support and buy from local farmers and producers who are good stewards of our natural resources….”

– Alice Waters, “In the Green Kitchen

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In her recent memoir “The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food” (2008), Judith Jones, the editor of Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” urges singles to get in the kitchen and cook. In her new book The Pleasures of Cooking for One, Jones shows readers just how easy, adventurous, and rewarding it is to do so.

Cooking for one on a regular basis tends to be seen as problematic. Most recipes serve at least four people, a turnoff for solo cooks who don’t enjoy eating the same meal three days in a row. Reducing recipes isn’t always that easy: For example, how does one use half an egg? And sometimes cooking and eating at a table set for one can feel just plain lonely. It all adds up to keeping the stove top cold and frozen meals humming in the microwave for weeks on end.

Jones, who has edited and cooked alongside such household names as Edna Lewis, Marion Cunningham, Lidia Bastianich, and James Beard, insists it doesn’t have to be this way.

To read the full review, click here.

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Sarah Beth Glicksteen/The Christian Science Monitor

Sarah Beth Glicksteen/The Christian Science Monitor

When it comes to vegetables, even urban “locavores” can get their hands dirty in the effort to eat only local foods. All you need is a bit of sun and a patch of soil, and by summer’s end you can decorate salads with your own “locally grown” produce.

Meat, on the other hand, is another challenge completely. That’s best left to farmers and ranchers.

Local meat – livestock consumed within 150 miles of the place where it was humanely raised – is still a relatively small industry. However, more farmers’ markets, mail-order companies, and stores that specialize in organic or local foods are featuring local meats. (To find a store near you, visit www.localharvest.org.) Proponents are quick to point to the benefits: Local meats aren’t exposed to the same stresses commonly found in feedlots, and there is a noticeable difference in taste, too.

“Grass-fed meat tends to be leaner overall, but I would contend far more flavorful,” says Kurt Friese, a chef from Iowa City, Iowa, whose restaurant, Devotay, serves mainly local produce, including meat from area farms. “For beef to taste like beef, cows need to eat what they are built to eat.”

Kurt Friese’s Devotay restaurant in Iowa City is primarily a tapas bar. Since 1996, one item that has never left the seasonally changing menu is albondigas, or meatballs. Devotay uses local bison meat from Bill Leefer’s ranch near Solon, Iowa, for this popular dish.

Bison Albondigas (Buffalo meatballs)

This recipe serves a crowd, but it can be halved or quartered (quartered recipe serves 4).

1 onion, minced

2 tablespoons garlic, chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons salt

1/4 cup herbs, chopped (consider equal parts parsley, thyme, oregano, basil, and rosemary)

1/2 cup cooking sherry

4 pounds ground bison

6 eggs

3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

Enough bread crumbs for desired consistency

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil until tender with salt, herbs, and garlic. Deglaze by adding sherry, then reduce liquid 50 percent by simmering, and cool.

Mix the bison with eggs and Worcestershire sauce, then add cooked, cooled onion mixture and bread crumbs until proper consistency is reached. To test the consistency, portion with a sorbet-size scoop, and form the meat mixture into balls a little smaller than golf balls. If they hold up well, you have the right consistency.

Flatten a small amount into a patty and fry it quickly on the stove top, then adjust the mixture’s seasoning to taste.

Form the rest into balls and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Bake about 15 minutes or until firm. Serve plain or with your favorite tomato-sauce recipe.

– Adapted from ‘A Cook’s Journey: Slow Food in the Heartland,’ by Chef Kurt Michael Friese.

To read the full article on CSMonitor.com, click here.

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Chef in Season: Deborah Madison

Worn canvas bags have become this summer’s must-have accessory for locavore shoppers. They boldly declare their superiority to the plastic bag, now widely considered passé and a detriment to the environment.

These fashionable totes are probably carried to the local farmers’ market at least once a week. There, shoppers mingle with farmers in the late-summer sunshine, and everyone basks in the warmth of community connections as they select from a bevy of locally grown bounty.

Good shopping made simple, right?

Not necessarily. Supporting your farmers’ market is one way to participate in the national conversation about food, but it still requires some shopping savvy to know what is truly in season. Always-available rows of perfect produce at the grocery store have dulled shoppers into believing that if it’s pretty and says “organic,” it’s going to burst with flavor. The same goes for that lovely fruit on display at the farmers’ market.

“We need to stop thinking that we can have everything all the time and that it is going to be fabulous,” says Deborah Madison, the author of nine cookbooks, including, “Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating From America’s Farmers’ Markets.” “[As a result], we don’t pay attention to things that last throughout the summer, like rhubarb.”

When it comes to fruit (who doesn’t know the disappointment of biting into a bad peach?), Ms. Madison advises picking it up and inhaling deeply. If the aroma entices as much as the color, you’ve got a winner. Forget squeezing, which will reveal nothing and cause bruises.

“It takes a really good farmer to know when to pick fruit,” says Madison who has visited more than 100 markets across the country. “Fruit is so fragile and so time-sensitive.” If you “take a bite and it fills you with pleasure – [that] is so hard to achieve.”

If farmers offer a sample of their crop, try it. Better yet, get to know your regional growing cycles and stand firm against visually alluring produce outside its peak.

This is especially true for fruit, which doesn’t ship well. “I never eat strawberries unless I travel to California,” says Madison.

In New Mexico, where she lives, August belongs to chiles. “The smell of roasting chiles in the farmers’ market is one of the delights of this time of year,” she says.

Try Madison’s simple hunger fix made with chiles and warm goat cheese wrapped in a tortilla. And let those memories of hard, tasteless fruit melt away.

Soft Taco with Roasted Green Chiles and Goat Cheese

Warm roasted chiles slipped into a fresh tortilla with a piece of local goat cheese is one of the best ways to satisfy that after-shopping hunger.

2 long green chiles (such as New Mexican natives, Joe Parkers, Esponola Hots, or poblanos)
1 large wheat tortilla
Soft fresh goat cheese, to taste
Chopped cilantro, to taste

Roast the chiles until charred, then drop into a covered bowl to steam for 10 to 15 minutes. Slip off the skins and pull out the seeds, then pull into strips with your fingers. Place the tortilla in a dry skillet over medium heat. As soon as the bottom is warm, flip it over. Put the chiles on top, crumble the cheese over it, and add the cilantro. (You can add salsa, too, if you like.) When the cheese starts to soften, slide the tortilla onto the counter, then fold it in half. Press down, wrap in a napkin, and enjoy. Serves 1.

From Deborah Madison, ‘Local Flavors’

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This article first appeared in The Christian Science Monitor.  To hear my interview with Deborah Madison, click here.

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