By Louisa Kasdon
Other people get rowdy and riled at the start of football season. For me, it’s the harvest of new cookbooks that arrive in time for holiday giving and winter hunkering. This year, it’s a bumper crop.
The New England Kitchen, Fresh Takes on Seasonal Recipes
By Jeremy Sewall and Erin Byers Murray (Rizzoli)
When you get a new cookbook and instantly start prepping the first three entrées you come across, you know you’ve got your nose in a new classic. I hadn’t even read the introduction before I started rummaging in my fridge, freezer, and pantry to see if I could make the Steamed Mussels with Pilsener, Garlic and Fresno Peppers. I moved on to the Mushroom Ragout and the English Pea Soup before I admitted that I was getting very excited about ingredients that wouldn’t truly be available until early spring. So I thumbed deeper into the book and made Sewall’s recipe for Seared Sea Scallops with Creamy Turnip Purée and Crisp Shiitake Mushrooms. That held me for a while.
Jeremy Sewall, a prodigiously talented and remarkably humble New England chef, teamed up with writer Erin Byers Murray, the author of Shucked. The two, who share a connection to Island Creek Oysters, seamlessly present a voice that is warm, confident, and so infused with New England roots that you can hear the broad vowels as you read. But there’s nothing provincial or backward-looking in The New England Kitchen. It is stocked with food you want to eat because you are in New England in this century. Razor clams. Pot roast. Fried clams. Lemon tart with lavender cream. Pan-roasted hake. Roasted duck confit. You sense our local bounty and want to make the most of it. Each recipe is illustrated with a gorgeous photo by Michael Harlan Turkell that makes you believe you can deliver on the promise of a perfect meal. Need a new cookbook to get you through the Ne
w England winter? This is the one.
Kale, Glorious Kale
By Catherine Walthers (Countryman Press)
This is a book to make you joyful that there is so much kale in your world. It’s in your CSA, in your smoothies, and always in the news. For some of us, it’s the vegetable we wish would take a breather from its minute of fame. But this book made me excited about kale again.
Did you know that there are 50 different varieties of kale, according to Seed Savers? There is so m
uch demand for kale that there is now a worldwide shortage of seeds for some varieties. Three years ago, kale was the overwhelming vegetable in your CSA share, and now kale has gone Hollywood. And after leafing (hah!) through this book, you’ll know it’s only a matter of time before superstar kale gets its own star on the sidewalk.
Martha’s Vineyard–based Catherine Walthers has written a definitive and fun book about kale. You’ll learn how to discern the difference between the crinkly, the curly, and the downright “frilly,” and which kind ofkale works best for which recipe preparations. The first section of the book is a sort of kale user’s manual—tips for shopping, prep, and cooking, and kale fun facts. Like the origin of the “kale chip,” and how best to “massage” kale with olive oil to make uncooked kale edible. Early on in the book, I discovered I’d been stripping the kale leaves from the kale stalks all wrong. And there are the recipes. Lots of them. From kale margaritas to kale latkes, kale pizzas, main dishes, soups, and salads. Beautifully photographed by Alison Shaw, they make you want to snap up a few sheaves of late fall and winter kale and get to work.
Soup of the Day
By Ellen Brown (Running Press)
Winter is soup season. I know there are cold soups. I even make some of them with delight. But it’s the hot, bubbling, bursting with aroma soup that makes a straight shot to my comfort zone. Ellen Brown’s new book of 150 soup recipes is a page-turner-cum-travel-book for the soup lover. Based in Providence, Rhode Island, Brown souped it u
p across the country, perfecting for the home cook recipes from the nation’s top restaurants. There’s a curried cauliflower and fennel soup from Slurp in Santa Fe, a squash blossom soup from Haven in Houston, a corn zupetta with lobster and buffalo mozzarella from Osteria in Philadelphia, an Old Charleston she-crab soup from South City Kitchen in Atlanta and chicken soup with matzoh balls from Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor. There’s even Senate Bean Soup that has been on menu in the United States Senate dining room for over a century. Brown’s own recipes for soups are great too, written with enough spunk to make you want to haul out your favorite pot and check what’s in your pantry. Truly this is a book that you will use. Full of recipes, some familiar, some bracingly new, encouraging in terms of time and prep, and levels above the tomato-stained old soup book on your shelf.
The National Geographic Kids Cookbook; A Year Round Fun Food Adventure
By Barton Seaver (National Geographic Books)
The book was in a stack on the counter in my kitchen when Ben, my favorite 11-year-old, came by to pester me. Within minutes he was reading me the recipe for “Ghoulish Guacamole” (green goo for Halloween!) and wondering why I didn’t have a few ripe avocados around so he could begin. His eye moved across the page to the “Edible Weather Report” and he shared with me the fact (new to me) that Chile is the largest blueberry producer in South America. He flipped next to the Refrigerator Pickles and thought they might be a good project for the afternoon. Did I know that salt was once used as currency? (I did.) And then he read me the column on the opposite page, “The Truth About Food Waste.” Think about that, Ben said sagely.
Barton Seaver, a newly Maine-based chef, activist and National Geographic Explorer has written and edited a terrific and very green cookbook for school-age kids. It’s full of recipes they can make with minimal supervision and a zeal for a project. But it’s more than that. Green consciousness is front and center and presented in kid-sized bites. Fun “factlets” about food, farming, fishing, sustainability, and gardening bounce onto every page so the book is fun rather than righteous. It’s very much in the style of Nat Geo Kids. Perfect for the grade school crowd. Colorful, full of smart graphics, oddball but interesting facts, and projects that might not occur to the typical overwhelmed parent. Who wouldn’t want to make an edible birdbath? Or start a reality TV-show-like family chef competition to ward off summer boredom? “Huh,” says Ben again. “You can make your own hummus. Who knew that?”
The Tastes of Gloucester; A Fisherman’s Wife Cook
Written and Compiled by the Fishermen’s Wives of Gloucester (The Cape Ann League of Women Voters)
Here’s what I love about this delightful community cookbook: There is not one single ingredient that you won’t find at your local grocery store. Outside of Tabasco and mustard, the most exotic flavors come from fresh parsley and garlic. The fish recipes are like the casseroles of my youth—lots of Parmesan and breadcrumbs, eggs, noodles, and sour cream. All made with fish from the local fleet so there’s lots of sole, scrod and flounder, clams and lobsters, scallops, perch and halibut. I love the homey simplicity of these recipes. And the names: Friday Casserole, Mariner’s Stew, Shrimp and Scallop Skillet. This is the eighth edition of the cookbook; it was first published in 1976 and lists all the names of the Captains of the Gloucester Fleet, then and now. For this edition, the wives have contributed a few recipes for under-utilized fish. Note Grilled Marinated Herring Filets, Cape Shark Soup a la Lovasco, Squid over Pasta with Chunky Tomato Sauce, and Minted Grilled Mackerel. All sound interesting but my next meal from this book will be the Fish Sticks on a Raft or the super easy, super fast Cioppino.
Woodman’s of Essex; Five Generations of Stories, 100 Years of Recipes
By Winslow Pettingell (www.woodmans.com)
As a kid growing up in Boston, a visit to Woodman’s was an annual family pilgrimage. Up to the North Shore to a rustic, noisy “clam shack” (well, it was a lot bigger than a shack but that’s what we called it), bursting with the briny aroma of lobsters and that special flavor sense—after salty, sweet, and umami—of fried.
Fried clams were my weakness, and I was not alone up there in Essex, scrounging the last golden nuggets from my tray. And voila! In this charming keepsake cookbook, full of Woodman family lore, here is the original recipe for Chubby and Bessie’s Fried Clams, a dish invented at Woodman’s, and the story of its happenstance evolution from a corn fritter. The ingredients: 26 ounces of belly clams, 12 ounces of evaporated milk, 4 cups of corn flour, and some lard or Crisco for frying. For the rest of the recipe, you’ll have to buy the book. The book is full of New England classics, from Lobster Newburg, baked beans, and Auntie Mad’s baked stuffed lobster (secret ingredient: Ritz Crackers), to coleslaw (secret ingredient: Red Hot Sauce) and Grape-Nut Custard, which was my grandfather’s absolute favorite dessert, right after Boston Cream Pie.
The New Charcuterie Cookbook; Exceptional Cured Meats to Make And Serve at Home
By Jamie Bissonnette (Page Street Books)
A home-run for Jamie Bissonnette, superstar chef of Toro and Coppa.
This just might be the perfect DIY book for any serious, gutsy home cook. Although I am betting that a fair number of young professional chefs will buy it too to see if they can add charcuterie to their repertoire. Jamie Bissonnette has put together an invitingly, yes-kids-you-can-try-this-at-home book about making cured meats. Given that I thought you had to be Italian or possibly German to do this, and live in a house with a damp cellar of a cave, I am suddenly finding myself toying with the idea of making saucisson sec chez moi.
Bissonnette makes charcuterie sound ridiculously easy, and maybe it is. You don’t need any fancy equipment, he says, just a good scale, some measuring cups and a good pair of rubber gloves. He’s not suggesting that you make your own casings (he buys his from www.sausagemaker.com). So with a little adventurous shopping and an afternoon or two to spare, you could be making “house-made” charcuterie instead of watching the snow pile up.
He’s divided the projects into Cooked Charcuterie (lemongrass and green curry sausages, Lebanese lamb sausages, slab bacon, goat merguez with cheese, habanero and maple breakfast sausages, rabbit mortadella). Then, there’s a section on Offal-y Good Charcuterie (using all the weird stuff that we don’t buy plastic wrapped at the grocery store, like beef heart pastrami, headcheese, smoked tongue bocadillo, sweetbread, and tripe sausages). And on to Hide the Salami, a section on cured meats, including duck prosciutto, coppa, classic saucisson sec, miso cured pork tenderloin, foie gras torchon—and even an arctic char gravlax and tuna bottarga. Bissonnette cautions that preparing cured charcuterie is a little more complex than using cooking as a preservative. But he makes it all sound do-able. Chapter four is Confit and Fat. Wouldn’t anyone want to make a rockin’ version of foie gras at home? Or a stellar cockscomb? Chapter five, titled Hoof and Snout Mafia, is the whole animal story. The tripe, and pig’s foot, bone marrow and oxtail, BBQ kidney and pig ear terrine. As he says in his introduction, “we go through so many pork loins and chicken breasts, where’s the rest of the animal?” And here it is, for your dining pleasure.
This is the holiday gift for every foodie guy on your list. Though why do I say that? I’m already thinking about a weekend of making merguez and saucisson sec. Heck, I’ve got a big basement and an extra refrigerator.
Get Back, Stay Back; 2nd Generation Back-to-the-Landers
by Joseph F. Conway (www.getbackstayback.com, Prolific Group, Winnipeg, www.prolific.ca)
Moving to Maine as a young man, Joseph Conway became curious about how the New England back-to-earth movement that began in the 1970s found its epicenter in Maine. Beginning with Scott and Helen Nearing, deepened by Eliot Coleman, Maine has become a place where young, idealistic ex-city folk have come to live and make a living that is intimately threaded with the land.
But not all the young people farming in Maine are newcomers to the soil. Conway decided to chronicle a special phenomenon: the second generation of back-to-the-landers, the children of the original flower children and Whole Earth Catalogue-carrying pioneers of the ‘70s and ‘80s. He has done a marvelous job of it. He profiles 12 young farmers and their families who were raised on the land, studied it hard, went to ag schools and universities, and decided to make a go of rural life rather than reject the choices of the counterculturists who raised them. The introduction to the book is an excellent personal narrative that captures in a very personal way how the back-to-the-land movement began, grew, and changed the entire demography of rural New England.
Louisa Kasdon is the author of more than 500 published articles about food, restaurants, health, and business and the winner of the M.F.K. Fisher award for Excellence in Culinary Writing. She was the food editor for the Boston Phoenix/Stuff Magazine and a regular contributor to ZesterDaily.com. Kasdon is the founder and CEO of Let’s Talk About Food, an events-based organization that brings community and the public together around issues in our food system. She can be reached at Louisa@letstalkaboutfood.com.