It’s Indian Pudding Season, Motherf***ers

McSweeneys and Colin Nissan, please don’t sue me.

slow and sweet in the oven

Ok, there’s no need to get aggressive, but I continue to believe that this dessert has not gotten its due. And while we mark Thanksgiving with a huge basin of this mess, it’s a perfectly good winter recipe–ingredients off the pantry shelves and a low and slow oven. The recipe below makes a reasonable amount–not huge Durgin Park quantities–and all you need is a good netflix, then be careful not to drip ice cream on the couch.

Indian Pudding at Home

4 cups of whole milk, 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal, 1/4 cup molasses, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1 egg, vanilla ice cream

Scald two cups of the milk in an 8-inch skillet and slowly pour in the cornmeal, stirring to break up the lumps. Simmer over low heat until thickened. Remove from the heat and set aside until it’s warm.

Stir in the molasses, sugar, salt, egg, and one half cup of the remaining milk. Cover the skillet and bake at 325 degrees for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring in a half cup of milk every half hour (more or less milk and more or less time, depending on your oven). The pudding should be thick but not solid.

Serve warm, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

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Fasting and Feasting, The Life of Visionary Food Writer Patience Gray

Patience Gray dug in. She lived the life she wrote about–austere on Mediterranean islands–and connected the foodways she found to myth, history, and art. I return to her iconic book, Honey From a Weed for insight and example. I pull out her first work, the elegant little pocket book, Plats du Jour, whenever I’m feeling the need for nostalgic comfort.  In this revealing biography, Federman finds the story of a unique and uncompromising woman.

This review appeared in CHoWline, the monthly newsletter of the Culinary Historians of Washington, DC. You don’t have to be local to keep up with our explorations!

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Mastering Stocks and Broths

Mastering Stocks and Broths by Rachael S. Mamane, Chelsea Green Publishing 2017, hardback $35.00, 429 pages

Of all the items on the menu, soup is that which exacts the most delicate perfection and strictest attention.


I used throw chicken scraps and vegetable peelings in a pot, boil it, do a bit of skimming, and then feel very virtuous about making stock. What a tyro I was!

Rachael Mamane, who runs Brooklyn Bouillon, has upped my game. In this book , she incorporates history, science, nutrition, technique, and flavor into a convincing polemic for carefully sourced home cooking.

And I’ve changed my ways. I don’t just throw anything into the pot but think about color and flavor balance. I don’t boil, but gently simmer, starting with the meat and then adding the vegetables. I wait to add salt, letting the simmer first draw out natural salts. And I skim, skim, skim. So now, in my fridge is a jar of light golden chicken broth that tastes like actual not salty box bird, and a jug of whey.

That jug is a testament to Mamane’s thoroughness. She goes through meat, fish, poultry, and vegetable stocks (in carefully flavored-focused options like Basic Tomato Stock, Green Tomato Stock, and Fire-Roasted Tomato Stock), but also covers dairy bases. In the past, when I’ve made ricotta by simmering together milk and buttermilk (a gallon and a quart respectively, and yes, that’s all there is to it), I’ve tossed the whey or at most, used it to water plants. This time I sieved it again, re-canted it into the milk jug and stuck it in the fridge. I’ve already used it to make bread dough and cook vegetables. Mamane suggests using as a base for soups and sauces. I suppose you could also use it too cook grains and pasta. Why let all that protein go down the drain?

You may think that you don’t need all these stocks and broths (stocks are the basic ingredient, broth is the culinary dish you may make with them). After all, you don’t cook like Escoffier building complex flavors from your ingredients. More often than not, it’s a quick stir-fry or bowl of spaghetti. Well, note above the use of whey, but also consider the variety of Mamane’s recipes. You could make a classic Beef Tea or a more up-to-date Turkey Broth with Grapefruit and Fennel to knock out your cold. If your Whole Food sells it, try Hay-Roasted Leg of Lamb with Poached Quince and Sumac Yogurt or, on some empty weekend, a Bouillabaisse Terrine.

Mamane’s approach is  more than just a technical classical approach, but a no-waste, good taste approach that’s worth your attention.

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Cleaning Out the Basement–Turkish Delights, A Cook Book

What is patriotism but the love of food we ate as children.

–Lin Yutang

I’ve used that quote too many times, but it is again appropriate. This book, intended for the “English-speaking housewife” seems like a little bit of culinary patriotism.

It stakes out its ground on the first page, claiming baklava, musakka, and pilaki as strictly Turkish dishes. I know a few yiayias who would loudly differ.

But it does rightly claim “farming delicacies and culinary excellence,” no matter what yiayia says. And in a slim paperback, it efficiently covers a lot of ground, offering translations of Turkish foodstuffs, including fish, notes on Turkish pronunciation, metric conversion tables. The  recipes in chapters run through the meal  from hors d’oeuvres to sweets, as well as chapters on drinks, fruit, and spices and herbs.

But aside from recipes are some revealing cultural assumptions. “The chief items of Turkish hors d’oeuvres are oil dishes such as fried eggplants with tarator or yogurt dressing…”. “Pork has never been in favor, it is offered to Westerners only.” “Mutton, far more tasty than that marketed in Europe or America, is the kind of meat consumed by the majority of people.” It then goes on to describe types of mutton, from a different types of sheep, prepared as rissoles, skewers, and doner kebap.

Plus, I love the cover design–it’s kind of like this one.





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Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner…Life


Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner…Life by Missy Robbins, Rizzoli 2017, hardback $47.00, 232 pages

The qualities of an exceptional cook are akin to those of a successful tightrope walker; an abiding passion for the task, courage to go out on a limb, and an impeccable sense of balance.  

Bryan Miller

Missy Robbins has figured out a fundamental kitchen truth. Cooking is pretty simple–conceiving a menu, shopping for all the ingredients– that’s the hard part. That’s what takes time and thought.

As a chef, she had everything at her fingertips, a full pantry and a squad of dishwashers. When she took a sabbatical from restaurant kitchens, she discovered the challenges of eating well at home.

And she shares what she learned in  this book with recipes and an approach that allows you to enter into a kind of thoughtless cooking–which is a good thing. You’ll learn to cook by responding to season and instinct, and making something out of what appear to be cabinet nothings.

I appreciate her chapter called “Oh Shit, What Have I Done.” Stepping away from the familiar routine, what we think we should be doing, is challenging and can be disorienting. When Robbins decided she needed a break from the routine of restaurant cooking her first challenge was convincing people she didn’t have a “secret project” in the works. Finally she told a reporter that she planned to travel and write a book–just to have an answer. Initially she explored her New York neighborhood and then ventured to Italy, Vietnam, Thailand, and Hong Kong.  Obviously the book eventually did materialize.

Robbins is similarly honest in all her chapters–about actually cooking in a small (really small) West Village kitchen, about preferring cheese, pasta, and ice cream to vegetables; about gaining and losing weight; about the difficulty of focusing on a career goal. Robbins is introspective, open, and interesting. When thinking  about how she became Italian (after growing up “culturally Jewish”), she writes about making pasta, “It’s mind-blowing how three simple ingredients can be so transporting.”

It’s a description that can apply to most of her book’s recipes; good ingredients combined with attention into mind-blowing flavors. Almond, orange, and celery salad; fettuccine, zucchini, garlicscapes, and lemon; pork chops, nectarines, mustard vinaigrette; tuna, parsley, and chive salsa verde; olive oil cake, candied citrus, whipped cream.

Robbins is a friendly kitchen companion–no judgement and great ideas. Following her lead, with a pesto here, a salsa verde there, and some attention to the endless variations of red sauce your meals can become instinctual and delicious.


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The Vegetable, Recipes that Celebrate Nature

cover image

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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