Many Iranians will tell you that breakfast is their favorite meal of the day. No matter how early people have to get up—Iran is a nation of pre-dawn risers—taking time to enjoy the first meal of the day is considered essential.
The delight of a Persian breakfast lies in the variety of different flavors you can put together for each bite. Breakfast will always include toasted flatbread, salty feta, and creamy butter, washed down with small glasses of sweet black tea. There may be homemade jams from local fruit such as quinces, figs, blackberries, and sour cherries, as well as honey, fresh dates, tahini, and perhaps, if you are in luck, a slab of thick, wobbly whipped heavy cream or crème fraiche.
Walnuts and almonds, soaked in water overnight to make them easier to digest, are offered in little bowls alongside platters of fresh herbs and thin slices of tomato and cucumber for those who prefer a savory start to the day. Eggs are boiled, fried, or whisked into an omelette for those who want something more substantial. As ever in Iran, a bowl of seasonal fruit will always be nearby to end the meal.
When my lovely daughter, Hillary was a Malibu pre-teen, I gave her what I thought was a total slam-dunk-she-is-going-to adore-it-Christmas present: A beanbag sofa in the shape of a large sneaker bought from the Neiman Marcus catalog. Fortunately, Neiman’s has always been gracious about returns, but my daughter still hesitates before she opens a gift from me. Bill and I on the other hand bask in the unexpected delights of her choices… though, how does one carry a 1000 page book (in small print yet) in a back pocket?
Please understand, this is not just your ordinary gift book; this is a bible - a primer from the Real Experts, and it is Where Chefs Eat: A Guide to Chefs' Favorite Restaurants (2015).
The cover is a visually busy almanac-styled side show tent chock full of promises: “Where to Eat, When to Go, What to Order, From more than 600 of the best chefs, From Fast Food to Haute Cuisine, A Truly Global Guide, Expert Local Knowledge. Forget the restaurant guides compiled by a panel of mysterious experts, this international guide is by the real insiders, over 600 of the world’s leading chefs. From Late-Night Hangouts to … (but we will never know as there is a big faux sticker saying … Brand New) If that is not enough to stuff this tome of tomes in one’s back pocket, try cruising the contents. Oh Boy, this beats the original Preppy Handbook for feeling in the know!
I mean, really, I know all the cool spots in Auckland, Shanghai, London, Berlin, Estonia, Latvia and The Russian Federation, Cyprus, Istanbul, West Hollywood and Tanzania – just to name a few. So, if you want to name drop where Daniel Boulud, David Chang or René Redzepi or Yotam Ottolenghi hang, then this book is for you… and you… and you. (OMG It even has maps!)
Last spring I had the pleasure of interviewing chef and restaurateur Deborah Schneider about salsas for a San Diego Union-Tribune article “Simply Salsa.”At the time, her award-winning 2006 cookbook, Baja! Cooking on the Edge!, named one of the “Best Cookbooks of the Year” by Food and Wine magazine, had just been re-released.
I was tickled. Schneider’s cookbook was the first one I bought after moving to San Diego eight years ago. I thought, I’m gonna talk salsas with Deborah Schneider! Followed seconds later with, It’s salsa. How much can we possibly say about about it?
The interview lasted an hour, though Schneider readily admitted that she could have talked for several more. (Her passion about salsas and their place in Mexican cuisine is deliciously genuine and contagious.)
Now, you too can talk salsas (and moles) with Schneider with her latest cookbook, “Salsas and Moles: Fresh and Authentic Recipes for Pico de Gallo, Mole Poblano, Chimichurri, Guacamole, and More.”
In her introduction, Schneider says this book “is designed to teach you essential Mexican cooking techniques and one very important skill: how to introduce and balance big flavors to create sensational effects.” As someone who has made several of the book’s recipes, I can say that the design works.
I reviewed a lot of cookbooks this past year, but these are some that I feel really strongly about. Let me tell you why...
Vibrant Food: Celebrating the Ingredients, Recipes, and Colors of Each Season is one of the most beautiful cookbooks this year, written by the talented The Year in Food blogger and photographer, Kimberley Hasselbrink. She has an eye for color and texture and that means her mostly vegetarian recipes are as pretty to look at they are delicious to eat.
Her flavor combinations are often unique but make perfect sense. She pairs risotto with edamame and sautéed radishes. She tops grilled halloumi with fresh strawberries, mint and cilantro. Turkey burgers are topped with cheddar and balsamic figs.
The book is divided into seasons and highlights different ingredients. Feeling bored by Winter squash? Chile Roasted Delicata Squash with Queso Fresco or Soba Noodles with Kabocha Squash in a Mellow Japanese Curry will jazz things up. This is an inspiring book with very unique and appealing recipes.
I’ve always been a summer kind of girl but I’ve got soft spot for winter holidays especially the festivities of the winter equinox. In Persian culture, on the first night of winter (which is also the longest night of winter), everyone stays up late to gather around one another, eat great food, and share poetry and stories. We call this evening Shab-e Yalda.
So while I don’t quite have the fire pit to gather my friends around, I do have my beloved coffee table (it can hold just the right amount of coffee table books than a true book collector can dream of) and every winter, I purchase a delicious cookbook to make new dishes and a new storybook for friends to discover when they come over.
For this year, I’m displaying two of the most beautiful books I have ever come across: the cookbook Pomegranates and Roses: My Persian Family Recipes and the illustrated book Shahnameh: The Epic of the Persian Kings which is a new illustrated version of Ferdowsi’s beloved tale. So whether it’s to celebrate Shab-e Yalda or any of this season’s holidays, both of these incredible books make fantastic gifts. They are visually striking, lavish in detail, and truly memorable.
So eat, read, and repeat all winter long…between the decadent recipes in Pomegranates and Roses and the 500 plus pages of illustrated beauty in Shahnameh…there’s plenty to get cozy and happy about over this holiday season.
Hugo Ortega's Street Food of Mexico rocks! And if you are planning a holiday cocktail party and want a break from pigs in blankets and crab cakes, this book is all you need!
One cannot be in Houston without swooning over a Hugo Ortega restaurant. Delicious evenings can be spent at the foodie delight, Backstreet Café, or his original - Hugo’s, but my favorite is Caracol – the best Coastal Mexican restaurant in the world. (See One for the Table review in archives)
Mexican street food, in this book, is not just the simple taco that comes to mind. Ortega traveled the breadth of Mexico re-discovering the local foods of his homeland, giving us delicious and unexpected recipes. Just scanning the pages of Street Food of MEXICO is a sensual treat.
I have never seen a book with more surprises: Mitchelada con camarones (Spicy Beer Cocktail with Shrimp), Salbutes con pato en recado negro (Thick Tortillas Topped with Duck in a Black Seasoning Paste), Guajolotas (Tamal Stuffed Sandwiches from Mexico City}, Ensalada de jumiles con nopales (fresh Crawfish and Cactus Salad), Camotes Poblanos (Sweet Potato Candied Rolls)… it goes on of course!
Just in time for Cinco de Mayo, these recipes - one each for the meat lover, seafood lover and vegetarian - were created by Chef Eduardo Garcia, co-founder of Montana Mex seasoning salts, which are used in each recipe (and available online). What's better than melted cheese mixed with mexican spices?
Lamb And Mint Fundido
1 lb of ground lamb
6 Tablespoons of chopped fresh mint
2 Tablespoons minced fresh garlic
6 Tablespoons of chopped fresh thyme, woody stems removed
3 teaspoons Montana Mex Picante Salt
4 oz Oaxaca Cheese, grated
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
Pre-heat oven on Low Broil
1. Large saute pan, on medium heat, add olive oil and lamb, saute and break as you would ground beef for tacos, about 4 minutes.
2. Add thyme, garlic, Montana Mex picante salt and saute until garlic is cooked, about 2 minutes.
3. Turn off heat, add all the mint and stir to combine well.
4. In a shallow oven-proof dish/casserole dish, spread meat mixture evenly on the bottom, and cover with all the grated Oaxaca Cheese.
5. Broil on Low in the oven until cheese is melted and golden brown, about 2 minutes.
Serve warm with warm corn tortillas/favorite tortilla chips.
Any fans of Lisa Fain’s first cookbook, Homesick Texan or her blog, Homesick Texan, will surely enjoy The Homesick Texan's Family Table, her latest cookbook of recipes inspired by family favorites. Fain always manages to put her own twist on the recipes, updating them, making them even better than you might remember and her stories of growing up in Texas will charm even those who have never been to the Lone Star state.
There are plenty of guilty pleasure recipes like Bacon and Chipotle Corn Pudding, Stacked Jalapeño Cheese Enchiladas and Potato Chorizo Breakfast Tacos, but also more modern fare like Blueberry Granola, Turkey Enchiladas with Sweet Potato Chipotle Sauce and Tuna with Avocado and Red Pepper Baked in Parchment.
I tend to shy away from self-published books, but I was intrigued by Taste of Tanzania. I’ve not seen very many African cookbooks and even fewer designed for a Western audience. There are many indigenous ingredients that you won’t be able to find, and author Miriam Kinunda has made substations and focused on recipes that are more practical.
The recipes show a wide range of influences, Persian, Portuguese, Indian and also some Asian and European and has a lot of soup, stew and vegetable dishes. Some particularly appealing recipes include Swahili Beans, red beans cooked with coconut milk, onions, ginger, tomatoes and cilantro, Fish in Peanut Sauce and Ginger Tea.
If you want to try Hakka cuisine, head to Hakka Restaurant in San Francisco, or read Linda Lau Anusasananan's book, The Hakka Cookbook: Chinese Soul Food from around the World. I received a review copy of the book in the Fall, and was lucky enough to dine with the author at Hakka Restaurant recently and fell in love with the hearty robust flavors and comforting rich dishes.
Even if you have other Chinese cookbooks, it's worth getting to know Hakka cuisine, because it's mostly home style cooking, ideal to try in your own kitchen. In the bookk Anusasananan traces her roots and shares stories from the people she meets on her journey into her past.
Since Hakka people moved all over the world, there are stories about the cuisine from places like Peru, Hawaii and certain cities in the US and Canada.
Please join us for a mucho dog-gone fantastico Tex-Mex BBQ Fiesta! Bill and I are having a party. So far, so good. But, how can I guarantee a dog-gone fantastico meal in Palm Beach when I need a genuine dog-gone Texan to prepare it. Count me out; I grew up in California where Mexican cuisine actually looks pretty and healthy. Not so, Texas. I need someone who understands brown – not green.
The Homesick Texan Cookbook - by the real purdy Lisa Fain - to the rescue. Firstly, I appreciate anyone who “after a fruitless search for tastes of Texas in New York City, takes matters into her own hands.” Secondly the dishes in her ‘own hands’ are wonderful!
Let’s cut to the chase; if you want to cook The Homesick Texan way, you can probably avoid buying cactus but you cannot avoid finding a source for Ro-Tel, a “spiced up can of tomatoes and chiles that is a standard ingredient in any Texan’s larder.” With the above-mentioned Ro-Tel tomatoes you can produce the perfect Chile con Queso. ‘Nuf said. That and a kitchen filled with iron skillets and a thorough knowledge of chiles, starts the delicious trek back to Texas and Tex-Mex heaven.
I love Chinese food but I rarely make it at home. I have a few favorite recipes, but I am definitely interested in trying more so I was thrilled to see Fuchsia Dunlop's latest cookbook, Every Grain of Rice which focuses on simple Chinese home cooking. I like the book, my only complaint is that sometimes more explanation of certain ingredients would be helpful; for example in my local Chinese markets I can find lots of different noodles, but some of the recipes just say "wheat noodles" or when I see an ingredient like celery I wonder, should I use conventional celery or Chinese celery?
I made a dish I adore and which is featured on the cover, Dan Dan noodles. While I have certain ingredients like both dark and light soy sauce, Chinkiang vinegar and Shaoxing wine in order to make this particular dish I went ahead and purchased some sweet fermented sauce and embarked on a search for find ya cai. Ok, this is where is gets complicated. I searched high and low at every Chinese grocery store I could find and there was no ya cai, a kind of preserved mustard green. In fact one store told me they hadn't carried it in a long time despite requests from restaurants. I did find lots of other preserved vegetables and Tianjin preserved vegetable another kind of salt pickled cabbage with garlic which I used instead. It's a delicious savory vegetable that adds a really nice texture to dishes and is fairly easy to find.
“Despite all the terrible terms that have been attached to tofu, it is still considered a good four-letter word by countless people. “ That’s how Andrea Nguyen begins her latest cookbook, Asian Tofu: Discover the Best, Make Your Own, and Cook It at Home
I share Nguyen’s feelings about tofu. It’s an unjustly maligned food. I’ve encountered numerous people who say they hate tofu even when they’ve never eaten it. Why the tofu antipathy? I blame Tofurky and other soy “meats” for defaming tofu’s reputation. Proteins should know their place: bacon should be bacon, sausage should be sausage, and tofu should be tofu.
Andrea Nguyen understands this, which is why she has dedicated an entire book to this ancient Asian staple. Nguyen, a respected writer and teacher, deliciously demonstrates her knowledge of and love for tofu. She tells the history of tofu —which was created during the Han Dynasty (201 BCE- 220CE) — includes a Homemade Tofu Tutorial for do-it-yourself-ers, and offers nearly 100 tempting recipes from soups to desserts.
If you think tofu is simply that white block of soy you find in the refrigerator section of your supermarket, then you’re in for a surprise.