Books & Cookbooks

Podcasts For Food Lovers

Listening to podcasts on the go

Whenever I walk, bike, or metro my way somewhere, whenever I busy myself in the kitchen or sit down for a lengthy fava bean peeling session, I rely on podcasts to keep me entertained.

Although there are a few I listen to that are not food-orientedThis American Life being my unrivaled favorite — you won’t be surprised to hear I lean toward those that discuss cooking, eating, and the cultural or political ramifications of both activities.

I can’t be alone in this, and I’d like to share those podcasts I listen to regularly.

Naturally, if you have favorites of your own to recommend, I’m always happy to add new ones to my rotation!

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Two Treats for Bread Bakers: 52 Loaves + Yakitate Japan

52 Loaves + Yakitate!! Japan

Bread baking is one of those activities that can quickly become obsessive, like knitting or playing red dead redemption. It’s not really something you can remain casual about, not if you want to improve your skills, so you find yourself combing through forum discussions, bookmarking blogs and websites, buying books — anything to satisfy your thirst for knowledge and inspiration.

I say it’s fine to embrace such a harmless obsession — unless you start to ignore your infant’s cries because your loaf needs shaping — and I’d like to share two cool things to fuel it.

William Alexander’s 52 Loaves

Subtitled “One Man’s Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning, and a Perfect Crust,” 52 Loaves is a memoir that tells the story of a middle-aged man who decides to bake a loaf a week during one year, to try and recreate the superlative loaf he’s once tasted.

I received it as a review copy, and I admit I was dubious at first — it had the potential of reading like a self-important, overblown tale — but that’s probably because I’d never read anything by William Alexander before: it turns out he’s a funny, relatable, and (sometimes painfully) honest writer.

Divided into 52 chapters, the book documents the baking and life lessons he learns over as many weeks, from his inaugural doorstop loaves to his first attempts at sourdough, from building his own wood-fire oven to growing his own wheat and milling his own flour (!), and finally to the apex of his story, an unexpectedly moving episode I’m not about to spoil for you.

It is an engaging and instructive read with great rhythm, and if you’ve been on your own quest for good home-baked bread, I think you’ll find it as engrossing as I did. It is the book I was reading in Japan and well, I blame William Alexander for making me miss Mount Fuji while riding the bullet train.

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Lamb and Orange Khoresh Stew

Lamb and Orange Khoresh

A favorite from the archives, this post was originally published in April 2009.

I know little about Persian cuisine. I do know it is a multifaceted one, that its flavors are refined and its roots run deep, but I have never been to an Iranian restaurant nor an Iranian home — though now that I think about it, one of the Middle Eastern groceries we went to in California may have been Iranian — so this Persian stew (that’s what khoresh means) was a foray into uncharted territory for me.

And as far as forays go, this one was positively thrilling: I don’t think I’ve ever cooked a lamb stew so brightly flavored and so subtle.

Petits Larcins culinairesWhat prompted me to make it was a little book I recently bought, called Petits Larcins culinaires (“culinary petty thefts,” but it sounds better in French). It is written by a well-known and very likable figure of the Parisian food scene, Claude Deloffre. Claude has a passion for (and a crazy-extensive collection of) cookbooks, and for a few years she ran a specialized bookshop/gallery on rue Charlot, called FOOD*. In this book, her first, she writes about her lifelong relationship with cookbooks and the ones that have meant the most to her, and she shares a few recipes “stolen” — hence the title — from her favorite authors.

As any successful anthology will, this one makes you want to go out and buy each and every one of the books she evokes — were it a website, it would have an “Order All” button — and among the recipes I flagged to try, one of them sprung forward with particular force: it was this stew, on page 63, which Claude simply introduces under the name, Khoresh.

I wasn’t familiar with the term, but the recipe itself — a dish of lamb stewed in citrus juice, garnished with candied orange peel, mint, and pistachios — sung to me like a mermaid. We were to have Pascale and her husband David over for dinner a few days later, and there was now little doubt about what I would serve.

I altered the recipe just a bit — I used a little less sugar and butter, but more vegetables and more meat, as the amount given seemed insufficient for six, and I added saffron — but overall, I followed Claude’s lead, and found the process easy and pleasurable.

We are at the tail end of the citrus season and the first new carrots are appearing, so now is the ideal time to try this. And if it seems a little supererogatory to candy your own orange peel, I hope I can persuade you to do it anyway: the crisp, caramelized strands sit at the juncture between the sweet, the savory, and the bitter, thus summing up the different facets of this dish and acting as the perfect garnish.

* She eventually had to close it in late 2006; cookbook fanatics in Paris now turn to La Cocotte or La Librairie Gourmande to fill their needs.

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Banana Pecan Cake with Maple Glaze

Banana Pecan Cake with Maple Glaze

Among the countless blessings this blog has brought to my life is this one: I have met and become friends with a few cookbook authors.

They are delicious people to be around, naturally, and if I manage to fox my way into their house they may actually cook for me, but the invaluable bonus is that, once I’ve come to know and trust them, once I’ve witnessed how exacting they are, and how much pressure they submit themselves to in order to produce bulletproof recipes, I feel I can use their cookbooks with blind faith. I know I’m in good hands, and things had better work out because I know where they live.

One of my cookbook-writing friends is Marianne Magnier-Moreno, whom I met almost three years ago at Chocolate & Zucchini’s second anniversary party, and who wears many hats — recipe writer, journalist, translator, cheesecake maker, young mother, and significant other to a gifted painter.

Marianne has written a fantastic book called La Pâtisserie (Marabout), a baking manual that offers seventy recipes, with step-by-step pictures and detailed instructions. Step-by-step photography is nothing new in the world of cookbooks, but I’ve always thought it could make a book look dull. Not so here, where the shot-from-the-sky visuals and tasteful styling make each double-page an aesthetic treat.

I’ve only recently ordered this book and already a flurry of sticky tags mark the recipes I want to try. And since I had über-ripe bananas to use last week, the first one I played with was her recipe for banana nut bread, which I topped with a maple glaze, another one of Marianne’s recipes.

I did not make the cake as written. I substituted almond butter for part of the butter, and agave syrup for part of the sugar; I also lowered the amount of flour, added a little amber rum, and used pecans in place of walnuts.

Now, I know I just stated that I wanted to feel I could follow a cookbook’s directions with my eyes closed, but before you dismiss me as an illogical person, let me explain: I like to bake/cook things my own way, but in order to tweak a recipe, I need it to be rock-solid, otherwise it might not hold up to the tweaking.

But this one did, and brilliantly so. The crumb was moist and fluffy, the flavors multi-dimensional, and the overall sweetness was moderate, which left ample room for the maple glaze to step in and do its thing.

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Today Show Appearance

I was a guest on the Today Show* yesterday morning, and my segment is now available online, if you’d like to see me demo my Pear and Chocolate Cake-Tart, a recipe taken from Clotilde’s Edible Adventures in Paris.

(This was my second time on the show; read about last year’s segment here.)

* The Today Show is a national television show that’s broadcast live every morning in the US.

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