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Friday, April 26, 2013

Wary of The 4-Hour Chef

Never having read The 4-Hour Workweek, but hearing that its author was somewhat out there, I picked up his latest tome, The 4-Hour Chef, with low expectations.  I started to read it through, and was hooked, skimming through the entire book, and putting it down only when I got to the last page.

Lots of cookbooks cover old ground, and it's rare that I find more than one or two bits of information that I haven't heard before.  During my quick read of The 4-Hour Chef, I found so many useful tips and techniques, that I ended up going back and combing  through it  carefully, looking for anything I may have missed.

The 4-Hour Chef  truly IS out there, in many ways.  Ferriss includes numerous detours and sidebars in what I would actually term a cookbook slash experiential memoir, of him  learning  to cook from very accomplished and famous chefs.

Take the entire "Wild" section for example.  Here you will find  info (beware - graphic photos!) on butchering rabbits, chickens, deer, squirrels  and various other animals.  These I skipped, (at my peril, I suppose, in case there is ever a nationwide disaster).

Another section called "Sci" explores molecular gastronomy, if by any chance you want to add to your cooking repertoire gels, foams, and powders after the techniques made famous by Ferran Adria, of elBulli in Spain.  (Not today, thank you.)

Not only that, but interspersed among  these esoteric wanderings are treatises on  how to learn a foreign language, what is the best survival gear, etc.  What?  But you'll also find great recipes from master chefs and eminently  usable and valuable information.  For example, there are informative sections on educating your palate, practicing knife skills, and purchasing good kitchen equipment.

Rosemary cookies al fresco.

My first foray into these recipes was trying the Rosemary Pistachio Cookies from the Science section.  I must say, people really liked these.  They were similar to brown sugar chocolate chip cookies,  but with the chocolate exchanged for white chocolate, the walnuts for pistachios, and fresh rosemary added for a subtle and delicious nuance.

There is no way I would call Ferris' writing subtle.  Much of it is irreverent and colloquial, but undoubtably there is a great deal of accurate and useful information here. If you choose to follow  his "Dom" for Domestic section alone, you would, as advertised by the title, be well on your way to acquiring  a solid foundation for a lifetime of cooking without recipes.

Kokkari Shrimp, with added artichokes.

Recipes I tried and loved:  Kokkari Shrimp, Harissa Crab Cakes, and Coconut Cauliflower Mash with cashews.  Only the cookie recipe needed to be tweaked a little, adding 1 Tablespoon baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt to all-purpose flour instead of  using self-rising flour, because, after all, who HAS that?

Harissa Crab Cakes and Coconut Curry Cauliflower.

This is an altogether fun and valuable book, whose recipes, by the way,  follow the precepts which he espoused in The 4-Hour Body, (a book  I was compelled to pick up next, figuring that if Ferris had great  information about cooking, maybe he had some good ideas about being fit too: jury still out on that).  The 4-Hour Chef recipes are easy, emphasize good quality ingredients, and generally exclude white starches.  A bonus:  the recipes are sophisticated, but simple enough to require a minimal number of pots and pans which translates into easy clean-up.

Although Tim Ferris is most definitely a nut, he is a well researched, successful, rich and smart one too.  Try this recipe below as an alternative to rice or potatoes, or it's great on its own too.

Easy cauliflower prep tip.
The delicious result.

Coconut Cauliflower Curry Mash  adapted from Tim Ferris' The 4-Hour Chef

1 small head caulifower
1/4 cup roasted cashews
3/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk (such as Thai Kitchen)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Pull off all the green leaves from the cauliflower.  Center the stem on a tea towel, pull up the sides to cover the top, and hold it,  smashing the stem down on a cutting board.  All the florets will break off, leaving the stem.  (Is this a great technique or what?)  Cut up any larger florets, so that the pieces are of uniform size and will cook evenly.  Discard the stem.

Put the florets in a medium saucepan, adding the cashews and coconut milk.  Heat until boiling, then reduce to a simmer, covered, for 20 minutes or until tender.  Off heat, stir in the salt, curry and cinnamon.  Mash with a fork or a potato masher until of the desired consistency.

Diane Whitman
Reference Librarian
Learning Not to Make Snap Judgements (Sometimes)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

More Good Movies You Might Have Missed...

by Jill Eisner
Sr. Librarian, Information Services

Hi Everyone,

Check out these recent additions to our collection:

A Late Quartet


Directed by Yaron Zilberman, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Mark Ivanir, Christopher Walken, Wallace Shawn, Imogen Poots, and Catherine Keener.  
After 25 years together, the members of a world-renowned string quartet learn that their beloved cellist may soon be forced to retire. But the news stirs up equally painful challenges when competing egos, harbored resentment, and irrepressible lust threaten to derail the group as they struggle to maintain harmony in their music, and their lives. 2012, rated R. Drama.



Directed by James Ponsoldt, starring Octavia Spencer, Mary Kay Place, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Nick Offerman, Aaron Paul, and Megan Mullally.
Kate and Charlie are a young married couple whose bond is built on a mutual love of music, laughter and drinking-especially the drinking. When Kate's drinking leads her to dangerous places and her job as a school teacher is put into jeopardy, she decides to join AA and get sober. Her new lifestyle calls into question whether or not her relationship with Charlie is built on love or just a boozy diversion from adulthood. 2012, rated R. Drama

The Other Son


Directed by Lorraine Levy, starring Pascal Elbe, Mehdi Dehbi, Areen Omari, Mahmud Shalaby, Jules Sitruk, Diana Zriek, Emmanuelle Devos, and Khalifa Natour. 
A provocative tale, filmed in Israel and the West Bank, of two young men, one Israeli, the other Palestinian, who discover they were accidentally switched at birth, and the complex repercussions on themselves and their respective families. In French, Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles.  2012, PG-13. Drama.

Hope you enjoy them.  Let me know what you think!


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Is #Asparagus Trending?

When I lived in Austria one year,  and worked as an au pair for a very rich (old money) family,  the only asparagus they ever ate was white.  Asparagus often appeared as a kind of edible decoration for a platter of lunchtime scrambled eggs, served poolside, surrounded by tomatoes, the tinned white asparagus, and buttered toast points.

Turns out, most of Europe prefers white asparagus; green is quite uncommon. At that time, it seemed to me that white asparagus was the height of elegance;  besides that, I loved the name in German too: Spargel, (pronounced spar'-gull) as though it were sparkling.

Back in the U.S., even green asparagus seemed like an upscale vegetable during the Mad Men era. It was served on special occasions,  usually with a decadent hollandaise sauce.

Nowadays, asparagus is an everyday vegetable, a welcome harbinger of springtime in the markets.

Lately there seems to be a trend for horizontally slicing all manner of raw, fresh vegetables into ribbons, including asparagus.  Zucchini sliced into ribbons can replace pasta, great for the gluten free or the health conscious (see my blog post: "Zucchinis Take Over the World" from 8/5/2011). I've seen trends for beets, turnips and kohlrabi sliced this way for roasted chips, a la kale chips, too.

In regards to trending, last week I taught a class in the Library about Twitter. Using Twitter is not only interesting and fun, it's vastly informative.  You can follow breaking news in real time, (I saw eyewitness' entire videos of the Boston Marathon bombing within hours). You can follow well known people you admire in any area at all of your interest (cooking! libraries! technology!). This can lead to all sorts of serendipitous discoveries and references.

When I tweeted about making Kokkari Prawns from Tim Ferriss' Four Hour Chef (great book, wonderful dish, by the way)  - he favorited my tweet.  My brush with celebrity!  I was thrilled.  I'm sure it was auto-generated, but still, it's fun.  My friend's daughter has even tweeted back and forth with famous chefs.

Here's an example of asparagus pizza from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman:   ribbons of asparagus topping a homemade  pizza.

I made this one day when I wanted to try out all the great looking pizza dough variations in the Smitten cookbook.  Pros:  thought the greens topped pizza and regular pizza were very good, but what everyone really loved was the eggplant calzone.  It was a perfectly balanced temptation of eggplant, creamy cheese, and oozing mozzarella,  not too much of any one element.  LOVE.

Eggplant and Three Cheese Calzone adapted from the Smitten Kitchen

Prepare the dough, or purchase 3/4 pound of pizza dough:

1/2 cup warm water (between 110 and 116 degrees)
1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (NOT rapid rise)
1 1/2 cups (190 grams) all-purpose flour or bread flour, plus more for kneading
1 teaspoon table salt
olive oil, to coat bowl

Warm oven to 200 for 5 minutes, then turn off.

Pour the warm water into the bowl of an electric mixer. Sprinkle the yeast over it and let stand 5 mins.  Add flour and salt; mix with a dough hook at medium speed until the dough just comes together.  Change to low speed and mix for 5 minutes until smooth and elastic (or mix by hand, and then knead).

Coat a mixing bowl with oil, drop in the dough, cover with plastic wrap and place in the warmed, but turned off, oven.  Let rise for 30 minutes, or until doubled in size.

Prepare the filling:

1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 medium eggplant (about 3/4 pound), sliced 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick
Freshly ground pepper
Pizza dough
1 cup ricotta (8 oz.)
1 cup mozzarella (4 oz.), coarsely grated
1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan
dried oregano
1 egg, beaten with 1 tsp. water
bit of fresh basil

1 cup tomato sauce

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Cover a baking sheet with foil, spread with the olive oil.  Dredge the eggplant slices, on both sides, lightly in the oil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast 20 minutes, flip, roast another 10 minutes.  Remove from oven, but leave oven on.

Roll the dough out to a 12 inch circle.  Mix the cheeses together, season with 1/2 tsp. salt, and the pepper and oregano to taste. Fold in the eggplant, and mound it in the center of the round of dough.  Pull the sides of the dough up and over the center, crimping it to seal.

Brush the outside all over with the egg wash.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until deep golden brown (a pale crust will be less flavorful).  Serve with tomato sauce on the side, preferably with someone who loves good food!

I'll be teaching the next Twitter Basics class in June, so please sign up, come to the class, see what's trending, and maybe take out some great (cook) books while you're here.

Diane Whitman
Reference Librarian
Twitterer (Tweeter?)

Friday, April 12, 2013

Back to The Smitten Kitchen

Last time I blogged about how I could not stop cooking from Deb Perelman's The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook  from our Library.  Here are more musings on my semi-maniacal recipe testing:

Love my cast iron skillet!
The other night as I was wondering what I could possibly make for dinner, I found some Yukon Gold potatoes and had the makings for Deb's Potato Frittatta with Feta and Scallions.  (See adapted recipe below.)  Together with the Iceberg Stack with Blue Cheese and Radishes, this made the perfect dinner before going out to watch some college hoops.  

My visiting daughter proclaimed it, "Everything delicious about a breakfast sandwich".  She then proceeded to make the exact same thing for her family the next night.  This recipe is definitely a keeper - tasty, easy, and economical. The salad is all that's good about an iceberg wedge salad, but instead Deb Perelman inventively cuts the head of lettuce into1 inch thick slices. The result:  a better distribution of the topping ingredients as well as a fun, lopsided look (like the stacking game 'Blockhead'?).

Not so photogenic, but tasty.
The next recipe that caught my eye was for a Marbled Pumpkin Gingersnap Tart, swirled prettily and baked in a gingersnap crust.  This recipe totally delivered the goods as far as taste goes, but I found that the pumpkin and cheesecake did not swirl together easily.  The relative weights of the two mixtures were too different to blend well. Nevertheless, the flavor combination of the pumpkin/cheesecake/gingersnaps was so enticing, and the preparation so easy, that I will definitely make this again.

Picture perfect.

And just because my son Andy loves them, I had to make the so-called Salted Brown Butter Crispy Treats, aka Rice Krispies Treats.  (OK, and also because I had a lot of leftover marshmallows from fall's bonfires.)  These Treats looked better than average as Deb advises using a smaller pan so each square is twice as thick as normal. She also doubles the (unsalted) butter, which she browns first, and adds sea salt, which translates into a nuttier, fresher, brighter flavor profile.  Nice.

Better with more lemon.
On a baking binge,  I saw the recipes for and knew I had to make the following :   Whole Lemon Bars - because it uses one lemon, including the skin!;  and  Gooey Cinnamon Bars - because I'd read other  recipes for "gooey" cakes but only wanted to try one from a trusted source.

No improvement necessary:  great recipe.

Verdict:  the Whole Lemon Bars:  very good, but not stop-you-in-your-tracks great. I made them again because I wanted a quick and easy lemon dessert, and liked them better with double the lemon and 1/3 the amount of butter.  On the other hand, the Gooey Cinnamon Bars  were terrific:  people's comments ranged from "these are soooo good" to "you could sell these!".  Loved them, and was really glad I took them to work.  Otherwise, I easily could have eaten a quarter of this cake myself!

Potato Frittata with Feta and Scallions adapted from The Smitten Kitchen

2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
Salt, plus 1/2 teaspoon for the egg mixture
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 pound bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4 inch slices
3 or 4 scallions, trimmed and sliced thinly
2/3 cup crumbled feta
6 large eggs
2 tablespoons whole milk or cream

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Line a rimmed baking sheet with heavy duty aluminum foil (no pan to wash!).  Peel potatoes, halve lengthwise, and cut into 1/4 inch thick slices.  Pile on sheet, drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil, season with  salt and pepper, and mix well.  Spread out on sheet and roast for 30 minutes, turning them over after 15 minutes.

Cook bacon until crispy in a 10 or 12 inch cast iron skillet or other oven proof skillet.  Scoop out the bacon. Add the cooked potatoes and oil to the bacon drippings in the skillet, and spread them out evenly.  Scatter the bacon, then scallions, then feta over the potatoes.

Whisk the eggs and milk together with 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of black pepper.  Carefully pour over the potato mixture in the skillet.  Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes.  Remove foil, and bake for an additional 10 or 15 minutes, or until the eggs are set in the middle.

Serves about 6.

What can I say?  I love this cookbook, and have joined the legions of  The Smitten Kitchen's blog followers, who can't resist Deb Perelman's spot-on, inventive recipes.

Diane Whitman
Reference Librarian,
Compulsive Cook