Thursday, May 21, 2009

The delectable word: noteworthy cookbooks

I’ve been a bit lazy about cooking lately. Partially driven by heavy dietary restrictions as I round corner on the last month of pregnancy, and partially driven by being very busy styling and shooting for others (all good!). I thought that instead of going radio silent, I’d share some great inspiration from cookbooks I’ve been enjoying recently.

My stash of cookbooks is ever growing. Lately I’ve been more interested in cookbooks with high visual appeal than ones that simply offer great recipes. I love flipping through photos and leaving books out on the table as display pieces. I need that extra special something to draw me in to a new purchase. Here’s what I’m enjoying right now.

Tartine by Elizabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson (from the San Francisco bakery)

I love the recipes in this book – every one I’ve tried is fool proof and special. But in addition to the recipes, the book itself is a pleasure. It is printed on thick, matte paper and the images it has inside are artful (wish there were more). Every time I browse through the book I get the urge to bake! (note: try the pots de creme!)

Hot Sour Salty Sweet by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

This one is a “culinary journey through southeast Asia” by a husband and wife team of cooks, travelers, writers and photographers. It is as much a coffee table book as it is a cookbook. It is about an inch thick and printed on a beautiful semi-gloss paper. It is choc full of images, some which span two pages. It is part travel log, part cookbook and inspires one to be more adventurous with spices and flavors.

The Book of New Israeli Food: a Culinary Journey by Jana Gur

An Israeli friend gave this book to me long before I had ever been to the country. The book is a beautiful, modern, over-sized cookbook with vibrant photos and lots of background information. Having now been to Israel I am motivated to go through this book and try to re-create some of the absolutely wonderful cuisine we had there. I only wish our fruits and vegetables were as fresh and flavorful as what is available there.

Turquoise: A Chef's Travels in Turkey by Greg and Lucy Malouf with photos by William Meppen and Lisa Cohen

I don't own this one but I’ve given it as a gift twice. It’s a gorgeous coffee table book presented in a photo journalistic style that talks about food, culture and history. It is breathtakingly beautiful. I have been following Lisa and William’s work with great admiration and the combination of the two makes for a stunning book.

Ottolenghi: the Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

This is a cookbook from London-based restaurateurs Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. It is fully of fresh recipes with a middle-eastern influence. The focus is on the ingredients and the food is unfussy and full of flavor. Lots of healthy salads as well as decadent desserts – but all rustic and street-food influenced: nothing overly complicated or precious. Just the way I love to eat! Note: order this from Amazon UK, not U.S. or you might be in for a long wait (I know from experience!).

Eggs by Michel Roux

Last, but not least - a highly specialized cookbook: Eggs. It's virtually an encyclopedia of what to do with eggs. It ventures well beyond egg-centric dishes to desserts containing eggs. Roux is a master of explaining recipes in great technical detail so that recipes are fool-proof and you learn a ton in the process. This is a great reference book from basic to sophisticated preparations. Definitely worth a spot on the shelf.

In addition to these, there are many others I am tempted by – particularly foreign cookbooks with a different aesthetic point of view. I saw this one written up recently. Looks beautiful.

What are you reading / cooking from?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

All about artichokes (and photography of course!)

Last week was a very fun week. I had another feature on one of my favorite blogs, design*sponge, and found out I placed third in this month's DMBLGIT with this image - thanks Grace, Regine and judges for a great week!

The recipe I developed for design*sponge was inspired by spring and all of the new herbs and vegetables appearing in the markets, including one of my very favorites, artichokes. The secret to this dish is using frozen artichoke hearts, which greatly speeds up prep time and makes the dish a breeze! I've found some great frozen artichokes at Trader Joe's. Feel free to experiment with cheeses in this dish. You want something with good flavor (and meltability), but not something that will over-power the artichokes. Here's to spring!

On an unrelated note, a photographer friend, Steve Adams, asked me to remind everyone that the International Conference on Food Styling and Photography: Style without Borders is being held this year from June 12-15, 2009 at Boston University. Full details and a downloadable registration form are available here. Unfortunately, registration has now passed but if you are really interested perhaps there's something you can do. . .

Artichoke casserole
(serves 6)

1 pound frozen artichoke hearts
1 3/4 cups whole milk
1 3/4 cups aged Fontina cheese, freshly grated
1/2 cup fresh ricotta
1 1/2 cups fresh spinach, julienned
1 leek, white and light green parts only, well washed and cut into rounds
1 extra large egg, lightly beaten
3 Tbs fresh tarragon leaves, chopped
3 Tbs fresh Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped
2 Tbs all purpose flour
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper (plus more to taste)
1/2 tsp good sea salt (plus more to taste)
Olive oil

Pre-heat oven to 350˚ F. Cook artichokes according to package directions. Meanwhile, heat a few tablespoons of oil in a heavy-bottomed sauté pan and sauté leeks until translucent.

Drain water from artichokes and add artichokes, salt and pepper to pan and sauté for a couple of minutes. Add herbs, and sauté for 30 seconds. Add milk and flour, mix well and simmer for ~10 minutes until mixture thickens a bit and flavors are infused throughout. Slowly add a few tablespoons of the hot milk mixture to the lightly beaten egg in a separate bowl to temper the egg.

Remove pan from heat. Add the egg mixture to the pan, followed by the spinach and the cheeses. Stir until cheese melts and ingredients are well combined. Add additional salt and pepper if desired.

Pour into a 7×10 casserole dish. Cover loosely with foil and bake for 35-45 minutes or until casserole is set (check after 35 minutes). Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes before serving. Garnish with parsley.