The Vegetable, Recipes that Celebrate Nature

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The Vegetable, Recipes that Celebrate Nature by Caroline Griffiths and Vicki Valsamis, Smith Street Books 2017, hardcover $40.00, 304 pages

The near end of the street was rather dark and had mostly vegetable shops…piles of white and green fennel…and great sheaves of young, purplish, sea-dust colored artichokes, nodding in their buds, piles of great radishes, scarlet and bluey purple, carrots, long strips of dried figs, mountains of big oranges, scarlet large peppers, a large slice of pumpkin, a great mass of colors and vegetable freshnesses…

D.H. Lawrence

When we rank foods somehow meat always come out above vegetables. Yes, meat is the source of protein that made (some of) our brains as powerful as they are, but it’s a pretty one note meal. A steak, is a steak, is a steak, but an eggplant offers possibilities.

In this elegant book, Griffiths and Valsamis elevate the vegetable and explore those possibilities. From the chiaroscuro cover photo of a cabbage to the gilded page edges, this book sends the message: vegetables are sincere, complex, and worth your attention.

The recipes are sophisticated, challenging, and surprising. You’ve likely roasted carrots, but how about serving them with a kaffir lime and coconut dressing? They offer world flavors because why wouldn’t you–Sichuan, curry, gazpacho, dhal, dip, chutney and fritters extend vegetables’ versatility.

These are recipes that bring out complex flavors–sweet and earthy, tangy or sour–in one bite. You can build a dinner party around them–Fennel Soup with Creme Fraiche & Truffle Oil, Butter-poached Asparagus with Salt-Cured Egg Yolks (which I’ve been meaning to make–set aside four days for Griffiths’ version).

The book will encourage you to try new vegetables and new combinations. Some are as simple as brilliantly bright Sweet & Sour Cucumber made with four ingredients–slice, blend, marinate, eat. Others are slightly more labor intensive, like Phyllo Cigars with Nettles & Hommus, though rolling the phyllo may be simple compared with finding nettles (Griffiths reassures her cooks that chard is a reasonable substitute).

The recipes are sorted into sections–the chapter titled Flowers, Shoots and Stems includes rhubarb, zucchini flowers, and celery. Griffiths goes through the garden, gathering seeds, pods, squashes, leaves, brassicas, roots, bulbs, and fungi. The recipes for onions, mushrooms, broccoli, green beans, tomatoes, pumpkin, kale and more are not exhaustive, but this is not meant to be an encyclopedic bucket; it is a well-crafted platter full of flavors.

 

 

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Food on the Page

Cookbooks continue to be a revealing source of history.  In her new book, Megan Elias teases out the social meaning cookbooks reveal, and discovers when a jell-o mold is more than just a salad.

This review was published in CHoWline, the monthly newsletter of the Culinary Historians of Washington DC. Join us and check us out on Twitter. (We’re much nicer than some tweeters!)

chowline article

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Tea Time Redux

Tea Time by Jean Cazals

No, knock wood, I am not close to my last meal, but I am enjoying tea (among other things) in London this week. So pleased to be deliciously crumb-covered!

I’ve just decided. I want my last meal to be tea. I want stacks of little cakes and sandwiches, I want to sink into a cozy corner, I want replenished cups from little pitchers and pots. But which tea time and where?

How about the psychedelic experience at Sketch, amid its swirling upholstery, crystal-studded bar, and globe-shaped confections set on little cake pedestals? Probably not, it’s likely that I’ll be addled enough by that time.

Perhaps a more earthy experience at Comptoir Gascon, nibbling on their rustic breads served on hammered metal tea sets in the neighborhood of Smithfield Meat Market. Perhaps not, the proximity of flesh and carcass would not provide the cushioning escapism I’ll want.

No, I want a corgi and union jack tea. You can come and pay your last respects and watch me scatter crumbs at Claridges. I want the top-hatted doorman and the crystal mirrors, I want to be draped in napery. I may order the Coconut Dacquoise Sous Vide Pineapple, but odds are I’ll opt for scones to guide me gently into that good night.

After drooling through this book, I need to develop a bucket list—more aptly—a teapot list. I want to visit all these places, not just one. But between Jean Cazals’ photos and the recipes for Parkin, Victoria Sponge, Vanilla and Lavender Eclairs, or Pear and Amaretto Crumble Cake, maybe I can pull this off in my own kitchen.

I’ll dig out my best, unchipped tea cups, find a cheery teapot at a second-hand store, bake up some Cheese Tarts and Apple Strudel Cupcakes, and invite over my most fey friends for an escapist afternoon tea time.

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The Farmhouse Chef

The Farmhouse Chef, Recipes & Stories from My Carolina Farm by Jamie DeMent, UNC Press 2017, hardback $35.00, 276 pages

How luscious lies the pea within the pod.  

Emily Dickenson

In her book’s introduction, Jamie DeMent writes with mild amazement about the fragile anomaly of today’s family farm–that seems to be an agritainment economy. The New York Times writes about her chickens, people pay to hear her talk about fried chicken, students apply for a chance to harvest turnips.

Things that were once survival, perhaps chores to be escaped, have been branded and styled. It’s a new kind of rural romanticism that works when the Times catches on and you set up your own rural economy.

DeMent and her husband farm at Coon Rock Farm in North Carolina’s Piedmont, and their heirloom vegetables and heritage breed meats are served at their Durham restaurant, Piedmont, in a Golden Triangle of people who appreciate and can afford real food.

DeMent describes the book’s seasonal recipes as “southern in spirit” and easy to cook, meant for busy people. That said, she does start the book with summer and plenty of pantry-stocking recipes like Watermelon Rind Pickles and Pickled Okra.

Other dishes are up-to-date with international ingredients and inspiration, like Cretan Lamb Kabobs, picked up on a college study abroad stint  or Zimbabwe Curried Chicken Gizzards, learnt from one of their first student interns. Dishes like quiche, pesto, fresh fruit cocktails add polish and style.

Like her farm life, the book is back to basics–good food cooked well and simply will keep you, and everyone around you, happy and healthy.

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Farm to Fork in Montgomery County

We’re dining this weekend from Farm to Fork with the Montgomery Countryside Alliance–celebrating and savoring the full and delicious menu of food produced on the 93,000 acres of Montgomery County’s Agricultural Reserve–a deeply diverse and beautiful place created in a remarkable act of stewardship.

Can you believe it–all this food is created, as we always say, just miles from the White House.

At the dinner, we’ll introduce a new book that we’re proud to be working on, Bread & Beauty, A Year in Montgomery County’s Agricultural Reserve. Prepare yourself for lots of forthcoming information, more beautiful photographs, historical stories, and insights from farmers on the rewards and challenges of local farming. 

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Food Cults in CHoWline

CHoW, the Culinary Historians of Washington, DC are excited about their 2017-2018 speaker season. We begin on September 10 with Washington Post columnist John Kelly. Join us in person or on Facebook!

This book, reviewed in the September issue of CHoWline, is a fascinating read and will make you question some of your own food decisions, from green smoothies to fish on Friday. And the internet isn’t helping!

chow review

Food Cults, How Fads, Dogma, and Doctrine Influence Diet edited by Kima Cargill, Rowman & Littlefield 2017, hardback 271 pages

 

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Savor the South–Ham

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Ham by Damon Lee Fowler, UNC Press 2017, hardback $20.00, 128 pages

Carve a ham as if you were shaving the face of a friend.

Henri Charpentier

For a Yankee like me, there is a mystique surrounding Southern ham. Are they all cured and smoked and salty? Do you soak it and slice it thin, or grin and bear it?

In this book, Damon Lee Fowler brings his expertise to bear–gleaned from his grandmother and his own research and writing into both Southern and international cooking.

So alongside an Old-Fashioned Southern Hambone Soup, is a recipe for elegant Ham Crisps made with Italian prosciutto. He knows how to intensify flavor, using those crisps in a BLT and making the soup with an overnight broth from the bone, then sautéing onions in the rendered fat.

Along with de-mystifying ham, the book will make you a better cook. In the chapter on Ham and Eggs, Fowler gives precise but not fussy  instructions for fried eggs, omelets, frittatas, and baked eggs. He recommends sprinkling cooked potatoes with dry vermouth before blending them into a Ham and Potato Salad and will guide you through the particulars of biscuits to make Classic Southern Ham-Stuffed Buttermilk Biscuits.

He rings similar changes with sandwiches and pasta, offering flavors and techniques that are both  classic Southern and international. It’s your choice–potluck-ready Ham and Macaroni Pie or Ham Lo Mein. Sandwiches get a similar treatment from a diner-style Grilled Ham and Cheese, and around the globe with a Monte Cristo, Cubano, Croque Monsieur, or Panini.

As with all the books in the Savor the South series, Fowler begins with some orienting background, explaining how hams are made, how to buy them, and how to cook them. He also offers some cultural context–the history of ham in Southern foodways and a happy note that the skill and expertise in curing is making a comeback. And he reminds us that prosciutto, speck, iberico, and Smithfield are an international family.

After reading this book, you may not be ready to take on a whole ham but you will be inspired to eat beyond the flabby wet deli slices at the supermarket.

 

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