Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Industry Professional Interview: Kristen, Production Manager @ Salt & Straw

Who is she?

First, lets make sure you know what Salt & Straw is.  Its a handmade, small-batch ice cream shop in Portland, Or, known for its inventive, even outrageous, but absolutely delicious, flavors.  They make some of the country's best ice cream, and that's not just our opinion. Check them out, you won't regret it.  With two locations and a third in the works, as Production Manager, Kristen has her hands full keeping them all stocked with delicious treats.  She was gracious enough to give us a few minuets of her lunch break to talk to her about her favorite cookbooks.

What does she have to say?

Do you own many cookbooks?

Not really, maybe 15.  20 at the most.

Have you ever purchased a cookbook only to find it useless?

Not that I can think of.  I do have a few that I have never used though but I'm not mad about it or anything.  I just never wanted to make anything out of them.

Have you ever been involved in writing a cookbook before?


Have you ever considered writing your own?

No, but if I did I know what I would call it.  "Cook'n with Korstin McNasty".  I hope no one steals it now. Its a pretty sweet name for a cookbook.

What book/s have you learned the most from?

Definitely International Cuisine from The Art Institutes culinary program.  I still use it all the time.

Are there any books that you don't necessarily use much but you return to for inspiration?

The Wildwood cookbook by Cory Schreiber for sure.  Its full of stories and history of northwest cuisine. It also highlights local farmers and fishermen and all kinds of real people, even people we use as suppliers.  The recipes are wonderful as well.  Its a fantastic book.

What are the two books you would never get rid of?

Well, Wildwood might count, I don't actually own it, I just keep renewing it from the library.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Blast from the Past: The Mrs. Fields Cookie Book

If you are anything like us, you know where all the thrift stores and used book stores are within a reasonable radius from your current location.  If your not like us, good on ya, you probably don't waste much of your money on things other people have given away.  We are like us though, and we do scour second hand stores for good, if slightly used, cooking equipment and vintage cookbooks.  The equipment we wash and eventually move into rotation in our kitchen.  The books we generally sit down with over a glass of whiskey and make merciless fun of while searching for the perfect divinity, or dressing, or fried chicken recipe that we hope is hidden within.  Its one of our favorite things to do and we highly recommend it as a pass time.

So, from time to time we will highlight one of those books.  You can find them on the internet for sure, or you can find them by chance like we did.

Real quick, here's our Blast from the Past for today:

Mrs. Fields Cookie Book

Every cookie in this book works perfectly every time.  If you need to take a platter of cookies to an event, or you're a professional baker, or you just like cookies, Mrs. Fields Cookie Book will not let you down.  There isn't much else to say really.  Its the only 100% book we've ever come across, and we know its record because we've made every thing in it.  It hasn't let us down once.  Some might think of the cookies as somewhat simple or even antiquated, but we don't really care what some might think.  Often, simple is the best it can get, and so is the Mrs. Fields Cookie Book.  Keep an eye out for it.

The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making pt3

Rating: Buy it. Soon.

The test

BAKING TIMES MAY VARY!  We just wanted to get that out there first thing so as not to forget it.  We haven't gotten to the bigger projects in the book yet, but if the smaller ones we tried are any indication, they will turn out great, provided you pay close attention to them the first time.  Here are the things we tried:

Instant Oatmeal

This small, seemingly insignificant recipe made the book worth it for us.  Before this, breakfast, or even lunch or dinner oatmeal was lost to us.  We buy rolled oats for granola and cookies already but never have the desire to cook them as a meal, and despite eating many, many a packet as a child, we hate packaged instant oatmeal.  We never knew it was this easy to have customizable instant oatmeal sitting in our pantry or fridge ready to go.  We put dried blueberry's in ours, its delicious.


We know pancakes aren't very complicated.  We also know that we only ever eat them at a restaurant, because to us, they're kind of a hassle.  The genius in this recipe isn't that they are amazing pancakes, though they are wonderfully fluffy and delicious.  Its that it shows you that they don't have to be a pain in the neck to put together.  Plus, the same mix of dry ingredients can be used for both pancakes and waffles with only minor changes to the wet ingredients.  Well done book, well done.

Nutty Granola Bar (aka Car Snack 3)

There are 3 "car snacks" in the book.  The idea being that these are things you can have on hand to feed a hungry mouth, including your own, while on the move.  They all have quite a few ingredients but come together quite quickly and without much fuss.  Watch the baking times though.  Every thing we baked was done in about 1/2 the recommended time.  Everything turned out fine, and our oven may be hotter than yours, just check the progress periodically to make sure. Car Snack 3 is a delicious chocolaty and nutty granola bar.  Its seasoned and flavored perfectly as written, something you don't see very often.

The wrap up

We highly recommend this book.  It has something to teach almost anybody and it certainly gets you more involved in the food you eat or feed your family.  Definitely buy it, or better yet, buy it for someone care about.

Next time we'll be bringing you an oldie but a goody, one to keep an eye open for at the garage sale.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making pt2

Rating: Buy it. Soon

What's in it?

The book is organized somewhat like a grocery store, with each chapter representing an isle or section.  Its very clever but does require spending some time with the book to figure out what things are kept in what sections, much like an actual grocery store.  Luckily, the book is full of little tidbits and extra information so wandering from one section to the next, just like in a grocery store, you eventually get what you set off in search of, and collect many more things along the way.

I need to make that... oh, and one of those...and these...

Each Recipe is accompanied by a short lead in anecdote and an alternate title relating to the nature of the recipe or the circumstances leading to its creation.  Even if your not inclined to care about the author's family or daily commute, they place the recipes right into your own story and give perspective on how taking the time to make things you might normally buy can fit into your own hectic life. These also do a great job of breaking up the normal monotony of  the standard cookbook and almost make it readable as a story.  You really can just go from page to page and be entertained as well as informed.

Socio-Economics in your pantry. If that's not fun what is?

Even if it requires a bit more imagination to find what your looking for in this book (it does have an index actually, so its not hard at all), any inconvenience is more than made up for in content and the attitude with which its presented.  Its a happy book, and definitely an inspirational book.

Next time we will throw it in the oven and see if it tastes as good as it looks.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making

Yes! You can make Pop-Tarts®!

Rating: Buy it. Soon.

What is it?

Alana Chernila is, like all of us, a plenitude of things.  I won't do her the injustice of trying to summarize her life here, instead, head over to her blog Eating From the Ground Up to get the low down.  It's a wonderful blog incidentally, full of well written, useful information on food and her own stories and views on life.  Check it out.  The book though, as the title suggests, is all about how to make many of the items we would normally buy processed, or at least packaged.  Crackers, instant oatmeal, granola bars, bread, pasta, and many, many more things are touched upon. The idea being to get you more involved in the food you eat, to most likely save you some money, and to definitely cut down on the amount of packaging you have to buy.  We like all of those things and so should you.

Next time we will get into the book, show you how its laid out and start testing.

Industry Professional Interview: Salvatore Hall, Pastry Chef Extraordinaire

He's on the left.  Who's that other guy?

Who is he?

Well, he's a pastry chef.  More than that he is the Lead Pastry Chef Instructor teaching Advanced Baking and Pastry at the Oregon Culinary Institute in Portland, OR.  More than that he's one of the nicest men you'll ever meet, with a penchant for Disney songs and the most infectious (and when directed your way, most annoying) laugh in Portland. Chef Salvatore Hall everyone. 

What does he have to say?

We asked him a few cookbook related questions in the few minuets he had between classes, here they are:

Do you own many cookbooks?

No, well, at lest 30.  You have to keep these things limited or there'll be no end.

Have you ever purchased a cookbook only to find it useless?

Yes, I have definitely felt like I've wasted my money before.  I usually give those ones away.

Have you ever been involved in writing a cookbook before?


Have you ever considered writing your own?

No, not really.  There are to many details to try to impart, to much information to give.  Its a lot of responsibility. I wouldn't want the book to be tempered or watered down.

What book/s have you learned the most from?

Number one would be the Joy of Cooking for sure.  Number two would be Baking with Julia.

Are there any books that you don't necessarily use much but you return to for inspiration?

The American Boulangerie. Its a gorgeous book.

What are the two books you would never get rid of?

There are three.  The Joy of cooking, The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum, and Wild Fermentation by  Sandor Katz

That's all we had time for I'm afraid.  Still, it was wonderful to get even a small glimpse into the iner workings of a great chef and great instructor.  Next time we will start our review of The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods you can Stop Buying and Start Making.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Chocolate Deserts by Pierre Hermé pt2

The test

There are many recipes in the book we didn't try.  There are three that we did and they all had fatal flaws.  If one of them had worked we might have tried again but we don't have the time or money for that and we expect you don't either.  Therefore, for all of our reviews, we take a 3 strikes and your out approach.  We bought this book with the hope of bringing at least a small amount of a desert masters influence into our kitchen. Instead, we essentially got a wall calender that's missing the useful bits and is far to heavy to stay pinned up.

Here are the three we tried:

Chocolate Rice Pudding

A good rice pudding is hard to come by much of the time.  A good rice pudding is something that has to be eaten to be believed.  A bad rice pudding is discouraging and faith killing.  This is a bad rice pudding.  The variation in cooking times of rice, and the range of what people will consider "simmering" can and does lead to one reducing the liquid in this recipe to the point of producing the opposite of pudding.  A solid, hard, slice-able mass of expensive chocolate and expensive rice.  Ridiculous.

Hazelnut Chocolate Sablés

This was one of the many times when confronted with a recipe that we just knew we should alter it.  We didn't for the sake of continuity and because we, at this point, still had faith that we wouldn't be lead astray.  Wrong again.  We should have added salt.  We knew we should have and we didn't.  The result was two professionals, one with years of pastry production experience, spending a harrowing afternoon off wrestling dough around and ending up with cute little squares of expensive tastelessness.  The texture was great, they would have been an absolute pleasure to eat had they had any flavor.

Moist and Nutty Brownies

The brownie.  An American classic.  Also, like many of life's great pleasures, exceedingly and essentially simple.  This "brownie" is neither simple nor pleasurable.  To much butter, not enough chocolate, and no salt.   Terrible.  We have no more to say.

Wrap up

"Chocolate Deserts by Pierre Hermé" is visually inspiring for anyone with even a remote interest in sweet, tasty looking things.  That unfortunately does not make up for the books lack of substance or the fact that it seems to be an advertisement for a very specific (and expensive) brand of chocolate.  We like expensive chocolate. Hell, we love expensive chocolate.  If you are going to recommend we buy expensive ingredients with witch to make one of your recipes though, we expect that recipe to deliver.  Something this book does not do.