A Forty Day Invention Test

When I was a kid, my fellow Episcopalian and Catholic pals and I spent weeks thinking about what we would give up for Lent. I tended to lean toward such noble sacrifices as Brussels Sprouts — which as far as I remember my Mother never, ever cooked — or liver and onions– which my Dad loved meaning we had it about once a week. I tried very hard to score an invitation to eat at a friend’s house on those days. I remember being in awe of my best friend, Jeannie, the year she gave up watching TV.

I don’t honestly know whether she stuck with it for the whole 40 days, but I do remember her sitting with her back to the set on our regular Saturday Porter Wagner and hot dogs nights. My usual fall back was chocolate, which was sort of a sacrifice — I do like chocolate — but as we seldom had chocolate in the house, not much of one.

As I got older, the whole ritual of giving something up for Lent fell by the wayside. I guess this was because, once we moved to Georgia, most of my friends were Baptists and Methodists for whom Lent didn’t really seem much of an issue, although Easter certainly was.

Once I became an adult, I again embraced the notion of a Lenten discipline, Most years, I 21-days-to-form-a-new-habit-lori-welbournedecided to take up something — meditation, daily prayer, volunteering, swimming — in the hope that what started as a seasonal discipline would become a habit. It worked the year I challenged myself to go to the gym every day. I initially took up yoga as a Lenten discipline. That stuck too, for a while.

For several years, I gave up meat for Lent. This is, of course, a time-honoured Lenten discipline. The whole idea of Fat Tuesday or Pancake Day had to do with using up all your indulgent foods — butter, cream, eggs, bacon — in preparation for the lean, disciplined days of fasting that lay ahead. pancake day

For me, the Lenten meat fast would end with the Easter Vigil — the Saturday night service that begins in the dark (at least until Congress moved Daylight Savings Time, meaning it didn’t get dark at Easter until 8pm or so) with a cantor and Old Testament lessons and ends with with bright lights and festive music, representing Jesus’ resurrection. It is my absolutely favourite service of the entire year — far surpassing Christmas. One year, we were encouraged to make animal sounds during the Noah’s Ark story, rattle our keys during the reading of Ezekiel 37:1-14 — the Valley of the Dry Bones — and ring bells or toot horns during Psalm 98 — Sing to the Lord a New Song.

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No, I don’t eat meat anymore, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss it.

After the Easter Vigil, I would head straight to Five Guys Burgers and Fries for a gloriously greasy bacon cheeseburger with the works and a bog of their miraculously delicious fries then head home to eat it accompanied by a bottle of bubbly. Now that’s breaking a fast!

One year, I gave up wine. I’ll never make that mistake again.

Ditto: coffee.

mobyAnother year, I pledged to read Moby Dick, my lifelong literary bête noir. The. Most. Boring. Novel. Ever. Written. I failed. I’d rather spend forty days wearing a hair shirt. Note to l’Académie française: I’ll give up my circonflexe when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers. If for no other reason, because without it, my spell checker keeps changing bête to bets or beets.je suis circonflex

My friend Mary earned my everlasting admiration the year she gave up baking bread for Lent. When we were preparing to move to New Zealand and it came time to find a foster mother for my beloved sourdough starter, I reckoned that someone who loved baking so much that she would give it up for Lent would treat my sourdough baby with all the love it deserved.

God and I had a parting of the ways some years ago. I am now what I call a philosophical Christian, with some Judaism, Buddhism, and Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster mixed in. While I no longer believe in an afterlife or a loving God, I still believe that Jesus’ teaching — the stuff he actually said — is as good a guide for living a decent and rewarding life as any other. Feed the hungry. House the homeless. Care for the sick. Embrace outsiders. Keep only what you need and share the rest with those who have less than you. Judge not lest ye be judged. This is all good. Are you listening, Donald Trump?

This Lent, a year after my soul fell to pieces, I am once again embracing the value of a discipline for restoring mindfulness and spiritual resilience. For most of the last year, just getting out of bed was an exercise in discipline. It would be disingenuous for me to give up meat — that is already gone. Chocolate? Not enough of a sacrifice. Wine? lentToo much of a sacrifice. As much as I admire Mary, giving up baking would rob me of one of my most important emotional outlets. Simon and the boys might appreciate my giving up the accordion, but I wouldn’t want to lose my place with my lovely accordion teacher, Katie. The Kale Whisperer can’t give up Kale.

So, what’s a girl to do?

After long deliberation and utterly without consulting my devoted partner, I have decided to give up cookbooks for Lent. Not only will I not buy any new ones, I won’t use them. For the next forty days, I will be a totally improvisational cook. Because this is my discipline and I’m making the rules, I will leave myself three exceptions. I’ll allow myself to use Karen Page’s The Vegetarian Flavor Bible [see “The Seventh Cookbook of Christmas”], to ensure I check before pairing radishes and chocolate. I’ll also allow one all purpose book to look up basic recipes, like choux pastry, that I don’t carry around in my head. For this, I’ll use Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. I’ll also use cookbooks for any pickling and preserving I do because I don’t want to kill anyone. Starting at sunrise on Ash Wednesday until sundown Easter Saturday, all other cookbooks will remain closed.

Note that I am giving up cookbooks, not necessarily recipes. In addition to improvising my own recipes using whatever seasonal ingredients are available, I will, on occasion, revisit some of the old recipes I inherited from my mother, Aunties, Grandma, and Tante Ida. I hope, in so doing, I will stretch my kitchen creativity as well as knitting my cooking more tightly to my new home.

I pledge to include ingredients that are new to me: Maori yams, feijoas, Asian greens. Maybe even these things. weird fruit

My hope is that at the end of this exercise, I will have a greater appreciation for living in tune with the seasons, greater culinary creativity, and a better food blog.

I’ll share the successes. When there are failures — as there are bound to be — I’ll share those, too. I promise, though, that I’ll only consult the ones I have on paper. Consulting the internet; that would be cheating. I am setting off on a forty day Master Chef Invention test. The Pantry is open.

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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 Ninth Cookbook of Christmas: The Thug Kitchen

Thug Kitchen

 

logo-parentaladvisoryToday is Monday. As my hero, Bloom County’s Bill the Cat, would put it: Blech! Ack! Thbbft! Granted, it’s the Monday before Christmas, not your usual, run-of-the-mill, shoot the alarm clock Monday. Still, Monday is Monday. Before I had a nervous breakdown and opted out of the rat race, I’d start dreading Monday about 5 pm on Saturday. The biggest advantage of Monday holidays was that I could enjoy spending half of Sunday with a pot of coffee and the Sunday New York Times without a pit in my stomach. I was a Monday hater of the first order. So much so that I started hating Sunday because all I had to look forward to on Sunday was Monday. I hated Monday even when I was enjoying my job.

Bill did it better

Sorry, Miley. Bill really did do it better.

My lunaediesophobia — yep, there’s a word for fear of Mondays — was to do with the prospect of having to drag my self out of my safe, restorative little introvert cave, put my happy mask back on, and gather the energy to play the role of an extrovert for another week.

It only makes sense to introduce my Ninth Cookbook of Christmas, Thug Kitchen: Eat Like You Give a F*ck (Rodale, 2014), on a Monday. This is a cookbook with a Monday sort of attitude. But it is also a cookbook that should come with one of those “explicit language” labels Tipper Gore made the record companies put on Death Metal and Gangsta CDs. Gordon Ramsay has nothing on these guys. I am not shy about foul language, so it doesn’t put me off. When I was a military history graduate student, we employed the f-word liberally as noun, verb, adjective, and adverb. I had to go through f-word detox before I re-entered polite society. And I can still let rip under the right circumstances (and I find there are a lot of right circumstances), much to the chagrin of my gentle, non-swearing husband. A recent study found that a large vocabulary of profanity indicates a larger than normal active general vocabulary. I heard this on Radio New Zealand — rnz.co.nz — so it must be true. I can swear in more than one language. I must have a gargantuan vocabulary, despite the fact that my Facebook word cloud says the word I use most often is “accordion.”Gordon Ramsay

Even if you are squeamish about the f-word, please try to get past it and get this cookbook. Especially if you are vegan, but even if you are not. Even if you have impressionable children and have to hide your copy in your underwear drawer. Even if the only way you can cope is to black out all the bad words in your copy, which will wind up looking an US Air Force response to a Freedom-of-Information request for documents on the aliens at Area-51.  Why? Because it is far and away the most awesome f-ing vegan cookbook in the whole f-ing universe. That’s why.

I am not vegan. At least not yet. I still eat eggs and dairy, but I struggleGo Vegan with both. I can resolve my misgivings about battery chickens and my suspicion that in New Zealand, as in the US, the “free-range” designation on eggs is dubious by keeping my own chooks. But it is highly unlikely that we will adopt our own cow. And recent exposés concerning cruelty in the New Zealand dairy industry make it increasingly difficult to look the other way. not your milkSo, I try to cook vegan often and am constantly on the lookout for amazing vegan recipes so that, if and when we make the leap, I will have a solid cooking foundation. Most of the time, I am disappointed. Thug Kitchen, and the website from which it is compiled, http://www.thugkitchen.com. is a standout, a mother-ing awesome standout.

What is so awesome about Thug Kitchen? First of all, these are Thugs on a mission to liberate their world from crappy food. As they point out, “there is an aura of elitism surrounding eating well, and so many people tend to associate health with wealth.” Why do I love this book? The intro says it all: “Welcome to the Thug Kitchen, bitches. We’re here to help. We started our website to inspire motherfuckers to eat some goddam vegetables and adopt a healthier lifestyle. Our motto is simple: Eat Like You Give a Fuck.”Swiss Fucking Chard The Thugs really are speaking to an audience of people who probably never cooked and quite possibly never ate food that didn’t come from a drive-in, a box or a can. The thug life is about overcoming struggles, disadvantages, and bad influences to succeed and thrive despite any obstacles. The Thug Kitchen is “a fucking wake-up call. This for that section of the grocery store that you avoid. This is for the drive-thru lines so long that they block traffic. This is for ketchup and pizza qualifying as fucking vegetables. This is for everyone who wants to do better but gets lost in the bullshit.” The Thugs understand what Jamie Oliver doesn’t: Have a f-ing sense of humour!

Then there is the food. It doesn’t strive to be cute and clever, and it doesn’t rely on play meat. This is vegan food jam-packed with flavour and attitude. Every recipe I’ve tried in the cookbook has been f-ing delicious. So far, my favourites have been soups and tacos/burritos. Eat no AnimalsThe Thugs are absolutely spot on when they warn that the Chickpeas and Dumplings could cause a “f-ing food coma.” It really is that good. So is the Wedding Soup with White Bean Balls and Kale, a more than plausible veg version of traditional Italian Wedding Soup — especially if you make it with the Garlic Broth from the Kale Whisperer’s Fourth Cookbook of Christmas, Mediterranean Harvest, which you will have bought by now.

The Mexican-style recipes are kick-ass. The Roasted Chickpea and Broccoli Burritos are regulars at our house, as are the Roasted Beer and Lime Cauliflower Tacos with cilantro coleslaw. In honour of this week’s festivities, I’ll make them with purple cauliflower because I am a woman who is willing the push the boundaries.

And the BBQ Bean Burritos with Grilled Peach Salsa is the bomb, even when peaches are out of season and you make the salsa with strawberries and tomatoes instead. Got a Superbowl Party coming up? Thrill and amaze your friends with Thug Kitchen’s Pineapple Guacamole. In fact, don’t wait for the Super Bowl, that over a month away! Make it right f-ing now!

The Roasted Sriracha Cauliflower Bites with Peanut Dipping Sauce are a satisfying stand-in for Buffalo Chicken Wings.

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The Kale Whisperer’s Buffalo Cauliflower Pizza

Don’t believe me? Try them. The cauliflower bites also make a dandy pizza topping with a little blue cheese and chopped celery. I also use the spicy chickpeas from Thug’s Spiced Chickpea Wraps with Tahini Dressing — a sort of deconstructed felafel — as a pizza topping. And how can you not love a cookbook that recognises that Sriracha is a major food group?

I cannot sell my adorable soul mate on kumara (sweet potato), which isn’t a huge problem since I’m not much of a fan myself. But if you are a kumara fan, the Smoky Black-eyed Peas with Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Collards (or Kale) are the absolute f-ing bomb.  If you aren’t, make the peas anyway and eat them on a white potato. Or maybe some polenta/grits. I just thought of that. I’d try it this very f-ing moment, if I didn’t already have a Complete Beet Pizza in the pipeline.

And pizza does count as a f-ing vegetable when it has beets on it.

HRS Hipster bun

The Seventh Cookbook of Christmas: The Vegetarian Flavor Bible

flavor bible

I want to be Australia’s next Masterchef. This is highly unlikely for at least two reasons. First, I don’t live in Australia. Second, the Masterchef competition is extremely vegetarian unfriendly. Last week, the contestants were required to essentially butcher a lamb carcass. One of my favourite Masterchef moments occurred in the 2014 competition when nearly-vegetarian Renae Smith reacted the way I have would when she discovered a whole eel in her mystery box — tears, panic attack, and horror.  It was clear she wasn’t going to be able to go through with her cook when my favourite contestant of the seasons, Colin Sheppard rode to the rescue and offered to give up some of his cook time to clean and filet the horrifying primal beast. Filleted, the meat didn’t trigger her phobia, and Renae was able to cook. I was heartbroken when Colin went home.

Which points, perhaps, to a third reason I’ll never be Australia’s (or anyone else’s) next Masterchef: Colin, 51, was referred to as “Pappa”. A similarly gentle male contestant, Richard Harris, 55, chose eel for an invention challenge because he reckoned the other contestants might find it intimidating. Richard was eliminated from 2015’s New Zealand Masterchef to questions about why he waited until it was too late in his life to pursue his dream. <sound of gnashing teeth and forehead pounding on desk> Colin and Richard: You are Masterchefs in my heart!

Masterchef New Zealand has been cancelled; so, it looks like I must settle for being an armchair master chef. When the contestants are set invention tests or mystery boxes, Simon and I play “what would you cook?” This works out nicely for me, of course, because my imagined masterpiece is always tastier and more spectacularly beautiful than anything the contestants put up.

OK. Today’s mystery box ingredient is: KALE. What would you cook?

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The Kale Whisperer’s Seventh Cookbook of Christmas will help you figure that out, whether you are practicing for Masterchef, or not. Although, if you are, I would advise studying this book front-to-back and side-to-side. Karen Page’s The Vegetarian Flavor Bible (Little Brown, 2015) is subtitled “the essential guide to culinary creativity.” And it is all that. This is my second non-cookbook Cookbook of Christmas, but if I had to pick a desert island cookbook, this would be it. With this cookbook, you don’t need cookbooks at all, really.

Page’s goal in compiling this guide, which is both informative and simple to use, was to provide useful nutritional and health information for those seeking to either to become vegetarians or shift to a whole-foods, plant-based diet, with our without occasional meat. Her first two chapters — For the Love of Plants, and Maximizing Flavor — make the case for a plant-based diet and chronicle the shift of vegetarian cuisine from the counter-culture to the mainstream. Of particular interest to me were the comments from some of America’s top chefs who, increasingly, are shifting toward culinary styles that depend more and more heavily on vegetables as the focus rather than the background.

Page’s discussion of the key elements of flavour in vegetarian cooking is eye opening, even for the most experienced cook, and has vastly increased my confidence as an improvisational cook. The formula? Flavor = Taste + Mouthfeel + Aroma + The X-Factor (senses + heart, mind, spirit).  She even has a handy “craving” table.  Vegetarian? Craving crab dip? Add some kelp and Old Bay Seasoning to your favourite white bean dip. Miss that magic zing of anchovy paste? I know I do. Use dark miso paste. I’m not a fan of play meat, so her suggestions of tofurkey and Soyrizo leave me cold. But most of the suggestions here are at least worth a think.

All this information is fascinating, and important to know, but the part of  The Vegetarian Flavor Bible  that you will use often — in my case, daily — is the “A to Z Listings.” It is truly exhaustive. You won’t find some local specialties here. No feijoas but you will find their cousin, guava. So far, I haven’t stumped this list. And I’ve tried. Each listing starts with some general information: nutrient concentration, season, flavour, volume (flavour loudness), what it is, nutritional profile, cooking techniques, tips, and botanical relatives. Look up Kale, and here is some of what you will learn: kale is a leafy, green vegetable, it has an extremely high nutrient content, it’s bitter but can be sweet in winter, it’s 72% carbs / 16% protein / 12% fat,  and 1 cup of raw, chopped kale has 35 calories and 2 grams of protein. Kale likes to be blanched, boiled, braised, grilled, slow cooked, marinated, pureed, eaten raw (but I’m not a fan, unless its very young and tender), sautéed, stewed, steamed and stir fried. Kale’s cousins include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, radishes, and watercress.

What you will also learn is anything and everything that matches well with kale. Page built her flavour suggestions through an exhaustive compilation of  recommendations and wisdom of hundreds of American cooks and chefs specialising in cuisines from around the world. There is a ranking system for the flavour matches. Flavour matches recommended by at least one expert appear in normal type. BOLD CAPS indicate recommendations made by a larger number of experts. BOLD CAPS with an asterisk (*) are what Page calls “Holy Grail” pairings — most highly recommended by the largest number of experts. Particular types of preparations (soups, casseroles) and cuisines use of an ingredient appear in italics. Those in bold italics or BOLD ITALIC CAPS are those most highly recommended for the particular ingredient.

What will I cook with my Kale? Were it winter, I might make a hearty soup or my favourite lentil and kale spag bol. But it is early summer here in New Zealand, so I’m thinking a frittata or stir-fry. Maybe a salad. I look up kale and find that some of its strongest flavour partners are beans, chilli, garlic, lemon, olive oil, and red onions. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t care for raw kale, no matter how long you massage it. But if it is young and fairly tender, all it needs is a quick blanch. I’m thinking a salad of blanched kale tossed with a dressing  of lemon juice, olive oil, some thinly sliced new season garlic, a pinch of dried chilli to give it some bite, salt and pepper. I’ll marinate some white beans in the same vinaigrette (minus the chilli)  and some chopped fresh oregano from my garden and a thinly sliced red onion. Then I’ll make a composed salad of the dark green kale, the white beans and red onions, with some crispy parmesan croutons made with the end of the loaf of sourdough bread I baked last week.

I’ll let you know if the judges like it!

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The Sixth Cookbook of Christmas: Twelve Months of Monastery Soups

monastery soups

I am a spiritual seeker. My mother always called me her “otherworldly child.” My favourite movie, for a while, was “The Song of Bernadette.” I read St. Augustine’s Confessions and Thomas Merton’s The Seven Story Mountain as a teenager. The interfaith nature of Merton’s spirituality has shaped my own spiritual journey to this day.  In the spring of 1977, Dr. John Granrose took our Honors Ethics class on a field trip to visit the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, a Trappist monastery near Conyers, Georgia. That day has stayed with me all these years. Ever since, I’ve felt drawn to a quiet life of contemplation. That appeal of that lifestyle was, I remember, exemplified in the meal the brothers served us at their guest house — vegetable potage, monastery cheese, and rustic bread. While my faith in organised religion has evaporated over the decades, my yearning for the quiet contemplative life has not. Many years later, now that I’ve stepped away from the noise of my career as a defense analyst, I am beginning to live a quiet life of contemplation. Thinking and writing about food is bringing me the peace and happiness that organised religion or proximity to power never did.

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The Monastery of the Holy Spirit, Conyers, Georgia

In cooking, as in life, sometimes the greatest beauty is found in simplicity. For me, the simple meal of soup, cheese, and bread is restorative in a way that no other meal can be. When loved ones are sick, or sad, we make them soup. When I’m sick and sad, I want someone to make me soup. Before she died, my mother was sick and sad — for too long — and our friends Kline and Carolyn brought her matzo ball soup. I will never forget that soup. It might not have cured all that ailed Mom, but it restored me and my Dad and was, quite simply, my most unforgettable soup. It tasted like love. Thank you, Kline and Carolyn.

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Alex and her fairy godmother making matzo balls

A few years later my Goddaughter Alex borrowed a book from the library called How Many Matzos Make a Soup?  She loved it. I haven’t been able to track it down, but I remember the punch line was that what makes a good soup isn’t the number or size of the matzos, but the love that goes into making them. Inspired by the story, and my duties as fairy godmother, Alex and I made our own matzo soup. It was delicious.

As a child, I loved Marcia Brown’s classic children’s book Stone Soup. I was captivated by the notion that with an onion here, a carrot there, it was possible to create food for a village. It’s not that different from my frequent Saturday morning ritual combining trimmings from this week’s purchases (leek and green inion tops, celery leaves, a carrot or two) with the things that didn’t make into last week’s dinners (slightly past their prime mushrooms, the other halves of onions, pea pods, a lonely potato) in the stock pot to simmer away.  In its way, soup is the secular equivalent to the feeding of the five thousand. With a handful of beans, a potato, and onion, a carrot, and some garlic, I can make a warm, tasty, satisfying meal.  IMG_0249

As I’ve traveled over the years, my most memorable meals have involved simple soups: Portugal’s Caldo Verde (just potatoes, kale, and linguica), Thailand’s gorgeous Tom Yom soups, Pho from Vietnam, miso soup  from Japan, and the hearty bean and vegetable soups of Italy. Singapore’s Night Market offers too many options to name, as do the Bistros of Paris and the Pubs of England. I’ve loved nettle soup in Scotland and seafood chowder on Stewart Island. I can’t say I loved the goat neck soup in Ghana, but I certainly loved the generous spirit in which it was offered. And the simple bean and vegetable soups prepared by out Masai cook at Freeman’s Safaris in Kenya were the perfect end to hard day on the Mara.

The Kale Whisperer’s Sixth Cookbook of Christmas, Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourette’s Twelve Months of Monastery Soups (Triumph Books, 1996), encompasses both my fascination with the contemplative life and my love for soup in a unique and tasty way. This is not strictly vegetarian, there are a few recipes that include a bit of meat or seafood, but most of those can be easily adapted to vegetarian versions. Obviously, you probably won’t want to make the Shrimp Soup de Luxe without shrimp. On the other hand, one of my favourite recipes here is the French Cream of Lentil Soup, calls for two strips of bacon, but it is just as delicious without the pig. I’ve cooked it both ways, I can personally vouch for that. The book is peppered with notes and quotes about soup, things that go into soup, people who make soup, and people who eat soup. If you aren’t Catholic, you will still love this book. If you aren’t Christian, you’ll love this book. If you love soup, you’ll love this book. This is another cookbook you’ll want to read, cover to cover.

Monastery Soups consists of twelve chapters: one for each month of the year. If you live in the northern hemisphere, you could probably cook right through the book chronologically. Down here in the antipodes, you’ll have to work inside out. Brother Antoine took care to match ingredients to availability. And as the gardener at Our Lady of the Resurrection Monastery in upstate New York, he understands locavore cooking. Ever wondered what you could do with those gorgeous greens attached to your bright red radishes you couldn’t resist at the market? Brother Antoine has a soup for that: Soupe Pelou. It’s delicious. Is your garden overrun by sorrel? He has five soups for that. The recipes are simple and come from all around the world. Adapted from the monastery kitchen, they don’t require fancy equipment or exotic ingredients. These are weekday soups, not simmer on the back of the stove all day soups. Some vegetables, some herbs, broth, wine, garlic and a pinch of salt. And love; lots of love.

Some of my earliest childhood memories involve soup: chicken noodle with oyster crackers, cream of tomato with cheese toast, potato soup with lots of celery from the German restaurant I only remember as “the potato soup place.” I’m sure the very last meals I’ll enjoy will also be soups. And so many soups — humble and glorious — along the way. To paraphrase T.S. Elliot, I will measure out my life in soup spoons.

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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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