Ink

Book Reviews by Molly Kincaid

 

May 9, 2015

InkIssue 12: May/June 2015
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New Feast: Modern Middle Eastern Vegetarian, By Greg and Lucy Malouf

New Feast: Modern Middle Eastern Vegetarian

By Greg and Lucy Malouf

(Hardie Grant Books, 2014)

When the doldrums of life come calling, it is often healing to cook oneself a nice meal. At times, the comfort of a plain old grilled cheese is what the doctor ordered. Other times, it’s invigorating to read the action verbs from a cookbook and then spring into action to perform them: blanch, swirl, loosen, chop, heat, fry, sauté, crack, bake, mix, spoon, serve. Perform the commands, create something new, a little bit exciting. The joy of a cookbook is in all of the possibility it holds. When will you get the spinach for Turkish Eggs with Chile Yogurt Cream at CSA? Whom will you cook them for? And will they be the best thing ever?

New Feast embraces the cooking process in a way that gets the reader stoked about trying something new. There are recipes in here that you most likely have never cooked. You may have attempted flatbreads or naan, sure, but have you tried Coconut-Date Naan or Crushed Hazelnut-Rosemary Flatbread? Perhaps you’ve tried homemade harissa, but haven’t whipped it into a homemade butter (and subsequently applied it to everything).

Written by Greg and Lucy Malouf, a team who have written several cookbooks together in the past, New Feast focuses on vegetarian fare primarily rooted in Lebanese, Tunisian, and Turkish culinary traditions. Greg Malouf is a Michelin-starred Australian chef whose parents were Lebanese. Lucy Malouf is an accomplished food writer and recipe-tester. According to the book’s introduction, both have been drawn to a primarily vegetarian diet as they have aged, thus the impetus for the collection of veg-forward recipes.

The outcome is a gorgeous, intriguing, and drool-inducing collection of cooking possibilities. The only dish I’ve had the chance to make was the Spiced Puy Lentils with Porcini and Herbs, and the recipe was perfect. Those delectable lentils dotted my salads and made appearances in lunch wraps all week. I’ve got countless others bookmarked: Egyptian Breakfast Beans with Feta, Lemon Oil, & Green Chile Relish; Artichoke and Lemon Labneh; Baby Eggplants Stuffed with Walnuts and Chiles. I consider them little treasure troves just waiting to be broken out to brighten up my day.

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Dinner: The Playbook: A 30-Day Plan for Mastering the Art of the Family Meal, By Jenny Rosenstrach

Dinner: The Playbook: A 30-Day Plan for Mastering the Art of the Family Meal

By Jenny Rosenstrach

(Ballantine Books, 2014)

Jenny Rosenstrach is the opposite of Thomas McNaughton. She left a career in magazine publishing (Bon Appétit, Martha Stewart Living, Real Simple) to become a freelance food writer and blogger, so she’s trained in the art of pithy writing as opposed to gourmet cuisine. Despite her lack of a culinary school diploma, her blog, Dinner: A Love Story, is a resource for dependable, delicious recipes. Her mission is simple: get dinner on the table. Every. Single. Night.

While a book about bringing back the “family dinner” may smack of fuddy-duddiness, Rosenstrach makes no declarations about what makes a “family,” nor does she stick to the humdrum meatloaf ‘n’ mashed potatoes routine. And her book is designed in a fresh, utilitarian way. She encourages readers to commit to 30 days of cooking dinner, allowing for take-out and leftovers occasionally. She provides 10 complete meal plans, but you can mix and match depending on what’s on hand, what’s fresh, and preferences.

For advanced chefs, these recipes may be simplistic, but even advanced chefs have long days. A Grilled Thai Steak Salad, with meat marinated while you’re at work, dressing whirled and veggies chopped while the grill is heating, doesn’t sound too shabby at all. (Especially when compared with, ahem, Golden Grahams and almond milk.) The Kale Cobb Salad comes together effortlessly, and is packed with nutrients (and you can sub in any seasonal greens and veggies). The Crispy Rice Omelet is a downright brilliant turn for leftover rice and vegetables.

At the end of the book is a section called “Keep-The-Spark-Alive Dinners,” where Rosenstrach tucks in a few fancier dishes, more suited for the weekend than a busy Tuesday. But even the delicious Quickish Coq au Vin freezes beautifully for later weeknight consumption (Rosenstrach aptly calls freezing meals “Money in the Bank”). The Braised Adobo Pork with Polenta hangs out in the oven patiently for hours while you fiddle in the garden or clean out your closet. Even seasoned chefs will get mileage out of this handy little book, and perhaps avoid a few take-out burritos and cereal nights, too.

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Flour + Water: Pasta, By Thomas McNaughton & Paolo Lucchesi

Flour + Water: Pasta

By Thomas McNaughton
& Paolo Lucchesi

(Ten Speed Press, 2014)

It doesn’t roll off the tongue as well, but the name of this book really should be Flour + Water + Eggs. The basic egg dough that is the base for most pastas in the book uses a whopping 18 egg yolks. But it is worth it. The recipe made for some astonishingly rich egg fettuccine, particularly paired with the falling-off-the-bone Anise-Braised Pork and Chard sauce.

Thomas McNaughton, the executive chef at San Francisco’s celebrated Flour + Water, can only be described as an outlier who will inspire jealousy among food nerds. After attending the Culinary Institute of America, he honed his French cooking skills at San Francisco’s La Folie. Then he traveled around Europe, settling for a time in Bologna, where he fell in love with Italian cooking. In 2009, he returned to San Francisco to collaborate with developers David White and David Steele at Flour + Water, which became a wildly popular pasta spot in the Mission. At the time, he was only 26. He also lives above the restaurant (and probably starts each day with a latte and an almond croissant from nearby Tartine, without having to wait in line. Or maybe I’m imagining my dream scenario).

Now at the ripe old age of 31, the baby-faced McNaughton gives the world his first cookbook. Just like anyone’s first attempt at pasta, this first book effort is not without its foibles. It’s riddled with typos, and the recipes are way too long, with plenty of superfluous droning about the “art” of making pasta. McNaughton makes alarming directives such as “It’s crucial to remember that whenever the pasta dough is not in plastic wrap or under a damp towel, you’re in a race against time.” (The latter clause became the catchphrase for my friends and me when we followed this recipe.) It’s also “crucial” not to stress the dough, to meticulously create a “gluten network,” and to spritz the dough with water at the right times (we didn’t have a proper spritzing device, so we sprinkled—Heaven forbid!) Does pasta-making need to be so complicated? We never figured out the mysterious process of “laminating” the dough, but our pasta turned out just fine.

Complaints about the prose aside, McNaughton clearly is no rube when it comes to Italian cuisine. In contrast to his pasta-making instructions, his sauces are delicate and simple. Dishes such as Albacore Confit, Pole Beans and Chile, and Corn and Crescenza Cappelletti with Bitter Honey utilize the freshest produce of the season to showcase the pasta.

His Bolognese Ragu is simple, traditional, and meaty. A note by the recipe relates that Bologna is so serious about its Tagiatelle Bolognese that the recipe is codified by the city: the pasta must be 5/16 inch wide and 1/32 inch thick. So maybe McNaughton is onto something with his rigorous perfectionism. But even if you can’t pull off all of his elaborate instructions, you’ll still roll out some excellent pasta under his book’s tutelage.

Molly Kincaid is a Tucsonan who is obsessed with tinkering in the kitchen and reading cookbooks. Her favorite foods are, paradoxically, kale and pork belly.







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