Pepperoni Pizza On The Head Of A Pin

Whether reading a book or watching a movie, we all come to the “story” from our own paradigms. A friend once suggested that a paradigm is like being in a room without any ceiling or windows. What we see when we look outside depends on where we place the ladder.

Just last weekend I read Life, on the line: A Chef’s Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefing the Way We Eat, by Grant Achatz (pronounced Ackets, like packets) and Nick Kokonas (New York: Gotham Books, 2011). These days, my schedule is more “audio book” friendly; however, I took the hardcover edition of this book on a roadtrip and absorbed it over three nights.

Honestly, I had no expectations. I was drawn to the book on Amazon simply by the cover and the editor’s blurb. Here’s the backcopy: “One of America’s greatest chefs” shares how his drive to cook immaculate food won him international renown—and fueled his miraculous triumph over tongue cancer.

The formatting of the text was awkward but necessary. The font changes to represent each author. I just didn’t like the two fonts they used. Hey…I work in publishing and fonts are friends…not food.

The book is divided into three parts: Part 1: Standing on the Milk Crate; Part 2: A New Train of Thought; Part 3: Life, on the line. I’m not going to tell you what’s in the book or what appears in each part. That’s a journey you’ll want to enjoy on your own. However, strangely enough, the bit about Grant’s tongue cancer seemed unnecessary to me. It was almost as if that part was intentionally downplayed. There’s no doubt in my mind that facing death is a sobering experience and not easily communicated to others.

For me, this book was about relationships. The good, the bad, and the oh-so, ugly. From a people-management perspective, it was a brilliant example of how fathers/authority figures/managers effect the people who follow them. Needless to say, I have a whole new level of respect for Thomas Keller. Not only is he an amazing Chef…he’s also impacted many lives for the good – including Grant’s. Keller works hard and expects no less of the people around him. He leads by example. He inspires. He listens. He cares. *sigh* I want to work for Thomas Keller.

This book had a very strange effect on me. I cried, I laughed, I read several parts over and over again. It moved me in a way I didn’t expect. Grant’s story is filled with victories – big and small. Though I’m not a big fan of molecular gastronomy, Grant’s creativity is worthy of praise. And…while I much prefer a real pizza, I’d love to taste all the flavor of pepperoni pizza formed in to a little square and balanced on the head of a pin. Simply brilliant!

 

A Taste of Shanghai

KQEDRichardW How happy am I? I finished reading Richard Wong’s, Modern Asian Flavors: A Taste of Shanghai (Chronicle Books, San Francisco: 2005). Richard Wong is the founder and owner of chinablue. On the culinary page of the chinablue sight, you’ll find a selection of Wong’s sauces and glazes. In his cookbook, you’ll find recipes for Shanghainese sauces, too. Wong says, “Each sauce in the chapter is based on an original recipe for a Shanghainese dish as cooked by my family for generations.” Did you know that Shanghainese don’t cook with garlic? Oh, but I digress. The sauces are base flavors for all the dishes that follow. Add a little oil to the Tangy Ginger Sauce (pg. 30) and you have a salad dressing. Add some sparkling water and you have a refreshing spritzer. I love this concept. Once you master the sauces, you’re on your way. The sauce recipes are really simple but bursting with flavor.ModernAsianFlavors

In the Soup and Salad chapter, I loved the authentic Chinese Chicken Salad (pg.64) recipe. The Spicy Stuffed Bell Peppers (pg.71) with turkey and mushrooms and the tasty Red Pepper Sauce look delicious. I can almost taste the flavors. The Barbecued Pork Short Ribs (pg.81) are marinated and basted with Sweet Scallion Sauce (pg.33), which is also used on the Sweet Scallion Shrimp (pg.93). I love this. The Sweet and Sour Rice (pg.116) has a simple list of ingredients. The notes say, “This salad has an innocently addictive, clean, sweet, and tart flavor.” Yummy! It looks fantastic. You won’t want to miss Chinese Spaghetti (pg.125) made with chunks of pork and tofu, and a delicious list of ingredients.

chinablue The Dessert chapter is AMAZING! I’m not kidding. And, as I often say, I’m not a dessert person. But c’mon. These recipes are lovely. Tangy Ginger Bananas (pg.130) or in the summer, peaches and nectarines, and in the fall, apples and pears. Peach Wonton Crisps (pg.133) are beautiful and tasty. Sweet Anise Custard (pg.136) brings out the Greek in me. And, tada, Strawberry-Lemon Tapioca (pg.139). Now that’s dessert.

Richard Wong filled this cookbook with joy, a love for life, and a celebration of flavors from Shanghai. Noel Barnhurst’s food images are  beautiful and brings the food to life. A lovely combination. Thank you, Mr Wong. I hear the bell ringing!

Chef Jeff Cooks

chefjeffcooks If I had to choose between working in a kitchen for Gordon Ramsay or Jeff Henderson, I’d have a very difficult time making that choice – for many reasons. Ramsay is a kitchen king, a wealth of knowledge, a food god. Henderson is a teacher, a coach, a mentor. Now if Thomas Keller was a choice, well, don’t be silly. My bags are packed.

In 2008, Caressa and I faithfully watched The Chef Jeff Project on the Food Network. In the show, Chef Henderson puts six at-risk youth to work at his catering company to help turn their lives around. The show was quite a learning experience and I gained a great deal of respect for Chef Henderson. He understands how to motivate people, to make them want more out of life, and he inspires people to do better in all areas of their lives.

When I saw this book on the shelf at my local book store, Chef Jeff Cooks: In the Kitchen with America’s Inspirational New Culinary Star, by Jeff Henderson (Simon & Schuster, New York: 2008), I eagerly took the cookbook home. After paying for it. :)

Here’s a bit of what Chef Henderson says in the Introduction:

This is not just a cookbook; it’s a testimonial to my desire to succeed and inspire lives. It’s also a tribute to those who have been instrumental in shaping who I am today. I found my way into the kitchen by accident, but I believe today it was my destiny. God gave me my life’s vision behind the stove, and cooking has become my gift to you.

There are many black and white pictures throughout the book and the center signature is packed with beautiful color food images. The layout is simple with most recipes falling on one page. There’s also a reference section at the end. The table of contents is a little different and helps you to understand where Chef Henderson is going on his culinary journey:

  1. Stocks and Broths
  2. Appetizers
  3. Sauces and Condiments
  4. Soulful Soups and Chowders
  5. Salads
  6. Vinaigrettes and Dressings
  7. Family-Style Sandwiches
  8. Vegetables and Greens
  9. Potatoes, Starches, and Grains
  10. Dinners
  11. Time to Grill
  12. Baked Breads and Sweets
  13. Ice Creams and Sweets

chefjeff The recipes are down-home, packed with flavor, and easy to execute. Although there is no doubt Chef Henderson can bring his Bellagio best to any dish, he isn’t a show-off and remembers for whom he wrote the book. I loved the stories scattered throughout the book – very delightful, very inspiring.

The Sweet Potato Soup (pg.59) will set you straight and get you saved. The King Crab Gumbo (pg.61) will wow your Southern friends. The Creamy Blue Cheese Dressing (pg.91) is better than the one I’ve tried to rip-off from Crocodile Restaurant for many years. The Turkey Smoked Collard Greens (pg.123) are far better than mine. The Caramelized Cabbage (pg. 128) was a delightful surprise. The Sweet Potato Risotto (pg.137), oh my, it was delicious. The Molasses Braised Beef Short Ribs (pg.176) will change your life.

Chef Henderson, who lives in Las Vegas with his wife (*sigh*) and three kids, recently worked on a book project called The America I AM: Pass It Down Cookbook (Smiley Books), to honor and preserve African Americans collective family food histories and legacies. It’s due out February 2011. His first book, the memoir Cooked, was a New York Times bestseller and is slated to become a feature film. This is not “just” a cookbook, it’s a food journey and a story filled with over 150 recipes. Enjoy!

Cat Cora’s Classics

catcoraclassicsA twist, indeed. From one Greek girl to another…well done, Cat Cora.

Honestly, this is not what I expected when I purchased Cat Cora’s Classics With A Twist: Fresh takes on favorite dishes (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: New York, 2010). Cat Cora successfully takes “everyday classics” and imparts fresh and exciting flavors, while keeping things healthy and delicious. And I say, “Prove it!”

There’s no denying her Greek heritage. Her use of feta, Greek yogurt, pita bread, olives, and oregano brought joy to my heart. But she didn’t limit her flavors to a Mediterranean cast of characters. If you’re looking for a way to add a few flavorful stand-by recipes to your routine, you’ll like this book.

Kouzzina For the record, Cat Cora is no slouch. She became the first female chef on Iron Chef America. She is the executive chef of Bon Appetit, and she’s the author of Cooking from the Hip and Cat Cora’s Kitchen – of which I own neither and that needs to be rectified immediately, or in time for my birthday. :) Then again, I’ll be happy to wait for Christmas.

She has a restaurant called CCQ in Costa Mesa, California, and Kouzzina at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.

And, in the event you’ve forgotten, she’s a Greek girl. Opa!

Thai Food and Cooking

Back in 1990-something, my friend Craig and I walked in to Five Star Thai Cuisine, a small restaurant in downtown San Diego. He’d been there a few times before me so he knew the menu and proceeded to walk me through it. We were mesmerized by the Mee Krob and ordered it every time we visited the restaurant. Needless to say, we were very disappointed when Five Star closed its doors. At that time, there were no other Thai restaurants in the area. The memory of that Mee Krob has haunted me for years and years. Though I’ve eaten in many Thai restaurants since then, I’ve never been able to find it on a menu.

ThaiFood As I was walking through the pages of Judy Bastyra & Becky Johnson’s, Thai Food and Cooking, A fiery and exotic cuisine: the traditions, techniques, ingredients and recipes (Anness Publishing Ltd 2003,2010), I came across a recipe for Mee Krob (pg. 210) and here’s the recipe intro:

The name of this dish means “deep-fried noodles” and it is very popular in Thailand. The taste is a stunning combination of sweet and hot, salty and sour, while the texture contrives to be both crisp and chewy. To some Western palates, it may seem rather unusual, but this delicious dish is well worth making.

I really enjoyed this recipe book. It’s oversized, 12″x9″, and filled will beautiful food images. The authors take you into a Thai kitchen and introduce you to the simple ingredients found in the pantry – almost 40 pages of tasty info. I liked this section: the notes, pictures, and instructions. The recipes are relatively simple, the ingredients – perhaps a bit difficult to find in your average grocery store – add a depth of flavor not found in most dishes.

herbsthaiThe recipes are broken down in to the usual categories including a chapter on rice dishes and one for noodle dishes. The appetizer and snack chapter took me by surprise. A very, very delightful bunch of tasty morsels that I fully intend to test on friends and family at my earliest convenience. IMHO, there are no loser recipes in this collection. My hat is off to the authors for a lovely work of art and a great collection of recipes.

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