9780399581311_p0_v1_s192x300  Although I can talk myself into healthy eating, dabbling in macrobiotics and vegan fare, when it comes to dessert, nothing tastes as good as sugar and butter.  Perhaps with the latest health initiative advising eaters to avoid all sugar – under penalty of death, Yotan Ottalenghi’s latest cookbook Sweet may be better to look through rather than put into practice.

I do like reading cookbooks, whether or not I use the recipes, and Ottolenghi’s Sweet offers a feast for the eyes with oversized pages full of chocolate tarts and meringue cheesecakes  so realistic you’ll want to lick the page.  Soft gingerbread tiles with rum butter glaze has only a half a cup of brown sugar; when I saw the double page picture of these little gems, I thought I could smell the rum.  Norah O’Donnell, interviewing Ottolenghi on CBS This Morning promised to go home that night to bake the lemon cake.  I wonder which one she made – Ottolenghi has five lemon cake recipes, all sounding delicious.  I wish someone would bake one for me.

The cover has a picture of fresh figs with a meringue base, and Ottolenghi and his fellow writer/chef Helen Goh open the book with a “Sugar Manifesto,” a disclaimer about using sugar in their recipes.  “There’s nothing wrong with treats, as long as we know what they are and enjoy them as such.”   No hidden sugars or fats – what you see is what you get.

A little goes a long way, and you don’t have to eat the whole cake – or do you?

  • Read Reviews of Other Ottolenghi cookbooks – here
  • Ottolenghi’s lemon and blackcurrant stripe cake Recipe


Three Cookbooks I Want on My Shelf

Before I commit to buying a cookbook, I evaluate its worthiness to take up space on my limited shelves by checking it out of the library and trying a few of the recipes.  Of course, when three cookbooks arrived at the same time, they were in competition.  Who would win the coveted shelf space?  All three were winners.  Somehow I will find space for Ina Garten’s Cooking for Jeffrey, Maria Rodale’s Scratch, and Angela Liddon’s The Oh She Glows Cookbook.  Maybe I’ll get lucky and get them for presents (are you listening, daughters?)

9780307464897_p0_v3_s192x300  Cooking for Jeffrey

Ina Garten’s newest in her collection – Cooking for Jeffrey – has all the mouth-watering full page pictures enticing the reader to try the recipe.  Jeffrey is a lucky guy; those dishes would taste so much better if Ina would cook for me.  With a four layer chocolate cake on the cover, this book had me before I opened it.

9781623366438_p0_v2_s118x184  Scratch

Full of simple homemade dishes many will remember from childhood days of mother’s cooking, Maria Rodale’s Scratch could become the go-to book when memory lapses.  Tips for making the perfect poached egg or homemade chicken stock may seems simple, but Rodale’s extra twist is worth noting.  A few of the recipes may be heavy on the butter and cream – savory spiced pumpkin soup – but a little butter now and then never hurt, as my favorite chef Julia Child always said.  Rodale prefaces the book noting it is not a diet book – more comfort food, when you need it.

9781583335277_p0_v4_s118x184   The Oh She Glows Cookbook 

When I checked this out of the library, the librarian told me she had bought the book herself after trying some of the recipes – a good recommendation.  Many of us are always looking to eat better, healthier, and with less meat; this vegan cookbook offers easy possibilities. As I flipped through the preface, I was encouraged to find many of the foods I have in stock yet tend to ignore -those healthy alternatives to chips and store-bought cookies.  Liddon not only has the recipes you would expect from a healthy eating cookbook, like green smoothies and veggie burgers, she also includes power snacks and desserts like almond brownies and pudding parfait. A handy reference book for getting back on the track of healthy eating, The Oh She Glows Cookbook includes one of my favorite quotes from Margaret Mead:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world,  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

A timely thought for today, when the news of the world seems overwhelming. Good food may help.

Related Reviews:



Cookbooks 101

9780847837939_p0_v2_s192x300.jpg   Did you know you can study for a Ph.D. in food studies at New York University?  To support the program The Fales Library at NYU created a door stopper of a book, 688 pages – 101 Classic Cookbooks 501 Classic Recipes from Fannie Farmer to Thomas Keller – compiled and edited by an academic committee (of course).

The first half of 101 Classic Cookbooks is the canon of cookbooks, beginning with Fannie  Farmer’s The Boston Cooking School Cook Book (1896).  Books by Julia Child, Ruth Reichl, Emeril Lagasse and Betty Crocker,  James Beard and, of course, Irma Rombauer’s bible – The Joy of Cooking are a few of the famous included.   Just flipping through the glossy pages, you will see clear copies of cook book covers and recipe pages excerpted from each; the editors also offer a short introduction on the history and significance of each cookbook (which I confess I did not always read).  The collection crosses regions from Southern cooking to international, and from comfort food to  Alice Waters’ farm to table.

The editors  include a few spiral bound cookbooks (we all have a few) from the Junior Leagues of Charleston and Augusta, and one of my favorites – The Moosewood Cookbook.    Mark Bittman and Thomas Keller are the anchors, finishing the collection with books from 1998 and 1999.  The current century is still in committee.

Recipe pages in the first section copied directly from the cookbooks are not readable, but the second half of 101 Classic Cookbooks becomes 501 Classic Recipes, the best ideas culled from all and clearly printed (with an editor’s caveat warning older recipes may not always work).  With ten categories, from Drinks and Nibbles to Baked Goods and Desserts, this section is overwhelming – too much even for those of us who like to read cookbooks. But this is a textbook.

The Index is the place to start. Recipes, authors, and books are cross-referenced – a map to finding your favorite cookbook author or honing in on a recipe you might like to try. The recipe for Lord Baltimore Cake caught my eye.

An ambitious undertaking, 101 Classic Cookbooks 501 Classic Recipes is a first in reference books for food studies, but it also could be a happy diversion for anyone who would rather cook than study – or just likes to read cookbooks.

Related Review:  My Visit to Thomas Kellor’s French Laundry

Reviews on Other Cookbooks:



The Good Old Boys Are Cooking

If you’ve watched the first season of House of Cards, you may remember Frank Underwood (played by Kevin Spacey) frequenting a back alley barbecue with the best ribs in town.  Washington, D.C. is not known for barbecue – or really for being a typical Southern town – but Myron Mixon, the king of smoking meat, reminded me of a mix of Frank Underwood and his secret barbecue master, Freddy, when I recently attended one of his cooking classes and then read his book – BBQ Rules.

Living in Annapolis, the best barbecue was to be had at Adam’s Ribs.  Here in Hawaii, the closest to the flavor is the huli huli chicken smoked in parking lots, usually for fund raisers.  I’m not a fan of meat or barbecue, but experiencing Myron Mixon was an adventure in taste and tolerance.  Once I overcame my snobbish attitude toward the bad grammar and raunchy jokes, I learned a lot about barbecue and a little about the people who love it.

UnknownThe self-proclaimed king of smoking – meats, that is – Myron Mixon proudly tells his audience he has won over a million dollars in prize money – to pay his mortgage and car payments -including state championships in thirty states from Georgia to Illinois, and has been inducted into the Barbecue Hall of Fame in Kansas City.  His book – BBQ Rules – includes anything you need to know about barbecue, including instructions for building your own pit, to cuts of meat (beef cuts, the whole hog, bird parts – and extras, with recipes for smoked cheese, cornbread, cobbler – even a smoked chocolate cake.  He also includes, with the help of his ghost writer, Kelly Alexander, smatterings of his colorful life.

One recipe that caught my eye was for pork cracklins’ – in Mixon’s words:

“…better than any damn skin you’ll ever have because you can’t buy these out of a bag – that crap you buy out of a bag is jus puffed air and fat.  This right here made with the skin of a hog is the real deal.  We get the skin that cracklings are made from after we get through barbecuing our shoulders, our hams, and even our whole hog.”

images   Charles Lamb would agree, although he phrased it a little differently in his essay, “A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig” in the early nineteenth century  (you can read the full essay online here):

“He burnt his fingers, and to cool them he applied them in his booby fashion to his mouth. Some of the crumbs of the scorched skin had come away with his fingers, and for the first time in his life (in the world’s life, indeed, for before him no man had known it) he tasted—crackling!…surrendering himself up to the new-born pleasure, he fell to tearing up whole handfuls of the scorched skin with the flesh next it, and was cramming it down his throat in his beastly fashion…”

Nixon included extra recipes for his cooking class graduates – the basic chicken rub is one I may try:

Recipe for Basic Chicken Rub

  • cup of chile powder
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons onion powder
  • 4 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Marinate the chicken overnight in 4 cups chicken broth and 1 packet dry onion soup mix.  Remove from refrigerator and discard the marinade.  Preheat smoker to 250 degrees.  Apply the rub liberally to the chicken and press firmly.   (In class, Mixon advised us to “push it, push it real good” – just like Salt N Pepa sings.  Place the chicken, breast side up, on a meat rack with the handles down so the bird will be raised above the surface of the pans. Set the rack inside a deep aluminum pan.  Poor 2 cups apple juice into the pan underneath the meat rack.  Place the pan in the smoker and cook for 3 hours or until the breast meat reaches 165 degrees.  Remove the chicken from the smoker and allow it to rest on the rack in its pan for 15 minutes.  Carve and serve (serves four).


Myron Mixon’s “rub” on ribs.

Happy Father’s Day!

Italian Memories

Emilio, the handsome Italian chef, made it all look so easy, as he flipped the asparagus in the heavy sauté pan. Although we will never attain his expertise or his passion for cooking, watching his demonstrations were inspiring. When we tore off the anchovy tail cleaning those glistening creatures – looking nothing like the ones curled up in a small can under olive oil – he would smile graciously and fix our mistakes. Our little pasta curls (like tortellini) did not have the finishing snap of his, but they still tasted good.

After class, one on my fellow students brainstormed the chef’s tips, and we vowed to remember them when back in our own kitchens:

• Flour before egg when frying
• Vinegar on a sponge to wipe the edges of the plate
• Break eggs by gently tapping against each other
• Separate yolks by carefully straining through your hands
• Split asparagus before cooking
• Never microwave chocolate to melt (my mortal sin)
• Never roll out pizza dough; stretch and make dimples with fingers; less flour makes dough harder to handle but better to eat.

These are all I remember, but when the fog of Italian wine and sweets – and gelato – lifts, I’m hoping to recall more. Do you have cooking tips to add?

My friends from Chicago are planning a dinner party to reprise some of the recipes we made. I know I will smell that lemon almond cake across the ocean to my lanai.