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cooking

Jul 13 2011

Real spicy…

by Dea Anne M

July 13th is the birthday of Paul Prudhomme, the New Orleans based chef who opened the legendary restaurant K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen in 1979. K-Paul’s became famous for its renditions of the distinctive Cajun cuisine of Louisiana. Many argue that Cajun cooking along with Louisiana Creole is a truly American cuisine (as opposed to being a type of regional cooking) with a body of classic and unique dishes and techniques. Gumbo, jambalaya, maque choux, and “blackened” fish are some of the typical dishes you will find at K-Pauls and other restaurants all over Louisiana.

Think you might want to try this style of cooking at home? DCPL has got you covered.

First up is Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen which features all the Cajun classics beloved by all who crave this cuisine. Or you might try The 100 Greatest Cajun Recipes by Jude W. Theriot for a comprehensive take on some of the core Cajun dishes.

Perhaps you’d like to explore Creole cooking. Thought of by many as more suave and urbane than Cajun, Creole certainly has its passionate adherents and is very well represented in the “Old Guard” of New Orleans restaurants which include Commander’s Palace and Arnaud’s. Check out Arnaud’s Restaurant Cookbook by Kit Wohl or Commander’s Kitchen by Ti Adelaide Martin and Jackie Shannon.

A new addition to the canon of Cajun cookbooks, and one that I like a lot, is Donald Link’s Real Cajun: rustic home cooking from Donald Link’s Louisiana. Link is the chef/owner of Cochon and Herbsaint restaurants in New Orleans and his book is definitely the real thing. Well-written and lavishly illustrated, it is, I must warn you, a bit pork-centric. All told it’s a fine overview of a fascinating native cuisine.

So…Laissez les bons temps rouler! Not to mention Bon appetit!

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Dec 1 2010

Method Cooking

by Dea Anne M

If you read my posts, you might think that I am obsessed with food, and honestly, cooking is one of my passions and has been for years. I’ve had my failures (mackerel casserole…don’t ask, and more recently, an absolutely inedible chili mole), but I have come to believe that cooking well is largely a matter of care and thoughtful repetition combined with a sense of proportion. While I own a large collection of cookbooks that I love to flip through for ideas, I find that more and more often these days I don’t cook following a recipe. Technique and flavor balance actually interest me more than specific ingredients and  ease or difficulty of preparation. My thinking is that once you master certain methods of cooking and combining flavors you should be able to prepare just about any dish that you like. I have found a number of resources at DCPL that have helped me in this quest.

First up is the Pam Anderson’s well-regarded How to Cook Without a Book. The author presents a particular technique, such as stir frying or omelet making,  followed by variations on the basic form. While the information in this book might be a little too basic for those of us who have been cooking for a long time, this would make a good resource for kitchen beginners who want to cook more at home but are unsure of how or where to start.

Another terrific resource is Cooking Know How by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarborough. The authors present 65 basic dishes and explain the steps and techniques involved with putting the dish together. Then they provide a chart which gives several variations of the basic dish by merely varying the ingredients. For example the potato gratin recipe discusses what a potato gratin is (a layered casserole), what  type of potato is best (russets) and how to slice the vegetable (as thinly as possible). Following this is a very detailed, yet easy to follow, description of each step in constructing the dish accompanied by photographs which provide invaluable visual assistance. The chart which follows the potato gratin instructions provides 5 variations on the basic theme and include potato and leek, potato and cabbage, potato and brussels sprouts, curried potato, cauliflower, and peas, and garden vegetables. You can hardly go wrong using this book even if you’ve never cooked anything. By the way, I recommend the black bean burgers…delicious!

One of my favorite books is Ratio: the simple codes behind the craft of everyday cooking by Michael Ruhlman.  This is not a cookbook in the usual sense of the word. Ruhlman’s premise is that if one knows the ratio of ingredients in a particular type of food, then one can always successfully prepare it without having to consult a recipe. The book is divided into five parts – doughs, stocks, sausages, sauces, and custards with variations on each of the themes (pasta and biscuits in dough, mayonnaise and vinaigrette under sauces). Though Ruhlman provides a few suggestions on how to use each preparation, his promise is that following the ratios will provide you with successful results every time. Your creative spin on the basics is icing on the cake…so to speak. This book is a treasure and I couldn’t recommend it more highly.

Right now, my absolute favorite kitchen reference is The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenberg. The book is basically an exhaustive list of ingredients and cuisines arranged alphabetically. Under each main heading you will find the flavors that compliment it successfully. Some of these might surprise you. For example, you might already know that sugar enhances dark chocolate, but did you know that lemon and mint are also chocolate’s flavor affinities? My grandmother was a really good cook who, to my knowledge, never owned a cookbook. She cooked by taste and by knowing what was in season when. If that’s the sort of cooking that you aspire to (I do!) then this reference will prove invaluable.

Finally, you could could learn everything you need to know about cooking by picking up a copy of Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer and cooking your way through it. Far from being merely a collection of recipes, Joy of Cooking, in all of its many editions, has always been focused on kitchen techniques. You have to trust a cookbook writer who begins a section on heat and cooking methods with the phrase “Stand facing the stove.”

What are your favorite cooking references?

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Nov 3 2010

Culinary Goddesses

by Dea Anne M

Anyone who knows me knows that I am very interested in food. I wouldn’t call myself a connoisseur of fine dining per se, although I do love eating a good meal. What I actually enjoy more than eating is putting food together. I love the process of constructing a pan sauce, roasting vegetables and watching them caramelize, using spices and herbs in a way that makes a balanced and satisfying soup. Most days of the week find me cooking something from scratch simply because, for me, it is such a pleasure.

Even more enjoyable than cooking though is reading about cooking. I devour cookbooks, so to speak, follow a number of cooking blogs, and Bon Appetit is my favorite magazine. My favorite writing though has to be a species known as the “culinary memoir,” and while I have enjoyed the muscular prose of writers such as Anthony Bourdain and Jacques Pepin, my favorite writers of this sort are women. Here follows a casual “pantheon” of those who I most admire…at least this week.

First, here’s some of the newer voices. All three of these women have been strong voices in the culinary world for some time now but I think you could say that each one is still testing her powers.

Julie Powell (above left) is the author of  Julie and Julia a book that grew out of a blog she started in order to record her struggles and triumphs to cook every recipe in Julia Child’s hugely influential Mastering the Art of French Cooking within the space of one year. The book has, of course, since been adapted into a film starring Amy Adams and Meryl Streep.  Since then, Powell has published Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession an equally absorbing, though to my mind much darker account, of the aftermath of her publishing success and the changes that have taken place  in her marriage.

Amanda Hesser (above center) is a former food editor for the New York Times and is the author of Cooking for Mr. Latte, a compulsively readable (and re-readable!) account of the courtship between herself and her husband. Hesser now runs, with Merrill Stubbs, the food website food52. At DCPL check out  The Cook and the Gardener, Hesser’s story of a year she spent as cook at a chateau in France and the interesting friendship that developed between herself and the estate’s gardener.

[read the rest of this post…]

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When I was five my grandmother tied one of her checked terry cloth aprons around my chest, stood me on a stool, handed me a butter knife and an egg and told me it was time I learned to cook.  That’s how I learned to fry eggs, eggshells in the egg, egg in the hot bacon grease and my five year old self just as proud as I could be.  Now, I know you’re horrified because none of you would ever put a five year old anywhere near a functioning gas burner or a pan of hot grease but let’s just recall that times were different—remember when child car seats hooked over the front seat and weren’t actually intended to restrain a child?  Sometimes I’m amazed I survived my childhood.

What’s particularly interesting  about my grandmother deciding I needed to learn how to cook (thanks to her I could put a full meal on the table for a family of six by the time I was 11) is that the only thing my mother could do in the kitchen when she got married was peel potatoes.  My grandma would be the first to tell you she  wasn’t a fancy cook, but that she was more than competent in the kitchen, yet it was my father who had to teach my mother how to roast a chicken, among other things.  I puzzled over this for a long time but the scales fell from my eyes the first time I tied an apron around a junior member of the Kitchen Patrol at my house.  I handed over an egg and butter knife and wound up a gibbering idiot with, quite literally, egg on my face.

It’s not easy to teach someone who is still developing fine motor skills and an attention span how to crack an egg and get it into a bowl.  It takes patience and a willingness to settle for less than perfect results.  Knowing my grandma, I imagine she decided it was just easier to do it herself than to fuss with the mess and bother of teaching my mother.  Of course, by the time I came around she wasn’t worrying about putting out three meals a day for a family of seven and I think she could afford to be a little more relaxed.

Cooking with my family is still a source of deep pleasure for me—most of the best moments of my life have happened in a kitchen.  The Junior Kitchen Patrol and I spend many hours cooking together.  We make bread, brownies, biscotti, pizza, jello.  Jello is in fact the hot favorite at the moment (don’t ask—there’s no way to explain it) with pizza  running a close second.  It’s not all fun and games.  Cooking with children is a scholarly activity.   We do addition (2 eggs + 2 eggs is ?) fractions (slice that pizza in into eighths!) we work on  fine motor skills (try peeling your own shrimp for dinner and see how good you get) and we even squeeze in chemistry (contrary to what some people at my house think the sugar in bread dough does not give yeast gas—we’re still working on that concept.)  Yes, sometimes I wind up gibbering, and I keep the frying-things-in-grease jobs for myself, but Junior KP can crack an egg with no mess these days and we’re both pretty proud of that.  Cooking with a child does take longer but it’s a pretty rewarding pasttime and I’m glad my grandma had the luxury of figuring that out.

Silver spoon for children: favorite Italian recipes recipes adapted and edited by Amanda Grant

FamilyFun cooking with kids from the experts at Family Fun Magazine

Salad people and more real recipes: a new cookbook for pre-schoolers and up by Mollie Katzen

Kids cook 1-2-3: recipes for young chefs using only three ingredients by Rozanne Gold

Children’s baking book recipes and stylings by Denise Smart

Toddler cookbook by Annabell Karmel

Kitchen science by Peter Pentland

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Aug 25 2010

We Are What We’ve Eaten

by Dea Anne M

The title of this post is an adaptation of the now famous quote from Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s monumental work of gastronomy, Physiologie du Gout or, in translation, The Physiology of Taste. What Brillat-Savarin actually wrote was “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are,” which has, of course, been commonly paraphrased as “You are what you eat.”  Now, anyone who knows me, knows also that I am interested (obsessed?) with culinary matters. I like reading about, and pondering, what we choose to eat and what it tells us about ourselves. Why eat yogurt, and how is it made? Who figured out that an artichoke ( a thistle, for Pete’s sake!) might be edible? There may be no definitive answer to these questions, but I find them fascinating to contemplate.  Other aspects of our culinary heritage are very well documented and I find these no less fascinating.

Some libraries have special collections devoted to gastronomy such as the Peacock-Harper Collection at Virginia Tech or the Food, Wine, and Culinary History Collection at Cornell University. Then, of course, there is that revered institution, the New York Public Library. The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street houses a world-class collection of cookbooks, menus, and other culinary related materials.  Check out the blog Cooked Books run by librarian Rebecca Federman for a glimpse of the culinary wonders at NYPL. One of my favorite regular features is “Desert Island Cookbook.” In each post, Federman interviews a different New York personality about the cookbook that she or he would bring to a desert island.

Does this pique your interest in doing a little culinary research of your own? Check out some of DCPL’s resources.

For a classic culinary encyclopedia:

Larousse Gastronomique

(This is part of the non-circulating reference but well worth your time to page through.)

Something From the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950’s America by Laura Shapiro.

(A fascinating overview of an era full of contradictions and promise.)

On DVD there is…

The Meaning of Food.

Don’t miss…

The Gallery of Regrettable Food by James Lileks.

(This is seriously hilarious!)

Published in 1825, The Physiology of Taste is an enduring classic (it has never gone out of print). Brillat-Savarin was a lawyer by profession with a lively interest in science, music and languages and, of course, food.  He wrote, “The discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness than the discovery of a new star.” You might agree with that statement, or you might not,  but you can read more of Brillat Savarin’s writing in:

Choice Cuts: A Savory Selection of Food Writing from Around the World and Throughout History edited by Mark Kurlansky.

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Aug 6 2010

ShareReads: YUM!

by ShareReads

ShareReads appears on the DCPLive blog on Fridays. Each week, a different person will share a little about what they’re currently reading, and why they like or don’t like it. The heart of ShareReads will be responses from blog readers, and the window of opportunity here is wide. Feel free to respond and discuss the book or author being mentioned, ask or answer a question, or even take the conversation in a different direction: mention what you are currently reading, and how you feel about it. The point of ShareReads is to have an ongoing discussion about books and reading. Remember: posting a response also counts as an activity for the Summer Reading for Adults program.

My passion for books and my passion for food and cooking may seem disparate on the surface, but there are many similarities.  The layers and textures found in an expertly prepared meal are as enjoyable to consume as a triumphant work of fiction.  I appreciate the artistry of a well-constructed menu or dish in the same way that I recognize quality in literature.  Julia Child’s My Life in France combined these two loves for me in one perfect reading experience.  Her memoir, written with her husband’s grand-nephew, Alex Prud’homme, reflects on a life lived to the full.  She writes about France from the fresh perspective of a woman who had never been to Europe, didn’t know the language, and was amazed and entranced by the warmth and humanity of the French people.  She and her husband Paul moved to Paris, where he was assigned to work at the American Embassy, in 1948.  Shortly after arriving, they enjoyed what she considered to be a perfect meal at a small restaurant in Rouen, and this was the start of her love for French cuisine, culture, and people.  This passion led to enrolling at Le Cordon Bleu, and from there, the cookbooks, TV show, and life as a beloved food celebrity.

This book is worth reading for Child’s evocative descriptions of the culture and spirit of Paris, Marseille (where they moved after a few years), and the French countryside.  She introduces the shopkeepers, greengrocers, wine merchants, culinary instructors, and restaurant owners as dear friends and sources of inspiration.  Such a large part of her life in France and later was consumed by work on her masterpiece, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and reading about the trials and successes surrounding that process is like gaining access to a quintessential culinary event with a backstage pass.  Most of all, Julia Child’s meals—what she cooked, what she ate—are described in such loving detail, you must read for yourself to fully appreciate.

Julia Child savored life, lived it with passion, and conveys that passion in My Life in France. Enjoy, and Bon Appetit!

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Jul 21 2010

In Case You Need a Break From BBQ

by Joseph M

Vegetarian cuisine may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Atlanta’s dining scene, but it appears that local restaurateurs are doing a brisk business feeding those inclined to avoid meat products. According to a recent article from the organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Atlanta ranks as number 4 in a list of the top ten most vegetarian-friendly big cities in the US. The ranking is based on the number of vegetarian and vegetarian-friendly restaurants per capita, as well as input from PETA supporters. Atlanta ranked higher than such notable metropolises as San Francisco and New York City; the top three slots in the list were taken by Washington, D.C., Portland, OR, and Albuquerque, NM. While Atlanta is still home to a thriving culture of meat eaters, the increase in alternatives is good news, whether you’re vegetarian, vegan, or an omnivore who just craves more variety.

Despite all the great restaurants, it’s rarely feasible to eat out every day, and the library has a wide selection of vegetarian and vegan cookbooks for when you’re spending mealtime at home. Two titles I’ve had good experiences with are Vegan with a Vengeance and Veganomicon, both by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, and both chock-full of tasty recipes that will satisfy a variety of different tastes.

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Apr 21 2010

My Favorite Foodies

by Jnai W

I love Food. I’ll be the first to own the fact that my love of Food has expanded my waist line and made my butt bigger but who cares? It’s not Food’s fault.  Today I’d like to take a moment to recognize some of my favorite fellow foodies, whether they be esteemed chefs or just really good people who like to eat.  Please consider the following food appreciators:

Jamie Oliver: I’ve just gotten hooked on his new ABC show Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.  Jamie Oliver, a.k.a “The Naked Chef” (yum!), is on a mission to save America from poor eating habits and overly-processed rubbish disguised as food. So far, based on the premiere episode, he has been met with stiff opposition from defensive locals, red-tape bound cafeteria ladies and school children who prefer breakfast pizza and strawberry-flavored milk over anything nutritious and normal colored. You’d have to watch the show to see if he can soften the cholesterol-caked hearts of the masses and start a food revolution. But you can trek down to The Library to check out books by The Naked Chef.

Nigella Lawson:  She is one of my favorite foodies and her story is rather remarkable to me. Not a trained chef or cook, Lawson is instead a journalist and food writer who began her career as a food critic.  She has long since become an icon in cookery and food appreciation in the U.K and the U.S. I like the fact that she takes a relaxed and loving approach to the culinary arts. She’s also gorgeous and sultry; truly a food romantic.

Justin Wilson: I remember as a kid watching cooking shows on PBS with my mother. Among such notable chefs as Martin Yan, Jacques Pepin and, of course, Julia Child is another favorite of mine, Justin Wilson. I remember being struck by the visage of a large man in a bow-tie and a thick, drawling Cajun accent. My siblings and I would mimic his catchphrase (“I gerr-own-tee!”) and mispronouncing Worcestershire sauce (“Whats-dis-here sauce?”). I was pleased when I noticed that the Library has several of his cookbooks, chock full of recipes for great Cajun cooking.

Top Chef:  As Bravo Television’s best reality show since Project Runway, Top Chef brings together contestants from around the country to compete for coveted prizes and the prestige of being crowned “Top Chef”.  My only gripe about this show has been the fact that, unlike standard cooking shows, recipes aren’t provided during the episode. Luckily, there are now at least 2 Top Chef cookbooks available, allowing fans to partake of some of the tasty-looking dishes.

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Jan 6 2010

What’s Cooking @ the Library?

by Nancy M

Every year, like so many others, I half-heartedly attempt a New Year’s resolution. Gone are the days where I try to guilt myself into going to the gym, being more organized, and wasting less time on Facebook. As I get older, I realize I’m just setting myself up for failure. But last year in an attempt to save more money and eat healthier (hopefully eliminating the gym altogether), I resolved to stop eating out so much and start cooking at home. While my resolution wasn’t a complete success—I still like to eat out a lot—I did learn that I actually can cook. Well, I can follow a recipe. This year I plan on getting more serious, which isn’t that hard to do since the Library has tons of great cookbooks with cuisines from all over the world. It’s fun to bring a new one home and try out the recipes rather than commit to buying one. A few of my favorites include:

barefootcontessaBarefoot Contessa Back to Basics by Ina Garten

cleanfoodClean Food: A Seasonal Guide to Eating Close to the Source by Terry Walters

howtocookHow to Cook Everything: 2,000 Simple Recipes for Great Food  by Mark Bittman

There are also some great websites and cooking blogs worth checking out:

Fine Cooking

Their slogan is “We bring out the cook in you” and I couldn’t agree more. Thousands of free top-notch recipes that make me look like I am a better cook than I really am.

The Pioneer Woman

Ree Drummon, a.k.a. Pioneer Woman, shows how to cook delicious homemade fare with step-by-step photos.

Supercook

Life is about to get much easier since I discovered this site. You simply type in the ingredients you have at home and Supercook finds you a recipe. You can also start an account and keep a running list of ingredients.

The Library has plenty of cookbooks for children and teens. These books can help children learn their way around the kitchen and teach them the importance of eating right; international cuisines can serve as an introduction to a new culture.

growitGrow It Cook edited by Deborah Lock

holyHoly Guacamole!: and Other Scrumptious Snacks by Nick Fauchald

cookThe Spatulatta Cookbook by Isabella and Olivia Gerasole

Cookbooks can be found in your Library under the Call Number 641. Books about food and culture can be found under 394.

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Nov 6 2009

Stir it once, stir it twice

by Lesley B

Just about the last thing I want to do in the summer is fire up the oven, but in cooler weather soup sounds better to me than salad.  There’s always my thrifty Surprise Soup – want the recipe?  Look in the refrigerator, see what’s left over, add chicken broth and if it’s good, surprise! Occasionally I want to make soup that’s a little more, ah, planned. Looking in our catalog for ideas, I found:

Love SoupLove Soup: 160 all-new vegetarian recipes from the author of The Vegetarian Epicure

A collection of soup recipes, many vegan, from a renowned vegetarian cook. According to the reviews, it includes a pickle soup recipe. I’m not sure I want to eat that but I do want to read the recipe.

exaltation soupAn exaltation of soups: the soul-satisfying story of soup, as told in more than 100 recipes

This book comes from a fascinating blog (formerly a website) called SoupSong. Patricia Solley has been writing about soup online for more than 10 years, mixing soup history and local culture in with the recipes. Want to make a soup that’s a little out of the ordinary? Try Yemen’s saltah or a Turkish balik corbasi.

Closer to home, you could head to Buckhead to eat at Souper Jenny, recently featured in the AJC . The article includes some of Jenny Levison’s recipes and we’ve got her cookbook at the Library.

And while you stir, you can sing:

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