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Food for Thought
Cooking the Books: Adventures in Cooking with Cookbooks from the Library
The dizzying array of cookbooks available from the New York Public Library never fails to tempt. Some are lavishly illustrated, others sparse and textual. From The Best of Albanian Cooking to A Zimbabwean Cookery Book, if you can think of it, NYPL can help you cook it.
Although I love a gorgeously illustrated tome on cake craft, mostly what I'm looking for these days are recipes I can feasibly cook on a weeknight, with ingredients I can obtain from the supermarket on my way home from work. Recently I've been tasting my way through these cookbooks:
Fish: 54 Seafood Feasts by Cree LeFavour
Cree's kind of my hero right about now. She grew up on a farm in Idaho surrounded by pigs, chickens, rabbits, a big garden, in other words, intensely connected to her food source. She introduces the book with a persuasive essay on sustainable fishing and a list of preferable choices. Her recipes in Fish: 54 Seafood Feasts not only expertly guide you through the tricky and rather delicate business of cooking fish and seafood, but she pairs each main course with complimentary vegetable and grain suggestions.
I made the Cenote fish tacos (perhaps they should be sourced with species native to Yucatán sinkholes? I used catfish) and the New England cod chowder.The results were tasty and took a little over an hour from cutting board to table. The book is organized by regional flavor profile, including fish tales from America, Latin America, Asia, North Africa, the Mediterranean, and Bistro favorites. Cree LeFavour is also the author of Poulet: More than 50 Remarkable Meals that Exalt the Honest Chicken and The New Steak: Recipes for a Range of Cuts plus Savory Sides.
The Little Paris Kitchen by Rachel Khoo
If you want to pretend that you're living la vie Amélie, this adorably designed cookbook from Rachel Khoo is for YOU. High on both charm and substance, this book is filled with 150 simply explained takes on French classics with a twist, such as coq au vin—on skewers.
The book shows lovely photographs of Rachel gathering an assortment of baguettes, fromage, and charcuterie from some of her favorite Paris neighborhood spots, and the plated dishes crafted from her market expeditions. She even hosts lunch in her tiny 226 square foot apartment under the guise of La Petite Cuisine à Paris.
I made her poulet aux champignons avec une sauce au vin blanc (chicken with mushrooms in a white wine sauce) and poisson meunière (fish with lemon and brown butter sauce). The chicken dish was magnifique, but the fish unfortunately stuck to the bottom of my skillet and made a poisson mess. Khoo is an English chef living in Paris, and has her own BBC television show The Little Paris Kitchen from which the book is inspired.
Root-to-Stalk Cooking: The Art of Using the Whole Vegetable by Tara Duggan
Don't throw out those turnip tops, urges Duggan! Her whole vegetable philosophy brings to light how much we waste both nutritionally and economically by not utilizing the entirety of our produce. Potato peels become crispy snacks, broccoli stalks become a green pasta sauce, and radish leaves make their way into a tangy salad.
Truly Mexican by Roberto Santibañez
Truly Mexican lives up to its name, and should be required reading for anyone wishing to become fluent in the foundations of the Mexican table. At the heart of this book, and arguably the cuisine, is a collection of forumlas for salsas, moles, adobos, and guacamoles that can be concocted in a home kitchen. I made a ranchero sauce for chicken enchiladas that left the house permeated with the scent of warm chili spice, with enough left over to sauce huevos rancheros for a Sunday breakfast. The author is the proprietor of the Manhattan and Brooklyn-based Fonda restaurants.
The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller
Since I'm not likely going to get a reservation at the real French Laundry restaurant in Yountville, California anytime soon, I placed a hold on this whopping, coffee table-sized book by the legendary chef-owner and restauranteur Thomas Keller. Keller approaches cooking with the precision of a mechanical engineer, and emphasizes dishes that bring out the essence of high quality ingredients, which can be quite expensive if you're not willing to improvise. I tried to follow his straightforward explanation on how to poach an egg, and one survived the vinegared waters enough to make it to plate. At least the failed, viscous, eggwhite pillows that floated and swirled around in the pot were pretty to look at.
Jacques Pepin New Complete Techniques by Jacques Pepin
What was I thinking?! This book is intense. Clocking in at around 734 pages, Pepin will school you a culinary education without the Le Cordon Bleu pricetag. You think you know about chicken? Learn to eviscerate, truss, tie, stuff, broil, make sausage out of, and bone poultry of all kinds. Ever wonder how to skin an eel? Jacques will show you how to do it the right way. The sizable pastry section will delight sweet tooths.
Sounding more like the title to a new Manga series than a cookbook, Ivan Ramen is in fact the name of a chain of Tokyo-based ramen eateries spearheaded by native New Yorker Ivan Orkin. This book is a compelling brew of (heartbreaking) personal history and culinary experimentation. A Japanese major in college, Orkin has spent much of his career and family-life oscillating between Tokyo and New York. I was humbled by the complexity involved to create the pitch perfect umami for shio ramen broth; rendering pork fat and chicken fat for hours were just two of the steps along Ivan's eight-fold path to ramen nirvana. Ivan Ramen Slurp Shops are now open in Manhattan.