Thursday, December 31, 2009

Bacon: A Love Story

Bacon, how do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.

I first met you as a fried egg's best friend.  Crispy, smoky, slightly chewy, you sacrificed your delicious fat so that my eggs didn't stick to the pan in the days before the invention of Teflon.

I think the only meal that I can recall  my dad ever making, was breakfast.

We camped as kids and probably half as joke, we ended up with a frying pan so large it would cover the entire fire pit.  I think at least a dozen eggs,  a pound of bacon, and a big batch of extra crispy thinly sliced potatoes and onions could be cooked in that beast over a fire.  (I still beg waitresses to request my home fries be burned, because that's how I like them best, open fire optional.)  I'll have to ask my dad if he still has that pan.  I'll bet he does.


Second, it really isn't summer until you have your first BLT with a freshly picked tomato, still warm from the sun, preferably one you've grown yourself.  The BLT is truly one of the best sandwiches ever invented, and bacon, good bacon, is obviously the ingredient that pulls it all together.

These days, I am pretty particular about where my bacon comes from.  I love the applewood smoked version by Niman Ranch which Trader Joe's carries.  I get most of mine from the farmer's market through my friends at Curly Tail Farms.   Once you've had bacon from happy pigs, the grocery store stuff will seem pretty insipid.   And precooked bacon?  Please, just don't.

I even made my own (well pancetta, technically, since I didn't smoke it) with a pork belly from Curly Tail Farms.  It's quite simple actually, just follow Michael Ruhlman's recipe, and honestly, it is the one of the most delicious things I have ever made.  When the weather is a little nicer, I'll try my hand at bacon when I can smoke it on the grill.

Some of the best artisan bacon (and other porky deliciousness) I have ever had was procured at the Ithaca Farmers Market, at the aptly named, Piggery.  They even offer a winter charcuterie CSA, which made me briefly consider moving to upstate New York.  My New Year's wish is for someone to offer this CSA in Northeast Ohio.  Pretty please.

Bacon has made many an appearance on both my personal, and personal chef client menus this year.  I participated in the Countryside Conservancy's Fund Grazer in the fall, and thanks to generous donations from Curly Tail Farms of bacon, and fresh goat cheese from Lake Erie Creamery, I was inspired to create the popular Goat Cheese Truffles with Bacon and Toasted Pecans.  And not one to waste good bacon grease, I used some of it in a vinaigrette I made for a salad for the event.

Bacon also was part of the inspiration for my entry in the Adams Reserve Cheddar Challenge.  Sure the Sweet and Spicy Cheeseball with Apples and Bacon would have been good without the bacon - but with the bacon, it's great.  The salty, smoky flavor from the bacon is what helps balance the flavors. 

The sweet and savory interplay with bacon has leaned closer and closer to the sweet side lately.  You can now buy a chocolate bar with bacon, and Sweets by Dilley at the farmer's market offered chocolate covered bacon this year (mmmmmmmm).  So when NPR published some year end dessert recipes featuring bacon, the Pecan Chocolate Chip Cookies with Bacon, caught my eye immediately.  And boy oh boy are they delicious.

My sister toyed briefly with becoming a vegetarian a few years ago.  She gave up meat, took up farmer's market shopping, and switched to organics when possible.  She switched to turkey bacon for her Sunday breakfasts.  Turkey bacon?  What in the heck is up with that stuff?  Blech. (Beef bacon, on the other hand is delicious, and for my money a better substitute if pork consumption is an issue - many of the West Side Market butchers carry it).

But she couldn't resist the siren call of real bacon.   And neither can I.

The Zen of Snow

When I first awoke (late - weird dreams lately), and saw the pretty frosting that arrived overnight, my first thought was "Aw, how pretty".  My second thought was "Aw, crap, I am going to have shovel the driveway again".

My outdoor kitty has adapted nicely to his new, relatively warm spot near the the recycling bins in the garage.  After sleeping who knows where for two winters, and only accepting kibble hand-outs, he now waits for me to come out so he can thank me by rubbing my legs and purring loudly.  He would not, however, stand still for a photo, so you can see how fat he's become in preparation for winter.  I was afraid he wasn't going to be able to fit through the kitty door.

Back to the task at hand.  Bundled up, coffee nuked in the microwave to keep the cup warm, I turned to my trusty Quick Snow Shovel on Wheels (black) (11"H x 26"W x 6"D).  I scored this last year at Tuesday Morning, and I have to say, it makes shoveling nearly fun. 

This shovel turns you into a human powered snow plow.  The angled, ball bearing driven wheels, allow you to easily push even wet, heavy snow.  This isn't a lift and throw device; it's heavy.

It's perfect for women.  And here's why:  Women don't want to mess with noisy, gas powered devices that can potentially result in an unpleasant visit to the emergency room.  Women don't want to lift and throw heavy snow, ignoring those reports that this is likely to result in a heart attack.

I like the way the blanket of snow mutes all of the noises outside.  Once you get in a rhythm, it really does become kind of peaceful.  It's important when you get the road, that you get as much of the end of the drive stuff moved out of the way so you don't get the dreaded 'snow hump' when the street plows come.

Hopefully I worked off some of last night's potpie.  And the chocolate stash I found when I cleaned my office.....

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Gadget Love: Tart Pan Ring Moonlights as Pie Crust Shield

Baby it's cold outside.  We finally had some measurable snow accumulation this week.  The post holiday cookie, cheesy, rich food, plus movie popcorn and greasy Vaccaro's Pizza (amen - just like when I was kid - and 2 minutes from house; possibly dangerous), left me craving veggies and salad.  Which I did eat the last few days.

But this morning, as I was sweating it out at the gym and drooling over the New Year's appetizers on the Today Show, then the 'cheese show' on Martha Stewart, an epiphany occurred.  Leftover roasted chicken, a Pillsbury Ready Pie Crust that didn't make it into a mini-tart recipe for a holiday party, both in the fridge - Chicken Pot Pie!

Yeah, yeah, I know it's not a low fat meal, but it sounded good and it managed to use up ingredients on hand.  I mentally debated going to West Side Market today.  But seriously, I have enough frozen, ready to eat meals in my stuffed freezer, that I could probably survive nicely until April.  Or May.

So into the oven went the lovely pot pie.  I knew there was an unopened package of pie crust shields in the basement.  Unopened, because pie of any form doesn't happen here very often.  I made a few futile attempts to locate them.  No luck.  Then the second epiphany of the day:  overturned tart pan ring would make a perfect pie crust shield.

Turns out the 10" ring fits perfectly over the 9" pie crust.  So yes, you could cover those edges with foil.  You could even waste your money on 'pie crust shields' (when I find those stupid things, they are going straight to the yard sale box), but if you bake at all, and have a tart pan with a removable bottom, you have an instant pie crust shield.  

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Cleaving - Not the sharpest knife in the drawer

I should have suspected that Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession, Julie Powell's second book, was a stinker when I put my request in at the library and it appeared in my pick-up list almost immediately.

I enjoyed Julie & Julia, the book, when I originally read it, but when I tried to re-read it prior to the movie release, I just couldn't get into it again. I am probably not the only one who sat through the movie wishing the movie was just Meryl Streep channeling Julia Child in a full picture based on My Life in France (Illustrated Edition)[Rough-Cut Edge] by Julia Child.

Casting Amy Adams probably made perfect sense in the context of the movie, but if you've seen Julie Powell doing any TV interviews, you'll probably agree with me that Rosie O'Donell might have been a more apt choice.

Which is why it's even harder to get into Cleaving, which is as much about Julie Powell's constant cheating on her husband, as it is about her new found obsession with learning to butcher.  I don't really object to the adultery so much on a moral level, as I do with her descriptions which range from boring and self absorbed, to just kind of icky. 

I found the descriptions of bits of gristle and blood clinging to her after a day at the butcher shop more palatable than her descriptions of her affair.

I only made it to chapter 6, about a third of a way through, before I determined that was enough.  It's kind of like taking a few more bites of the sandwich before determining, yes, I didn't imagine that smell, this is putrid.

Glancing at the reviews on Amazon, it looks like I am not alone in my take on this book.  If you are dying to check it out, I'll be dropping mine back at the library tomorrow.  Or give it six months for it to hit the bargain tables for less than a magazine.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

I woke up pre-dawn this Christmas morning, not because I was eager to see what Santa brought, but because despite what I thought was a light workout at the gym yesterday, what I really wanted Santa to leave was some Advil and coffee.  (It's kind of funny how as you age, the true aches from exercise visit you in the night like the ghosts of Christmas past).

Fortified with pain relievers and caffeine, thoughts of breakfast danced in my head.  A quick tour of the refrigerator produced eggs, Gruyere, an open bottle of roasted red peppers, a bunch of rapini, a hunk of ham purchased for ham salad, and some grapefruits. Miraculously, the leftover chunk of Challah was stale, but not moldy, so a strata was born.

I doused the sliced grapefruit with a little of the Finger Lakes Distilling Maplejack, then made a crumb topping with a few tablespoons of Plugra butter and Wondra flour, then finished with a pinch of Tangerine finishing salt, then broiled.

I opened a bottle of Red Tail Ridge Dry Rose last night with dinner, and it seemed like a good excuse to drink at 8:30 am, so I had a glass with breakfast.

While breakfast was baking, I prepped a riff on my Grandma's Christmas Broiled Ham Salad.  As a child, I spent Christmas afternoons at my paternal grandparents and we had the classic (dry as a bone) turkey dinner with the trimmings, then later in the evening we went to my maternal grandmothers.

Since it was later, and definitely more casual, broiled ham salad was what we had when hunger struck again.  Basically ground ham, a little mustard, sweet onion, sweet pickle relish, enough Miracle Whip to hold it together, and a bag of shredded cheddar, mounded onto Kaiser roll halves, then broiled til melted and bubbly.

My riff on the recipe - I used chopped Tony Packo's Sweet Hots instead of relish, mayo, only because I don't have any Miracle Whip on hand, and Adams Reserve New York Cheddar, because I still have some of my winnings in the frig.  (And hey - check out their site - I am on there grinning with my winnings and Robin Swoboda, plus the cheese ball recipe is there).

There's no real recipe, or measurements, much to my anal, measuring carefully sister's dismay, just chop some ham in the food processor, throw in some chopped onion, relish (or chopped sweet hots), squirt in some mustard and mayo (or Miracle Whip), and mix until you get a consistency that holds together slightly.  Then add grated cheese.  Mound on your roll halves and broil until the cheese is melted and bubbly (and the smoke alarm goes off, but preferably before). 

So, I fear I need a little more Advil, and maybe a soak in the jetted tub, but I will be definitely well fed this Christmas, and hope you will be too.

Monday, December 21, 2009

12 Days of Cookbooks: The Joy of Pickling

I certainly rediscovered the joy of pickling this summer, thanks to Linda Ziedrich's The Joy of Pickling, Revised Edition: 250 Flavor-Packed Flavor-Packed Recipes for Vegetables and More from Garden or Market.

I made bread and butter pickles, dill pickles, dilly beans, pickled figs, corn relish and pickled grapes. 

I made this delicious sweet tomato chutney.  I went through gallons of vinegar and many pounds of sugar.  And I smile every time I open one of those jars, or receive compliments from those lucky enough to receive them as gifts.

Whether you are a veteran preserver, or new to the art, The Joy of Pickling can help guide you along.  A nice primer on the how to do,  safely starts the book, with sections of recipes divided into type of pickles.

There is a section on quick pickles, and I am eyeing the Pickled Fennel with Orange (pg 174) and the Pink Pickled Shallots (pg 292).

I am also pretty crazy about the section on chutneys and ketchups.  Sure, I like a puddle of Heinz when I succumb to my occasional cravings for Tater Tots, but homemade ketchup rocks.   (I made cranberry ketchup once which rocked on sandwiches).

The companion volume The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves: 200 Classic and Contemporary Recipes Showcasing the Fabulous Flavors of Fresh Fruitswould also make a great gift.

Sour, Spicy, Salty, or sweet - discover the Joy of Pickling!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

12 Days of Cookbooks: Food Matters - Mark Bittman

 Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating with More Than 75 Recipes

There are many, many books out now on food ethics, eating locally, etc., etc., etc.

Michael Pollan's an Omnivorne's Dilemma is notable, but some of the densest, hard to get through writing I have ever encountered.  It sits, half read, on my nightstand.  Even when I was bedridden in the hospital, I couldn't get through it.  His In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, is a much more digestible, pardon the pun, version.

When Mark Bittman's Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating was released earlier this year, I thought, swell, another book preaching to the choir on reduced meat consumption, and thinking before you graze.  I like Bittman,  and I treasure my copy of How to Cook Everything, which comes in handy, when I'm stumped, usually by something simple.  But until I saw some of his Today Show appearances, talking about the book, I was a little skeptical that the world needed another version of this story.  The fact that he dropped 35 pounds following his own advice got my attention as well.

His no nonsense approach includes a common sense, non-preachy review of how 'Big Food' got where it is, moves to his version of 'how to eat', which is essentially cutting back on meat and processed foods, and about half the book provides recipes.

I think a lot of Bittman's appeal is his totally flexible approach to cooking.  He encourages making the recipes with whatever ingredients you happen to have on hand.  His lists of 101 ideas on New York Times make me wonder if he is gripped by some demon every once in awhile that forces him to get them down on paper as quickly as possible. 

No photos, so if you are looking for a pretty book, this isn't it.  But if you are looking at starting on those New Year's resolutions, this one has a nicely laid out plan to change your shopping habits, your pantry, and your diet, to benefit not only your health, but good old Mother Earth's as well.

Apple-Gruyere French Toast with Red Onion

I am not a big sweet for breakfast fan, so this savory Apple-Gruyere French Toast with Red Onion recipe in the New York Times caught my eye.   And despite last night's Paella feast, I was able to work up an appetite mostly by disassembling the stove top and cleaning up the mess I made making the paella.

Pretty simple - some thick slices of challah (I got mine at Theresa's Bakery at the West Side Market for $4), thinly sliced red onion, grated gruyere (from the Cheese Shop at the Market),  an apple and a couple of eggsfrom the farmers market, and I used half and half vs. the whole milk called for.

You stuff a pocket with the onion and cheese, heat some oil and put half the apple slices in, then put the bread on top with the rest of the apples, cover and cook about 5 minutes, carefully (it's tricky to get the apples to stay in place), and finish for 3-5 minutes.  Enough time to fry a couple of eggs to put on top.  (not pictured because I tend to flip my eggs and they don't always land picture perfectly)



  • I was gifted a beautiful 18" paella pan, brought back from Spain, by my contractor.  I hadn't broken it in yet.  Until last night.  I seriously don't know why I ended up with so much protein; the rice alone would have been fine.  For the record, I had 2 pounds of chicken thighs, a package of chorizo from the farmers market, 4 huge scallops, and a pound of large pink Florida shrimp.
See how pretty and shiny that pan was?  Trust me, it doesn't look that now.

I used a hybrid of recipes, but primarily was following the one from Fine  I fired up two burners to around medium-high as instructed.  Because the pan is thin, it gets hot FAST.  So when I put in about 1/4 c. of olive oil, that baby started spitting and smoking, and the smoke detector started chirping.

I quickly adjusted the heat, threw open the window, cranked the exhaust fan to a deafening max, then started tossing proteins to be browned.  First, the chicken, then the chorizo, then the seafood.

Silly me, at this point is thinking I will probably finish in the oven, so I didn't want to overcook, so I pulled them, and moved onto to the rice.  (Silly because I didn't check to see if the pan would actually fit in the oven until later; it doesn't)

At this point it's going pretty well.  The smoke has cleared to a light fog.  I made a soffrito by grating an onion, a Kumato (another story by itself), and threw in some sliced garlic. I stir fried the rice a few minutes before adding saffron flavored broth, tossed in some fresh green beans, wrestled with opening a jar of roasted peppers (when did my ability to open jars disappear?). The proteins were all nestled back in while I rotated 1/4 turn every few minutes and waited for the magic to happen.

At this point it was definitely time to open the bottle of wine I picked up at West Point Market - a delicious Garnacha - Atteca Old Vines (2008). After awhile I tested the rice when the broth seemed to be absorbed and it was still underdone, so I added more stock, rotated some more, then covered with foil for a bit. It seemed like the rice was getting there, but a temp check on the chicken and chorizo revealed they weren't, so I pulled them out and stuck them in the oven.  Then I was afraid that the seafood would overcook, so I pulled it and covered with foil.

Sipping, waiting.  I cooked a shrimp specifically for my oldest kitty, Jake, who waited patiently outside the kitchen, whining, until I cut it up and gave it to him.  (As a little kitten, a guest gave him shrimp at holiday party - he has had conniption fits when he smells shrimp ever since). Finally I start to hear the rice crackling, signally the socarrat, or caramelized crust, was forming.

Good stuff!  The chicken and sausage still weren't quite done, so I had a seafood only version.

So obviously, a few lessons learned.  The pan would fit nicely over the firepit, so I may try an outdoor version next summer.

Thankfully it's delicious - because I will be eating it for days.

And for a light dessert,  these olive oil tortas, imported from Seville, Spain, are divine.  Light and crispy, they come in several flavors, including my current favorite, Seville Orange.  They are currently on sale at Mustard Seed Market - they are across from the chips in the aisle with the water filler.  Thanks to my friend Laura for turning me on to these.


    Saturday, December 19, 2009

    12 Days of Cookbooks: Charcuterie

    Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing is next on my list for 12 days of cookbooks.  I've had the book for a few years, and I really wanted to make my own pancetta, and this year I finally got around to it.  And it rocks! (Michael Ruhlman was kind enough to sign my copy at the event with Thomas Keller)  This one would make a good gift for the guys.

    I think there have been enough tainted food scares to create a healthy respect/hesitation for hanging curing meat at home, (I know I had to get over it), but the reality is, that an organic product, treated properly, and handled with sanitation in mind, IS probably safer than a lot of the so called food sold in supermarkets.

    One of the items needed for curing, the so called 'pink salt' (because it is dyed pink), I ordered as Ruhlman recommends, from Butcher Packer,  and was stunned at how fast they filled the order and shipped it.

    I think my order also got me on a mailing list for a catalog for sausage making,  that had me momentarily dreaming of buying industrial size smokers, and all kinds of crazy supplies, and maybe permanently smelling like garlic.

    My memories of the delicious pork products from The Piggery, in New York, which offers a charcuterie CSA, also inspired me to get the book back out and get to work.  Seriously, imagine a CSA that provides 3-4 weeks of pork belly confit!  (I am working on Jeff Brunty to expand from chickens into pigs, but he hasn't totally come around to my way of thinking yet.  I'll keep on him). 

    Now that I have a place to store the Kitchen-Aid mixer, it might be time to get the meat grinder attachment and move on to sausage making.  In the meantime, I am savoring every last bite of that pancetta, and looking forward to making another batch as soon as it's gone.  All hail the pig, indeed!

    Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing

    Winter Farmer's Market Haul

    Check out the amazing stuff I scored this morning at the Countryside Conservancy Farmer's Market! The market moves indoors to the Happy Days Visitor Center for the winter, and thanks to more farmers using hoop houses, the amount of fresh veggies available is pretty amazing for winter in Akron, Ohio.

    I got:  Oakleaf lettuce, red and Easter egg radishes, bosc pears, onions, red & yellow beets, red fleshed potatoes, a gigantic butternut squash, brussels sprouts, a few carrots, fresh eggs, a stewing chicken, including the feet (everything but the head!), bacon, chorizo, fresh chevre from Lake Erie Creamery, plus my favorite Mackenzie Creamery goat cheese with tomato chutney.

    I had a delicious chicken pot pie empanada, and a Summit Croissants gingersnap croissant for breakfast.

    I also traded my friend Jan some of those Bacon Pecan Chocolate Chip Cookies for one of her home brewed Vanilla Porters (although they might be good together...).

    I also ran into Mike, from Dad Cooks Dinner at the Brunty Farms table.  Check out Mike's blog (I've added him to my blogroll).

    I am planning on breaking in my Paella pan this evening, getting that chicken in soup pot this afternoon, and I am planning on breaking in the My Bread book with the awesome sounding mushroom pizza.  I actually dreamed about that pizza last night. 

    I also have some brunch recipes I want to test and photograph, so it's going to be a busy weekend in the kitchen.

    I want to give a feel better shout out, to Anita and her son Tyler, from The Basketeria, who were in a head on crash with 3 drunk teens at 4 am this morning.  Fortunately they are ok, and only a little banged up - their Honda Civic Hybrid did it's job in protecting them.   Please people - don't drink and drive, and don't let your kids either.

    Friday, December 18, 2009

    12 Days of Cookbooks: My Bread by Jim Lahey

    There are a host of new books on baking your own artisan style breads, and thanks to a 30% off Borders coupon, I am now the proud owner of My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method.

    Probably because I am not much of a baker, I missed the New York Times article featuring Jim Lahey's technique, with Mark Bittman extolling it's virtues. But now there is an entire book with recipes and photos.

    The method involves an extra long rise of 18-24 hours then baking in a preheated pot. The preheated pot provides and 'oven within an oven', which provides a way to seal in the steam in approximate a commercial oven.

    Apparently there was a spate of stolen Le Creuset knobs in kitchen stores after the NY Times article, because the knob isn't rated for the 500 degree temps called for in the bread recipes. Lahey helpfully suggests removing the knob and plugging the screw hole with foil to preserve your knob.

    Why I like this book over the the others lining the shelves: Very clear instructions, including step by step pictorials, a few variations, but not an overwhelming number of recipes, a nice section of focaccias and pizzas, on of the most interesting sections on building sandwiches completely from scratch, and a section on using stale bread.

    I like the variations with whole grains, fruits, and veggies, including gluten-free ingredients, but have to confess that for a non-baker, this book is so information dense that it's hard for me to focus on what I would want to make. This book has you make and keep a starter that you can use in a variety of recipes; I've neglected and lost a few mothers in the fridge in the past.

    Like a lot of foods, artisan breads have pretty much spoiled me. The thought of eating a squishy commercial sliced bread, that somehow manages to defy growing mold for nearly a month, isn't really appealing.

    On the other hand, the price and sometimes enormous size of artisan loaves, in a small household, can be overwhelming. You can only make so many breadcrumbs....

    So stay tuned, soup and freshly baked bread sound like a good way to spend a few winter days.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009

    Have a Very Bacon Christmas

    Bacon mania is sweeping the country - Bacon flavored vodka (although it hasn't made it to Akron yet, I have put the liquor stores on alert), bacon bandages, bacon lunch boxes, you name it, it probably comes in bacon flavor.

    The sweet and savory combinations abound. So it shouldn't be hard to guess what the secret ingredient in my chocolate chip cookies is. And there are a few other fun dessert recipes on that link.

    There is a variation if you like thicker cookies, but I think the thinner, crispier version works better and gives them a more bacony texture.

    If you don't want to whip up the cookies, Vosges Mo's Bacon Bar, is available at Mustard Seed and West Point Markets, and at about $8, makes a good stocking stuffer. I found one that got lost in the pantry last week - mmm, good.

    Tuesday, December 15, 2009

    Theater Tix for $10 - Stuff that in a Stocking!

    Who says you have to spend a fortune to see a Broadway quality play or show? The amazing Playhouse Square Theater district has offered $10 Smart Seats for most shows for a few years now. (There are now $20 versions on the main floor also offered ).

    As expected, the seats are at the top, back section of the balconies. But none of the Playhouse Square Theaters are so huge that the seats are that bad. And at $10, if you try out something new, and find out in short order that the show is not for you, your aren't out much if you leave. (well, I did lose a leather jacket on that one, because I couldn't get out fast enough; lost and found had it, I just didn't pick it up in time)

    There are tickets available for a wide range of shows in 2010. And at $10 a pop, you can afford to treat yourself to a nice meal out before or after the show. You can buy and print on-line, so no last minute crowd jostling for these stocking stuffers.

    12 Days of Cookbooks: Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health

    Having eaten lunch at the Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, twice this year, gives me special memories whenever I cook from one of their cookbooks. (Above is my sister's Veggie Burger and my veggie relleno from October).

    The Ithaca Farmers Markets is one of the most diverse and amazing markets I've had the pleasure of visiting, and the latest Moosewood offering, makes use of many locally obtained products. This book also cuts back on the use of cheese, sugar, and eliminates 'white foods' while emphasizing more whole grains.

    I'm looking forward to digging into this one a little more in the coming weeks.

    12 Days of Cookbooks: The Conscious Cook

    I am an omnivore, and will remain so. I do however eat meatless several times a week, and I have some vegetarian and vegan personal chef clients. I could probably quit meat more easily than dairy or honey, so becoming vegan is also not in my future.

    Chef Tal Ronnen was on Oprah about about a month ago promoting his new book,The Conscious Cook: Delicious Meatless Recipes That Will Change the Way You Eat, and demonstrating some recipes. (Chef Ronnen is the chef behind Oprah's month long Vegan experiment).

    I watched him make a cream sauce using cashews, and a 'chicken' piccata using a product called 'Gardein', and went to Borders as soon as the show was over and bought the book. I have yet to experiment with the recipes, but my friend and fellow bloggger, Jewels, of Jewels From the Roving Stove, has been cooking up a storm from the book.

    There's also a local Akron plug in the book - Chef Scot Jones, of VegiTerranean, is spotlighted as a guest chef. Some of the recipes in the book, including Hot Italian Peppers Stuffed with Fresh Herb Risotto and Soy Mozzarella, with Fresh Basil Lime Sauce, and Gardein 'Chicken" Piccata, are on the VegiTerranean menu.

    Gardein is available at Mustard Seed and Whole Foods, but only in retail, prepared packages. I am looking forward to getting a hold of some 'raw' Gardein and experimenting with it myself.

    Using meat replacement products in a diet eschewing animal products has always been a bit of a paradox to me; it seems to me that non-meat eaters would not want to eat products intended to resemble meat, especially when there are plenty of plant based, delicious foods that can provide an outstanding dining experience. But hey, what do I know?

    In any event, this is an excellent book with beautiful photography, and recipes probably aimed at the more experienced cook looking for a fine dining experience at home. Ronnen's tips and techniques are an added bonus sprinkled throughout the book.

    Monday, December 14, 2009

    12 Days of Cookbooks: Dinner at Your Door

    The recipes are designed to feed 12 as part of a rotating food co-op among neighbors and friends, but I've successfully scaled back some of the recipes. The recipes are arranged seasonally, which I always appreciate, and both entrees, and sides are represented, including a nice selection of vegetarian recipes.

    Among my favorites (as well as my personal chef clients) are the Salmon with Fresh Strawberry Relish, which was phenomenal during the brief local strawberry season, the Spinach, Lavender, and Goat Cheese Strata, and the Swiss Chard Spanokopita with Feta. (recipes were included with permission of the authors, Alex Davis and Diana Ellis).

    I want to try nearly every recipe in the book. So I think it's time to test out a few of the winter recipes very soon.

    They also outline specifics for starting and maintaining a meal co-op, which is a great concept. You cook only a few nights a week, but enjoy home cooked meals every night. But even if you are just cooking for your own family, scale back, or enjoy the leftovers.

    12 Days of Cookbooks: Gourmet Today

    When the venerable Gourmet Magazine announced abruptly just a few months ago that it was ceasing publication with the November 2009 issue, the food world, including Gourmet Magazine's competitors, shed a collective tear.

    Once considered the height of chic dining and entertaining, lately it seemed to suffer from some thin content, and even worse cover photography (poorly lit, single ingredient covers without any pitching text, often left readers, including me scratching our heads, thinking "they think that looks appealing?").

    The recipes, and some of the stories, fortunately live on via the website, and on, and for those who want something a little more tangible to flip through, the massive volume known as Gourmet Today: More than 1000 All-New Recipes for the Contemporary Kitchen.

    At just over 1,000 pages, including the index, there's something for everyone. Except photos. If you are the kind of cookbook reader that likes to flip through the glossy, styled photos, well, this is not the book for you.

    If you want to toss the gooey marshmallow sweet potatoes to the curb, and kick the spices into gear with Sweet Potato Puree with Smoked Paprika (pg 633), you've come to the right place.

    In fact the large sections on vegetables and grains and beans, are among my favorites. There's a new and interesting sounding flavor combination on practically every page. The sections and organization of the book make it easy enough to find what you want without becoming overwhelming due to the hefty size.

    The cover price, at $40 is also pretty hefty, but either Amazon or using a deep discount coupon at Borders (I scored mine at a 50% off pre-Thanksgiving sale), make it an affordable, and now a nostalgic choice for your bookshelf.

    I won't be totally surprised to see Gourmet Magazine reborn and relaunched in the future.

    Sunday, December 13, 2009

    12 Days of Cookbooks: From the Earth to the Table

    One of my most bookmarked, often turned to for inspiration cookbooks, is John Ash's From the Earth to the Table: John Ash's Wine Country Cuisine.

    John Ash was a painter prior to becoming a chef, and it's evident in the way the recipes are written and composed to have both visual and taste appeal. He also provides wine pairings and garnish suggestions. He is also committed to sustainable, seasonal cooking, which is also evident.

    Ash is going to be teaching two classes and hosting a dinner at Piatto Novo in April 2010 with the Western Reserve School of Cooking. I really wish I could attend, especially since the first class is on my birthday, but I have already made other plans.

    I've made the Baked Olives and Vegetable Crudites with Warm Garlic Dipping Sauce for several parties to great reviews. The Seared Ahi Tuna with a Lavender-Pepper Crust is also a favorite, which pairs perfectly with a fruity Pinot Noir or Grenache for red drinkers, or a crisp Sauvignon Blanc for white drinkers.

    Especially when I am planning a wine paired dinner or party, this is one of the first books I turn to, but practically every page sings out with a recipe that appeals to me and inspires me to get cooking. One of my favorites out of the probably pushing 400 cookbooks in my collection.