Saturday November 14, 2015
Ikaria: Lessons on Food, Life, and Longevity from the Greek Island Where People Forget to Die
Ikaria by Diane Kochilas is not simply an assortment of recipes, but rather a well-crafted exploration and representation of an island that relies upon its local ingredients and treasured techniques to maintain an approach to living that preserves the culture that has developed there over so many years.
Beginning in its “Small Bites” section, Kochilas proposes consuming an entire onion at once, a suggestion that would intimidate even the most dedicated onion lovers among us. However, her Whole Roasted Onions with Vinegar and Olive Oil trumps any aversion to this thought. Lightly coated in only a teaspoon of olive oil, slow-roasted in a hot oven for about an hour -- this is Greek-style cooking at its finest. Only a few quality, well-sourced ingredients are prepared so that their flavors are emphasized, while still allowing the onion to take the focus of interest above all else. Though the instructions give the option of preparing this in the oven, why not do as the Greeks do and roast these oversized pearls of perfection in the fireplace or on an outdoor grill?
Recipes are juxtaposed with stories of the practices and ingredients native to the island. One excerpt highlights the medicinal effects of the mallows -- a plant which heals rashes and other inflammations. Another centers in on “Knowing and Loving the Old”, which discusses longevity as a result of the foods Ikarians prepare and their all-encompassing love of life. My favorite, though, is the aside dedicated to “Mushrooming in the Mountains”, which pays tribute to the 25 different types of fungi the island boasts. It shows that mushrooms, the enjoyment of both the hunt for and the eating of, are among the many curiosities of Ikaria, one of the small things that makes this a place like no other.
The Mushroom Stew, which follows later in the book, uses a simple cooking method for the mushrooms, taking something infinitely complex in its varieties and adding to it only a shimmer of Greek olive oil, translucent onions, and complementary spices. This is a dish that relies upon the essential, extracting the beauty of its ingredients, and adding little else.
The dessert section is small, coming only at the book’s close. The various recipes put to use the island’s natural offerings -- cherries, walnuts, apricots, peaches, figs, and takes advantage of the many different honeys available. These are displayed beautifully in tarts, cookies, and what Kochilas calls “spoon sweets” -- the mixture of many of these ingredients made into a delicious, subtle sugar syrup. We see one application of this in her Greek Jam Lattice-Top Tart, which adds to the pastry the abundance of Ikaria’s apricots in the form of jam. The outcome is slightly tart, with just a hint of sweetness.
Ending the book with these little culinary indulgences says that the Ikarian diet is not only about feeding ourselves the nutrients our bodies need, but allowing ourselves to enjoy what makes us happy, what feeds our soul, and what makes us complete.
Saturday November 07, 2015
The Glorious Vegetables of Italy
The majority of food infatuations don’t begin until after adulthood has set in -- once our tastes have matured and we have defined our culinary preferences. Domenica Marchetti skipped a few steps, having spent her childhood summers in Italy, reveling in the fresh offerings of the local markets. This is where she fell in love with vegetables, each entirely unique in their varying geometric constructions and brilliantly bright hues. In The Glorious Vegetables of Italy, Marchetti translates this passion for her reader, wanting to show that all vegetables are worthy of our affection.
Marchetti first breaks vegetables down to their roots, calling this section the “Gallery of Italian Vegetables” a name fitting of the praise and glory she gives to each. She provides information on their season, telling readers when pumpkins are at their sweetest and artichokes are at their best. She adds to this instructions for cleaning so that all vegetables will shine beautifully in her recipes.
The minimalist photographs capture all that is necessary to convey the ingredients’ appeal; blistered cherry tomatoes pop out against the pale sauce in Capricci with Slow-Roasted Tomatoes and Cream while the near-white fennel atop a Pizza Bianca melts into the lightly-browned and bubbly ricotta and mozzarella. A rainbow of colors abounds in her other flatbreads, providing options like Grilled Eggplant in Olive Oil or Grilled Peppers, completed and contrasted with a handful of the greens of your choice.
Marchetti’s creativity gets put on display in her desserts, where she uses a Panna Cotta, made creamy and luscious by heavy cream, sugar, and mascarpone to give attention to the sweetness of a roasted winter squash. This recipe gives the essence of what Marchetti wants to make known: by starting with quality ingredients and cooking them only so that their natural flavors come through, you bring vegetables back into the spotlight, allowing them to be savoured and treasured in every bite.
Andiamo in giardino. Let’s go into the garden.
Saturday October 31, 2015
There is nothing quite like the satisfaction of handcrafting cheese, yogurt, or bread -- staples we’ve come to rely upon the supermarkets to provide for us, but which are foods we can easily make ourselves. In Home Made, Yvette van Boven gives easy-to-discern instructions that eliminate any fear in preparing your own food.
She organizes the book by first explaining in detail how to craft a primary ingredient, then taking this and applying it to an assortment of recipes to follow. One such example is broth, the base for things like risotto, polenta, casseroles, and the always-comforting soup. I too sometimes fall prey to the ease and accessibility of boxed broths, but nothing compares to the complexity of taste which results from roasting meat with herbs and oil and boiling afterwards so as to combine the aromas into one enticing scent.
Van Boven provides recipes for stocks using veal, chicken, fish, or even just vegetables alone. The soups which follow these basic broth formulas build upon their depth of flavor -- the Chunky Chowder adds salty cured ham, the slightly minty flavor of thyme, and the sweetness of cream to meld beautifully with your homemade fish stock. Pictured alongside a hunk of rustic bread, this comforting soup is all you need for a hearty meal.
There is nothing more fun or more romantic than roasting your dinner atop your own outdoor grill. Van Boven’s detailed but simple instructions begin with building the rock enclosure which will surround your fire pit, progressing to the actual cooking and enjoyment of the meal, all the while documenting the excitement and joy which comes from taking your kitchen outside, creating it yourself. Once dinner is complete, Van Boven suggests enjoying the fire’s alternative use, enjoying it as a source of warmth against the summer’s chilly nights.
The following page displays an image of different rubs and marinades which complement the fire’s slow and patient method. A North African Rub takes spice from the cayenne and dried chile pepper, while the tablespoon of sugar in the Fennel Seed Rub contrasts the flavor of sea salt and white peppercorns. She shares a recipe for One-Person Chicken with Sage, Garlic, and Mushrooms, a tribute to the group of students who often gather behind her house in Paris for an end-of-the-day meal. This story and recipe summarize the book’s intent and the true goal of homemade cooking -- allowing friends and loved ones to gather around the process of making and enjoying food.
Saturday October 24, 2015
Jerusalem: A Cookbook
“The beauty of food and of eating is that they are rooted in the now. Food is a basic, hedonistic pleasure, a sensual instinct we all share and revel in. It is a shame to spoil it.”
The best way to know a country, region, or city is through its food. However, one may seem at a loss in trying to set Jerusalem in such definitive constraints. The city is challenging to unify in a sweeping description of its cuisine and culture, but in Jerusalem, with authors Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi being born in opposite ends of the city, we are given two different outlooks on the city and its culinary offerings.
In the introduction, they define the essence of Jerusalem, saying it is made up of “very personal, private stories immersed in great culinary traditions that often overlap and interact in unpredictable ways, creating food mixes and culinary combinations that belong to specific groups but also belong to everybody else.” With this, we quickly realize the book’s paradox: that all the different ingredients and traditions centered around food are brought together by one central similarity: place.
The local cuisine is challenging to identify, but once you break apart the varying layers of culture and influence, you find that it’s not impossible to discern. Ottolenghi and Tamimi note the specific consistencies a shared location permits: the universal use of chopped cucumber and tomatoes to make a salad, the reliance upon vegetables stuffed with rice and meat for a hearty meal, or the incorporation of olive oil and lemons into almost every dish.
Spices abound in the Roasted Eggplant with Fried Onion and Chopped Lemon, with green chiles, cumin, sumac, and a saltiness supplied by large chunks of feta cheese. Coarsely-chopped lemon adds a final hit of freshness to this starter. They suggest pairing it with a lighter main to balance out the heaviness of flavors that gives the recipe its appeal.
The section titled “Stuffed” pays tribute to one of the traditional cooking techniques in Jerusalem. My favorite recipe is the Stuffed Artichokes with Peas and Dill. A mixture of blanched leeks, ground beef, egg, spices, and mint is loaded into artichoke bottoms and fried in hot oil just until the flavors start to seep out of the pan and cause you to salivate in anticipation. The artichokes then simmer away for an hour in a mixture of stock, lemon juice, and oil until the liquids have been reduced to a mere several tablespoons. The result is a dish bursting with flavor and a plate vibrant with greens. Served alongside Basmati rice and orzo, this is a meal that defines a city.
The desserts are a collection of pastries and confections that are not nauseatingly-sweet but rather prepared so as to bring out their natural flavors, like the Poached Pears in White Wine and Cardamom. In the headnote, the cardamom is described in its similarity to allspice and cinnamon, possessing its own powerful aroma which brings greater dimension to the fruit. Poaching the pears with this spice in conjunction with the fresh pungency of white wine and the final intensity given in just a half teaspoon of saffron threads gives you a beautiful, bold color and a satisfying dessert that calls for only a dab of crème fraîche spooned over top.
In Jerusalem, we get a sense not only of the foods specific to this city, but of the people and the unique lifestyles that have been preserved here for so many years. We can amass different recipes and techniques to try to create a culinary profile, but this seems impossible with so many. Ottolenghi and Tamimi do their best, but they accept that Jerusalem is a city rich in different cultural traditions with a collection of flavors to match.
Tuesday October 20, 2015
Join me and the Kitchen Play bloggers (#TeamFreshSummit) to learn about these four brands before we all head down to Atlanta for Fresh Summit. There are PRIZES and tons of fun to be had!
HBF International - aka Hurst Berry Farms - grows blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, currants, cranberries, and their newest crop, kiwi berries. With their farms in Oregaon, Washington, California, and Mexico; they keep all these berries on our tables year-round.
Sun-Maid - to me, Sun-Maid needs no explanation. Those small red boxes were a mainstay in my lunchbox as a kid and my love affair with raisins has never ended. So delighted to share their goodness with all of you!
Valley Fig - this is a jackpot for me. I adore dried fruits and, especially figs. Valley Fig Growers has an assortment of dried figs and fig spreads. Enjoy this natural way to satisfy your sweet tooth!!
Outrageously Fresh - Fair Trade Certified, Outrageously Fresh products include organic and conventional red, yellow, and orange sweet bell peppers and mini peppers, long English and mini cucumbers. As well, conventional tomatoes-on-the-vine, cocktail and new snacking tomatoes including grape, cherry and a gourmet medley mix. You can find more about them here and here.
Saturday October 17, 2015
The Beetlebung Farm Cookbook: A Year of Cooking on Martha's Vineyard
Martha’s Vineyard raises thoughts of long summer evenings spent lounging on the dock or entire days out on the water. For Chris Fischer though, despite having cooked at restaurants in New York and London, he never lost the image of his grandparents’ farm, only several acres of land dedicated to the produce that would accompany their daily catch from the sea, a rabbit taken in from the woods, or serve as the primary part of a meal on its own.
In The Beetlebung Farm Cookbook, Fischer reflects on the farm, how his grandfather prepared and cared for it, and the appreciation for the land it encouraged: “Poppy’s garden was always planted densely, first with peas, onions, and shallots, as soon as the ground could be worked. Then came beets, carrots, lettuce, and potatoes. As the days grew longer and the crowds began to arrive, he would plant his beans, tomatoes, green peppers, and eggplant, the rows in the garden supplementing those in the field. He got his tomato cages ready early, all neatly lined up like soldiers, months before the plants would go into the ground. Then began the countdown of days until his vines boasted ripe beauties. Anticipation, he often said, was his favorite part of farming.”
This book shares the recipes that represent the farm’s essence, the challenge of each day’s work but also the extreme reward in harvesting what you have worked all season to produce. Each section is prompted by a menu of the recipes which follow, though first given context by Chris’ writing, often a story or vignette reflecting upon his life at Beetlebung and the memories he’s gathered in the field and around the table. Though the subjects of Chris’ writing could easily turn his style to the sentimental, he restricts himself to a territory that is nonetheless reflective and beautiful:“I learned many things from Serena, including how to properly make a salad. She was very fond of the greens mix Marie sold. In those days Marie tended toward a combination of mustard greens, red Russian kale, several types of lettuce, and mizuna, all picked quite young before the spiciness of the mustards got too intense. She finished each bag with fennel fronds, nasturtium flowers, and fresh leaves and blossoms from the herb garden. Serena began my lesson by emptying a bag of the cleaned greens into an over-sized salad bowl. ‘It has to be big,’ she explained, ‘you need plenty of room to toss.’ [...] We’d lightly salt the salad then gently toss it once or twice before eating it together -- the perfect mid-afternoon snack.”
Everything about this book moves slowly -- we pour over the recipes excitedly, but stop ourselves to savour them all the way through. We imagine ourselves sitting at the table of one of Chris’ all-night dinners, beginning early in the evening with a marinated Anchovy and Island Egg Crostino, waiting until well after midnight to begin your Maple Ice Cream, absorbing the melted pools with his Ginger Cookies.
I’m most drawn by the Beet Cake with Fennel Icing, the beets lending a moist crumb and vibrant color to the cake, with a beet jam sandwiched between the two layers. This is the natural and time-honored practice that many now have substituted with red artificial coloring. Fischer takes it back to the land, creating something that seems as imaginative as it is practical. Though children are usually the last to refuse a dessert, Chris suggests revealing the ingredients only after they’ve tried it. Nutrition in cake form -- a brilliant way of getting your kids to eat vegetables.
12 generations of family legacy finds its way into every aspect of the farm. Reading through the recipes and meditative prose, we get a sense of the land’s profound effect upon Fischer’s approach to cooking and its even greater effect upon his life. We learn alongside him that family tradition serves as the foundation for what we create in the present. It is a lesson we learn from every ingredient, every menu, and every page.
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