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.