CHoWline–Savage Feast

Immigrant stories are fascinating, especially when they are inspired and illustrated by the kitchen and the table. They touch on familiar feelings–the sense of disconnection, feelings of being different, striving for reconciliation. In Savage Feast, Boris Fishman, hits those tropes but makes them unique to his Russian-Jewish family, their brusque interactions, deep love, and savory cabbage. And yes, it includes recipes.

This review appeared in CHoWline, the monthly publication of the Culinary Historians of Washington, DC.

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Baladi Palestine

Baladi Palestine by Joudie Kalla, Interlink Books 2019, $35.00 hardback, 256 pages

The table is a meeting place, a gathering ground, the source of sustenance and nourishment, festivity, safety, and satisfaction. A person cooking is a person giving: Even the simplest food is a gift.

Laurie Colwin

This is the food of Kalla’s homeland, her baladi–but beyond geography, it is the food of her life and family.

The food, in a land occupied and re-occupied, has become an important marker of identity. Kayla’s family fled and resettled in 1948 and she notes, that to an outsider, the countries that surround Palestine seem very similar, but are in fact different. As a result, her family traditions include Jordanian, Lebanese, Egyptian, and Syrian dishes.

In fact, Kalla writes “Some may question the origins of the these recipes, and whether they are truly Palestinian.” Identity must be defended. These are dishes she grew up eating, learned from her grandparents and mother, with the influence of their moving home. And, she notes, her family are “heavily garlic, chili, and lemon obsessed,” so naturally, the dishes reflect those flavors.

Some recipes, like Chocolate and Labneh Cake, are new adaptations, but most are resurrected from the memory of her mother and her “twenty aunties.” Many of them will be familiar–hummus, shakshoukeh, and preserved lemons.

Even within Palestine, the food varies by region from cooler mountainous regions to coastal towns of Yaffa, Gaza, and Haifa. Kalla organizes this diversity in chapters covering Markets and Village Life, Fields and Earth, the Bakery, the Farm, From the River to the Sea, and Hills and Orchards.

She begins with small dishes that lend a distinctive Palestinian flavor–Grape Molasses with Tahini, Turmeric Milk with Cardamom Pods, thick Arabic Coffee brewed with cardamom. And quick cafe-style dishes like Halloumi with fired eggs and roasted tomatoes, or pan-fried potatoes with eggs.

One thing that does seem to be the same are the abundant fresh fruits and vegetables used in drinks and “salads.” From fried okra with chili and her version of Muttabal–sauteed zucchini dressed with chili, yogurt and mint. It’s a dish that her mother makes with other vegetables–and from one recipe, many flavors and seasons.

It’s that kind of simple, in-the-kitchen advice that makes this book a treasure. That, and the bread recipes, which are sometimes left out, as the province of professionals. Kalla’s savory rolls, flatbreads, and hand pies are stuffed with feta, za’atar, nigella seeds, sumac, and spiced lamb. She also offers home-based techniques–rather than cooking your Khubez Taboon over hot coals, try a hot skillet. She adapts again with Za’atar Brioche Twists.

Kalla here combines her skill as a trained chef and caterer with her heart and memory–the best kind of cooking.

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Bread & Beauty at CHoW this Sunday, February 10

We’ll be at The Culinary Historians of Washington in metro-accessible Bethesda this Sunday, talking about historic foodways in the Reserve. Join us!
B&B cover

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Melt, Stretch & Sizzle, the Art of Cooking Cheese

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Melt, Stretch & Sizzle, the Art of Cooking Cheese by Tia Keenan, Rizzoli 2018, hardback $35.00, 192 pages

Cheese, milk’s leap toward immortality.

Clifton Fadiman

For anyone whose ever had a fondue seize or a just “meh” grilled cheese, this is the book.

Tia Keenan is a cheese expert, author of The Art of the Cheese Plate in which she combined flavors with a wild and free hand with elegant cheeses–sharp, sexy, adult bites  like pistachio pesto, pickled cherries, butter poached mushrooms, and lemon-chamomile fudge–daring combinations worthy of expensive, artisan cheeses.

In these recipes for heat applied to cheese, she recommends reasonably priced cheeses that supply what she’s after “…the lust, adoration, excitement, and pleasure that melt inspires.”  She declares that it’s insane to use “$30-per-pound cheese made on a small farm from a rare breed of cows” in a baked pasta. She suggests: actual cheese, with some kind of flavor development (I’m not looking at you, Kraft), that is easy to find and afford.

But before the gooey indulgence, a small science lesson. Heat and coagulant–an acid or rennet–form the cheese curds from milk in strong or weak bonds of protein, water, and fat. As a rule, high-moisture cheese with a weak protein bonds will melt well. An acid-set cheese, like ricotta made at home with lemon juice, won’t melt well–though it has other lovely qualities.

From there, it’s a matter of finding the flavor and textures that work best–tangy and bright for a Georgian Khachipuri or mild and earthy for a Truffle Fonduta. And with great style and attitude, Keenan goes on from there, starting with your “basic bitch” Mornay sauce.

But not all heated cheese dishes should melt. Sizzler recipes include Haloumi Flambe with Preserved Lemon & Basil or Paneer in Minted Pea Sauce–two recipes that show Keenan hasn’t lost her touch for surprising flavors–nothing cliche here. Keenan fries and bakes, dishes up sandwiches and soups, blends cheese with potatoes or pasta. She offers  show-stopping presentations like Gougers and souffles, and an international array of raclettes–from classic Alpine to American, French or Italian, with the cheese and accompaniments that suit.

There is something retro about these recipes–you can do gluten-free, but what goes better with cheese than a hunk of bread. Yes, we should eat more greens and grains, but who can resist a Baltic lamb and beef burger flavored with paprika and garlic. And besides, there are always pickles–cornichon and olives with a French raclette or roasted tomatoes with a Fried Burrata.

All of this indulgence is styled and photographed for a lush, somewhat naughty look. It will make you think of those old Crown Royal or Dewar’s ads where the grown-up thing to do is lounge around and leer at each other. Hef would totally get it. Font style, graphic choices, and color will have you flipping through the book, laughing, and then cooking.


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CHoWline: The Rise of Tea Culture in China

This review appeared in the December 2018/January 2019 issue of CHowline, the monthly newsletter of the Culinary Historians of Washington, DC. The book is a deep and detailed look at how tea became a marker of refinement and connoisseurship in China, much as we use fashion, food, and travel as markers today.

Join CHoW, either online or at a meeting! We’d love to hear your food stories!



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CHoWline–Dessert, A Tale of Happy Endings

Dessert has a long history, even though it wasn’t always dessert. It began as an in-between course, meant to delight the eye and spark the palate. In some forms, it was even considered medicinal–an aid to digestion and a way to balance humors. In Dessert, A Tale of Happy Endings, culinary historian Jeri Quinzio, explores dessert in all its forms.

This review appeared in the November issue of CHoWline, the monthly newsletter of the Culinary Historians of Washington, D.C. Join us at a meeting, online, or by subscribing to the newsletter!

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Southern Snacks

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Southern Snacks by Perre Coleman Magness, UNC Press 2018, hardback $30.00, 184 pages

I’ve conditioned myself to believe that almonds are a completely delicious snack, and that they don’t taste like paper or get stuck in the back of my mouth.

Jake Tapper

Stop gnawing on almonds and get out the butter! And shrimp, tenderloin, bacon, and pecans.

Whether you’re serving Thanksgiving starters, front porch snacks, or holiday cocktails, these are recipes sure to tempt.

Everyone should have a reliable cheese straw recipe in their back pocket. With a ready-to-cut roll of Cheese Crispies (secret ingredient–Rice Krispies) in the freezer, you can have cocktails underway in twenty minutes. Or make the elegant and irresistible Traditional Cheese Straws, piped from your cookie press. Or make them extra Southern with the additional of chopped pecans. The recipes are similar, just varying in their amounts of butter and flour, and simple.

The recipes go on from there, shifting in complexity of flavors and elegance in choices like Crab Cakes with Artichoke Tartar Sauce and Venison Bruschetta with Cumberland Gap Sauce, an inspired riff on British Cumberland Sauce, made southern with Bourbon and blackberry preserves.

The flavors are Southern-inspired. Sweet Tea shows up in toasted pecans and brined pork. Buttermilk adds some tang to dips and sauces. There’s country ham, visalia onions, pickapeppa sauce, and collards. You can opt for the classics, beyond cheese straws– Benedictine dip, Kentucky Hot Brown Bites, and Cajun Popcorn–or for new combinations like Corn Fritters with Spicy Honey, Muffuletta Salsa, or Barbecue Rilettes.

And because food tastes better in context, Magness offers sidebars on Southern staples. He speculates that Ro-tel canned tomatoes and green chiles stirred into melted into Velveeta are served more often, in more places than we care to admit. And everyone loves it. He describes ham dust, directs you in making a stovetop smoker, and offers various ways to serve barbecue–nachos, sliders and pizza. But most importantly, he links the foods to the rituals. Sometimes it’s as formal as Derby Day dishes including Benedictine and Kentucky Beer Cheese, and other times it’s as simple as his Uncle Bill’s shelled peanuts roasted in butter and salt.

Richness and ritual, both make these recipes savory and generous.



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