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brussels sprouts leaves, marcona almonds, sprouted kitchen

“I developed a strategy, which was to select the smallest piece I could and swallow it whole, as if it were a particularly large multivitamin, and I a Burmese python.” 

That’s how I dealt with Brussels sprouts when I was a young person.  If this story sounds familiar, it’s no surprise.  Brussels sprouts are among the most energetically reviled members in a generally unpopular family, the Brassicaceae.

Yet now they’re one of my favorites.  Many of us have seen the (greenish, cabbagey) light in recent years.  I like to think it’s because the recipes have gotten better.   A few of the best can be found in my story today.

Read Understanding the Brussels Sprout at NPR’s Kitchen Window here.

I’m a huge fan of Southern cookbooks and I like Nathalie Dupree, so I greeted this publication with excitement.

In the testing, the book turned out not to be quite what I thought (although there is certainly much to love in it).  I suspect the inhouse editing was not all it could have been.  Still, I salute the authors for an extraordinary effort.

Click here to read today’s review of Mastering the Art of Southern Coooking in the Boston Globe.  (Hit the paywall?  Use this PDF link.)

In the meantime, I have discovered a way of accessing the published text for almost all of my old reviews, through the public library!  These archival documents may not be pretty, but I can at last provide readable links for all my reviews except a couple of the very oldest.  Excited to revisit favorite old  cookbooks like Lydie Marshall’s Soup of the Day and Deh-Ta Hsiung/Nina Simonds’ The Food of China!  It’s all on the review page.

Over the next few weeks I hope to gradually update links to all my reviews and make them more accessible to all.

One of the things a cookbook reviewer likes best in all the world is reliability: recipes that work exactly as they are written, with no tweaks, alterations, or fudges.   That’s what I’ve always liked about Cook’s Illustrated magazine and the America’s Test Kitchen team.  So I sprang at the chance to review the latest offering out of Brookline.

True to expectations, the recipes worked.  And I loved the essays that start out each chapter and the explanations following each recipe.   It’s like Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking, only a bit more accessible, and with lots of things you can actually make.  Highly recommended.

Click here to read today’s review of The Science of Good Cooking in the Boston Globe.

I’m a fan of the Food52 website, where the amateur and professional worlds of food enthusiasts mix and mingle (the line is increasingly blurred these days, anyway).

This book collects contest winners from each week of one year on Food52 – which means that all of these recipes can be found, for free, on the website.  That’s not necessarily a disqualifier in a cookbook, even if it means fewer sales; it’s nice to have them all together in one attractive package, each recipe followed by comments from Food52 readers.  The testing, though, was something of a mixed bag; stunners rubbing shoulders with some fairly ordinary entries.

Click here to read today’s review of The Food52 Cookbook, vol. 2 in the Boston Globe.

The kitchen-to-be, in all its  unfinished glory.

The kitchen-to-be, in all its unfinished glory.

I don’t like to brag, but for 12 years I have occupied the Absolute Worst Kitchen in the world of professional food writers.   It’s not that it’s small, like most contenders for Worst Kitchen.

It’s not so much a kitchen as an undefined space, a walk-through horror show that happens to be used for cooking.  There is a horrible old composite countertop that typically has 1.5 square feet of free space.  There is a horrible stained lineolum floor with huge patches torn out of it where you can see the floorboards underneath.  There are foot-wide holes in the plaster ceiling where the lath pokes through, dumping age-old dust, dirt, and other unspeakable particles onto the range shelf while I’m cooking.  There are no cabinets.  There is no dishwasher.  There are no places to sit.

The two things that make it function are my 36″ 6-burner Blue Star range, and an 8′ -wide floor-to-ceiling expanse of wire shelving that is my pantry and batterie de cuisine.

Anyway, I’ve had this kitchen for as long as I’ve been a food writer, which is not a coincidence (see earlier thoughts on situational irony).  But we’ve finally decided to try and do something about it.

Since a full-scale kitchen renovation with contractors etc. is out of the question, Randy’s doing most of the work himself, in the huge room on the western end of the house, which we’ve optimistically called the “new kitchen” ever since he laid the floorboards 4 or 5 years ago.  We’ve bought the appliances (zero-radius stainless-steel apron-front double sink, 600CFM Windster range hood, Kenmore dishwasher, pull-down Delta Cassidy kitchen faucet that cost more than the dishwasher), the lumber, and the soapstone for the countertop.  We’ve had plumbing, electrical, and gas roughed in.

There’s been one major calamity – the uncovering of lead paint on the posts and window frames.   So R has had to add “lead decontamination,” “boxing in posts/beams” and “building window frames” to “appliance installation” and “learn cabinet-making”.

My job has been to keep the children out of the construction site, find places for everything that was stored there before, continue recipe testing in the now-even-more-cluttered old kitchen, and cry when appropriate.

It’s a big job.  But someday it will be done, and we’ll have our friends over again, and there will be merriment and good food, and it will be a kitchen for the ages, or at least one fit to serve four long-term optimists.

Just in time for you to get all virtuous and stuff! after weeks of refined-carb bingeing.

I can’t think of many cookbooks more necessary right now than whole-grains cookbooks.  When someone hands you a package of spelt berries, even if you know what to do with them it’s just hard to get inspired (hey! I would really like to see that on Iron Chef! I mean, if I had TV I would).  You can’t even deep-fry them or coat them in chocolate.   It is, however, possible to apply bacon.

The authors use this maneuver and lots more (like the liberal use of a variety of vinegars) to make whole grains palatable and yes, in some cases, memorable.

Click here to read today’s review of Grain Mains in the Boston Globe.

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