27 December 2006

Cookbook Talk: The Food Encyclopedia

The Food Encyclopedia: Over 8,000 Ingredients, Tools, Techniques and People by Jacques L. Rolland & Carol Sherman (Robert Rose Inc, 2006)

I selected The Food Encyclopedia: Over 8,000 Ingredients, Tools, Techniques and People based entirely on its cover. The ripe pears against the shadowy blue background looked so luscious and tasty, I just had to pick this book up. And, wow, do I regret that impulse.

This is a food encyclopedia, yes? Where are all the cross-references? Can't have a decent encyclopedia without cross-references, I tell you what. This encyclopedia's entry for "doughnut peach" tells me that this fruit is also called "saucer peach," "galaxy peach," or "Saturn peach," but it cannot be found in this book under any of those names. My grocer calls them "Saturn" peaches -- I would never find them in this book if I only knew them by that name. Going to the "peach" entry wouldn't be helpful -- it doesn't cross-reference with the "donut peach" entry, either. It doesn't even mention them as a variety. I could, I guess browse the book, hoping to stumble upon an illustration of the "Saturn peach," but this book is so big and the illustrations so poor, I would probably just go to the Internet.

Speaking of illustrations, these are very poor. There aren't enough of them and they are all color drawings rather than photographs. This wouldn't be so annoying if they were better quality drawings, but they are not. A few even seem blurry to me. Going back to peaches -- the peach illustration is terrible. I could just as well be looking a picture of an orange. The text tells me peaches are freestone or clingstone and are sold as yellow or white varieties -- a cutaway illustration of the inside of the peach showing color and stone variations would have been useful.

Still, I know what a peach looks like. I don't know what parsley root looks like and, since "the leaves and roots of the wild parsley look-a-like, poison hemlock, are deadly poisonous" I would really like to know. Yes, yes, probably never going to forage for wild parsley root -- but it would be nice to know, anyway. That's why I read these books. Not because I need to know, but because I want to. Therefore, I'm looking to find out more about things I am not familiar with -- patra leaf rather than pastry cutter.

And that, perhaps, is the reason this book disappoints. It tries to cover too much. Not just fruits and vegetables, but also tools, techniques, and people. There is no way to cover all that well in a single 701 page volume. It winds up playing the tease and leaves this reader rather cranky and put out.

13 December 2006

Cookbook Talk: 1,001 Low-fat Vegetarian Recipes

1,001 Low-fat Vegetarian Recipes by Sue Spitler (Surrey, 2000)

When I saw the new edition of 1,001 Low-fat Vegetarian Recisea go past me at Circulation, I knew I had to get my hands on one. My library owns the 2000 edition and, while I haven't been able to compare it with the new edition, it's a brilliant book for vegetarians of all types. Every recipe is keyed with little icons informing the reader whether it is vegan, lacto-ovo, lacto, or ovo-vegetarian. Many of the recipes which aren't vegan look easy enough to veganize or soy-ize if you are lactose intolerant, anyway.

This book has seventeen yummy chapters covering everything from appetizers to desserts with whole chapters also devoted to specific types of ingredients -- grains, beans, egg & cheese, etc. The "Veg Express" chapter promises dinner in 20-30 minutes and that quite appeals to me as many of the vegetarian recipes I enjoy don't get made often as they tend to be more time consuming or fussy than their meatier compatriots. Also, this book as an enormous detailed index that fair makes me swoon everytime I browse it.

I liked that this book offers complete nutritional information for each recipe as well as explanations about different ingredients -- the author doen't presume her readers know everything about all things veggie and, well, nutritional breakdowns are always a plus (it's one of the three things I look for in a cookbook along with a good index and photographs).

I made four recipes from this book and they're all repeaters:

Potato Kugel (page 493) with Mushroom Gravy (page 716) made an excellent Sunday supper one rainy weekend. The leftovers were great for work the next day with a little salad and some sliced fruit.

Roasted Mushroom Salad (page 298) made a nice work lunch. The mushrooms and orzo had a very pleasing texture and the dressing gave everything some zip (I tend to be heavy handed with the pepper -- your version may be less zippy).

Artichoke Tortellini Bake (page 829) worked well as a prep-ahead casserole. All the flavors worked well together and I think it tasted even better for lunch the next day.

All in all, I am quite in love with this fat paperback and can't wait to get my hot little hands on the new edition.

04 December 2006

Year of Cake: Everything Is Better With Brandy

Made fruitcake over the weekend. Fruitcake being Dad's December cake selection. I'd never made fruitcake before and was, as usual when faced with a new recipe, a little nervous in the kitchen. It was not that I worried my technique would suck and I would ruin the cake, but rather that the cake would suck all on its own -- merely by being fruitcake. I don't really know what my father is expecting from his fruitcake and I worry that what I have baked is not what he wants. Certainly, the four loaves I baked look much more like tea bread than the candy-like fruitcakes I see at the market or the dense marzipan enrobed bricks I saw in England (where fruitcake is a normal celebratory cake and not a seasonal aberration).

My loaves are currently mellowing in the bottom drawer of the fridge -- all brushed with brandy and wrapped in layers of brandy-soaked cheesecloth and aluminum foil. Every time I open the fridge, I look at them and think you bastards had better taste good. It is going to be a long three weeks. Yes, I know they should mellow for five, but three will have to do for (at least) one loaf as there no time to bake fruitcake before Thanksgiving and I plan on giving Dad (at least) one loaf for Christmas. One of my fellow reference librarian claims to adore fruitcake so I may give her one, as well. I myself can probably manage half a loaf. Obviously, I will be taste testing these the week before I give them away -- in time to buy a professionally prepared one if these turn not so good.

I used King Arthur Flour Co's "Our Favorite Fruitcake" recipe with four cups of the Dried Fruit Blend/Fruitcake Fruit rather than the Fruitcake Fruits blend. That was completely my mistake -- I saw Fruitcake Fruit and didn't think twice -- so the cake may be more "real" fruit-y and less candied fruit than my father anticipates. The Dried Fruit Blend is really yummy, though. I keep nibbling it straight out of the bag. Bet it would be good stirred into my hot breakfast Kashi.

The recipe was very easy to follow and I don't doubt my loaves are edible ... I just worry they're not the fruitcake of my dad's dreams. Oh well, soak them with enough brandy and no-one may care!