Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat

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Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat, Simon & Schuster 2017, hardback $35.00, 462 pages

A good cook is like a sorceress who dispenses happiness.

Elsa Schiaparelli

You may think you know what you’re doing in the kitchen. You don’t. But Samin Nosrat does and she can explain it brilliantly.

In reading this book, you’ll find yourself wiling away an afternoon on the couch learning how and when salt diffuses itself through food, that browning food actually creates acidic flavor compounds, and that you monitor heat by looking at the food, not the fuel.

Rather than making dietary judgments–we eat too much salt and fat, or acids rot your teeth–Nosrat approaches these ingredients as a cook–there is no flavor without them. And then as a scientist explaining how salt works to both make foods more moist and more dry. Or how fat is indispensable as a cooking medium, a main ingredient, and a seasoning. Or how acid in tomatoes will balance the sweetness of onions.

When you know how these basics work, you can use them to best advantage. After a thorough and good-natured discussion of kitchen science, Nosrat supplies recipes, but they are really starting points that prove her point. She suggests Pasta all Vongole, for example, to practice layering acids–cooking the clams in wine, and finishing with a squeeze of lemon and the crunch of toasted sourdough breadcrumbs.

But Nosrat is skeptical of recipes; she doesn’t view cooking as a linear process, but a circular one–connected like a spiderweb, “touch one part and the entire thing will quiver.” She views recipes as snapshots and being in the kitchen as reality. The book’s recipes include measurements for Classic Pumpkin Pie, Roman Egg Drop Soup, and Chicken with Lentil Rice, but Nosrat also includes salsa math, a vegetable cooking matrix, and a pasta sauce family tree that encourage you to cook intuitively.

You need to riff on the recipe, tweaking a measurement, adjusting a cooking time, swapping an ingredient, all based on your kitchen, your palate, and your application of salt, fat, acid, and heat. Let the music begin!

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Real Pizza, Secrets of the Neapolitan Tradition

real pizza cover image

Real Pizza, Secrets of the Neapolitan Tradition by Enzo de Angelis and Antonio Sorrentino, Mondadori 2017, $29.95 hardback, 160 pages

As a chef and as a father, I am very upset by what’s on the menu at most schools: chicken nuggets and tater tots and ketchup and pizza.

Jose Andres

He’s not talking about the pizza in this book. The spongy sweet mess served in American schools and by American fast food purveyors is disgusting and not worth eating.

And it’s so sad that we do eat it, because making good pizza at home is pretty easy. But making great pizza, a master’s pizza deemed worthy of protection by the European Union, takes expertise developed over time and some inside information.

In this book the authors, who are executive chefs with Rossopomodoro (perhaps a chain worth eating at), take a road trip, via vespa of course, around Naples to 11 pizza parlors where they learn the secrets, hear the stories, and gather the recipes.

They start with the dough and recommend using Tipo 00 Italian flour (if you can find it) and fresh yeast. And they provide a recipe that makes enough for 6 pizzas. But most importantly, they let the “pizzaioli” speak. Domenico de Luca says the dough should be thin, fine ‘e pasta. Raimondo Cinque says to use room temperature water for a good dough. Gennaro Luciano says “Get a wooden bowl because dough left to rest in wood will be less moist and will yield a more fragrant pizza.”

Like all simple things, pizza requires attention. The pizzaioli call it heart and passion–taking the time to let the dough for eight or even 24 hours, seeking out the best ingredients, and learning how to spread it into a pie that is just right.

The recipes include classic combinations that focus on just the right cheese and tomatoes as well as creative interpretations like Teresa Iorio’s pear, guanciale, walnut and gorgonzola pizza. But if you can’t get an oxheart tomato from Sorrento, Fiordilatte cheese from Campania, Papacella pepper from Bresciano or Torzella–an “ancient broccoli–get the best tomatoes you can find from your garden or farm market, hunt up some Italian tuna or anchovies, and the freshest, whole-milk mozzarella you can find. Develop your own passion and skill (and dough) suited to your oven and your ingredients.

And lose the pizza delivery number.


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Happy Independence Day

This menu, served on the S. S. Atlantic on July 4, 1963, displays the kind of happy United States history we’ve come to know is a fraction of the story.

check out the red, white, and blue ribbon

check out the red, white, and blue ribbon

And check out the menu–more creativity in the word play than in the dishes. I love the contradiction in Carrots Vichy, Concord–talk about re-writing history!

I'll have the Undervaluing of my Labor After Dinner Mints, please

I’ll have the Undervaluing of my Labor After Dinner Mints, please

Celebrate your own way!

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La Bonne Table

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la bonne table title page

To be a gourmet you must start early, as you must begin riding early to be a good horseman. You must live in France, your father must have been a gourmet. Nothing in life must interest you but your stomach.

Ludwig Bemelmans

This is absolutely a book for the hammock on a summer afternoon. It will sweep you to 1914 when Bemelmans began as a busboy at  New York’s  long-gone Ritz Hotel at Madison and 46th Street and worked his way through commit de rang, waiter, and  banquet manager. It will lift you through space into crazed kitchens and plush dining rooms, and it will introduce you to characters who don’t exist anymore–the cooks and sou-chefs and dogs bodies who’ve

been replaced by media-glorified thug poseurs.

He was born in the Tyrol, crashed out at his Uncle’s hotel, where it was rumored he’d shot a waiter, and chose emigration over prison.With wit, happy good-luck, and connected friends he made his way as an artist and writer. In one essay in this book, a mentoring waiter buys him pencils, paper, and cartooning books, determined that this talented young man should not end up with the flat feet and sour disposition of a life-long waiter.

If his loose-lined drawings look familiar, it’s because you recognize the style from his   Madeline series. Their success funded and fueled more drawing and writing–essays here on taking the cure, visiting Cuba, eating caviar, Hollywood lunches at Romanoff’s and the studio commissary. And to complete the scrapbook feeling, are the reproduced menus from Grand Vefour, Lucas Carton, and New York’s own Le Pavillon.

Excuse me, I’m headed for an afternoon in the hammock.




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Eat Better, Everyday–Cookbook Digest Summer 2107

Both these books know that our first taste is always with our eyes and both authors have carved out a visual space online to explore and promote their recipes. In Everyday Delicious, Izy Hossack, who has been cooking since she was 15, offers real cooking. Some are gluten-free and “healthy options” but others are just good–a few bites of Chocolate & Banana French Toast and back to bed!

In Eat Better Not Less, Nadia Damaso takes a more directly health approach and her recipes are packed with “superfoods” like cashews and chia, and she reworks dishes to be healthy–Nutty Sweet Potato & Buckwheat Brownies.

Get a look at these books and more, including some recipes, in Cookbook Digest.

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The Viennese Kitchen

The Viennese Kitchen by Monica Meehan and Maria von Baich, Interlink Books 2017, $22.00 paper, 223 pages

For almost thirty years I repeatedly saw one and the same dream: I would arrive in Vienna at long last. I would feel really happy, for I was returning to my serene childhood.

Alfred Schnittke

In its culture and life, Vienna seems to be a contradiction–elegant operas and waltzes, punctilious tailoring and social mores, against the tubercular nudes of Egon Schiele and challenging theories of Sigmund Freud.

Stefan Zweig recalls Vienna once the center of the Hapsburg Monarchy “demoted to the status of a provincial German town.” After such a demotion, perhaps one takes comfort in nursery foods, treated punctiliously. If you can’t run an empire, at least you can run a kitchen.

Part of what makes Viennese dishes so appealing is that they seem to be glorified nursery food. Even the sweet pancake called Kaiserschmarren, a supposedly royal favorite, means the Emperor’s mess–a light pancake that tore when flipped, but with an airy sweetness that is nonetheless appetizing.

Recipes cover appetizers, soups, sides, mains–meat and fish, but bakes will love this book–more than half is recipes for cookies, pastries, confections, sweet desserts, cakes, gateaus, tortes, creams and marmalades. You can make your version of the famous Plum Buns from Cafe Hawelka or Gugelhopf, Gingerbread, Linzer Torte and Apple Slices.

But though these are simple dishes–a repertoire of repeated and expected recipes–they have been honed to great refinement. Just as each cafe has its special pastry and each confectioner a special sweet, each family has its special dishes. Dumplings, Lentil Soup, Potato Salad, and deviled eggs may seem like nothing special, but here they are refined to this family tastes.

And what makes them more homey are the family stories that frame the book. These are recipes from the author’s Tante Herthe, a Baroness in the 1900s. Her recipe journal contained only the barest of instructions and measurements, but in a connection between generations, the author’s mother has interpreted them for modern cooks.

And in a further bit of context, the book includes family photos–weddings, country homes,  children, and soldiers–as well as photos of the cafes that are the bulwark of Vienna’s distinct culinary culture. A slice of that culture, recognized as part of the world’s intangible cultural heritage, is captured here.

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One Pan & Done

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One Pan & Done by Molly Gilbert, Clarkson Potter 2017, paper $17.99, 256 pages

Early Rising   In a cook, this quality is most essential, for an hour lost in the morning will keep her toiling, absolutely toiling, all day, to overtake that which might otherwise been achieved with ease.  

Mrs. Isabella Beeton

You might think this is yet another entry into our continuing struggle to somehow cook with cooking. But Molly Gilbert takes on the limits of one pan as a challenge to real cooking just as an artist might limit themselves to a color palette. In fact, this book lands at the opposite end of the spectrum from chef’s books recipes written under the odd assumption that, like them, you also have a kitchen crew to prep and clean for you.

Most of her dishes cook in the oven; naturally the soups, like Lentil with Lardons and New England Clam Chowder, cook on the stove. And Gilbert is creative and wide-ranging in her combinations and inspirations. She eliminates, as much as possible, the hassle of cleaning up so you can concentrate on the cooking and eating. How you manage your shopping is up to you.

Recipes begin with breakfast and include a delicate Lemon-Lavender Pull-Apart Loaf and a hearty Artichoke Shakshuka in your cast iron skillet. Starters, Snacks, and Sides range from the familiar, like a queso dip to the elegant, like a Baked Feta with Figs and Tarragon. Recipes for Vegetable Mains, Poultry, Fish and Meat continue with dishes that use world flavors–like a miso ramen or Chickpea and Andouille Skillet.

And there’s no stinting on sweets. Desserts are homey and appealing–Broiled Berries and Cream, a Giant Cookie Cake, or a Skillet Brownie Pie.

At most, Gilbert’s shortcuts are frozen biscuit dough in a savory Cheddar & Herb Monkey Bread, but  on the very next page, she encourages you with a recipe for homemade biscuit dough. And she does the same throughout the book, for example with a Warm Apple Biscuit Cake–you can use the store-bought or make your own.

Dishes will get dirty, eggs will be broken, milk will be spilled–but it’s all in a good cause.


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