Jeff Koehler is technically a native son, but Barcelona’s got him now — and, lucky us, it’s been his home base for travels around the Mediterranean to write about food. Don’t miss him in a rare Seattle appearance at The Elliott Bay Book Company at 2 p.m. Saturday (Nov. 14) to discuss his latest book, Rice Pasta Couscous. It’s a cross-cultural look at those staple ingredients, with Koehler sharing recipes from a broad swath of kitchens, from Syria to Valencia to Sardinia. To me, the stories in the recipe headnotes, the short descriptions above the recipes, are as vivid as the foods. I can picture digging into the Alexandria-Syle Amber Rice With Fish in the fishermen’s quarter of that Egyptian city, or admiring the “white-washed Tunisian village that clings to the cliffs” where he ate Lamb Couscous With Pistachios, Almonds, Pine Nuts, and Golden Raisins. I don’t ever expect to make Neretva-Style Eel and Frog Brodet, but I like the recipe anyway for the reply Koehler got when he asked his Croatian host how many frogs should be on the ingredient list: “As many as you can catch.”
The Steamy Kitchen book tour is coming to Seattle this week, and you’ve got three chances to meet author Jaden Hair.
I asked Jaden last week how Seattle wound up as a tour stop for her book on “101 Asian Recipes Simple Enough For Tonight’s Dinner,” in these days of pinched book budgets. Are we (I hope) such a hotbed of fish sauce, lemongrass, and soba noodles that we were a natural audience? She told me it’s because she had so much fun on her last trip here.
You can find Jaden from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday (Nov. 9) at the Admiral Metropolitan Market (2320 42nd Ave S.W.), then at the University Bookstore (4326 University Way N.E.) at 7 p.m. the same night for a book signing and food. On Tuesday, Nov. 10, she’s teaching a cooking class at 6 p.m. at Sur La Table in Kirkland (cost: $69, registration here).
One was that her speaking voice strikes the same fun, casual, best-friend tone as her blog. That’s hard to do. But it should work that way, Jaden said, because the blog is literally her voice. She writes using voice recognition software, talking through her posts instead of typing, for every part except the recipes. “I hate to write,” she said.
She’s worked hard to get where she is today, moving in just two years from beginning blogger to author and photographer and TV personality. And now, she isn’t sure what to do next. “I’m at the point where I love what I do so much,” she said. The next big career step would be a regular TV show (she’s talked with the Food Network), one where “I would have a boss again,” she said. “I would have an editor, a producer, all those people who have influence on what I do. I don’t know if I’m quite ready for that yet. I want to sit back and relax and enjoy this. I can pick up my kids anytime from school, and they can hang out with me at home. If I want to cook pork chops on TV tomorrow, I can do it. I don’t have anyone telling me it has to be this style or this way.”
I also asked if her relationship with readers has changed as she’s grown from an unknown to a blog-star with a newspaper column and more Twitter followers than Ruth Reichl. Does that change her relationship with new readers, are people seeking her out now as a potentially powerful mentor rather than a blog buddy?
She is getting a lot more requests from writers and chefs, asking how to promote their products, or saying something like “My publisher asked me to start a blog.” She tells them that blogging and Twitter have to be things they do every day. “It’s like, you don’t schedule time to brush your teeth, it’s something you do. You can’t say “I’m going to tweet for an hour tomorrow at two.” If you want to be successful at blogging, at promoting something, it’s got to be part of your life…it’s got to be all, or don’t bother.”
She can’t always answer questions one-on-one, but she was glad to do a recent phone-in forum with the International Association of Culinary Professionals, and said she’ d like to do more group talks like that. “I want to share the information (I have), because I got started because people were generous with their time with me.”
When Cindy Mushet and her daughter Bella came to town to talk about Cindy’s new book, Baking Kids Love, I couldn’t resist asking them to come by my house and do some baking with my own kid. My 7-year-old does like cooking with me, but, with a professional in the kitchen, I wondered if we could take on a more challenging project than usual. And we did. I wrote about it here on Al Dente Blog, along with the recipe for the meringue cookies the kids whipped up and piped into Halloween-style “rattling bones and fingers”. The cookies can be made into any shape you like, though — alphabet letters seem like a natural favorite. Here’s a little video showing some of the highlights of our after-school cooking lesson. It struck me that it’s always easier to learn new techniques with experienced helpers — even when one of them is only in middle school.
I don’t think I’ve ever met cookbook authors work as hard to connect with their audience as Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois, authors of “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day” and, now, “Healthy Bread In Five Minutes A Day.” The very focus of their new book, in fact, came from the deluge of reader questions they got about making no-knead bread with whole grains. (I remember being stunned by the volume of questions on that topic I got myself after writing about their first book. I passed every question along to Jeff and Zoe, and every one was answered.) I’ve watched the past year as they’ve answered reader questions via blog and Twitter… but, on Monday (Nov. 2), you can interact with them the old-fashioned way, on their book tour.
I talked with them about “Healthy Bread in Five Minutes A Day” for Al Dente, and you can read the story here. One bit of news: They’ve got a third book in the works now, on pizzas and flatbreads from around the world.
I have my share of benefit cookbooks on the shelf, but I often buy them more for the cause than the recipes. That’s why “40 Seasonal Soups” made an impact when I started browsing through it: The fund-raiser for Queen Anne’s Sacred Heart Shelter is a recipe collection from some of the best restaurants and most accomplished chefs around town. Canlis takes a bow with a parsnip veloute; Tilth offered up a broccoli-cheese soup made with aged Grafton cheddar; Ethan Stowell chips in his Mediterranean mussels and chickpeas; Le Pichet shares its famous onion soup; Tamara Murphy cooks up sweet pepper soup, highlighting “the glamor girls of the garden.” The well-known stars are joined by neighborhood favorites such as The Continental and its avgolemono.
Volunteer Elizabeth Kruse, who spearheaded the project, began cooking dinners about two years ago at the shelter, which was founded in 1979 with the belief that everyone deserves a safe place to sleep. Volunteers bring their own food, cooking for 30 or so residents at a time. “I saw what a fabulous place it was, and the great things it was doing, really, on a shoestring,” she said. She started looking for more sustained ways to help. The shelter’s annual fundraiser was soup-related — a downtown luncheon with soup and bread donated by restaurants and bakeries — so she began asking chefs around town to contribute recipes for a book.
Some said no — too busy with other causes, just not interested, or just plain no. Most said yes. Dan Braun of Oliver’s Twist, whose son went to preschool with Kruse’s son, stepped up to make calls, encouraging colleagues to chip in as well as contributing himself. The only real prerequisite at first was that the recipes be user-friendly. (After a few came in at restaurant-quantity, serving 50, she began suggesting they be scaled to serve 4 to 12). As they kept pouring in, Kruse started adjusting — putting the brakes on tomato soups, for instance, or chowders.
Kruse tested the bulk of the recipes at home. ”They were all fantastic. Quite honestly, it was a pleasure. Not only I, but my family, my brothers, and my friends - a lot of people have had a lot of soup over the last couple of months.” Lisa Peterson, a friend with a graphic design company, volunteered hundreds of unpaid hours to design the book and see it through.
As I was talking about the delightful ins and outs of the food — how good it sounded to simmer ham hocks on a chilly day for Betty’s winter posole, or how fine it sounded to poach eggs in the broth of Taberna del Alabardero’s Castilian garlic soup — I realized that’s only one key part of the book. The recipes are great so they can help support the cause — the shelter, which serves families who often can’t be helped by other charitable organizations in town. Teenagers can stay with their families at Sacred Heart. Single dads with children are welcome. The organization serves up to six families and six single women at a time, giving them a place to stay for up to 90 days, along with trying to find them stable housing and help them get the skills and means to maintain it. Along with recipes, the cookbook includes first-hand stories from the adults and children who have been nourished there in all ways.
“The rug is being pulled out of places like this…” said Kruse. They do such beautiful work, she said, and so much work, under such tough circumstances. “I love the cookbook, and I loved so much working on it, but the best thing is really that all of the proceeds go back to the shelter, and really make a difference.”
One of the things that caught my eye was the take Davies, a screenwriter, had on photographing food for the book. She didn’t approve. (More here.) It’s as far as you can get from the world of food blogs, which I’ve come to view as modern-day cookbooks. Cornichon thought the book itself “reads rather like a series of posts by a wordy blogger; it’s like listening to a particularly chatty guest at a boring dinner party.” It struck me as a transcribed cooking show, or a podcast, meant for a relaxed perusal over the weeks. It’s making me think about what the word “cookbook” means — and making me think I’ll make her “eggplant caviar” with the contents of my crisper.
The book champions several ways to eat healthier and improve the environment. We all know we need to eat less meat — but if you can’t go cold turkey (no pun intended), why not use just a few ounces of paper-thin rib roast for a homemade shabu-shabu, instead of grilling a whole steak? Or maybe spread a single chicken breast out over four servings for your buttermilk chicken salad, or, for the die-hard, at least cut the beef in your Philly Cheesesteak with malted portobellos?
Compromise is involved, yes, but this is not wishy-washy dining. The authors state baldly that the majority of American beef and dairy cows “probably lived very unhappy lives,” and recommend ways to find animal products you can feel better about eating. With recipes for homemade mayonnaise and carbonaras, they also put numbers on a question that’s vexed me for some time, the odds of getting salmonella from a raw egg. (They put it at 1 in 20,000. “You are more likely to get in a car wreck or become the victim of a violent crime than you are to get sick from a bad egg. Really.”)
For my potluck dish, I decided to move away from meat (there are also recipes using minimal amounts of lamb and pork and turkey), looking at parts of the book that dealt with eggs and fish. Representing the Northwest, I had to try the Roasted Salmon Citrus Salad. The recipe header lets readers know that salmon is a fine addition to the table — but to “take care in selecting our sources for the sake of sustaining the species.” If you grill the salmon outside instead of roasting it, it’s a great dish for our record-breaking heat wave, a tangy, crunchy, flavor-packed plate. And, remember that middle ground? I may have used wild-caught salmon, but it did cross my mind how few hardcore locavores would be on board with the dressing of limes and mangoes. I think that’s OK. Here’s the recipe:
Fellow dessert lovers, who among us has not wondered about the technical differences between a crisp and a crumble, a galette or a buckle? Enter Rustic Fruit Desserts, a collaboration between James Beard winner Cory Schreiber and Portland baker Julie Richardson, a book whose usefulness is clear straight from the introduction, where the authors describe each pastry-fruit iteration. (A galette? It’s a free-form tart that does not require a pan. A buckle has cake batter poured in a single layer, with berries added to the batter.)
In summer’s heat, flipping through the pages of their seasonal desserts makes me want to load up on ingredients for Raspberry-Red Currant Cobbler or Stone Fruit Slump. The recipes are straightforward, but irresistable– a bite of ginger here, candied rhubarb ribbons there, flavor combinations like plum and vanilla, peach and caramel.
The pair will be in town Wednesday, July 29, for a Cooks & Books event, with the exceptional Neil Robertson cooking up their recipes. They answered some questions in advance via e-mail, including my unusually impolite inquiry about whether the “rustic” of their title could properly be considered a code word for “ugly”. (Read about that in my Christian Science Monitor post here.)
Here’s what they had to say. And if you want to nibble on more than just their words, tickets to the event are online here:
Anyone who eats dessert in my home often knows what a fan I am of David Lebovitz. He’s the guy who (on paper) showed me it was easy to make marshmallows and meringues and macaroons; his wonderful recipes in The Perfect Scoop are the main reason I invested in a serious ice cream machine.
I feel like I know the guy, between his books and his blog. But, of course, I don’t. I wrote about that in my post in The Christian Science Monitor this week on Lebovitz’s new book, The Sweet Life in Paris. It’s online here.
It’s still hard for me to believe that Korean food is the next hot cuisine. It’s like finding out that the singer you always loved, the one who never made it really big, is suddenly on America’s Top 40. As I wrote here in the Christian Science Monitor, I’m crazy about Korean food, but it’s the one cuisine that has been too esoteric for nearly all my friends and relatives to join in. They’ve dubbed it too spicy, too aggressive, too unusual.
Breaking through that logjam of fascination and fear is writer/artist Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee, who’s coming to town this week on tour for her new book, Quick and Easy Korean Cooking. The book, chosen for Gourmet’s cookbook club, lives up to its name, and could legitimately have tagged a “delicious” on the title too. But even Lee’s previous book, the autobiographical Eating Korean, made it clear that it was possible to get authentic and thoroughly satisfying Korean food on the table without a tremendous investment of time.
On the phone before her Northwest trip, I asked Lee if she’s been getting bigger crowds for her book signings, now that Korean is considered hot instead of esoteric. She doesn’t know yet — she’s starting the tour here. But she is glad to hear people saying, finally, “Oh, Korean food. We all love it. It’s like it’s been around forever.”
Look for Lee at book signings and cooking demos around town (schedule below). Here are also some highlights from our conversation, and a recipe for her spicy buckwheat noodles, which are fast becoming a summertime staple in our home. (more…)