It’s back to school and that means bag lunches. Or maybe like me, you don’t have school age kids, but still want to start packing lunch to take to work. It’s easy to get in a rut, but these three cookbooks offer many ways to jazz up your lunchbox.
The Banh Mi Handbook is the latest book from Andrea Nguyen. In the past she has written about Vietnamese food, dumplings and tofu, perhaps convincing you to make your own. But I had to wonder, when I can get a terrific banh mi sandwich for just a couple bucks, would I want to make my own? The answer is YES because Nguyen goes well beyond what you might find at a Vietnamese sandwich shop.
What I absolutely love the most about this book in addition to the versatility is the focus on ease and simplicity. There are lots of shortcuts and no shame if you choose to buy bread or mayonnaise or doctor some liverwurst to make a tasty pate. The book offers the basics and traditional recipes for fixings like carrot and daikon pickles, headcheese terrine and Chinese barbecue pork but also offers tons of non-traditional options too to keep things interesting. Go vegetarian with coconut curry tofu or an edamame pate. I know I’ll be making the warm sardine and tomato sauce sandwich and the oven fried chicken katsu. These are sandwiches that will make your mouth water!
As I was reading the introduction to Russell Van Kraayenburg’s cookbook, Haute Dogs: Recipes for Delicious Hot Dogs, Buns, and Condiments, I found myself questioning his ardor for the humble encased meat. I mean, really, who could say, without his tongue inserted into his cheek, that he found hotdogs “alive with possibilities”?
I kept reading and quickly surmised that Kraayenburg is the real deal: He is an honest-to-goodness hot dog evangelist.
Having “explored the vast, varied world of weinerdom,” Kraayenburg has compiled over 100 recipes for homemade hot dogs, buns, and condiments. You’ll learn how to make from scratch dogs and sausages including bratwurst and kielbasa. You’ll also discover how to make your very own classic hot dog buns, plus a few other glutenous vessels such as flat bread and corn dog batter. As for sauces and condiments, you’ll find a hearty variety of BBQ sauces, mustards, ketchups, relishes, salsas, slaws, and more.
The recipes include all-American classics such as the Chicago Dog, an all-beef weiner overwhelmed with neon-green relish, tomato wedges, sport peppers, a dill pickle spear, and celery salt served on a poppy seed bun and the Coney Island dog, an all-beef weiner smothered with Coney Island sauce (recipe included!), yellow mustard, and diced white onions. Of course, the quintessential summertime favorite, the corn dog, is included, as is its rival the waffle dog.
I've had plenty of disasters in the kitchen. I once dropped a duck on the floor on the way to the table. And more than once I've nearly flambéed my kitchen. I've learned the hard way not to start sipping my white wine before the main course is cooked and ready to plate. But I'm particularly challenged when I'm cooking for more than 6.
Recently I hosted a meeting at my house, cooking for 15 people. Playing it safe, I made my go-to dish for a crowd: chicken paprika.
I made a vat of it the day before. It tasted delicious. I put it in the refrigerator, and the next evening, an hour before serving, I put it in the oven. When I pulled it out, it was barely warm. Meanwhile I'd started boiling the noodles (you get where this is going?)
So I set the pot of chicken paprika on the stove and turned on the burner...high. Fifteen minutes later the noodles are of course overcooked and the paprikash is boiling and, ominously, sticking to the bottom of the pot.
"Wow," my guests proclaim as they dig in, "this has such an interesting smoky taste." I try to blame it on the "smoked paprika" which I really did use. But I know the truth. It's burned, not smoky. On top of that I made roughly enough overcooked noodles to serve 50 people.
I love exploring the Russian grocery stores out on Geary Street in San Francisco and often purchase luscious sour cream, delicate blini and caviar, sweet cheese pancakes, frozen pelmeni and vareniki dumplings and different varieties of smoked fish. So I was very excited to see that A Taste of Russia by Darra Goldstein was being reprinted on the occasion of it's 30th anniversary.
It's filled with all kinds of dishes I want to make such as Piroskhi, Cabbage with Noodles and Poppy Seeds, Radishes in Sour Cream, Cranberry Kvass and Circassian chicken. It's my first Russian cookbook and while lacking photos, it does cover all the basics with recipes that are easy to follow and helpful and enlightening notes from the author who spent time living in the former Soviet Union.
Maybe it's just my love for potatoes, but another cuisine I associate with comfort is Irish food. Cooking teacher Rachel Allen's latest book is Rachel's Irish Family Food and it has loads of dishes that while nothing fancy are particularly appealing this time of year. I've bookmarked Ham and Egg Pie, Oatcakes, Beef and Red Wine Pot Pie and Whole Grain Shortbread.
Many of the recipes are very simple and for things I'm not sure I really need a recipe for like Salmon with Capers and Dill, Slow Roasted Shoulder of Pork and Creamy Mashed Potatoes, but if you are just starting out cooking, are firmly in the meat and potatoes camp or are just looking for more options on St Patrick's day, this book is a good pick.
I’ll spare you the tale of Work, because that would seem like I’m complaining. I am not. Lots and lots of things have changed in the past few months, all great things that are keeping us really busy. Perhaps the biggest thing is that we bought a house. A lovely beautiful California Spanish-style home built in 1928, and it could not be more California if it tried. It’s sweet, quaint, and I’ll share some before-and-after photos just as soon as we’re done with decorating, which at this rate should be by 2037.
Although we moved in 3 months ago, we’ve had no time to enjoy the new digs. In fact, these past two weeks have been the first time we’ve been home together with a somewhat regular schedule, and all those things one does are starting to happen again: cooking dinner, sitting on the couch, grabbing a book and sitting next to a window and reading, organizing a garage. I am loving these life activities, and with the way things have been they are just like mini-vacations to me. I never thought I’d say that but it’s true. And considering what’s happening to a huge chunk of the country right now, to have a regular life with a roof over one’s head and working utilities is a blessing. A huge blessing.
This morning I’ll be able to do something I’ve wanted to for a long time: I will make breakfast. In my new kitchen. For us. Novel, ain’t it? But this breakfast will be the first that doesn’t involve two slices of bread and a razor thin smear of Marmite. It will be leisurely, satisfying, and made from The Picky Palate Cookbook: 133 Recipes for Even Your Pickiest Eaters by Jenny Flake.
This spring, during a trip to Long Island, I managed to fullfil one of my lifetime travel ambitions.
Yes, I would like to one day look at the dusty pyramids of Egypt. Yes, I hope that I will eventually stand in some remote part of Alaska and stare, mesmerized, at the Northern Lights. But for me, this time round, it was all about a house. Or rather, an International House. Of Pancakes.
That's right: my inner list titled 'experiences I would dearly like to have during my life' included breakfast in a branch of IHOP. You see, I am a collector. Not of stamps, or coins, or copies of old NASA magazines, but of breakfasting experiences. I love the first meal of the day. I love how it is at once a meal and a ritual. I love that it gives us a chance, before the spell of sleep is forgotten, to sit and savour some of the most delicious and yet pleasingly simple foods available. I love to think about what all this means.
For eight years I have run a website, The London Review of Breakfasts, whose sole purpose is to take breakfast more seriously than anyone else – comically seriously, some have alleged. It contains accounts not just of my breakfasts, but the breakfasts of others; dispatches from cafes, diners and restaurants sent from places like London (where I'm from), the USA (breakfast-serving joints anywhere from California to Ohio), Malawi, Denmark, Mongolia, Haiti…
I just got an advanced copy of my friend, Lorraine Wallace’s newest cookbook, Mr. Sunday's Saturday Night Chicken, and I haven’t had this much fun with a chicken since Dionne Lucus taught me how to rip the bones out of one while leaving it’s flesh undisturbed. (Yeah, I’m dangerous!)
I got this advance copy because I shot the cover photograph, and while I also contributed a recipe, I had no idea what a friendly, loving and delicious cookbook she had created.
Besides the happy photos of family and friends, tips and a market guide to terminology, she has given us “keys” – ways to consider chicken: boneless/skinless, quick, supermarket rotisserie chickens (for pulled chicken recipes), company, potluck, stovetop, one pot and grilled recipes. She even has chicken recipes for chicken vegetarian dishes (huh? They have been designed so that one can eliminate the chicken in favor of vegetables instead…).
The recipes all appear to be utterly user friendly. And, I know for a fact, they are all recipes that she has prepared in her own kitchen for her husband, Mr. Sunday himself, Chris Wallace. (He LOVED my chicken in orange juice) I guess that tells us something else; they must be calorie conscious as he looks darn good on TV.
Wellness Soup? I dunno...I am more inclined to something that might be called, This’ll Kill Ya Soup! But, my darling Bill picked it out from Lorraine Wallace’s, Mr. Sunday's Soups, a book she lovingly wrote to celebrate her life with Chris Wallace – Mr. Sunday himself.
Everyone knows Chris Wallace – His Sunday show on Fox News is one of the brighter DC shows on TV. We met Chris and Lorraine in Martha’s Vineyard when they would come up to visit his dad, Mike Wallace – another Wallace that could comfortably be called Mr. Sunday.
But, Wellness Soup??? I just can’t believe I am about to make Wellness Soup, but before I make this righteous leap into tasty nutrition, let me enjoy the emotional nourishment of Lorraine’s charming cookbook.
In his forward, Chris refers to his extended family as a version of the Brady Bunch coming together around the kitchen table. Sunday Soup became a tradition - or a ploy – to create treasured private family moments together each week. Lorraine’s book is filled with charming stories of her family and friends, which does indeed bring love to each recipe.
I taught myself to cook over 7 years ago and I imagined over those first culinary delights that I’d eventually become better at the art. Alas, it seems my initial joy at creating lovely meals for my man has never really progressed past the basics of following a recipe and, over the last year, become something of a drag. For those of you whose job it is to get dinner on the table every night, I’m sure you share my pain in coming up with new and tasty ways to cook the same old ingredients. (Working at a food zine has only contributed to my malaise.) I used to enjoy the process of preparing a new dish, but now I find myself more and more disappointed with the results. Mostly because the ½ hour of eating rarely justifies the hours of cooking. Not that my food comes out bad, it just isn’t as extraordinary as I continually hope it will be.
My inherent laziness and current lack of enthusiasm compelled me to purchase The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever, a fairly large tome of over 500 recipes that require very little effort to convert everyday items into comfort food. My husband, who rarely comments on my cooking, has been loving dinner lately. Partly because the meals are simple and hearty (he's from the Mid-West, nuff said) and partly because the mess left behind – I cook, he cleans – has been quite minimal. A win-win situation for him. There’s just something about throwing a bunch of ingredients in a pot, walking away and returning a few hours later to a scrumptious, yummy meal that’s really working for me right now. Plus, it makes the house smell wonderful for hours.
We don't eat out a lot, which means my wife makes dinner for me almost every night. She taught herself how to cook and I get to enjoy the fruits of her labor. In exchange, I do the dishes. It's a system that works out very well for us. It plays to each others' strengths. If I was in charge of the kitchen she would have to choose between Hamburger Helper or Taco Bell every night. HH is the only meal I used to cook regularly in college and I got very good at mixing it up to taste like different things. It's what we both ate a lot during our first years living in Los Angeles, though that was long before we met. It was such a go-to dish it made a weekly appearance on our dinner table at the beginning of our relationship. I think we're both glad she developed higher culinary skills than cooking pasta out of a box and that I was no longer allowed in the kitchen.
Our house is strewn with cookbooks, some used more than others and none ever cracked by me. Until recently, when she got one called Recipes Every Man Should Know. Since using the microwave is a challenge for me (unless she tells me how long to cook something), I wasn't sure I could handle any of the recipes from this little black book. The introduction claims that cooking will make men look sexy and that it will be fun because it involves fire, sharp instruments and meat. It's an intriguing premise, (who doesn't want to appear sexier) so I took it as a challenge to see if it could help someone like me make a meal we could enjoy.
1. My husband works out of state several weeks a month.
2. I am from Texas. Mr. Yonan is from Texas.
3. Mr. Yonan is affable, sweet and smart, and has a chapter on tacos.
While 1 through 4 are major reasons why I love this book so much, they’re not the only reasons why Joe Yonan’s Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking for One is currently rocking my kitchen. I met Joe, the Food & Travel editor for The Washington Post, in person last year at IACP when I was presenting a talk on food photography. You can imagine my surprise when we started chatting about being from small Texas towns, and if you’re from a small Texas town there are some things that only others could from Texas could understand and appreciate. Plus Joe spent time in Austin, my 2nd hometown, so you can see the affinity I have for Joe.
Are you young, busy, and socially active? If so, Alice Hart wants you in the kitchen, with her cookbook, named simply Alice's Cookbook. Hart realizes that although most 20- and 30-somethings are in a constant buzz, they love to slow down and socialize with friends, preferably over good, honest food and drink. Therefore, she has divided her chapters by meal type then by occasion so users don't have to create their own menus.
Under "Breakfast and Brunch" she includes "spring breakfast for 6 on the weekend," with recipes for Maple and Blueberry Sticky Rolls, Tropical Fruit Platter with Kaffir Lime and Sunshine Juice. Under "Party" she includes "hot summer barbecue" with recipes for Skirt Steaks with Red Chimichurri Sauce, Charred Corn Salsa, Avocado Salsa and Best Brownies. She also provides "hands-on" time for each recipe and advice for scaling quantities up or down to feed a crowd or a few.