Category Archives: BOOK REVIEWS

On Reading “My Paris Kitchen”

mypariseiffel

It’s been on hold at the library for two months, and I finally got to take it home last week.  I know I should have bought it — but I’m chintzy enough to want to take a good look at a cookbook before I actually spend the money.  So I’ve been perusing “My Paris Kitchen” for a week now, and, yes, I’ve decided it’s definitely deserving of a place on my already overstuffed cookbook shelves.

I am not surprised.  The book is by David Lebovitz who is an American chef who spent thirteen yearsmyparisDavid at Alice Water‘s famous Chez Panisse in California and then left the restaurant business in 1999 to write books.  He moved to Paris in 2004 and turned davidlebovitz.com into a phenomenally popular blog.  He is the author of six books (I’ve now read and enjoyed three) mostly cookbooks, but including a funny and fascinating memoir called “The Sweet Life in Paris.”

This cookbook actually got me at the cover — a mouth-watering display of what looks like braised chicken breasts (chicken with mustard, I think) in an enormous copper pan that he bought in the famed cookware shop ( E. Dehillerin) in Les Halles and an inside cover overview of Paris rooftops with a perfect, moody Paris sky.   The photography is by someone named Ed Anderson and it is just as eye-poppingly good as you would expect in a handsome hardcover edition.

myparisbook

Anyway, this is ostensibly a contemporary cookbook, purporting to show how Parisians eat today, with 100 sweet and savoury dishes that range from appetizers to desserts.  Lebovitz was a pastry cook at Chez Panisse and so the opulent desserts make the most of that skill, as well as his personal penchant for all things chocolate.  A section on ingredients and equipment are the very minimum that are required and that will fit into his tiny Parisian kitchen.  There is also an extra chapter called “The Pantry” in which he presents an assortment of recipes, ingredients that he likes to keep on hand, or in the refrigerator, such as chicken stock, clarified butter, vinaigrette, and so on.  The recipes are clearly stated, simple and sometimes surprising.  For instance, in the vinaigrette recipe, he talks about how in France he discovered that neutral tasting oil was often used instead of olive oil and how he gradually came to realize that cold pressed oils such as sunflower, safflower or canola could be substituted for the EVO with interesting results.

But this is much more than just a cookbook.  Lebovitz has said that “the book is meant to be a story about how I cook in Paris … with a story running through the recipes, text, photos and headnotes.”  So each recipe comes with a narrative accompaniment, or an anecdote and the chapters are interspersed with little essays on everything from the use of salted and unsalted butter, to the difficulty for Americans in pronouncing French words (try saying “moelleux” for instance without making your French friends grimace), or to the idea of “local” in France which often translates into discussions of “terroir” and “le cuisine du marché”.  I particularly love his discussion of the cheese course which we always approach with a certain amount of ambivalence in Canada.  Lebovitz notes that the cheese course comes before dessert in France — or it can come instead of dessert, if the host so desires.  He notices how people in North America often try to put as many different kinds of cheese as they can on the cheese plate so that everyone can try something different.  (Yes, and how they end up with 10 little pieces of wrapped up cheeses that linger stalely in the refrigerator.)  The French, on the other hand, believe that it’s a better idea to have one or two examples of the very best of the genre, rather than loading up with numerous little bits of different kinds where the flavours will cancel each other out.  And the French also do not consider it necessary to tart up their cheese with other elements such as chutneys or nuts or fruit — just crackers or bread.

There are, of course, so many hundreds of cookbooks about Paris, ancient and modern. This cookbook would be a great companion on your shelf to Patricia Wells’ really fine “The Paris Cookbook” which also deals with contemporary cooking in the city.  The difference is that Wells concentrates on recipes from Parisian restaurants, whereas Lebovitz is much more personal.  But I also loved the way that Lebovitz handled the increasing globalization of the Parisian cuisine.  Paris, like all big cities, is no longer purely French but now has a large ethnic component.  Instead of deploring this fact, Lebovitz writes about how the Parisians translate ethnic into French and he includes recipes for everything from baba ganoush to hummus to Indian cheese bread with a Parisian accent.

Anyway, here’s his recipe for croque-monsieur, the first, really French thing I ever ate in France and the precursor to a forty year love affair with French food.

Croque-Monsieur (Fried Ham and Cheese Sandwich)

from My Paris Kitchen, David Lebovitzmypariscroque

Ingredients:

Béchamel Sauce:

1 tbsp salted or unsalted butter

1 tbsp all purpose flour

1/4 cup whole milk

pinch of sea salt or kosher salt

pinch of cayenne pepper

Croque-Monsieur:

4 slices sourdough or country style bread

4 slices prosciutto or thinly sliced dry cured ham or 2 thick slices boiled ham

2 thin slices Comté or Gruyère cheese

4 tbsp salted or unsalted butter

1/4 cup grated Comté or Gruyère cheese

Method:

1) Béchamel Sauce:  melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat and stir in the flour.  When the mixture starts to bubble, cook for 1 minute more.  Whisk in 1/4 cup of the milk, stirring to discourage lumps, then whisk in the remaining 1/3 cup of milk.  Cook for about 1 minute more, until the sauce is thick and creamy, like runny mayonnaise.  Remove from the heat and stir in the salt and cayenne;  set aside to cool a bit and thicken.

2)  Spread the Béchamel evenly over the four slices of bread.  Lay a slice of ham over two of the bread slices, top them with slices of cheese and then top with the remaining ham slices.  Finish with the two remaining slices of bread, Béchamel side down (on the inside) and brush the outsides of the sandwiches without restraint with the melted butter.

3)  Turn on the broiler and heat a large ovenproof frying pan or grill pan over medium heat on the stove top.  (Make sure to use a pan with a heatproof handle for broiling later.)  Place the sandwiches in the frying pan, drape with a sheet of aluminum foil and then rest a cast iron skillet or other heavy pan or flat object on top.  Cook until the bottoms of the sandwiches are well browned.  Remove the skillet and foil, flip the sandwiches over, replace the foil and skillet and continue cooking until the other side is browned.

4)  Remove the cast-iron skillet and foil and strew the grated cheese on top of the sandwiches.  Put the pan under the broiler and broil the sandwiches until the cheese melts.  Serve immediately.

Variation:  To make a croque-madame, while the sandwiches are broiling cook a sunny side up egg for each sandwich.  Slide the eggs on top of the sandwiches after you plate them.

My Notes:

Don’t let the “Béchamel sauce” put you off.  This is just a sort of old-fashioned white sauce and it makes the sandwich really spectacular.

myparischeeseshop

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Considering the third plate

considerthird

Imagine this: You’re hungry and you have three plates set before you —

Plate number one has a huge, delicious-looking steak from a corn fed beast, a baked potato and a few steamed carrots;

Plate number two has a huge, delicious-looking steak, a baked potato and a few heirloom vegetables, but you know that the steak comes from a grass fed, antibiotic free animal and that the vegetables are all organic;

Plate number three contains a large carrot “steak”, a selection of organic vegetables and a sauce made from secondary cuts of lamb.

Oh yes, and by the way, you must pay for the dinner — and, of course, number two is going to be much more expensive.

Well good for you if you chose the carrot steak.  Plate number three, according to writer considerbarberDan Barber, not only will taste more delicious but is also the choice that is better for your health and much easier on the earth.  And this is the main thesis of his book “The Third Plate:  Field Notes on the Future of Food“, written as a result of ten year survey of food and farming systems around the world.  The widely reviewed bestseller has been compared to Michael Pollan‘s famed “The Omnivore’s Dilemma“, but this book takes us a step further and, according to the Chicago Tribune reviewer, might be termed “The Omnivore’s Dilemma, 2:0”.

Barber uses the metaphor of the “plate” to represent the type of cuisine offered by three different systems of agriculture.  As foodies, we all know that the traditional meal of the first plate with its huge cut of meat and few vegetables is both hard on our health and not ecologically sustainable.  So most of us have moved, by now, to plate number two, which is what we know as the locavore or the farm to table movement, where the meat is from free range animals and the vegetables are organic and locally sourced.  Barber concedes that this produces food that tastes better and is better for the planet but claims that it still is too disruptive of ecological balances   The local food movement has not really changed the way we eat, he asserts, and what we need to change is our eating habits.  He proposes that the third plate presents us with an integrated system of vegetable, grain and livestock production that is fully supported by what we choose to have for dinner.

To illustrate his points, Barber travels all over the world, examining a southern Spanish “dehesa”, a sustainable agricultural area built up in a region which produces acorns and cork, wool and the famed “jamon iberico” (ham); he investigates a revolutionary aquaculture system in the straits of Gibraltar and a mixed crop farm in upstate New York.  considermanorunAnd I believe that he could have gone to our own ManoRun Organic Farm near Hamilton which is attempting to create this same ecologically sustainable model.  His prime objective is to demonstrate how land, communities, taste and cuisine benefit when ecology informs how we source, cook and eat.

 

 

This is not a quick and easy read.  The issues are incredibly complex and the web of relationships require a certain amount of critical thought, some lengthy pondering and perhaps even some extra reading from the excellent bibliography that is provided.  But the ideas are paradigm shifting and, fortunately, Barber writes well and vividly.  The book is filled with fascinating characters, amusing anecdotes and amazing insights.  As chef of a Manhattan restaurant called Blue Hills and another restaurant in upstate New York called Blue Hills at Stone Barns, his writing about food and flavour is entirely convincing — which is significant because I, for one, am very dubious about ever preferring the carrot steak to the big, fat meaty one.  I am, of course, also not a scientist so I can only accept some of the assumptions that the book is based on — the not-quite-proved belief, for instance, that organic vegetables are more nutritious than vegetables arising from monoculture farming, or even that this sustainable model of farming will ever produce enough food to feed the hungry people of the world.  But obviously we are not going in the right direction right now and as people who are concerned with food issues, I think that Barber’s book falls under the heading of “essential text.”

Anyway, if you’re curious about how one ends up with a carrot steak, here’s a recipe for Carrot Cutlets.  The recipe was given by Barber to Toronto Star food editor and columnist Jennifer Bain who was experimenting with a third plate menu.

Carrot Cutlets

from Chef Dan Barber considercutlets

Ingredients:

6 medium carrots (about 8 inches, 20 cm long and 3/4 inc/2 cm wide), peeled

2 tbsp (30 ml) olive oil

1 tsp (5 ml) each: granulated sugar, kosher salt

generous grind black pepper

Breading:

1/2 cup (125 ml) each: panko (Japanese breadcrumbs), whole wheat panko or other dried breadcrumbs

1/4 cup (60 ml) white rice flour

2 tsp (10 ml) ground cumin

2 eggs beaten

about 1/2 cup (125 ml) all-purpose flour

1/2 cup (125 ml) vegetable oil

Method:

1)  Lay 3 large pieces aluminum foil on counter overlapping slightly.  Place carrots on top in single layer.  Drizzle with oil.  Season with sugar, salt and pepper.  Wrap tightly;  place on baking tray.  Roast in preheated 400 F (200 C) oven 1 hour. flip foil package.  Roast 1 hour or until carrots are very soft.  When cool enough to handle, unwrap carrots.

2)  Line baking tray with parchment paper.  Lay carrots on tray, leaving some space between each.  Top with another piece of parchment paper and another baking tray.  Place a heavy weight, such as several cans of food, on top of tray to press down carrots.  Let press 10 minutes.  If carrots are cooked properly they will press into “cutlets” instead of breaking.  (You can make ahead to here if desired and refrigerate until ready to cook.)

3)  For coating, create a breading station:

On large plate, stir together panko, rice flour and cumin.  Put egg on second large plate.  Put all-purpose flour on third large plate.

4)Dredge carrots in flour, turning to coat all over and shaking off any excess.  Roll next in egg.  Finally, roll in panko mixture until coated on all sides.  Place carrots on cutting board until ready to cook.

5) In large frying pan, heat oil over medium.  In 2 batches, carefully add carrot cutlets and fry until golden, about 2 to 3 minutes per side.  Transfer to paper towel-lined plate to drain.

Makes 6.

My Notes:

Barber realizes that “you have to like to cook.”  He serves this with a lamb sauce.  Recipes for the entire menu can be found at http://www.thestar.com/life/food_wine/2014/07/31/dan_barbers_third_plate_wants_us_to_rethink_our_dinner.html

I admit that I have not cooked this and would love to hear from anyone who attempts it.

.

 

 

Going for the Glow

 

vegancookbook

I am not a vegan. I am not even a vegetarian. Yet, nevertheless, fellow foodies, I have found this most extraordinary vegan cookbook that I would like to recommend to you.

The cookbook is called The Oh She Glows Cookbook: Vegan Recipes to Glow From the Inside Out, and the author is Angela Liddon who writes a food blog:

http://ohsheglows.com/

This is Liddon’s first cookbook. It was released on March 4th. Since then, Chapters/Indigo have selected The Oh She Glows Cookbook as their Top Book Pick of 2014, it has been an Amazon.com bestseller booklist for weeks and is on the New York Times’ bestseller list.

veganliddon

Liddon is originally from Moncton N.B. and now lives in Oakville. She is a self-trained cook and photographer, not a chef, and is very forthright about her origins in the food industry. In her background sketch, she writes about struggling with an eating disorder from the age of 11 or 12. After earning a Masters’ degree in social psychology, she began writing her incredibly successful blog. Delighted by being able to make use of her creative abilities, she eventually changed her career direction, opening and running a bakery for several years. She now concentrates on writing and recipe development. In 2009, she writes, she shifted her diet to plant-based after doing much research on nutrition, animal welfare and the environmental impacts of factory farming. Her aim, she says, is to create healthy, unprocessed, animal-product free recipes with tasty and good-for-you food.

I must confess that I too have been inspired by these same claims for animal-free products and have tried to be a vegetarian twice. The first time was when I was in my 20’s and the experiment was a total failure. I was trying to lose weight (which I didn’t) and I relapsed quickly, finding it just too inconvenient to give up meat and missing my toasted BLT’s too much. (I don’t know who I was kidding about healthy living — I was a smoker at the time.) Anyway, the second time I tried, I had done a bit more homework. I managed to stay vegetarian for a couple of months and then started to feel sort of tired, weak and wispy. After a blood test, my doctor told me that I was missing or low in certain “trace minerals”, something that could be fixed very easily. (Obviously, I didn’t do enough homework.) The whole project began to seem like too much trouble and I gave it up.

I do know that I would never be vegan. As I understand it, veganism is a very compassionate philosophy which believes that animals are not here to be exploited by man, and that commercialization of animals necessarily involves a fundamental, inhumane component and lack of respect for basic life. Vegans try not to use any animal products in any way. So, while I might be persuaded to give up eating meat — eggs, milk and cheese just aren’t a possibility. Vegans also do not use leather, silk and wool and, while I certainly wouldn’t wear fur, I’m not sure that I could go much further. And what about ants that I kill when they come into my house? And I’m afraid that I have stooped to using mouse traps. Anyway, trying never to exploit animals in any way, all started to seem a bit obsessive and besides I like to try new things and eat different types of food when I travel. I’m just not willing to give that up.

So, having confessed to my own doubts and liabilities, why am I so impressed with this vegan cookbook?

What I have been convinced of, over the years, is the beneficial effects of a primarily plant-based diet — both for the individual and for the planet. (An interesting study just came out on April 1st. It was carried out by experts at University College London who analysed the eating habits of 65,000 people, over eight years and matched them with causes of death. The clear finding was that eating more fruits and vegetables was linked to living a longer life in general and, in particular, a lower chance for premature death from heart disease, stroke or cancer. Published in the Guardian, see

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/apr/01/fruit-and-vegetables-seven-portions-ucl-study/)

Anyway, I try to eat vegetarian meals at least two or three times a week and I’m always looking for great tasting new vegetarian dishes.

Liddon’s book features more than 100 recipes and, although I’ve only tried three so far, all three have been winners. There are breakfasts, power snacks, entrées and decadent desserts, most of the recipes are allergy friendly and there are lots of gluten-free options. What I also like is that most of the ingredients are attainable at the local grocery store. Since you know my feelings about large amounts of kale, we’ll pass over the crispy kale chips and I’ll leave you with a truly divine recipe for

15 Minute Creamy Avocado Pastaveganavocade

from Angela Liddon’s The Oh She Glows Cookbook

Ingredients:

1 medium sized ripe avocado, pitted

1/2 lemon, juiced plus lemon zest for garnish

1 – 3 garlic cloves (I like three — but this makes it super-garlicky)

1/2 tsp. kosher salt, or to taste

1/4 cup fresh basil (probably optional)

2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

2 servings/6 oz of your choice of pasta (Liddon uses 3 oz of spelt and 3 oz of Kamut spaghetti)

freshly ground black pepper, to taste.

Method:

1. Bring several cups of water to a boil in a medium sized pot. Add in your pasta, reduce heat to medium, and cook until al dente, about 8-10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, make the sauce by placing the garlic cloves, lemon juice, and olive oil into a food processor. Process until smooth. Now add in the pitted avocado, basil, and salt. Process until smooth and creamy.

3. When pasta is done cooking, drain and rinse in a strainer and place pasta into a large bowl. Pour on sauce and toss until fully combined. Garnish with lemon zest and black pepper. Serve immediately. Makes 2 servings.

My Notes

The sauce is creamy, rich, garlicky — absolutely delicious.  And, of course. if you are not vegan you can use it with regular spaghetti.

herbivore

 

On spandex and simple gifts

spandex

I believe that the very worst Christmas gift that I ever received was a pair of black spandex bicycle pants in a size too small.  They were given to me by my mother whose desire for my good health and self-improvement overcame her usual tact and generosity.  I regretted that I had told her that I planned to institute an exercise regime of bike riding as soon as the weather got warmer.  I thanked her icily and later threw the skimpy, synthetic sausage-casings into the trash bin.

gifts

The time of year, of course, has got me thinking about gifts — good and bad, past and present. Certainly, as a child, I received my share of flannel pyjamas (snore …) and baby dolls (I was never a baby doll person and I’m too old to have been part of the “Barbie” generation).  From the earliest that I can recall, my most-desired presents were books.  (Well, what I really wanted was a horse, but I knew, even at the age of six, that that wasn’t going to happen.) For a month before Christmas, I would ponder and muse and write and re-write long lists of volumes which I would present to my parents and relatives. (Not surprisingly, for a long time, long lists of books about horses.)  Spoiled and pampered only child that I was, I could always depend upon unwrapping several of the titles under the tree on Christmas morning.

The strangest thing is, however, that this desire for more and more books never left me.  Now, living in a small condo’, I am constantly agonizing over that strict, small space precept “one in, one out.”  Perhaps because of my job, I now have become obsessed with collecting cook books and they are gradually taking over the shelves that previously were crammed with books on art history and travel guides.  There are such a lot of new cookbooks every season, however, that I’ve had become very selective.  So I want to share with you the very best new volume that I have found this year.

FlavourprincipleIt’s called “The Flavour Principle” and is written by Lucy Waverman and Beppi Crosariol.  Waverman and Crosariol are food and wine writers sharing a page in the Globe and Mail and together they make a formidable duo.  I have long been a Waverman fan and have collected several of her cookbooks over the years; the blotted, food-stained and well notated pages, with their spattered butter splotches and chocolate finger prints, attest to their constant use. I love the way that Waverman organizes food seasonally and appends brief but succinct descriptions of the hopeful outcome to each recipe.  And Crosariol is a really good writer as well as a knowledgeable wine connoisseur.  He talks about many types of drinks, wine, of course, but also beer, cocktails, spirits, etc. in a way that is clear, evocative and understandable — although sometimes his wine selections are, alas, beyond my meagre means.

Lucybeppi

Lucy Waverman and Beppi Crosariol

Anyway, this book has been structured around the concept of “flavours”  — for example, there are sections headed bitter, smoky, earthy, salty, sweet, etc.  and whole multi-course dinners have been constructed with the one predominant flavour used as a sort of leitmotif that runs through the whole menu.  Often, within those parameters, the well-travelled pair build menus highlighting foods from foreign countries.   For instance,  under “Salty”, there is a section devoted to brining, a riff on truck stop treats (fries, lobster rolls, to die for), along with menus for a sushi free Japanese meal and a simple Italian dinner.  Lazy planner that I am, I love to have the whole meal laid out for me.  I can then either slavishly follow the plan or substitute my own tried-and-true recipes.  This is an important cookbook because it actually starts you thinking about how things taste.  An interior dialogue ensues and I find that I begin to construct my own food and wine relationships.

“The Flavour Principle” would also serve as a perfect gift for any foodie in your life.  It’s beautiful to look at with a wonderfully tactile hard cover and illustrations by Ryan Szulc, a Toronto photographer.  Szulc’s still lifes of food and drink are imaginative and so attractive that I’m quite sure that he must be using some sort of magical camera. (Where can I buy that?) There is an introduction that explains the conceptual underpinnings and funny little anecdotes and essays are interspersed among the recipes.  There are tips on cooking techniques and lists of ingredients for a global pantry which I will be taking with me the next time that I go downtown to Nations Fresh.  Anyway, the clincher to the argument “should I buy this or Nigella, or Martha” has to be, not just that this is a definitively superior cookbook (which it is), but that it’s Canadian and therefore, if nothing else, the seasons actually match the kind of food that’s available. (A factor that often becomes an irritant in British or American cookbooks.)

So here is a recipe from the book just to whet your appetite.  And I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and give and receive all of your heart’s desires.

E .Hujer

Argentinian Short Ribs

sribsseriouseatss

short ribs on the long bone from SeriousEats.com

from “The Flavour Principle”, Lucy Waverman and Beppi Crosariol

Ingredients:

1 tbsp. chopped garlic

1 tbsp. chopped fresh oregano

1 tbsp. chopped fresh thyme

1 tsp. dry mustard

1 tsp. hot paprika

1 tsp. chopped jalapeno pepper, or to taste

1/2 cup red wine

2 tbsp. red wine vinegar

4 tbsp. olive oil

6 Argentinian short ribs on the long bone

salt and freshly ground pepper

1 cup chopped red onions

1 tsp. diced jalapeno pepper

2 cups canned diced tomatoes

2 cups beef stock, homemade or store-bought

1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

3 inch strip of orange peel

Method:

1)  Combine garlic, oregano, thyme, mustard, paprika, chopped jalapeno, wine, vinegar and 2 tbsp. olive oil in a bowl.  Arrange short ribs in a single layer in a large dish.  Pour marinade over the ribs. Marinate, covered and refrigerated, for 12 hours.

2)  Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

3)  Remove ribs from marinade, reserving marinade.  Pat ribs dry and season with salt and pepper.

4)  Heat remaining 2 tbsp. oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over high heat.  Working in batches, brown meat well on each side, about 2 minutes per side.  Reserve.

5)  Spill out all but 1 tbsp. oil.  Reduce heat to medium.  Add onions and diced jalapeno and sauté until softened, about 2 minutes.  Stir in tomatoes, stock, Worcestershire sauce and reserved marinade.  Bring to a boil, scraping up any bits on bottom of pot.  Add short ribs and orange peel or place all ingredients in a casserole dish.

6)  Cover and bake for 2 to 2 1/2 hours or until ribs are fork-tender.  Remove short ribs to a baking sheet.

7)  Increase heat to 400 degrees F.

8) Skim any fat from sauce.  Place over medium heat and reduce until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.

9)  Roast short ribs for 15 minutes.  Return to sauce.

malbecPairing:  Malbec, of course, from Argentina’s Mendoza region.

 My Notes:

Mmm — what could be better than tender, fatty short ribs with mashed potatoes in snowy weather?  You will need this in January!    

simplegifts

What’s Up with Gluten: Part 2

Barr 001

“I never eat this sort of thing,” I muttered ungraciously, as Rhonda Barr presented me with an enormous oatmeal raisin cookie.

“Just taste a bit of it, to try it out,” she smiled, “it’s our ‘Go Big or Go Home Ultimate Oatmeal Cookie’ ”  — and I took the first bite.

I was interviewing Rhonda in her tiny office at the Ya’d Never Know Bakery in downtown Dundas.  The office is but an appendage to the large, open area where the real business is carried on  — a pristine and organized space in which various people zipped about, cutting up chicken breasts, readying macaroni and cheese for browning, brewing coffee, making cookies and manning the counter which was lined with glass display cases containing butter tarts, scones, pastries, fudgie brownies and, of course, several types of bread.  The whole place smelled like a proper bake shop — spicy and warm, buttery and rich.

Barr has just published her second cookbook — a handsome volume, illustrated with beautiful food photographs, some taken by her husband, Gavin Wells, along with Michelle Manzoni of PhotoSplash Photography and Simon VanSickle.

Barrbook

Called “What’s Up with Gluten?  Against the Grain”  the book contains 126 gluten-free recipes — everything from appetizers, dips and sauces, main dishes, vegetarian and outdoor cooking sections and — as might be expected — a chapter devoted to bakeshop items.  There are lots of calorie-wise selections, but the book is not designed for losing weight; there are also plentiful amounts of cream, sugar and butter — reflecting Barr’s insistence upon quality ingredients and great flavour.  The recipes are straightforward and the book is pleasantly readable and anecdotal with all sorts of tips interspersed, to provide context and to help the gluten-free novice design healthy, tasty and nutritious meals.

Barr notes that this book is much bolder and less timid that her first cookbook, “What’s Up With Gluten:  A Chef’s Perspective from My Kitchen to Yours” published in 2009.

“I was afraid that no one would buy that first book and so I tried not to spend too much money on the production and limited the content to 60 recipes.  It was very fundamental information.

“But since then, I’ve had so much more experience — I’ve learned a lot in five years.  I realized that in my zeal to make great tasting gluten-free food, I had forgotten about nutrition — fibre, iron, protein, B vitamins.  I’ve made an effort to put that back into this book.  The food is still delicious but there’s a whole lot more knowledge — you might think of the first book as kindergarten and this book as high school. ”

As happens with so many people, Barr’s life was transformed by tragedy.  Her beloved daughter Terra was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2004.  Barr had been working in manufacturing for many years.  She quit her job immediately and began to search for a more meaningful career realizing that life is too short not to follow your dreams.  A natural cook, she apprenticed at several restaurants and opened her own off-site catering company, The Valley Gourmet, which was wildly successful.   But, sadly, Terra eventually lost her battle with the disease and Barr, working through her grief, determined to devote herself to doing something that would be of real benefit to people.

“I had a lot of customers who complained about allergies and bloating,” she relates, and, after a year of soul searching and assiduously studying nutrition, in 2009, she sold her catering company and opened her bakery, focusing her energies on gluten-free food.

Barr 003The “Ya’d Never Know Bakery”, on King Street East, is the second location for the business.  Staples include scones, rich with berries, butter and cream, cookies, muffins and pastries, pizza crust and, of course, gluten free bread — white, garlic, cheese and multigrain.  Barr had to re-write most of her recipes. (The name of the bakery comes from her constant search for food that doesn’t actually taste as if it’s gluten-free.) And she prides herself on using premium ingredients.

“I don’t cheap out on the products.  I deal directly with farmers, when I can, to get good ingredients.  Some gluten-free recipes use something called guar gum as a binder, for instance, which leaves a bitter aftertaste.  I use xanthan gum, instead.  And I never use white rice powder — it leaves a sort of coating on the tongue — there are so many blends and better flours available.  Making it taste good is a passion with me and I stand behind every product.”

The new cookbook can be purchased online through Barr’s website http://www.yadneverknow.com/ or at the Bakery itself.

Oh, yes, and the cookie?  I ate the entire thing on my drive home and savored every last crumb.

E. Hujer

Here’s the recipe to try from the new cookbook.

barrcookie

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

from Rhonda Barr’s “What’s Up With Gluten: Against the Grain” 

Prep time                    Cook time                 Makes

25 min                         12 min                        48

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups Ya’d Never Know AP gluten free flour blend

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tbsp salt

1/2 tsp xanthan gum

1 tbsp cinnamon

1 tsp nutmeg

3 cups gluten-free oatmeal

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup organic cane sugar

2 eggs

1 1/2 cups lard (or butter)

1 tsp vanilla

2 cups raisins

1 cup chopped pecans

Method:

1)  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F

2)  In a bowl combine the first seven ingredients together, set aside.

3)  In a mixer, combine lard and sugars, beat for 1 minute, add eggs and vanilla and beat for 2 minutes

4)  Add dry ingredients to wet and blend just until incorporated.

5)  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

6)  Scoop 40 grams of mix for each cookie on parchment paper, flatter slightly.

7)  Bake 6 minutes, rotate cookie sheet and bake an additional 6 minutes.

Rhonda’s Notes (you know what I think …) 

When getting oatmeal for this recipe, make sure that it’s certified gluten-free.  A lot of brands of oatmeal will be from a facility that processes gluten products as well, so there is a significant risk of cross-contamination.  Never forget to check your labels.  And you can always stop by out bakery, where we have gluten-free oatmeal available.

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“Cooked” — and loving it!

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Writer, Michael Pollan

“How, in our everyday lives, can we acquire a deeper understanding of the natural world and our species’ peculiar role in it?  You can always go to the woods to confront such questions, but I discovered that even more interesting answers could be had simply by going to the kitchen.”

cookedThis is one of the more provocative reasons that Michael Pollan presents for researching and writing his new book, called “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation.”  Pollan is the author of six previous books, the best known, probably “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” which exhorts us to think more carefully about how we shop for food.  In “Cooked”, he is asking us to think about the next step.  Essentially, he sets out “to explore the reality of food”, by mastering the physical processes by which it traditionally has been prepared.

To do so, he structures the book metaphorically around the four elements: fire, water, air and earth.  In Fire, for instance, he delves into the mysteries of the barbecue, suggesting links to ancient rituals of sacrifice.  Travelling south, he confronts the great pit-masters, gaining insight into the use of wood smoke and barbecue sauces.  In Water, he investigate the complexities of the braise, providing tips on brining and flavorings such as umami.  Air is devoted to the making of a great loaf of bread and Earth uncovers the processes of fermentation and bacteria and their role in creating foods such cheese and sauerkraut and beer.

I loved reading this book but have the feeling that, like tales of travelling to outer Mongolia on the local railway, it’s a lot more fun to read about Pollan’s explorations, than to actually emulate them.  Which brings me to the central conundrum of the book (at least for me):  I do SO agree with the writer that processed, pre-packaged food with its huge amounts of sugar, fat, salt and chemical additives is close to death in a cardboard box.  I truly do want to make my own chicken soup, whip up some homemade linguine (Where is that little pasta machine?) and bake some real bread.  So why is my cupboard full of little jars and cans and pouches and my freezer overflowing with the President’s Choice?

Well, the answer is obvious, of course.  Like most people who work for a living, there is simply no time to cook from scratch every day.  In a CBC interview with Jian Ghomeshi <http://www.cbc.ca/q/blog/2013/06/06/michael-pollan-on-reclaiming-cooking/index.html/>, Pollan waxes poetic about how much he enjoys that HOUR spent making dinner every evening.  Sometimes I don’t get home from work until after nine o’clock at night. (Yes, I know, spare me the sound of violins.)  That little hour of making dinner simply isn’t going to happen — and I actually am interested in food and enjoy cooking.

So, I do the best I can.  I cook on the weekends and try to keep Sundays open for preparing “make ahead” dinners that I can nuke during the week.  I try to eat simple meals with lots of fresh vegetables and without additives during the work week.  When the cupboard is bare, I eschew the fast food takeout and throw bits and pieces together in an omelette.  Occasionally I pray that there are some delicious leftovers from our Go Cooking sessions.  And sometimes I am so tired (lazy?) that I just give in, stick the frozen pot pie in the microwave and eat it with hot sauce to give it some flavour.

So there is an economic question in this book that is not really answered.  Money buys time, and only those with enough money can have the free time to wash, peel, chop, braise or roast every day. (“Gee, today I think I’ll spend four to six hours doing a slow barbecue …” – not bloody likely!) And those with more money also can afford to buy healthy, pre-prepared food, like dinners from chefs and caterers.  Moreover, there also is a gender issue.  In the middle class family, men are certainly spending a lot more time in the kitchen than in years gone by, but the daily drudgery usually still falls to women who now also have fulltime jobs (not to even mention children to look after).  For these reasons, I have no illusions about the future demise of pre-packaged foods and quickly prepared meals.

What Pollan actually is asserting, however, is that cooking is important as more than just a means of preparing meals; that we should be thinking about cooking our food as a philosophy of living as opposed to just a tedious chore.  His premise is, that by linking us to plants and animals, to the earth and farms and orchards and waterways and all of the tactile and physical elements of life, preparing our own food actually involves us in a whole web of social, economic and ecological relationships.  And because of this, by preparing our own food, we not only gain control over our own health, but our lives will be incomparably enriched.

“Cooked” does contain some incredibly complex recipes, but to find them, you will have to buy the book.  I’m including a simpler recipe from Pollan’s website.  It’s something that I have actually made and I can assure you that it’s very good.

E. Hujer 

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Vinegar Braised Chicken

from Michael Pollan, http://michaelpollan.com/books/cooked/recipes/

For this recipe Pollan was inspired by chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s recipe for vinegar chicken. He suggests seasoning the chicken with salt a day in advance.

3 ¾ pounds bone-in chicken pieces, preferably dark meat.
2 ½ tsp. kosher salt, divided
½ tsp. ground black pepper
1 ½ Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
⅓ cup finely chopped shallots
1 ½ cups red wine vinegar
1 cup chicken broth
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 cup canned whole peeled plum tomatoes, drained and quartered
6 cloves garlic
4 sprigs of thyme
3 bay leaves
2 Tbsp. finely chopped parsley

1. Preheat oven to 300°. Season chicken with 2 tsp. salt and pepper. Heat oil in a 5- to 6-quart Dutch oven or wide, ovenproof pot over medium-high heat. Arrange half the chicken in pot in a single layer and cook, turning once, until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a plate and repeat with remaining chicken.

2. Add shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 2 minutes. Add vinegar and cook until much of the acrid aroma has dissipated, 3 to 5 minutes. Add broth and ½ cup water, bring to a vigorous simmer, and cook until slightly reduced, 3 to 5 minutes.

3. Whisk in tomato paste and remaining ½ tsp. salt. Add tomatoes, then arrange chicken in pot, skin side up, pouring over any accumulated juices from plate. Tuck garlic, thyme, and bay leaves in liquid. Cover pot snugly with foil, then lid, and transfer to oven. Cook 1 hour and 15 minutes, until chicken is very tender.

4. Let rest 30 minutes; discard thyme and bay leaves. Scatter parsley on top and serve.

My Notes:

Pollan would probably be horrified, but this freezes very well and can be microwaved with good results.  I make it with chicken thighs, by the way.

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“How to Host a Dinner Party”

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We’ve all had dinner parties where things just didn’t just work out so perfectly, haven’t we?

I recall the pallid pleasures of the night of the all-white menu (somehow, I didn’t notice until the food was on the table), the disappointing luncheon when the whipping cream refused to whip, not to mention the summer evening when we all endured the lightly veiled hostility and barbed repartee of the couple who had that very afternoon decided to divorce.  The worst debacle, bar none, however, was the evening that the cat arrived in the adjoining living room with a mouse in her mouth, just as I was serving the soup.  The mouse was dropped on the carpet and guests rushed around trying to capture the creature, moving furniture about (dust!! hairballs!!), while the rest of us put our feet up on chairs in case of attack. (All of this transpired to the indignant yowls of the enraged cat which had been locked in the bathroom.) My husband finally captured the “wee, sleekit, cow’rin, timorous, beastie” in a paper bag and released it onto the patio.  I suppose you could call that evening “memorable.”

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Corey Mintz

All of the above was brought to mind by a new book that I have just read called  “How to host a Dinner Party.”  The book is by Corey Mintz who writes a weekly column called “Fed” in the Toronto Star.  Every week, Mintz hosts a dinner party in his own dining room with a variety of guests — often celebrities with whom he is barely acquainted. (He claims to have hosted over 115 dinner parties.) He then “reviews” the evening’s successes or failures in the paper.  One might expect that with this amount of chutzpah, Mintz’s precepts would be useful and comprehensible to only the most sophisticated and formidable of social arbitrors.  But, in fact, I found his ideas engaging, his reactions sensible and his advice to be really helpful.

Here are a few of his strategic suggestions:

“When you want to impress someone, choose the simplest thing and make it well.”

“Don’t ask for feedback at the table.” (If they really like it, they will tell you, if they say nothing, it’s probably alright, if they describe it as “unusual” or “interesting”, you’d better re-think the menu.)

About paying for the party – “know your limits.”

You are neither Nigella Lawson nor Gordon Ramsay.  Be realistic when planning the menu.

“Early is the right time for the host to be ready.”

“The only people who are allowed to put their phones on the table are doctors who are on call. And parents with children under ten months old.”

Mintz breaks down the process for organizing a party into ten easily digestible chapters and includes a favorite, well-tried recipe in each chapter.  The planning is accompanied by amusing anecdotes of events at past parties, along with  some charming illustrations by Steve Murray. And I particularly like the way that Mintz deals kindly but firmly with drunks, bigots, bores, racists and homophobes. The book is introduced by Sarah Polley who is an old friend of the author.  She writes that “Like the man himself, this book is fun, engaging, hilarious, brutally honest, chock full of truths you don’t want to hear but should probably listen to, infuriating and always entertaining.”

I couldn’t agree more.

E. Hujer

Here’s a recipe for Mintz’s guacamole.  But do remember, as he says in the book, “Ripe avocados, like a cab on a rainy night, are notoriously not there when you need them most.”

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Guacamole

from Corey Mintz’s “How to Host a Dinner Party” 

Ingredients:

1/8 Spanish onion, peeled and minced

1 jalapeno, stemmed, seeded and minced

2 ripe avocados

2 lime, juice of

salt to taste

Method:

In a large mixing bowl, combine the onion, jalapeno and avocado flesh.  Use a fork to mash the avocado until pulpy, but not puréed.  Add lime juice and salt to taste.  Refrigerate with cling wrap pressed into the surface to prevent discolouration.

Serves 4.

My Notes:

I usually add mashed garlic, but Mintz considers this an abomination.  Suit yourself.  He serves this with chips.

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