At My Table … well, Nigella’s Table

OK, so the new Nigella is in hand and I have been perusing it – haven’t had time to cook or bake from it yet but that will come soon. I’m seeing a lot of warming, comforting things – and though she claims to not have a theme for each book, warming, home cooking IS rather a trait of hers. Nothing fancy or fussy here. Just as well since fancy and fussy are not my style.

I read cookbooks like other people read fiction, so I spend a lot of time (particularly on rainy days) thumbing through them and a well-written, well-produced book gets a lot return visits on days such as that in this household. Happily, this is one of those books.

Continue reading “At My Table … well, Nigella’s Table”

October is FULL of food

October is, quite frankly, this is one my favourite times of year anyway, but from a culinary observances point of view, it is OUTSTANDING!

October is Apple Month– apples are one of the most wasted foods we buy. Nearly half of those purchased get thrown away untouched. Don’t be that person. Apples are delicious and great to use in so many ways. Make applesauce, apple butter, slice them up and dip them in honey. Make an apple crumble, stew them and serve them with pork (so autumnal and delicious). We planted an apple tree here at TransAtlantic Towers several years ago and while the apples it bears are not enormous this early on, they are quite the right thing for a quick snack on the go.

apples2

October is Caramel Month– and now that I know how to make caramel and salted caramel, I shall celebrate this properly.

October is Cookbook Month- I have my favourites (‘How to Eat‘ is right up there and always has been, not so much for the recipes – which are fine and dandy – but because of the way it talks about food and eating). But cookbooks are something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and talking about over the years, as you can see:

covers

October is Cookie Month – oatmeal raisin all the way

October is Dessert Month – I can’t pick just one favourite dessert but I know I’m always willing to at least LOOK at a dessert menu.

October is Pickled Peppers Month– I don’t know much about pickled peppers except that Peter Piper picked a peck of them.

October is Pizza Month – you know what they say, “even bad pizza is pretty good.” That’s a lie, as it happens. Bad pizza is bad – but you’re usually feeling too lazy or hungry to care at that moment.

October is Pasta Month– a pantry staple and a favourite any time. And in fact, Oct 17 is Pasta Day! Pasta, like cookbooks, comes up a lot here.

pastashapes

October is Popcorn Month – I’m a popcorn classic gal, myself. if you want to put caramel on your popcorn, feel free. I love caramel but popcorn is about the salt. Not the sweet. Not for me anyway.

October is Pork Month – I have a confession. I love pork but I don’t “get” crackling. Someone explain. I just do not see the appeal.

October is Pretzel Month – I want a snappy, crunch pretzel. Log form is a favourite but as long as it’s not bready and soft, a pretzel will always be welcome at TransAtlantic Towers.

October is Seafood Month – hmmmm, seafood. Where to start? Shrimp (or PRAWNS if you must). Paella, seafood linguini, lightly smoked salmon, mussels … on and on and on. A topic VERY much in need of a dedicated post (*adds to list*)

And we haven’t even gotten to the daily observances … stay tuned.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Cooking: Learn By Doing

I’ve had a lot of discussions of late about how fewer and fewer people do any sort of actual cooking. As a result of all these conversations, I’ve heard all the reasons – no time, no knowledge, no interest, etc.

While I can’t add more hours to the day and can’t force them to be interested enough to turn to the stove instead of the microwave(*) – I can point out a few resources to address the lack of skill or knowledge.

GRAB A BOOK

Some of the best cooks I know have learned via the tried and true method of trial and error. They got themselves a book and jumped in feet first. By book, I mean a broad-based, broken down step by step book:

That’s the kind of thing to start with – not a themed book based on some TV show chef’s latest outing. That said – Nigella Lawson may be a big star of the TV cookery world but How to Eat (a title which predated the stardom and led to the TV shows) is one of the best books I’ve found, holding your hand while getting your feet wet, so to speak.

covers

WATCH A VIDEO

There are also lots of places online you can read about specific cooking methods and even see them at work. YouTube is awash in people demonstrating recipes at all skill levels but if you want something more structured or organized:

STOP QUIBBLING

I can hear the quibblers quibbling already. “But doing it online by myself isn’t the same as taking a cooking class in person.” No, of course it’s not. Because doing it online by yourself means you can go at your own pace and repeat sessions/episodes as much as you like. Oh and hello? A lot of them are free. Have you looked at the prices of cookery courses lately?

And before the quibble continues, I know that learning on your own – self-driven, self-taught whether from books or online – is not the same thing as learning from a parent or grandparent over a course of years. But people learn in many different ways and – here’s a thought – maybe your parents and grandparents didn’t cook.

My mother is an amazing cook but she certainly didn’t learn from her mother. Dear God, the idea is both ludicrous and appalling. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my grandmother dearly and while she could crochet like a fiend and was hard to beat at canasta, she could and did ruin everything in the kitchen – from toast to  ‘steam in the bag’ veggies to macaroni and cheese. Cooking was NOT her forte and she had nothing of use to pass on to my mother in that regard. My mother is a self-taught fab cook.

JUST GET STARTED

Just try making something. Anything – just to see how it goes.  Pick a recipe that doesn’t require special equipment or skills, or send you to the shops for a pile of expensive ingredients, but which isn’t just boiling pasta and dumping a jar of sauce over it.  Try mashed potatoes – nothing could be easier.

What you need

  • 4 or 5 average-sized potatoes – use the Yukon Gold type potato – not too waxy like the small round potatoes and not as starchy as the baking or russet potatoes.
  • 1/2 or 1 cup of milk or cream (depending on how creamy you like your mash)
  • 2 or 3 tbsp butter (or a bit more if you want super buttery mash)
  • enough salt and pepper to taste
  • a pot big enough to boil your potatoes
  • a colander to drain the potatoes
  • a masher or a large fork for mashing the cooked spuds

What you do

  • Wash the potatoes
  • Peel and quarter the potatoes (though I will be honest, I love leaving the skins on – not only because I like the texture but it’s less hassle and quicker that way)
  • Boil them for about 20 minutes, or until a potato feels soft when you poke it with a fork. (Tip: only put in enough water to cover the potatoes – they’ll cook faster.)
  • While the potatoes are boiling, get the butter out of the fridge, grab the salt and pepper and if you want creamy mashed potatoes, the milk. If you prefer denser mash, skip the milk
  • Get your colander in the sink and drain the potatoes. Put them back in the pot and put the pot back on the stove, with the stove set on the lowest heat setting just to keep things warm while mashing
  • Add butter and start mashing the potatoes with a masher until they’ve reached a consistency you like.
  • If you’re going for creamy mash, this is where you start adding a bit milk and continue mashing and adding milk little by little until potatoes have reached the desired creaminess.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Eat

If you want to jazz up your mash, you can add garlic or mustard, top them with cheese, stir in a bit of hot chicken stock or soup … seriously, you can do anything with them. It’s not brain surgery. It’s food. Try it. No one is watching and if you screw up – so what. Who’s gonna complain? The potatoes?

None of these sites or books or tips will turn you into a kitchen superstar overnight and I’m not saying there won’t be some missteps (even first-class cooks have those). But until you take some action – actually try something, however small – it’s all theoretical. With cooking the only way is to learn by doing and we need to stop equating ‘doing’ with ‘difficult’.


(*) I have nothing against microwaves or ready meals – I have been known to utilize and enjoy both. I simply don’t believe the microwave is always faster and better and it makes no sense (financially or health-wise) to make ready meals the ONLY thing o the menu.

 

Save

The Art of Cooking. Now With Extra Art

The other day, my friend Alexia (who ought to be writing her own food blog the way she rocks all things cooking and growing of her own produce) sent me a link to some beautiful illustrated recipes. Not illustrated with photos – we’ve all seen that. That’s the most expected thing in the world. No, these recipes were produced by an illustrator – Lucy Eldridge – working in watercolor.

Ms Eldridge not only produced some yummy recipes but some equally scrumptious illustrations to really tempt you into trying them. Well, OK – I don’t know if that’s why she duid it. Maybe she just felt like illustrating them. But the artwork makes the whole thing even more tempting to me. I think I’ll try the carrot cake first.

Eldridges_Illustrated_ CarrotCake

That recipe and others can be seen in larger format on her site. While you’re there, take a look at her other work. Wonderful stuff.

Naturally, I went looking for other illustrators who might have done the same. Boy oh boy – am I happy I did.

I read about Felicita Sala in a post on Design Sponge (one of my favorite design and lifestyle sites). The recipe there was stuffed calamari and while I am a huge fan of calamari, I somehow have never had it stuffed. This situation must be remedied and I think this is the way to do it.

Sala_Calamari

I can’t wait to try the risotto al radicchio as well. Check that one out as well as the others at Ms Sala’s own site  . I’ll tell you something else – the fact that you can purchase prints of these recipes has me rethinking the walls of my own kitchen.

There are even whole sites, dedicated to displaying and sharing the illustrated recipes of illustrators – sites like They Draw & Cook and Recipe Look. I’ve spent ages looking through them and I find it all really inspiring, both culinarily and artistically. I’ll definitely be trying some of these dishes.

What? Oh no – not drawing. The only thing I can draw is a bath. Seriously – I’m not being modest. I really suck eggs at that sort of thing. But these people rock not only the art of cooking but art itself as well. Cheers to them all.

Save

Quality & Qualities of Cookbooks

A few months back, I was sent an announcement that heralded (amidst too many exclamation points and typos – but never mind) the publication of a “definitive list – a must for any foodie – of the best cookbooks of all time.” I admit that my first thought was “What? Another one?” People publish these lists all the time. The Top Cookbooks of the year, the 10 Greatest Cookbooks of all time, the 50 best cookbooks… You get the point. you can find hundreds of “Best Cookbooks of the Year” and no two will be the same because you often have no idea what criteria are being used by the people compiling each list.

Sometimes you know right away. If it’s a themed list (Top 10 Italian Cookbooks or Top 10 TV Chef Cookbooks) you have at least one solid lead on criteria. Another clue is who is putting the list together. Is it an industry publication like Publishers Weekly or Bookseller? Then sales or reviews are likely figuring prominently in their calculations. But quite often, I’m left with a list of titles and authors without no explanation beyond “awesome book and a MUST have for the modern kitchen.”  They could be judging on anything from the color of the spine to what percentage of the recipes include parsley.

It would be helpful to know what those criteria are. If I know the person compiling the list had a parsley obsession, this would inform my reading of their list and I would be able to better assess their list for my needs. If I don’t know about the passion for parsley, I might have NO clue what was actually happening on the list.

cookbooksSo, I’m not going to ask you to tell me your personal “top 10 cookbooks of 2012/2013” or your “5 best cookbooks of all time.”  No. My questions are these:

  • What qualities do you look for in a cookbook? Which of those qualities outrank the other?
  • What might turn you off a particular cookbook?
  • What takes something from being a ‘good’ cookbook to a ‘great’ cookbook?

 

 

Classic Cooking for Children

Am heartily amused (and a bit impressed) with a couple of very old children’s cookery books I’ve stumbled across. One from 1877 (Six Little Cooks, or, Aunt Jane’s Cooking Class) and one from 1915 (The Fun of Cooking: A Story for Boys and Girls ). They are essentially storybooks with recipes in them but it’s clearly the way kids were initially exposed to the basic steps of cookery.

From AUNT JANE’S COOKING CLASS:

“Oh, Aunt Jane, are we going to cook again to-day?”

“Cook?” said Aunt Jane, sleepily, “Cook what? Oh, yes, I remember. I can tell you better after I have had a cup of coffee. I never know anything before breakfast.”

Rock on, Aunt Jane.

Culinary Nostalgia

Last week, I watched my very first episode of The Great British Bake Off. I had heard of the program before but it wasn’t until I got the UK that I could settle in and see what all the fuss was about. Now, let me be clear. I am not a huge fan of the unscripted bread and circuses known as reality TV but given a choice between competition between people with a particular skill set and a competition to see who can withstand the most humiliation, I pick skills every time. I also like cooking shows so cooking competitions (Chopped, Iron Chef America, etc.) are occasionally on the TV viewing schedule here at Transatlantic Towers.

I have to say – I really enjoyed it. There was a nice array of contestants, the judges seem to all be related to the field (I’ve never understood how someone can judge something they know nothing about but many shows seem to be more interested in name factor) and though the comments and criticism were occasionally biting, they were also coupled with constructive guidance and/or interesting factoids. In addition, the presenter/host is Sue Perkins and when Sue is enthused about something, it’s hard not to be enthused with her. So, I enjoyed it and will be tuning in again this week.

But – I didn’t actually sit down to write about The Great British Bake Off. This will surprise those of you who have made it all the way down to the third paragraph. Usually by now, I’ve gotten to the point and am holding onto it for dear life. My point this time is culinary nostalgia and the reason I began (and got distracted by Bake Off was one of the challenges last week was rum babas. I had not heard of rum babas and seeing how yummy the results on the program were, I went to look into it. Turns out they were very much the thing back in 70s – then like many dishes that have their moment in the sun, became unfashionable, disappearing from sight except in out of the way eateries – then suddenly they’ve been go so long, they are like new again.  Well, everything comes back around (as evidence by the fact that we still can’t get rid of velour once and for all) and food fashions are no exception.

There’s been interest in this idea elsewhere as well – the resurgence of certain dishes, the way food was presented in the recent past. It’s always been a favorite topic of those who love kitsch (I’m thinking specifically of the hilarious Gallery of Regrettable Food) but the media are on board the Taste of Yesteryear Train as well. The BBC is all about it. It was in their recent The Return of Retro Recipes (which prompted part of this post) that I came across The Way We Ate – the blog of two men intending to work their way through the entire run of Gourmet magazine – 815 issues! Of course, the BBC’s food coverage has touched on the cyclical nature of recipes before – last year it was vegetarian dishes of the 70s and their Retro British Recipes Collection. To take your taste buds for a stroll down the American side of memory lane, check out Midcentury Menu.

TV is awash in food shows and there is a strong theme of nostalgia and retro eating that these shows come back to again and again. I tried a fondue after watching the Nigella Express 50s cocktail party episode – love cheese? Fondue is for you. Fondue also figured prominently in the 70s episode of Supersizers Go . . . (who took the word retro and ran with it – all the way to Roman times and back) There’s very often a retro foods feel to the places featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. Obviously places that would be classified or classify themselves as diners, drive-ins or dives are by their nature steeped in that atmosphere even if the menus have new twists but it’s also (in my opinion) that a lot of those places are being run by second or third generations or families working together. These are recipes they’ve known, loved and worked with for decades. Retro, as these establishments demonstrate, doesn’t mean tired.

If you want to turn your own kitchen into a time machine, you could always google “vintage recipes” but hey – if you’re gonna go old school – go old school all the way and get a vintage cookbook or two. Find out which suits you at Retro Cookbook.

 

Kitchen Full Of Books

I have a lot of books. I don’t say it to brag or complain. This is just a simple statement of fact. Another statement of fact is that I keep books everywhere.

In the living room – on shelves, table tops and stools. In the bedrooms on night stands, in closets, in bins under the bed. In the hallway (for fear of leaving the house without my keys AND something to read). In the bathroom, those books of trivia and essays one can dip into and set aside without being concerned about when it’ll get finished.

And of course, in the kitchen. (For clarity’s sake I should point out that the beautifully organized kitchen and kitchen books to the right are NOT my kitchen. I dream of such a kitchen. My kitchen and my books are more humble and not quite so fabulously lit). Food writing and culinary arts in one cupboard and cookbooks in the next. What about using all that potential food storage? Please. Food only lasts so long. Books are for a lifetime. There’s also a pile just outside the kitchen that I haven’t found a permanent home for yet… my kitchen library is starting to ooze out of the kitchen. Steps may soon need to be taken.

I don’t have massive piles of cookbooks (for that we must look to my mother – and I may do that one day soon) but I have what I consider to be a goodly pile. There are some classics (Joy of Cooking, Silver Palate, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, among others), some weird ones (Eat Tweet, Unofficial Lazy Slut Cookbook), some well known recent ones (How to Eat, How to Cook Everything, Real Food) and a few I’ve gotten as gifts (including one from someone I am going to assume meant well when they gave me “Cooking for One.”)

In addition to cookbooks, I have an equally treasured pile of books about food – food history, food trivia, food politics, books on other topics by cooks, etc. Books such as Devil’s Cup: A History of the World According to Coffee and the companion In the Devil’s Garden: A Sinful History of Forbidden Food. Classics memoirs and essays from food writers like MKF Fisher (if you haven’t read How to Cook a Wolf you really should and if you can’t find that, get The Art of Eating). Books about foods long forgotten (The Land That Thyme Forgot) and food writers forgotten or never known such as Food of a Younger Land.

I won’t even think about what is going to happen next year when there is every possibility that my own library is going to be merged with that of another book lover and food geek. We’re gonna have some serious logistics to get through.

Cookbook round ups

Last month, I was carrying on about cookbooks and specifically about a round up of 25 Beautiful Old Cookbooks on Abebooks and for a while I was all about cookbooks “of a certain age” (and subsequently spent some considerable time looking at vintage community cookbooks – community cookbooks being among some of my favorites since you can pretty much assume that these are recipes that have gotten a considerable workout from the contributor.

But you know – I like shiny and new cookbooks as well and so when I saw 10 Top Summer Cookbooks on the nprnews twitter feed, I clicked over right away.

Not unsurprisingly, my book list just got longer and now includes “Porch Parties” for two reasons.

A) because I need some new cocktails to keep happy hour from becoming too one note and

B)  because after years of saying I was going to do up my terrace, I actually did.  Now it is more an outdoor room than it has ever been and I intend to use it as such.

All of which is a round about way of asking – what is your favorite summer cocktail and refreshing summer snack and/or treat? Me? I’ve been slowly developing a new cocktail called a cranky apple. It’s not perfected yet but I am committed to thorough testing (at least until the vodka and cran-apple juice run out).