Archive for the ‘Cookbook Reviews’ Category

Getting some fresh air time with my two Corgis--Tripper and Twinkie.

Quick announcement: I’ve started a new project. While I’m undergoing cancer treatment, I’m blogging about my experiences at The Peachfuzz Chronicles. Today’s post has sort of a foodie theme so I’m sharing a link on this site. Click on over for a visit to see how I’m surviving chemo.

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I know I’m ten days early, but I wanted to share this foodie valentine with you. If you are not familiar with Anthony Bourdain, you should pick up a copy of his latest book, Medium Raw. Billed as, “a bloody valentine to the world of food and the people who cook,” Bourdain does not disappoint his readers, who know him as a bold writer that does not know the meaning of soft-serve.

After penning his best-selling Kitchen Confidential, which, among other things, instructed us as to why we should never order fish on Monday, Bourdain has spent the past decade as a television personality and food writer. I had recently finished Medium Raw when I happened to be watching a Top Chef marathon with my daughter. In one particular episode, Bourdain appeared with Justo Thomas, a Dominican seafood butcher of whom he writes about almost reverently in chapter 18.

Thomas is a virtuoso with a fish knife. I read with fascination as Bourdain described the machine-like precision in which Thomas cut between 750-1,000 pounds of seafood a day at New York’s acclaimed Le Bernardin restaurant. According to Bourdain, when Thomas takes a vacation, it takes three men to accomplish the same task while he is away. I had recently taken a cooking class where we saw a 20-minute demo of a 28-pound halibut sliced, filleted and portioned. Thomas can zip through a fish the same size in roughly eight minutes.

After the Top Chef segment was over, I encouraged my daughter to read (at a minimum) Bourdain’s homage to Thomas. She was immediately hooked. Like me, she couldn’t put the book down. When I could hear her laugh out loud, I knew it wasn’t just me; this book was a winner.

Bourdain isn’t for everybody. He has what my mother calls a “potty mouth.” For those with “clutch-my-pearls” sensibilities, I have to warn you; this book is laced with F-bombs. That’s just the way he rolls. For those who can get past that, Bourdain does not disappoint. His stream of consciousness style is deliciously descriptive–bordering on food porn. His opinion never fails to entertain. Bourdain is one of those writers who is blessed with the ability to write without filter. He freely gives his opinion on a variety of subjects ranging from the bastardization of the hamburger, why Alice Waters is out of touch, the villainous James Beard House, and a cootie-infested Ronald McDonald. Oh, and don’t disrespect your server…

It’s a can’t-put-down read for foodies. Bourdain, now the father of a two-year-old daughter, has mellowed. Like most of us who woke up wondering how the hell we got on AARP’s mailing list, Bourdain’s life experiences have given him a unique perspective on his passion and on those who are industry “leaders.” He’s shaken the demons of youth and is here to tell us exactly what he thinks about it. Bourdain’s latest is not merely Medium Raw, it’s well done.

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I can breathe a huge sigh of relief. This photo represents the final task required for my cookbook project! It’s nice to end on a sweet note.

For the past several months, I have been the project manager on a cookbook fundraiser for a women’s group I belong to. The National Society of The Colonial Dames in The State of New Jersey is a nonprofit organization with a three-fold mission of preservation of historic sites, patriotic service and publication of historic/educational publications. The cookbook, Tea Time at Peachfield, is a collection of tea-time favorites, along with a generous section on the history of tea and information on how to host a proper tea of your own. The cookbook will be available for purchase in November. In a few weeks, you will be able to pre-order a copy from the Dames website. All proceeds support the upkeep of its historic museum properties and educational programs.

I learned a whole bunch of new facts as I worked on this project. Did you know that tea figured prominently during the first act of social protest by women in the United States? After the British passed the Tea Act of 1773, a group of 50 women in Edenton, South Carolina pledged not to conform to the “pernicious custom” of drinking tea. They signed and witnessed a declaration of their protest and sent it to a London newspaper. The Boston Tea Party was not the only incident of tea-related political unrest.  In December 1774, protestors gathered all the tea that was off-loaded the ship Greyhound and burned it in the town square of Greenwich, New Jersey.

It was a delicious ending to the compilation of this work–just as these chocolate-dipped strawberries will be the perfect end for your tea party.

Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries

2 pounds strawberries, with stems
8 ounces good-quality chocolate, broken into small pieces
4 ounces better-quality tempered chocolate, broken into small pieces

1. Rinse strawberries. Pat dry and let sit at room temperature for two hours or until completely dry.

2. Place the 8 ounces of chocolate in glass bowl over simmering pot of water. Do not let bottom of bowl touch water.

3. Stir chocolate mixture until smooth and melted. Do not let chocolate reach more than 110˚F.

4. Take bowl off heat and add 4 ounces tempered chocolate pieces. Stir until melted. When the thermometer reads between 87 and 91˚F, the chocolate is tempered.

5. Working quickly, place skewer in center of strawberry and dip into chocolate. Swirl to cover, shake off excess and place on waxed paper-lined baking sheet. Remove skewer.
Let sit at room temperature until set.

Tip:  You can tell a bar of chocolate is tempered when you can feel it ‘crack’ or ‘snap’ as you break it into small pieces.

I had a little bit of left-over chocolate so I grabbed a carton of Swiss Almond Crunch cookies from Trader Joe’s and dipped a few of those. Yummy!

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Happy Father’s Day!

Today, I made fried chicken for Mr. Amiable Taster, the wonderful father of my (OK–our) two children. I have to give the man some credit…

Back when we were a dual income family, I purchased Thomas Keller’s newest cookbook, Ad Hoc at Home.  I had been meaning to review this Papa Bear of a cookbook (weighing in at slightly more than five pounds!!) A friend had lent me his and I had to have one for myself. I raved about it to my sister, who also picked one up.

This book is perfect for a Father’s Day review as Keller’s father makes a cameo appearance early in the front matter. The story goes, after a lengthy estrangement, Keller and his father resolved their differences and spent the rest of the elder Keller’s days making up for lost time. After Keller began the Ad Hoc project, his father died. He writes lovingly of having the honor to cook his father’s last meal and gives us a menu–including all the details.

Best known as the proprietor of nine stellar gastronomic establishments in New York and California, Keller has authored three cookbooks, including The French Laundry Cookbook, Bouchon, and Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide, where he de-mystifies the vacume-bag cooking technique.  Ad Hoc is a departure from Keller’s other volumes, which require more than just sharp knives and a great set of All Clad.  This book is all about comfort food.

My sister and I have made several of the recipes in Keller’s book. We’ve both made the blueberry cobbler (p 296) which coincidentally happened to be on the menu of the last meal she made my father at home before he went to the hospital–never to return.  Dad was a big fan of cobbler. It was the only dish he ever insisted I learn to make. Keller’s version is excellent. Believe me, the dish tastes better for breakfast the next morning. Be forewarned, the top crust of this dish is of the cakey variety. I happen to prefer a little more crunch to my cobbler, but wouldn’t turn a warm bowl of this down.

Today, I made the buttermilk fried chicken ( p 16) for Father’s Day.  A chief complaint of many of Keller’s recipes is that they are long and involved–often taking hours of prep. You will find the same with this recipe–but believe me–the results are worth it.  I took advantage of a 40 percent sale on Perdue at my market this week and bought the smallest whole chickens in the place. (Keller suggests 2.5 to 3 pound birds). I also splurged on a bag of lemons as the brine calls for five lemons, along with 24 bay leaves. The house smelled heavenly as the brine was boiling.

Keller does a great deal to instruct in this book. He offers several lessons on topics from blanching to trussing a chicken.  For this mission, I had to gather up my pluck to conquer the 10-piece cut.  I waited until the children had left the house so I wouldn’t embarrass myself.  (Senator, this was not Ten Easy Pieces and you sir, are no Jack Nicholson).  But I digress… Suffice it to say that I emerged victorious–but it wasn’t pretty.  The 10-piece cut on 2 birds only yielded 19 pieces–but who’s counting. Thankfully I can always make stock of what was left.

The results were quickly eaten.  I BARELY had time to snap this shot of the platter by the pool. (One does not get in the way of a man’s growling stomach on Father’s Day.)  Michael Ruhlman says the fried chicken recipe alone is worth the hefty price of the book ($50 MSRP) and he’s not lying.  The bird was moist and juicy–just dripping down the chin. I brined for exactly 12 hours and could taste a hint of bay leaves. The crust was poifect.

The verdict: a unanimous thumbs up. My daughter said, “I gotta make this when I get back to college.” Unexpected surprise: I have additional kitchen street-cred with my mother in law (a butcher’s daughter), who was impressed that I started with whole chickens–all thanks to Keller.

This book will take home cooks to the next level. It is a visually pleasing to thumb through and you will dog ear many future adventures. Scattered throughout are “lightbulb” ideas that impart Keller’s kitchen wisdom.  The price is a bit steep but your children will ask you to will this book to them. Make sure you mark it up with a pencil and make it your own.  Ad Hoc will remain on my culinary joyride list for many months to come.

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