Cookalong: Istanbul and Beyond, by Robyn Eckhardt

Published by Saturday, March 17, 2018 Permalink 0

Join us from February 15 through April 15, 2018, in our Culinary Travel Facebook group as we explore the cuisine of one of the oldest regions of the world — the very name evokes visions of the Silk Road, never-ending caravans wending their way along deserts, stopping at oases to feast on large communal platters and the colorful, bright bazaars selling everything from precious gems to vegetables and sweetmeats; a vision of swirling dervishes and kohl-lined eyes watching you from behind ornate latticed screens.

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A Taste of Paris, by David Downie

Published by Wednesday, December 27, 2017 Permalink 0

A History of the Parisian Palate

by Jonell Galloway

 A Taste of Paris is a delicious promenade through the Paris of times past and present with David Downie, guide par excellence. History and the senses are intertwined as Downie leads us through the City of Lights he knows so intimately, with many an unexpected turn, making it a suspenseful story that unravels the preconceived ideas we’ve woven about the history of French cuisine. Downie is not a tourist who spends a few weeks in Paris a year. He has dedicated his career to French gastronomy and Parisian history and is one of today’s foremost authoritative voices on these subjects. While this is a most entertaining French food history, it is much more. You come away understanding how and why this grande cuisine rose to such heights. Like the ancient Romans, the French, with all their pomposity and refinement, have a very sensual, down-to-earth relationship to life and land, and hence to food. This is a 12-course feast of words, and I wouldn’t skip a single dish.

***

Our Rambling Epicure Book-a-Month Club discussed the book at length in November.

 

 

 

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BOOK REVIEW: BAKING POWDER WARS

Published by Monday, November 13, 2017 Permalink 0

BOOK REVIEW: BAKING POWDER WARS

by Margie Gibson

Baking Powder Wars: The Cutthroat Food Fight that Revolutionized Cooking, by Linda Civitello 

If baking powder doesn’t seem substantial enough to merit an entire book, that’s only because its history and background have not been widely explored and remain generally unknown. Linda Civitello’s carefully researched book has finally opened a window onto a fascinating subject and era in U.S. history. The book is interdisciplinary in nature, shedding light on the science and chemistry behind baking powder, the international exchange of ideas and scientific knowledge that enabled the powder’s development, the history of chemical leavening agents, politics and corruption, suspicion of foreigners (in this case, Germans), and insights into the role baking powder played in the economic history of the U.S., as well as marketing, feminism, and social issues. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I found especially interesting the book’s exploration of how baking powder revolutionized women’s lives, freeing them from the necessity of spending long hours kneading and baking bread for their families. The popularity of baking powder in the US  also explains how baking styles here developed differently from European baking — U.S. cooks relied much more extensively on a chemical leavening action while more traditional European cooks relied on beating bubbles into the batter and using eggs as a leavening. This difference created new American baked goods such as cookies, quick biscuits, cobblers, and light, fluffy cakes.

Baking Powder Wars provides fascinating insights into a unique American product — insights that will change the way you look at a marvelous invention that we have too long taken for granted.

Baking Powder Wars: The Cutthroat Food Fight that Revolutionized Cooking, by Linda Civitello, University of Illinois Press

https://www.press.uillinois.edu/books/catalog/98ppx5cp9780252041082.html

 

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The Rambling Epicure Book-a-Month Club

Published by Monday, September 11, 2017 Permalink 0

THE WINNER IS “WHAT SHE ATE” and we’ll start discussing it from September 15 to 30, 2017.

Click here to join.

In The Rambling Epicure threads, it’s become clear that many of us like reading about food as well as cooking it, eating it, talking about it. With that in mind, it seemed like a sort of “foodies’ book club” (with apologies to those who hate the word “foodie”) might be an interesting thing to try. Jonell has a ton on her plate right now, and I’m always looking for an excuse to avoid work, so I’ll start off by moderating, but that’s just for convenience and for the moment.

As a beginning, we thought we would suggest four books. Pick the one you’d most like to read and discuss, vote for it in the comments, and on Friday, September 1, we’ll announce a winner. We’ll give everybody time to acquire and read the book, and we’ll open things up to chat and argument on Friday, September 15 and continue until September 30. 

If there are other books you’d like to suggest, that would be great. Please note them in the comments and I’ll keep a list, then we’ll run the most popular suggestions for the next cycle.

For this opening cycle, please vote for ONE of the following:

Since this is our first attempt, please feel free to add any suggestions about dates, timing, books, and how might generally build this reading group together.

All these books are available as ebooks.

Click here to join.

Maggie Topkis

P.S. We are now taking suggestions for books for the next The Rambling Epicure Book-a-Month club in October.

 

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Book Review: Ingredienti, by Marcella Hazan and Victor Hazan

Published by Thursday, July 14, 2016 Permalink 0

Book Review: Ingredienti, by Marcella Hazan and Victor Hazan

by Jonell Galloway

This guide is the testament of a woman who based her cooking life on the truth of every dish she cooked and taught, the vigorous truth of clear, uncluttered taste, taste that arises neither from obeisance to dogma, nor from a craving for attention, but evolves inspired by, and respectful of, the ingredients that nourish it.–Victor Hazan in the introduction to Ingredienti

Marcella Hazan, the “godmother of Italian cooking” and the woman many credit with bringing Italian cuisine to the U.S., died in 2013, leaving behind two years’ worth of handwritten notes in Italian in preparation for Ingredienti. Her lifetime collaborator, Victor Hazan, translated and edited these notes, resulting in what is undoubtedly a classic before its time.

With Marcella Hazan’s cookbooks in my suitcase, I was already “tasting Italy” on my way back from London to my home in France. I had a plan: to use her books to learn how to cook Italian food.

That was nearly twenty years ago. It didn’t take me long to realize that the precious ingredients required were simply not available in provincial France. French supermarkets sold pasta made in France with French flour, not Italian pasta made from grano duro. French tomatoes were watery-tasting, even the canned ones. Mozzarella and Parmigiano-Reggiano were rarities found only in a few exclusive shops in Paris. The French were just starting to get interested in olive oil, although in the Southeast it had long been the fat of choice thanks to its Greek and Roman history.

Disappointment quickly set in. Marcella’s Italian recipes weren’t going to taste of Italy using French ingredients. It is no wonder that she wanted to write Ingredienti. She knew this was a problem when living outside Italy and felt the need to enlighten her readers about how to choose and treat ingredients.

It was only later when I moved to Switzerland, where good-quality Italian ingredients of all kinds — tomatoes, pasta, cheese, fruit — were readily available that I returned to Marcella. From Geneva, it was also easy to travel to Turin to the Slow Food gatherings. During the Terra Madre conference, I’d arrive every morning with a roller suitcase and, over the course of the day, fill it with food to take back to Switzerland.

Later, in my Italian food journey — even when living in Italy — Marcella, and later Victor, became for me household words, their books like a treatise, a bible, that I refer to in times of doubt, for example, when I make “red” spaghettini alle vongole, which I must have made a hundred times using Marcella’s recipe.

As important as this book is, Marcella Hazan’s recipes are not only about ingredients. The true secret to her success is the lucid precision of the explanations. A scientist by training with two doctorates, her instructions are methodical, almost mathematical. She counts in minutes and half minutes, and you can count on what she says. Though her cookbooks were not written as culinary classes per se, once you’ve followed her risotto instructions a couple of times, you are struck by the rigorousness of the recipe, of how each step is in its proper place, and each time given is exact, and it becomes like a work of art or a perfect mathematical equation, with no excess and no frill.

Ingredienti is indeed a testament to Marcella Hazan’s undying commitment not only to Italian cooking, but also to the importance of choosing products and the actual process of shopping, on which we put too little emphasis. Marcella had an intimate relationship with products, knowing them inside and out as if they were the baby she’d raised. “Choose a pepper by its size, shape, and heft. It should be large, heavy, shiny, firm, and cubical in form. The long tapered ones are not as solidly meaty.” Now you have a clear image in your mind of what to look for next time you buy a pepper. The entire book is like this, leaving you with the impression that you’d been going to a market class with Marcella for a week and held the artichokes or peppers or onions in your hands.

Speaking of extra-virgin olive oil, she says, “if olive oil were a drug, it would have a place of honour among miracle drugs,” saying that “it well might be the most significant contribution to my survival.” Although she embraces the use of lard and butter, used in her native Emilia-Romagna, olive oil was the superstar in her kitchen.

On the important subject of pasta: one can’t say fresh pasta is always better than dried pasta. Fresh pasta, made with eggs and flour, longs for butter and cream, which seep into the crevices of its rough surface; dried pasta, made with water and flour, is a perfect marriage for olive-oil and tomato-based sauces, which slide gracefully around it. You’ll never look at pasta the same way once you’ve “consumed” this chapter; in fact, you’ll want to read it over and over, making sure not to miss a single point.

She tells you everything you need to know about Parmigiano-Reggiano, not to be confused with generic parmesan cheese. Its goodness depends on the origin of the milk, the breed of cow, the age, the season, and, of course, the method used to make it. Though this is not a recipe book, Marcella throws in the prize of Victor’s grandmother’s recipe for Parmigiano crostini, not to be missed.

The book is broken down by category of ingredient, including “Produce,” “The Essential Pantry,” and “Salumi,” with individual chapters devoted to classic Italian ingredients such as artichoke, eggplant, and tomatoes; pasta, risotto rice, olive oil, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and red wine vinegar; prosciutto, pancetta, and lardo, and a whole host of other products.

For those who live in locations in the U.S. where Italian ingredients are not available in the same way, just as I did in France, the book includes a fairly exhaustive list of online suppliers of good-quality ingredients with precise indications of what to order from whom.

Count on reading the book from front to cover in one or two sittings, and then keeping it on your kitchen shelf for easy, repeated reference, as you might do with a prayer book. As with all of Marcella and Victor Hazan’s collaborations, there is never an extraneous word, sentence, or idea, so you’ll want to read the important passages numerous times.

Like a yogi, Marcella repeated the same “postures” over and over, meditating upon the ingredients, seeking the truth in them with a focused faith and methodical effort. As a result, Ingredienti reads much like a text written by a spiritual master in old age. It is concrete proof of her dedication; it is the wisdom of years lived in perfect harmony with food, based on her immeasurable knowledge and intimate relationship with ingredients, but also on an almost spiritual reverence for their integrity. It is, indeed, a testament of Marcella and the truth she sought by going to the essence of every foodstuff she touched, and of the truth she attained in her reasoned, scientific manner.

 

 

 

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Concise Guide to Wine & Blind Tasting

Published by Thursday, June 18, 2015 Permalink 0

Book Review: The Concise Guide to Wine & Blind Tasting

by Jonell Galloway

The Concise Guide to Wine & Blind Tasting is destined to become a modern classic. Written by Neel Burton, psychiatrist and Oxford professor, and James Flewellen, biophysicist at Oxford – together founders of the Oxford Wine Academy — the book is well stocked with vital information about all aspects of wine, from soil and vine to drinking for pleasure and blind tasting.

Its clear, detailed information will appeal to serious amateurs and experienced professionals alike. The first three chapters tackle the history of wine as well as the principles of viticulture and winemaking, using an approach unique to the authors, reflecting their methodical way of thinking and scientific backgrounds. This section serves as a comprehensive, accessible introduction for less seasoned wine drinkers, giving them a firm technical basis and the curiosity to want to continue learning.

The ensuing twenty-three chapters address the world’s geographic regions, including three dedicated to notable French appellations, sparkling wine and fortified wine, respectively. Chapters are well structured, dealing with the lie of the land, climate, soil, grape varieties, appellations, and wine styles, and give thorough attention to each of these components. The authors explain how to differentiate wines based on the interplay of these factors, and address the effect of appearance, palate and nose and how these interact with one’s senses and perceptions. This section serves as a reference for even the most seasoned wine drinker.

For those interested in blind tasting, the appendices explain how to set up a blind tasting, and include crib sheets by grape and terroir — a most useful reference for those interested in honing their skills — along with international classification systems and food and wine matching.

This is both a user’s manual and a connoisseur’s guide, and its clear and fluent exposition sets it apart from other guides. You’ll keep this reference book on your shelf; its pages will yellow (and possibly purple) and show their wear and tear. You might even pass it on to your grandchildren. That’s how good it is.

 

 

 

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