Archive for November, 2010

CHOICE CUTS 2010: Deborah Krasner’s ‘Good Meat’

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

Just a few years ago, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s massive River Cottage Meat Book was released in the US. There was already a good buzz about this book, as copies of the UK edition had been leaking into the states for some time. The book was a manifesto for the modern meat eater, laying out almost a philosophy of what it means to be a conscious carnivore. Being conscious carnivores ourselves, we’ve found it a pleasure to own, cook from, and sell in our shop. But the adjustment to more sustainable meats –  those farmers’ market buys and cooperative purchases of percentages of whole cows, hogs and lamb – present new challenges. Among them unfamiliar cuts which have languished in the bottom of the reach-in freezer, butchering which can make what should be a delicious piece of meat less than desirable, and perhaps most important, differences in the meat itself, between industrially raised animals and others – different breeds, different feeding histories, organic, grass fed, fat content, etc.

Thankfully, Deborah Krasner’s new book Good Meat, The Complete Guide to Sourcing and Cooking Sustainable Meat arrived this year, and with it solid, practical advice on how to deal with these and other issues. At the heart of it is encouragement to really understand the whole animal, to become familiar with primal cuts, and the range of retail cuts available. Each section – beef, lamb, poultry, etc. – is well illustrated with photos of the breaking down and the cuts. Deborah also explains how purchasing larger quantities can bring the cost down to the level of the industrially raised animals, exploding the myth that cost is necessarily prohibitive when it comes to better meat choices. She guides us through proper choices in storage, thawing, aging, drying and more. So each step leads to deeper understanding, and therefore more respect, but is still practical. And each section includes a good selection of tasty recipes which address a wide range of cuts and techniques.

As I write this, I’ve started the process of cooking Deborah’s ‘New England-Style Slow Pork Butt Roast’.  The recipe immediately attracts me because it uses as its base a ‘shrub’  which she calls “a refreshingly sweet and sour summer drink popular in the eighteenth century” in this case made with vinegar and maple syrup. The bone-in pork butt has been languishing at the bottom of the reach-in, waiting for me to build a smoker in the backyard (it’s going to be a while longer, at least). But this recipe was straightforward and looked delicious, so out came the butt for a thorough defrosting a day or so ago. What I’ve learned from Deborah seems likely to make this tasty dish all that much better. This includes letting the meat sit out to fully come to room temperature, thoroughly rinsing and drying the meat, fitting the cut into a smaller casserole, and placing parchment down over the top to further control condensation. I cant wait for dinner, only seven or so hours away.

This fall, we were lucky enough to have Deborah join us for a talk about sustainable meat and a side-by-side tasting of local and industrially-raised meats. We were also joined by farmers, chefs, butchers and the interested public. What was clear at the end of the discussion was that the issues of sustainable meats are many, and that the way forward to a better meat culture is filled with challenges. But Deborah’s masterful Good Meat can take us a good way toward a better understanding of how to practically and respectfully source and cook the meat for our own dinner tables.


Saturday, November 27th, 2010

Vegetine Purifies the Blood,
Renovates and Invigorates the Whole System.
Vegetine is Sold by all Druggists.

CHOICE CUTS 2010: Amanda Hesser’s Essential New York Times Cookbook

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

The Essential New York Times Cook Book,Essential NYT

Classic Recipes for a New Century

Amanda Hesser

Here’s another title that we consider a great choice for a holiday gift. The earlier New York Times Cookbooks are well loved classics. Mostly edited by the great Craig Claiborne, they are a fantastic record of a particular moment in culinary history.  This new book, compiled and annotated with great vigor by Amanda Hesser, food columnist and editor at the New York Times, takes a broader sweep through the archives. A grand behemoth of a project, Hesser dug deep in The Times’ stacks and worked through the entire history of the paper’s food coverage. Here you find recipes from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. The recipe for Bouillabaise from 1904 is followed by a WWII era recipe for Curried Oysters. Morley Safer’s Grilled Leg of Lamb shares a page with Chris Schlesinger’s Orange-Braised Short Ribs. The array of cuisines is remarkable.

The introduction shares a time line of important moments in American food history reported in the pages of the paper. Hesser’s voice is clear throughout, encouraging the cook to try dishes that were a hit in the 1980’s and the 1880’s.  Because the source material for this book is such a venerable institution, based in one of (if not the) greatest food cities in the world, there is food from some of the world’s greatest chefs.  You also have dishes from greats like Marion Burros, Craig Claiborne and the contemporary master Mark Bittman. And then there are all those fantastic chefs of the greater world who contributed to the paper: Eric Ripert; Julia Child; Daniel Boulud; Judy Rodgers; Paula Wolfert; Fergus Henderson; Lidia Bastianich and on and on.  It’s a marvelous meld of high cuisine and weekday dinners.

Each chapter has an index up front, a specific time line and highlights from Hesser.  The back of the book has a great section of menus, from the 19th century to winter brunch ideas. The endpapers are full of useful conversion charts.  And then there are Hesser’s stories.  Some cookbooks are good for reading.  Some are good for cooking.  This one is really good for both. It is sure to please even the most jaded of cookbook collectors.

CHOICE CUTS 2010: The Geometry of Pasta

Friday, November 26th, 2010
The Perfect Shape + The Perfect Sauce=
The Geometry of Pasta
Geometry of Pasta

Caz Hildebrand & Jacob Kenedy

We thought that we might start larding the meat, so to speak, by highlighting some of our favorite choices for holiday gifts. This is not to pressure anyone to begin the process of shopping, but rather to talk about some of the cool books that could end up as presents for a loved one.
The Geometry of Pasta is an example of a true dual purpose book. If you were so inclined you could leave it on your coffee table and listen to the admiration of your guests as they peruse it’s well-designed layout.

Caz Hildebrand is part of the British design firm Here where she has been responsible for the design of some fantastic cookbooks including Moro East by Sam & Sam Clark and How to Drink by Victoria Moore. Hildebrand was inspired by Pellegrino Artusi’s classic 19th century cookbook Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well and the Italian obsession with matching pasta shape to sauce, in working on this book.

Co-author Jacob Kenedy is the chef/owner of Bocca di Lupo, in London, which was awarded first place in Time Out’s Top 50 Restaurants for 2009.  Before opening his own place he cooked at Moro in London and was a visiting executive chef at Boulevard in San Francisco. He was involved in the creation of the cookbooks (all of them) for both of these restaurants.  So this guy has chops. His mother instilled in him a love for Italian food at a young age, and it shows in the pages of Geometry.

The book is broken down by shapes of pasta.  There is a page of cultural background, with a graphic image of the shape, followed by a couple of recipes of sauces that serve that pasta.  The black and white illustrations throughout are fantastic.  We think that while photographs of food are lovely, a well written recipe conjures up it’s own images.  This book certainly excites the cook and the artist alike with it’s bold use of black and white on the page.  A book lover’s cookbook, if ever there was one.


Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

For a while it’s been apparent to us here at Rabelais that 2010 was shaping up to be one of the best cookbook years in a while. Despite all the doom and gloom about the demise of the physical book, the recent crop of cookbooks was a great one. It lacks the ill-timed hyper glamour of the 2008 list (with a boffo selection of high concept chef’s books landing right at the beginning of the economic crash), and has more zip than the D.I.Y.-heavy 2009 list (itself a healthy economizing response to the economy).

The great books of the year cover all the wide cookbook/food book territory, from do-it-yourself to high concept, from global home cooking, to classic techniques, from street food to foraged food.  Overall, the books are more personal, with the authors’ ideas and visions well-represented on the page. And the physical form of the cookbook is stretching a bit more, likely inspired by some recent self-published books, like Martin Picard’s  Au Pied Du Cochon Album or the handsome yet approachable Canal House books. This year there’s more excellent photography, more care with typography and design, and the books are a pleasure to handle.

So when the the holidays drew near, we expected that the many annual “best of” lists might reflect just how great the year’s cookbooks really are. Unfortunately, not so. It is true that many of our favorites are on some of those lists. But there’s also a ton of filler, including some titles which were practically phoned in (I’m looking at you recipe blog compilation!). Certainly some of the list writers were throwing a bone to a editor friend at one publisher or another. Or maybe they were just overburdened like the rest of us at this time of year, and didn’t have the time to do it right.

Well we’re not going to let our favorites go unmentioned this year, so we’re taking time away from the pre-Thanksgiving food prep to get our favorites down on paper (or pixels).  Between now and Christmas, we’ll elaborate here on why we’ve chosen these books, and be mentioning some runners up. There will also be a separate list of wine and cocktail books of the year.   So, in no particular order:

[an asterix “*” indicates a link to a full review]

Forgotten Skills of Cooking by Darina Allen

Tender, Vols. I & II by Nigel Slater

Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

Cooking With Italian Grandmothers by Jessica Theroux

Good Meat, The Complete Guide to Sourcing and Cooking Sustainable Meat *
by Deborah Krasner

Meat, A Kitchen Education by James Peterson

Noma, Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine by Rene Redzepi

The Geometry of Pasta by Caz Hildebrand & Jacob Kenedy *

Thai Street Food by David Thompson

Kansha, Celebrating Japan’s Vegan and Vegetarian Traditions by Elizabeth Andoh

The Flavor Thesaurus, A Compendium of Pairings, Recipes and Ideas for the Creative Cook by Niki Segnit

Quay,  Food Inspired by Nature by Peter Gilmore

The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser *

Snowflakes & Schnapps by Jane Lawson *

Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson

Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-your-Mouth Cookies by Alice Medrich

Oaxaca al Gusto by Diana Kennedy

Don’t forget the mincemeat pie!

Monday, November 22nd, 2010


book fairs

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010
There is a lot going on at Rabelais right now.  My head is swirling with it all.  Some of it we will be sharing in upcoming weeks.  But the thing that is freshest, just picked, if you will, is the book fair.

I know many of you subscribe to this list because you are interested in food first, books second. Getting to food through books is habitual for you.  But perhaps you take the books part a little for granted?  If you have spent any time in the store you know our opinions about the electronic world threatening to swallow up all the print in the universe.  Yes, I am being dramatic, but stay with me. In this day of iphone/blackberry/kindle many of us get cross-eyed looking at all that wavering type. Cookbooks still stand as an oasis in that shimmering world.  We have hope that they will keep us tied to the printed word. As the book moves further from the daily experience it becomes more and more fetishized.  Cookbooks serve that function particularly well. Books as objects (beyond their informational value) can never be replaced by an electronic gadget.  And this is where I get to the book fair.

Have you ever been to one? They are like books themselves: many pages, some worn and creased (the good parts?), others pristine (a passage no one really wants to read); covered by boards that may have seen better days, show signs of damp palms, a coffee ring; perhaps the dust jacket is still extant (hallelujah) but shows a small tear.  All this is present in the booths, the exhibitors and the potential customers cruising around the room. Here there is a jumbled mish-mash of a display with paper everywhere and a rumpled gatekeeper.  There you find an immaculate booth with well-lighted cases offering up carefully arranged artifacts.  But everywhere you find books.  Real books.  Paper and board. A light sheen of dust. The aroma of rag and ink. And on the opening of the doors for the first day of the show, you have excitement. A great rush from the door, a minor rock show moment.  What discovery is in that room? A 19th Century Jewish manuscript book on meat preparation.  An album of Alpine wildflowers carefully annotated in Latin.  This room of paper yields many unknown treasures for those willing to walk its aisles.

I know it may seem a stretch to some, but to others of you,  it resonates.  You are intrigued. You may check your email on that electronic device, but the lure of paper is strong. Your shelves are full, and there is always room for more. These shiny new books we sell here in the store will grow a patina with age and use, and you will love them even more. Book fairs are a room, a large one at that, full of just such objects.


cheese & noodles

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

When I was young- younger- my favorite food was “cheese and noodles”.  That was what I called Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, the stuff in the blue box. The packet of ugly orange fake cheese powder you ripped open and mixed into your margarine (!)-coated elbow pasta.  I shudder to think of how much of that stuff I ate as a child.  It was comfort food. I learned pretty early how to make it myself and it was a constant in my diet for a good twenty years.  At some point I replaced the neon orange mixture with the politically correct Annie’s that had a more realistic cheese-type food color. It was a guilty pleasure I maintained even after recognizing its true nature. Something about the salty, buttery, noodley, soft nature of that food group. Sigh.

But comfort food is not a logical construct.  Some foods just give us solace.  Maybe you associate a dish with a loved one, a special time in your life, a safe haven. Whoever you are, you probably have a comfort food.

Now, if you think you are going to catch me at Whole Foods buying Annie’s, think again.  No, you will not find those boxes of cheese and noodles in my basket – and you know you look in other people’s baskets. Don and I have something of a reputation to uphold when we go shopping.  I have been saved from that ignominy by my fantastic husband who mastered a simple Carbonara about three years ago. He began with the recipe from The Silver Spoon, that massive tome of Italian home cooking.  But I am very proud to say that he has expanded the formula and can whip it up at any time with stellar results, modifying where he sees fit.  I am one lucky woman whose husband can create her comfort food at the drop of a hat…