Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What I'm Reading Today

Happy Fall Wednesday!

Chefs Mark Peel and Thomas Keller both have new books hitting the shelves. Mark, a long time LA super-chef and Thomas (do I really need to say anything here?) have been in the restaurant business for years. Recipes from places like Campanille or The French Laundry might not be the first ones you go to for a home cooked meal but that could change. With Peel's New Classic Family Dinners and Keller's Ad Hoc at Home you might be cooking like a master before you know it. The fact is, even these guys need to make a meal at home once in a while and it isn't always three and four star food. In today's LA Times Betty Hallock cooks from both books and shares her two cents. The net? The books are not chef versions of Rachel Ray's 30-minute cooking, they take some investment but they will teach you how to cook. These are books for the home cook who wants to move beyond the basics, which I happen to think is fantastic these days. If you want to try a few recipes and see what you think, test out Keller's Crispy Braised Chicken Thighs with Olives, Lemon, and Fennel or Peel's Waldorf Salad with Curried Mayonnaise Dressing. I think what is important about both of these titles, surely to be the hot sellers of the holiday season, is the idea of cooking at home. Getting into the kitchen motivated by new recipes is something that everyone should do more often. With the voices of chefs like these to guide you, you're sure to make some home cooked meals that blow your family and friends away.

There is something magical about baking. The complete transformation of ingredients like flour, butter, sugar, or yeast into something utterly luscious is the best. I absolutely love to bake (a gene passed down from my mom and grandma, no doubt) and find it more rewarding than any other type of cooking. People get intimidated by baking, saying it is too exact and precise but I beg to differ. Once simple methods are mastered, there is plenty of room for improvisation. Occasionally I'll start with a recipe that sounds pretty boring-sugar, butter, flour, and salt yet when the shortbread cookies emerge from the oven they are true perfection. In today's NY Times Melissa Clark writes about a cake she baked, Molly Killeen’s St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake. She tried it at her local farmer's market and got the recipe from the baker so she could make it at home (another great thing about going to the farmer's market!). What is special about this recipe is that it is a yeasted cake combined with a sticky/gooey/buttery topping-tender but not too sweet. When I read Melissa saying it resembled the inside of a pecan pie, I was sold. If you're not usually one to tackle baking projects in your kitchen, this is a place to start. You'll see those simple ingredients become a gooey, buttery cake. What could be better than that?

The ultimate home cooking project? Thanksgiving. If you're involved with hosting the meal this year you've got some work coming your way. I love it-tackling the timing, balancing the recipes, figuring out how it'll all fit in the oven, and being way too full to eat anything when we actually sit down. I find most people encounter family anarchy if they try to change up their meal too much, clinging to traditions even if it means pouring cream of mushroom soup over those canned green beans (ugh). When it comes to sides, it is the perfect place to experiment a little. In today's Washington Post there is a recipes for Brussels Sprouts with Cranberry Balsamic Dressing. With 6 ingredients and about 15 minutes of cooking, this wont bog you down on Thanksgiving and may just become a new family favorite. Brussels sprouts are gorgeous right now, at the height of their season, so be sure to be them nice and fresh.

Speaking of what is in season, here are some other things to look for at your local farmer's market or grocery store these days, all at their best right now: Artichokes, Cauliflower, Chestnuts, Cranberries, Grapefruit, Kale, Kumquats, Parsnips, Persimmons, Rutabagas, Winter Squash, Tangerines, and Turnips. Hope this list inspires you to try something fresh and new.

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking.

1 comment:

Amelia PS said...

Jodi: I LOVE your "what I am reading" post, it full of a wealth of information...and you have cherry picked the best from the shelve and the net.
I can't wait to try keller' chicken thighs.
I am so curious to see what your Thanksgiving menu is going to be like. I am still thinking of mine...

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