Saturday, March 28, 2009

top 5 books on my kitchen bookshelf

Even though I am a book junkie, I try not to amass a huge cookbook collection, preferring to select ones that I can return to over and over again. Here is a list of my top 5.


I have often mused that I should simply rename this blog "shrine to the Gourmet Cookbook"...and with good reason. Ruth Reichl, the editor of Gourmet Magazine, set out to make this the only cookbook one would ever need, and she succeeds. Equal to its usefulness is this book's ability to entertain; Reichl is my favorite food writer, bar none. Food becomes so interesting when put in a historical and cultural context, something she does so well she even makes a recipe for chicken tetrazzini a riveting read. This book, a gift from my friend Piper, is single-handedly responsible for turning me into a cook.


I received this book as a christmas gift from my son, and I am delighted with it. The food photography is so exquisite, it is worth purchasing just for the visuals. It's a pasta primer, including everything you need to know in an elegant, slender volume. The recipes are organized by season, something I appreciate, as a farmer's market regular. Every recipe I've tried has become an instant favorite, and I even consider myself a baked ziti expert because of this cookbook.


I actually have an older edition of this book, which is now out of print, but I wholeheartedly (whole stomachedly?) recommend the newest one as well. Mine was a gift from Jessie, my bookdealer friend who knew of my new-found fascination with cooking. The putanesca recipe has become a standby for me, and I recently made the creamy pasta sauce with fresh herbs over angel hair pasta, the first non-tomato pasta dish my son approves of. When my mom comes to town, I plan on preparing the raspberry chicken. Hello Silver Palate!


Ok...Jane Brody is a New York Times food columnist, and she has actually written a book whose subtitle is...I must repeat and italicize this for the high carbohydrate way...yes...the high carbohydrate way. My mother bought me this book back in the 80s, and I still have my original copy. This is actually a well-researched concept, and Jane writes about our diet in an anthropological light. Humans evolved on small bits of protein, when we were lucky enough to make a big kill, but it was the high quality carbs that really sustained us. This is another only-cookbook-you-need kind of book, and has many good tips on making recipes low-fat and low-sugar, if that is your thing.


Again, I have the older, pink edition of this. I was fortunate enough to spend 2 years in Seattle, and Pike Place Market is truly such a special place. I was usually too broke during my Seattle years to make much from this, but I do have some favorite recipes: the King Salmon, which we'd grill in the backyard of our apt. building overlooking Elliot Bay, and the purple potato salad. My son was born in Seattle, so it's all very special to me.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

It's about the journey, not the end, sez my son

It's the eve before my birthday, and my son and I decided to celebrate by cooking dinner together at home. We live within a block of a grocery store, yet laziness got the best of both of us and we forged ahead on two recipes even though we were lacking essential ingredients. Now that's what I call slack!

As I was mildly fretting about the outcome, Marco said "it's about the journey, mom, not the end"...naturally he said it tongue in cheek, but it was good for a laugh and on we went about our culinary hijinks.

The entree was so delicious, and it got a thumbs up from both of us! Marco generally find my pasta favorites too bland. I contend that they are simply flavored in a more subtle way than he is accustomed to. While leafing through Silver Palate Cookbook I came across a recipe for creamy pasta sauce with fresh herbs...I had to try it! The herbs I used were basil and mint, and I substituted heavy cream for nonfat milk (!) because I didn't have any heavy cream on hand. It was delicious, but the next time I'd get my shoes on and make the trip for the heavy cream, because the sauce never thickened properly (even though I increased the butter to a whole stick!).

Without further ado, the correct way to make creamy pasta sauce with fresh herbs:

1.5 C heavy cream
4 T sweet butter
1/2t salt
1/8t nutmeg
pinch of cayenne
1/4 C grated parmesan cheese
1 C finely chopped fresh herbs (suggested: basil, mint, watercress, parsley, chives)

1. Combine cream, butter, salt, nutmeg, and cayenne in a heavy saucepan and simmer for 15 minutes, or until sauce is slightly reduced and thickened.

2. Whisk in parmesan and herbs and simmer for another 5 mins. Taste and correct seasoning as needed.

Serve immediately - ideal with angel hair pasta!

For dessert, we made dark chocolate brownies from a box, but we only had one egg! Now, I know enough to remember that baking has more chemistry involved than other forms of cooking, and that being off a little bit can have dramatic results, usually for the worse. Fret not, dear reader, because 55 minutes later we had the BEST brownie pudding - sure, we had to eat it with a spoon, but it was so rich and yummy...happy birthday to me!

The journey AND the end were perfect.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

sometimes pizza is really the answer...

Yes, I am a foodie, but a foodie with both high and low-brow taste. And some nights, there is only one answer. Picking up the phone and ordering pizza.

The latest find: Dino's in Burbank ( Their pepperoni looks like a double pepperoni pizza! Delicious.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Scalloped Onions, leeks and shallots...or: One big knife. Two closed eyes. Enter bandaid.

The leeks were lovely at the Santa Monica Farmer's market, but I wanted to try something other than potato leek soup. I came across this scalloped onion recipe in The Gourmet Cookbook , and it had me at bread crumbs and cheddar cheese. It wasn't until I was actually shopping up three whole pounds of freaking onions that I looked at the yield on the recipe: serves eight. Eight! I wondered what exactly I was getting myself into, what with the onions, the 1/2 lb of shallots, etc, but forged ahead, for lack of a better idea.

Now, eventually I knew I'd join the ranks of injured cooks, but I am ashamed to say exactly how I did it. For the sake of entertainment, I swallow my shame and give you the short version:

- Chopping 3 lbs. of onions makes one's eyes water. A lot.
- Decided to just let my eyes tear up, thinking it might be best to rid my eyes of the irritating onion fumes.
- Thought "I can chop these with my eyes closed"...

...right...there's where it all came crashing down. My injury involved just enough blood to ensure that I don't chop onions again with my eyes closed, but was certainly mild enough to make medical attention unwarranted.

Back to the meal. This is one of those dishes where the flavors and textures blend so harmoniously the Beach Boys of cuisine. The leeks and shallots take the sharpness out of the onion, the shallots lend a sweetness to the dish, and the butter, heavy cream, cheese and bread crumbs...but wait! I don't have a calorie or fat count on this, but it really isn't as rich as one might think. I mean, three lbs of onions (plus the leeks and shallots) is a lot of veggie to soak up just a 1/4 cup of cream. The cheese melted into the bread crumbs...a dish fit for a (hungry) King.

2 lbs. leeks halved lengthwise and chopped
1/2 stick of unsalted butter
3 lbs. of onions, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/4 inch thick slices
1/2 lb shallots
salt and pepper
1/4 c heavy cream
1 c coarse fresh bread crumbs (once again, I used store bought)
1 C grated extra sharp cheddar (about 4 oz)
1/4 t paprika

Preheat oven to 375.

Melt butter in a heavy pot over moderate heat. Add onions, leeks, shallots, and salt and pepper. cover and cook for ten minutes, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to moderately low and cook, covered, about 10-20 minutes, until veggies are soft.

Remove lid and cook another 3-5 minutes, letting excess liquid evaporate.

Stir cream into onion mixture and put in a shallow baking dish. Toss together bread crumbs and cheese and sprinkle on top. Dust top with paprika. Bake until cheese is melted and bubbly, about 20-30 minutes.

Monday, March 2, 2009

bok choy with soy sauce and least I *think* it was bok choy!

My latest trip to the Santa Monica Farmer's Market (saturday morning at the promenade, the one I prefer) yielded some lovely bok choy, but I have to admit that when I got it home it didn't look exactly like bok choy...the white parts of the stalks were a lot smaller and thinner. I proceeded with recipe anyway, for lack of a better idea, and I'm so pleased that I did. It's best served with rice or bread to soak up any extra sauce (mmmmm......). Thinking it would also be delicious with scallops. I served it with a side of roasted tomatoes with lots of garlic and parmesan cheese prepared by st. This was a taste feast! Full disclosure: I used Trader Joe's clam sauce instead of oyster sauce, having no idea what oyster sauce is like, but it came out delicious! The clam sauce and butter did not make this dish heavy, as I thought it might, but instead helped the sauce to coat the bok choy nicely. At one point I said "I have a really good feeling about this meal" and I was right!

From The Gourmet Cookbook , I give you bok choy with soy sauce and butter.

2 T water
1 T soy sauce
1 T oyseter sauce
2 T veggie oil
2 heads bok choy, trimmed and cut into slices
1/2 t salt
2 T unsalted butter

Stir together water and soy and oyster sauces in a small bowl. Set aside.

Heat oil in a 10-12 inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Add bok choy and start stir frying for 2 minutes. Add soy mixture and butter and stir fry until bok choy is crisp and tender, 1-2 minutes.