Thursday, December 31, 2009
Monday, December 21, 2009
"A generation has passed since I wrote The Cake Bible," says Rose Levy Beranbaum in the introduction to her second and newest collection devoted to this popular dessert, ROSE'S HEAVENLY CAKES (Wiley; ISBN: 978-0-471-78173-8). Rose has been busy ever since, writing other books on pies, bread, Christmas cookies, etc. But the book we've all been waiting for, panting for and praying for is a new cake collection, and thumbing through this gorgeous and profusely illustrated book convinces me that ROSE'S HEAVENLY CAKES won't disappoint. The demand for this book has meant that it has been difficult to get a copy and it has already sold through at least its first printing. My copy just arrived, so I haven't been able to bake anything yet. But after the holidays are over, the first cake I'm rolling up my sleeves for is the Sicilian Pistachio Cake. Or will it be the Sticky Toffee "Pudding". Maybe the Chocolate-Covered Strawberry Cake. No, I'm certain it will be the Double Chocolate Valentine with its brilliant blanket of raspberries. So many great choices, so little time!
More and more we're finding that today's families are mix-diet oriented with those who will eat meat and those who won't. This puts stress on the cook who has to make separate meals for the omnivores, vegetarians, or vegans in their families. Ivy Manning, a Portland-based chef, food writer and blogger, is an enthusiastic omnivore married to a vegetarian. Drawing on her considerable culinary skills Manning has written THE ADAPTABLE FEAST: Satisfying Meals for the Vegetarian Vegans, and Omnivores at Your Table (Sasquatch Books; ISBN 978-1-57061-538-2) which provides many tasty solutions to feeding your mix-diet family, without resorting to separate recipes.
Monday, December 14, 2009
For someone who grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, it's shocking that I've never spent time in Big Sur, that breathtaking region of the central California coast with dramatic views of the Pacific. Since the late 1940s, Big Sur has attracted an artistic crowd of writers (Henry Miller, Richard Brautigan, Jack Kerouac) and other creative people. The wild beauty of this rugged coastline also attracted film stars. Orson Welles bought a cabin for his then wife, Rita Hayworth, which they intended to use as a getaway home from the pressures of Hollywood. They never actually moved in. And in 1947, Bill and Lolly Fassett, a young California couple purchased the cabin and surrounding grounds from Hayworth and built a restaurant on the sight of the original cabin. Nepthene was primarily Lolly Fasset's vision--a gathering place and focal point for bohemian America. Over the next sixty years, Nepenthe, attracted large and loyal family as Big Sur evolved into one of California's most idealized tourist destinations. Celebrated for it's spectacular views, its delicious and unpretentious food, and convivial atmosphere, Nepenthe came of age in the counter-culture of the 60s. Stars such as Kim Novak and Steve McQueen could be seen in its dining room alongside beat artists, poets, painters and other colorful personalities of the era. The restaurant was often the site of folk dancing, fashion shows, poetry readings, concerts and other activities. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton filmed a scene from The Sand Piper at Nepenthe, which only added to its cache. Romney Steele, is a food writer, cook and food stylist. She is also the granddaughter of Lolly and Bill Fassett. She witnessed the flowering of Nepenthe's success first-hand, growing up there. She later launched Café Kevah, on Nepenthe's grounds. She has created MY NEPENTHE: Bohemian Tales of Food, Family, and Big Sur (Andrews McMeel). Part memoir, part cookbook, this visually appealing book is loaded with vintage black and white photos and many color shots that evokes the special history of the California coast and the many events hosted by an extraordinary couple who created a popular destination restaurant that has endured for more than six decades.
Imagine creating a rustic retreat perched on the edge of the California coastline with jaw-dropping views, sipping a cocktail on its broad terrace or digging into one of Nepenthe's popular menu offeringss such as the Ambrosia Burger with Golden Plumes (French fries) or Lolly's Roast Chicken with Sage Stuffing, or Nepenthe's Triple-Berry Pie. The spectacular setting features the architecture of Rowan Maiden, a former student of Frank Lloyd Wright. Steele recounts the colorful history of the restaurants, it's patrons and friends. The spirit of her grandmother presides over the restaurant's evolution. This generous spirited woman raised her family, manning the stove and day-today operations of Nepenthe with her husband. At the same time, Lolly Fassett kept guests, family and staff fed and provided many of the restaurant's personnel with staff members with housing, and acted as hostess to the artistic events hosted there. All of their stories and recipes are here.
Of the 85 enticing recipes, I chose Peanut Butter Cookies, which are a childhood favorite I hadn’t made in years, and Café Benedict, a superior version of Eggs Benedict, which adds sliced avocado to the classic preparation and substitutes multi-grain English muffins for the standard muffins. The cookies are not too sweet and have a deep peanut flavor and a tender crumb. The egg preparation is sumptuous with the addition of ripe avocado and the chewy, flavorsome wheat in the muffins nicely offsets this popular brunch entrée’s richness.
MY NEPENTHE makes me want to get to Big Sur as soon as possible, but in the meantime, this lovely book makes me almost feel like I’ve been there before.
Friday, December 4, 2009
Is there any better gift to give at Christmas time than a book? Yes--a cookbook. Most people are compiling their best of lists and I am no exception. I didn't set out to make a ten-best list. I had six and then I remembered a seventh, and checked on the books I'd reviewed already and found a 8th and 9th and then I remembered the 10 anniversary edition of America's Test Kitchen which I hadn't reviewed, but had recently arrived and qualifies as a new book this year, and just had to add it to the list, and voila!--I have ten. 2009 was a terrific year for cookbooks, with many published that I admired. Let me start with a book that I bought earlier this year and thoroughly loved before I launched StoveTopReadings.com.
Did you know that if you stir your gin or vodka martini, rather than shake it, your cocktail will have "a light-catching diamond" clarity that you'll never see in a shaken version. This advice comes from Eben Klemm, a master mixologist and author of a lively and spirited new drink guide entitled THE COCKTAIL PRIMER: All You Need to Know to Make the Perfect Drink (Andrews McMeel Publishing, December 2009). I've tried it twice with a vodka martini and once with a vodka gimlet, and it works. There's a cloudy, unappealing quality to the shaken martini, and the author further states that if you give your martini a moment to settle down in the ice while you fetch your glass, or garnish, the "pause in the midst of stirring a drink somehow ties it together." After reading through this attractively designed book, you'll never think about cocktails in quite the same way.
I had my first GIN martini at the age of 20 (no, I will not tell you when that was!). My great-aunt drank two gin martinis every day of her adult life and lived to the age of 94. That martini was delicious, but at 20 I wasn't ready for that adult a drinking experience and I allowed myself to be lulled into having a second. I have no memory of getting home that night and for about two years I drank a lot of gin martinis with the old girl. But one night I got so soused that I gave them up permanently. Gin and I were never to be on intimate terms again. For the next twenty years, scotch and wine were my preferred drinks. Then sometime in the 90s, I got the cocktail bug, and started to imbibe such wonderful concoctions as Martinis (vodka this time), Gimlets, Whiskey Sours, Manhattans, Old Fashions, Sazeracs (now that's a cocktail) and even the ultimate girly drink--the Cosmopolitan. To help me create these cocktails at home, I have the Mr. Boston guide, but this new guide was the first time I have looked at the art of the cocktail as seriously as I look at cookbooks. Klemm has a considerable amount to say about this subject, which he takes very seriously. And if you make cocktails at home, so should you.
After years of wine dominance, the cocktail has risen Phoenix-like as a serious beginning to a night out at a good restaurant or in the home as a prelude to a great meal. Klemm, studied biology at Cornell, honed his bartending skills in New York City to "pay the rent." But his fascination with the cocktail culture has endured and today he oversees the cocktail program and creates signature drinks for B.R. Guest Restaurant's, which include the enduringly popular Water Grill, Dos Caminos, Wildwood Barbecue, and many others.
THE COCKTAIL PRIMER is now my preferred go-to-guide for thinking about, and re-creating great cocktails. It doesn't seek to be encyclopedic. Klemm imparts the significance of techniques such as pouring, shaking, stirring and muddling. He groups his drink recipes around around a specific spirit. Best of all, Klemm removes himself from the laboratory of his working life to "create variations or develop complex infusions or foams because I have all the resources and equipment at my fingertips." In short, THE COCKTAIL PRIMER is an elegantly pared down reference of the essential cocktails you'll want to create at home. Yes you will learn how to set up a bar, but you'll also know why he considers the Sidecar as "perhaps the most important cocktail of all time." He explores the key distinction between wine-based, fruit-based, herb-based and sweet-based spirits. In his chapter on bar essential equipment, Klemm outlines only what you need. I didn’t know you could make your own cocktail cherries. He provides an interesting recipe.
The cocktail recipes themselves offer fascinating reading. Under the Martini section alone, Klemm presents "Martini's children," which includes the Martinez (London-style gin, sweet vermouth, maraschino liquor and orange bitters) the Old-Time Martini (a mixture of equal parts gin and vermouth plus angostura bitters) a 1930s Dry Martini (2/3 gin, 1/3 vermouth, lemon peel or green olives) and today's New-Time Dry Martini (vodka or gin, a dash of vermouth lemon peel or olives. Then there are the vodka-derived versions, which include the Vesper and Negroni. Each subsequent chapter is grouped by Manhattans, Simple Sours (Gimlet, Fizz) Complex Sours (Sidecar, Muddled Drinks (Mojito) and Highballs (Perfect Harvest). Most interesting to me is Klemm's breakdown of each grouping in which he lists the makeup of the category plus its complexity, sweetness, acidity, strength and level of refreshment. This inspires you to think about the components of a drink. And without an A-to-Z book of every drink including all the exotic drinks available in bars and restaurants, which most people are not likely to want to mix at home, you'll be able to concentrate on a focused variety of outstanding classic cocktails that have stood the test of time with a few new classics-to-be.
THE COCKTAIL PRIMER is a great-looking book. I wanted to sample every cocktail beautifully photographed here. And if you’re looking a great gift for the holidays, I highly recommend this handsome and sleek volume. So let me close by describing the martini I prepared with vodka in the picture here: a slightly thickened crystal elixir that is pungent, elegant—an adult tasting drink. As I slowly sip my way to the bottom of the glass, my brain feels a bit lulled but my taste buds are demanding my dinner. Maybe it’s time to give gin another try.