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.
Glimpses of Spring
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).
It turns out shopping for wedding dresses is nothing like they make it appear in the movies. Or at least it hasn't been for me. Angels don't sing. Stars don't explode. Relatives don't cry. There isn't a sudden heart-stopping moment that this is, in fact, "the one." To be honest, I always knew that I wasn't the kind of gal for whom angels would sing or stars would explode but I did think I'd have some kind of moment where I could tell I'd found the best dress. Instead, my mom flew into town and we spent three (yes, three!!) days shopping for dresses, and since then I've been back to the stores we visited -- and I'm more undecided than ever. Tomorrow morning I'll return with my friend Keena to try and tie this business up once and for all. Cross your fingers.
When I was single and living alone in the Bay Area, I made virtually the same thing for dinner each night. I ate meals quickly while in front of the computer. Or even worse: the television. This most often included what I call "Mexican Pizzas" which were basically glorified quesadillas baked in the oven until crispy. Sometimes, if I was really feeling like cooking, I'd whip up a quick stir-fry with frozen vegetables from Trader Joe's or a mushroom frittata using pre-sliced mushrooms. Mostly, though, it was Mexican Pizzas -- a good four or five nights a week. Today, thankfully, dinner looks a lot different. Meals in general look a lot different. How would I explain that difference? I think that ultimately how we feel about our life colors how we choose to feed ourselves and the importance that we place on preparing our own meals.
Today was 75 degrees in Seattle and it seemed the whole city was out and about drinking iced coffee in tank tops and perhaps not working all that hard. When we have a hit of sunshine like this in April (or, really, any time of the year), we're all really good at making excuses to leave the office early -- or, simply, to "work from home." I just got back from LA last night, unpacked in a whirlwind this morning, and took Oliver to meet up with three friends from our parents group at the zoo. The only other time I'd been to the Seattle zoo was once with Sam a few years ago when we arrived thirty minutes before closing and ended up doing a whirlwind tour -- sprinting from the giraffes to the massive brown bear to the meerkat. The visit today was much different: we strolled slowly trying to avoid the spring break crowds and beating sun. I managed to only get one of Oliver's cheeks sunburned, and he even got in a decent nap. A success of an afternoon, I'd say. Coming home I realized we didn't have much in the fridge for lunch -- but thankfully there was a respectable stash of Le Croix (Le Croix season is back!) and a small bowl of this whole grain salad I made right before I left town. It's the kind of salad that's meant for this time of year: it pulls off colorful and fresh despite the fact that much of the true spring and summer produce isn't yet available. And for that reason, I make a few versions of it in early spring, often doubling the recipe so there's always the possibility of having a small bowl at 1 p.m. while the baby naps in the car seat, one cheek sunburned, windows and back door open -- a warm breeze creeping into the kitchen.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.