Friday, June 28, 2013

Larousse Gastronomique, the first English edition

This little gem lay on a dusty shelf in a resale store in DeKalb, IL, swathed in a dust cover so busy and unstylish that nearly caused me to pass it by.

I've never been one for encyclopedic food books, and the Larousse Gastronomique always seemed  extra fuddy-duddy. But my curiosity was piqued by the mention of 'First English Edition.'  Trying to ignore the terribly-composed, grainy black and white pictures, I skimmed on and on.  The photos bore the unfortunate quality of depicting those very food items that resist black-and-white photography, such as cauliflower au gratin and eggs a la florentine.  I am sure bad photography was not what Prosper Montagné imagined in 1938 when he set out to complete the orgean task of collecting French ingredients, foods, recipes and traditions.

The Larousse has been updated many times over, resulting in, I'm sure, many deep excavations into the very definition of French cuisine.  Does it stop at the holy temples of Escoffier or Careme? Or are we allowed to freely admit that the French, like everyone else, eagerly filched from their colonial encounters? Today's Larousse reflects this political correctness, or so I hear.  This 1961 English edition, on the other hand, tries to preserve the original French edition for an educated Anglo-American audience. The edition gives both metric and imperial measures, blessing for my own trans-Atlantic confusion of a life. Wonderful charts show meat cuts in three culinary traditions - American, French and English. And the maps! Place names disappear from the French regions, replaced by iconic foods of la terroir.  The maps are a work of art.

The 1961 Larousse is not so much an encyclopedia as a bookmark, capturing an important, enthusiastic moment in the Franco-American culinary relations, a moment that also allowed for Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, published that same year, to shine.

Equinoctal sundown

[Note: This post is from 2005.  I retrieved this in draft form, found the pictures on my defunct Flickr site, and am re-posting it in the spirit of re-reviving this blog.  I love the gentleness of the cookbook and its cuisine, and the reminders of cooking such delicate yet hearty foods in Japan. The dishes are also presented, deliberately I think, on some of the first ceramics I made in my life, at that sweet little studio near the Nishiiki market in downtown Kyoto.]

Since coming into possession of my new cookbook - The Enlightened Kitchen by Mari Fujii - I have been waiting for an opportunity to try cooking one of those delicate temple meals, laden with different combinations and preparations of tofu, seaweed, eggplant, sweet potato, pumpkin, mushrooms, and persimmons. I was very pleased with how this one turned out. Although I didn't go vegetarian as Fujii recommends in her gorgeous rhapsodizing of shojin ryori (Japanese temple cuisine), her luscious pictures of surprising vegetable-rice-potato combinations perched on artisanal plateware zinged me into action.

I gave myself over to an hour of blissful indecision and happy preparation, and produced things out of ingredients I had on hand: fried eggplant drizzled with tomato sauce; lean pork sauteed with persimmon, ginger rice. The latter came strictly out of Fujii's book. The eggplant was also inspired by it - but the sauce was a time-saving substitute for more elaborate dengaku and miso flavorings.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Freshly-picked brussel sprouts

Is what the sign said at the tiny DeKalb Farmers' Market yesterday.  After last week's retreat at my friend Zoe's, in which she showed me how to make the fabulous raw kale salad above, I've been trying to raw-ify some of my meals.  Asparagus shaved, with radish and grana padano (my current on-hand Italian hard cheese).  And now, I want to shave brussel sprouts into a tangy salad, like so.  And blitz the sprouts into pesto (to blanch or not to blanch?).

Stay tuned for: Garlic and tahini kale salad, shaved asparagus and radish salad, and some new ways with brussel sprouts.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Aniseedy tau yew bak

When I returned from Singapore in October, I made a mad dash to the kitchen like never before.   I was melancholic on the plane, poring over every page in Cooking for the President, which counts as the most expensive cookbook I've ever bought.  I threw my homesickness into making food from home.  The dish I chose that frenzied, grief-stricken, homesick day was tau yew bak (soy sauce pork belly).  I had cooked it before.  I also ended up straying from the recipe as usual. I threw in the one spice that spoke to me more than anything else of my mother's interpretation of this dish - star anise. Once it's in my kitchen drawer I slip it in stocks and soups and even stir-fries - a travesty. But this is where the star anise finds its true home, adding a frilly border to the sweet and macho character of the dark soy sauce, the springy bellyness of the pork. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Dining on the City of New Orleans

There's something to be said about an overnighter on a train.  Finding your designated room-ette, watching the train pull out of Chicago at dusk, listening to the sounds of other passengers settling in for the night.  And the thing I was waiting for: the opening of the dining car.  Train chugging, I wobbled upstairs, pulled my fair share of heavy compartment doors, and emerged in a little diner.  I was asked to fill the last seat at a four-person table, and the pleasantries began.  Except for the 200-year old man who was hard of hearing and kept barking my last name as a form of address, dinner went as smoothly as the track bumps would allow.  The famed Angus steak failed to appear on our menu, and the iceberg salad was inedible, but the burgers looked good (and tasted good, when I had it for lunch). Feeling over-meated lately, I opted for a vegetarian-tomato-primavera linguine, presented on a blue-rimmed Amtrak melamine.  In spite of one of my companions refusing to leave his safe place of the Korean War and issuing racial stereotypes about me, dining on the train really made the 20-hour journey special.  I could talk about the next day - the stops in Memphis, Jackson, the blur of cotton fields, the backswamps of the Mississippi, but this is a food blog.  Next stop: New Orleans.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Unveiling the masher-massager!

I'm all for classic, even vintage kitchen tools, but I made an exception when I came across this device in the North Market the other day. This Chef's Planet device looks nothing like a conventional potato masher - place it in your bowl of boiled potatoes and use the black ball to rotate it around. The textured surface underneath its vanes make a quick job of pulverizing the potatoes, but there is also a tendency for the mash to come right up to the rim of the bowl, or sometimes out of it, propelled by the vanes.  I prefer the conventional masher, but this does make for a great conversation piece. With its durable plastic and knobbly textured surface, it could easily double up as a self-massager!