Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Head Outlaw Cook is Announced

Thanks to everyone who grabbed hold of our latest Cook the Books selection,Outlaw Cook by John and Matt Lewis Thorne, and submitted such great posts for our roundup. We certainly covered a lot of culinary terrain in our posts.
And a hearty thank you to our Guest Judge, our featured author himself, John Thorne, for stopping by to read our submissions and select a winner. He was most gracious and in his emails to me noted that “This is going to be very hard. I’m blown away by the thoughtfulness (and generosity) of all the writing and the adventurousness of the cooking.”
He went on to say:
“It was a very interesting experience: I thought you’ve gathered together some very good readers and very good (and imaginative) cooks. Also, I don’t get much of a chance to learn about the experience readers have when they read one of my books. I found it hard to believe that OUTLAW COOK is approaching its twentieth birthday! — perhaps because the food your participants chose is essentially timeless.”
And the winner of this Cook the Books round is……………….Claudia of Honey from Rock. Claudia’s now a three-time winner of our little CTB contest and her post about backyard bread baking, Romanesco cauliflower and Lasagna Cacciatora is interesting indeed. Congratulations Claudia!
I will now pass the CTB torch to another Hawaiian buddy, my friend and co-host, Deb ofKahakai Kitchen. She will be here soon to officially kick off our next book round, featuring that toothsome children’s classic, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl and I’m sure I’m not alone in looking forward to rereading this scrummy book.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Posse of Outlaw Cooks Heads for the Roundup

Our December/January book selection here at Cook the Books was John and Matt Lewis Thorne’s collection of essays, Outlaw Cook, a book your host has found very good reading indeed and was delighted to share with this merry band of blogging cooks. Though some of our regular book club participants found their holiday schedules were too crammed for reading (the horror!) and others found the book difficult to obtain in time for our deadline, an intrepid posse of outlaw cooks wrote up reviews of various chapters in the book and I think they were all marvelous.
First up is a new Cook the Books entrant, Julie of Cookbook Fetish, who was taken with Thorne’s review of artist Claude Monet’s cooking journals.  She enjoyed our featured authors’ “bubbling loquaciousness” and delved further into research about Monet’s culinary interests and Belle Epoque continental cuisine. She was inspired to cook up a Chicken Chasseur. As she notes, “the recipe turned out wonderful, meat sliding from the bone slathered in a buttery mushroomy tomato sauce.”  Welcome to Cook the Books, Julie!

Next we have Eliot’s Eats thoughtful post about various components of the Thorne food philosophy, (“one couldn’t have too many recipes”, and that cooking and experimenting with recipes is a way of enriching one’s life more so than the finished product). She particularly enjoyed the essay about the traditional English plowman’s lunch and incorporated three of the main ingredients, brew, onion, and cheese into a quick bread. As the English would say, Brilliant!

As an avid garlic eater and gardener,  Rachel, The Crispy Cook,  was taken with the chapter on exploration varieties of garlic soup.  I made an herb-infused garlic broth that was wonderfully restorative after a day out shoveling and battling the winter elements.

Simona of Briciole, enjoyed ruminating over the Outlaw Cook chapter on Ful Medames, the popular Egyptian fava bean dish. She made use of some lovely-looking locally grown dried favas and mixed them with green lentils, olive oil, and plenty of aromatics to create a great variation on this traditional recipe.  An Egyptian Plowman’s Lunch below?
My fellow Cook the Books founder and co-host, Deb, of Kahakai Kitchen, enjoyed discovering Thorne’s writing and described our featured book as one “to be savored, tucked into before bed, or revisited when a spark of inspiration is needed.”  She  was sparked up to whip up some Ful Medames, paired with a Cucumber, Lemon and Dill soup from the Outlaw Cook chapter “Soup without Stock”.
Our other CTB cofounder and cohost, Johanna of the Athens, Greece-based blog Food Junkie, Not Junk Food, enjoyed our featured book and was in agreement that “we should not be enslaved by recipes or food writers, but try to find our own voice in cooking”.  Johanna riffed away in the kitchen and produced a portabella mushroom pasta that was a tremendous hit with her husband. I would concur.
Our final submission is from Honey from Rock, Claudia’s Hawaiian blog. She enjoyed the book and notes that “There is so much here to inspire, encourage and challenge all of us who love to cook and to eat good food”. She loved the chapters on breadbaking, (be sure to check out a photo of her gorgeous outdoor bread oven back at her post), but ultimately settled on the chapter about Italian cooking before the tomato was introduced from the New World, entitled “Acetaria”. Thus inspired, Claudia made a sumptuous looking pan of Lasagna Cacciatora.
What a wonderful banquet of posts! I am sure that our guest judge, John Thorne, will enjoy reading our comments about the book and be interested to see what we all did as outlaws in our own kitchens. I’ll be back soon to announce the winner of this round of Cook the Books after Mr. Thorne gets back to me, but in the meantime you can all hunt down copies of Roald Dahl’s classic book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to get your juices flowing for the next installment in our book club reading.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Our 2012 Winter Reading: Outlaw Cook by John and Matt Lewis Thorne

I wanted to check in and  remind everyone that the deadline for posting about our current Cook the Books selection, Outlaw Cook by John and Matt Lewis Thorne is January 23, 2012. I hope everyone is savoring this wonderful book as much I has have. As I was reading and re-reading it I found that I was bookmarking a lot of quotations for later reflection.  Here’s a few that caught my attention:
While researching and experimenting with the various ingredients of a classic plowman’s lunch (bread, cheese, onion, brew), Thorne notes:
“One of the differences between the universe of cooking as portrayed in beginner’s cookbooks and as we acquire it in real life is that the former knowledge progresses in an orderly fashion, while in real life it arrives in unique chunks of experience…and in no particular order. In this regard, it is more like doing a jigsaw puzzle: putting your hand on just the right piece can link several other unconnected-seeming pieces together into a coherent pattern.” (pp. 38-39)
That’s how I experienced learning how to cook. I had read a lot of cookbooks and jotted down a bunch of recipes when I was a teenager, but didn’t really translate all that theoretical knowledge into reliably delicious, or even edible, meals until I had to cook my own meals as a young adult.
Here’s another Thorne-y passage that really resonated with me.  Thorne notes that he does not consider himself to be a good cook, as defined by being able to whip out a range of complicated dishes with great skill.  However, he does not consider himself to be the opposite of a good cook, or a “capon”:
“…one of those armchair appetites who lovingly detail dishes they’ve conned their wives into confecting)…Why do I write about food at all if I’m not an expert in the art of good cooking, nor do I want my readers to be? Because I think you don’t have to be a good cook, or even aspire to be one, to be an interested cook.” (p. 78)
In a wonderful essay on cooking with microwave ovens and food processors, “Cuisine Mecanique”, Thorne again grabbed me by the lapels with this bit of writing:
“Imagine wanting to take a whole afternoon to leisurely prepare supper–without food processor, microwave oven, or cookbook. To live, after all, is to experience things, and every time we mince an onion, lower the flame under a simmering pot, shape the idea and substance of a meal, we actually gain rather than lose lived time. Such minutes are not only full and rich in themselves, but they brush a lasting patina of lived experience onto our memory” (p. 353)
Such thoughtful prose has really made this book such a pleasure for me and I have been waiting to share this new-found favorite author with you all. I’m looking forward to your posts and I’m sure our Guest Judge, John Thorne, will be too.
Do you have any favorite passages from this book?