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Cookbooks Come and Cookbooks Go

December 13, 2012

Whatever happened to that cookbook giveaway? Good question. If you weren’t contacted, you didn’t win. But the winner was indeed chosen by Random.org and it picked Diana.

Her winning comment was:

The Original King Arthur Flour cookbook. Not just a collection of recipes, but why things work the way they do in baking, and how to adjust recipes. My love of yeast baking began with this book.

Not that the comment itself had anything to do with winning. It was just the luck of the draw. Last night I wrote the inscription in her brand new copy of Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. And with any luck it will be put in the mail later today so she can begin using it before Christmas.

But just as this cookbook is leaving the house, another one has entered. It was actually sent to me by the publisher Blue Rider Press. Really I want to tell you about it because it speaks to something I’ve been saying for a while.

The book has a long title, In Season: More Than 150 Fresh and Simple Recipes from New York Magazine, Inspired by Farmers’ Market Ingredients

Probably the worst thing about the book is the title. Because while a lot of recipes are simple, there are plenty others that are decidedly not. And while much of the book focuses on farmers’ market ingredients, even the Introduction suggests that this book isn’t truly about the locavore movement.

But these are nits that I’ve been able to overlook in the past, and will continue to do so. My favorite line of all time was from Cook’s Illustrated when they said, “Quick and easy pasta primavera is neither quick nor easy.”

The important part of this book is how it provides inspiration for cooking seasonally.

It arose from New York Magazine’s “In Season” column which launched in 2004. Both are edited by Rob Patronite and Robin Raisfeld, who have worked with New York City chefs to promote recipes for one specific ingredient that is at the peak of its season. For the most part these ingredients are local, but not all of them.

For example the winter section starts with something called bianchetti. They sound delicious, and they probably are, but they look like baby minnows. Mostly because they are the larval offspring of what will eventually become anchovies. To find these delicacies you would need to have them imported from the Mediterranean. The book is helpful in suggesting a place in the Bronx where you can find them. But to most this page will be a bit of a curiosity.

And it’s a shame that this launches the winter section, because it sets a very different tone than the essay on winter cooking written by Anita Lo, the executive chef and owner of Annisa. She writes,

In the dead of winter I crave foods that are restorative. It might seem, at first, that there’s little to work with: Many of the ingredients that are available at this time of year are kept in cellars from the time they were harvested at their peak in late summer or fall. These are fruits and vegetables with staying power–apples, squashes, root vegetables, and cabbage. Luckily, or perhaps by natural selection, these lend themselves well to restorative preparations such as warming soups or stews, long braises, or caremelizations.

Fish larvae aside, the section goes on to highlight simple preparations of locally grown produce like celery root, German butterball potatoes, horseradish, northern spy apples, parsnips, redbor kale, red cabbage, rutabaga, black kale, black-eyed peas, braising greens, black radish, and collard greens.

At its best the pages of this book are inspiring. I’ve seen black radish in the market and have always steered away from it more out of ignorance than anything else. And the gratin recipe by Neil Ferguson seems simple enough. I may even give rutabaga another try this winter with Nate Smith’s straight forward preparation of smashed rutabagas and carrots.

But there are some points where In Season flies off the tracks. For example, while the oil poached emu-egg fondue sounds amazing, it’s a two day process that calls for a gallon of grapeseed oil. That’s not simple.

While some might bristle at the notion of including non-local foods as seasonal choices, I think it’s fantastic. The joys of delicious citrus in the late fall and winter is immeasurable, and the book includes things like clementines and grapefruit in addition to more exotic fruits like pomelo and yuzu. I also like how deftly these ingredients are incorporated in dishes that feature regionally grown ingredients, like the citrus that brightens up a celery root salad.

Anyhow, I like where this book is going.

We all need inspiration from time to time, and this could help you see a few ingredients at local farmers markets in a whole new light. That said, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it as a first cookbook to anyone. Many of the recipes have a bunch of esoteric ingredients. It takes someone with a reasonable bit of knowledge to be able to look at a recipe and know when you can make it work with the pantry staples on hand, or whether you have to cut bait because you’re fresh out of rosewater.

The book retails for $35 but Amazon has it for less than $22. And if you are interested, Bezos will even let you take a peek inside.

Oh, and don’t get your hopes up that I’ll be giving this book away too. I’m holding onto it, because I’ve totally fallen into some cooking ruts, and I’m glad to have a resource to help me rethink some of the farmers market produce.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 13, 2012 10:56 am

    Congrats, Diana. Enjoy!

  2. December 13, 2012 9:52 pm

    Books like this one are responsible for America’s obesity epidemic just as much as McDonald’s and Domino’s. Food-curious beginning cooks read about anchovy larvae (do fish actually have larvae? Do people?) and throw up their hands and decide they can never master good cooking at home so they spend their lives at the salad bar at Fresh Market or the deli counter at Price Chopper.

  3. Stevo permalink
    December 13, 2012 10:16 pm

    Burnt My Fingers is correct, which brings something to mind. Though despised by the sophisticated foodie crowd, this is why celebrity cooks like Rachel Ray and Paula Deen are so popular. They make cooking approachable and interesting to the beginning cook. And that’s a good thing.

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