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Cookbook: Jam Session

 

Today, let’s talk about a new preserving cookbook. Called Jam Session (can you believe that no one had yet used this name for a canning book?), it is written by chef, author, and restaurateur Joyce Goldstein. Joyce has been an active preserver for more than fifty years and this book sings with her experience and expertise.

The first thing you notice about this book upon opening it is its beauty. The photography is well-lit, balanced, and does a fantastic job of letting the texture and quality of the produce be the star. The recipes are organized in a way that is usable and readable. And the recipes are appealing, varied, and run a range that includes both classics and inventions that are unique to Joyce.

The book is organized by season and within each quarter of the year, the recipes are then ordered by kind of fruit. I like the organizational structure, but do question the fact specific months have been included as subheads under the seasons. One of the things I’ve learned in my years as a preserving writer is that by the time we see strawberries in Philadelphia, the Florida season has been over for months. Why add something that makes the book feel exclusive rather than inclusive?

That said, there are a huge number of recipes I’ve marked in this book that I am interested in trying (or, at least, borrowing concepts from). In addition the preserves pictured in this post, I want to make the Apricot Ginger Jam (how is it possible that I’ve not combined those two before?), the Raspberry Rose Jam, and the Whole Spiced Figs in Tea Syrup.

Now, for a couple hesitations about this book. Joyce only uses homemade apple pectin when recipes need help setting up. Her reason is that commercial pectins can impart a bitter flavor. I struggle with this reasoning because requiring homemade pectin will surely create an insurmountable stumbling block for a number of home cooks and the recipes included in this book all appear to include ample sugar to combat any potential bitterness.

My other hesitation about this book is in the processing instructions. Current guidelines require that jars are processed at a full, rolling boil. This book instructs the user to process at an active simmer. While this might not seem like much of a difference, I worry that a difference of 10 to 15 degrees could be enough to put some jars at risk of spoilage.

I don’t mean to be overly critical. Truly, there is much to love about this book. It’s gorgeous, the recipes are appealing, and it makes me itch to hop up and head for the kitchen. Perhaps it will find a place on your shelf!

Disclosure: I received my copy of Jam Session as a free review unit from the publisher. No payment was provided for this post and all opinions expressed her are entirely my own.

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Cookbooks: Pretty Simple Cooking

I have been feeling a little lost lately. I’m in the strange place where a book I’ve written is nearly finished but there’s still nearly a year before it will be out there in the world. I am turning 39 in a few days and am finding that my life looks much different than I thought it would at this age. And, after seven years of working by myself in my living room, I’m starting to wish for a place to go and be each day.

During times when I feel out of sorts like this, one of the first things that often slips away is my grasp on useful, utilitarian, daily cooking. I still manage to make preserves and turn them into breads and bar cookies, but the alchemy of making dinner feels impossible to master.

When this happens, I find myself casting around for culinary lifelines (because one cannot live on take-out alone, even in a neighborhood as rich in fast casual joints as mine is). I shop the farmers markets. I allow myself to spend $10 on plump, purple asparagus. And I read cookbooks for hours, until I spot a recipe that hooks onto my soul and compels me to return to the kitchen.

One cookbook that has performed that trick for me lately is Pretty Simple Cooking by Sonja and Alex Overhiser. They’re the pair behind the blog A Couple Cooks and their breezy, vegetable-forward style proven to be the exact right thing to help me stitch myself back together again (Alana Chernila’s Eating From the Ground Up has also been working double-time on this front).

I think part of the reason Pretty Simple Cooking is working for me is that the food is a whole lot of stuff that I enjoy eating, put together in ways that I’d not thought of. It’s easy to love a book when you can open it, say yes to a recipe, and not have to do a lot to track down the components (I’m looking straight at you, Roasted Cauliflower and Black Bean Tacos on page 190).

Another fun thing is that Joy sat down and interviewed Sonja for our podcast recently, and the episode containing their conversation went live today. Give it a listen, if you’re so inclined!

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Cookbooks: Southern From Scratch

I have spent more than a few moments in my life wishing that I came from a place or background with a well-defined food culture. My culinary identity is a decided hodgepodge of mid-century Jewish cooking, hippie whole grain, and 1980s west coast home cooking. While the food that issues forth from these influences is reliably good and occasionally exceptional, it isn’t really grounded in place or culture.

Because I feel culinarily untethered, I often find myself gravitating to cookbooks that offer insight and exposure to more rooted ways of bellying up to the stove or kitchen table. One such book that appeals to me both on this level, and on the preserving front, is Ashley English‘s latest, called Southern From Scratch.

This is Ashley’s most personal book and it does a gorgeous job synthesizing her own food experiences with the Southern kitchen know-how taught to her by her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. Truly, from the moment you open up the cover, you feel like Ashley is there, guiding you along through the recipes.

This book is organized by pantry category (Pickles & Relishes, Sauces & Vinegars, Fats & Meats, etc.). Within in chapter, you’ll find a collection of master recipes (depending on the chapter topic, you’ll find as few as four and as many as twelve). Each master recipe then has a couple-three sub-recipes, designed to help you make the most of it.

There’s quite a lot in this book that speaks directly to my preserve-loving heart. There’s the Sweet Onion Relish (page 35 – I’m forever on the hunt for the best onion preserve), Muscadine Jelly (page 71 – we get these for a brief window each summer), Chile Sauce (page 107 – this recipe has a particularly lovely headnote), and the Southern Shakshuka with Hoecakes (page 123 – this just sounds delicious).

I think you all are really going to like this book!

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Cookbooks: Bring It!

I have long believed that when it comes to entertaining, most people can roughly be broken down into two groups. There are potluck people and dinner party people. My friend Cindy is most decidedly a dinner party person. She likes to control the menu and create an experience for her friends. I am more of a potluck person. I love the uncertainty of inviting people to bring with them whatever they’re moved to make.

I have definite opinions of what makes a good potluck dish (ideally something that can be served at room temperature and can be eaten from a plate with a fork). I’m forever curious about the recipes that other people prefer for potlucks and so make a point of checking out new potluck cookbooks whenever one is published.

The latest book on the topic to come to market is Ali Rosen’s Bring It! Ali is the force behind Potluck Video, a video series that you can find online and on NYC Life on Thursday nights.

This book is broken up into seven chapters. It opens with an introductory section that offers tips on How to Bring It. From there, it moves into Hors d’Oeuvres and Dips, Salads, Casseroles/Pastas/Tarts, Meats and Fish, Veggies and Grains, and Desserts.

There’s plenty of appealing food in this book (though I find the photography style a little unsettling. The lighting feels excessively artificial). In addition to the dishes pictured throughout this post, I’ve marked the Grits Casserole (page 106), the Cherry Tomato Tart (page 117), and the Farro with Charred Vegetables (page 188) as things I hope to make.

If you’re someone who attends regular potlucks and needs new inspiration, this book will certainly be of use!

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Cookbooks: Eating From the Ground Up

I the kind of cook who tucks vegetables into nearly everything I cook. My turkey chili always includes wilted Swiss chard. I prefer my eggs perched on a bed of sauteed spinach or zucchini. And if I’m making a sandwich, I pile it high with sliced cucumber, lettuce, and ribbons of carrot. This habit of mine doesn’t always thrill my husband (he grew up with a mother who was less of a produce pusher than mine), but after 10+ years together, he’s gotten used to it.

All that said, I confess to having a somewhat limited repertoire of vegetable dishes. I rotate through steaming, roasting, and sauting most things. This gets the job done, but can lead to a certain weariness. However, recently my vegetable cookery has received a much-needed shot in the arm.

This is all thanks to Alana Chernila’s gorgeous new book, Eating From the Ground Up. Many of you might be familiar with Alana’s previous books, The Homemade Pantry and The Homemade Kitchen, as well as her blog (it shares a name with this new book).

What I love about this book is that it tackles vegetables from a number of different directions, all with delicious results. The book opens with a section entitled Barely Recipes. These are ideal for busy weeknights, when you need to get dinner on the table and value speed and flavor.

After that, you’ll find A Pot of Soup (filling and deeply savory), Too Hot to Cook (perfect for deep summer, when it doesn’t take much to make a flavorful meal), Warmth and Comfort (many of these make a main dish out of veg), and the final chapter, Celebrations and Other Excuses to Eat With Your Hands (with a title like that, it needs no additional description).

This book should be on your shelf if you keep a backyard garden, shop farmers markets, subscribe to a CSA share, or simply love vegetables. It’s one that I know I’ll turn to again and again.

Thanks to Clarkson Potter, I have a copy of this lovely book to giveaway this week. Please use the widget below to enter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book and the giveaway copy at no cost to me. No additional compensation was provided and all opinions are entirely my own.

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Loaded Baked Potato and Cauliflower Soup from Healthyish and OXO

Back in January, before I entered the “all work, all the time” stage of my book writing process, I said that I would participate in a blogging challenge with OXO. This one featured the new cookbook Healthyish by Lindsay Maitland Hunt and an array of OXO tools. I opted to make the Loaded Potato and Cauliflower Soup and soon after, received a copy of the book and some of the tools necessary to make a batch.

I unpacked the book and the tools, took some pretty pictures, and then got swept away in my own book frenzy. However, with the post deadline approaching, I did the hard mental work of switching gears (I’ve been so singularly focused that I’m fairly certain that my brain made a loud, screeching sound as I opened the book) and planned to make some soup.

I read the through the recipe, made a grocery list, and walked to pick up the ingredients I needed. Back home, I chopped, stirred, and pureed. As I worked, I realized that making someone else’s recipe was exactly what I needed. I didn’t have to take notes, measure the size of my dice, or pay close attention to the exact duration of the cooking time (when I develop recipes, I often run a stop watch to ensure that I exactly capture the timing).

It was also a pleasure to have some new OXO tools to use. I’m been in such a rut with my gear that the new equipment brought a really pleasurable lift to the act of cooking.

Here’s what they sent:

  • The Pro 8 inch Chef’s Knife – Wickedly sharp right out of the package and the perfect weight for flying through vegetables.
  • The Swivel Peeler – Grippy, sharp, and put my stained Y-model to shame.
  • The Wooden Corner Spoon – Made of solid wood and carved to the perfect angle for getting into the corner of the pot.
  • The Kitchen and Herb Scissors – Perfect for slicing the bacon into slivers for garnish, and the blades come apart for easy cleaning.
  • The Coarse Grater – This grater laughed at my hard cheddar and reduced it to shreds with ease. It’s also far simpler to clean than my ancient box grater.
  • The 12 inch Tongs – They are now the longest reaching tongs in my kitchen. They’re good for flipping bacon, retrieving toast, and grabbing boxes of crackers from on top of the fridge.

We ate this twice for dinner and each time I was reminded of the importance of taking time to eat good food and relax a little, even during the most action packed times. I look forward to cooking more of the recipes from Healthyish (though probably not until the book is turned in).

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