Monday, August 12, 2019

August/September Selection: The Food Explorer

Happy Summer Cook the Booksters!

I am very happy to be hosting our August/September pick, The Food Explorer:The True Adventures of the Globe-Trotting Botanist Who Transformed What America Eats by Daniel Stone. (published February 2018). I was stuck on picking out a book, but the description of this one immediately caught my eye: 

The true adventures of David Fairchild, a late-nineteenth-century food explorer who traveled the globe and introduced diverse crops like avocados, mangoes, seedless grapes—and thousands more—to the American plate.

In the nineteenth century, American meals were about subsistence, not enjoyment. But as a new century approached, appetites broadened, and David Fairchild, a young botanist with an insatiable lust to explore and experience the world, set out in search of foods that would enrich the American farmer and enchant the American eater.

Kale from Croatia, mangoes from India, and hops from Bavaria. Peaches from China, avocados from Chile, and pomegranates from Malta. Fairchild’s finds weren’t just limited to food: From Egypt he sent back a variety of cotton that revolutionized an industry, and via Japan he introduced the cherry blossom tree, forever brightening America’s capital. Along the way, he was arrested, caught diseases, and bargained with island tribes. But his culinary ambition came during a formative era, and through him, America transformed into the most diverse food system ever created.

David Fairchild in 1889, courtesy of Wikipedia

How could I resist the story of the person who introduced three of my favorite foods (the avocado, the mango, and seedless grapes) to America? We have such a diverse food culture here and I am looking forward to reading about David Fairchild's travels and adventures along with all of you. I think this will offer us so many ways to go for our bookish dishes. 

The deadline for this round of Cook the Books is Monday, September 30th. I can't wait to see what you all make!

If you are new to Cook the Books and want to join in simply pick up a copy of the selection from your local bookstore or library, take inspiration from said reading, cook and post the inspired dish. We look forward to having you read and cook along with in this selection period and beyond. New participants are always welcomed with open arms! (Leave a comment here or check out our Guidelines page if you have any questions.


Kahakai Kitchen

Friday, August 2, 2019

Blood Bones and Butter: The Roundup

It's time for the roundup of Cook the Books' Club June-July 2019 edition for which we read the memoir Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton.

Inspired by the fact that Hamilton is chef / owner of the NYC restaurant Prune, I decided to present our club's contribution as a menu. For each, I will give you the official information (author, blog name and post title) and a quote from it — a taste that will entice you to follow the link and read the author's take of the book and how the reading inspired the cooking.

Cook the Books Club's BB&B-Inspired Menu

Apéritif: Negroni

Herbed Olives, Hummus and Whole-Grain Spicy Mustard
Celery Toasts

First Courses:
Orecchiette with Pesto 
Pastitsio (Greek Lasagna)

Second Courses:
Roasted Rack of Lamb  
Harissa Roasted Eggplant and Shrimp 
Eggplant Parmesan
Abruzzo Style Swiss Chard & Cannellini Beans

Side Dish:
Green Bean and Torpedo Onion Salad

Make yourself comfortable, then enjoy the meal.

Claudia of Honey from Rock mixed a Negroni

"I loved this book, found it a truly enjoyable read!... Gabrielle carries us along with her, from the beginning of her interest and contact with food prep, watching her French mother,  through years of camp cooking and catering, to the opening of her own unique little restaurant in New York City.  Her stint with various catering companies would certainly put one off ordering from them, by the way... There was also a drink mentioned frequently, in various places throughout the book, a Negroni, for which Hamilton does give a recipe... [which echoes] the sweet, the bitter and the sadness of their marriage."

"It’s funny revisiting a book seven years later, a book you once professed to love. Age will do that. My reexamination only left me liking the book this go around... Images of Hamilton rooting through her mother’s pantry as she was trying to fend for herself in her early teens also stayed with me. One weekend morning, I found myself preparing three recipes that I thought would pair nicely with this book:  Herbed Olives and Hummus and homemade Dijon mustard.  It just hit me that perhaps through foraging in the fields around the mill and hungrily searching through leftovers in the home larder that maybe Hamilton might have found some sustenance making something similar."

Deb of Kahakai Kitchen prepared Celery Toasts

"[Hamilton's] stories, descriptive writing and appreciation for good food and the craft of cooking make for an entertaining memoir that, although a bit uneven in places, had me readily following along on her journey... I went for the celery toasts. They sounded fun, and retro and perfect with a glass of wine. Plus, I didn't want to make/use blood or bones in a recipe, so that left butter from the book's title 😉 ... I thought that I would like these based on the ingredients list alone as I like celery and love blue cheese, toast with butter, lemon and garlic but I wasn’t prepared for how good these little toasts are."

"Hamilton can write... I enjoyed the clarity of the details as well as the vivid imagery she creates. She is also candid about herself and food industry... But, as much as I found her short-tempered and self-absorbed, she is certainly a strong person and I can honor her successes. Finishing the book raised a third question in my mind: given the opportunity, would I eat in her restaurant, Prune? I think I would. Though I wonder how hard it is to get a reservation there. The parts of the book that appealed to me the most were the descriptions of her trips to Italy and cooking with her in-laws."

Amy was definitely not impressed by the book. "However, there was no shortage for foodie inspiration.  I was more inspired by a food mentioned very early on in the book (like the first chapter – I almost quit reading right then and there, but decided to see this one through).  She mentioned the Pastitso she enjoyed on those rare occasions when the family got to go out to eat.  Having never heard of pastitso, I quickly googled it and found a fascinating Greek version of lasagna. As much as I didn’t love the book, I did love the pastitso! It was amazing!"

"I had never heard of Gabrielle Hamilton before this memoir was assigned.  I loved her honesty and transparency throughout the book.  I enjoyed her writing style and I love the vision of her American restaurant based on the warmth and comfort she found in various places during her time in Europe.
There is TONS of food inspiration but the first is roasted lamb.  Her parents would roast a whole lamb once a year and have a huge party.  It is one of Gabrielle's fond memories of a childhood before her family was turned upside down and scattered.  Lamb is mentioned several more times in the book in different aspects. Dinner doesn't get much easier than roasted rack of lamb."

"Hamilton’s book is a disjointed memoir. She brings us through her life and references food throughout, from childhood to adolescence to adulthood – showing us how she became the chef she is today. I have no doubt that Hamilton is a great chef. I did not think she was a great writer. While I am always intrigued in learning about a person, learning how they tick, Hamilton did a poor job getting me to care at all about her story... The only part of the book I really enjoyed was the part where Gabrielle spends time in Italy with her now ex-husband’s family... I decided to make something inspired by the eggplant with harissa and caraway she described. "

Tina of Novel Meals prepared Eggplant Parmesan

"Reading this memoir by Gabrielle Hamilton, a fellow Pennsylvanian, was a treat... Some of my favorite chapters were her interactions with her mother-in-law, Alda. It was clear Alda was beloved by her Italian family and Gabrielle fell in love with her too... As she studied her mother-in-law, and cooked beside her (cooking being a common language of its own) Gabrielle knew she needed to teach her young sons, Marco and Leone, about their Italian side. About kindness and respect... I was inspired to prepare... a rich meaty eggplant dish with the appropriate accompaniments."

"Reading the book, and particularly the pages devoted to her in-law family, I was reminded of my grandmother Amalia from Abruzzo, Italy... [Hamilton's] description of Alda's cooking particularly rang true. She writes: 'Her food is so simple and prepared with such dispatch that it is almost unnecessary to speak of recipes, and wrangling one from her is more of a poetic than a didactic encounter.'... Sounds exactly like my own experience in collecting grandmother's recipes, but in her case, by dint of persistence I persuaded her to go back and measure after putting out her ingredients so now I have many of them for passing on to family."

Simona of briciole (your host) prepared Green Bean and Torpedo Onion Salad

"Hamilton's writing and storytelling style makes for an easy reading and the events she narrates with more details are well chosen... My favorite part is when she describes her boss and mentor Misty for which she worked while in graduate school in Ann Arbour, MI... Once the book moves to Italy, a lot of what Hamilton recounts sounded familiar... I remembered my first vacation away from my family... in Calabria. A lot of the foods I ate were either new or prepared differently from the way my mother prepared them. The latter group included green beans, which my friend's mother boiled and dressed like a salad, but with the addition of red onion from Tropea."

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 Deb of Kahakai Kitchen who is hosting the August-September edition in which we are reading the The Food Explorer by Daniel Stone.

Arrivederci a presto!

Simona, of briciole