Tuesday, October 25, 2011


I got hooked on Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs’ engaging website, Food52.com the minute I heard about it.  Dedicated to the creativity, resourcefulness and taste of the home cook, the recipes, which come from their loyal followers, friends and professional colleagues, stay focused on the home cook.  It’s a classy website with elegantly simple graphics, how-to videos that encourage the viewer/reader to cook.  Hesser and Stubbs, share a winning vision.  They view recipes as a template and variation is encouraged.    Reading the community response to the recipes is infectious.  Hesser and Stubbs interview some of their swell culinary friends, demonstrate really useful techniques, and cut up like best friends.  Now as promised here is THE FOOD52 COOKBOOK: 140 Winning Recipes from Exceptional Home Cooks (HarperCollins; $35.00), the first in what I hope will be a series of books from them (a second volume is promised).  Amongst a flood of cookbooks this fall, this book is fun to read, has a truly wonderful range of recipes, and is easily my favorite book of the season.  

“Food 52 grew out of an insight we had while working on The Essential New York Times Cookbook: many of the best recipes come from home cooks,” Hesser and Stubbs write in their Introduction to THE FOOD52 COOKBOOK.  It occurred to us that home cooks are both practical and inventive, and these qualities tend to lead to great recipes.  At Food52.com, we recognize talented home cooks by giving them a place to show off their work, a place where cooks of all levels come to be inspired and be part of a constructive and supportive community.”  Their calls for reader’s best recipes by categories resulted in superb recipes that I’ve cooked and have been received with enthusiasm and gusto.  Peter Steinberg’s Amagansett Corn Salad is the very essence of summer by combining sweet corn and cherry tomatoes with good quality balsamic vinegar—no oil.  Try it.  From Savour comes an astonishingly tasty Simple Summer Peach Cake. It is one of those recipes that earns standing ovations.  Almond flour, almond and vanilla extracts and nutmeg are joined with buttermilk, flour, butter, an egg, baking powder and soda with peaches (on my second go at this cake, I saved time by using nectarines and skipped the peeling process).  The simplicity of this cake cannot be underlined enough.  It’s a snap to put together. It tastes heavenly the day you make it, and if you’re lucky enough to have leftovers, it’s amazing for breakfast. It’s a shame the tomato season is over, because Meredith Shanley’s BLT Panzanella has tomatoes, ciabatta, arugula and bacon and gets dressed with a creamy, lemony dressing that has a small amount of the bacon drippings, mayonnaise and Dijon mustard in it to add more flavor.  Just look at Dagny’s Zucchini Pancakes, and tell me you wouldn’t eat a pile of them if they were put in front of you.  “A little grated potato binds the cakes and gives them the crispness of latkes,” the authors write in their headnote to this superb recipe.  I recently made Monkeymom’s Wishbone Roast Chicken with Herb Butter.  One can never have enough recipes for roast chicken and this one has a great gimmick.  The chicken roasts “beer can style” on the center tube part of a tube pan, which allows the fat “to drip off the bird while it cooks, and we think it does a great job of helping to cook the chicken evenly.” The creator of this method has thought about the technique of her perfect recipe—shallots and butter go under the skin of the bird, and the prepared chicken gets an eight hour sit in the refrigerator to ensure crispy skin.  I made this for a friend who is impossible to cook for—fussy and limited in what he will eat.  I was delighted to see him sneak bits of chicken from the platter to his plate, even it if was only white meat (that’s okay, I prefer dark meat anyway). 

Amanda Hesser (left) and Merrill Stubbs, who always look like they are having fun at Food52.com.

As far as recipes I haven’t made, I love the addition of peas in Eric Liftin’s Daddy’s Carbonara, which looks to be an excellent American version of the Roman original with bacon instead of guanciale.  That’s okay.  My first version of this dish used bacon and it’s delicious (is there nothing bacon doesn’t enhance?). Abs’ Not Red Velvet Cake with Fudge Glaze will save you time, and is as impressive as the original it emulates. I’m dying to make Susan’s Jordan-based Fasoolya Khadra (Beef and Green Bean Stew).  “This is one of those recipes, like pot-au-feu, that seem to defy the laws of cooking by coaxing an intensely flavorful sauce from water rather than broth or wine.” Aliwaks Luciana’s Porchetta look so doable for a change, and is destined for one of my Saturday night dinner parties soon.

THE FOOD52 COOKBOOK has recipes for all courses with soups, appetizers (don’t forget Aliwaks’ toothsome Smoky Fried Chickpeas), loads of main courses and sides (Deensiebat’s intriguing One-Pot Kale and Quinoa Pilaf, with toasted pine nuts and soft crumbled goat cheese), pastas, bread, breakfast, cocktails and desserts all covered.

Here is the perfect book for the home cook.  There’s not a whiff of a chef’s touch in it, even if a chef created the recipe. When Hesser and Stubbs asked viewers for their best recipes for salads using beets and citrus, their best ragu/Bolognese sauce, or their best holiday cookies, they responded and THE FOOD52 COOKBOOK represents a year’s worth of recipes the authors selected, tested. Each contest had two final entrants from the Food52 community, who selected the winner. The book’s design is a model of simple, spare design with no jacket (I’m seeing a few more cookbooks without jackets these days). Organized by seasons, there is a helpful listing of recipes and their page location in each of the four groups (another trend I first spotted in Ms. Hesser’s The Essential New York Times Cookbook).

One of the best cookbooks I’ve read or reviewed all year long, it automatically will be included in my annual round-up of best cookbooks of the year.

One of the fastest-disappearing cakes I ever made!

Simple Summer Peach Cake
By Savour Serves 8

A&M: We had high hopes for this peach cake, and it didn’t let us down. Savour’s inspiration came from childhood. “On summer mornings my mother would fix me a bowl of cut-up peaches with milk, sprinkled with sugar and a dusting of nutmeg,” she wrote. “Although that’s a pretty sublime combination, the flavors translate well to cake form.” Indeed, they do. The cake is chock-full of juicy summer peaches, and the addition of ground almonds sets it apart from other simple butter cakes. It’s luscious and a bit custardy in the areas surrounding the peaches—a texture that works when the cake is either warm or at room temperature. Don’t be alarmed if the batter seems to curdle when you add the buttermilk, as it will come together again once you mix in the dry ingredients.

6 tablespoons softened unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pan
3 ripe peaches
3 ⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1⁄2 cup buttermilk
1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1⁄4 teaspoon almond extract
1⁄2 cup almond flour (or finely ground almonds)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1⁄4 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
Turbinado sugar

1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour a 9-inch cake pan.
2. Cut the peaches into bite-size pieces. Toss the peaches with the nutmeg and 2 tablespoons of the sugar. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and remaining sugar with a wooden spoon or spatula. Add the egg, buttermilk, and extracts, and stir to combine.
4. In a medium bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add this flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix until smooth (some lumps may remain). Pour into the prepared pan.
5. Press the peaches into the top of the cake. They can be nicely arranged, but I like to cram as many peaches as possible into the cake. Sprinkle turbinado sugar over the top.
6. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the oven heat to 325°F and bake for an additional 45 to 55 minutes, or until a toothpick in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.

Tips and Techniques
PerrySt: “I would recommend using a springform pan if you have one.”

About the Cook
Kate Wheeler lives in Los Angeles and writes a food blog called Savour Fare (www.savour-fare.com) and a home decor and design blog called Savour Home (www.savour -fare .com/ savour -home) .
Her favorite recipe from a cookbook: “I can always fall back on the chocolate chip cookie recipe from the 1963 edition of McCall’s Cookbook. This was my childhood cookie recipe, and I have it memorized.”

What the Community Said
Rhonda35: “Made this last night and threw in a good handful of blueberries along with the peaches. Delicious!”

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