The Eleventh Cookbook of Christmas: The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook

Jack Bishop

I am a simple soul. I wear jeans and t-shirts. I prefer Chucks to heels. I don’t wear make-up.  And my favourite ice cream flavour is vanilla. Less is more. When watching Masterchef, I am frustrated when the judges and contestants yammer on about “technique” and “plating.” And what is the point of foam? My cooking mantra is “Let the food be the food.” DSC01787My favourite foods are simple: mashed potatoes with butter, salt, and pepper; tomato sandwiches with tarragon mayonnaise; pasta with sautéed vegetables and a little parmesan; pizza margarita with sweet tomatoes, basil from the garden, and milky, fresh mozzarella cheese. I am also a great believer in cooking what’s in season. There is nothing more delicious than a perfectly sun-ripened tomato; and there are few things less appealing than a pale, flavourless winter hot-house tomato — no amount of technique will make it taste good.  I defy anyone to come up with anything more exquisite than an ear of sweet corn straight off the stalk with a bit of butter, salt, and pepper.

I prefer food that is only one degree of separation from the soil.  I’ve dined at three-Michelin-starred restaurants, but too often the experience left me cold.  DSC01792I appreciate the art and science behind modernist cuisine, but I cannot warm to a dining experience that puts so much technology between me and the food. I’m suspicious of “fusion” cooking that confuses me with too many moving parts. Dining in the dark? Spare me. If a recipe has forty steps, I reckon that is about 35 steps too many. I don’t have a single squeeze bottle in my kitchen, unless you count the ones Simon’s HP Sauce comes in.  As my adorable partner put it, I have no time for precious food.

A few years ago, I  spent a month in Sancerre, a picture book medieval walled city in the Loire valley. 1929893_15495843409_3121_nI was immersing myself in French at the Coeur de France Ecole des Langues.  Every morning, I walked into town and bought my food for the day.   A croissant or petit pan au chocolate for petit dejeuner. A baguette at the boulangerie, a handful of haricot verts and champignons at the greengrocer, a wedge of cheese here, a bottle of wine there. We went on a field trip to a chèvre farm where I milked my first goat.1929893_15495833409_2522_n  Most days, I lunched at the Cafe des artes, where the friendly staff would patiently suffer my feeble French (I’m sure I saw their ears bleed). Once, I had a long and spirited argument with the veg vender from the market about George W. Bush. He loved him. I didn’t. 1929893_15495858409_4008_nI rarely ate dinner out. My evenings were given over to homework and working on my vocabulary by watching badly dubbed episodes of NCIS and CSI. And I cooked, simply, and with whatever looked good at the market on the day. It was spring, so the market was teeming with some of my favourite things: asparagus, tiny artichokes, and haricot verts.

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The Bubbles were pretty nice, too!

My neighbour, Anita, and I spent a long weekend in Paris in 2011. I think she would agree that one of the best meals we had there was a simple omelette, salad, and a glass of house red wine at a corner cafe near our hotel. I had a similarly memorable meal in Giverny, just outside Monet’s house. In Lisbon, sardines grill over open wood fires all over the city, and the aroma is tantalising. My favourite meal in Brussels was pommel frites with mayonnaise.

I visited Venice briefly in 2013, and spent much of my time wandering around side streets and exploring the fruit and vegetable markets. I got lost. I got hungry. I stopped for a plate of linguine con vongole and a glass of Orvieto at a cafe at the edge of the vegetable and seafood market. I walked more. I got lost again. I met a lovely man who made carnival masks. I chatted with another artist selling his watercolours outside one of Venice’s ancient churches. I bought two. I walked more.

Got lost more. Ate lemon gelato. Finally, having managed to find my way back to the train station, hot, footsore, and happy, I drank the best mug of beer I’ve ever had. The most expensive, too, but that didn’t matter. It was a golden day.

The Kale Whisperer’s Eleventh Cookbook of Christmas, Jack Bishop’s The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook, honours the beauty of simple food.  This book is full of the kind of simple, fresh food that I love: polenta, pasta, and rice with seasonable vegetables; frittatas, tortas, and pizza; salads and bruschetta. Bishop is an editor at America’s Test Kitchen, and he provides plenty of good, practical advice.  His step-by-step instructions mean the recipes here are manageable by even a beginner. I particularly appreciate the serving suggestions that follow each recipe. None of these recipes require any special equipment. Not a foam canister in sight.

I probably cook from The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook more than any other single book on my cookbook shelf. I especially enjoy it in the summertime, when no one wants to eat hot, heavy food. Packing a picnic for an outdoor concert? This is your cookbook. One of my favourite picnics consists of a vegetable frittata (my favourite is the Zucchini Frittata with Parmesan and mint), the Roasted Potato Salad with Herbs and Red Wine Vinegar, and a loaf of crusty country bread. I am a huge fan of pasta e fagioli, and Bishop’s version, with lots of garlic and rosemary, is among my favourites. I also love the Chickpea Soup with Fennel and Orange Zest. I have borrowed that flavour combination — chickpea, fennel, and orange — as a pizza topping, too.

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Jack Bishop wrote another excellent cookbook, Pasta e Verdure (Morrow, 1994). Sadly, it is out of print, but there are used copies for sale on Amazon. In it, Bishop presents 250 recipes for simple pasta and vegetables. The books has chapters for 27 different vegetables, so if you come him from the farmers’ market with fresh, spring favas, or all you have for dinner one winter night is some pasta and cauliflower, you can find something delicious to cook. I often use Bishop’s flavour combinations as pizza toppings. If you can put it on pasta, why not pizza? Each chapter opens with advice on how to choose, clean, and store each vegetable. Many of the combinations he presents here have become standards for me: the hot pink sauces (tomato + red pepper flakes + a little cream) is a particular favourite. My mother used to make what we called “crummy spaghetti”, which was simply spaghetti tossed with bread crumbs toasted in a little butter.  Bishop has several scrummy variations on that theme: Spaghetti with Wilted Spinach and Breadcrumbs and Linguine with Asparagus, Toasted Breadcrumbs, Lemon, and Garlic. My biggest deliciousness surprise was the Fusilli with Shredded Brussels Sprouts, Orange, and Almonds. Think you hate Brussels’ Sprouts? You won’t if you try this!

Let me finish by mourning another much-loved but tragically out-of-print cookbook: Marlena Spieler’s The Vegetarian Bistro (Chronicle Books, 1997). Spieler does for simple French cooking what Bishop does for Italian Vegetarian cooking. I haven’t even bothered to flag the “to cook” recipes here, because I can literally open the book to any random page and happily cook whatever I find there, knowing it will be delicious. If you can track down a used copy (they are available on Amazon, too), buy it. Then cook the Lentilles “Dom Perignon” (Lentils cooked in Champagne — don’t worry if you don’t have left over bubbles, it works with any dry white wine). Just lentils, shallots, garlic and white wine.

Simply. Delicious. Food.

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The Tenth Cookbook of Christmas: Delia’s Vegetarian Collection

Delia

It is almost Christmas and I am remembering Christmases past. Christmas with my father was a winter wonderland. When I was very small, we had a very large spruce tree in our front yard. Every Christmas he would string those big, old-fashioned coloured lights on the tree so Santa could find our house from way up high in the sky. CCI22122015Every night, before bed, he would pack me into my red snow snuit and we would stand out in the cold and admire the lighties. Those are some of my earliest memories.

For several years after Dad died of Alzheimer’s disease, I couldn’t bear Christmas. My Mom made it through two more Christmases, and she couldn’t bear them either. The two of us would hunker down in her little apartment at the assisted living facility and watch endless versions of Jane Austen on her VCR. How many times did we watch Colin Firth dive into the pond at Pemberley? Oh, hundreds!Darcy I stopped laying down new Christmas memories when Dad died. For me, Christmas was about family, and our little family had dwindled to one.

Don’t get me wrong. I am blessed with a wonderful extended family on both sides, and I love my cousins like siblings. But, I have written before about the importance of chosen families, and I have such a lovely one that I want to celebrate them. There is Dorothy from Norwich, who was my roommate through a nearly three-week adventure in Palestine in 1993. My soul sister, Joani, in Virginia — check out her excellent blog, http://unorthodoxunhinged.com.  And my besties, Susan in Virginia and Elizabeth in Oxford. We three musketeers have shared so many adventures. Now we are joined by my beautiful fairy goddaughter, Alex.

I’ve traveled all over the world with my Elder Sis, Katy, and I’ve drowned many a sorrow with our bro, Tony.

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With Katy and Tony, after drowning a sorrow or two

And I cannot leave out my sourdough starter’s foster parents, Mary and Wade. In Athens, there are Carolyn and Kline, and Nash and France who all supported my parents, and then me, in their final years. Nash and France adopted my Dad’s beloved cockapoo, Maxwell, and gave him the loving retirement he so richly deserved. Nash still keeps me posted on the goings on at my old high school. Pete and Anita, our dogs’ uncle and auntie, are soon moving from Virginia to Minnesota — near my family in Northern Wisconsin.

My Southern Hemisphere chosen family is growing and multiplying, too. Thanks to Julian and Anna in Sydney, I have a new “niece,” Ayla. Peter is the crusty old uncle I never had. I did have an amazing Uncle, Billy, but he was too funny and loveable to qualify as crusty. Carl is the pesky little brother I never had. Chris has long been Simon’s chosen family in New Zealand, and now he’s part of mine.

I discovered the Kale Whisperer’s Tenth Cookbook of Christmas, Delia’s Vegetarian Collection (BBC Books, 2002) while visiting another branch of my chosen family in Sydney, the lovely Lise, her husband Cahn, and my “nephew” Jacob and his brand new baby sister, Eliana.

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Pizza by Jacob, I’m pretty sure those are slices of beetroot, not pepperonis!

Having essentially invited myself to visit en route to the United States earlier this year, I would not have been surprised (or disappointed) to dine on take away food. But Lise, despite juggling an active (and, as it happens, sick) three year old and an adorable six-month old, spoiled me with delicious and beautifully prepared vegetarian fare from Delia’s Vegetarian Collection. Even before I left Sydney, I ordered myself a copy from fishpond.com. It has already become a favourite in my kitchen, too.

There haven’t been any celebrity chefs or cookbooks with lots of gorgeous, full colour illustrations among the The Kale Whisperer’s Twelve Cookbooks of Christmas.  It’s not that I have anything against celebrity chefs or beautiful photographs of food. It’s just that I find those sorts of cookbooks, for the most part, disappointing. It’s as though they are written for people who don’t cook and don’t really intend to start, but who want to have some attractive cookery books as accent pieces in their designer kitchens. And I’ve had some real disasters. Take the celebrity chef cookbook I bought most recently, which shall remain nameless. So far, not a single recipes I’ve tried has worked as advertised. I ended up serving my beloved a zucchini pie with raw rice. Do these people even cook the food they put into their cookbooks? A word of advice: if the directions don’t make sense to you (trust me, the liquid from the zucchini will cook the raw rice), they probably don’t make sense. I’ve had good experiences with the few Jamie Oliver recipes I’ve downloaded, but I haven’t bought his books either because, frankly, I find him a bit preachy and annoying.

But Delia is different. How can you not trust and respect a woman who is willing to make a public spectacle of herself in support of her beloved Norwich Canaries?

Would I make a spectacle of myself in support of my beloved All Blacks? You betcha. In fact, to hear Katy tell it, I did that already while watching the 2012 Rugby World Cup Final with a group of Aussies in Bali.

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Offering up a word of thanks in Ubud, Bali

Which brings me to a digression. I had a long argument with myself (I do that — it’s an introvert thing) about whether or not to include Julia Child’s original Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Knopf, 1961). I really think every cook should read it, often, but I don’t actually cook from it very much. Julia is pretty meat-centric. That said, I just got out my copy — which was previously my mother’s copy — and it fell right open to the recipe for Soufflé au Fromage. My Mom made heavenly soufflés. I don’t. But seeing as the book is out, and I accidentally bought 32 eggs at the farmer’s market last week, I think I’ll give it another shot, with Julia on my shoulder.IMG_0275

But back to Delia. This is a gorgeous book. If you are looking for a gift for your favourite vegetarian, and want to split the difference between useful and pretty, this is your book. The illustrations are stunning. There are a few I’d like to tear out of the book and hang on the wall. And the recipes work. I have a massive rosemary bush in my herb garden, so I can make the Tuscan Bean and Pasta Soup, all year round. Simon grew up in the UK, and this book has vegetarian versions of his childhood comfort foods, including Shepard’s Pie, Spinach Pasties, and Not-Pork Pies (which will please our Kune Kune pigs). Everything Lise prepared from Delia’s collection was wonderful, and only tasted better for being made with love and eaten in the best of company.

I’m not folding down the corners of this book, but it is full of multicoloured post-it flags. I gave up on the cheese chapter. I’ll just cook, and eat, my way through the whole thing. There are two oven-baked risottos, for those nights when your feet are tired or you have blisters on your thumbs and don’t want to stand at the stove and stir. I rarely cook sweets — neither of us eat them much — but as soon as I send this off, I’m headed out to the garden to see if I have enough rhubarb for the Rhubarb, Almond, and Ginger Crumble.

Wait. I just re-read the recipe for Crumpet Pizzas, with blue cheese, walnuts, olive oil and sage. I’m off to the grocery, now, to buy some crumpets. The rhubarb will have to wait.

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The Eighth Cookbook of Christmas: Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant

Sundays at Moosewood

I first made rumpledethumps for Christmas dinner in 1990. I made rumpledethumps for every subsequent Christmas dinner for at least 16 years at the request of my father. I’ve also made them for the occasional Thanksgiving dinner as well as for countless cold winter nights curled up in my jimjams after particularly stressful days. Before I met the love of my life, Rumpledethumps nursed me through several broken hearts and other singleton tragedies. Rumpledethumps are my chicken soup.  Rumpledethumps have the advantage of being both fun to say (really, try to say rumpledethumps without smiling) and delicious to eat. And they combine two of my favourite foods: mashed potatoes and brassicas. My rumpledethumps recipe comes from the Kale Whisperer’s Eighth Cookbook of Christmas, Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant, by the Moosewood Collective (Fireside/Simon and Schuster, 1990).

As I sit here on the last Sunday afternoon before Christmas, waiting for Paul and Oliver to come shear the alpacas (our new pre-Christmas tradition), I’m paging through Sundays at Moosewood and being reminded of meals I’ve cooked and countries I’ve visited. This book is a compilation of recipes from the Moosewood Restaurant’s Sunday “ethnic nights.” Sunday is pizza night here, but if it weren’t, I could prepare a meal honouring the alpacas with Chilean Garlic Soup, Torta de Papas, Ensalada Olimipica, and Pan de Navidad. Maybe I’ll do that next year, if the shearing isn’t on a Sunday. Rules are rules. Or perhaps I’d try to recreate the delicious Apfel Kuchen Simon and I ate when we visited the German settlement of Fruitillar during our too-brief visit to Chile in 2012.

When I first bought this book, in 1990, I hadn’t yet discovered the joys of those handy little, bright coloured Post-it flags for tagging recipes to try in a new cookbook.

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Sometimes I colour code my flags: say, pink for must try immediately, green for ways to cook things I can never find recipes for. Trouble is, I usually forget the code.

 

In those days, I folded down the corners. I can hear all you bibliophiles groaning, but folded corners are far from the worst abuses my cookbooks suffer, what with all the drips, splashes, and the occasional dog attack. As I look at my copy of Sundays, it seems like every other page is turned down. I’ve tried many of those recipes. Others, I’ve yet to get around to making. But I don’t remember a clunker from this collection, and that it saying something.IMG_1233

Sundays at Moosewood is organised into 18 regional chapters, that include countries or regions from every continent except Antarctica, plus a few very useful appendices. Now that my consciousness has been raised, I note the absence of a Pacific Islands chapter. But this is likely to reflect the fact that Moosewood never had a Pacifika chef. Chile, China, Finland, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico and France (Provence) all get their own chapters. Africa is divided into sub-Saharan and North African chapters. The British Isles, the Middle East, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia are treated regionally. The Jewish diaspora gets its own chapter, separated again into Ashkenazi and Sephardic recipes. And from the United States, New England and the Southern US are singled out for special attention. I’ve relied heavily on the Southern US chapter over the years.

Coca-Cola-Salad

Cocola salad traditionally involves cherry Jello, canned cherries, crushed pineapple, chopped pecans, and cream cheese. I live in horror of jelled anything, but try it if you feel brave.

It includes a vegetarian version of that beloved (said with a touch of irony) Southern Christmas favourite, Cocola Salad. That’s how Southern it is.

In addition to rumpledethumps, among the pages in my copy that are either curly or to which the book opens on its own are: Yellowman’s Banana Lime Bread, Mu Shu Vegetables with Mandarin Pancakes, Buddha’s Garden (with my favourite vegetarian stir-fry sauce), Hernerakkaa (Finish Yellow Split Pea Soup), Dal and Tomato Kachumber (a sort of Indian salsa), Mother Wolff Soup (a Jewish paprikash), Sopa de Lima (Mexican Tomato, Lime, and Tortilla Soup), New England Corn Bisque, My Favorite Philippine Breakfast (a sort of fried rice concoction with vinegar, pickled peppers, and a fried egg that is also excellent for dinner on a night when you need comfort food and all you have in the pantry is rice, eggs, and a jar of jalapeño peppers). I wonder if that last has a proper name in Tagalog. Maybe one of my Fillipino readers will tell us.

The appendices are useful, too. The menu planning section, in addition to a nice collection of suggested menus, includes a page of Related Cuisines so you can mix and match on your own. It also includes a few examples of how to build interesting menus combining divergent cuisines. There is a Guide to Ingredients, Techniques, and Equipment and my all-time-favourite-ever-in-a-cookbook appendix, What We Mean When We Say, “One Medium Onion. . ..”

New Zealand produces enormous leeks. Giant_Leek_Photographic_Prints.jpgIt would not be an exaggeration to say that in the high season, the leeks here approach the size of a baseball bat (but not a cricket bat). When I come across a recipe that calls for “4 leeks, white and light green parts only,” that could easily amount to about a ton of chopped leeks. Okay, maybe not a ton, but a lot more than you’d get from your standard, American, grocery store leek. What We Mean helpfully tells you that 1 medium leek = 3/4 cup chopped or 3 ounces (85 grams).

Do you ever find yourself, wanting to throw your arms in the air and cry “what the hell constitutes a medium zucchini?” as you cope with summer zucchini ranging from wee ones with the flower attached to a giant suitable for Wallace and Grommit’s Giant Vegetable contest? Wallace and GromitHere’s your answer: 1 medium zucchini weighs 10 oz (285 grams). The most useful thing I’ve learned from What We Mean: a medium bunch of spinach leaves, 10 ounces (285 grams) of fresh spinach by weight will turn into 1 cup (236 ml) of cooked, squeezed dry spinach. There are also weight equivalents of various cheeses and nuts by volume and a handy customary / metric conversion chart.

If you love to travel, but don’t always have the money or the time, Sundays at Moosewood is a good way to wander the globe in your own kitchen. Or just to explore new cuisines without having to buy a new cookbook. All the Moosewood Collective books are good, but this one remains my favourite.

Now, off to Chile to shear the alpacas, then back to Naples to eat some pizza.

 

The Fifth Cookbook of Christmas: Bernard Clayton’s New Complete Book of Breads

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Today would have been my Dad’s 93rd birthday. He wasn’t a vegetarian. His favourite foods were: fried eggs (sunny side up), Campbell’s Pork and Beans (Mom spiffed them up with green peppers, mustard, and various other secret bits of magic), and pretty much anything made with ground beef. According to family legend, Mom and Dad went in with friends once to buy a steer. When the butcher called to find out how they wanted their half cut up, Dad told him to just grind the whole beast into hamburger. Fortunately, Mom was able to intervene. Dad was an avid gardener and produced bushels of tomatoes, green peppers (capsicum), tender little yellow crookneck squash, okra, eggplant, raspberries and figs. But, at heart, he was a meat-and-potatoes sort of guy.

Like most meat-and-potatoes guys, Dad also loved bread. Good, hearty, stick to your ribs, Olde Worlde bread: rye, pumpernickel, crusty Kaiser rolls, and the absolutely delicious, chewy hard rolls from the Black Forest Bakery in Athens, Georgia. When our family moved from Virginia to Georgia in 1967, we entered the black hole of bread. European style bread simply didn’t exist. Not even mass-produced rye bread. Certainly not the kind of peasant breads that work your jaws and have the fortitude to mop up the remains of a hearty soup. Roman Meal Bread was the closest to whole wheat available. Our choices were pretty much Sunbeam (“It’s batter whipped”) and Wonder Bread. It was at this point that Mom went back to baking bread in a serious fashion.

It wasn’t easy. These were the days before supermarkets sold Bread Flour, and most flour sold in the South was made from soft, summer wheat. Flours like White Lilly are indispensable for making biscuits, cornbread, and cakes, but lack the complex gluten structures that are needed for hearty, crusty European loaves. Eventually, Mom found a commercial source of hard wheat flour, which she bought in twenty pound bags and she was off. Every three weeks or so, I’d come home to a kitchen full of dough and the smell of fresh baked bread. It was heaven. Some would go in the freezer, but Dad and I usually devoured at least one loaf on the spot.

Mom was famous for her breads. At the Annual Christmas Auction at St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, her “coffee cake of the month” and “bread of the month” offerings raised a pretty penny. When she teamed up with our friends Kline and Carolyn to offer a catered German dinner party, folks pulled out their check books and dug deep.

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One of the legendary St. Gregory’s Auction German dinners, cooked and hosted by Carolyn, Kline, Dad, and Mom, circa late 1980s

At this time of year, she’d be in full Christmas Stollen baking mode. She was famous for her stollen — the traditional german fruited bread that is baked and sugared to look like the Christ child’s swaddling clothes. This is NOT fruitcake, it is Christmas manna. Mom’s recipe came out of her head — handed down from her mother and aunt. In mid-December, our kitchen became an assembly line, with sweet, fruity loaves at various stages of development. While I’m no longer big into Christmas, I still honour this one family tradition and bake a batch or two around Christmas time from Bernard Clayton’s recipe. stollenIt tastes like my childhood and makes me happy, a little bit sad, and very grateful. And when it is a little stale, its makes the best toast ever.

I reckon today is an appropriate day to add Bernard Clayton’s New Complete Book of Breads to the Kale Whisperer’s Twelve Cookbooks of Christmas. My well-worn copy is the 1987 edition. There have been subsequent revisions, the most recent in 2006, that incorporate newer technology, like bread machines. But the basic spirit that makes this cookbook an all time great remains.

Bernard Clayton gave up a high-powered journalistic career in New York and Chicago after a mystical bread experience during a bike trip around Europe in the mid-1960s. He moved to Bloomington, Indiana, worked for Indiana University, and pursued his fascination with bread. His wonder at the art and science of bread making shines through this book. He prefaces many of the recipes with an introduction, perhaps describing the bread’s history, how it fits in to the wider world of breads, and how he discovered it. Clayton was not professionally trained — he taught himself to bake — and the un-jaded joy of the gifted amateur is contagious. I defy you to pick up this book and not immediate begin tagging recipes. This is one of those cookbooks you’ll want to sit down and read, cover-to-cover.

In addition to the Christmas Stollen (my copy automatically opens to that page), I love the Dilly Casserole Bread (a 1960s staple), the Sour Dill Rye Bread (which uses pickle brine as the liquid), the Portuguese Sweet Bread, and the German White Bread with Caraway. My New Zealand sourdough starter, which has been going for two years, now, began with his Honey Starter.  Our sourdough starter is like a member of the family. It’s less demanding than the dogs. It only needs is to be fed and cuddled once a week. And it doesn’t have accidents in the house. I had to leave my previous starter in the US when we moved to New Zealand.

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My New Zealand Honey Sourdough Starter, freshly fed and happy

The Ministry of Primary Industries here was unlikely to look kindly upon a glob of dough teeming with microbes, no matter how yummy. It found a happy home with my friends Mary and Wade. They let me visit when I go back to Virginia. Mary gave up baking bread for Lent one year, so I know she is a good mother (and her dogs are way better behaved than mine).

 

This is the most comprehensive handbook for the home bread baker I’ve ever found. It was written based on thousands of hours of Clayton’s own trial and error in his own home kitchen. I’m reasonably confident that there is nothing that a home baker needs to know about bread making that isn’t in this book. If you try to bake bread, and something goes wrong, Clayton will tell you why. Most of the recipes include separate instructions for mixing the doughs by hand, in a stand mixer, or in a food processor.

My copy does not include bread machine instructions or recipes, which is fine by me. If you want to make bread, make bread. Don’t be afraid of it. Hold the dough, knead it, throw it, slam it — as Clayton advises, “don’t gentle the dough” — watch it rise, punch it down, knead it some more, and feel it come to life under your warm touch. Bread making, unlike some other kinds of baking, is very forgiving. And much cheaper than therapy.

And nothing beats a slice of hot, fresh bread with butter. It tastes like love.

 

 

The Third Cookbook of Christmas: The Food Substitutions Bible

Food Substitutions

So, you just harvested your rhubarb and you are making The Smitten Kitchen’s delicious rhubarb snacking cake (Smitten Kitchen Rhubarb Snacking Cake), and you discover that you don’t have any ground ginger. What do you do? Cry? Immediately jump in the car and drive to the supermarket for a can of ground ginger that you might never use again? Leave it out and hope for the best? Any or all of these could work, but what I recommend is that you pull down your copy of David Joachim’s The Food Substitutions Bible, turn to page 236, and discover that you can substitute ground ginger with: minced crystallised ginger (rinsed to remove the sugar), minced or grated fresh ginger, or ginger juice. You will also find that, failing those options, you can very the flavour slightly with pumpkin pie spice, ground allspice, or ground cardamom. I’ve tried the cardamom, which works nicely, as well as the fresh and crystallised ginger options. And don’t forget to double the crumb topping.

The Kale Whisperer’s Third Cookbook of Christmas is not a cookbook at all, but it is absolutely indispensable. Really. If you have a kitchen, and you do anything more in it than boiling eggs, buy this book immediately, if not sooner. Speaking of eggs, turn to “Egg, Whole” in this handy guide, and you will find that 1 large egg = 3 tablespoon (45ml) of egg yolk and whites = 1 3/4 ounces (52g). This is important information to have on hand if you 1) live outside the US and have no idea if 1 large egg = 1 standard size 6 or size 7 New Zealand egg, 2) you live in the US but only have jumbo or medium eggs in your fridge, or 3) you use your or someone else’s free range barnyard eggs and your hens are creative souls who lay whatever size egg they feel like laying.

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Does your typical carton of barnyard eggs look like this? Here’s the solution!

While any kitchen, vegetarian or not, could benefit from the wealth of information easily available in The Food Substitutions Bible, it is a godsend for any vegetarian or vegan cook. Vegans, for example, will find that they can substitute 1 cup (250ml) of whole 3.5% milk with a similar amount of soy, rice, almond, or oat milk. It will also remind them that they may need to compensate for added sugar. It also suggests vegan substitutes for eggs, butter, and honey. With this book on hand, it is a relatively simple matter to convert non-vegan recipes to vegan.

I live in New Zealand, but most of my cookbooks were Born in the USA. Not infrequently, I discover that key ingredients for some of my favourite recipes are simply not available here. Take cake flour. Cake flour is not a thing in New Zealand. But I have learned the hard way that substituting cake flour 1:1 with all purpose flour in a recipe that calls for cake flour can be a recipe for disaster. What to do? Look up cake flour and you’ll find that you can substitute 1 cup of cake flour with 1 cup (250ml or 142g) minus 3 tablespoons (45ml) all-purpose flour plus 3 tablespoons (45g) corn or potato starch (corn or potato flour, as they are known here in NZ). You’ll need to sift the flour and starch several times before you do your final measurement, and your cake might not have as fine a crumb, but it’s a pretty darn good substitute.

making-cheeseAnd what if you are making a potato and tomato gratin, and your recipe calls for a topping made with 1 cup (4 oz; 120g) of grated Gruyere cheese, but you don’t want to lay out the cash for an expensive chunk of Gruyere for a weeknight dinner? Look up Gruyere, and you’ll find that you can substitute Comte, Beaufort, or Emmental. OK, still pricey. But you know that Emmental is a Swiss-type cheese, so turn there and you find that, yes, indeed, you can substitute Jarlsburg (usually cheaper than Emmental) or Swiss cheese. I find the cheese substitutions particularly useful here in New Zealand. It can be difficult, and expensive, to buy the more obscure regional cheeses. And even if you can find Riccotta Salata, you might not want to shell out for it for an everyday meal.

If all this doesn’t convince you to run immediately to Amazon.com or Fishpond.co.nz to order (NZD$39.49 on fishpond; sadly, it is not yet available on Kindle — go to Amazon and complain!) a copy of The Food Substitutions Bible, let me close the deal. You want to make an apple pie. You go to the market and are faced with umpteen different varieties. Which one makes the best pie apple? What variety makes the best applesauce to go with your Hanukkah latkes? Grab your copy of FSB, turn to the back, and you’ll find a comprehensive guide to “Picking Apples.”

Do you have Celiac Disease? Can’t eat gluten? You will find here an exhaustive table of alternative flours that tells you 1) their best uses (yeast breads? quick breads?), 2) their gluten content (medium, low, gluten-free) and 3) their flavour.

Do you live in New Zealand and want to make pickles? Turn to “Trading Salts” and you’ll find that you can substitute Kosher Salt (not widely available here) with coarse or flaked sea salt. Thank goodness, your pickles won’t get cloudy and soggy from using iodised table salt!

For expats and those who don’t keep every possible size and shape of pan in their kitchen, or those who find a recipe that calls for a 28oz can of tomato puree and live where tomato puree comes only in metric cans, there are numerous useful tables: Can and Package Size Equivalents, Pan Size Equivalents (will a Bundt cake recipe fit in my Tube pan? yes), Temperature Equivalents (what is an “extremely hot oven” for pizza in metric? 260C), and Volume Equivalents (what the heck is a metric “pinch”, or a non-metric “pinch” for that matter? less than 1/8 teaspoon, or .5ml).

Downsize your spice rack. Go ahead and buy those organic free-range medium eggs when they are on sale. Don’t buy a quart of whole milk when you only need 1 cup. Don’t pay the outrageous supermarket price for creme fraiche. Buy this book instead.

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The Second Cookbook of Christmas: The Tao of Cooking

IMG_0267In August 1981, my then soon-to-be first husband and I loaded up a U-Haul trailer and moved from Athens, Georgia to Bloomington, Indiana. Our first apartment was a grim little efficiency all done up in 1970’s olive green and gold. The galley kitchen was in the living room, which had a giant grease stain in the middle of the carpet. It had only two positives: it was a short walk to the Indiana University campus, where I was working on a Master’s Degree in History, and it was just a couple of blocks away from the Tao Restaurant and Rudi’s Bakery.

The Tao, which was run by the members of a yoga ashram, got its start in the early 1970s as a worthy, hippie-vegetarian cafe — all brown rice, soy burgers, and sprouted things. By the time I arrived, it had grown up into a quite classy and refined (and not cheap) vegetarian restaurant. We were starving graduate students, but were also both budding foodies (although I hate the term, which technically hadn’t been invented yet). We scrimped and saved so we could splurge, once a month or so, on a nice meal at the Tao.

Rudi’s Bakery was more accessible, and there was no better comfort for a rotten day — I had a lot of those in Bloomington — than a slice of Rudi’s poppy seed cake with cream cheese frosting. I don’t have very many happy memories of those years, but the Tao and Rudi’s are among the happiest.

My first husband grew up in a restaurant family and was the one who really introduced me to the joy of cooking and eating well. We spent many happy hours in the kitchen together. Every weekend we undertook a new culinary adventure. I was not loving graduate school, and decided not to pursue a Ph.D. and left after my MA. I spent our final year in Bloomington, while my partner finished his degree, working at a soul-destroying job at the University Archives and taking cooking classes. The instructor for my first cooking class was Sally Pasley, the author of The Tao of Cooking (Indiana University Press, 1998), the Kale Whisperer’s Second Cookbook of Christmas.

Sally Pasley was one of a group of ashram members who had been mentored by a classically-trained French chef at the ashram’s original restaurant, Rudi’s Big Indian Restaurant, in upstate New York. She moved to the Bloomington restaurant in 1977, bringing a more classical vibe to the hippie eatery. Much to my delight, she also taught cookery classes. Under her steady guidance, I learned to make pastry and started my first foray into vegetarianism.

My copy of The Tao of Cooking is the original paperback, published in 1982 by Ten Speed Press, for which I paid $7.95 at Rudi’s (the current publishers price is $24.00 — cheaper at Amazon).  It has followed me from Indiana to Ohio, California, Georgia, Virginia and, finally, to the Southern Hemisphere.  IMG_0265It is splattered, dog-eared, and its spine is shot — as a well-loved cookbook should be. It was my first vegetarian cookbook and it is still on the top shelf of my cookbookcase. When I need a quick vegetable side, or a snappy salad, here’s where I go.

The Tao of Cooking represents its time. In the early 1980s, vegetarian cooking was making its transition from counter-culture to mainstream. You can find Hippie here: the Big Veg soy bean burger and Hobbit Pie (a personal favourite). But most of the recipes are refined, meat-free versions of European and Asian classics. Refined, but accessible, even to a beginning cook — as I was when I first bought my copy. The most exotic ingredient you’re likely to find is agar-agar (a vegetarian substitute for gelatine). Even for the Asian recipes, you are likely to find everything you need at a well-stocked supermarket. It doesn’t require any high-tech gadgets — the food processor was cutting edge, in those days.

My favourite recipes? My copy opens automatically to the Spaghetti with Eggplant, long a favourite, until I married my beloved but eggplant averse husband. The Pasta e Fagiole is classic and easy. I already mentioned the Hobbit Pie, whose mushroom and cheese filling I use in my Kiwi Pies (not made with actual kiwis). And because. . . you know. . .Wellington? Middle Earth? Hobbits?

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My not-yet-world-famous Kiwi Pies not made with actual kiwis

The fussiest recipe I’ve found is the Lasagne Verdi, which requires two sauces and homemade pasta. But it is well worth the effort. So is the Country Pate with Cold Tomato Sauce.The side dishes and salads are simple and tasty. The Tao Dressing is a must-try. You’ll never look at Ranch Dressing again.

The best thing about The Tao of Cooking? It includes, amongst many delicious cake and pastry recipes I learned to make in Sally’s pastry class, the recipe for Rudi’s Poppy Seed Cake. So whenever I need to, I can bake my own little slice of midwestern comfort, even here in far away New Zealand. And on a really bad day, there’s the Poppy Seed Cake Hot Fudge Sundae. That will brighten up the stormiest of Wellington days.

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The First Cookbook of Christmas

My first essential cookbook suggestion is really a category. Every vegetarian kitchen needs one, basic, all purpose cookbook. The kind of cookbook whose first sentence reads: Stand facing the stove. This is the cookbook you will go to when (like me) you can’t remember how long it takes to hard boil and egg. I hate hardboiled eggs. I don’t eat hardboiled eggs. And I don’t want to take up vital brain space remembering how long to cook hard boiled eggs.

This is also the cookbook you will go to if you live in New Zealand, which is metric, and most of your cookbooks are from the US and, consequentially, not metric.

This is also where you will go if you come home from the farmer’s market with a huge bunch of Cavolo Nero, and you don’t know what it is or how to cook it. Actually, if that happens, you will come to the Kale Whisperer. But you know what I mean.

When I was learning to cook, that cookbook was The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker. I read it cover to cover. Several  times. It was my mother’s default wedding gift. Every new bride needed a copy of Joy. When I got married, in 1981, I got at least five copies. In my mind, it remains the essential all-purpose cookbook. If you aren’t a rigid vegetarian, and you might want to know how to poach a salmon, you’ll want this as your basic cookbook. Be sure to get the 75th anniversary edition, not the controversial 1997 “All New” version. It lacks the vital “Know Your Ingredients” section and some of the more “quaint” sections, like canning, pickling, and preserving. If you can find a used copy of the original, preferably with someone’s notes scribbled in it, all the better.Old-and-New-Joy

A newer, cooler, more vegetarian-focussed option is Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian (Wiley, 2007). Bittman is a food journalist and a leading advocate of sustainable cooking. How to Cook Everything Vegetarian includes two excellent introductory chapters on equipment and techniques, numerous instructive sidebars offering variations, lists, and charts by ingredient. It uses an icon system, so you can quickly identify Fast, Make-Ahead, and Vegan recipes, and includes a table of “Recipes by Icon.” There are a few menus, and an extensive and useful index, so it is easy to find what you are looking for. Even if you are not vegetarian, you can’t go wrong with this one; although, if you prefer a more all-purpose cookbook, his How to Cook Everything is also excellent. Obviously, however, you will lose some of the specialised vegetarian cooking content.

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My third recommended option is Deborah Madison’s The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (Ten Speed Press, 2014). This one is weaker than Joy and How to Cook Everythinon technique, but its excellent first chapter, “Becoming a Cook,” includes valuable advice on Composing a Vegetarian Menu, Menus for Holidays and Special Occasions, and Wine with Vegetables. Chapter Two: Foundations of Flavor is also excellent and includes sections on various types of ingredients — herbs, chills, cheese, dairy and dairy substitutes, to name just a few. The thing I like best about Madison’s cookbook is that she includes flavour matches for individual vegetables and fruits. This is where you turn if you want to know what goes with Brussels Sprouts — butter, olive oil, mustard oil, cream, béchamel, blue cheese, cheddar, mustard, capers, lemon, vinegar, caraway, oregano, parsley, dill, curry spices, and juniper.

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Depending on where you live, you may have other, preferred all-purpose cookbooks.  If so, please tell us about it! For my mother’s generation, the classics  were the Good Housekeeping or Fanny Farmer Cookbooks. In France, it would be the classic Larousse Gastronomique (1938). Times change, and different cultures have different basics. The important thing is to have one. It will be your touchstone and security blanket. Years from now, it will be splattered, scribbled on, and held together with duct tape and rubber bands. It will be the outward and visible sign of your cooking journey.

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