The consummate journalist, Spitz is transparent at the beginning when he confesses to having a crush on Julia Child.
Didn’t we all?
I had the pleasure of meeting her when my client Land O’Lakes butter sponsored the Baking With Julia series on PBS. My friend Dorie Greenspan wrote the companion book, and practically lived in Cambridge during the production. I had a crush on Julia before I met her, and I wasn’t disappointed. She was genuine and funny. And modest, which was a bit of a surprise. She unaware that she was Julia Child. Which of course made me love her more.
I had the pleasure of visiting her house - the one in Cambridge where the kitchen was later transported to the Smithsonian. Over the fireplace was a picture painted by her husband Paul of a bunch of cats, peeking.
It made me love her more (yes, more!) to learn that Julia loved cats. At the time I was surrounded by dog people. I love dogs too, but it seems that many dog people do not love cats, which strikes me as a little prejudiced.
But back to Dearie.
Spitz’s writing style wants me to run out and get his other work about Bob Dylan and The Beatles, worthy books I’m sure. His spirited telling of the Julia tale begins with the launch of The French Chef on public television, at a time when the concept was new. It was a lovely confluence of a time when Americans surely must have been bored with convenience foods and educational television could have used some spirit.
Spitz has served up a page turner, and I can’t wait to finish the book.
My Uruguayan husband has a weakness for pan dulce, or sweet bread.
Here in the U.S., where we have a deep Italian influence, we call it panettone, a delicious yeasty bread punctuated with dried fruits like currants or raisins
People, I’m sure you’ve figured this out, but panettone makes the best French toast ever. Ever.
Typically Lauro brings a big round loaf home, and we’ll have it on hand to eat and eat and eat, slice by delicious slice.
Before it’s devoured inch by inch, I wrench away a few slices for French toast. I use my biggest serrated bread knife to slice the big round loaf down the center. Then I turn it face down and I cut half-inch slices from the center of the loaf, leaving the smaller edges for continued snacking.
Preheat oven to 250 degrees and put an oven-proof platter on the center rack. Preheat a skillet or griddle over medium heat - a good pre-heat on cast iron will give you great French toast every time. When a drop of water dances on the surface, it’s ready. Brush it with oil when ready to griddle.
Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs and cream in a shallow bowl. Dip the bread into the egg mixture and turn to coat. Place on the griddle and cook until your desired level of golden, about three minutes depending on your equipment. Turn to cook the other side. Remove and transfer to the platter in the oven. Repeat with remaining slices. Serve with embellishments of your choice.
Set out an array of embellishments and let everyone top their own French toast:
You know how you start a project and it turns out to be something else altogether?
My latest canning bonanza has been just that. I was invited for a return engagement as a Canbassador for the Washington Fruit and Sweet Preservation folks, and a crate of gorgeous peaches and nectarines and plums arrived.
So I expected a food adventure in the kitchen. And that did indeed happened.
But in addition, as I was poking around looking for inspiration, I came across nectarine salsa at the Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking, autumn spiced jam at Blue Kale Road, and a whole slew of preserve recipes at Punk Domestics. And then I went looking for ways to use the pits and found a great pastry chef in Kentucky. It’s such a delight to bond with people who enjoy great taste and fun in the kitchen, not to mention bringing back some age-old preservation techniques.
In my book, Farmers’ Markets of the Heartland, I referenced the easiest method ever for making fruit jam. It requires a kitchen scale, both affordable and widely available these days.
Simple small batch jam guidelines
My simple process is to weigh equal amounts of fruit and sugar, then add a quarter cup of lemon juice per pound of fruit, depending on the sweetness you’re going for. A pound each of fruit and sugar will get you a half pint of jam, more or less. If you want to use less sugar, great. Just be sure to store your jam in the refrigerator or freezer and expect a looser texture.
That same simple process post has links to experts who explain how to know when your jam is set and how to can it up to avoid any unfortunate incidents. The fabulous Marissa at Food In Jars has a great list of resources if you’re new to canning.
For me the fun part is the flavor embellishing. Not that gorgeous fruit needs it, but what fun to play with the flavors.
So here’s what I’m sharing today:
Peach cilantro preserves
(Top photo) Per pound of peaches, add about two teaspoons of minced cilantro at the end of cooking.
Plum balsamic preserves
(Middle photo) Per pound of plums, add about one tablespoon high quality balsamic vinegar at the end of cooking.
Nectarine fennel seed preserves
(Bottom photo) Per pound of nectarines, stir in 1/2 teaspoon toasted fennel seeds at the end of cooking. This may not seem like a lot, but a little goes a long way here to enable you to taste both the fennel seed and the nectarine.
I hope you’ll get into the kitchen and try your own favorite flavor combinations to extend the luscious fruit of the season. And thanks to the Washington fruit orchard folks, who work so hard to bring us deliciousness.
The year 2012 has become my year of the shrub. It’s a method of preserving that dates to colonial times, although it’s new to me this year.
Shrub is such a funny name for this delectable concoction that lends itself to refreshing homemade sodas and eye-brightening cocktails. And I can’t get enough - my fridge is filled with canning jars of several varieties: right now peach, nectarine and plum.
I’m not a newcomer to homemade beverages. My homemade ginger ale is legendary at my house, and widely published, more or less. And lately, with the arrival of a crate of fruit from the generous souls at the Washington Fruit Growers, the clever folks behind Sweet Preservation, I’ve expanded my repertoire to put up some big batches of shrubs. The shrub method, using the classic preserving dynamic duo of sugar AND vinegar, make a luscious nectar perfect for cocktails, homemade sodas or drizzling on ice cream and stirred into yogurt.
Here’s my nectarine shrub fully steeped and ready for straining.
Saveur has a quick berry version (which in my opinion is a little too quick); there’s a helpful and lengthy discussion over at Serious Eats; and Culinate gives a nice overview along with a historial perspective. My simple method that works for berries and any stone fruit.
The idea is to use equal amounts of fruit (chopped if you’re using larger stone fruit), sugar and vinegar. You macerate the fruit in the sugar first, then add vinegar and steep a little more.
Simple nectarine shrub
1 cup chopped peaches, skin on
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup cider vinegar
Dump the chopped nectarines into a sealable jar and pour the sugar on top. Seal and give the jar a good shake to distribute the sugar. Let steep in the refrigerator for a day or two until the nectarines have exuded juice and the bottom of the jar looks syrupy. Pour in the vinegar and shake again. Let steep in the refrigerator for about a week. Strain the fruit (use it in smoothies or with yogurt). Store in the refrigerator.
How to enjoy your luscious shrub
I like to pour about a quarter cup into a champagne flute and top with sparkling water for a lovely nectarine shrub fizz.
Or consider a shrub cocktail: pour your shrub over ice with the spirit of your choice. Vodka and bourbon both work well. Shake in a cocktail shaker or top with sparkling water.
My early-fall favorite is two parts peach shrub with one part bourbon, with lots of ice, served in a Mason jar. Perfect for sitting on the Adirondack chair on the back porch!
This year, I got a late start due to the raised beds going in, and the new soil going in. And I was late buying my plants.
And then there was the weather.
You’d have thought that the heat would have given me a bumper crop. But the drought nixed that and I ended up buying a bushel of “canning tomatoes” at the farmers market, saving my backyard tomatoes for noshing.
Buying “seconds,” the less-than-perfect but just-as-flavorful version, is one of my favorite tips for extending the harvest and getting a bargain all at the same time.
One of my fondest flavor memories of my tomato bumper crop a few years back is the oven-dried Sungolds that punctuated my salads, pastas and flatbreads long through the winter. These sliced ones will do nicely.
Here is this year’s version, stacked in freezer-friendly Ball jars and topped with fruity olive oil. I’ll keep them in the door of the freezer and scoop them out when I need a summer fix. And the infused oil will be great for salads.
Oven-dried tomatoes in olive oil
Slice tomatoes and assemble on a parchment-lined baking sheet and sprinkle with freshly-cracked black pepper. Turn oven on to lowest setting (in my case 170 degrees). Place in the oven for six to eight hours until they are dried yet still flexible. Cool, transfer to freezer-safe container, and top with olive oil. Store in the freezer for up to a year, if they last that long.
I’ve gotten past a bit of a peach aversion. It’s not that I disliked peaches. I loved eating slurpy peaches over the sink with the juices dripping down my chin, or in the backyard with the garden hose nearby for freshening up sticky hands.
But peach pie, peach jam, peach whatever. No, thanks. They were just too sweet for me.
I find these pickled peach slices delicious with ice cream or yogurt. Or whirl them up in a blender with brown sugar to make a syrup for cake or glaze for chicken.
Simple peach pickles
1 cup white vinegar
2 cups sugar
2 cups sliced peaches
Bring the vinegar and sugar to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the peaches and cook until barely tender. Spoon into to sterilized jars and cover with syrup. Cool on the counter. Store in the refrigerator for two weeks.
If you’d like to preserve them for later, Ball has a great guide to get you started.
They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but this cover had me at hello. Kitchen Simple comes to us from James Peterson, and it takes a moment to explain why this book is so exceptional.
Peterson is known for writing big compendiums. Compendia? Big cookbooks. His hefty tomes are comprehensive takes on Sauces, Fish and Shellfish and Soups, and are used as textbooks at professional culinary schools. I turn to his Vegetables when I’m feeling stumped. And did I mention he shoots his own photography?
When a chef friend learned I was having lunch with Jim a few years back, he practically begged to tag along, and showed up with a backpack filled with about six of Jim’s book to autograph.
So for this writer to come out with a book that helps busy people make a great dinner on Wednesday after work, I’m hooked. You just know the poached trout, roast chicken and egg salad will come out delicious, because he’s distilled his vast knowledge into the method that will get you there fast and easy.
Here’s his cover recipe. The one that had me at hello.
Pasta and peas
from Kitchen Simple
Makes six first course or four main course servings
4 tablespoons butter
1 4-ounce slice prosciutto (1/4 inch thick), cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 small onion, chopped
One 10-ounce package frozen peas or 10 ounces fresh baby peas
1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
1 pound dried pasta, such as spaghetti or linguine, or 1 1/2 pounds fresh
Finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, to serve
This post is part of a series about books I’d give to the cooks on my list. If you enjoy this post, please consider subscribing to my newsletter, or my feed. And are we Twitter friends yet?
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
In a large saute pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the prosciutto and onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion turns translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the peas and cook just long enough to heat them through and, if they’re fresh, lightly cook them, anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes (taste one to determine doneness). Add the parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, boil dried pasta according to the instructions on the package, or if fresh, for 30 to 60 seconds, until soft, with the slightest resistance to the tooth.
Drain pasta and transfer to heated bowl. Toss it with the pea mixture. Serve in heated pasta or soup plates. Pass the Parmesan at the table.
This post is part of a series about books given to me this year. If you enjoy this post, please consider subscribing to my newsletter, or my feed. And are we Twitter friends yet?
Lynne Rossetto Kasper is the Q to our culinary James Bond.
Although we are the ones off on rollicking kitchen adventures, she lays the ground work, giving us the secret weapons that help us solve the mystery and make the world safe for delicious food everywhere.
When The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Weekends arrived from the good people at Clarkson Potter, I didn’t know where to start. Should I venture into Vietnamese, Mexican or Indian cooking? There’s a primer on what makes these cuisines spectacular and worth our weekend warrior attention. And the recipes are great for dipping a fork into a cuisine before you go out and spend a fortune on spices and equipment.
And Lynne, along with co-author Sally Swift, serve up all kinds of adventure-navigation tips, like how to doctor tasteless tomatoes and why vinegar is the secret sweetener.
My touch with greatness
I met Lynne, in the ladies room of all places, at a food conference when she was getting ready for her moment in the spotlight. It was an enormous hotel washroom, and it was just the two of us there (I must have ducked out of an important keynote. She had her makeup on the counter (that’s right, the glamorous life of a celebrity), probably getting ready to go on. With just the two of us in this big space, and I couldn’t resist thanking her for her fantastic radio program.
She could not have been more charming, and gave me great tips about Hmong growers in the Twin Cities for my research road trip about farmers markets. Even off duty she was dishing up tips.
Here is their West Indies Spice Blend, perfect for a James Bond-esque beach scene, which they bill as Africa’s Berber spice meets the jerk seasonings of Jamaica. It’s round-the-world delicious, great for rubbing on anything or spicing up vegetables. Grind the spices in a clean coffee grinder.
West Indies Spice Blend
From The Splendid Table’s How To Eat Weekends
1 1/2 generous teaspoons whole allspice, or 2 teaspoons ground
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon whole coriander seed, ground, or 1 teaspoon ground
1-inch cinnamon stick, broken, or 1 generous teaspoon ground
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 generous teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
Mix all of the ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and keep in a cool, dark place.
I’m a casual cook. When I launched my web site and cooking school I named it the Rustic Kitchen because I wanted to convey that casual, simple food make people feel comfortable, nourished and satisfied.
So when I was invited to meet the forces behind a three-Michelin-star white table cloth restaurant in the heart of New York City, I had to think about it. Fancy pants food is not my focus.
I’m glad I kept my mind open, because meeting Chef Daniel Humm and GM Will Guidara was a true pleasure. Humm hails from Switzerland and Guidara is a native New Yorker, and together they’ve created an exceptional dining experience in the historic Metropolitan Life Building.
Their book is a visual treat, a lovely choice for the chef on your list, like my friend Nicko of ChefTalk, or maybe one of my nephews who love anything related to science. I can even see myself skipping the molecular gastronomy aspect, and using some of the component recipes and presenting them with my own rustic twist. I’m a particular fan of just about any granola, and Chef Daniel’s is delish.
This post is part of a series about books given to me this year. If you enjoy this post, please consider subscribing to my newsletter, or my feed. And are we Twitter friends yet?
Maria’s saffron waffles with orange cream serve up an ideal blend of indulgence and comfort, splendid for the holidays, or any wintry weekend that needs a little joy.
If you have book-loving cooks on your list this season, consider Ancient Grains for the person who appreciates authentic food with an international flair.
Maria brings her Greek and German background to the philosophy behind this book. I know, who else sports that combination? The commonality is a focus on real, whole ingredients, something we all need more of, and she showcases them in a way that make you want to rush to the kitchen.
She and I have connected on Facebook and Twitter and I find her genuine and warm, great traits to bring into the kitchen.
My next few posts will be about books for cooks - please let me know your ideas too!
Saffron waffles with orange cream
Adapted slightly from Ancient Grains for Modern Meals
Makes about four Belgian waffles, to serve six
Orange cream topping
1 cup plain whole milk Greek yogurt
1 large orange
½ cup heavy whipping cream
1 to 2 tablespoons honey
2 cups whole milk, divided
¼ teaspoon saffron threads
2 cups white whole wheat flour (8.5 ounces)
2 tablespoons sugar
2½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
2 large eggs, largely beaten
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Maple syrup, for drizzling
To make the orange cream topping, beat the yogurt with a wooden spoon until smooth. Finely grate the orange peel until you have 1 tablespoon zest and set aside. Peel the orange, cut segments into ½-inch pieces, and gently stir into the yogurt. Using a second bowl and a hand mixer, whip the cream, honey and zest until firm peaks form. Gently fold into the yogurt-orange mixture. Chill, covered, until ready to use. Make the day ahead if you like.
Place a wire rack on a baking sheet in the center of the oven (the baking rack keeps the waffles from getting soggy). Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.
To make the waffles, pour ¼ cup milk and the saffron into a small saucepan and heat over medium-high heat until steaming. Let sit for five to ten minutes.
In a large bowl, whisk together the whole wheat flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs with the remaining 1¾ cup milk, saffron milk and oil. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour in the wet ingredients and whisk together with a few swift strokes. Do not overmix. The batter should have a pebbled look, with many lumps. Allow the batter to sit for five minutes while preheating the waffle iron.
Lightly grease the hot waffle iron with oil or cooking spray. When a drop of water sizzles and briskly evaporates on the surface, add one scant cup batter to the center and level with a spatula to distribute. Cloze the lid and cook until the waffles are golden and can be removed easily using tongs, 3 ½ to 4 minutes. Transfer the waffles to the baking sheet until reach to serve. Do not stack them, as the waffles will become soggy.
Photos by Janine MacLachlan. All rights reserved. If you enjoy this post, please consider subscribing to my newsletter, or my feed.