Tag Archives: Patricia Wells

Building Your Cookbook Library Vol. I

3 Oct

People keep asking which cookbooks they should buy. If you take a look at the photo below, you can see I am as good as person to ask as any! So I decided I would do a few posts about how to practically build your cookbook library.

It should be noted that the photo below was taken after I tossed over 50 cookbooks… and the books are stacked on these shelves two deep… and I am not showing the myriad cookbooks in various bookshelves all over the house… nor the two large drawers under the shelf in the photo that are filled to the brim.

shelf

a small part of my cookbook collection, 2 deep

It’s true, I have a cookbook addiction.

Not only are cookbooks worth buying because, well, you know, you can cook great food from them, the best cookbooks open up different parts of the world. Even better, the best cookbooks are not only about food but about exquisite and passionate writing. There are few things I love to read more than a chef writing vividly about their love for food and their approach to food. Reading cookbooks is a big de-stresser for me. I can get lost in them for hours.

For starters, we need to be semi-practical. I will later do another post about more exotic cookbooks. For this post, I want to recommend the books I return to over and over and over again. Each one has terrific recipes that are for the most part practical and simple, recipes you will make again and again. These books are all terrific references for anything you might need. If you have just these cookbooks I list in this post, and no other, you will enjoy years of amazing food.

FAVORITES

PW book

I’ve written before about a cookbook that changed my life, Patricia Wells at Home In Provence. Read the entire post to find out my experience with both this book and this wonderful woman. Know, however, that the book is filled with easy, glorious dishes that will transform your table and, additionally, your approach to cooking. If you can find a copy of the original book, cover shown above, I highly recommend it as it is a beautiful book. I am including a photo of the original copy of my book, which proves how much I return to it.

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I’ve used this book quite a bit…

Among many favorites in this book, Patricia’s Gratin Dauphinois recipe (potatoes au gratin) is a divine version I make for every holiday meal.

book

I also wrote lovingly about Suzanne Goin and her cornbread, the best ever invented. She, too, is a chef that changed how I thought about cooking and food. Her book Sunday Suppers at Lucques is filled with marvelous food I’ve cited many times before on this blog. Two standouts of many, many killer recipes are her Devil’s Chicken Thighs with Braised Leeks (you can simply make the leeks as well, they are great as is and are usually on my holiday table) and her Braised Beef Stew. Check this link for a few more recipes… the 5 recipes in the link are recipes I make all the time. The tart is a go-to I make constantly.

REFERENCE

the-joy-of-cooking

Originally self-published in 1932, Joy Of Cooking is an amazing reference book that not only has been on the best seller list since it’s original publication, it was updated yet again in 2006 for a modern diet and kitchen. Filled with recipes of every kind, it is often my ‘go-to’ book when I need to make something I’ve never tried, or want a dependable, tasty recipe for just about anything. The Blue Cheese Dressing recipe , for instance, cannot be beat. Same for the Hunter’s Chicken recipe, a variation on Chicken Cacciatore which my friend Tiffiny makes for me whenever I ask… and I ask often as it has become one of my favorite dishes to eat in all the world. If you need one bible of recipes and cooking tips, Joy Of Cooking is the one to get.

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To make things confusing, another excellent reference is Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything, which pretty much sums up the book. While I would choose Joy of Cooking if I could only have one, Bittman’s is another amazing reference and has smart, concise information on all kinds of things.

What I love about these two books is how helpful they are when you are faced with something new. Never poached an egg? No problem, grab one of these books. From basics such the best way to boil pasta to much more advanced techniques, you can cook many wonderful meals with either of these books alone.

DEPENDABLE

There are two chefs/authors I return to over and over because they are so damned dependable: Ina Garten and Jamie Oliver. With my cookbook obsession, I have bought quite a few heralded cookbooks that turned out to be major disappointments. I give a new cookbook about 5 chances.  If I cook 5 recipes from it that don’t turn out so great, something is going wrong with the book. With Ina and Jamie, however, I don’t think I have ever encountered a recipe by either that has been anything less than stellar. Besides being so dependable, they both seem to be smart, lovely people.

What I would give for a day in the kitchen with either!

The only problem is which book of each person to buy as they each have so many great books! While you can’t go wrong whatever you pick up, let me give you the one book by each I grab off the shelf most of all.

inas-back-to-basics

Ina smartly published this book, Back To Basics, in 2008 and I’ve been using it frequently ever since. It contains a little bit of everything and each bit of everything is delicious.

Two favorites from this book: Ina’s Omelet for Two is something I make at least once if not twice a week. The recipe is an excellent base for trying other ingredients and flavor combinations though it is perfect just the way it is. It is baked in the oven, so it is easier than a normal omelet and has a better texture. I also love this Baked Shrimp Scampi, which I’ve started making most every New Year’s Eve as well as other nights during the year.

 

jamie-at-home

 

Simply put, Jamie Oliver is a stud. From his work with disadvantaged youth to his crusading for better food for schoolchildren, he is someone I’ve admired for a long time. His books are a blast as well! Of all the books, I love Jamie At Home the best. Not only are the recipes outstanding, the book is an excellent reference with even sections on planting and growing your own produce.

Two favorites from this book are Jamie’s Proper Chicken Caesar Salad, which my buddy Keith asks for every time he comes to my house (we had it by request yet again last Saturday), and Jamie’s Creamy Rice Pudding with the Quickest Strawberry Jam. I didn’t even know I liked Rice pudding until I tried this, which I made more for the jam part than the pudding part. Wow. It is great!

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a snapshot from Jamie At Home

 

PASSION

Finally, two favorites elevated not only by the brilliance of their food, but the passion of their writing, which is always a joy to read.

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A chef I’ve written about before is Nigel Slater. His writing has become a bit of an obsession for me, I have worked my way through almost all of his books. He is funny, smart, tart… and wow is his food good! The best book to get for your first bit of Slater is Tender, which I wrote about here. This, too, is a reference book, divided alphabetically by vegetable. (It has tons of meat dishes in it, don’t worry.) If you have some cabbage and need an idea, turn to Cabbage. You get a history of the veg, how to grow it, how to store it, and then you get innumerable versions. The section for each vegetable is the same. What a great cookbook! I love this man. 

Two of many recipes I love are his Eggplant Gratin and his Baked Peppers for a Summer Lunch.

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Last but not least is the goddess Nigella Lawson. Hot damn, does this woman know how to write! Her books are filled with humor as delectable as her food. She also writes with a wild passion that fires me up. My favorite, for all these reasons, is  How To Eat.  This is probably my favorite cookbook to simply read. There is much knowledge here, it is a very good reference book. But the writing is a blast. One of my favorite things Ms. Lawson does is encourage the home cook to relax, don’t worry what happens, and she often structures her recipes so you can ‘have a bath and a glass of wine’ while something is cooking. Madame, come on over.

All right! A starter list for even the best home cook. You cannot go wrong with any of these books! I would love to hear from you your favorites. And in a few months, I will be back with more….

That’s Not Olive Oil In Your Cabinet…

2 Nov

3 years ago I traveled to France with my great friend, the lovely Stacey Batzer, for a week long cooking class with Patricia Wells, about whom I’ve written here. The entire week remains a highlight of my cooking adventures, in part because of all the people we met in our group. One of the couples in the group, Raleigh and Burt Fohrman, have become two of my favorite people on the planet. I deeply love and respect these two. Not only are they pure pleasure to spend time with, they amaze and inspire me with their generous approach to both life and the people around them. They also have many amazing accomplishments. To coin a phrase, “I wanna be like them when I grow up.”

Raleigh and Burt Fohrman

Raleigh and Burt Fohrman

One thing they did on their ‘free time’ was start an olive oil farm, Riebli Point Ranch. And in recent years, their olive oil has won major awards. I am not being my normal hyperbolic self when noting I take sips of this stuff out of the bottle. It’s that good. I bought ten bottles this year to get me through until next Nov, when the oil is harvested and immediately sent out.

Last year, Burt emailed me about one of my posts (he’s a faithful reader, god bless him) and shocked me by explaining much of what is sold in stores as “Olive Oil” simply is not. I asked him to do a guest post because many of us use so much olive oil. This is important for people to know. And if anyone knows olive oil, Burt is the guy. So without further ado, here is his terrific and informative post.

(By the way, they had such a bumper crop this year, for the first time ever they can take new customers and orders. Burt’s email is at the end of the post if you are interested. Or go to the website by clicking here.)

Freshly harvested olives

Freshly harvested olives

EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL:

THE BAD,THE GOOD AND THE IMPROBABLE

THE BAD– FAKE OLIVE OIL

Over the years we often wondered why some extra virgin olive oils were exceptional, some quite mediocre and others just awful. That was before we began our education and planted our own orchard.  Many of you probably had similar experiences because you thought you were tasting extra virgin olive oil but were actually consuming fake, adulterated or rancid oil.

To continue reading Burt’s great piece, click below

Continue reading

Preserve Me A Lemon!

21 Jun

I have two bountiful lemon trees in my backyard. I love these trees and what they provide. While I use lemons most every day – in drinks, in marinades, in salad dressings, as a flavor enhancer in all kinds of dishes – I still get overrun with crazy lemons! As weird as it may seem in other parts of the world, when you live in Southern California, it gets hard to pawn off fruit. People show up to work with bags and bags of lemons, oranges, etc and usually everyone just yawns.

plums

Monday at work, from someone’s tree… these were amazing plums.

Given my lemon bounty, I started looking for ways to use the extra. I discovered my favorite a few years ago: Preserved Lemons. Preserving lemons is so easy, and the result so wonderful, there is always a big jar of preserved lemons in my fridge. Besides extending the life of the fruit, preserving lemons make the entire lemon edible. In fact, the rind becomes the best part to use, though everything in the jar, once preserved, is terrific for cooking. Preserved lemons keep nearly forever, so you don’t have to rush to use them, a wonderful perk. But use them you will, I assure you.

I’ve tried many methods for preserving lemons. The easiest I’ve tried, which is also the best, is from Patricia Wells, a wonderful woman about whom I wrote last year. I was able to spend a week with her in France a couple of years ago, a week that remains a highlight for me. During the trip I cooked once on Julia Child’s original stove from her home in France. No, seriously, I did.

I thought we were talking about lemons…

Use this method, it’s perfect. I usually double the recipe, given I am constantly overrun, but this will give you plenty to start. All you need is a pile of lemons (8-10), some course sea salt, and a container with a non-metal lid:

Preserved start

For the recipe and more info, click:

 

“Never, Ever, Ever….” Vol I

7 Apr

According to The Internet, which is never wrong, salad dressing probably kinda/sorta came into being about 2000 years ago when the lovely people of Babylonia began to use oil and vinegar to dress lettuce. I’m glad someone started the trend. See, I’m a rabbit: I not only love salad, I love just lettuce. All kinds of lettuce, every kind. I even love iceberg lettuce, such great texture, what a wonderful crunch. While I love eating all kinds of lettuce naked, I also love a good salad dressing. This leads to the first in a series subtly entitled “Never, ever, ever!”

Never, ever, ever buy salad dressing in a bottle. Ever.  

There’s only one reason to think you should buy salad dressing in a bottle, which is ease. Come on Tom, seriously. I don’t have all kinds of time. It’s so easy. I pick it up at the store, I crack open the bottle, I pour it on some lettuce, instant salad. 

Um, No.

With a little initial prep, almost the same amount of ease gives you a dressing that is much healthier than anything you can get in a bottle. So making it at home makes much more sense. Plus, it tastes infinitely better. Trust me, do this once and you won’t go back. You have to go to the store to buy the bottled dressing. Instead, while at the store, buy a few of products to have on hand for prep and you are ready, anytime, to make your own dressing. Eventually, you won’t even be able to use a bottled dressing as you’ll begin to taste the chemicals and processing. Making your own salad dressing, along with broth, an upcoming post, and tomato sauce, an upcoming post, are the easiest first steps to transforming your cooking, kitchen and eating habits. Plus, I’ll say it again, homemade dressing tastes so much better. You don’t have to love cooking or being in the kitchen to ease your way into your own dressing. And my homemade vinaigrette is, well, incredible. And versatile… it’s great on it’s own but you can also use it as the basis for a number of other dressings. It’s so easy. Here we go:

Click here for the how to!

A Cook/Book That Changed My Life

23 Mar

I grew up eating wonderful food. Both my parents were excellent cooks. Mom cooked most of the meals, but Dad was also very adept in the kitchen. Mom, in fact, said it was my father who taught her how to cook, after they were married, as she had little desire or use for cooking until she became a wife and it was forced upon her. Thankfully, she came to enjoy cooking immensely and was one hell of a great cook.

Both my grandmothers — my maternal Grandmother, “Honey” and my paternal grandmother, “Maw-Maw”, the pronunciation of which is difficult to get on paper — were also incredible cooks. I’m not sure my maternal grandfather, “Papa”, ever cooked, though like his grandson he sure enjoyed eating. Dad’s dad, “Paw-Paw”, also didn’t cook much but when he did, he shined. Among other things, he made a terrific and rather intense squirrel gumbo. Just watch out for the buckshot in the meat…

Our meals tended to be comprised of rich, heavy food. Deep dark gumbos, thickly layered casseroles, braised meats, vegetables laden with butter and cream. Eating vegetables light meant broiled or sauteed only in butter, minus cheese and/or cream. Dad’s side of the family tree is Cajun so we ate a lot of white rice, as opposed to potatoes and bread. To this day there are few things in the world better to me than white rice ladled with pan drippings from roasted meats. We ate loads of Tex-Mex as well. This was good food in the best sense of the word. It wasn’t the healthiest food, however, evidenced most effectively by my Dad’s sudden death, mid-sentence to my mom, of a heart attack at age 54.

I was 24 years old when Dad died. Blessed with his same genes, I realized I needed to at least try to eat healthier. Working post-college for ten years as a waiter in a terrific steak house didn’t make eating healthy easy. (Just wait for the waiting tables blog. Just you wait.) Besides, I didn’t really know how to eat healthy, or rather, how to eat healthy and still have the food taste good. This probably seems strange now but if you’re over 30, you might remember how different our thinking about food was at the time. Only ‘hippies’ were interested in farmer’s markets and organic produce.  We were still being told margarine was healthier than butter, for goodness sakes! Much of what we were told and taught about food for years now seems insane, so it might be hard to remember how blinded we were. For me, a bowl of Fettuccine Alfredo made with one stick of butter rather than two sticks of butter, and a slight cutting back on the cream, was healthy cooking.

One afternoon driving to the steakhouse, however, I heard a woman being interviewed on NPR about her new cookbook…

Click here for the rest of the post!

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