This has been a banner year for fall cookbooks. There are always some great new releases that I get particularly excited about, but this year’s different. I can hardly keep up and I wanted to share some of my new favorites with you. These are the ones that are bookmarked, riddled with post-it notes, and live on my bedstand–the ones I turn to for ideas on innovative ingredients, old-fashioned Southern recipes, and classic chocolate desserts. I’ve ogled them, baked from them, and recommended them to friends (not surprisingly, most of them are baking books). After chatting about these, I’d love to hear about any new (or classic) fall cookbooks you’ve been enjoying lately.
Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito
As some of my local friends know, I have an odd crush on the guys from Baked Bakery–even odder considering they’re two gay guys from Brooklyn and I’ve never even been to the bakery. But the approach that Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito take with American baked goods is inspiring: they play with ingredients and techniques to make a classic dessert that you’re familiar with into something entirely new. Take the salt and pepper sandwich cookies, for instance. Or how about the Boston cream pie cake (brilliant)? I went to hear the duo speak recently at Omnivore Books and what they said about American baked goods hit home for me: there’s more to it than cupcakes, and with their Brooklyn bakery they wanted to show all of the possibilities with classic, simple, high-quality treats. If their lovely books are any testament to what’s being done behind the counter, this could be the highlight of my trip to New York next month.
Pick it up: Baked Explorations on Amazon.com
Flour by Joanne Chang
As most of you know, I went to graduate school in Boston and visited Flour Bakery many, many times. This is the kind of bakery I’d like to have: warm and homey with a big communal table, specials on the chalkboard, big mugs of strong coffee, and classic American desserts. So as you can imagine, I was thrilled to open up owner Joanne Chang’s cookbook and see many of my old favorite treats: the double chocolate cookie (you must try this), the unbelievably rich chocolate cupcakes, that creamy pumpkin pie, and the trustworthy banana bread. Joanne’s head notes reveal a little about each recipe and give a history of how they came to be at the bakery. And she has some charming tips she calls “Baker’s Bites” where she reveals tricks and shortcuts for some of the recipes. On a shelf glutted with baking books, this one is a keeper.
Pick it up: Flour on Amazon.com
Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson
Tartine Bakery is right in my backyard (sort of), and as I wrote recently for Bay Area Bites, it’s a place locals have a love/hate relationship with. Tartine is really an exquisite bakery. If you’ve never had their morning bun, lemon tart, or fudgey brownie, put it on your to-do list next time you’re in our neck of the woods. The hate part comes from the massive crowds at virtually all hours of the day. And that’s why their cookbooks are a welcome addition to the bookshelf: with a little flour and elbow grease, owners Chad Robertson and Elizabeth Prueitt walk you through how to recreate their beloved treats at home. This book is Chad’s baby–it’s a celebration of the country loaf that the bakery’s famous for. With the help of tactile and sensuous photos from the talented Eric Wolfinger, Chad walks you through exactly how to recreate the crusty masterpiece at home in your own kitchen. In addition to the bread recipe, Chad has some great ideas for what to do with day-old bread (savory bread pudding, meatball sandwiches, fresh fava panzanella). If you’re local, Chad’s speaking about his book at the fabulous Omnivore Books on Saturday, November 6th from 1-2 p.m.
Pick it up: Tartine Bread on Amazon.com
Southern Pies by Nancie McDermott
The title pretty much seals the deal for me. Southern recipes appeal to me in a strange way–I think I may have been born on the wrong coast. And pie? Duh. Lucky for me (and you), this book has a lot more going for it than just the title. North Carolina native, Nancie McDermott, has done an amazing job covering everything from the classic Southern recipe for chess and buttermilk pies to more familiar favorites like butterscotch pie and and double apple. I love Nancie’s chapter on pie crusts and technique: she lays out numerous options for crust and discusses blind-baking and how to choose which crust is appropriate for each pie. Examples include her classic butter pie crust, graham cracker crust, and the ever-likeable ‘You Can Do This’ lard pie crust. The book is organized by seasons and types of pie; I’ve got “Fall and Winter Pies” bookmarked and am tackling her version of apple this weekend!
Pick it up: Southern Pies on Amazon.com
The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook
Here we go with Southern recipes again. When I received this book in the mail, I was a bit giddy. I curled up on the couch and read a good chunk of it like it was a novel. The Southern Foodways Alliance is a group of folks from the University of Mississippi who study food cultures around the American South. And here they’ve produced a truly lovely community cookbook–the kind that’s becoming increasingly rare these days. It’s a sweet little spiral-bound book full of recipes from pimento cheese and butterbean gravy to cheese grits casserole and persimmon pudding. They’ve successfully created a real sense of place with this book: after reading it for a mere few minutes, you feel like you’ve been uplifted to Georgia or Tennessee or Louisiana. The caramel cupcakes I just made here on the blog originated from this book, and I can’t wait to try the “Fancy Pants” banana pudding, sweet tea lemon chess pie, and the Southern chicken and dumplings. The head notes of each recipe discuss where each originated: for the most part, they’re all from regular folks like you and I–classic family recipes that have been passed down for generations and have had a shining spot on picnic blankets and church lunch tables for years.
Pick it up: The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook on Amazon.com
O.k., your turn: what’s on your nightstand? What are you bookmarking these days?
Note: I did receive a few of these books directly from the publisher for review, and did not purchase them outright.
Winter Soups and Stews
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Last weekend it was so windy – apocalyptically stormy, you could say – that our tent at the farmers market was uprooted by gusts of wind that were not messing around. I wasn't there, but apparently despite being heavily weighted down and with four customers holding onto each corner, it quite literally blew down the block. Sam, from across town, was reporting trees falling on every block and traffic lights out across the city. The next morning on a walk with Oliver around Green Lake, we were met with that same biting wind and ended up retreating for a hot chocolate instead. 'Tis the season in Seattle: we all get a little giddy and ahead of ourselves when we spot the cherry blossoms and daffodils, and I always trick myself into thinking that with the start of daylight savings time, summer must be right around the corner. In truth, before we had Oliver, we'd often travel somewhere sunny for a little mood boost around this time of year. When I moved from California, many friends – other (empathetic) 'expats' now living in the Pacific Northwest – recommended this: if you know what's good for you, they'd all say, go find the sun in February or March, and we would follow that advice faaaaaithfully. But with a baby, this just isn't where our priorities are this year, and I've found myself relying on other antics like buying out of season strawberries, drinking white wine with dinner, buying a new pair of sandals that likely will not see the light of day for the next two months, and making big, colorful pots of feel good, springy soup. Let's not kid ourselves: Cherry blossoms or not, Seattle's no Palm Springs when it gets down to bathing in the sunlight. But if you step outside onto your little porch, smell the honeysuckle blooming, take notice of the longer, lighter days and think about how you simply can't wait to see your baby crawling around on the sand when it's warm enough to stroll down to the beach, it starts looking better in its own light.
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
One of the things I wanted to accomplish before really returning to work in earnest was to print some of our honeymoon photos and get them into an album. This project has taken far longer than expected as I find myself daydreaming about the craggy streets of Naples and meeting up with our friends Mataio and Jessica for a late night slice of pizza which we ate sitting on the sidewalk before embarking on an aimless but wonderful stroll of the city. There are photos of our balcony by the sea, most with tanned limbs, sandy sandals and a Campari and soda gracing the periphery of the frame. There was the little grocery store up the hill from our apartment on the Amalfi Coast that had the sweetest, tiniest strawberries and the best yogurt in little glass jars. Tomatoes drying in the sun, Aperol spritzes and salty peanuts before dinner at the bar across from the church square where all the neighborhood kids played kickball. As I sit here typing this now, photos remain scattered on my desk and it's likely they may not make it into the proper slots in the album anytime soon. Of course, they have me dreaming of sunshine and long days with little agenda, but they also have me thinking about the simplicity of our meals in Italy and how truly easy it was to eat well. Coincidentally, a few days ago Rachel Roddy's lusty new cookbook (can we call it lusty?!), My Kitchen in Rome, arrived at our doorstep. Clearly it was time to set the photos aside and get into the kitchen.
And suddenly, it's fall. I find that realization always comes not so much with the dates on the calendar as it does the leaves on the ground, the first crank of the heat in the morning, the dusky light on the way home from an evening run. Because we were gone on the train for nearly a week, I feel like fall happened here in Seattle during that very time. I left town eating tomatoes and corn and returned to find squashes and pumpkins in the market. It was that quick. And so, it only seemed fitting that I make this soup, one that has graced the fall table of each and every apartment (and now house) I've ever lived. In fact, I'm surprised that I hadn't yet made it for you here, and delighted to share it with you today.