I promised you a recipe for crab cakes with a sweet curry pepper sauce, so you may make one more indulgently delicious dish before the new year.
These crab cakes are truly special; I've made them twice this week. First, on Christmas Day apres ski, we made these without even bothering to change out of our ski clothes. We devoured the crab cakes as they came off the frying pan, sipped on flutes of champagne, and congratulated ourselves for surviving the holidays intact.
Casey, Chris and me cooking Christmas dinner in our ski pants.
The crab cakes were delicious on Christmas Day, but I needed to make them again. Being not perfectly happy with the texture, and wanting to spice them up with a bit more jalapeno, off I went to town in search of more crab.
Crab cakes with a Sweet Curry Pepper Sauce
(If you are foraging in town for good crabmeat, by the way, it pays to shop around. The same can of Phillips lump crabmeat at the gourmet shop was $12 more than at my usual grocery store.)
My second time around, I was lucky to find not just canned crab, but crab claw meat that was fresh from North Carolina. The claw is tastier than the rest, and the price of fresh was less than canned.
This recipe comes from Charlie Trotter, the famous chef from Chicago. Charlie and I go way back; for 8 years I would walk past his restaurant on a weekly basis just to read the menu.
I could never afford to eat there, but I loved to dream about dining at his thoroughly modern, minimalistic, Asian-inspired American restaurant.
Charlie Trotter is a famous chef with a restaurant in Chicago by the same name.
Years after I had moved away from Chicago, I was invited to dinner at Charlie Trotter's. I was nervous; would it live up to all my years of anticipation? I wondered what it was like to dine where perfume was discouraged, and even flowers were not allowed, in case the fragrances overpowered the exquisitely executed dishes.
Ironically, I don't remember anything I ate that night. I do remember being invited on a "kitchen tour", and nervously witnessed Charlie Trotter berating his staff with the vehemance of a surgical attending yelling at his interns for not ordering enough blood for a bleeding patient.
I was no longer smitten with Charlie Trotter after finally dining at his restaurant. I never wanted to buy any of his cookbooks, which seemed esoteric and fussy to me. When I spotted Charlie Trotter Cooks at Home, I bought it for a friend who had also longed to dine there. After borrowing page after page of recipes from her book, I had to get my own copy.
This recipe works well with either lump or claw crabmeat. I found claw to be more flavorful.
Red bell pepper, jalapeno, chives, and lime juice spice up the crab meat.
The crab cakes are a great example of Charlie's work: simple, clean, spicy flavors that require impeccably fresh ingredients.
So this New Years', hunt down the best crabmeat you can find. Find the crispest red bell pepper, and the most pristine jalapeno. Make your own bread crumbs or ask your favorite bakery for a bag. Gently toss the vegetables with the crab. Form smallish cakes and quickly saute in a pan with hot oil. Serve the crab cakes hot from the pan, with a dollop of red pepper curry sauce, and savor the beauty of a simple dish done well.
Cut off the crust of stale bread, and whiz it in a food processor until fine. Charlie says to then pass the bread crumbs through a sieve, but I just pick out the bigger pieces.
Years after my first and only dinner at Charlie Trotter's, I was invited back by friends, Chicago "locals" who knew Charlie. I was still afraid of him, but my friends mentioned to Charlie that we were visiting from Jackson Hole.
Smiling like a young boy, Charlie trotted back to his office, and returned with a picture of himself and his son skiing at Jackson Hole the previous winter. He told us stories about the powder storm the day they arrived, the brilliant sunlight and cold weather that followed, the fabulous secret spots in Casper bowl that he skied with his son, and the wonderful food they were served apres ski.
Skiing Jackson Hole will make even the most hardened chef giggle like a little kid.
Can you spot the ermine dashing across the backyard in the snow? For you non-locals, an ermine is a snowy white weasel type animal with a black tip on his tail. You don't see one every day.
It is a beautiful morning in our neighborhood today. Happy New Year everyone!
Crab Cakes with a Sweet Curry Pepper Sauce
This makes 18 small crab cakes, enough for 6 as an appetizer, or 4 for dinner with a crisp green salad. Be sure that your curry powder is fresh; I like the Madras Curry Powder blend that comes in the silver tin. Jackson Whole Grocer has roasted red peppers in their deli section, perfect for this recipe.
You'll need a food processor or an immersion blender to make the sauce. Sweet Curry Pepper Sauce
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1/2 roasted red bell pepper
- 1/2 tsp. minced garlic
- 1/2 tsp. sweet curry powder
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3/4 cup bread crumbs, divided (1/4 cup goes into the crab, the rest is for dredging)
- 1 1/2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parlsey
- 12 oz. crabmeat, lump or claw
- 3 Tbsp. diced red bell pepper
- 1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
- 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh chives
- 2 tsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 Tbsp. canola oil
- To make the sauce, puree the mayonnaise, roasted red bell pepper, garlic and curry powder in a food processor until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- To prepare the crab cakes, combine the bread crumbs and parsley in a small bowl and set aside.
- Place the crab in a medium bowl. Fold in the red bell pepper, jalapeno, chives, and lime juice and season to taste with salt and pepper. Fold in 1/4 cup of the bread crumb mixture, and 5 Tbsp. of the sauce.
4. Divide the crab mixture into 18 equal portions and form small patties. Dredge the crab cakes in the rest of the bread crumb mixture.
5. Cook the crab cakes in the canola oil in a hot saute pan for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, or until golden brown and crispy.
6. Top each crab cake with a dollop of the sweet curry pepper sauce, and serve warm.
Crab cakes that are as delicious as they are pretty.
I'd like to share with you, my fellow food enthusiasts, a few of the more interesting foodie gifts under our tree this year.
One crate of thin-skinned, fragrant and sweet ruby red grapefruit from Lil and Pete. No longer can I complain about the lack of good fruit around here.
One homemade stollen with a marzipan core, from Hanneke, which we are enjoying down to the last crumb.
One meat grinder, with a sausage attachment, compliments of the Mountain Man. I wanted to show you a picture of Mountain Man out hunting, but I'll show you the meat grinder instead. Sheep meatballs, anyone?
An original multimedia piece of art by Cindee George. The seashell apron represents my ethnic origins in Sicily.
This is her backside. Her banner says jacksonholefoodie.com. I think this will be my new kitchen witch.
Locally roasted coffee and homemade biscotti from the Wilbrechts, with a personalized label. That's 15 year old Riis on the label.
A vegetable peeler that looks like a gorilla, a cheese grater that looks like a mouse, and an ice cream scoop that looks like a whale.
One cookbook devoted entirely to S'Mores. This is Nick's, but I wish it were mine.
Flour, by Joanne Chang, the Boston baking whiz kid who has a mathematics degree from Harvard, but decided she wanted to bake cookies instead. Can't wait to make the Homemade Pop-tarts.
One jar of homemade granola from the Carlmans, which saved me from having to eat rum balls every morning during a very busy week.
One jar of vanilla bean paste. Anyone know what to do with vanilla bean paste? I can envision this being stirred into rice pudding, or oatmeal, or hot fudge sauce.
And so much more: an ebelskiver pan, a large and a small crock-pot, a wine tote (which Jack says will make Mountain Man look like Alan in The Hangover), and a popsicle machine (it's going to be minus 26 this week, but we'll probably make some popsicles). Our friends and family are a thoughtful, crafty bunch. We love you all so much.
as demonstrated by Gunner on the Hagen trail today. That's what Christmas brings me.....pure joy. I hope your holidays bring you joy as well.
I promise to post a very special recipe in time for New Year's Eve: Crab Cakes with Roasted Red Pepper Curry Sauce. It's easy. You're gonna love it.
I love my new rosemary Christmas tree, a gift from the Georges. No longer can I complain that I'm out of rosemary.
Here's a quick recipe for a special Christmas morning French toast: Eggnog French Toast. Hurry, before you dash out the door to begin your Chrismtas Eve festivities, grab some stale bread and throw this overnight French toast together. In the morning, all you'll have to do is fry the bread in butter, serve with warm maple syrup, and some nice sausage if you have some, and everyone will feel very special.
I happened to have some cinnamon swirl bread, gone stale, which is perfect for Eggnog French Toast.
Eggnog French Toast
Stale bread slices, as many as you can fit snugly in a 9 x 12 inch pan
1 cup eggnog
3 Tbsp. sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp. vanilla
- In a 4 cup measuring cup, crack the eggs and stir vigorously with a fork.
- Add the eggnog, sugar, salt and vanilla.
- Place the bread slices in a single layer in a 9 x 12 inch pan.
- Cover the bread with the eggnog mixture. Turn the slices over so both sides are soaked.
- Wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.
- In the morning, fry the bread slices in butter. Serve with warm maple syrup.
- Merry Christmas everyone!!
Finally, we are getting into it.
Finally, it is starting to feel a lot like Christmas around here. Oh, we've had our tree up and decorated, and we've had storm after beautiful snowstorm. We've shopped and wrapped and been to parties, and are just settling down to spend cozy time with good friends.
But what really makes it feel like Christmas? Finally, after skiing today, we had time to make Sour Cream Cut-Outs, the quintessential Christmas cookie of my youth. Sour Cream Cut-Outs are the cookies I made for my Kindergarten teacher Mrs. Printup. The cookies I have had every Christmas of every year of my life. We simply can't have Christmas without a day of rolling out dough, cutting out stars and elves and bells, and making a beautiful mess of the kitchen.
These are not your ordinary gingerbread men.
We also make some dangerous Ninjabread men, who attacked some innocent gingerbread boys, and the result was, well, not very pretty.
This unfortunate cookie has some battle scars, and he appears to be shot.
Let's get back to those Sour Cream Cut-Outs.
Although this is basically just another sugar cookie recipe, Sour Cream Cut-Outs are my most requested recipe. They are soft, not too sweet, and have a tender, flaky crumb. They are good plain or decorated. They keep for a long time without getting stale.
It's important to chill the dough for a few hours before you use it, and keep it chilled while you are rolling and cutting out cookies. This makes a huge batch of cookies, so you won't be tempted to keep them all for yourself. Just pinch off the dough in small amounts as you use it, and keep the rest in the fridge.
It is also important not to roll the dough out too thinly unless a crispy cookie is what you're after. Dough rolled to a 1/4 inch thickness should produce a nice, big, soft cookie.
Sour Cream Cut-Outs
This is my mom's recipe, and it makes a lot of cookies. How much is a lot? We made 30 big stars, 44 little stars, 28 elves, 4 big Christmas trees, 10 big Santas, a few dozen gingerbread boys, 15 bells and 8 teddy bears.
- 1 cup shortening
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup sour cream
- 3 egg yolks, lightly beaten (save the whites...you may want to make meringue cookies later!)
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 3 cups flour
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda.
- Cream the shortening, sugar, and sour cream.
- Add the egg yolks and the vanilla.
- In a separate bowl, mix the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda.
- Combine the flour mixture with the sour cream mixture. The dough will be a bit sticky.
- Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for 2-3 hours.
- Keeping the dough chilled, pinch off a ball, and roll out on a floured surface to about 1/4 inch thick.
- Cut out cookies, and gently transfer them to a cookie sheet.
- Bake in a preheated 375 degree Fahrenheit oven, for 10-15 minutes. Keep an eye on them, especially the smaller cookies may cook more quickly.
- Remove the pan from the oven before they turn brown on the edges. Cool on a rack. Once cooled, you may call in the kids to decorate with your favorite frosting. (I use confectioner's sugar thinned with milk and a little bit of almond extract.)
If you make up a batch of Moroccan-style Preserved Lemons (see last post)
now, you'll be making this fragrant dish many times next year. A great dinner party dish, Moroccan Chicken with Lemons and Olives
fills the house with the some of my favorite aromas: Cinnamon, cumin, ginger, paprika, garlic, and onions. But most of all lemons.
All you need to make a stash of Moroccan preserved lemons is Kosher salt, lemons, and a little bit of time. If you don't have time (they take about 3 weeks to preserve), see the Sources at the end of this post.
Moroccan chicken is a very inviting supper dish for a cold winter night with friends.
Moroccan Chicken with Lemon and Olives has a lot going on, with currants, olives, warm spices, and the tangy, intense flavor of the preserved lemon. It is traditional to serve with couscous, but it also goes well with polenta, rice pilaf, or farro.
Ginger, cumin, paprika, turmeric, black pepper and cinnamon are used to season the chicken pieces.
The chicken pieces are coated with the spice mixture, then left to absorb the flavors for about an hour. Then the chicken is sauteéd on the stove, and simmers in the rest of the ingredients for another hour. It's even better if made ahead of time, which makes it my favorite dinner party dish.
When I make this for my family it is a one-dish meal, served with a small pitcher of pan juices on the side. No matter how much I make, we always seem to fight over the pan juices.
Moroccan chicken with lemons and olives
This recipe is from Mary Woollen's French cooking class. Thanks Mary! If you are expecting more than 4-6 people for dinner, buy a few more chicken pieces and throw them in the pot.
- 4 tsp. paprika
- 2 tsp. ground cumin
- 2 tsp. ground ginger
- 2 tsp. turmeric
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 cut up bone-in chicken, skin on, 3-4 lbs. cut into 8 pieces (or 3-4 lbs. of just chicken legs and thighs on the bone)
- salt, to taste
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 onion, chopped
- peel from one preserved lemon, rinsed in cold water, pulp discarded, peel cut into thin strips
- 1 cup green olives, pitted (they are better if you pit them yourself), black olives will also work
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup currants or raisins
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
The spice mixture forms a nice crust on the chicken pieces, then melts into the sauce.
- Combine all the spices in a large bowl. Pat the chicken pieces dry, and coat each piece with the spice mixture. Let stand for about 1 hour.
- In a large, heavy bottomed skillet, heat the olive oil on medium heat. Add the chicken pieces skin side down, and sprinkle lightly with salt. Brown the chicken over medium heat for 5 minutes.
- Once the chicken pieces are nicely browned, throw the onions and garlic into the pot, lower the heat to medium-low and cover. Simmer for 15 minutes.
- Turn the chicken pieces over. Add the lemon slices, olives, currants or raisins, and 1/2 cup water. Bring to a simmer on medium heat, then lower the heat, cover, and cook for an additional 30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and tender.
- Transfer the chicken to a platter, stir the sauce and serve it alongside. Top with chopped parsley and cilantro.
Preserved Lemons: Sources
All you need to make Moroccan-style Preserved Lemons is lemons, salt, and a little bit of time. Packed cozily into pretty jars, these Moroccan-inspired condiments make a budget-friendly gift for anyone who loves to tinker in the kitchen.
Lemons rubbed with Kosher salt are packed snugly into jars, covered with lemon juice.
If you are lucky enough to have procured a stash of morel mushrooms, you will find that morels and preserved lemons were meant for each other in Morel Smothered Chicken
The lemons must soak in the brine for a minimum of 3 weeks before they are perfectly pickled, but I have been known to cheat and pull one out sooner. Sometimes a partially brined lemon is better than none at all.
A jar of preserved lemons will keep in the fridge for up to one year, but they won't last that long. Soon you'll be adding them to just about every savory dish.
Moroccan Chicken with Lemon and Olives is a great party dish that tastes even better the day after it's made. If you make some preserved lemons now (it only takes about 15 minutes), you'll be cooking up Moroccan Chicken next month.
The perfect lemon, photographed by Gary Silberberg.
Search out the freshest lemons you can find, and you'll likely want to choose organic since you'll be eating the rind.
You'll also need a box of Kosher salt, a sharp knife, and a few jars with airtight lids. I am currently addicted to putting all sorts of food in Weck jars
, those vintage-looking yet highly practical canning jars.
For a printable version of the recipe, click on the file below it.
Moroccan-style Preserved Lemons
I acquired this recipe from Mary Woollen, after taking her "Into the Kitchen" French cooking class. This recipe makes about 2 quarts of preserved lemons, divided any way you like into airtight jars.
The jars should be impeccably clean. Wash them in hot soapy water and let them dry completely before using, or sterilize the jars in the dishwasher.
- 12 organic lemons
- 1 -1 1/2 cups Kosher salt
1. Scrub the lemons well, and dry with a kitchen towel.
2. Cut them in half through the equator, and juice 4-6 lemons to get 1 1/2 cups fresh lemon juice, strained of seeds. Cut the rest of the lemons into halves or quarters, depending on the size of your jars. Remove as many seeds as you can with a knife.
3. Using a sharp knife, cut the lemon halves to the stem end without going through the stem. Cut between the flesh and the rind, without going all the way down to the stem. The stem end should remain intact to hold the lemon half together.
4. Rub kosher salt between the lemon rind and the flesh. Stuff as many salted lemons as you can into a jar, then fill with lemon juice. If you run out of lemon juice, add water so that the lemon pieces are completely covered. Leave a little room at the top, so that when you turn the jar over it mixes a bit. Cover tightly.
How much juice you get will depend on the quality of your lemons.
5. Every day or so for the next 3 days turn the jar over to mix and mingle the brine and the lemons. This is a good job for a kid to do while waiting for breakfast. After 3 days, put them in the refrigerator. They will be ready in 3 weeks, and even better after 3 months.
6. When ready to use, take out a piece of lemon, rinse under cold water to remove the salty brine, and pull off the pulp. Slice thin for Moroccan chicken, salads, stir-fries, curries, pan-fried vegetables, pasta with Brussels sprouts, or puree into your favorite Caesar salad dressing recipe.
Moroccan-style Preserved Lemons: give some to a lemon lover, keep some for yourself.
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Rum balls are potent little confections that pack a heady punch of alcohol along with a pleasing jolt of caffeine. Ideally, they are made in late November, so they may fester in a tightly closed tin for several weeks. The chocolate, rum, pecans and coffee need some time to mingle and intensify.
Skiing up Wimpy's, in Grand Teton National Park.
All this early season snow has been very distracting, as it keeps sucking me back up to the mountains to play. This is my excuse for not making rum balls yet. If you are on my rum ball holiday gift list, you may have to suffice for a tin after the holidays, as they will still be just as good and even more special when not competing with the other abundantly available sweets.
Rum balls. Enjoy them in moderation, please.
This is another of my mother's recipes; she always made rum balls at Christmas-time. They were strictly off-limits to children, which made it even more enticing for us to sneak these from the tin at the back of the refrigerator.
Barbancourt 5 star Rhum from Haiti comes in the colorful box. Actually, almost any high quality rum will make good rum balls.
At the risk of sounding like a rum snob, Barbancourt 5 Star Rhum (with an "H") is the preferred rum for this recipe. It is hard to get here, but if you are traveling to the Caribbean be sure to bring some home. Meyer's Dark Rum is an acceptable substitute, and I have also used Mount Gay Rum with good results.
Without further ado, here's the recipe for Rum Balls. They will keep for a month but they won't last that long. It is very nice to have a small bag of these in your pocket, to share with your friends on the gondola, when you are out skiing.
A standing mixer will make these quickly, but they are also easy to mix by hand.
For a printable version of the recipe, please click on the file below it.
This recipe makes 3-4 dozen 1 inch rum balls. I usually double or triple the recipe so there is plenty to share. You can make decaffeinated rum balls by using decaffeinated coffee. You can also use whiskey instead, but then of course it wouldn't be a Rum Ball, would it?
2 cups vanilla wafer crumbs (1 box Nilla wafers yield roughly 3 cups of crumbs)
2 cups ground nuts (pecans or walnuts) (you'll need about 2 lbs. nuts)
4 Tbsp. cocoa powder
4 Tbsp. white corn syrup
1/4 cup rum (or more)
1/8 cup strong coffee
powdered (confectioner's sugar for rolling
- Place a box of vanilla wafers (such as Nilla) in a food processor and pulse to form fine crumbs. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.
- Place 2 heaping cups of pecans or walnuts into the same food processor (no need to wash it), and pulse to form fine crumbs. Add to the Nilla wafer crumbs.
- Add the corn syrup, cocoa powder, rum, and coffee. Mix well.
- Roll into 1 inch balls. Roll each ball in powdered sugar that you have placed in a shallow bowl.
- Chill for 3 hours. Roll in powdered sugar again.
- Store in an airtight tin in the refrigerator. Share.
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Here's a dish for a busy week that's fast and slow.
It really is fast: I wanted to prove this to myself so I whipped out the stopwatch feature of my iPhone: 13 minutes, 22 seconds. That's from the gathering of ingredients to the closing of the crock-pot lid.
But it cooks slowly: the pork shoulder simmers for 6-8 hours, until it falls fork-tender from the bone.
I've made this Cider Maple Glazed Pork Roast a dozen times, and it always comes out well, infusing the house with the inviting aroma of cinnamon, allspice, and onions.
On Tuesday we were blessed with 12 inches of new snow in the mountains, and I had a 9:30 tram date with the girls from East Jackson. I was particularly motivated to get supper made before I headed out to ski.
Skiing with the girls from East Jackson on yet another gorgeous powder day in Jackson Hole.
Usually, the spice rub gets applied to the pork roast the night before, but that takes organization and planning, none of which I seem to possess this week. I discovered that it is totally fine to give it a quick rubdown of spices just before cooking. (If you make this for company, you should let it sit overnight).
You'll need to run to the store for a pork shoulder and some apple cider. Everything else you'll need is probably already in your pantry.
I served this with Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes, but it also goes well with superfast couscous, rice, or Creamy Parmesan Polenta (see sidebar for recipe).
Because I was excited to see an immaculately fresh bunch of Broccoli Rabe at Jackson Whole Grocer, I sauteed the greens in olive oil and garlic, and served them alongside the pork roast. Mountain Man declared the broccoli rabe to be "horrible", and thus the children refused to try it. (Just so you know what I'm dealing with over here).
Bitter greens aren't for everyone.
My Crock-pot is about 20 years old and has only a High and a Low setting. It works just fine.
I bet you can beat my record if you don't stop to take pictures while you cook. Enjoy!
Cider Maple Glazed Pork is easily doubled for a party, served here with Potato Fennel Gratin, Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Sage, and Brussel Sprouts.
Cider Maple Glazed Pork Roast
This recipe was adapted from "The Ski House Cookbook" by Tina Anderson and Sarah Pinneo. It serves 4 hungry people, with leftovers.
- 5-6 lbs. pork shoulder, bone-in. To double the recipe, use 2 4 lb. roasts.
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 2 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
- 4 tsp. ground ginger
- 1 tsp. ground allspice
- 2 medium yellow onions, cut into 2 inch chunks
- 1 1/2 cups apple cider
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 2-4 Tsp. maple syrup
- Trim the excess fat from the meat.
- Make the spice rub by combining the brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger and allspice.
- Rub the spice mixture generously into the meat, getting it into all the nooks and crannies. If you are an organized person, you may now wrap the meat in plastic wrap, and refrigerate it overnight. Or, if you have not planned ahead, just rub with a little extra vigor and hope that will suffice.
- Put the onion pieces in the crock-pot, and pour the apple cider and soy sauce over. Stir to combine.
- Place the pork roast on top of the onions.
- Cook on "high" for 6 hours, or "low" for 8 hours, until the meat is fork-tender and falling off the bone.
- Transfer the meat to a platter, and cover with foil to keep warm.
- Strain the juices into a 4 cup measuring cup and discard the solids. Spoon off any fat that rises to the top.
- For each 1/2 cup of juice, whisk in 2 Tbsp. maple syrup.
- Drizzle the sauce over the meat and serve.
I have a cookbook problem. My cookbook collection has outgrown my kitchen desk, spilled over into the spare room, invaded my bedside table, and is multiplying in my kitchen cupboards. Sometimes it even wanders into the bathroom.
As my husband would probably attest, my love for cookbooks has taken over the house in such a way that we had to build an addition this summer. He's an avid collector of travel, fishing, and hunting books , so he can't give me too much grief.
My very first cookbook, "The Peanuts Cookbook", was acquired when I was 8, and still gets heavy use (see Pumpkin chocolate chip cookies in the sidebar). I have handed that one down to 10 year old Nick. He uses it to make Red Baron Root Beer and Security Blanket Cinnamon Toast.
When you start collecting something at a young age, by midlife it can be tricky to keep it all organized and accessible. Over time, I have unofficially divided my cookbooks into the A list, the B list and the C list.
The A list gets the most use, and has an honored spot in the bookshelves of my kitchen desk. As you can see, an A list cookbook is easy to spot. My unscientific compilation of the A list consisted of pulling down the most ragged, splattered, stained and torn books. The A list books are shelved by category: Italian, Barefoot Contessa, Asian, Baking, Breakfast, and Mexican.
It is easy to spot an A list book by its dog-eared pages, torn book jacket, and numerous bookmarks.
The B list cookbooks must be stashed in the spare room, but close to the kitchen in case I have a sudden urge to make food from the Middle East, spa cuisine, or a vegetarian feast.
'Nigella Christmas' is a B list book that just got temporarily promoted to the A list for the holidays.
As for the C list, those are the cookbooks that I just can't seem to part with, even though they get very little use. Some are important reference books, such as "The Foods of Mexico" by Diana Kennedy, or "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" by Julia Child.
Others are nostalgic members of my collection, like "Budget Gourmet", the book I used in college to make Coq au Vin and impress my then boyfriend (now husband). Or the "Italian Cooking Class" cookbook that taught me how to make gnocchi in the 1980s when only the true Italians knew what gnocchi was.
Some C list books cannot be parted with because they are just too cool. "White Trash Cooking" was a gift from my sister-in-law Lil. You never know when you are going to need to make Cooter Pie or Peggy's Pig Eggs.
I suppose I could regift this one, but to whom?
And what about "The Secret Life of Food" by Clare Crespo? I may want to make flip-flop hors d'hourves out of potatoes and green beans next summer. You just never know.
'The Secret Life of Food' will show you how to make Football Meatloaf, Mutant Chicken, and Potato Flip-Flops.
I chose the most battered and dog-eared books from my collection to share with you today. This is the best of my A list, the cookbooks that I can't live without, in no particular order.
Any of these cookbooks would make a great gift for the cook in your life.
Annie's Top Cookbooks
- "The Tra vigne Cookbook" by Michael Chiarello. This cookbook makes Chiarello's Napa Valley restaurant food very accessible for the home cook. Pumpkin polenta, eggplant lasagnette, Sicilian harvest salad, I've make them all.
- "Nigella Christmas" by Nigella Lawson. This is a fun book for someone who loves to cook for the holidays. Her food is easy, beautiful, and she has a thing for cocktails.
I love it that Nigella Lawson is not too cool to make Cornflake Wreaths in her book 'Nigella Christmas'.
3. "The Sono Baking Company Book" by John Barricelli.
The brownie recipe is worth the cost of the book. I'll put that on my List of Things to Blog.
4. "The Barefoot Contessa" by Ina Garten. This is the original cookbook and probably the best. You just can't go wrong with these recipes, they are all good.
5. "The Barefoot Contessa Parties" by Ina Garten. Also a great book for any collector. Easy party food. Don't be alarmed that Ina keeps getting larger with each book; you can cut back on the butter and cream, and the recipes will still be good.
6. "Jamie's Italy" by Jamie Oliver. Gorgeous pictures of Jamie traveling through the south of Italy cooking with the locals and soaking up the culture. Pasta all Norma, insalata di farro, sausages with lentils. Great to read and to cook from.
7. "The Ski House Cookbook" by Tina Anderson and Sarah Pinneo. Warm winter dishes for cold weather fun, right up our alley in Jackson Hole. Fast, east recipes to help you feed guests while maximizing your time outside.
8. "The Italian Grill" by Mario Batali. I was so hooked on this book last summer, that I grilled everything from polenta to radicchio to pizza. His other book, "Multo Gusto" is also a lot of fun, especially if you want to master pizza for a crowd.
9. "Rick and Lanie's Excellent Kitchen Adventures" by Rick Lanie Bayless. My favorite Chicago chef and his teenage daughter have written a darn good cookbook, which would make a perfect gift for a teen. Lanie provides musical playlists for cooking, and stories about their travels. Many of these recipes have become staples in our family: Chinese potstickers, Nutella crepes, Thai chicken and rice soup, Peruvian shrimp ceviche, Moroccan meatballs in tomato sauce. This book gets used.
10. "The Moosewood Restaurant Celebrates" by the Moosewood Collective. Great holiday food like Chocolate waffles and pan de muerto.
11. "Mexican Everyday" by Rick Bayless. Since I don't live in Chicago any longer, I can't eat at The Frontera Grill whenever I want. This cookbook is the next best thing and the recipes are easy, healthy, and kid-friendly. Bayless talks about how he battled the midlife-bulge with yoga and changes in his diet. Most of his recipes are designed to be thrown into a crock-pot or quickly sauteed.
12. "Quick and Easy Thai" by Nancie McDermott. I love this book because it makes Thai food easy. She also wrote "Quick and Easy Vietnamese" and "The Curry Book", which are great books for the Jacksonians who miss the ethnic take-out food of their former city lives.
13. "Giada's Family Dinners" and "Everyday Italian" by Giada de Laurentis. I know she is a big TV star, and there are gazillions of photos of her looking beautiful while she slaves over the stove, but her food is really good, really easy, kid-friendy, and mostly healthy.
14. "A Homemade Life" by Molly Wizenberg.
This is the book I should have written when I was too busy being a doctor. In her memoir with recipes, really great recipes, Molly writes about her family's relationship to food, and how losing her dad impacted her life. Molly and I should get together: her Dad was a physician who died of kidney cancer; my Dad was a physician who died of kidney cancer. (Neither of us have fully recovered). Molly gave up an academic career to be a writer; I retired from my career in medicine, and find myself writing all the time. Molly is obsessed with food, and so am I. We both have a thing for brussel sprouts, cabbage, cookies, cakes and banana bread. We both eat granola every day. I love her book, and her blog orangette.com. Check it out.
15. "The Breakfast Book" by Marion Cunningham.
Making breakfast is not may favorite thing to do, and this book gives me lots a new ideas. A classic.
16. "Biscotti" by Mona Talbott and Mirella Misenti.
A primer on making all sorts of biscotti from the American Academy in Rome, whose kitchen was revamped by Alice Waters. My new favorite cookbook.
17. "Favorite Recipes from the Fenn Ranch" by Annie, Jon, Jack and Nick Fenn.
This is the book that I did write, with the help of online publisher Blurb.com
. I love this book because it has all my favorite recipes in one place, and I can throw it in my purse when I go to the grocery store. It's falling apart and has a few mistakes, but I it still gets almost constant use at our house.
I know everyone is really busy right now, with all this snow to play in, and with Christmas right around the corner, and with all those nostalgic cookie recipes to crank out.
But please, carve out an hour or so to make some focaccia. You won't regret having fresh and crispy bread to make you pine for Italy. Invite some hungry people over that have been skiing all day, and they will love you for it.
Focaccia con salvia. Focaccia con salvia. Just saying it makes me miss the soft golden light of Tuscany, the bright green gardens of sage and fennel, and the crispy, olive oil-laden rustic flatbread.
The view from Veronica's kitchen window in the Chianti region of Tuscany.
When I was in Tuscany last month, I took a cooking class from a woman named Veronica, who showed me how to make this focaccia. We made lots of other rustic Italian foods that day, but I was most swept away by the focaccia.
Veronica says not to cook if you are stressed out, that the food will not be good.
Maybe it was the olive oil that it was brushed with before baking, which was freshly pressed from the olive trees in Chianti. Maybe it was because we went out to Veronica's garden to pick the sage while the yeast was proofing.
Sage grows like a weed in Wyoming, but my herb garden has never looked quite like this.
That's me with Casey in Veronica's garden. We wanted to putter out there all day.
Maybe it was the Doppio Zero flour that Italians favor for focaccia and pizza dough, which made kneading a pleasure not a chore.
Doppio zero flour, imported from Naples, has the perfect protein content to make focaccia and pizza dough that is supple and elastic, with a fine crumb.
Maybe it was the wine, the 3 bottles (or so) of Bianco Trebbiano, that we effortlessly imbibed during the class, that paired perfectly with our meal and was produced right in Veronica's backyard.
Casey and Chris enjoy a little wine with their cooking class, from Veronica's farm, La Quercia.
Once back home in snowy Jackson Hole, I was curious to see if I could replicate Veronica's focaccia con salvia, and all the warm, fuzzy feelings that went along with it.
Doppio zero flour, Double "0", is not so easy to find in my small town. Luckily, I had a bag of it leftover from the "pizza on the grill" phase I went through this summer, that I had ordered through http://www.markethallfoods.com
. King Arthur Flour
also carries an "Italian style" flour that is essentially double "0", and it is much less expensive. See Sources at the end of this post.
If you can't get your hands on some Double "0" flour, all-purpose flour is the best substitute. If you sift the flour twice, it will be similar to the talcum powder-soft, finely ground Italian import.
Veronica calls her flatbread a schiacciata, which is essentially the same as a focaccia, except that she doesn't just sprinkle the sage on top, she incorporates it into the dough. Schiacciata is fun to say and delicious alongside gnocchi di patate con sugo di pomodoro (potato gnocchi with tomato sauce). (I don't really speak Italian, but I can skillfully decipher an Italian menu.)
Fortunately, we have an abundance of good quality sage here in Wyoming.
Veronica says that you shouldn't cook if you are stressed out, that the food will not be good. The next day I had my only bad meal in Italy, a sad and lukewarm pappa di pomodoro (bread and tomato soup) prepared by a sad little man in Panzano who was obviously irritated that we had ambled into his bar, and were hungry. Veronica is a wise woman, indeed.
Focaccia with sage, with cipolline onions, and with black olives. Unfiltered Olio Nuovo is perfect for dipping.
You can top focaccia with whatever you like. I made a double batch of dough, so I had lots of room to play with toppings. Focaccia con salvia (sage) was the classic. Focaccia with black olives was also a big hit, but I must say my favorite was the focaccia with onions. I used a jar of cipolline onions in balsamic vinegar, sliced thin, but you could just saute thinly sliced onions in olive oil until caramelized and golden, and drizzle with a bit of balsamic vinegar at the end.
Focaccia con salvia
Leftover focaccia con salvia makes a great stuffing. The next day I roasted a turkey, with focaccia stuffing on the side, by toasting the bread in the oven to dry it out, adding sauteed onions, celery and apple, and moistening it with chicken broth.
- 500 grams (1.1lb.) Double "0" flour, or all purpose flour. Sifted and measured, this is 3 level cups plus 1 almost full cup
- 1 packet of yeast, or a 25 g. cube of fresh yeast
- 1 tsp. sugar
- 1/2 cup warm water (for proofing the yeast) and 1 cup warm water for the dough
- 7-8 Tbsp olive oil
- 30 sage leaves, cut into small pieces
- 1 tsp. coarse salt, such as kosher or Maldon salt flakes (you'll use 1 tsp. for the dough, and then you'll need about 1/2 tsp. more for the topping.)
When baking at altitude, it is important to be precise, so I like to weigh my flour. If you don't have a little scale like this, sift then spoon flour into a measuring cup and level off with a knife.
I like to use my big red scissors to cut up the sage. This is a great job for a kid.
- First, proof the yeast. Place a packet of yeast into a 2 cup measuring cup, add 1/2 cup of warm water, and the teaspoon of sugar. Gently stir, cover, and set aside to rest for about 15 minutes.
When your yeast is ready, it should look like this. Keep in mind that this is enough yeast for a double batch of focaccia, and I should have used a bigger cup!
2. If you are using all purpose flour, sift it again. Otherwise, add the flour to a large, preferably stainless-steel bowl, and pour the yeast into the middle with 3 Tbsp. olive oil, half the sage, and 1 tsp. of salt.
3. Mix with a fork, slowly adding 1 cup of warm water to form a wet dough.
To pass the time while I knead, I like to listen to music, or I recruit a kid to come into the kitchen and tell me jokes.
4. Knead the dough on a floured surface for about 10 minutes. You will feel the dough become more smooth and elastic as you work it. Make sure the sage gets evenly distributed throughout the dough.
5. When you are done kneading, your dough should look like the photo above. Place it in a bowl that has been drizzled with olive oil, and cover it with a damp kitchen towel. Place it in a cupboard to rise for about 1 hour.
6. When the dough has doubled in size, transfer it to an oiled (olive oiled, that is) baking pan. I used a 9 inch by 12 inch rimmed baking sheet.
7. Spread the dough out evenly over the baking pan. Make indentations with your fingers to give it a pocked appearance.
8. Let the dough rise again for another hour or so in the pan. Keep it someplace warm, such as close to the oven. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
9. Brush the dough with more olive oil, and sprinkle it with the rest of the sage and 1/2 tsp., or more, of coarse salt. I like Maldon sea salt, which comes in big, crunchy flakes. If you are using other toppings, go ahead and distribute them evenly over the focaccia.
10. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 20-25 minutes. When the top is golden brown, it is done.
11. Once cooled, turn it out onto a cutting board and cut into small squares, or long thin slices. Serve alongside your favorite olive oil for dipping. I am currently hooked on the peppery, unfiltered Olio Nuovo from California Olive Ranch. My 2.5 gallon box is quickly disappearing.
Focaccia con salvia. Don't make it if you are stressed out!
King Arthur Flour
. They call their double zero flour "Italian Style", and it costs $6.95 for a 3 lb. bag. If you are a baker, be forewarned, you will find lots of other stuff you will need to order, like hard-to-find baking chocolate, vanilla bean paste, Fiori di Sicula extract. Market Hall Foods
. Again, you are forewarned. You can find Caputo Doppio Zero flour imported from Naples ($5.25 for a 1.1 lb bag), and so much more: farro, Umbrian lentils, Maldon sea salt from England ($7.50 for an 8.5 oz. box), Venchi chocolates from Italy, spices, Marcona almonds.... California Olive Ranch
Olio Nuovo is the next best thing to bringing back a first-pressed olive oil from Tuscany. Local distributor Joe Quiroz
can help you get it.
"Don't leave the food to cook by itself. You should always be watching it, touching it, attending to it."
Veronica Clemente, of The Studio at La Quercia