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Otto_Jerusalem_CoverYou’ve probably heard a lot of hype about Jerusalem – the feel-good partnership of the Jewish and Palestinian chef co-writers, proudly embodying gay nerd chic (both are happily settled down, though not with each other), the syncretistic tangle of culinary influences in their recipes.

Well, the hype is right for once.  A week of testing uncovered one swoon-worthy recipe after the next.  If you love pomegranate, tahini, sumac, lemons, you’ll be all set.  But that’s really only just the starting point.

I haven’t actually yet seen how the published review came out, to tell you the absolute truth, because I’ve just hit the paywall on my Boston Globe access.  So let me know if there are any howlers.

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


It’s a slightly different format this year:  a one-book report on a selection from the list.  I had a terrific time recording this piece at our local NPR affiliate (New England Public Radio) on the campus of U. Mass., and I got to put the phrase “bone-suckingly good” on the radio for possibly the first time ever.

You can hear the commentary and read the original story here.

You can also read my extended post with the complete 2012 cookbook shortlist  here.

The Boston Globe 2012 cookbook roundup is now live! just in time for  last-minute, down-to-the-wire holiday shopping. This year’s picks, many of which were favorites on other lists as well:

If some of these titles seem familiar, it’s no coincidence!  Of the maybe 400  books submitted for consideration in 2012, I found myself returning over and over to a group of perhaps two dozen really important contributions, and I felt compelled to draw attention to them on a number of occasions over the course of the year.  If you’re wondering what distinguishes the NPR list from the Globe list (I write both lists), it’s mostly a matter of audience; so there is a little bit of overlap. Also recommended but previously reviewed in the Globe: The Fresh and Green Table,  The Fresh EggSusan Feniger’s Street FoodAsian Tofu, Modern Sauces.

If you haven’t read them before, these are the closing lines in Beckett’s Trilogy (Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable).  In my 20’s, I read a great deal of Beckett. I can’t tell you why, except that I thought in some way it would be good for me.  It was dark, slow going, at times impenetrable, and occasionally I would fall asleep right on the page, the way I did in my seat during a staging of Krapp’s Last Tape.  But still, I went on, just as Beckett said, even when I had no idea what for.

Maybe that’s why these words stuck with me, all these years later. After the horrifying events in Newtown on Friday, how could anyone go on?  How could one proceed with the planned and unplanned jollity of the holiday?  How could one go to work as if everything were normal?  How can one write about food – with all its shades of conviviality and shared cheer?  How can one go about the business of ascribing meaning and joy to the little things in life, when the big things are so suddenly shorn of both?

At some level, we know it is our job to go on:  to go on making meaning, to go on giving and sharing, to go on living life.  “It’s what those children would have wanted,” people say, and I can see a hazy, blurred-by-tears truth in that.  But it doesn’t change the devastating fact, the high hurdle of grief we face right now.  It doesn’t change that feeling of purposelessness that leaches the color out of every act we undertake, and reduces its normally positive value to something like zero.

Yet in a grey moment like this one, I find Beckett’s words strangely, deeply comforting, even hopeful.  Let’s suppose life is meaningless, says Beckett. Let’s suppose that even so, we carry on.  Let’s go farther: let’s suppose that nothing is asked of us other than that we carry on.  There’s no requirement to be cheerful, or resolute, or optimistic, or inspiring – simply that we go on going on.

It’s not even necessary to question why we should keep on going on.

But if we do question why, I think there is an answer in that same flat grey space we inhabit in our grief.  I think that having accepted the fact that “there is nothing left here,”  it follows that there is always the possibility “someday, something might be here.”  And, if we accept that possibility, we cannot help but concede that, given time, it’s not even in dispute.  Someday, something will  be here.

What is that something?  Well, we all know what it is.  It’s what makes the children rush to our bedroom on a weekend morning. It’s what makes my husband come home every afternoon. It’s what makes me cook the food and write the stories.  It’s the same thing that, in the end, is the reason for everything, the missing meaning that fills every vacuum.  It’s both the cause and the effect, the beginning and the ending, which means it can never be gone for long.  Folks, it’s love.

Smarter minds than mine have described Beckett and his work as deeply hopeful, despite the apparent bleakness of his words.  I don’t know that what I received from Beckett is what he intended, or what his adherents perceive.  I do know that I felt the same when I read Obama’s Newtown speech, its Scriptural references hitting home in places I didn’t know I had places.  I myself may be an atheist, yet I hope that sense of comfort amid despair is what the faithful feel when they gather in places of worship across New England, the country, and the world.

We can’t go on, and yet we will.

Burma, Myanmar, Burmese cooking,

The book:  Burma: Rivers of Flavor, by Naomi Duguid (Artisan, $35 – here’s my complete review)

The recipe:  Shrimp salad

Why I tried itBy the time I got to this recipe, I had discovered the joys of Shallot Oil (see recipe accompanying the shrimp salad recipe). I was willing to try anything dosed with shallot oil, and this was an easy one to try. Also,  I’m always on the lookout for new ways to use shrimp, one of my favorite ingredients.

Why I loved it:  Cool, crisp, and a flash to put together.  The shrimp slices have plenty of exposed surface area to pick up flavors, and I never tire of the endless spectrum of ways fish sauce and lime seem to go together.

Estimated preparation time: 15 minutes if you’ve already got the Shallot Oil or are just using plain oil. The Shallot Oil takes about 20 minutes.

Burma, Naomi DuguidShrimp salad
Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons peanut oil or Shallot Oil (see below)
About 1 pound medium to large shrimp, peeled, deveined, and rinsed
3 scallions, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1/2 medium English cucumber
2 tablespoons chopped coriander
1 green or red cayenne chile, minced, or 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red chile powder
1 teaspoon fish sauce
About 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Salt (optional)

Place a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil, then toss in the shrimp and stir-fry just until they turn pink, a minute or two.

Transfer the shrimp to a cutting board. Slice on the diagonal and place in a shallow bowl. Add the scallions.

Cut the cucumber into 11/2-inch lengths and slice each length into julienne (you should have a scant cup). Add the cucumber, coriander, and chile to the shrimp and toss lightly. Add the fish sauce and lime juice and toss to mix well.Taste and add a little salt if you wish, then toss and serve immediately.


Fried Shallots and Shallot Oil
Makes a generous ¾ cup flavored oil and about 1 ¼ cups fried shallots

Here you get two pantry staples in one: crispy fried shallots and delicious shallot oil. Drizzle shallot oil on salads or freshly cooked greens, or onto soups to finish them. You can fry up shallots each time you need them, but I prefer to make a large batch so they’re around when I need a handful to flavor a salad.

1 cup peanut oil
2 cups (about 1/2 pound) thinly sliced Asian or European shallots

Place a wide heavy skillet or a large stable wok over medium-high heat and add the oil. Toss in a slice of shallot. As the oil heats, it will rise to the surface, sizzling lightly. When it’s reached the surface, add the rest of the shallots, carefully, so you don’t splash yourself with the oil, and lower the heat to medium. (The shallots may seem crowded, but they’ll shrink as they cook.) Stir gently and frequently with a long-handled wooden spoon or a spider. The shallots will bubble as they give off their moisture. If they start to brown early, in the first 5 minutes, lower the heat a little more. After about 10 minutes, they should start to color. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally to prevent them from sticking to the pan or to each other, until they have turned a golden brown, another 3 minutes or so.

Line a plate with paper towels. Use tongs or a spider to lift a clump of fried shallots out of the oil, pausing for a moment to shake off excess oil into the pan, then place on the paper towel. Turn off the heat, transfer the remaining shallots to the plate, and blot gently with another paper towel. Separate any clumps and toss them a little, then let them air-dry 5 to 10 minutes, so they crisp up and cool. (If your kitchen is very hot and humid, they may not crisp up; don’t worry, the flavor will still be there.)

Transfer the shallots to a clean, dry, widemouthed glass jar. Once they have cooled completely, seal tightly. Transfer the oil to another clean dry jar, using all but the very last of it, which will have some stray pieces of shallot debris. (You can set that oil aside for stir-frying.) Once the oil has cooled completely, cover tightly and store in a cool dark place.

Excerpted from Burma: Rivers of Flavor by Naomi Duguid (Artisan Books) Copyright © 2012.

brussels sprouts, marcona almonds, spinach

The book:  The Sprouted Kitchen, by Sara Forte (10 Speed, $25 – here’s my complete review)

The recipe:  Brussel leaf and baby spinach sauté with Marcona almonds

Why I tried itI’ve known for a while that a second, totally different, more lovable vegetable is hidden in every Brussels sprout if you can just bear the tedium of picking it off, leaf by leaf.  It hardly ever seems worth it.  But the picture was so enticing, and I found myself with the time one day, so I decided to go for it.

Why I loved it:  The skunkiness of cabbage is almost impossible to find in Brussels sprouts when they’re sautéd as separate leaves – with such quick work, there’s no chance for that smelly culprit, hydrogen sulfide, to break out of its cell.  Better still, the leaves are both tender and substantial enough to hold their shape a bit, a counterpoint to the wilty spinach.  And best of all, there are Marcona almonds.  Yes, it’s a splurge, but not only are they fantabulous in the dish – you can also secretly snack on them as a reward for detaching Brussels leaves for half an hour. The maple and vinegar are just right, fleeting hints of tart and sweet for an elegant side.

Incidentally, there’s no need to discard the tiny core of the Brussels sprouts.  I threw it in the pan along with everything else.  My result might not have been as refined-looking as the photo, but it sure tasted amazing.

Estimated preparation time: 30 minutes. But 5 minutes if you can get somebody else to separate the Brussels sprouts leaves and wash the spinach.

Brussel leaf and baby spinach sauté with Marcona almonds
Serves 4

marcona almonds1 pound brussels sprouts
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine or
champagne vinegar

1 tablespoon maple syrup
4 cups baby spinach
2 generous pinches of sea salt
1/2 cup Marcona almonds

1.  Working with one brussels sprout at a time, peel each individual leaf, starting from the outside and working toward the middle. Continue to peel until you get to the tough core where it is just too tight to pull any more leaves. Discard the core [ed.: Or don’t!]  and put the leaves in a big bowl.  Repeat with the remaining brussels sprouts.

2.  Over medium heat, warm the olive oil in a large frying pan. Add all of the brussels leaves and saute for about 30 seconds. Add the vinegar and maple syrup and toss to coat, Add the spinach to the pan and toss until it is just barely wilted. It is better just slightly underdone in this case, as it will continue to cook in its own heat.

3.  Sprinkle with the salt and Marcona almonds and serve immediately.

Reprinted with permission from The Sprouted Kitchen © 2012 by Sara Forte, 10 Speed Press.

sauces, saucemakingThe world has been waiting for a better sauce book for so long.  Sauces, so often, are what divides a memorable restaurant meal from our more hasty efforts at home.

But pretty much every book just on sauces is a monster tome; essentially a textbook for a seminar on sauces at cooking school.  It’s overwhelming.  So when I saw Holmberg’s book, I had hopes that this would be the one – the book that offers answers for the 21st-century sauce aspirant.

Does it succeed? Click here to read today’s review of Modern Sauces in the Boston Globe.

roast corn, shrimp salad

The book:  Grain Mains, by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough (Rodale, $24.99)

The recipe:  Roasted corn and shrimp “ceviche”

Why I tried itI happened to be testing this book during corn season – a hot, dry week when I didn’t really feel like eating a steaming bowl of whole grains (though I tested and liked many in this book).  Although I’d never thought of corn as a whole grain, this easy salad looked like a good bet for a quick weeknight dinner.  No soaking overnight or boiling for an hour!

Why I loved it:  I was totally unprepared for the blast of flavor the shrimp picked up from what are, after all, some pretty predictable ingredients: lime, red onion, cilantro.  The radish and the jalapeño contributed a lively bite, and I found myself repeatedly going back to the bowl for a couple more forkfuls.  It was so good–and so easy–that I scaled it up for some 16 or so of us at a family reunion a couple weeks later (along with the addictive matzo candy), and it was just as good.

Can you make it in the winter, when there’s no fresh corn to be had? I think so, though I haven’t tried.  I would take frozen corn and thaw it and dry it super-thoroughly on towels.  Then I’d toss it in some oil and spread it out in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet for the broiling step.  It ought to work, if you can get the corn dry enough.  Let me know, if you try!

Estimated preparation time: 30 leisurely minutes, if you aren’t obliged to devein the shrimp first.

Roasted corn and shrimp “ceviche”
Serves 4

4 ears of corn, husked
1/2 pound peeled and deveined medium shrimp
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/4 cup minced red onion
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
3 radishes, minced
1 jalapeño chile, seeded and minced
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1. Position the rack 4 to 6 inches from the broiler heat source and preheat the broiler.

2. Lay the corn on a large rimmed baking sheet. Toss the shrimp with 1 tablespoon of the oil in a bowl, then spread them on the baking sheet, too. Broil, turning both the corn and shrimp, until the corn is lightly browned on all sides and the shrimp are pink and firm, about 5 minutes.

3. Cool the corn and shrimp a few minutes, then slice the kernels off the cobs. Dice the shrimp. Add both to a large nonreactive bowl. Stir in everything else: the onion, cilantro, radishes, jalapeno, lime juice, salt, pepper, and the remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Set aside at room temperature to marinate for 10 minutes before serving.

Reprinted with permission from Grain Mains © 2012 by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough, Rodale Press.

You might have thought banana bread was just fine all by itself.  You might have thought there was no point to adding peanut butter, and even less to adding chocolate.  Lucky you! to have lived all these years free from the serpent of temptation.

But in Baked Elements (from Baked, the Brooklyn bakery whose boozy debut cookbook was published a couple of years ago) all bets are off.  More is more, and no indulgence is left unexplored – as we discovered during a week of testing that had a truly catastrophic effect on the family weight-loss effort.

Click here to read today’s review of Baked Elements in the Boston Globe.

The book:  Susan Feniger’s Street Food, by Susan Feniger, Kajsa Alger, Liz Lachman (Clarkson Potter, $27.50 – here’s my complete review)

The recipe:  Matzo candy with caramel, chocolate, and halvah

Why I tried itI just loved the idea that somebody would try to take matzo, the blandest starch ever (putting the carb in cardboard for 3000 years!), and make something completely droolworthy out of it.  Could it actually work?

Why I loved it:  The very flaws that define matzo – its boring, brittle blandness – make it just about the perfect delivery system for a decadent layering of caramel and chocolate.  It’s just about the easiest dessert I know how to make, too, a making-the-best-of-what-you-have-on-hand kind of dessert – which seems somehow to true to matzo’s Exodus roots.

Estimated preparation time:  Hardly more than 30 minutes, if you remembered to start by preheating the oven and can find your corn syrup.

Matzo candy w/caramel, chocolate & halva (CH 7)Matzo candy with caramel, chocolate, and halvah

Olive oil spray
1 (11-ounce) box unsalted matzo crackers (11 crackers)
1/2 cup (1 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 pound semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
1/4 pound (1 cup) halvah

1.  Set the oven to 300 degrees. Spray 3 baking sheets with olive oil spray, or spread a small quantity of oil over the sheets with a basting brush.

2.  Lay the matzo out in a single layer on the prepared baking sheets.

3.  Put the butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, and salt in a small saucepan set over low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 to 4 minutes, until the butter melts. Raise the heat to medium and cook until the mixture is bubbling rapidly, 3 minutes. Add the baking soda, turn off the heat, and stir. The caramel mixture will be thick and bubbly.

4.  Spread the caramel over the top of the matzo crackers, covering their entire surface. Put the baking sheets in the oven and bake for 10 to 15 minutes.

5. Remove the baking sheets from the oven and immediately sprinkle the chopped chocolate over the caramel-covered matzo. Using a rubber spatula or the back of a spoon, spread the chocolate pieces so that they melt and coat the caramel matzo evenly. Then, while the chocolate is still warm, sprinkle with the halva. Let the matzo cool in the refrigerator for 1 hour or longer.

6. Break the cooled matzo into smaller pieces, and serve. Store any extras in the refrigerator in an airtight container or plastic bags.

Reprinted from the book Susan Feniger’s Street Food.  Copyright © 2012 by Susan Feniger.  Photographs copyright © 2012 by Jennifer May.  Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House, Inc.

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