It wasn’t until about six months ago that I started to purchase cookbooks. Prior to that, the only books in my collection were the few that my mother and Eric purchased for me; a limited selection of the essentials: The Joy of Cooking, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and The Cake Bible (which, shamefully, I have yet to dig into). There are plenty of cookbooks that I’ve flipped through at bookstores, that I look at merely for their drool inducing photos (which we aptly refer to as “food porn”). But there are others, like the ones I just listed, that I enjoy because of how eloquently they describe the cooking process.
What separates these books from others are how they inspire people to experiment in the kitchen. Those books— classics, if you ask me— can create cooks out of those who have never picked up a knife.
The books that I have acquired since then (mostly as birthday or holiday gifts) I hold dear to my heart. They range in region and themes, focusing on everything from baking to cocktails. There was Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table, Joanne Chang’s Flour Bakery Cookbook, Abby Dodge’s Desserts 4 Today, John Besh’s My New Orleans and many others. All of these books have challenged me in various ways. On one hand, Flour has become my resource for more complex baking techniques, something I’m just beginning to dabble in. On the other, Abby’s book brings things to a more basic level and shows how, really, just a few ingredients are all you need for a wonderfully decadent dessert.
Overall, this is an incredibly exciting time in terms of cookbook writing. Voices are strong, the quality of production is exquisite, and the recipes speak volumes about the constant shift in how people cook.
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Leaning over the kitchen sink, my mother and I would stand side by side, laughing and sharing stories from our day, as we trimmed big bags of green beans. I must admit that the painstaking process of going through all of those haricot verts, breaking off their woody ends, was not my favorite thing in the world. But spending time with my mom and having those memories of us bonding in such a simple, delightful way, is why I have a special place in my heart for green beans.
Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been seeing a lot more of them in our CSA box. The experience of cleaning them isn’t the same without my mother standing next to me, but the process always reminds me of those wonderful moments.
When cooking green beans, I’m a firm believer (and I’m sure many would agree) that the crunchier they are, the better. When preparing them, I tend to toss the green beans into boiling water for just a couple of minutes and quickly throw them into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process.
This leaves the hue of the beans vibrant and does not result in them being limp, as you will often find them when dining out.
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When the souffles went into the oven, I had no idea what to expect. How high would they rise? How would they taste? These are the questions that always hold me back from experimenting with such dishes. When there’s potential for failure, I become reluctant to even give it a shot.
Part of my love for food, though, is the challenge. If you’re not willing to challenge yourself, how can you expect to learn anything?
It dawned on me recently that I have never made or consumed a savory souffle. From time to time, my mother would prepare them for dessert, a bowl of decadent bliss, with a big tuft on top, that would ooze with the first hit of the spoon. Having a bite was like ingesting pure comfort, a blanket being wrapped around your soul.
These high expectations for how my souffles would turn out made the anticipation all the more difficult to bear.
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There are recipes that you try and, after the first bite, you wonder why you hadn’t made it sooner. For me, these are easy to prepare dishes that usually consist of the following: a vegetable, butter, and some form of acid (either lemon juice or vinegar). With just these ingredients, and a touch of seasoning, a robust dish is created.
Over the summer, I shared my love for such a recipe… a wonderful caramelized shallot dish that came from Deb of Smitten Kitchen. To avoid having a heart attack, I have only made it a handful of times, but I adored it’s simplicity and richness. When you’re in the mood for a decadent meal, I can’t think of anything better.
Well, that was until now.
Back in December, Deb had an entry on garlic butter roasted mushrooms, which she, herself, called “perfect as can be”. And boy did she get that right. Not only that, but it’s much healthier than the shallot recipe (which called for six tablespoons of butter, versus the four here).
One thing you should know before I delve into the recipe is that I used to hate mushrooms as a child. It was the one and only thing I wouldn’t eat. When we’d order mushroom pizza, I’d pick off each one and give them to my sister to eat (because I was a good little brother).
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It’s hard to believe it’s almost been a month since the earthquake hit Japan. That event and the subsequent tsunami and aftershocks that have damaged that nation have been tough to grasp, let alone articulate into words. I’ve been torn about whether I wanted to talk about it here. This blog, my pride and joy, is my getaway from all the stresses in the world. It’s where I get to express myself and my love of food through a creative medium. And I do my darndest to keep things light. I want this to be a place where people can come and forget about all the bad stuff that happened at work or the heartbreaking news that they read in the paper that day.
At the same time, A Thought For Food is an extension of who I am and that means that I shouldn’t hold back on talking about something I feel strongly about.
Some things are unexplainable, but a natural disaster is not one of those things. You can’t ask why it happened or how it happened, because we know the answers to both of those questions. So we’re left with a feeling of, “Now what? What are we supposed to do?”
During a time like this, it’s hard not to feel hopeless. And for a while, that’s exactly how I felt. An aftershock here, another there. Being so far away, so disconnected from what’s been happening, has left me questioning if there’s anything that I can do but sit here and watch.
Thankfully, the answer to this question is yes, there is plenty that can be done.
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