Friday, February 12, 2010


Orange Nutmeg Cookies from THE GRAND CENTRAL BAKING BOOK

Maida Heatter, the great doyenne of American desserts, taught me how to bake. Not personally, mind you, but prior to Maida Heatter's Book of Great Desserts (Knopf, 1965), my dessert making was confined to pies with frozen crusts. Heatter, whose classic, detailed recipes are now collected in three volumes under "Pies & Tarts," "Cakes," and "Cookies," (Andrews McMeel Publishing) turned me into a good home baker. But where once I loved making glossy chocolate tortes, airy charlottes, heavy cheesecakes, icky-sweet dacquoise, and other “fancy” desserts, today I lean more towards rustic baking such as cobblers, gallettes, tea breads and cookies.

Not too long after moving to Portland, I came across Grand Central Bakery, a wonderful and very popular Pacific Northwest bakery and cafe credited with the revival of artisan bread. For the past twenty years, Grand Central Bakery has produced terrific breads, cinnamon rolls, cookies, tarts, and other baked goods in their mobbed Portland and Seattle locations. Finally, many of the from-scratch recipes that have made them famous, have been collected in THE GRAND CENTRAL BAKING BOOK by Piper Davis and Ellen Jackson (10 Speed Press; ISBN: 978-1-58008-953-1). One of the first recipes I made from this fine user-friendly cookbook was the Orange Nutmeg Cookies, which I took with me to a friend's large Christmas party in December. Orange and nutmeg are two of my favorite flavors, so making these cookies was a no-brainer. Those fragrant shortbread cookies with crunchy turbinado sugared-edges, disappeared shockingly fast. My host complained he had been unable to try one! As it was, I inhaled four of them before they had cooled to room temperature. Since I'm told they are not currently available in the bakeries, this is your only chance to sample these heavenly treats.

Then on Christmas Eve, I was invited to a dinner party at a French friend's home. He requested that I bring a Tarte Tatin, the classic and much-loved French upside-down caramelized apple pie. I had made Tarte Tatin before, but discovered a recipe in this new book. It featured a crust made of rough puff pastry, something I'd never attempted to make before. Frankly I had come to believe that frozen puff pastry found in supermarkets is just as good with none of the hassle. How wrong could that be! Most commercial puff pastry isn't made with real butter and if you find it with butter, it's very costly (there was a feature in the Oregonian about puff pastry, and Grand Central Bakery does sell their own all-butter frozen version at a reasonable price). THE GRAND CENTRAL BAKING BOOK has a particularly lucid, step-by-step recipe illustrated with good color photos). If you are a baker, making rough puff pastry is a very satisfying experience. I've never used puff pastry for this rustic dessert and the recipe photo showed the apples had a less deeply golden color than the Tarte Tatins I've made in the past. No matter. This was still a handsome Tarte Tatin with wonderful flavor--a rich, buttery and flaky crust, under a layer of tender, caramelized apples. With a little dollop of crème fraiche, this was a spectacular yet rustic holiday dessert. Another recipe I loved making was Grand Central Bakery Jammers--a kind of "thumbprint" biscuit with a spoonful of jam. It doesn't get any homier than this.

The book is loaded with many excellent sidebars that enhance the baking experience. Along with the "Rough Pastry Workshop," there is a "Flaky Pastry Workshop," a detailed, photo-specific tutorial on how to mix and roll out pie dough. Other workshops include "Birthday Cake," (with instructions for essential equipment, mixing, frosting and writing birthday script), "Cookie Decorating," and so many other illustrations and tips that demystify the baking process.

Like it's equally outstanding east coast counterpart--The Sweeter Side of Amy's Bread (Wiley), THE GRAND CENTRAL BAKING BOOK doesn't feature much in the way of breads (only Corn Bread, Buttermilk Biscuits and a dinner roll), which means there will probably be a bread book from them in the future. I have a large number of wonderful baking books in my collection, but I had no problem adding this fine new collection to my baking library.

I published the recipe for Grand Central Bakery Jammers in my Valentine's special recipe feature.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


Olivia Kiang-Snaije, co-author of THE ETHNIC PARIS COOKBOOK

In 2007, DK Publishing released a really charming cookbook called THE ETHNIC PARIS COOKBOOK. Beautifully illustrated, and stuffed with wonderful recipes, this was a guide/cookbook to the fabulous ethnic melting pot of foods that can be found in the Moroccan, Vietnamese, Tunisian, Thai, Chinese, Laotian, Lebanese, Syrian, Senegalese (and a host of others) restaurants of Paris. My first reaction to the book was, here is a great introduction to a wide variety of ethnic cuisines. Co-written by Charlotte Puckette and Olivia Kiang-Snaije, THE ETHNIC PARIS COOKBOOK got kind of lost in the cookbook shuffle that year and I was able to call upon my contacts for year-end recommendations and some wonderful food editors responded to the book’s charm and good food. Recently Olivia and I reconnected on Facebook where she told me she would be attending and displaying the book at the Paris Cookbook Festival. I was intrigued by the idea of a cookbook festival in a city of such epic culinary achievement and decided I needed to know more.

STR: How exciting to hear about a cookbook festival in such a big city celebrated for its fine food as Paris. Can you give us a description of the festival, where it will be held, for how long and how many publishers are expected? Who sponsors this fair?

OK-S: You might think why didn’t anyone organize a cookbook festival in Paris before, which is what I asked the founder, Edouard Cointreau. Cointreau (who is from the Cointreau family on his father’s side and the Frapin Cognac and Rémy Martin family on his mother’s side) has been running the Gourmand Cookbook Awards since 1995, which encourage, promote and honor those who “cook with words”. Cointreau is capitalizing on his vast network of contacts in the cooking world and bringing everyone together for this new trade fair. Cointreau is hooked into the international world of cookbook publishing and told me that besides the Children’s book fair in Bologna, there hasn’t been until now, a specialized market for cookbooks. International rights for cookbooks are bought and sold at either the Frankfurt or London book fairs. Moreover, with the crisis affecting the publishing industry, cookbooks are still doing relatively well and actually financing some of the publishers. Cointreau thought he would launch his trade fair in Paris, because of course the name is prestigious, but also because the time is right: it will be a small fair and in a central location. Publishers don’t have to take a big risk—it’s reasonable for them to invest in a fair this size. It is financed privately and organized by the Gourmand International Cookbook Awards. It will be held in a newly renovated 19th century industrial exhibition space from February 11-15th, 2010. Cookbook author Claudia Roden is the honorary president and Harumi Kurihara, the Japanese cookbook author will be present as well as chefs such as Alain Ducasse and Michel Troisgros. The majority of French cookbook publishers will be present, they make up 35% of the publishers attending, and as of this week, another 35% will come from Europe and 30% from Asia and Latin America. There may be editors coming from the US but publishers are visibly absent, an indication that the book industry in the US is suffering more than elsewhere.

STR: Is it open to the public or only to publishing insiders?


This is an entirely new venture and for the moment Cointreau has a 3-year agreement to hold the festival in Paris. It’s open to the public over the weekend, with Friday and Monday for trade insiders. All the events are free for whoever is attending. There will be international chef demonstrations, 40 food and wine tastings, conferences, and book signings. There’s more information on this site:

STR: Give us a description of the kinds of cookbooks on view there, the activities in support of cookbooks?

OK-S: Charlotte, my co-author and I attended the Gourmand Cookbook Awards held in Frankfurt when our book was given a prize in 2007 and I was at the Gourmand stand at the London Book fair over the subsequent years. It’s very exciting because you get to meet people from all over the world who share similar passions. You learn things about food and wine by simply conversing with people spanning the globe from China to Iceland and you see cookbooks that you won’t find in your local Barnes & Noble. Cointreau has always been very vigilant about awarding and bringing to the public’s attention quality books that are slightly off the beaten track that might otherwise get lost in the crowd of celebrity chef books. Regarding the Paris Cookbook Festival it’s a chance for new and upcoming international talent to mix with well-known authors, publishers and chefs.

STR: Are cookbooks and cooking shows as popular in France as they are in the United States?

OK-S: There are quite a few cooking shows here and a few are dubbed British shows like Nigella Lawson or Jamie Oliver but in general they are not broadcast during prime time. There is one show that is getting popular which is about a host who will prepare dinner for guests and then professionals rate the dishes. What is very popular, however, are cooking workshops or having a private chef come to one’s house to prepare a dinner for guests.

While I had Olivia's attention this also seemed a good time to ask about the Paris cookbook culture in general.

STR: Recently I Know How to Cook (Je Sais Cuisiner) was published in English in the United States. Can you describe its reputation in France? It was published more than 75 years ago. It is still popular among younger French cooks?

OK-S: Ginette Mathiot’s book is considered a “bible” much like “The Joy of Cooking” but it’s not in any way hip. It’s something that grandmothers or mothers might give to their sons or daughters when they move into their own home and is a constant, but not talked about a lot.

STR: What cookbooks are selling well in France now? Are TV chefs leading the bestseller lists as they are in the U.S.?

OK-S: I think the market is less led by celebrity chefs than in the US and the UK. The bestsellers seem to be a lot of books about desserts or smaller handbooks published by Stock, Minerva or Marabout publishers on a specific theme, like “easy dishes to make for singles” or “terrines” or “tagines”.

STR: Does Julia Child have a reputation in France or has the release of “Julie and Julia” made her better known there?

OK-S: Julia Child is not well known here and when the film came out none of my French friends had ever heard of her. Those who saw the film focused less on the personality of Julia Child than on the pleasure of seeing Meryl Streep impersonate an original character.

STR: Are you working on a new cookbook? Website, etc?

OK-S: Charlotte and I are hoping to write the same book on London, because the colonial world was in large part divided up between France and the United Kingdom, so the “ethnic” influences on the cities of Paris and London are directly related to the former colonies and don’t really overlap. But Charlotte has been busy with her catering business and I’ve been editing a magazine and working in publishing so we haven’t had as much time as we would have liked to focus on selling the idea. The Ethnic Paris Cookbook was a real labor of love and it took a tremendous amount of concentrated time. But we would like to do the same, eventually for London.

Our website is

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


I opened this morning's OREGONIAN FoodDay page (, there on page one was a feature on Portland cook's favorite kitchen gadgets. Under "our tool tipsters" was yours truly with a plug for I thought there were a lot of thoughtful selections of kitchen gadgets that make our kitchen work easier. Add me to the group of people who have newly discovered the immersion blender. I've owned mine for at least six or seven years, but it was kept in a box in the back of my pantry. No more. I recently made a split pea soup and the immersion blender made quick work of turning it into a silky potage. It's nice to see vintage cast iron making a comeback in kitchens. I discovered my 12-inch cast iron skillet (made by Wagner Ware) in a friend's home. I took this pan which was covered with decades of grime and buildup, home and put it in my self-cleaning oven, which needed to be cleaned anyway. The next morning I pulled the skillet out of the oven and it was as clean as the day the previous owner bought it. The intense heat from the self-cleaning oven disintegrated the layers of grime, leaving a whisper of ash to wipe clean. The pan retained it's smooth patina and needed only a rubbing of vegetable oil (a small amount) to get it ready for cooking again. I now have about four pieces of Wagner Ware and the even more collectable Griswold cast iron. Vintage cast iron is still relatively cheap and you can find it not only on E-bay, but also at antique shops (where you will pay higher prices), resale outlets and junk stores. But the best bargain cast iron to be found is at garage sales. Nothing conducts heat better than cast iron. You can put sear a big juicy Porterhouse steak on both sides and then finish cooking it in the oven in a cast iron pan and the results will rival anything you can get in an expensive steakhouse. Its only limitation is that it will not produce a good sauce with anything acidic in it such as lemon juice or vinegar.

Other gadgets that caught my eye in the Oregonian included:

The Kuhn Rikon vegetable peeler, which has changed the way I peel vegetables. Now it's a breeze to peel apples and pears for pie, and it's strong enough to strip off the really tough skin of a butternut squash.

Some 35 years after it was first introduced, the food processor is now taken for granted in kitchens. But it started a revolution. For slicing vegetables and fruit, chopping onions, making making mayonnaise, salsas, pie and pizza dough, pureeing vegetables, and so many other chores, there is nothing quicker than the food processor. I just bought my second Cuisinart, which is the first major overhaul of the classic design in Cuisinart's history.

The article offers other great gadget advice, as well as those things we didn't like such as slow cookers, grill pans, pasta maker, turkey basters and gravy fat separators.

My choices in this article were tongs, which I couldn't cook without, and the pressure cooker. I've been a fan of since I first purchased a newly designed stainless steel model from T-Fal in 1982! My mother cooked with an old Presto aluminum pressure cooker in the 50s and 60s. We never had one of those explosions that most people remember. But even with the sleek new stainless steel models, which won't explode no matter how careless the cook is, people just can't seem to get their heads around them. They are a fabulous kitchen appliance, easy to use, and they produce a wide range of flavorful foods from soups and stews to bean and vegetables. I can make a fabulous risotto in six minutes that will totally blow away any version prepared in a slow cooker or microwave oven. It can be a seafood risotto or a classic Milanese, or any type of vegetable from asparagus or artichoke to Butternut Squash or Truffles with Parmesan. No less a food legend than Jacques Pepin has declared the pressure cooker as "an essential piece of equipment at my house," and included recipes for the pressure cooker in his last two cookbooks. Now there are electric pressure cookers which are just as safe and easier to use and have the advantage of timers which turn off when the recipe is finished!

Kitchen gadgets--we just couldn't live without them!