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Usually I find a reason to make gingerbread once or twice a year.  There are a lot of good recipes out there, and I’ve tried quite a few over time – from James Beard, to Joy – but I think the version I’m going to use for a while is adapted from Dolores Cassella’s World of Baking, which I praised a year or so ago in one of my cookbook gazetteers.   Cassella followed up by producing another stunning baking book, A World of Breads.  I have relied on both of these fine volumes believe it or not for almost 35 years.

I’ve only made a couple small changes, which I’ll note.  This is very dense, satisfying and keeps extremely well.

1 c boiling coffee (you may use water or orange juice)

1 c butter

1 c dark brown sugar

1 cup dark (not blackstrap) molasses

3 large eggs

2-1/2 c flour – I have been substituting 2 Tbsp cocoa powder for an equal amount of the flour

scant tsp salt

1-1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp ginger

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp nutmeg

and I like to add the grated rind of one orange

I also like to add 1/3 c of chopped crystallized ginger, which gives a nice warmth, and some added texture

Combine the butter, brown sugar and molasses in your mixing bowl and pour the boiling liquid over all, stirring until everything is melted and amalgamated well.  I let it cool to room temperature before beating in the eggs.

Blend the dry ingredients together and add all at once to the wet mixture, beating simply until smooth.  This batter goes into a greased 9 X 2 X 13″ baking pan, and bakes at 325F for 1 hour.

You don’t need to dress this bread up with anything – not even butter, it’s so rich.  However, people do serve this with all sorts of accompaniments.  At the Riverside Cafe in Minneapolis, gingerbread was always a favorite when we served it- our customers often ordered it with a scoop of honey-sweetened, vanilla-scented whipped cream.   It’s also good with ice cream, cream cheese frosting, lemon sauce- you name it.  It is comforting in cold weather, and homey all year ’round.

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cookbooks!

Native

Seaweed, Salmon and Manzanita Cider, Dubin & Tolley.  What an amazing book.  This brilliant gem, beautifully photographed, tells you about REAL Native American cooking.  This is a combination of heritage food, POV home cooking, and thousands of years of wisdom.  Get it, order it, search for it- this was a gift from a friend in California, and these focus on foods from the tribes there.

Colonial

To Set Before the King:  Katharina Schrott’s Festive Recipes First-hand intelligence practically from the table-sides and kitchens of the Habsburgs.  Nothing much more to say.

Groundbreaking publications (19/20Centuries)

Buckeye cookery, ed. Estelle Woods Wilcox.   If you came of age in the 60’s or 70’s, you were probably aware of this book.  It is a friend to self-sufficiency enthusiasts.  However, it is also a valuable document for all of us.

Classic American

A Shaker Kitchen, Norma MacMillan.  Learn something more about the Shakers, besides their famous Shaker Lemon Pie.  A pious and simple tradition, producing simple, breathtaking food.

Comprehensive Cuisine

The Art of South American Cooking, Felipe Rojas Lombardi.  This is a stunning, thick volume of culinary treasure.  Think:  Southern Cross meets Joy of Cooking.

Vegetarian

Simple Food for the Good Life, Helen Nearing.  A goddess from the Pantheon of American Back-to-Nature movement speaks.  She & her husband (Scott) are intelligent, belligerent, humorous icons.

Baking

The Book of Whole Grains, Marlene Anne Bumgarner. I’ve had this cookbook for probably 30 years, and I love it and refer to it often.  It’s not strictly a baking book, but it does have a wealth of recipes categorized into 10 chapters of one whole-grain each; and then additional chapters for nuts/seeds; and finally legumes.

World Food

Japanese Cooking:  A Simple Art, Shizuo Tsuji, intro MFK Fisher.  This 450 page bible of Japanese cookery in English language is illustrated with simple line-drawings; it earned the praise of MFK Fisher AND Craig Clairborne.  This reflects the science, detail and aesthetic of a renowned food tradition.  This is definitely a specialty book.

Reference

Greast Garnishes, ed. Su-Huei Huang.  This is a book of Chinese food garniture- and the connections to the history of the Imperial Court are inescapeable.  Bi-lingual in Mandarin and English with colorful, detailed photos.

Desserts

Chocolate, Linda Collister.  This is a beautifully photographed collection of classic chocolate recipes- it’s a modest 125 pages or so, but it is described by The Guardian as one of the best chocolate cookbooks you’ll ever own.  I think that’s probably true.

Food Writers

First of a pair:  “Love and Kisses and a Halo of Truffles” James Beard’s correspondence with Helen Evans Brown, ed. John Ferrone.  I love reading collections of letters.

Quirks

This isn’t a quirk, but a follow-up to the previous category.  Epicurean Delight:  The Life and Times of James Beard, Evan Jones.  Two giants of American food and writing in one volume- this is quite  a biography, and James Beard lived quite a life.

cookbooks!

Exactly one year ago the Dubious Citty Katt (that’s how the local press referred to her in print- honestly) twisted my arm to start this food blog.  I confidently said at that time that I’d share my favorite cookbooks.

For a year I’ve haven’t been sure how to do that, particularly since I learned as a child that we have to keep our  promises.  For one thing I have 3 or 4 bookshelves full of cookbooks.  Really big shelves.  (Please click on the photo if you don’t believe me).

Some books are large and colorful, some are sort of clinical;  but with most of them I would be happy to sink into a chair and just read it like a novel.  One of my favorite aunts proudly and happily admitted that very same thing to me one day in her kitchen (when I was in high school), where I was perpetually hanging out (and do not end sentences with prepositions please).  Everyone EVERYONE loved Aunt Jane’s cooking- and she taught me pie crust- along with my mom and grandmother.  Now, how will I describe my cookbook collection after all my big words.

About 130 a month guests come to this blog, which is amazing, Thank you for visiting.  And I finally figured out how to tell you about my cookbooks.  I describe this blog as a post-modern excursion into ‘food, Native foods, and omni-cuisine’ (or something like that). So I have created 12 completely arbitrary and capricious categories and I’ll list 2 examples of my favorite books in each one, also capricious and arbitrary.  I’ll try to do a cookbook gazette every once in a while until everyone tells me to stop (but please give me at least two chances.)  I hope you all get to look through some of them sometime.  There are more.

Native:

–Native Harvests, Barrie Kavach – a compact, clear volume that has a surprising degree of detail about pre-Contact food preparation practices

–Cuisine of the Water Gods, Patricia Quintana.  This is a beautifully produced book, not only rich in authentic cuisine and history, but a pleasure to read.

Colonial

–The Early American Cookbook, Dr. Kristie Lynn & Robert W. Pelton.  A gift-shop cookbook that has a wealth of surprising information about early cooking techniques.

–The Williamsburg ART OF COOKERY or, AccompliB’d Gentlewoman’s COMPANION:  Being a Collection of upwards of Five Hundred of the most Ancient & Approv’d Recipes in Virginia COOKERY*

[* a ‘B’ here indicates an S-tset, or Double SS, so this is not a misspelling]

Groundbreaking publications (19/20Centuries)

–Mrs. Beeton’s COOKERY BOOK.  Look it up for yourself, it’s revelatory.

–Classic American Cooking, Pearl Byrd Foster.  This woman is one of the fountainheads of modern American cuisine awareness.

Classic American

–James Beard’s American Cookery.  A cookbook that I never tire of reading.  He’ll tell you how to make Hangtown Fry, a maple glazed doughnut, or Scrapple without batting an eye, with sheer pride of American food traditions.

–Masters of American Cookery, ed. Betty Fussell.  Here is a recent and reliable look at the emerging consciousness of food in the US.

Comprehensive  Cuisine

— Joy of Cooking (aka Joy), Irma Rombauer, Marian Rombauer Becker, Ethan Becker.  There are many editions and iterations of this classic.  I have a double set of paperbacks, as well as a battered 1-volume version.  They all look like they have weathered a category 3 hurricane.

–Mastering, etc, Julia Child, Volumes I & II.  Ditto, category 4 hurricane.

Vegetarian

–Laurel’s Kitchen, Laurel Robertson, Carol Flinders, Bronwen Godfrey.  A brilliant, beloved, admired classic.

–The Farm Vegetarian Cookbook (Revised), ed. Louise Hagler.  A little-known, brilliant, beloved, admired classic.

Baking

–Beard on Bread, James Beard.  This is Beard at some of his best.  No wonder they named a national award after him.

–The Art of Baking, Paula Peck.  This volume deserves to be much more widely known and used by everyone.  This is where I learned how to make Genoise and Viennese specialties.

World Food

–Delightful Thai Cooking, Eng Tie Ang.  A very helpful and correct introduction to a favorite ethnic cuisine in the US and world food scene.

–Flavors of India, Madhur Jaffrey.  This is another one of my severely battered cookbooks.  It was a Christmas present from my parents many years ago, and I’m surprised the binding is still holding together.  This author has produced more fine books than I can count.

Reference

–Chilies to Chocolate:  Food the Americas Gave the World, Nelson Foster, Linda Cordell.  A brilliant analysis, critique and meditation on the role of Indigenous foods in world history.

–On Food and Cooking:  The Science & Lore of the Kitchen, Harold McGee.  One of the undisputed bibles of modern Gastronomy- the marriage of aesthetics, cuisine and science.

Desserts

–The Art of Viennese Pastry, Marcia Colman Morton.  This slim volume, written by the wife of a diplomat, harks back to the twilight of the Habsburgs, and a world before the onset of Post-modernity.

Gourmet’s Best Desserts, the ed.s of Gourmet

Food Writers

—Memories of My Life, Auguste Escoffier.  Brilliant European food history.

–As They Were, MFK Fisher.  Brilliant American food history.

Quirks

–The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book, Alice B. Toklas.  Don’t make the brownies.

–The Little House Cookbook, Barbara M. Walker.  A comprehensive walk through the food world of Laura Ingalls Wilder, well worth reading.

The evenings have become cooler in Minneapolis, and I thought I would make some Black Bread.  There’s a really great recipe for this most famous of rye breads in ‘Beard on Bread’, by James Beard, which is a pretty amazing cookbook devoted strictly to breadmaking.  It’s always been one of my favorite breads, but I don’t have it very often, and I usually only make it 2 or 3 times a year.

Yesterday, however, when I mixed the bread dough … my liquid must have been a couple of degrees too hot.  I murdered the yeast.  I shaped the bread into loaves anyway, and left it overnight- thinking that maybe the leaven might just have enough energy to rise as a sourdough (which would almost be TWICE as good as my original plans!)  When I got up this morning -nothing.  Yeast is a sensitive plant, and I don’t usually kill it- mainly because I’ve been baking bread for probably 35 years.  But I still manage to kill the yeast every few years or so.

After a brief examination, I turned on the oven, got out the pastry cloth, rolling pin and docker (it pokes little holes or indentations in pastry and other doughs, and sometimes to tenderize meat -as for veal or chicken picatta).  I thought of that Miles Davis quote and started making flatbread.  It took 10 minutes, it baked in 15, and it will remain good in a storage container  for many weeks.  Actually it will remain good almost indefinitely.  We always heard about some of my mom’s ancestors arriving in North America by big boat.  The matriarch, great grandmother Giesler, baked flatbread for weeks before departing Europe, enough to fill one of those big wooden steamer trunks.  As it turned out, the ship ran out of food midway across the Atlantic, but there was enough flatbread to keep body and soul together  for more than one whole family.  That always impressed us.

I made flatbread for the first time when I was in high school after I read a bunch of recipes in The Mother Earth News in the mid-1970s.  I thought it was exciting, and that was when mom told the story of the ocean trip flatbread.   Blackbread is good, but flat blackbread is really good too!

The other way that famous Miles Davis aphorism is sometimes quoted:  ‘Fear no mistakes.  There are none.’