Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Cookbook Review - Heart of the Artichoke
We have donuts at our staff meeting. It's a small consolation for sitting in a meeting at 8 am. There are several boxes of assorted doughnuts. I am a big fan of the chocolate iced/cream filled ones. Not Bavarian cream, the fluffy white cream that's mostly lard and powdered sugar. So, I generally don't eat those types because I can't pick up every doughnut and look at the conspicuous "filling port" to make sure it's the right kind of cream. Besides, I kind of feel like I'm checking to see if the doughnut is male or female and then it's just dirty and I've lost my appetite. But today...I was feeling the chocolate. I selected my doughnut, take a biiiigggg bite...and BAVARIAN CREAM! I had chosen...poorly. I ate around the edges as much as I could. I feel bad for wasting a doughnut, but I am just not a fan of Bavarian cream. As a self-proclaimed "foodie" I should be more tolerant of taste, but I like what I like. I don't like raw tomatoes, anchovies, or Bavarian cream (the list is longer, but that's not the point).
Then I had Chinese for lunch, and I'm going to have a late dinner of leftover chili that my friend Michael made. It's pretty awesome, especially with a dollop of sour cream and some of those tiny saltines on top (they're so cute).
So I didn't do a single shred of cooking today, but this blog isn't called What Mandie Cooked (see What Katie Wore), it's about more than just my food, it's about everyone else's food too. So, without further adieu, I give you Heart of the Artichoke: and Other Kitchen Journeys by David Tanis.
David Tanis is the co-chef at Chez Panisse in Berkley, California. He's a co-chef because he spends half the year in California and the other half of the year in Paris. But this Ohio-born chef knows something about kitchen rituals, the comfort of cooking, and the pleasure of home-cooked meals, no matter how gourmet. I was first attracted to the title, and then to the gorgeous photographs by Christopher Hirsheimer.
I'm one of those strange people who love to read cookbooks. I'll sit down and slowly flip through the pages, pausing at a recipe that piques my interest, reading through the ingredients and the steps, and I can see the process of cooking that dish in my mind's eye. But my favorite cookbooks are the ones I can really read. There are stories behind many of the recipes, and the writer shares personal stories of theirs. Those are cookbooks I can spend Sunday afternoons with. David Tanis is one of those writers.
The first fifteen or so pages are devoted to something he calls "kitchen rituals." I love this term. They are things that he loves to cook, make, or take along. For example, he has an emergency food kit he takes with him when traveling. It consists of "a tube of harissa, the spicy Moroccan paste that's better than most commercial hot sauces; a jar of good mustard; a few fresh chiles; a couple of limes; a little packet of sea salt, and one of red pepper flakes; a pepper mill; a hunk of cheese; a paring knife; and a corkscrew. You get the idea." Not only do I think that it's a brilliant idea, the image of a little basket filled with these things riding around in the car or packed in a suitcase makes me happy.
Tanis encourages seasonal eating and local and organic produce, and his menus reflect this thinking. The cookbook is organized by season, including recipes from many different cultures: French, Spanish, Middle Eastern, Vietnamese, and many more. The menus are not exhausting lists of seven courses, but 3-4 dishes that blend together for a complete meal. For example, the first menu in the Summer section is one with the most dishes: Tabbouleh, Pita with Za'atar and Olive Oil, Tomatoes and Olives with Coriander Vinaigrette, Spicy Lamb Burgers with Grilled Eggplant, Cucumbers and Yogurt, Apricot Tart. It seems labor intensive, but the first three recipes don't involve cooking except for toasting spices. Okay, it's also my favorite menu in the entire cookbook, so I'm perhaps a little biased.
Tanis unfortunately includes a lot of ingredients that are hard to find in Indiana, let alone in Lafayette. You can tell that the author lives in France and California where certain ingredients are easier to find. For example, I'm pretty sure that I can't find fresh squid here. However, there are plenty of recipes that contain ingredients that I can find, and those that I can't, I can probably substitute.
I would say that this cookbook would be for someone that has moderate to strong cooking experience. He expects the reader to know how to cut fish across the grain and how to debone a chicken enough to flat-roast it. His ingredient lists aren't a mile long, but many of the recipes also include long marinations, or overnight preparations, so be sure that you read the recipe thoroughly before you commit to the dish. You might find out that you have to let dough rise, or a marinade sit for an hour or overnight. And if you're dying to know how to make roast suckling pig - it's in here. I don't even know where I'd get a suckling pig (even though there are plenty of pork producers in my area...maybe D&R Food Market? They've got a great butcher), let alone fit it in my oven.
He blends heavy recipes like the suckling pig with light, fresh recipes like Sicilian Salad or Fennel Soup. Obviously, the heavier stews, roasts, meat-dependent dishes, and heavy starch dishes are in the Fall and Winter, so it makes sense to load up on meat and carbs and then go fall asleep in front of the television. He also has a very nice section at the end called "Simple Feasts for a Long Table" in which he includes recipes to feed 12-14 people. I love a suggestion he has in the introduction to this section about "farming out" dessert. People always ask me what to bring, even though I haven't said it's a pitch-in, but if I've got a baker friend I'll consider telling them to bring a dessert. It's a new way of dining together folks. It's not bad form anymore to have people pitch in, bring wine, or eat outside. Sharing meals in a relaxed setting is back, and this chef encourages it. Why wouldn't he? Living in California. I bet it's not threatening to snow there.
I would suggest that you take a look at this cookbook, if not for making the recipes, then simply for reading the pleasurable stories, traveling with him, and indulging in the gorgeous pictures. You know where to buy it online, but I'm making a case for buying at your local bookstore, or better yet, check it out at your local library. Trust me, my library has it. I found this on the "new" books cart. And remember:
Cooking is an art, but feeding people...takes heart.