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Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Tea, a cookie and a delicious book

This is the time of year in Vermont when the going gets tough, so the tough get reading.

Yes, cooking is wonderful with the heat and aromas from the stove warming the kitchen. But it is also warm and wonderful to curl up with a cup of steaming tea, a sugar cookie and a good book, especially if it centers around food. So “Fork on the Road” readers meet my other passion “The Book Jam“, a blog I write with fellow book lover and good friend Lisa Christie. The post that follows was published on The Book Jam on January 17, 2012  and reviews two of my favorite recent foodie novels. I just couldn’t resist “reserving” them to you here.

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Reprinted from The Book Jam, January 17, 2012

Brrrr. Baby, it’s cold outside. No matter. These frigid temperatures make it all the better to cozy up with a book. In bed. Under a pile of blankets. Wearing very thick socks. Mittens, however, are no good, as they would get in the way of turning the pages.

So if these below zero temperatures make you hungry as you struggle to keep your body temperature at 98.6, then we have a couple of titles to fill you up. The best news of all is that they are both calorie free.
White  Truffles in Winter by N. M. Kelby (2011). Luscious. If you could never read the words trufflechampagnelavender honeyand fois gras enough, then add this novel to your list.

In this appetizing story, author Kelby imagines the last days of the famous French chef Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935). It’s clear that she’s thoroughly researched and included many details from his illustrious career (Escoffier was the designer of the Titanic’s menus, one of  Sarah Bernhardt’s lovers, a business partner of the hotelier Cesar Ritz, the creator of the modern restaurant kitchen layout, and the designer of such immortal recipes as “Peach Melba” and “Cherries Jubilee”). But this talented writer pushes further and imagines that which “is left unsaid,” believing it to be the most interesting part of  any life.

The first pages unfold with Escoffier’s ailing wife, Delphine, wishing for him to create a dish of her very own. Though they have been married for decades, he has never named one after her. They are both dying and it is in their family kitchen that a lifetime of love is explored, remembered, savored, and interpreted for the first time.

This is more than just a book for food lovers. It’s a sensuous, poetic story that brings details from this era of history to life so that readers can truly taste it.

The Hundred Foot Journey (2010) by Richard C. Morais. How did I miss this toothsome treasure when it was first published? Some reviewers have described it as Bollywood meets “Ratatouille.” That’s fitting as this fictional story chronicles the development of a talented chef from his boyhood in India through a brief adolescence in England to a full-fledged culinary career in France. But there is more to it than that.

The main character, Hassan, rises above cultural prejudices, crippling accidents, and jealous competitors to shine in his art despite a cut-throat working environment. Culinary enthusiasts will savor the descriptions of oysters (who knew they could be so tricky?!), French kitchens and country markets. Francophiles will love reading about the Alps and villages of the Jura. But the story really shines once Hassan reaches Paris, the pinnacle of all things epicurean. As a former senior editor at Forbes magazine, author Morais keeps the story moving while seamlessly explaining the fiscal realities, risks, and politics involved in running a multi-million dollar restaurant. This book is an education in flavor, talent, and another tantalizing take on the history of fine dining. Read it and eat!

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Happy February, Everyone.

It’s deep winter here in Vermont. The snowbanks along the sides of our driveway have formed tall, white walls that grow higher with each storm and now almost reach the low-lying apple tree branches that flank the fence. Earlier this afternoon the already thick sheet of ice on the river cracked loudly, giving both the dog and me quite a start while we were out walking, and sent chilly echoes richocheting through our valley while it settled into an even harder freeze.

These days smoke puffs non-stop out of our chimney as the wood stove has become our favorite pet: a friendly dragon that we feed wood all day long and huddle around in the evening with steaming bowls of stew. It’s at moments like these that tender spring greens seem so far away!

Seems to me that cracking ice, back-to-back snow storms, and nights spent gathered around hearth can only mean two things: it is time to cook and it is time to curl up and read.

So I thought I’d recommend a stack of “Books for Cooks” that I’ve been chewing on for those also weathering the cold temperatures, snuggling up by wood stoves, or perhaps just dreaming about the warm, wide world of food and cooking. They’re a varied bunch of titles, written over a period of sixty years and spanning many continents and cuisines.

One book analyzes the craft of food writing, another is written by the first woman to attend cooking school in the Sichuan province, and one of my favorites, “Clementine in the Kitchen,” tells the story a French cook who returns to New England with her American employers at the outset of World War II. Though very different, all of them are food-focused and enlightening, perfect for a mid-winter’s book-lover’s snack of other cultures and dishes – and occasionally even fresh greens.

Before you start reading though, join me in putting a pot of beans on the stove and starting a loaf of bread rising so that you’ve got a perfect meal waiting for you when you’ve finished one of these appetizing books. And keep dreaming of those spring greens. The thaw is just around the (snowy) corner.

Clementine in the Kitchen by Samuel Chamberlin. I just loved this book. It’s definitely a throwback to a different era but it offers an insight into pre-war France and a different way of cooking, eating and living. Though the main character Clementine is fictional (a composite of several cooks the real Chamberlin family had while living overseas in the 1930’s and early 40’s), she is nonetheless endearing and provides a window and a pair of eyes into another world. This book was the result of a series of columns Samuel Chamberlin wrote for Gourmet Magazine in the 1940’s that described his family’s transition back to living on the North Shore of Boston after nearly a decade of residing in the French countryside – all from the perspective of “Clementine,” their beloved cook. Don’t forget to try the recipe for “Poule au Riz,” a succulent one pot chicken dish simply flavored with thyme, garlic, celery, and onions.

Will Write for Food: The Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Restaurant Reviews, Articles, Memoir, Fiction and More by Dianne Jacob. If you are interested in turning your best recipes into a literary career or in further developing your present food writing job, this is a helpful resource. I most enjoyed the chapter on recipe writing which gives direct advice and quotes from renowned editor Judith Jones (who has worked with Julia – yes, the Julia – Madhur Jaffrey, Marcella Hazan to name just a few) and also the ones on memoir and fiction writing. If for no other reason, this is a good book to have on hand for the bibliography. Jacob sites many books (especially mysteries) previously unknown to me on or about food that I am now curious to read.

Eating Korean: From Barbecue to Kimchi, recipes from my Home by Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee. I came away from this book feeling as though I had been one of the many guests at the Lee’s home having eaten on of her mother’s hot pots or steaming seafood dumplings. Lee offers not only well-crafted recipes (she’s written for the LA Times and the Washington Post) but intimate and insightful writing about what it was like to grow up in Korean-American family whose life centered around the kitchen. I especially enjoyed her descriptions of the communal activity of kimchi making and about her earliest memories of living in Korea. This will open your eyes – and taste buds – to another way of cooking and living.

Shark’s Fine and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating In China by Fushia Dunlop. This woman is amazing! She’s a hero among curious cooks, a culinary renegade,  not to mention an extremely talented linguist and writer.  In this dense and satisfying book Dunlop, who is well-known in her native Britain and recognized for her expertise on Hunan cuisine, delves deeply and personally  into hidden  China, its culinary traditions, its language and customs. This is food memoir at its best because Dunlop truly has an insight into the many facets and complexities of her topic. She is fluent in the language , was the first woman to attend the local elite “Institute of Higher Cuisine,” spends time as a guest of locals in small, rural villages, and has a fearless palate. Not only are there recipes included but there are also diagrams illustrating the different types of cutting techniques and utensils used in Sichuan cuisines.

Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes by Jeffrey Hamelman. As part of my continuing quest to attain culinary enlightenment, I’ve been delving into and kneading lots of bread. Along with flour, salt, yeast and water, this book has been an essential ingredient in my tool bag. Author Hamelman is an excellent teacher: his in-depth explanations and the excellent line-drawn illustrations almost make this more of a text book than a mere a collection of recipes. If you yearn for more of an understanding of the hows and they whys of bread, facts and history, this is the book for you. I’ve heard more than one bread professional say that this may be the best bread book there is. You will put down this book thinking “So much flour, so little time.”

In Late Winter We Ate Pears by Deirdre Heekin and Caleb Barber. If you’re looking for languorous and luxurious prose and the feeling of being transported to Italy – winding streets, thick stone walls, salty pancetta and all – this is the book for you. Right now. No matter what the season there are recipes, stories, and exotic ingredients to delight all of the senses. This part memoir, part cookbook tells the story of the year a newly-married Heekin and Barber spent in the Italian countryside learning about culture, cuisine and community. Readers will finish “In Late Winter” yearning to visit the intimate Osteria Pane e Salute in Woodstock, Vermont where the authors are dedicated to creating sensuous food and a sense of community for their diners in late winter, spring summer and fall, year after year.

Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta Maker, and an Apprentice to to Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany. If you haven’t gotten around to reading this book yet,  chances are it’ll be the one that launches you on the path to making your own tortellini.  Avid home cook Bill Burford wanted to know how is culinary skills would translate to working in a professional kitchen so he put himself to the test. “Heat” chronicles his year spent in three very different kitchens. His journey first takes him to Mario Batali’s famous restaurant Babbo in New York city where he describes his time spent as a “kitchen slave.” Then he’s off to Italy and the best parts of the book lie ahead. Burford learns how to make homemade pasta with Betta – he’s only allowed to start kneading the dough after first watching her work for ten days (no wonder my pasta isn’t perfect yet!). And then he’s off to Tuscany region to master the art of meat-cutting with a Dante-quoting butcher. Reading this is a real treat, an education in Italian food, and an immersion in the atmosphere of Italia.

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Hello Fellow Forks. Happy June and Happy-Almost-Strawberry-Picking-Season!

 It’s the start of the new month so it’s time  for a book review. My online culinary book club, The Kitchen Reader, recently explored Ruth Reichl’s  Tender at the Bone: Growing Up At the Table. It was fun to revisit this personal favorite, the biography of food guru Ruth Reichl, and to connect her memoir with one of my own edible experiences.

Still life with chick peas

 

What do you remember when you eat? Hold onto your answer  for a moment….

Let’s start with the book. My favorite part of Ruth Reichl’s  Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table takes place early on. A thirteen-year-old Ruth doesn’t know she’s going to boarding school, instead she thinks she’s just going to Montreal to spend a weekend with her mother. By Sunday afternoon she ‘s enrolled at St. Mary’s and left there for the semester, immersed in a new language, and surrounded by total strangers. What a crazy, emotion-filled memory!  As a mother myself, it is hard to imagine just dropping one of my daughter’s off like Reichl’s mother did.  

Tender memories, a passion for food

 

So why would this be my favorite part of the book? What intrigues me about this particular story – even more than her eventual success at the school and in the food world –  is how it perfectly represents Reichl’s desire to explore, experience and understand the world through the unknown flavors that surround her. She writes about the delectable French pastries she samples during lonely weekends in Montreal and about the fancy poultry, decadent foie gras, poofy souffles and velvety beef consommes served to her at a fellow student’s home. During her challenging time in Canada she uses food not only as a comfort but also as a window to better see through to her new world. For her, when the going gets tough, the tough get tasting. She lives and writes with the philosophy of “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are.” She remembers life through the bites she took. Food frames her memories. This feels familiar to me.

One of my own favorite food memories involves hummus.  I learned how to make it the summer after college when I started dating the owner of a natural foods store on Block Island (he’s now my husband). I bought it every day when I went into  flirt with him during lunch break. It tasted sunny  and fresh, like new love and summer skies. It was my oldest daughter’s first favorite food. She loved it spread on a piece of homemade bread. So I think of these things whenever I take a bite –  meeting my husband and our first summer together, my little baby daughter gobbling it up in her highchair, the same one who’s now driving. What do other people remember they taste hummus? What do you remember when you eat?

Food memories

 

Homemade Hummus

This tastes better than store-bought hummus and is easy to make as long as you have a Cuisinart or food processor (which allows you to achieve a much smoother, silkier consistency.)  Tastes best served with a piece of homemade bread, pita, or corn chips.

1 19 ounce can chick peas, drained, about 2 cups (Goya “premium” are best

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil

1 medium garlic cloved, peeled

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about 1/2 medium lemon)

1/8-1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth and creamy. That’s it. Really! Oh, but you should put it in a pretty bowl before serving.

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The Cake

A reader recently wrote into “Fork on the Road” asking:

“Have you read The Elegance of the Hedgehog? [In it] Renee’s friend, Manuela, makes her a cake called “Gloutof.” Can you tell me what a Gloutof is? I wanted to bake one for some reading friends. Cheers to you and your fabulous blog!” – Carole

Thanks so much for your question, Carole. It’s surprising how many people are interested in making “Gloutof.” My site receives numerous hits everyday from folks looking for the answer to this same question.

Yes, I did read The Elegance of the Hedgehog and truly enjoyed it. Though I know that the bestselling novel, written by Murielle Barbary and originally published in French, isn’t to everyone’s taste, I appreciate the insight it offers into the Parisian mindset (somewhat fatalistic, don’t you think?). And the characters, both young and old, are memorable. So are Manuela’s cakes.

The Book

As for a “Gloutof,” I did some research and have concluded that in  going from French to English, something was “lost in translation.” I believe the cake that Renee raved about is actually called a “Kugelhopf” and  its origins can be traced to Alsace where so many yummy baked goods have been created (it even has it’s own special turban-shaped pan). I’d love to visit this region at Christmas time as I’ve heard that the holiday markets and confections are spectacular.

There is a recipe for traditional, yeasted “Kugelhopf” in Dorie Greenspan’s book Baking; From My Home to Yours (this book is a treasure – I have a copy of it in each of my kitchens). From what I’ve read, it’s more like a brioche than a cake, light, golden, soft and bready. But, there’s a price to pay for something so special: the recipe in Greenspan’s book takes a minimum of seven hours to complete. But never fear! I found a recipe for a quick and easy Kugelhopf that uses 3 tablespoons of baking powder instead of yeast and is done in under an hour.

This “Quick Kugelhopf” (recipe below) is fresh tasting, Springy and delicious, though a little more like a coffee cake than a brioche. But with this kind of a shortcut, now you can finish your book and also have time to make that gorgeous cake for book group! Thanks again for your question, Carole and thank you Manuela for inspiring so much interest in a little known cake.

The Cleanup

Quick Kugelhopf

This recipe was originally published in Quick Breads: 63 Recipes for Bakers in a Hurry by Beatrice Ojakangas. The book is even a little smaller than a loaf of quick bread itself and fits easily on any baker’s bookshelf.

Makes one 10-inch tube cake.

Ingredients:

1 cup (2 sticks) butter

1 cup granulated sugar

5 eggs

3 ½ cups all-purpose flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup milk

1 cup golden raisins

1 teaspoon grated lemon rind

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Powdered Sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10-inch fancy Bundt/tube pan.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs and beat until light. In another bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add this mixture and the milk to the creamed mixture to make a smooth batter. Add the raisins, lemon rind, and vanilla. Turn it into the prepared pan. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, then invert onto a rack. Dust with powdered sugar.

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This month's book pick

 

Today, something new for Fork on the Road: a book review! At the beginning of April I became part of  a food bloggers’ book review, The Kitchen Reader. Each month this group reads and writes about a book of interest to the food community. The most recent selection is On the Line: The Stations, the Heat, the Cooks, the Costs, the Chaos, and the Triumphs. So here goes, let’s see what’s “on the line” at Le Bernadin, a famous three star  restaurant in New York City known for its fish dishes  (and don’t worry, there’s a simple, dinner-with-friends-worthy recipe  for swordfish – or halibut – tucked in at the end of the review).

Taking a look at Le Bernardin’s menu, I realized that dining there would be torture. I couldn’t bear the thought of actually having to decide what to order at this famed seafood restaurant. Maybe the Pan Roasted Red Snapper with Crispy Papadam and Preserved Tomato Chutney; Thai Basil infused Kaffir Lime Broth? No, wait, make that the Baked Langoustine and Striped Bass; Confit Tomato Agnolotti; Bouillabaisse Consomme and Curry Emulsion. But then there’s also the Florida Grouper. Maybe I could just order one of everything? The flavor combinations created by the chefs at Le Bernadin are breathtaking and inspirational.

Why spend time with this particular book, when there are plenty of other fish in the cookbook sea? While I wouldn’t use it for its complex and time-consuming recipes, I appreciated the layout and organization. It’s a combination restaurant memoir and step-by-step guide to the many pieces that make up this cooking machine.  On the Line first tells the reader a bit about the history of this famous institution whose doors opened in the 1980’s, started by a  brother-sister team from a seaside community in Brittany, France. It then dives into the inner workings of this complex business, the financials, the staffing, and even a minute-by-minute look at what it’s like to work “on the line” grilling a piece of fish and plating it. There is gorgeous food photography and lovely writing by Christine Mulhke, too.

If you’re thinking of opening a restaurant, read this book. Even if you’re not aiming for three stars in Michelin Guide, it’s a reminder of the realities of the business; managing a million details and dollars, the picky customers, the outrageous requests, constant quality control – as Chef Eric Rippert reminds the reader:  “you’re only as good as your last meal” – and keeping your concept – not just your food – fresh.

Foil-baked Swordfish (or Halibut) with Fennel, Olives and Orange

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Almost ready to swim to the oven

 

Chef Eric Ripert  of Le Bernadin believes that an excellent seafood dish needs acidity, spice and texture. This dish fits those criteria. Though the following recipe isn’t from Le Bernadin’s menu, it is reminsent of the flavors I read about – and salivated over – in On the Line. My friend Anna shared it with me several years ago and I’ve made it many times since. Swordfish is very pricy and hovers on an off the endangered list. So if you want to try this flavor combination but are reluctant to  cast out all the cash in your wallet, try substituting halibut instead. This is adapted from a “Gourmet” cookbook – though I’m not sure which one. It works just as perfectly if you multiply it by four (to serve eight) and it’s scrumptious served with rice and fresh spinach. One more thing: this dish can be prepared ahead through Step 3, refrigerated and baked later, making it perfect for entertaining or delivering to friends.

Serves 2

1 fennel bulb (about 1/4 pound), trimmed and cut into thin strips, reserving 2 tablespoons of the fennel sprigs, chopped, if desired

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

4 oil cured Kalamata olives, pitted and sliced thin

1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest

2 tablespoons dry white wine 

1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

two 6 ounce swordfish (or halibut steaks) – about 3/4 inch thick, seasoned with salt and pepper

Foil for cooking

1)Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

2)In a heavy skillet, cook the fennel strips in the butter over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 8 minutes until they are crisp-tender. Add the olives, the zest, the wine, the lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste and cook the mixture, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes. or until the liquid is reduced slightly.

3) Fold 2 pieces of 20 x 12 inch foil in half, unfold each piece and arrange a swordfish steak in the center of each piece. Top the swordfish with the fennel mixture and sprinkle with the reserved fennel fronds. Fold the foil over the fish and enclose them making little sealed foil packets.

4) Place the packets on a baking sheet and bake for 10-14 minutes in oven. Transfer the packets to plates and slit them open at the table. Or, for a more formal presentation, open the packets carefully and transfer the fish and fennel mixture to plates, pouring the juices over the top.

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