Something to Read: Blood, Bones and Butter

30days

The best chef’s memoir I’ve ever read was Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones & Butter. She’s another writer-chef I heard about through Anthony Bourdain on Twitter, and when I looked Gabrielle Hamilton up, it turns out she’s a bad-ass chef with an MFA in Creative Writing (those are my dream credentials) – I pre-ordered the book (hard cover) and paid full price. It was worth it. So worth it.

Blood-Bones-And-Butter-Gabrielle-Hamilton

If you like Cheryl Strayed, I think you’ll like Gabrielle Hamilton. Both write beautifully and simply about lives both lush and hard-lived; Hamilton just also happens to be writing about food in addition to life and working and marriage and motherhood, so there’s another layer of sensory oomph.

I find her so relatable.

Even now, as I’m sitting here just trying to say something nice about a book I loved, I’m overwhelmed with my own tiredness. Re-reading passages again about Hamilton’s struggles with her 18-hour workdays and her two small kids at home and everything she has to do to keep everything afloat is cathartic, and just when I’m caught thinking maybe you can juggle everything if you just throw high enough, she reminds me, in writing more eloquent than I could muster, that the one who suffers most of all is the juggler.

Maybe this book resonated so much for me because I read it just after it had been published in 2011, when I was just adjusting to life with a small person and the million little changes that go along with that. Everything felt so much harder then; I’m not sure things are any easier now. While the book is just good writing, it appeals in particular to those of us who are struggling to do everything, to make sure that the work gets done well and the kid gets fed and talked to and most of the bills get paid and the partner doesn’t get throttled even though he has done ten things this week to deserve it (and it’s only Wednesday). It appeals to those of us who can do one thing great or two things shoddily.

Which is not to say that Hamilton is in any way shoddy; I’m projecting. Her writing is clean and sharp, with the flawless execution that comes from really knowing one’s craft. This book is not only not boring, but it is not like any other chef’s memoir I’ve read because it is written by someone who is as much a writer as a cook. Both are hard skills to learn, but Hamilton has mastered them, and I read her book in awe.

The Italians have a way of counting for these kinds of family dinners that I wish we had in English. If you ask how many we are expecting for dinner this evening, they’ll answer “un trentina” – a little thirty – or “una quarantina” – a little forty. It’s like saying “roughly twenty” so we know that we can expect anywhere from thirty-five to forty-five when someone answers “una quarantina.” I want this vague yet perfectly precise way of counting in so many contexts of my life. I always want to say everything was twenty years ago. Or you can cook it in twenty minutes. Or I’ve been a cook for twenty years. Or I haven’t spoken to my mother in twenty years. But exactly twenty? Not for an Italian minute. Exactly a “ventina.” (Page 243.)

This is the best book of all the books I’ve told you about, and if you buy any of them I hope it’s this one.

There are no recipes in the book, but here’s one of hers I’ve made and loved. I believe she’s working on a cookbook; I will buy it when it’s out. Preorder, hardcover.

Fennel baked in cream

  • 1 1⁄2 lbs. fennel (about 2 large bulbs), stalks removed, halved lengthwise, and cut into 1⁄2″ wedges
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 1⁄2 cups finely grated Parmesan
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 4 tbsp. butter, cubed

Preheat your oven to 425°F.

In a bowl, combine fennel, cream, and one cup of the cheese, with a bit of salt and pepper, and mush everything together with your hands. Pour the mixture into a 9″x13″ baking dish. Place the cubes of butter over top, sporadically. Cover the dish with foil, and bake for about an hour.

Pull the dish out of the oven, remove the foil, and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the dish. Put the whole thing back into the oven and continue to cook for another 20 to 30 minutes, until the fennel is tender and the cheese is golden brown.

It’s very good with white fish, or chicken. Or, cold, out of the refrigerator when you’re up at 3:00 a.m., wondering what you should do with your life.

 

 

Something to Read: Fresh Off the Boat

30days

Fresh Off the Boat is a memoir about food, family, and not fitting in in America. It’s author, Eddie Huang, is a foul-mouthed, hip-hop loving raconteur and restaurateur, a Gen-Y immigrant kid from a Taiwanese family in Orlando. It was Anthony Bourdain who turned me on to him via Twitter, and though he is occasionally problematic and I don’t always agree with him, I’ve been a fan ever since. I knew kids like Eddie, and while I might be a little too “middle-class white girl from the suburbs” to really relate to many of his stories, I respect his hustle and the way he tells his story unfiltered. This is not a boring book.

fresh-off-the-boat

(If you are sensitive to colourful language, this may not be the book for you. If you would like to learn to swear more effectively and casually, this book will help. You could also come over any night I’m cooking something that splatters. The tops of my feet are freckled with burn scars.)

This is more over-arching memoir than straight food book, though food is a dominant theme.

Earlier in the day, Grandpa had asked me where I wanted to go for my sixth birthday. He figured I’d say Chuck E. Cheese or McDonald’s, but Momma didn’t raise no fool. Chuck E. Cheese was for mouth-breathers and kids with Velcro shoes. “I want to go where they have the best soup dumplings!” (Page 5)

After we ate, I was kinda pissed with the shitty soup dumplings. It was my birthday! Yi Ping Xiao Guan, you can’t come harder than this for the kid? Chuck E. Cheese can serve shitty food ’cause you get to smash moles and play Skee-Ball after lunch. But all you have are soup dumplings! How could you fuck this up? Yi Ping Xau Guan was like Adam Morrison: your job is to slap Kobe’s ass when the Lakers call time out. If you can’t do that, shoot yourself. As I sat there, pissed off, I saw a waiter pouring off-brand soy sauce into the Wanjashan Soy Sauce bottles. Corner-cutting, bootleg, off-brand-soy-pouring Chinamen! (Page 6)

Been there, in some form or another, too many times. What I like about this book is how much stuff matters to Huang. Soup dumplings, hip hop, fire red Air Jordan Vs – all of it is important, and defining. And Huang is defiant, opinionated, and not good with authority. He is an underdog throughout – at home, at school, in America – and he wears it well. Huang is an anti-hero with a felony on his record, a law degree, and a 2010 New York Times “Best of New York” credit to his restaurant’s name (Bauhaus).

He has a lot to say about race, class, food (history, origins, quality, sourcing – you name it), music, American and Taiwanese cultures, basketball, poverty, and family. It’s all complicated, and though it wraps up pretty nice in the end you never get the sense that there’s any promise of that. You never quite know what to expect. Eddie Huang fux with you.

No recipe today because I’m kind of dead tired, but if you’re looking for a good/witty/occasionally abrasive summer read (and if you grew up in the 90s … there are a lot of references to get), check out Fresh Off the Boat. I have two more posts to produce and three more recipes; stay tuned.

 

Something to Read: Between Meals

30days

I bought Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris without knowing anything about it because I was about to go to Paris and also it seemed kind of absurd. The back cover describes the author’s experience as a “Rabelaisian initiation into life’s finer pleasures,” and I emitted a Ha! so loud I knew I had to buy the book.

between-meals-an-appetite-for-paris

The author is AJ Liebling, a journalist and noted glutton. In James Salter’s introduction to the book, Liebling is said to be someone whose “pull was towards the disreputable elements of society, the seamy part of life, men who lived by their wits.” He was “a big, rumpled figure with a homely face and his navel showing through an unbuttoned shirt,” and his gluttony, “however it had begun it had become an essential part of him, a rebellion, a plume.”

“He had given up on his appearance but was living lavishly.”

I know that there is something fundamentally wrong with me, and I am aware of Liebling’s suffering and ill health toward his end, but something about all of this is very appealing. Who doesn’t want to eschew convention and expectation and just eat all of everything that Paris has to offer? I can’t just be speaking for myself when I say that it’s hard not to feel the burden of moderation? Real life is so restrictive. Let’s all take a study abroad term in France.

“The optimum financial position for a serious feeder is to have funds in hand for three more days, with a reasonable, but not certain, prospect for reinforcements thereafter. The student at the Sorbonne waiting for his remittance, the newspaperman waiting for his salary, the free-lance writer waiting for a check that he has cause to believe is in the mail – all are favorably situated to learn. (It goes without saying that it is essential to be in France.) The man of appetite who will stint himself when he can see three days ahead has no vocation, and I dismiss from consideration, as manic, the fellow who will spend the lot on one great feast and then live on fried potatoes until his next increment; Tuaregs eat that way, only because they never know when they are next going to come by their next sheep. The clear-headed voracious man learns because he tries to compose his meals to obtain an appreciable quantity of pleasure from each. It is from this weighing of delights against their cost that the student eater (particularly if he is a student at the University of Paris) erects the scale of values that will serve him until he dies or has to reside in the Middle West for a long period. The scale is different for each eater, as it is for each writer.”

AJ Liebling was a lush and a “feeder” and a talented writer and a lover of France in that snapshot of time when Paris was the stuff of romance, of longing, the stuff of so much good fiction at a specific time in our history, the stuff of fantasy that endures. Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris is funny and indulgent, the kind of thing you read and think “I have made so many poor life choices,” the kind of thing you should read on a rainy weekend with a lot of pinot noir and pâté close at hand.

Chicken liver pâté

(Serves four regular people or two gluttonous fiends.)

  • ½ cup room-temperature unsalted butter
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ lb. chicken livers, membranes removed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 whole sprig of fresh thyme
  • ½ tsp. ground white pepper
  • ¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1 tbsp. cognac (I’m poor, so I use brandy)
  • 2 tbsp. heavy cream

Over medium heat, melt two tablespoons of butter in a pan. Add the shallots and garlic, and cook until the onions have turned shimmery and translucent.

Add the livers, thyme, bay leaf, nutmeg, pepper and a pinch of salt. Cook for three to five minutes, until the livers are just barely pink in the centre. Remove from heat and let cool.

Remove the bay leaf and the sprig of thyme. Dump the contents of the skillet into a food processor, and pulse until smooth.

Scoop the liver mixture out of the food processor and into a bowl. Beat the remaining butter into the mix, then add cognac (*cough* brandy). Stir until well combined, then gently mix in the cream. Taste, adjusting seasonings to your preference. Spread the pâté on bread or crackers, and feel very gourmet about the whole thing.

Something to Read: India, Ireland

sleeping

For some of us, it’s been a rough week. On Thursday, the little nugget started running warm and flu-like, and by Friday’s earliest hours, he was in full-blown fever mode, seizing and feverish and feeling pretty awful. We spent Saturday trying to convince his little belly to keep fluids down, and only now is Toddler back to normal.

We also had one particular hour-long Thomas (the really annoying train) movie going pretty much on repeat, which occupied my computer for most of those three days; we’ve now memorized a whole bunch of really annoying songs about hard work and helping out so we also didn’t get anything done.

So, with today, I’m now three books behind. Maybe goals are for people with free time? Maybe I’d be better to set small, reasonable goals, like “I will fold the laundry after taking it out of the dryer” or “I will open all the mail, even the scary envelopes?” Maybe I should get on with it and tell you about the books.

Let’s get international.

30days

The first book is one that I wanted desperately but that was kind of expensive so I had to wait and wait and wait and insist repeatedly that it would be a valuable resource and the best Christmas present ever. I just shouted down the hall at Nick to ask which occasion the book was and he said “It was definitely Christmas because it was too expensive – I wouldn’t spend that much on your birthday” which I guess means we’ve left the honeymoon phase.

I feel like all my books are either “kind of expensive but worth it” or “super cheap and amazing.” Anyway.

India

India Cookbook, by Pushpesh Pant, an Indian food writer and critic, is 815 pages and 1000 recipes, and “the definitive collection of recipes from all over India.” I cherish it the way other people cherish heirlooms or members of their extended family. This book is serious, and detailed, and gorgeous, and according the the cover, “the only book on Indian food you’ll ever need.” On this, I concur.

The book is thorough, and many of the recipes are long and involved, but the results have always been delicious and well worth the time and effort. There are recipes for spice mixtures and pastes, which you can make in large batches and use whenever you need them – this has been quite handy, though I’ll admit I’m moving into bigger and bigger Mason jars for storage and my cupboards are starting to look a little ridiculous.

Every recipe includes the Indian name of the dish, the English translation, the region of the recipe’s origin, and preparation and cooking time, and the number of servings, either in pieces or weight. The instructions are very detailed, and if, perhaps, you don’t have a coal fire over which to roast your lotus root, for example, alternative steps are included.

There are dishes from all over India, so there’s so much more than just the most popular stuff on the take-away menu. One thing I love about this book is that anytime I have a bunch of a vegetable I’m bored with just killing its last days in my crisper, I’ll refer to this book and find something new and exciting to do with cabbage or cauliflower or chickpeas (every vegetable, it seems, is given its place in the sun). India’s seemingly endless number of vegetarian dishes means that this book is a fabulous addition to the herbivore’s kitchen; often, the recipes also happen to be vegan-friendly, no adaptations necessary.

If you like Indian food, and want to learn more about it (and there is so much to learn), India Cookbook is worth the investment (it’s about $50 if you buy it online).

As it would otherwise be simply impossible to choose which recipe to share, I’ll give you the last one I made.

Parathas are dough patties stuffed with delicious stuff, which is essential to every culture’s cuisine, it seems. They are like pupusas, kind of – that’s my first point of comparison, so hopefully that makes sense to you. Basically, they are the best and you can make a ton of them and freeze them and then take them to work in your lunch bag and all your coworkers will be so jealous.

I simmered the potatoes for this recipe in coconut milk, because I wanted to slip some potatoes into Toddler and coconut milk is a sure-thing with him. You don’t have to do that – the recipe is perfect as it is.

Aloo ka Paratha

(Shallow-fried spicy potato stuffed bread; makes 4 or 5.)

Origin: Punjab/Delhi/Awadh
Preparation time: 1 hour
Cooking time: 30 minutes

  • 4 cups plus 3 tablespoons whole wheat flour, plus extra for dusting
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3/4 cup ghee (if you don’t have ghee, clarified butter will work but it’s not the same; vegetable oil will work in a pinch)

Filling:

  • 2 medium potatoes (9 oz.), unpeeled
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped ginger
  • 6 green chilies, de-seeded and chopped
  • 1 large spring cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon dried pomegranate seeds (I didn’t have these; I used 2 teaspoons of amchoor powder; a squish of lemon will do in a pinch)
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • Salt

Boil the potatoes whole for 20 minutes, or until soft. Drain, then cool. Peel off the skins, return the flesh to the pan, and then mash. Move the potatoes to a bowl, then add the ginger, chilies, coriander, pomegranate seeds, and chili powder. Mix, taste, season with salt, and then set aside.

Sift the flour and salt into another bowl. Mix in enough warm water to make a soft dough, about one and a half to two cups.

Knead the dough for about five minutes, then divide the dough into 8 to 10 equal portions and roll it into balls. Using a rolling pin (on a floured surface), flatten each ball to a disk about six inches in diameter.

Spread about a quarter (or a fifth, if you’re working with ten rounds) of the mixture on one disk, then top with the other and seal around the sides. Roll gently with a rolling pin until the rounds are sealed and have spread out to about seven inches in diameter.

Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat. Place a paratha in the pan, cook for 20 seconds, then turn over and cook for an additional 20 seconds. Repeat with each paratha.

Add the ghee to the pan, then fry each paratha until golden brown on both sides. Serve with mango pickle and yogurt. I also like them with ketchup, but I am ashamed of this.


The next book I want to tell you about is one that fits into the “super cheap and amazing” category, but was also the result of being in the right place at the right time.

The place was a bookstore that was closing; the time was just before the book won a James Beard award (Best International Cookbook, 2010) and came out with a new cover. The book is The Country Cooking of Ireland, and it’s by Colman Andrews, one of the guys who founded Saveur Magazine.

ccoi

Most people probably don’t think of Ireland as being a great place to grab something to eat, but in fact Ireland is basically a nation of comfort food and good beer. It’s full of good farmland and, since it’s an island, it’s in close proximity to all the best fish and shellfish. It’s not just potatoes, though they are well-represented among the 225 recipes contained in the book (which I don’t think is a bad thing – potatoes are the best, obviously). Among the recipes are stories of Ireland – the history, the people, the cookbooks; it’s as informative as it is lovely, with pictures that make you gaze out your own window and sigh, longingly.

I’ve made quite a few of the recipes in the book, for everything from Irish Stew to Donegal Pie, a cheap and easy dish made of potatoes, chives, hard-boiled eggs, bacon and shortcrust pastry. The food is hearty and warming, and makes sensible and interesting use of affordable ingredients.

One of the recipes I am fond of is the Battered Sausages, which, according to the book (and my stomach) are “admittedly dietarily excessive and nutritionally incorrect.” I’m trying to understand how that’s not a selling feature.

“A staple at gas-station food counters all over Ireland, battered sausages are usually grim and greasy. If made correctly though, they can be a real treat.”

Battered Sausages

(Serves 4.)

  • 2 packets active dry yeast
  • 1 1/4 cups stout, preferably Guinness
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • Oil, for frying
  • 12 small breakfast sausages (not the maple kind)

Whisk together the yeast and the beer. In another bowl, sift together 2 1/4 cups of the flour and the salt. Stir the yeast mixture into the flour mixture, mixing well. Let stand at room temperature for an hour.

Heat about six inches of oil in a heavy-bottomed pot, such as a cast-iron or enameled cast-iron Dutch oven. Heat to 350°F.

Toss the sausages with the remaining flour, then dip into the batter. Deep-fry the sausages, a few at a time, for about eight minutes each. Drain the sausages on a wire rack over a pie plate until you’re finished frying; serve hot. Then take a nap.

Something to Read: On Booze

30days

Cocktails before meals like Americans, wines and brandies like the Frenchmen, beer like Germans, whiskey-and-soda like the English, and, as they were no longer in the twenties, this preposterous mélange, that was like some gigantic cocktail in a nightmare.

Ugh, this week.

I’ve been busy at work, working late the first two days of the week but then showing up late this morning because Toddler was fevered and barfing. The little guy seemed like he was doing better, but that was the Tylenol talking and by the time I got home he was back to flat and sweating, watching a Thomas (the train) movie for the fifth time in a row and throwing up his warm milk. I gave him a Gravol and sang him to sleep, but he’s been stirring all evening, whimpering and breathing heavy.

Poor little guy.

So, tonight, let’s talk drinks. I love drinks. I like them to relax, I like them to socialize, I like them by myself in a bathtub with a book or in a patch of sunlight with a book or in my travel mug at the grocery store. (People do that, right? It’s not just me? I don’t drive to the store, if that helps?)

I drink an drink when it’s been a long week already and after Toddler has gone to bed sick.

I’ve always been partial to writers with well-known vices. And since so many of the good ones had them, it’s easy to call a bit of cold vodka and a bit of olive brine something akin to creative juice; a drink once in a while suggests a darkness in one’s heart that makes one crave a bit of levity. Anyone who willingly suffers the creative process has at least a little darkness, and no doubt more than some will admit.

I read The Great Gatsby a million years ago in a high school English class and it bored me to death, but I read it again in a community college lit class my first year out of high school and found it suddenly very exciting. It was among my first Serious Literature, and I got it. (I wanted to be a lawyer and Irish when I was in high school and so I read every John Grisham book and every Maeve Binchy book published before 2001. I had some stories to catch up on.)

On-Booze

 

The Great Gatsby is by no means my favourite book, nor is it anywhere near my top ten, but it’s like an old friend who shows up to charm me every so often. For that reason, On Booze jumped out at me when I was wandering my local bookstore aimlessly one rainy weekend afternoon. On Booze is a collection of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing on the topic of booze (excerpts, letters and essays), and as it’s 86 pages it’s the kind of thing you can finish off with a few glasses of wine and some cheese on crackers some night when you don’t have anything else to do.

“Perfectly respectable girl, but only been drinking that day. No matter how long she lives she’ll always know she’s killed somebody.”

Dirty Vodka* Martini

(Makes one. Perfect to conclude long work-weeks and to soothe the tired mind after dealing with a sick cat or kid. Don’t use fancy vodka – you’re just going to stank it up with the olive juice.)

  • Ice cubes
  • 2 oz. cold vodka (I store mine in the freezer so it pours like syrup)
  • 1 tbsp. plus 2 tsp. brine from a jar of olives
  • 1 tbsp. dry vermouth
  • As many olives as you want for garnish and as a side-snack

Put ice, vodka, olive juice, and vermouth in a shaker, put the lid on it, shake it 23 times, then strain the mixture into a chilled glass. You can use a martini glass but those things are stupid impractical and prone to tipping; I am a classy lady who uses a tumbler because it doesn’t spill.

*You can use gin if you’re a purist, but gin and I have troubled history and are incompatible so my preference is vodka. Make the choice that best suits your needs on any given evening.

 

Something to Read: L.A. Son

30days

I have a crush on Roy Choi, the chef who started Kogi Truck and invented the Korean Taco. Tacos plus kimchi equals romance forever. I wanted his book, published under Anthony Bourdain’s imprint, before I even knew what it would be like.

la-son-roy-choi

It is exactly the style of book I’d like to one day be witty enough to write. It’s a memoir, it’s a cookbook, it’s mostly black and white but with the occasional full-colour photo thrown in. It’s beautiful. It’s funny. It doesn’t shy away from the swears, which I think is important because who cooks politely? I’m burning myself and spraying mess everywhere and cursing like a sailor on rough waters and that’s how I like it. Cooking is relaxing, and it’s relaxing because you’re in your kitchen burning off whatever needs it.

L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food is a fantastic book. It’s completely different in both tone and content from any other book on your shelf, I guarantee it. Roy Choi was born in Korea and raised in Los Angeles, and grew up around a mash-up of cultures and flavours. He studied, he misbehaved, he went to cooking school, worked at Le Bernardin, and then became a food truck boss and Anthony Bourdain pal. The book has recipes for everything – all kinds of things – from kimchi and spaghetti to pupusas and French onion soup. I read it over a week or so, savouring the text and marveling at every recipe.

There was one in particular that stood out to me – I laughed so hard I called Nick over to read it. You see, Nick is a sauce junkie. He needs small amounts of every possible flavour all the time, and prefers meals he can construct out of myriad bits. He loves dim sum, tapas, stuff like that, and he makes what he calls a “sauce line-up” whenever there are multiple sauces at his disposal. Chicken McNuggets plus every sauce including mayonnaise and honey is one of his secret favourite treats. The recipe is called “That’s So Sweet” and I might as well excerpt it for you here because if you’re on the fence, this will either sell you or sway you.

That’s So Sweet

I’ve always loved the sauces in life more than the food – maybe that’s why I cook the way I do. So it’s no surprise that I’m a sauce packet fiend. If I go to a fast-food joint or the mall food court, my tray is like twenty-five deep in the packets. And it’s not that I’m hoarding all this shit; no, I have a ritual. I’m real anal about my packet game. I open ’em all up before I eat anything, and make my sauces. I blend and mix and create. Then people say “Oh, he drowns his tacos and rice bowls in too much sauce.” Guilty as charged. Drown your chicken or shrimp in this sauce.

  • One 25-ounce bottle Mae Ploy Sweet Chilli Sauce or other Thai sweet chili sauce
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons roasted sesame seeds
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 2 serrano chiles, chopped, seeds and all
  • 5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon Sriracha
  • 3/4 white or yellow onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1/3 cup fresh orange juice
  • 2/3 cup fresh Thai basil leaves
  • 2/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2/3 dried Anaheim chile, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons chopped peeled fresh ginger
  • 2/3 cup chopped scallions
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons kochukaru
  • 2/3 cup natural rice vinegar (not seasoned)
  • 1 teaspoon chopped peeled galangal

Combine all the ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend everything until it’s all real smooth.

Use liberally on whatever you got cooking for dinner – chicken, shrimp, everything – and pack the rest in Tupperware. It’ll store in the fridge for two weeks.

And here’s a preview of Eddie Huang, who I want to tell you about later this week. From his series Fresh Off the Boat, Eddie Huang interviews Roy Choi in L.A.:

Something to Read: Hunt, Gather, Cook and The Homemade Pantry

30days

I’m not doing great at keeping to my schedule. Last night I ate some expired salad dressing that may have gone off and some shrimp that might not have been fresh and spent the evening in a state of discomfort, trying to focus on The Voice and also complaining a lot about my bad stomach feelings. I did not have an enthusiasm-filled day today.

So, to compensate, I’d like to tell you about two books from two bloggers I love and think you’ll love too.

The first one is Hunt, Gather, Cook, by Hank Shaw.

hagc

Hank Shaw is so cool. He hunts, forages, fishes, cooks, and writes about it, which is basically everything I look for in a marriage partner. I like to live with someone who will bring me wild meat every so often, and who keeps me in fish all summer. Who doesn’t, though … right?

I was excited about Hank’s book because I knew it would contain recipes we would use. He’s got recipes for big game, like deer and moose, and for ducks and geese (which we get on occasion), and fish (though I had hoped there would be more on trout) and crabs, and since he’s from the west coast, a lot of what he talks about is relevant to our proteins of choice/availability. He writes about fruit and flower wine-making, meat curing and sausage making, and his chapters on foraging are the stuff of aspirations, at least for me. I long to trudge through the woods to find nettles and fiddleheads, which Nick calls  “hiking” (and I don’t care for it).

You can read Hank’s blog at Hunter Angler Gardner Cook and if you haven’t already been reading his posts, you should definitely start, especially if you are interested in sustainable diets and interesting recipes for wild meats and vegetation. He was profiled in Field & Stream, which I think proves he’s legit. I’ve never read Field & Stream, but I assume it is to outdoorsy people as Bon Appetit is to indoorsy people. Gospel.

When we first started smoking fish, we turned to Hank Shaw first and he did not let us down. And what’s helpful about Hank’s blog is that when I need to learn how to do something, like butterfly a fish, the instructions are probably there. He’s like a really helpful friend you can call up anytime you have a weird question about animal parts. If only my IRL friends could do what Hank does for me.

The following recipe is from his section on wild greens, and the time is right to make this dish. If you have nettles nearby, grab some gloves, pick some weeds, and turn them into a creamy, extremely iron- and Vitamin C-rich risotto for dinner this week.

Nettle Risotto

(Serves 2.)

  • 1 cup blanched nettles (about six handfuls of raw nettles boiled for three minutes)
  • 3 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 large shallot, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup Arborio rice (I use half rice and half pearl barley)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 4 cups homemade or low-sodium chicken, vegetable or beef stock
  • 1/4 cup grated Pecorino cheese

Once your greens are blanched and cool, drain them and roll them into a tea towel and squeeze out any excess water. Chop them as finely as you can.

Heat stock to a gentle simmer.

In a heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat, melt two tablespoons of the butter. Once the butter is melted and has stopped frothing, add shallot, garlic, and rice, stirring for a minute or so until rice begins to look opaque and is nicely coated in fat.

Stir one cup of stock into the rice with the salt. Stir frequently, and when the first cup of stock has been absorbed by the rice, add the second cup. Repeat the waiting and stirring.

When it comes time to add the next round of stock, add your greens as well, this time with about a half a cup of stock. Your stirring should be more frequent now. Keep adding water in half-cup amounts until your rice is al dente and has reached the consistency you prefer. I always use all four cups, as I like my risotto loose.

Add the cheese and the last bit of butter. Stir, taste, and adjust seasonings as needed. Serve immediately.


The next blogger I’d like to tell you about is Alana Chernila of Eating from the Ground Up. I’ve been reading her blog since almost the beginning, marveling at how lovely her life seems out there in the Berkshires, wherever that is (I assume it’s like Narnia and I have to find a secret passageway to get there). Her book, The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making has improved my life in simple, wonderful ways. I don’t buy ricotta anymore. There’s no need.

the-homemade-pantry

 

The best thing in this book might be the recipe for homemade instant oatmeal – ween yourself off that terrible-for-you sugary packet-stuff and start making instant oatmeal with rolled oats from your pantry – there’s a bonus recipe for homemade brown sugar, if you need it. This has been a life-saver for me with Toddler, who eats too much sugary crap but who can be tricked with better-quality stuff if you catch him before he’s formed a habit for the store-bought version. I’ve made it with Porridge Oats, which comes with bran and flaxseed in it, and it works just as well.

The recipe I’ve made over and over is her recipe for ricotta, which, if you leave it long enough, becomes paneer. A batch of ricotta is cheaper than the stuff you buy in plastic tubs from the supermarket, and it’s infinitely better and much more impressive when you serve it to friends. The recipe makes about a cup and a half, but I usually double it because why not.

Ricotta

  • 1/2 gallon whole milk
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (about two lemons)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Sea salt to taste

Add the milk, lemon juice and cream to a cold pot (with a heavy bottom) off  the heat, and stir for a few seconds.

Affix a candy thermometer to the side of your pot, and warm the pot over low heat. You want to warm the milk mixture to 175°F, which at this low temperature should take somewhere around 45 minutes. After 30 minutes, be vigilant about checking. Stir a couple of times, here and there, as you putter around doing other things.

When you reach 175°F, turn the heat up to medium-high. Do not stir. Watch your pot, and wait for it to get to 205°F. Should take three to five minutes. Don’t let it boil.

When you reach 205°F, take the pot off the heat and let it sit for 10 minutes.

Line a fine-mesh sieve with cheesecloth, and strain your mixture. Strain it over a bowl or something, as you will want to save the whey that’s left behind – it’s beautiful in homemade bread, and I’ve also used it in muffins and soups. Leave the cheese for another 10 minutes, then sprinkle with salt. Serve warm, as is, with toasted nuts and honey, or chill it for later use, or use it as an ingredient for something else altogether.