Thursday, December 16, 2010

Are You Ready to Untangle Your Chopsticks and Get Started on Some Japanese Cooking?

I wanted to officially announce the start of our next round here at Cook the Books.  I will be hosting this round and have selected Victoria Abbott Riccardi’s book “Untangling my Chopsticks: A Culinary Sojourn in Kyoto“, about her time in Japan, where she scratched the surface of learning about the art of tea kaiseki.  Kaiseki is the highly stylized cooking that accompanies the Japanese green tea ceremony and there is much to learn about presentation, garnishing, ingredients and the aesthetics of this ethereal cooking style and about traditional and modern Japanese culture in Riccardi’s wonderful book.
Ms. Riccardi has also agreed to serve as our guest judge of our upcoming posts about her book, so I am delighted to announce that as well.  If you have any questions for our esteemed author about her book please either leave a comment below or contact me by email at oldsaratogabooks (at) gmail (dot) com and I will be happy to relay them to her.
In the meantime, please find some time during this hectic holiday and end-of-the-year season to put your feet up and curl up with this great foodie memoir.  Remember, the deadline to post your Cook the Books post is Friday,  January 28, 2011.  We love to have new members come join us.  No registration or anything fancy is required other than buying (you can buy a signed copy of the book at the author’s website) or borrowing a copy of our featured book, and then blogging up your thoughts and culinary inspirations, with a link back to this Cook the Books blog.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Announcing the winner of CTB “Heat”

Hello everyone,
It is snowing really hard outside my window (Athens, Greece). We went from 20 degrees to -5  in one day and it just feels really strange. It is the prefect weather to read and write though, so no complaints. Anyway, I think the voting went really well and I was glad to see that people really had their favourites. Below are the three posts that got your attention:


Second  place

Third place

Congratulations to the girls and thank you all so much for participating. Our next host will be Rachel from  The Crispy Cook who has chosen a really sensational book for us to read, Untangling My Chopsticks: A Culinary Sojurn in Kyoto by Victoria Abbot Riccardi.
Deadline to read and post your entry for this selection is Friday, January 28th
In the meantime:


Monday, December 6, 2010

Cook the Books “Heat” roundup

Hello everyone!
First of all thank you for participating in this round of Cook the Books. I was happy to see that you mostly enjoyed the book and you cooked absolutely wonderful dishes. I actually think that this was the most comfort food-oriented CTB I have seen so far. I have to agree with many of you who think that Mario Batali is a bit creepy and that Bil Buford is just not Bourdain, at least not in the way he tells the story of professional cooking/ I think he just doesn’t have the same zest for life and that greatly reflects on his writing. I also wondered throughout the book, how his wife did not divorce him. I mean, if my husband became so obsessed with something and suddenly disappeared from the house every night, left everything to go to Italy and apprentice with a butcher, I would be deeply disturbed.
Anyway, before I start presenting you with all the goodies people made, I need to make a special announcement. You know how every time we have a guest judge, wither the writer or someone worthy enough to do the job. Well, this time will be very different, as the judge will be US! Each one of the participants should email me (jdimopoulos AT foodjunkie DOT eu ) with the three favourite posts and why they liked them. The one which will receive the most votes will be our winner. You can vote for yourself if you want to, but you can’t vote for me, as I am the host.
Ok so here we go:


1. Tina from Life in the slow lane at Squirrel Head Manor, found Batali scary, but loved the book: Heat is a good read, lots of interetsing insight from a kitchen slave’s point of view, lots of good quotes and it’s entertaining.
She decided to prepare simple lasagna, inspired by Buford’s description of the kicthen:
Early on Buford states he was captivated by the kitchen’s smells and by midmorning, when many things had been prepared…all was cooked in quick succession. The waves of smell, like sounds of music, lamb, chocolate, tripe, octopus, huckleberries and then the comforting chemistry of veal, pork and milk as someone prepared a Bolognese.
2. Joanne from Eats Well with Others has a thing for:  mildly attractive, slightly insane, totally in-your-face chefs. Bad boys that cook. I can understand that about Bourdain, but  Batali? She actually calls him “an italian stallion“! Oh, dear.  She doesn’t care for Buford though:
Although I thought the book was an interesting read, I never really felt like I connected with Buford.  In all honesty, I thought he was a bit frivolous and self-involved.  Especially when he did things like decide on a whim to travel to Italy to learn how to make pasta without a thought for his wife or his career.  Reckless.  And unnecessary.
Joanne prepared pumpkin ravioli with sage and toasted hazelnuts for CTB. They were a huge hit with her friends, mainly because the filling was not so sweet due to teh presence of balsamic vinegar.
3. Some more home made filled pasta came from Glennis ofCantbelieveweeat who prepared yam-filled ravioli with sage butter using left over yams from Thanksgiving. Glennis, like me, had chosen Heat as one of her first ever foodie books to read and really enjoyed it the second time around too:
I thoroughly devoured it the first time, so this time I was able to savor it a little more in a different way.  While Bill ricochets from one culinary adventure to another in search of his own culinary niche, studying, soaking up knowledge like pasta takes up sauce, I kept getting pulled back to one thing…”The egg is very important.”
Glennis used to have her own hens and knows a thing or two about eggs. I will have to agree that especially when making pasta, the egg is of great importance, as there are so little ingredients involved. It is a pity that the filling did not turn out as well as she would have liked it to, since the yams were Asian and slightly dry, but i find that her ravioli look really good! 
4. Natashya from Living in the kitchen with puppies went the other way with pasta and prepared home made orechiette:
For my book-inspired dish I decided to make pasta. One that I had never made before. Orecchiette, little ears. I found a Batali recipe and sat down to make them. It took me 2½ hours, and the first batch of the little ears were rather irregular in size, but by the second I had the hang of it. Bill’s right, you only learn by repetition. And lots of it.
For her finished dish, she grilled hot Italian sausages and peppers, drizzled everything with olive oil and topped her pasta with loads of freshly ground parmesan. What a feast!
5. Andreas from Delta Kitchen , the only man of this round’s CTB, decided to try his luck with a very manly recipe of  home made Bratwurst, but the kitchen gods were not on his side:
To avoid the hassle of filling the ground meat into casings, I wanted to make some cevapcici-like fingerlings and wrap them into caulk fat. Sounded like a good enough plan, but unfortunately I ran into diffculties from the get-go. First, the nozzle of the (new and not-that-cheap) hand-cranked meat grinder was so low, I couldn’t use an ice bath but had to catch the meat in a glass casserole. Then the suction cup on the bottom of the meat grinder gave in, which made grinding meat really hard and very time-consuming work. Due to the slow going the fat and meat (predictably) warmed up and began to clog the die. After going through maybe 200 gram of the 1.25 kg total (I used a half-batch of the recipe given below.) I decided to form the ground meat into a fingerling, skip the wrapping in caulk fat and just fry it.
He used the sausage meat to make some bolognese style sauce with which he topped freshly boiled spaghetti. I think that it all turned out well in the end. 
6. Beth Anne from the Seventh Level of Boredom admits that she doesn’t like Mario Batali very much,  but she would love to share a meal with him. He is actually no 27. on her Bucket list!  She also didn’t love the book, but did enjoy the stories about Mario himself. However, she could never watch his show and here’s why:
Now, unfortunately, with my new found appreciation for Mario, I’m still never going to be able to watch his show. Why? Because I’ll never see him the same way again. Maybe if he wore long pants. But with those shorts…and the orange clogs….I’ll only ever have one image of Mario burned into my brain. And that, my friends, is his calves.
No, Mario doesn’t raise cattle (as far as I know). I mean his beefy, hairy CALVES. You know, the part of his legs that rests just below his shorts and above his signature orange clogs? Yes, THOSE calves.
Despite that image Beth-Anne was actually INSPIRED  by Mario’s calves (and is not the only one) and so she made Mario Buco (ossobuco). The meat turned buttery soft, the hubby loved it, and that ugly image of Mario’s calves was transformed for ever!
7. Our newcomer Nicole from Cocoa and Coriander is half Italian half French. She loves Mario Batali’s  loyalty to all things Italian, but:
I find his disdain for all things French unwarranted and uncomfortable.
Nicole decided to bring the two cooking traditions together, so she made hand rolled fresh pasta, but she teamed it with a very French sauce ofApple and Roasted Butternut Squash. It was her first attempt to making fresh pasta and she admits she would not do it again without the use of a machine. I totally agree with that, despite what Italian’s might think about machine rolled pasta. It just makes things so much easier!
8. Kelly from It’s a Food Life really enjoyed the book:
I thoroughly enjoyed Mr. Buford’s telling of his experiences in various professional kitchens, particularly the tales of Mario Batali’s kitchen in his three-star restaurant, Babbo.  Based on my limited professional kitchen experience, I found his account to be entirely believable. Although most of my restaurant experience has been from the other side of the heat lamp as a server, I have witnessed first hand the ginormous egos that take up most of the room in these kitchens already lacking in space.
Twelve years ago, Kelly had the opportunity to work as a cook in a professional kitchen in a Greek bistro, under a very macho Greek man (oh, my, do I know what those are like…) who was a close friend of hers. She could not stand the heat so she left his kitchen, realising that the life of a cook is not for her.
Kelly also made hand rolled pasta which she teamed with a basic Tomato sauce :
Throughout the book it is said over and over again that a good pasta dish is about the pasta, not the sauce.  So I decided I would make fresh pasta for the first time and then at Mr. Batali’s suggestion, top it off with just a basic tomato sauce in order to let the pasta take center stage.
9. Simone of Briciole was a great fan of Buford long before he wrote Heat and enjoyed parts of the book, but not those were Batali was described:
My favorite parts of the book are those where he describes himself dealing with the tasks he is given, like when he browns ribs and burns himself with hot oil (pages 72-73). Less interesting, in my opinion, are the parts where he talks about Mario Batali and other mercurial characters.
Simone decided to make purple potato gniocchi following a mild obsession of hers. She tried several types of potatoes and ways of cooking them before finding the perfect balance between the three ingredients needed: potatoes, flour and saltShe gives many tips and tricks about this beautiful dish and If you love gniocchi you should definitely read her post!
10. Alicia, a.k.a. Foodycat was not convinced from Buford’s writing:
What was Buford doing? If he was writing a biography of Mario Batali, it was superficial. If he was going for a guts-&-all kitchen exposé, he just isn’t Bourdain. If it was supposed to be a bildungsroman of his growth into cooking, well, he didn’t give enough of himself to make me feel the journey. He spends too much time hiding in the shadow of (somewhat tediously) larger than life characters for me to really be that interested when he finally steps out into the sun.
Since meat greatly features in the book, Alicia made Spaghetti Bolognese. But not just any bolognese, a magnificent gamey one, with three types of meat and chicken  livers. What a treat that must have been to eat!
11. Claudia of Honey from Rock really enjoyed Buford’s book:
I truly admire Buford’s incredible verisimilitude in reporting.  To go through learning all the steps, from hours, months of mundane prep work, to apprenticing at the stations for pasta, grill work and plating, not to mention, of course, enduring the intense heat (physically and emotionally) back there in the kitchen, including real abuse from some of the chefs.  His book could have alternatively been titled, Life on the Line.  It sounded like hell to me.  Not anywhere I’d want to be.  Though, I’m glad he did, so we could read about it.
She also admits that she doesn’t enjoy the pressure of cooking for many people and would rather dress up and go to a restaurant instead ! Since Claudia, owned the Babbo cookbook already, she was actually inspired byHeat to start cooking from it and made braised short ribs, gremolata and polenta. Apparently, hubby loved the ribs so much he expects them on his plate once a week!
12. Cook the Books co-founder and our next CTB host,  Rachel from  The Crispy Cook found the book extremely entertaining, but was intrugues not so much by Mario himslefthan by Marco Pierre White and Jo Bastianich:
Joe is the laconic scion of the Bastianich restaurant empire and Batali’s business partner. He knows food and wine and how to keep the finances afloat in the Batali restaurant galaxy. He does not wax poetic about the glamour of restaurant life, having had to clean out the grease traps, pull bay leaves out of choking throats and sweep up piles of post-exterminator insect detritus in the family restaurant.
Marco Pierre White is an even more outrageous, larger-than-life character than Batali, who endured a four-month stint as White’s kitchen slave in London before quitting in a fit of pique. White is so very foul-mouthed, so mean, so physically intimidating, as described by Buford, that even when the two meet, over a frightfully proper traditional roast grouse meal at White’s newest restaurant acquisition, he works himself into an increasingly cold fury ruminating on every bit of the dish that is overdone or incorrectly prepared.
Rachel decided to make a very elegant appetizer, Mario Batali’s Goats Cheese truffles with pepperonata. I was actually really taken by this recipe as I have never tasted blanched arugula before. Will definitely try it soon!
13. Our other lovely co-founder, Deb of Kahakai Kitchen says about the book:
The book is eye-opening and slightly discomforting. “Bad Boy Chef” works well for Anthony Bourdain, but with Mario Batali it seems strange and slightly creepy. ;-) I did enjoy this book, although for exposing the back of house of the restaurant world, Bourdain still gets my vote for #1.
Deb was also inspired by Mario’s calves and cooked an Osso Buco with toasted pine nut gremolata and Polenta con Parmigiano.
For my dish, I went with inspiration from two sources–my heart and Mario Batali’s calves. Osso buco is one of my very favorite dishes ever, and British mega-chef (and another kitchen bad boy) Marco Pierre White had a colorful description of Batali, who worked as White’s kitchen slave in the early days of his career. From the book: “I will never forget him,” White said, when I met him in London. “He has f*#@king (that’s my edit it’s a PG blog folks!), big calves, doesn’t he? He should donate them to the kitchen when he dies. They’ll make a great osso buco. If he walked in today, and I only saw those calves, I’d know it was Mario.”

14.  I  (foodjunkie) also decided to make a Bolognese based on Mario Batali’s recipe. I was just recovering from a cold and needed something satisfying and yummy. Bolognese is very similar  to a Greek dish, “makaronia me kima” (pasta with mince), but due to its richer nature it tastes very  different.