Books & Cookbooks

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.

Clotilde’s Edible Adventures in Paris

Clotilde's Edible Adventures in Paris

It is with unmitigated joy that I announce the release of my new book today!

Clotilde’s Edible Adventures in Paris is a book on Paris restaurants and food shops, in which I share recommendations for my favorite spots — everything from neo bistros and salons de thé to bakeries, outdoor markets, wine shops, and much, much more, as they say — plus all you need to know to navigate the City of Light and Good Food, plus a dozen recipes.

The book is coming out in North America initially (pending the sale of foreign rights, it will be available as an import elsewhere), and I am about to leave on a book tour to promote it — please view the full list of booksigning events and see if you can come and say hi.

You can read more about the book, including reviews and excerpts, on the mini-site I’ve set up, and you should of course feel free to order your very own copy — no, really.

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Warm Hokkaido Squash and White Bean Salad

Salade Tiède de Potimarron et Haricots Blancs

[Warm Hokkaido Squash and White Bean Salad]

I write this from a café where I like to go and get some work done when I find it difficult to concentrate at home. Today, however, an unforeseen challenge has materialized on my path. Sitting a few tables from mine are two living clichés: a blond, middle-aged, French casting director and a young, craggy-bearded, khaki-vested film director from LA. They are in deep conversation about finding the perfect actress (dark-haired, curvaceous, Middle-Eastern-looking) for his next feature.

He’s cool as a cucumber, but she’s holding her end of the discussion in such a throaty, heavily accented voice that even Leonard Cohen in my earphones can’t white-noise it out. But, the eavesdropper in me must admit, the crux of the matter is that it’s all wildly entertaining — especially since I can hear the entire dialogue effortlessly, as I pull up the imdb pages of the actresses they’re considering.

But this is unrelated to the matter at hand. The matter at hand is this warm winter salad, which, come to think of it, is also curvaceous and Middle-Eastern-looking, but is booked all through 2010, sorry. It is loosely inspired by a recipe for pumpkin and chickpeas in a tahini dressing that appeared in Casa Moro, the middle panel of Sam Clark and Sam Clark’s cookbook triptych*.

The underlying concept of this dish stuck with me — winter squash and legumes! hello, luminous idea! — and I recreated it from memory** on Sunday night, using the potimarron I’d bought at the market the day before, white beans, almond butter (my jar of tahini has been residing in my neighbor’s fridge since New Year’s Eve, when he borrowed it to make hummus for the party), and a sprinkle of pinenuts for extra crunch.

The result is a down comforter of a salad, sweet without excess, and filling in a way that’s most welcome after a run in the park in late afternoon (i.e. when it is dark enough that toddlers have been dragged home, but not so dark that you trip on tree roots and abandoned toys).

I didn’t have any cilantro (I can’t find it at the market in the wintertime) and I’d already used up my weekly allotment of parsley, but if you have some sort of leafy herb on hand, the salad will enjoy the greenness of it.

~~~

* I kid you not: the husband and wife who own Moro really are called Sam(uel) Clark and Sam(antha) Clark, Clark being the latter’s maiden name. Ionesco would have loved it.

** To see a version that’s closer to the printed recipe, take a look at my friend Molly’s rendition.

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The Elements of Cooking

If you keep an eye on my book list, you may have noticed I am currently reading Michael Ruhlman‘s recently published, orange book*. In The Elements of Cooking, he proposes to break down and discuss the building blocks of the cooking craft, like William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White did for writers in their classic little volume The Elements of Style, to which the title and format are a homage.

The Elements of Cooking It is an engaging and educational read that retains a strong sense of the author’s voice and idiosyncrasies, unlike other reference books like, say, The Food Lover’s Companion, which I consult regularly but wouldn’t think to read from cover to cover.

The bulk of the book consists in an Acid-to-Zester lexicon of concepts, techniques, preparations, and ingredients, which Ruhlman prefaces with a section in which he lays down his founding principles, addressing such themes as salt, heat, and finesse.

In his essay on tools, he begins by asking the reader to “imagine the kitchen as a white box with nothing more than a stove, fridge, countertop, and sink — not a single other element for cooking in it — and then to pose a hypothetical question: if you were asked to outfit the kitchen with as few items as possible, the absolute minimum you could possibly get away with and still be able to cook most things, what would those items be?”

This question is of particular interest to me as it conjoins two topics I find endlessly stimulating: the desert island question (if you could only bring along five books/CDs/articles of toiletry, what would they be?**) and the neverending battle one has to wage to keep one’s home and life clutter-free.

So I’d like to submit the question to you: if you could only have five tools (pots, utensils, cutlery, and let’s add appliances) in your kitchen, what would they be? Note that we are considering your cooking needs only, setting aside the question of baking equipment. (If you’re the playful type, I suggest you come up with your own list before scrolling down to see Ruhlman’s and mine.)

* The book was sent to me as a review copy.
** Great car game, too!

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