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Friday, Oct 10, 2014
My lips went mildly numb. Not dentist-visit numb, or certain illegal drugs numb. Just pleasantly numb. Comfortably numb.

It took three tries to figure out what all the excitement was about.  An ardent lover of Chinese food, I drooled my way through Fuchsia Dunlop’s three cookbooks on the subject. Two of them are devoted to Sichuan cookery, a cuisine famous for its extensive use of chili and Sichuan peppercorns. 


Dunlop’s rapturous descriptions of the Sichuan peppercorn’s mysterious tingling and numbing effects piqued my curiosity. My quest took me to the local 99 Ranch, the West Coast chain of Chinese supermarkets. No Sichuan peppercorns. I did, however, find a dusty canister at my local American market. When I opened it, I found what looked and tasted like brown woodchips. I tossed them, rooted around in another market, bought another packet. More woodchips. On my third attempt I ripped open the tiny bag and popped a couple into my mouth while unloading groceries.


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Thursday, Jun 12, 2014
The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone updates a beloved cookbook. Relax. Your favorites are all still in here.

I can’t imagine the work that went into revamping Deborah Madison’s 1997 magnum opus, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. The title says it all, and despite its 740 page heft, this welcoming cookbook became the go-to manual for vegetarians and their veggie-curious friends. Now, 17 years later, Madison has revamped her masterwork. Et violà: The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.


Re-reading an old favorite was deeply enjoyable after page one and the kefir lime incident. O Proofreaders at Ten Speed Press, it is kaffir limes, not kefir. Kefir is a fermented milk drink commonly found in supermarkets near the yogurt. Kaffir is a type of lime, often associated with Middle Eastern cuisines. Being a publishing concern specializing in cookbooks, I suspect you know this. And hasn’t the poor lime sustained enough abuse lately?  This once-cheap fruit now costs almost $4 a pound due to extreme weather; crates are now going for as much as $30, drawing the unsavory attentions of organized crime.  The least you can do is properly name the poor fruits.


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Wednesday, Jun 11, 2014
Popular blogger Marisa McClellan's second canning cookbook urges readers to think small.

Marisa McClellan, bases her second canning cookbook, Preserving by the Pint, on the practical notion that most people do not require a winter’s worth of jams, pickles, or chutneys. Instead, she offers literally pint-sized canning recipes, perfect for smaller households or those who just don’t want five dozen jars of blueberry jam.


McClellan isn’t exactly burning new territory here. Eugenia Bone, master chef, mycologist, and expert canner, led the way in 2009 with her seminal: Well-Preserved whose subtitle says it all: Recipes and Techniques for Putting Up Small Batches of Seasonal Foods.


Bone’s book is the bible, a clearly written manual well-suited to those whose kitchens resemble broom closets. A canning novice could pick up her book and end up the happy producer of canned tomatoes and perfectly pressure-canned corn. I know. I was that person.


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Wednesday, Apr 23, 2014
Even the most experienced cooks, gardeners or not, stand to learn a great deal from The Art of Simple Food II.
Above: Beautiful lettuce photo from Shutterstock.com.


In reviewing Alice Waters’s The Art of Simple Food II, I returned to its predecessor, The Art of Simple Food, published in 2007.  I’d recently been immersed in multi-step recipes with complex techniques and arcane ingredients. And while flaming cognac, blanching salt pork, and messing around with shrimp paste are all highly diverting, The Art of Simple Food reminded me that all are unnecessary when a delicious meal is desired. 


One only needs a basic kitchen: iron skillet, a knife, a heat source, and some food: a vegetable, a protein perhaps a piece of fruit. Et viola: dinner.


 


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Tuesday, Apr 1, 2014
As Alzheimer's pulls Wolfert away from us, we are made doubly aware of the history she brings to the table with every dish. We don't want to lose that history.
Above image from The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen: Recipes for the Passionate Cook ( Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, October 2013)


I have before of me an original edition of Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco. Written in 1973, this book put Moroccan food on the American map, or more accurately, into American mouths. One need only read Gael Greene’s introduction to realize how very spoiled we’ve become, 40 years later. Greene, invited to Wolfert’s New York apartment to taste from the cookbook-in-progress, writes about what to bring:


Blockquote“Do I bring flowers? Wine? Bonbons? No, I bring cilantro (green coriander) because fresh cilantro is the badge of our friendship.  (She can’t buy it in her neighborhood. I can. A friend would not cross town without cilantro.)”blockquote


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