Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Rich, complex, layered, soft

Is it the thoughtful wife who leaves a casserole when she goes out? Or the controlling one?
Here’s my question for the day: In traditional print media, novels, memoirs, biographies, poetry, and virtually all other categories of books have historically been reviewed, their merits and shortcomings vigorously hashed out. But not cookbooks. 

Why not? 

Has the assumption been that most people don’t want to read about cookbooks? Has this been tested and proved correct? Has there been no advertising to back it up? Are cookbooks just deemed too fatuous to merit any kind of critical analysis? If so, why review restaurants? Why review frozen chicken taquitos

Given how little book criticism get published these days, I wouldn’t want to see a single inch of space taken from novels and devoted to cookbooks. So I'm not indignant, I'm just curious. Over the years I've found more sharp, thoughtful writing about cookbooks in amazon.com customer reviews than in the New York Times and  San Francisco Chronicle combined.

Which brings me to this: The Piglet is coming. A week from today, friends. It’s the only thing I look forward to in February, now that I no longer eagerly welcome my birthday.  

I did some more exploring in The A.O.C. Cookbook over the last few days. After much recipe reading and somewhat less recipe cooking, this is how I would characterize Suzanne Goin’s California/Mediterranean cuisine: rich, complex, layered, and soft. She likes dates and prunes, squashes and sweet potatoes, persimmons, cheese, and egg yolks. If I were doing her colors, she’d be an autumn.

Since last I posted, we ate a delicious baked pasta dish that contained 1 1/2 pounds of cheese, milk, cream, walnuts, shredded radicchio, and squash. Having listed the ingredients, I probably don’t need to tell you that it was rich, complex, layered, and soft.

The next night I grilled tetilla cheese sandwiches that were topped with quince paste and romesco, a potent brick-colored sauce of ancho chilies, nuts, bread, tomatoes, and olive oil. The sandwiches were rich, complex, layered, and soft. Also delicious.

Other Goin dishes that I haven’t made but suspect would fit this description: dates stuffed with parmesan and wrapped in bacon; salt cod potato gratin with piquillo peppers, currants and mahon; corn pudding with poblanos and queso fresco; roasted kabocha squash with dates, parmesan and pepitas. 

Since we have a big bowl of romesco left over from those sandwiches, I'm going to use the remainder tonight to make one final A.O.C. recipe -- a melange of sweet potatoes, spinach, and bacon -- before closing this short, sweet chapter. Prediction: It will be rich, complex, layered, and soft. 

Tomorrow I'm moving on to either Momofuku or Sunday Suppers at Lucques, depending on energy levels, the arrival of an order of Benton's bacon, and my progress with David Chang's kimchi. 

36 comments:

  1. Reading your opening paragraph, I was thinking: "The Piglet, The Piglet!" and then you mentioned it further down. Agreed that not enough thoughtful criticism goes into cookbooks -- there are so many out there that are just not that good. This is one of the chief reasons I love reading your blog (the other being that I enjoy your writing and perspective immensely). I am counting the days til The Piglet begins.

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  2. I haven't often agreed with the Piglet's conclusions although I do enjoy the process. It seems they often pick cookbooks that feature recipes that don't seem accessible to the ordinary home cook, but that is perhaps the lure. I think your question of why there is not more criticism of cookbooks is a good one, and I agree that I find the most helpful critiques from the reviewers on Amazon and on food blogs. (Your critiques are the best, that goes without saying, but I will say it!) Aren't cookbooks a reliable revenue stream for publishers? Maybe that's the answer.
    To answer the question in the picture above, of course it is the thoughtful partner who leaves a casserole! The one at home is not obligated to eat it; free will and all that jazz. I have never left a prepared dinner that did not get cooked/eaten. Have you?

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    1. There have been some very strange Piglet verdicts, I agree, and there's always controversy, always some judge that readers feel is falling down on the job. I'm wondering what it will be this year.
      Have I left meals that haven't been eaten? I'm not sure. It feels like the answer would have to be yes, but I can't think of one. I have definitely SERVED dinners that haven't been eaten.

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    2. Have I left meals that haven't been eaten? All the time. I should quit feeling guilty and just walk out the door without plan. My husband has no interest in food, and only eats what's put on the plate in front of him. One time I was going to be gone for a long weekend. I prepared four suppers, all labeled as above. When I got back none were touched. He'd eaten a single slice of toast & peanut butter two days. And ran out to MacDonalds on two evenings. I enjoy your posts because it's my fantasy world where people actually do eat a variety of foods and enjoy it.

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  3. Please blog about how you use the Benton's bacon. We love it here in Tennessee!

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    1. I am waiting, waiting, waiting. Almost 2 weeks since I ordered.

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  4. Yes, Benton's is the BEST. We order it to be shipped to San Francisco we love it so much! My favorite way to eat it is on BLTs, but just straight up is also pretty hard to beat. It has ruined me for other bacon. Absolutely without equal!

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    1. I can not wait to taste this bacon. So many Benton's lovers out there.

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  5. Go for Lucques, I vote. But I am not you. Lucques is my favorite restaurant; the owner of Forage and the chef de cuisine of Forage both came out of Goin's kitchens; the northern Mediterranean cuisine Goin favors is totally in my wheelhouse. And everybody knows I love prunes. And I did not like Momofuku's pastry chef's book. None of the recipes worked! And I'm kind of sick of that whole junk food mentality of breakfast cereal and sugar sludge and potato chips. But maybe Chang does a better job than his pastry chef and maybe you're ready for a change.

    Oh, and just to give you another descriptive of Suzanne Goin's cooking style, the chefs at Forage refer to it as "slutty." Which I love.

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    1. Slutty? I love that. Does that mean she is willing to put any ingredient with any other ingredient?

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    2. Slutty is the perfect word, Kristin. Her food is slutty -- the textures, the richness, but there's some other slutty quality I can't put my finger on. Very voluptuous food. Which I guess is just another way to say "slutty."

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    3. Ah, voluptuous, now I can relate to that in food.

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    4. The recipe for strawberry shortcake was my tipping point fro purchasing Momofuku. I hope I'm not disappointed. ow I have to go figure out what the heck The Piglet is.

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  6. Inspired by you, I got my Goin on by making the Gateau Basque from Lucques over the past few days. Had to sub DeKuyper Anisette for the the Pernod and Christian Bros Honey Brandy for the Armagnac and an 8" tart pan for the 9" ring mold. Learned the hard way that my oven is running 25 degrees hotter than it was before the holidays. After cutting away the dark edges, I found the dessert to be sublime. And complex. And layered. And soft. And slutty.

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    Replies
    1. I saw that recipe and was drawn to it, but now I MUST make it.

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  7. I'd say it's pretty cursory and not all that thoughtful, but the Oregonian does review cookbooks regularly. They always have "what's hot and what's not" about each book. The latest is here: http://www.oregonlive.com/cooking/2014/02/leon_fast_vegetarian_dishes_up.html#incart_m-rpt-2

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    1. That's better than nothing -- but not much better. For the Oregonian it must be a resources issue. Clearly they want to make a statement about a book, but to actually cook those dishes and write something up would take money and manpower and newspapers are not exactly flush with either these days.

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  8. And when you do see cookbook reviews they are almost always positive. They're treated like ads or marketing, even when the New York Times does a seasonal roundup. (Tied, of course to Gift Giving for the Holidays.) I suppose it's because it's too much trouble to do what you do and test enough recipes to evaluate the book.

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    1. I know. This is worse than doing no reviews at all. I resent the flowery puff piece that makes you want to rush out and buy a book but gives you no really solid reasons to do so.

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  9. I wish there were more real cookbook reviews. But that would require recipe testing which involves a lot of time and effort. That is what makes your blog so special! I really trust your opinion because I know you prepare several recipes from each book. I've purchased several books based on your opinion alone and have not been disappointed. I'm especially grateful for your recommendation of The Splendid Table and Super Natural Every Day. I love both books and cook from them regularly.

    I have both Momofuku and Sunday Suppers at Lucques. I don't think you can go wrong with either selection.

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    1. I'm so glad you liked Splendid Table and Super Natural Every Day. I was really happy when I read that.

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  10. I have to admit, I read "tetilla cheese sandwiches" as tequila cheese sandwiches. I am not sure that would work! :)

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    1. That should be a challenge on a cooking show. Tequila cheese sandwiches -- GO!

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  11. There has been a lot of writing lately about the print media's focus on book reviews of male authors, and discussion of why female authors get shortchanged on review space in the traditional media. I think the same bias affects cookbooks. Thank goodness we have you!

    Your description of Goin's style makes me crave something crunchy to offset all that softness! lol

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    Replies
    1. It's true about the focus on male authors. Have you been reading the New York Times Book Review lately? What a change!

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