Sunday, June 8, 2014

Cook The Books June/July 2014 Selection: "The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen" by Jacques Pépin

I was off-the-rock (aka Hawaii) and back for meetings in my old stomping grounds of Seattle in 2004, having dinner at the house of one of my favorite and coolest foodie friends and former co-worker. She had just finished The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen by Jacques Pépin and offered up her copy, saying how much she liked it and how she thought I would enjoy it. Mary is the person who way-back-when introduced me to the perfection of crisp and bright green haricots verts (growing up at my house they were slightly mushy, olive-colored, and called green beans) and taught me the joys of creamed baby leeks and the swoon-worthy pairing of figs and dark chocolate. The week she moved to Seattle from San Francisco, she pulled a heavy pan and a container of aborio rice from her boxes and effortlessly stirred together a simple but amazing risotto (my first) while we drank wine and caught up in her mostly unpacked kitchen. Based on my experience, if it was food related and Mary said I was going to love it, it was pretty certain that I would.  

This proved true with The Apprentice. It's hard not to respect Jacques Pépin and be charmed by his warmth and amazed by the career he has had in his over half-century of cooking from his first apprenticeship in a restaurant at the age of 13. Now approaching the age of 79, Pépin is a prolific chef, teacher and author, writing over 20 cookbooks and hosting or co-hosting 13 different cooking shows over the years. In The Apprentice, Pépin, tells of growing up in France and working in his mother's kitchens, his time spent training and cooking in Paris, his move to the United States in 1959 and many stories of the kitchens and the people he worked with--including some of the greats like Craig Claiborne, Julia Child, and James Beard. 

Going through my stacks of hoarded books library, I came across my gifted copy and had the urge to re-read it and make it our June/July 2014 CTB selection. I hope you all find it as entertaining and engrossing as I do. (Hey, even Anthony Bourdain called it "an instant classic!"). I'm sure there will be plenty of cooking inspiration to be found with the inclusion of some of Pépin's favorite recipes in the book--not to mention the vast amount of recipes available in his plethora of cookbooks and online.

Submissions for this round of CTB are due Thursday, July 31, 2014. Anyone can join in the Cook the Books fun by reading and blogging about the book and cooking up a dish inspired by its contents. Let me know when your entry post is up by commenting on this post and/or sending me an email at:

New to Cook the Books? Check out our About and Guidelines pages or leave a question in the comments on this post. 

Bon appétit

Monday, June 2, 2014

A Roundup of Persian Cuisine Inspired by Funny in Farsi by Firoozeh Dumas

It's time to lay the virtual table with sumptuous and colorful linens for our Persian feast, inspired by our April/May 2014 book selection, Firoozeh Dumas' memoir Funny in Farsi. We had not yet explored the cuisine of Iran and its Persian heritage here at Cook the Books, so this account of the author's childhood experiences in Southern California as an Iranian-American gave us just the opportunity.

Join me now in sampling some of the blog posts and inspired dishes created by the Cook the Books participants:

Camilla at Culinary Adventures with Camilla reports that she loved the book so much she read it twice!  Here's a quote from Camilla's post:
I chuckled at her characterization of Berkeley. Having lived there for 5 years for college, I would agree with her assessment - Berkeley wasn't just any armpit, it was an armpit in need of a shave and a shower, an armpit full of well-read people.... Don't get me wrong, I love Berkeley. But her characterization is accurate. I think that's where her humor succeeds. She tells it like it is.
Camilla notes that Iranians use rhubarb to add sour elements to savory dishes and she followed up on this aspect with a beautiful Radish, Rhubarb and Strawberry Salad.

Over at Kahakai Kitchen, Cook the Books Cohost Deb relates her experiences with the Iranian family of one of her college roommates and offers her comments about our book selection, including this tidbit: 
If you have a family that you love but that sometimes embarrasses you, you have traveled or spent time in/with another culture or country, or even if you just grew up in America, you'll recognize and connect with the author's experiences and enjoy this book.   
  Deb's Persian-inspired contribution to our feast is a fragrant Chickpea and Herb Soup with Eggplant.

Debra of Eliot's Eats, our newest Cook the Books Cohost, shared many snippets from the book, including this humorous passage:
Asking my father to ask the waitress the definition of “sloppy Joe” or "Tater Tots” was no problem. His translations, however were highly suspect. Waitresses would spend several minutes responding to my father’s questions, and these responses, in turn, would be translated as “She doesn’t know.” Thanks to my father’s translations, we stayed away from hot dogs, catfish, and hush puppies, and no amount of caviar in the sea would have convinced us to try mud pie.  (8)
Debra wisely chose to bring a luscious dessert to our feast: Persian Ice Cream, perfumed with saffron and rosewater, paired with a slice of Chocolate Bundt Cake.

The writer behind Briciole, Simona, the final Cohost in our Cook the Books quartet, did not relish our featured book as much as others did, noting:
I expect a memoir to go beyond a series of vignettes and give the individual experience a universal flavor. This did not happen for me with Funny in Pharsi.
 Simona made a vibrantly-colored, Persian-inspired, Black Beluga Lentil and Vegetable Soup.

Alicia over at the Foodycat blog enjoyed the book, noting:
A warmly funny memoir of her life growing up as an Iranian immigrant to America, I found this a very pleasant read. Even the parts that had the potential to be quite painful were told with a kindness and generosity of spirit that I found really winning.
Foodycat  made an aromatic meal of Lamb and Sour Cherry Meatballs, Tomato Salad with Pomegranate Mayonnaise, Saffron Rice and Carrot Salad. How transporting!

Back at The Crispy Cook, I wrote about how I loved Dumas' descriptions of her lovable, dreamer dad, Kazem.
He is such an interesting mixture of intellect and childish enthusiasm. He was a petroleum engineer back in Abadan, Iran, and later earned a Fulbright Scholarship to continue his graduate education in the U.S. It was during his American sojourn that one of his professors took him on a road trip to Princeton where he met (and flummoxed) Albert Einstein. After launching into a endless monologue of his American experiences, Einstein was rendered somewhat speechless. Or perhaps he took a mental vacation to hone his Theory of Relativity during Kazem’s "year's allotment of conversation". 
Like Alicia, I also had Persian meatballs on my mind, though mine were spiced with cumin, coriander and sumac.
Next we have Delaware Girl Eats' reflections about the book:
As a lifelong East Coaster, California seems to be a world unto itself, so I could relate to the author’s lighthearted stories of her bewildered encounters with California traditions. Most of all, I enjoyed her stories about family food traditions.  I loved her depiction of the Persian kitchen, marked by the constant desire to feed the people you love, whether they are hungry or not.
A refreshing Shiraz Salad with Tomatoes and Cucumbers is her addition to our Persian feast.

To round things up, we have a Claudia's insights about the book from her blog Honey From Rock:
It was indeed funny, lively and insightful as well.  Moving to America at the age of 7, back in 1972, and popped right into public school, was an eye-opening experience for a small girl, especially for one who did not speak English. What she remembers from that first day - "The bathrooms were clean and the people were very, very kind."  But you have to read the whole story to appreciate.
Claudia made the dish Lamb in Pomegranate-Cardamom Sauce, which unhappily did not live up to expectations.

Our next Cook the Books selection will be The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen, by Jacques Pepin. Deb of Kahakai Kitchen will be our CTB host and deadlines for posts are due July 31, 2014. Come join us in reading, blogging and cooking up this great book!

-Rachel, The Crispy Cook

Monday, April 7, 2014

Our April/May 2014 Cook the Books Selection: Funny in Farsi

Hello Everyone! I am happy to make the formal announcement of our next Cook the Books pick: Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing up Iranian in America, by Firoozeh Dumas. I have great affection for this book of autobiographical essays, since it made me repeatedly laugh out loud and bug my husband with constant interruptions so that I could read portions to him.

Dumas is a wonderful storyteller and her upbringing certainly was interesting. Born in Iran, she moved to Whittier, California with her family in 1972 when she was seven years old. Her father, Kazem, is a petroleum engineer and a constant source of amusement throughout the book. He's a bit of a dreamer, an enthusiast for American game shows, a constant dieter and someone who thoroughly baffled Albert Einstein when he had the chance to meet with him.

There is enough mention of Persian foods and Firoozeh's hilarious anecdotes about how her family encounters and experiences American ones to get us going in the kitchen, so I hope you will also enjoy this very  funny, but also touching, book as much as I have.

Submissions are due June 1, 2014. As always, anyone can join us in this round of Cook the Books buy reading and blogging about the book, including a dish that you have made which has been inspired by its contents. You can let me know that your post is up by posting a comment below or by sending me an email at: oldsaratogabooks AT gmail dot com.


P.S. Bon Appetit in Farsi : (befarma'id) بفرماييد (nooshe jan) نوش جان  

Friday, April 4, 2014

Twain's Feast: the roundup

It's time for the roundup of Cook the Books' Club February-March 2014 edition for which we read Twain's Feast: Searching for America's Lost Foods in the Footsteps of Samuel Clemens by Andrew Beahrs.

For each contribution (given in order of publication), I will give you the official information (author, blog name and post title) and a brief quote from it — a tiny morsel that will entice you to follow the link and read the details of the dish prepared and of how the reading inspired the activity in the  kitchen.

Now, please, make yourself comfortable, then follow me on a little literary / culinary journey on the footsteps of Mark Twain and Andrew Beahrs.

"I really had no clue that Mark Twain/Samuel Clemens was such a champion of American foods; while others were lauding the sophistication of European cuisines, he longed for some down-home cookin'... The Porterhouse is a composite steak. It's basically an over-sized T-Bone, thicker cut, with a lot more of the tenderloin relative to the loin portion."

"Twain often wrote about the foods of New Orleans, recalling the lands and waters that he knew as a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi... And he was fascinated by Mardi Gras.  In a letter he wrote: 'I may say that an American has not seen the United States until he has seen Mardi Gras in New Orleans'." These beignets are "an untraditional savory take" on those offered by the Café Du Monde in the French Quarter.

Alicia of Foodycat prepared Maple Bacon Popcorn

"I wanted to make something from corn...I also wanted to use maple syrup. Another food indigenous to North America and,  apparently,  one of the few mostly wild foods still popularly consumed... And,  of course,  bacon. After all,  it is the internet. Plus I have noticed that bacon is something that Americans abroad really miss. Corn,  maple syrup and bacon. These added up to a completely indulgent snack."

Debra of Eliot's Eats prepared Beignets

"I don’t think I would get too much of an argument by saying that New Orleans may be the most culinary city in the U.S. (and maybe the world)... Instead of funny looking fish, I still had beignets from Cafe du Monde in my head and I wanted to do a traditional New Orleans food. The Hubs wondered if I could make them.  Of course, I said."

"I ended up inspired by Beahrs' chapter on oysters, once so plentiful in the U.S. that they were sold by the barrel... I did end up with one container of shucked oysters from the Saratoga Springs Price Chopper which were cleverly hidden away in a refrigerated case next to the organic vegetable section, so clutching this in the crook of my arm throughout the rest of my shopping trip, I got it home and tinkered with the family recipe to make this rich and delectable side dish."

Deb of Kahakai Kitchen prepared Radish Soup and Radish-Leaf & Feta Spread

"I wanted something local,  somewhat seasonal... I ended up going back to the first item on Twain's list,  the radish. Easy to get fresh locally and something I don't cook a lot with... While I will never be a plain,  raw radish lover,  I have learned to appreciate them: roasted radishes are pretty yummy,  feta cheese is brilliant with radishes and the peppery radish greens are really quite tasty."

"One night for dinner my husband made two versions of oyster soup – one with milk and the other with rice milk: after trying both soups,  Paul preferred the soup made with rice milk,  which had a nice sweetness to it that complimented the taste of the oysters... I decided to try two methods... Maybe this was overkill, but it worked out rather nicely to thicken the oyster soup into a creamy oyster chowder."

Claudia of Honey From Rock prepared Manapua

"Around 1860 a number of the Chinese who had left the plantations began to open small businesses in an area of Honolulu known as Chinatown... Sam Clemens would most likely have visited Chinatown during his stay in Honolulu,  as he was there in 1866.  Chinese food had became wildly popular by that time,  with both foreigners and the local Hawaiians,  especially dim sum,  the varied and delicious appetizers. One variety of which remains a local favorite - Manapua,  the Hawaiian word for Char Sui Bao,  tasty little buns with a filling of pork char sui."

Simona of briciole (your host) prepared Roasted Trout

"Mark Twain loved Lake Tahoe. He fell in love with it at first sight... In chapter Three of his book,  Beahrs tells the story of Twain's travel west,  his love for Lake Tahoe and for trout dinner. In our household,  we also like a trout meal (lunch or dinner) and my recipe for it is simple and flavorful — though we have to make do with farmed trout."

A great Thank you! to everyone who joined in this edition of Cook the Books.

I believe all the submissions I have received are presented in the roundup. However, mishaps are part of life, so if you find anything missing or in need of amendment anywhere in the roundup, please do let me know.

And now, I’ll turn things over to Rachel of The Crispy Cook for the April-May 2014 selection: Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America by Firoozeh Dumas (2003).

Arrivederci a presto!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Next Four Cook the Books Selections for the 2014 Reading Season

Even as we travel through historic and contemporary America through the pages of our current CTB book selection, "Twain's Feast" by Andrew Beahrs, it is time to plan ahead for some other great reading to fill out the rest of the year.

To heighten the drama before this biblio-unveiling, I wanted to mention the changes that are happening with our Cook the Books band of bloggers. 

First, Heather of Girlichef, is regretfully leaving as a Cohost, though she notes that she will still join the group from time to time as her schedule allows.  I know I have always enjoyed Heather's writing and recipes, so I hope she can squeeze some time in for us and for some great reads in the coming months. The good news is that Debra of Eliot's Eats will be stepping up to the plate as our Fourth Cohost so we will still have a lot of "flavor and spice" represented in our foodie book selections. 

The second big change at Cook the Books is that we are doing away with the Guest Judge and winning post feature to our blog. While we have had a long line of wonderful Guest Judges and savored their comments about our posts, it is sometimes a mad scramble for the Cohost to secure a Guest Judge in cases where we've picked a very popular author that doesn't respond to our invitations (or an author who is deceased). We will still post a roundup of blog posts about our featured book, but there will be no Cook the Book winner. If an author wants to comment about our roundup, we'll pass it on. 

Now, onto the next four Cook the Books picks. 

Simona, Rachel, Deb and Debra have picked out the following books for upcoming rounds of Cook the Books. Here are what we have picked and why we chose it in the host's own words: 

April/May 2014 Round hosted by Rachel of The Crispy Cook

Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America by Firoozeh Dumas (2003)

This witty memoir is by an Iranian-born author who emigrated to southern California with her family in 1972, when she was a little girl. The essays about growing up with an engineer father who thinks he knows more about America and the English language than he actually does, adjusting to cultural differences in school and at-large, and marrying into a French family are full of humor and sparkle. And of course, there are some descriptions of lots of 
luscious Persian cooking to inspire us in the kitchen.


Deadline: Sunday, June 1, 2014

June/July 2014 Round hosted by Deb of Kahakai Kitchen:

The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen a Memoir by Jacques Pépin (2003)

Whenever I catch an old episode of Jacques Pépin on PBS or find him on a talk show or serving as a judge on a cooking show like Top Chef, I am struck by what a class act he is. Always respectful, thoughtful and with a true passion for food and for sharing his knowledge of cooking. Now 78, Pépin is a prolific chef, teacher and author, writing over 20 cookbooks and hosting or co-hosting 13 different cooking shows over the years. Several years ago a good foodie friend gave me her copy of his memoir, "The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen" and I reveled in his tale of growing up in France and working in his mother's kitchens, his time spent training and cooking in Paris, and his move to the United States in 1959. 

Stumbling over a copy the other day, I wanted to revisit this book myself and share it with all of you. Spanning several decades, his stories of how today's cooking scene evolved and his friendships with some of the greats like Julia Child, Craig Claiborne and James Beard make this book a charming and engrossing read for any foodie. (Anthony Bourdain called it "an instant classic!") The book itself includes some of Pépin's favorite recipes, and along with his array of cookbooks and online recipes, there should be plenty of inspiration and dishes to choose from. 


Deadline: Thursday, July 31, 2014

August/September 2014 Round hosted by Debra of EliotsEats

A Thousand Days in Venice, by Marlena De Blasi

I cannot remember why I picked up A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena De Blasi.  I am sure it had something to do with the books tagline of “An Unexpected Romance” and obviously because it was set in Venice.   But, I soon became intrigued with the life De Blasi begins in Venice.  The thousand days of the title include her moving from St. Louis to Venice to start a life with a new and unexpected love.  It chronicles her spontaneous decision to live life and share her heart with Fernando (“the stranger”) and immerse herself in the food, culture and people of the city that is to be her new home.  Thousand Days in Venice is a love story between a man, a woman and a truly beautiful city.  Rest assured there are some authentic recipes included such as Prugne Addormentate (Sleeping Pears), Pappa al Pomodoro, and  Porcini Brasati con Moscato (Wild Mushrooms Braised in Late-Harvest Wine).  It has been a number of years since I have read this book so I am looking forward to rereading it.   Please note that De Blasi continues her adventures with Fernando in A Thousand Days in Tuscany and The Lady in the Palazzo:  An Umbrian Love Story. She also writes about other’s loves in That Summer in Sicily and Antonia and Her Daughters. These books are all full of food, bittersweet tales, love, and beautiful descriptions of Italy and its people.    

De Blasi is also the author of two cookbooks:  Regional Foods of Northern Italy (a James Beard Foundation Award finalist) and Regional Foods of Southern Italy.
I hope everyone enjoys this trip to “The Floating City.”

Deadline: Tuesday, September 30, 2014


October/November 2013 Round hosted by Simona of Briciole

That Old Ace in the Hole, a novel by Annie Proulx (2002)

Although set very far away from the Newfoundland of The Shipping News, this novel shows some parallel to Proulx's earlier novel.The protagonist is a shy man confused about his place in the world, who finds himself transplanted into a new environment full of interesting characters and rich in local customs.

Adding to his clumsiness there is the fact that he is on a mission — to buy land to establish a hog farm— opposed by many of the people who also show him kindness.There are no recipes in the novel, but many dishes are mentioned and I hope that some elements of the story will inspire you. Above all, I hope that you will enjoy following Bob Dollar's adventure in the Texas Panhandle.


Deadline: Tuesday, December 2, 2014

As always, we welcome everyone to join us for one or more of these Cook the Book rounds. The only requirement to join in the fun is to read the book and blog about it, including making a dish inspired by its pages.  Please join us.