J and I went on a bit of a pea binge recently, with the little green gems prominently featured in two of three dishes that we consumed over the course of several meals last week. (We didn’t set out to celebrate peas quite so fervently, but sometimes our meal planning can be a bit haphazard.)
I learned from an episode of Fresh Air awhile back that the chefs at America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Illustrated generally do as we do at our house, i.e., use frozen peas:
[Bridget] Lancaster says if you’re making pea soup, don’t bother with the fresh stuff — they’re a pain to peel, and they might not be in season.
“[Frozen peas] are actually picked at the most fresh point,” she says. “And somebody else has done all the work [of peeling] for you. And they’re great, especially if you’re using them as an ingredient in a stew. The key is to add them almost as an herb right at the end, and to let them sit in the soup or a risotto for just five minutes to warm them up.”
Other people—specifically, some French folk—are apparently not only willing to peel the pod from the pea, but actually peel the tiny little peas themselves! Elaine Sciolino’s recent “Letter from Paris” in The New York Times details her exploration of Provençal peas:
In France, January signals the arrival of endives, cardoons (artichoke thistles) and root vegetables like rutabaga, beets and topinambours (Jerusalem artichokes). March and April bring spring: petits pois [peas], asparagus and Gariguettes, the small, shiny, old-fashioned first strawberry of the year. The best tomatoes come in June, July and August.
In the L’Oustau garden, long rows of pea vines heavy with pods awaited picking. In the kitchen, the chef Sylvestre Wahid set a shallow, oblong, pea-filled wicker basket on a table and offered a tutorial.
I learned that the smaller the pea, the sweeter and more tender they are; that fat, stuffed pods can mean that the peas have become tough and mealy and past their prime; that one way to test the freshness of peas is to press down on a pod and gently move around the peas inside. (Fresh peas will squeak when they are rubbed together.)
[The chefs at L'Oustau de Baumanière] showed me how you can skin a pea. Never in my life did I think about skinning a pea, but it is a very sensual experience. You take a pea that has been plunged into boiling water then plunged into ice water, it comes out, and you take the pea between your thumb and your index finger, and you roll it around slowly and the skin pops out and the pea splits in half. You have this beautiful, skinless, naked pea. It’s not something that you want to do if you have guests coming in a half-hour, but if you are watching “Mad Men” or something, it’s the perfect time to sit there with a bowl and skin peas.
A number of the items on her list aren’t necessarily specific to vegetarian cooking, but #1 is: “Vegetarian meals are satisfying to the point that meat is superfluous.” As she writes,
I rediscovered how delicious, how satisfying all-veggie meals are and that we really don’t notice the lack of meat on the plate when we skip it. So many vegetarian dishes are flavorful and hearty, completely filling and interesting to the senses. Should we crave meat, sure, we can add a small portion of a locally raised chicken or something. But we haven’t once cared to add meat to the menu since I started cooking again. It feels great to return to a way of eating that I know is more sustainable, more healthy, and have it not feel like a deprivation.
And, for one more preview, here’s a bit of her explication of reason #3, “Making food pretty makes you feel more satisfied during and after a meal”:
Jan Chozen Bays, in her book Mindful Eating, writes of the seven hungers: eye hunger, nose hunger, mouth hunger, stomach hunger, cellular hunger, mind hunger and heart hunger. We eat for different reasons, and usually because we are feeling at least one of these hungers though we may not be hungry in the way we normally think we are, when our stomach is empty. Our bodies might be craving a certain nutrient, or our hearts might be craving a childhood comfort food. But in this culture of rushing and hurrying, what we often don’t realize is how many hungers we can satisfy by taking the time to make our food beautiful and enjoying that process and sight before we eat.
Find the full post here.
And, for a little inspiration, check out Heimbuch’s “12 Easy recipes for eating local and vegetarian in March.”
The Atlantic recently ran Scott Douglas’s interview with Bee Wilson, author of Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat. The book examines many of the technologies throughout human history that have assisted in the preparation and consumption of foodstuffs and, in doing so, changed cultures and lives. Consider, for example, some of the dangers that cooking with fire has posed:
The big cauldron was heated over an indoor fire that, you write, was the center of the typical home. What happened after the hearth was replaced by a more removed kitchen?
One change is fewer accidental deaths from young children toddling into fires by mistake or women’s billowing skirts catching ablaze as they cooked. Women were particularly at risk from open hearths, on account of the terrible combination of billowing skirts, trailing sleeves, open flames, and bubbling cauldrons. With the emergence of enclosed brick chimneys and cast iron fire grates in the 17th century, many more women became professional cooks: At last they could cook with only a minimal risk of setting fire to themselves.
For more, check out reviews of the book. For example, Dawn Drzal asks in The New York Times,
“Which comes first, the stir-fry or the wok?” It may sound like a bad joke, but the answer holds the key to one of the world’s great cuisines. Bee Wilson’s supple, sometimes playful style in “Consider the Fork,” a history of the tools and techniques humans have invented to feed themselves, cleverly disguises her erudition in fields from archaeology and anthropology to food science. Only when you find yourself rattling off statistics at the dinner table will you realize how much information you’ve effortlessly absorbed….
So, which does come first, the stir-fry or the wok? Wilson’s answer is, “Neither.” To solve the riddle, we have to take a step back and contemplate cooking fuel: firewood was scarce, and with a wok you could cook more quickly after chopping food into bite-size morsels with a tou, or Chinese cleaver. Chopsticks were also part of this “symbiosis.”
[Wilson's] argument is clear and persuasive. Changes in food technology change what can be prepared as a meal, thus changing what is habitually eaten, and often spurring wider social changes. The first clay cooking pots, Wilson says, allowed the invention of soups, which meant that more humans could survive into adulthood even if they had lost all their teeth. Other developments analysed here, with a consistent scholarly grace, include the blunt table knife, the gas hob, and the refrigerator.
Buy the book at fine booksellers everywhere, or do as I just did and check out the print or electronic book from your local library. In the meantime, take a look at the lovely promotional video for the book that features Wilson giving a brief overview of her work.
Since we’re still in the thick of New Year’s resolution season, I thought today I’d suggest that readers check out this great Food Fighters post with the “10 Things We’ve Learned This Year About Cooking Well on a Budget.” Each lesson — like Keep a well stocked, but not over-stocked, pantry and refrigerator (#4) and Meat is expensive, as it should be (#9) — is expanded to provide practical tips and a thoughtful perspective on shopping, cooking, and eating in the modern world.
So, whether you’d like to make 2013 the year that you eat more healthfully, spend less on takeout, or cut back on processed foods, I highly recommend you check out the full post here.
It’s that time of year, when media outlets big and small get preoccupied by the holidays and fill airtime, column inches, and posts with annual retrospectives. There’s still time to finish your holiday shopping, so consider giving some of the best cookbooks of the past year.
Esther Sung at Epicurious has ten recommendations, including her suggestion for a “recipe to try” from each volume.
Corinne Bowen at Vegetarian Times has five e-cookbook recommendations, while the VT editors have five traditional print picks that you could win if you’re willing to fork over an email address to enter the drawing.
Jay Cheshes of Time Out New York offers picks for the dozen best international cookbooks of the year.
KRCW’s Good Food offers nine selections from Evan Kleiman.
T. Susan Chang offers a list with a contrarian theme for NPR. As she writes,
The rebels, rule breakers and renegades who rule this year’s Top 10 list aren’t looking for a Ph.D. in Traditional Cooking. They’re pleasure seekers whose books are filled with quirky facts, gorgeous pictures, ingredients deployed in unexpected places. They’re informative, thoughtful and well packaged, and traditional only in the sense that they make classic perfect gifts.
Finally, Chris Nuttall-Smith provides suggestions for Canada’s The Globe and Mail, broken down into five mini-lists of books that would be ideal for domestic gods and goddesses, global palates, sweet teeth, home chefs, or kitchen newbies.
A number of books appear on more than one of these (and other) lists, including Canal House Cooks Every Day by Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer; Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi; Vietnamese Home Cooking by Charles Phan; Dirt Candy by Amanda Cohen and Ryan Dunlavey; Fäviken by Magnus Nilsson; Burma: Rivers of Flavor by Naomi Duguid; and Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel.
(By the way, if you’ve ever wondered how some celebrity chefs manage to be such prolific cookbook authors, I have two words for you: ghost writers.)
Coming up tomorrow: the best food books of 2012.
A little over a month ago, Charlotte Druckman’s new book arrived at booksellers. Titled Skirt Steak: Women Chefs on Standing the Heat and Staying in the Kitchen, the work weaves together Druckman’s own perspective with quotes from the 75 chefs she interviewed about their experiences in the food industry. I haven’t read the book yet, but based on reviews, I’m looking forward to it. As Celia Sack writes for Edible San Francisco, Skirt Steak
is best described as a modern, curated version of Studs Terkel’s Working. Terkel’s iconic book makes its living by quoting from men and women in every field of work, talking about all aspects of their jobs, sans commentary.
Charlotte Druckman, a journalist and exacting food writer for the Wall Street Journal and Bon Appetit, among others, takes Terkel’s premise and applies it to today’s professional female chefs; she stuffs her fascinating book with chapters of quotes about working with men, owning restaurants, having families, being pastry chefs, television fame, etc.
The women interviewed rarely come to a consensus about their subject, and bravo to Druckman for not trying to force them to.
As Marissa Sertich describes at Honest Cooking,
It is an in-depth, behind-the-scenes tell-all about women chefs’ lives behind the line.
Frequently a male-driven brigade system, the interviews with over 70 women chefs highlight stories of women beating the odds, working hard, and standing out. The stories are familiar to any female who has worked in a professional kitchen – the rough and gruff banter that makes a kitchen feel like home, the asshole line-cook who takes the sex jokes too far, and working so hard to stand out – not as woman chef – but as a chef. With no qualifier.
A Village Voice interview with author Druckman by Jessica Goodman is also an informative read. For example, take this short excerpt:
You write about women in your book, and I want to know how you think shows like Top Chef and other cooking shows portray women?
Top Chef and Iron Chef are better examples of what’s happening. I think most of the other television shows on the Food Network are the real offense to women.
What do you mean by that?
When I interviewed Alex Guarnaschelli, she basically said that when you look at the Food Network, what you’re technically seeing most of the time is women being considered expert home cooks. Men are being considered expert professional restaurant chefs.
Even the settings that they’re in on the shows.
And even the ones who are actual chefs. Look at Alex’s Day Off. There she is in her V-neck like, “I just love making pot de crème.” That’s more of a problem, I think. Every time I said I was doing this book, people would say, “Oh, you must be writing about Julia Child.” And I again don’t want to sound like some kind of, I don’t know, asshole, but I’m sorry, Julia Child wasn’t a chef. She was a professional home cook. And she was brilliant. She was this wonderful writer and got so many people in America to start cooking at home and cook differently, but she’s not a chef. But that’s the template in a really weird way that the women on the Food Network are kind of based on.
Finally, take a look at Skirt Steak‘s progenitor, a lengthy 2010 piece from Druckman in Gastronomica provocatively titled “Why Are There No Great Women Chefs?” As she concludes,
Today, women chefs have embraced their equal value and have faced the facts of their situation. But because they remain isolated and pigeonholed by the media, by culinary institutions, and sometimes even by their male peers, women don’t have the influence, numbers, or respect to change the reality of restaurant kitchens. The women who ought to question their culpability or power to effect change are those with agency and clout—the members of social institutions like the media and culinary organizations. Better to try and fail than do nothing. It’s already 2010. The status quo is unacceptable.
Lard has been making a comeback in recent years, so I learned today at the gym while listening to an episode of the public radio program The Splendid Table. (Yes, I was working out while enjoying a conversation about lard!) The episode’s first guest was Charleston chef Sean Brock, who is described as “part of the lardcore movement, respecting southern tradition and using all parts of a pig.” (Surely no one says or types lardcore with a straight face, right?) Like many nose-to-tail chefs, Brock seeks to use all parts of the heritage breed pigs that he serves in his restaurant, including the rendered fat. He has a nice conversation with host Lynne Rossetto Kasper; find it here.
For more on the reemergence of lard, consider this excerpt of Regina Schrambling’s article at Slate,
I’m convinced that the redemption of lard is finally at hand because we live in a world where trendiness is next to godliness. And lard hits all the right notes, especially if you euphemize it as rendered pork fat—bacon butter.
Lard has clearly won the health debate. Shortening, the synthetic substitute foisted on this country over the last century, has proven to be a much bigger health hazard because it contains trans fats, the bugaboo du jour. Corporate food scientists figured out long ago that you can fool most of the people most of the time, and shortening (and its butter-aping cousin, margarine) had a pretty good ride after Crisco was introduced in 1911 as a substitute for the poor man’s fat. But shortening really vanquished lard in the 1950s when researchers first connected animal fat in the diet to coronary heart disease. By the ’90s, Americans had been indoctrinated to mainline olive oil, but shortening was still the go-to solid fat over lard or even butter in far too many cookbooks.
Her full piece is a nice read, so check it out here. Then, for more on the roles Upton Sinclair, William Procter and James Gamble played a century ago in removing lard from the American diet, check out this piece from Robert Smith of NPR’s Planet Money team.
Finally, check out this essay from Pete Wells at Food & Wine. As he expounds in the opening,
When I turn to the Op-Ed page of the New York Times, I more or less know what I’ll find…. The last thing I expect to see is an engraved invitation to eat french fries and fried chicken, yet that is roughly what I got one day last summer.
Extending this astonishing offer was the food writer Corby Kummer. [Read Kummer's 2005 NYT op-ed here.] In response to the news that New York City’s health commissioner had asked local restaurants to stop using cooking oils containing trans fats, comparing them to such hazards as lead and asbestos, Kummer proposed that we bring back lard, “the great misunderstood fat.” Lard, he cheerfully reported, contains just 40 percent saturated fat (compared with nearly 60 percent for butter). Its level of monounsaturated fat (the “good” fat) is “a very respectable 45 percent,” he noted, “double butter’s paltry 23 or so percent.” Kummer hinted that if I wanted to appreciate the virtues of this health food, I needed to fry shoestring potatoes or a chicken drumstick.
What did I know about lard? Bupkes.
Wells then reports how he sought out, rendered, and cooked away with lard eventually secured from a heritage breed. (As he notes, “The one-pound brick of lard in my corner bodega was hydrogenated … along with nearly all the commercial lard available in this country…. Unfortunately, hydrogenation is also the source of unwholesome trans fats, which shoot extra LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) into your arteries while batting away the other, good cholesterol.”) You can find his full piece here.
Today’s 77 Square—the weekly entertainment guide from the Wisconsin State Journal—features an in-depth piece from Lindsay Christians on “Madison’s most prolific food bloggers.” It nicely captures the breadth of the Madison blogging scene from passionate cooks to dining-out diehards to advocates for sustainable eating, and includes everyone from amateur writers to folks who’ve turned their blogging into a full-time paid gig.
Check out the full article for links to lots of great blogs including, I’m delighted to say, The Conscientious Omnivore:
For a city of a few hundred thousand, the local food blogging scene is impressively active and varied.
There are blogs that hinge on sustainability and food advocacy, like The Conscientious Omnivore and All Hail Honeybees. Some take a farmers’ market focus, like Driftless Appetite, or aim at those with dietary restrictions, like Farmers Market Vegan and the (mostly) dairy-free Badger Girl Learns to Cook.
For more, join some of the mentioned bloggers at a food-writing panel presentation entitled “Dishin’ with Madison Foodies” at the Sequoya Branch of the Madison Public Library on Thursday, September 27, from 7:00 to 8:30 pm. I’ll be in the audience, so I hope to see you there!
Chef and author Rozanne Gold recently reviewed two vegetarian cookbook-slash-memoirs for HuffPost Food.
Claire Criscuolo’s recipes from Welcome to Claire’s: 35 Years of Recipes & Reflections from the Landmark Vegetarian Restaurant are reportedly so delicious that “you can taste the love.” Gold writes that Criscuolo’s “commitment to local and organic sourcing grows exponentially (including growing her own vegetables and herbs in her backyard) as does her outreach to the community.”
Chef Amanda Cohen, artist Ryan Dunlavey, and Cohen’s husband, journalist Grady Hendrix, collaborated to produce the unique Dirt Candy, A Cookbook: Flavor-Forward Food from the Upstart New York City Vegetarian Restaurant, which comes out today. Gold writes that one of the strengths of this comic-book memoir with recipes is Cohen’s advice, which addresses “the realities and vicissitudes of opening your own place, is professional and instructive, and sometimes very funny.”
Check out Gold’s full review for details and links regarding both books, enjoy this Q&A with Cohen from eater.com, and take a look at this piece on Criscuolo and her book from when Welcome to Claire’s came out earlier this year. Finally, check out the goofy promo video below for Dirt Candy.
Julia learned how to eat. She did not preserve and shelter her plain, perfectly good Pasadena palate by moving to France and then cooking there, then writing books. She let herself taste and smell differently. She took seriously the smells and rhythms around her, and noticed how they changed her perception—and she came to like them.
That process was what started it all. It’s right there in the first pages of her memoir, and it’s at the heart of her mastering something enviable and unique, becoming someone who cooked well but not perfectly, whose tastes ran the gamut, and who didn’t make exceptions or put foods into categories according to what she was supposed to like but didn’t, or what was theoretically “good” but in some way “bad.”
The full piece is worth a read, so check it out here.