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.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Chocolate Deserts by Pierre Hermé pt1

Rating: Borrow It.

What is it?

Pierre Hermé is one of the all time pastry greats.  He is hailed as "inventive", "bold", and even "daring" by reviewers and journalists the world over.  I don't doubt that he is.  He has a line of what they call Hermé's "Fetish Flavors", flavor combinations he loves so much that they have their own names.  Names like Ispahan (rose, raspberry and lychee), Mogador (passion fruit and milk chocolate) and Sarah (green tea, chestnuts and passion fruit).  It is said that he is one of the only pastry chefs in the last 100 years to create truly new flavor combinations, combinations that have now become classic or even compulsory. This, however, isn't a review of one of his famous mocarons bought in one of his shops.  This is a review of a book of what are supposedly his chocolate deserts written/translated by Dorie Greenspan.  

The Good

It's a pretty book.  The pictures are appetizing and inspirational.  Within a few moments of flipping through the book you will begin to desire chocolate cake, or brownies, or pudding, or just pieces of chocolate. Or better yet, ALL of them, sitting in front of you, with no one around to cause you shame for what will surely be the best 10 minuets of your life.  Its definitely a well photographed book

It is also very inspiring.  The book does what all good cookbooks should do.  It makes you want to make something.  Not only do you want to eat the things it depicts, you want to produce them.  The recipes are laid out simply enough, though for some reason, like so many cookbooks, the base recipes (the things you probably need to have ready to even get started) are at the back. This is forgivable as it seems to be a standard format followed by most of the cookbook publishing world.

Unfortunately, that seems to be where the good stops.  That's it.  Its a nice book at which to look. 

Next time, we will share with you our frustration and down right anger at the books short comings with our recipe tests and hopefully prevent you from buying it for anything other than the photographers (Jean-Louis Bloch-Lainé) wonderful depictions of things you want to eat.

Industry Professional Interview Delayed

Sorry everyone, our first interview with a professional about their favorite cookbook has been re-scheduled. As a result we had to jump into testing for our next review, hence the delay in posts.  Stay on the line, here it comes...

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Family Meal: Home Cooking with Ferran Adria pt3

Rating: Buy it. Now

The Test

We have made a number of the dishes in this book but we won't bore you with the details of them all.  Instead we will talk a little about our two favorites, the Sofrito and the Noodles with Mussels, which uses the sofrito.


This is a recipe that may seem daunting at first as it requires a little time and some semi constant attention but once its done you will be grateful for the time spent.  Think of it like someone's grandmother's special tomato sauce.  Its amazing, you want to put it on everything, you want to bath in it but you won't because that would be a waste, and you cant imagine ever making it on your own. She must have super special cooking powers. She doesn't. What she has is patience and an understanding of a few simple fundamentals, and that makes all the difference. You can have those too. Taking the time to make this sauce will not only be rewarding to your belly, but also your skills in the kitchen.  Its amazing.

Noodle soup with mussels

We didn't have fish stock on hand to make this one so we used chicken stock instead.  That's OK.  You can do that with these recipes, they are exceedingly versatile.  It has gone straight into the top 5 on the List of Cooking Triumphs to come out of our home kitchen.  We have talked about it longingly ever since.  I have prepared hundreds and hundreds of mussels at work but for some reason, until this, never at home.  It seems like a big hurdle to leap at first. You have to talk to the fish guy at the store, clean them, soak them, then cook them and be confident that you did it right.  With the step by step pictures and advice, this book moves that hurdle right down to the ground.  You can cook mussels at home. Fantastic.

Wrap up

Buy "The Family Meal".  Buy it used, new, stolen, whatever.  It will make you a better cook and will be something you can go to and rely on for years to come.

Next time we will be talking to a chef you may not have heard of, but who deserves more attention, about their go to cookbook.  The book that's closest to their heart. See you then.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Family Meal: Home cooking with Ferran Adria pt 2

What's in it?

The book is separated into 3 sections.  We will go through them briefly, and in order.

"From elBulli to your kitchen"

This section includes an introduction, a little history, and many tips and suggestions for you from the elBulli kitchen.  There is a wonderful visual guide to the fish used in the book, which is an extremely good idea considering the same fish can go by as many different names as there are ways to cook it.

"Basic Recipes"

Here is where the good stuff starts.  This section is all the base recipes for stocks and sauces used in the rest of the book. These are the foundations on which most of the meals are built. 10 sauces and 4 stocks.  Each one alone good for making at least 10-15 things you've heard of and another 90 you haven't.  When you start combining them the stats get crazy.  Some of the recipes may take a little time but none are hard to complete or require hard to find ingredients. They all freeze well as well, so make some, use what you need for a meal, then freeze the rest to use tomorrow, or next week, or next month. Having just 2 of these 14 basics in your freezer can open up more possibility from whats in your pantry than you can imagine.

Your freezer could look like this!

"The meals"

Now that you have a freezer full of things you may not be sure how to use, the authors haven't just left you to figure out what goes where and with what else.  The meals are actually 3 course meals: appetizer, entree, desert. You can take each one as is, mix and match, or, if you're only feeling slightly hungry, just make desert.  Each meal starts with a gorgeous photo of all the required ingredients for each course, all laid out on a table to give you a visual idea of what your preparations should look like:

And all the individual recipes are laid out step by step with pictures and instructions:

No, not like that.  Like this.

These two HUGE details make every recipe in this book accessible, and takes the guess work out of trying to interpret an authors words into something edible. You already have an approximation of what each step of your cooking process should look like. How awesome is that?

Next time we will test a few of the dishes and we hope, finally convince you to get this book.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Family Meal: Home cooking with Ferran Adria

Rating: Buy it. Now.

What is it?

If you don't know who Ferran Adria is or what elBulli is that's OK.  Adria is widely considered the father, or at least most enterprising force, in molecular gastronomy and modern cuisine.  elBulli was his lab/restaurant/playground.  Its closed now, you cant go.  Now before you get scared or proud and move on,  this book isn't about how to use chemicals you haven't heard of or equipment you cant afford.  This is a record of the favorite "Family meals" of the staff of elBulli.  This is the food they cooked for each other before, or more likely after, service every night at the restaurant. Its real food, maybe even things you have made or had before, but as made by the chefs and cooks at one of the greatest restaurants in modern history.

"If we eat well, we cook well" - Ferran Adria
Next time we will get into the book, break down the sections, give you an idea of whats in it and why you should seriously consider owning "The Family Meal".