27 January 2016


This Christmas book came with and additional tortilla press, so we could go totally authentic.  This year there have been many "taco" cookbooks, but for most people, Tacopedia is the standout.  Like the title implies, this is the taco encyclopedia of Mexico. Hey, not all tacos are alike, no matter what Taco Bell might say.

Deborah Holtz and Juan Carlos Mena had a huge hit in Mexico with Tacopedia.  Darling boy of the foodie world, Rene Redzepi, got a copy and dragged it to his publisher.  It was translated into English and the rest, as they say, is history.  Most assuredly, the history of the taco.  It seems that between 1000 and 500 B.C. the taco was invented as a kind of edible spoon to get the pork to your mouth without losing all the juice and spices. Even then, it was probably less than effective but oh so tasty.

Still in use by the turn of the 20th century, the lowly taco was considered the food of the poor.  Have you ever noticed that "the food of the poor" is often that best food there is...but I digress.

Now, tacos are the food of everyone. There are now broccoli tacos and kimchi tacos and caviar tacos, and bell tacos, tacos both good and bad.  But for authentic tacos look no further than the recipes in Tacopedia.  From the US boarder in Baja to the Yucatan Peninsula, the authors leave no taco unturned.  Each province has its specialities and each recipe builds on the flavors of the area. This is a Baja favorite.

Mexican Style Shrimp Tacos

2 tablespoons corn oil
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
2 green serrano chiles (or to taste), seeded and thinly sliced
2 medium tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped
9 oz (250 g) cocktail (or fresh) shrimp, peeled and cleaned
3 sprigs cilantro
Sea salt
8 4 1⁄3-inch (11 cm) corn tortillas

1. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and fry for 2 minutes (do not let it brown).

2. Add the chiles and cook for a few seconds. Add the tomatoes, and cook for 3 minutes.

3. Add the shrimp, then cook for 1 minute, until the shrimp are just opaque and pink.

4. Add cilantro and salt to taste. Remove from heat and serve hot in the tortillas.

 Tacopedia is giant graphic novel of a cookbook, filled with history, stories, recipes, and travel info.  Don't be surprised to see folks on the flight to Mexico City carrying Tacopedia on board.

22 January 2016

Southern Soups & Stews

This Christmas present was from Ann because she likes soup. Usually, when she comes for Christmas, I make up 4 or 5 batches of soup and freeze them so she can leave with a cooler of soup. Little did she know that Southern Soups & Stews was written by one of our favorites, Nancie McDermott.

(Now I am going to digress and tell you what I hate about most cookbooks as a way of pointing out what is really great in McDermott's book. Many cookbook authors act like they invented cooking. Like no one before them ever thought of putting macaroni and cheese together in a casserole dish! How about putting bits of chocolate into cookies?  And then one day, I dropped my chicken in a big vat of hot oil and it was delicious. I admit it, my cornbread recipes is the same one my Mother used and she got it from her aunt, who got it from her grandmother and it is the same cornbread recipe that 90% of Southerner's use and frankly, I don't know who thought it up...but it does have a history, even if it is just my history.)

Sitting alone in the kitchen with Southern Soups & Stews you will find that not only is Nancie McDermott there with you, but the kitchen is jam packed with other people who have helped build a culinary legacy, and a damn fine cookbook.  McDermott always gives credit where credit is due. In doing that, she takes the reader and cook on mad romp through the history of Southern cooking.

You will find Rufus Estes who published what as probably the first cookbook by an African-American chef. There is Nathalie Dupree, who was promoting Southern cooking on PBS before "Southern" cooking was the new big thing.  There is a chicken bog that in some form or another, graces my table every Sunday. The Crab Soup from Buster Holmes that brought back memories of 721 Burgundy.  When I was kid, I used to venture back in the French Quarter to Buster Holmes. I was often the only white face in there and I could never afford crab soup, but the red beans and rice were transcendent.

This shrimp is McDermott's own.  Drawn from years and years of French Arcadian cooking in Louisiana an etouffée comes from the French word étouffer to smother or braise.  Cajun and Creole cooks for generations have smothered the local shrimp and crawfish in a thick roux with peppers, onions, and celery. 

Shrimp Etouffée

1 1/2 pounds head-on medium shrimp, or 1 pound medium shrimp, unshelled
1 1/2 cups shrimp stock, chicken stock, or water
1 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
 Rice, for serving

1. Remove the shrimp shells, tails and heads if you have them, and place them in a medium saucepan. Cover and refrigerate the shrimp. Pour the stock over the shrimp shells and place the saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring it to a rolling boil, and then lower the heat to maintain a lively simmer. Cook for 20 minutes and then remove from the heat.

2. While the stock is simmering, stir the thyme, salt, pepper, cayenne, and paprika together in a small bowl, using a fork to combine them. When the stock is ready, pour it through a wire-mesh strainer into a measuring cup. Add a little water if needed to make 1 1/2 cups.

3. Place a large heavy skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add the butter. Swirl to coat the pan as the butter melts. When a pinch of flour blooms on the surface when added to the butter, scatter in the flour and stir quickly and thoroughly, combining the butter and flour evenly into a thick, smooth roux. Continue cooking, stirring often, as the roux turns from white to golden-brown, about 2 minutes. Add the spice mixture, onion, bell pepper, celery, and garlic and stir quickly, mixing the vegetables into the roux. Cook until everything is fragrant and softened, 1 to 2 minutes more. 

4. Slowly add the stock, stirring and scraping to mix it in evenly. When the sauce is bubbling and boiling gently, lower the heat and cook, stirring now and then, until the sauce is thickened and smooth, about 15 minutes.

5. Scatter in the shrimp and let them cook undisturbed until the sides are turning visibly orange or pink, about 1 minute. Toss well and continue cooking, stirring often, until the shrimp are pink, firm, and cooked through and nicely flavored by the sauce. Add the green onions and parsley and stir well. Transfer the etouffée to a serving dish and serve it hot or warm over the rice. 

At Cookbook Of The Day, we are always stressing that cookbooks are really just history books with food interspersed within them.   Nancie McDermott is one of those authors who never disappoints. The book is filled with histories, famous chefs, infamous cooks, family, friends, memories,  and a whole bunch of delicious recipes. There is even a bibliography -- a must for a modern cookbook. This is the perfect book for cooks and for historians alike, so grab yourself a copy of Southern Soups & Stews.

18 January 2016


You think it is hard to get reviews for your new restaurant in Manhattan, think about how hard it is to get great reviews in Tulum.

Where is Tulum?


Heartwood embodies one of those tales that people talk of, but rarely do we see them come to fruition. So...once upon a time...2009, to be exact, Eric Werner and Mya Henery were headed back to New York after a brief vacation in Tulum, Mexico.  That's where Tulum is,  the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. It was place Henry's family visited for years. But in 2009, they thought, why are we going back to the cold to cook food, make no money, spend most of it for rent, have no time nor money for kids when we could open a restaurant on the beach, cook great food, have no money but live on the beach.  It sounded too good to be true.

Truth is, for most people, cooking with François Payard and Wylie Dufresne would satisfy most people. They would talk a good game, but never save up the money to head to Mexico and open a restaurant. But Werner and Henery weren't most people.

And off they went. Before you think it was all surf and sand and rainbows, think again.  On the beach means slightly off the beach in the jungle.  It means no laundry delivery, no electricity, and no real roof. So cooking on an open fire, getting rained on, getting bitten by spiders are all in a days work. 

After many of those days, people started talking about Hartwood. It was worth the excursion and more and more and more people made it to this jungle hideaway. The food was simple but exploding with flavor, even if you might get rained on. The more people ventured out, the more they talked about the food.

Now you, too, can talk about the food and cook some of it right in your own kitchen.  Hartwood by Eric Werner and Mya Henry tells tales of their adventure and offers up recipes that can be replicated in lowly kitchen with its roof and electricity. While there is much fish and pork, this recipe, for one our favorite vegetables caught our eye.

Roasted Beets with Avocado Habanero Crema

4 large beets, scrubbed 
One 6-inch piece sugarcane, split in half (optional)
8 basil sprigs
Olive oil for drizzling
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Ground allspice  
1 ripe Hass avocado, halved, pitted, and peeled 
1/2 habanero, seeded (leave the seeds in if you want a hotter sauce)
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste 
 Chile Lime Salt (for garnish) 
Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Put the beets, sugarcane, if using, and basil in a baking dish and fill about one-third full with water. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 45 to 60 minutes, until a knife pierces all the way through a beet easily. Remove the beets from the liquid and let cool slightly. Increase the oven temperature to 425 F.

Meanwhile, make the avocado-habanero crema: Combine all the ingredients in a blender and blend on high for about 10 seconds. Turn off the blender and scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula to make sure everything gets a turn. Repeat until a smooth cream forms—this will take more than a few tries. Season to taste if necessary. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate for about 30 minutes, or until ready to serve.

Cut the beets in half and place in a large cast-iron skillet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes, until the beets are hot all the way though and the ends have started to crisp up.

Serve the beets topped with the crema, dusted with allspice and chile lime salt.

4 dried árbol chiles 
2 tablespoons kosher salt
Grated zest of 3 limes

Toast the chiles in a dry cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Let cool. Pulse the chiles in a spice grinder to a fine powder. Mix with the salt and lime zest. Store in a tightly sealed jar in a cool place. Makes about 2 tablespoons.

Don't get caught up in what seems like a lot of ingredients.  Read it over and and it won't seem as intimidating.

After the food, get caught up in the adventure. You know you want to open a restaurant in Mexico...and it is snowing outside, so go ahead and dream.

12 January 2016

A Confederacy of Dunces Cookbook

In the Christmas pile was this gem. I saw a brief reference to this book, but I didn't investigate much further. As one might imagine, I keep a pretty extensive "Wishlist" on Amazon to keep track of book out there that I am interested in. My friend Ann knows of this list and often uses it as a guideline for book purchasing.  She carefully examines the cookbooks, decides what she might like to eat and purchases books accordingly. 

Every year, however, she goes off script for a particular book.  There was a book about hand pies that she chose, because she likes pies.  The was a very popular cocktail book that she bought, because she thought it was offal book. This year she heard about A Confederacy of Dunces Cookbook on NPR. She knows I lived in NOLA, that I like Southern food and Southern authors and she bought it immediately. Another excellent choice, Ann.

The author of the cookbook, Cynthia LeJeune Nobles, is a write and editor. Her previous cookbook collected recipes from the famed Delta Queen. When she became a cookbook editor at the Louisiana State University Press one of her first duties was to recommend someone to write the "Confederacy of Dunces" cookbook.  It wasn't a difficult question. The answer for Nobles was -- me!  Nobles said. "When I first read the novel, the most captivating thing to me was it had all this food in the book."

Nobles set out on a year long journey to follow the food of Ignatius J. Reilly through the backstreets and byways of New Orleans.  The book is filled with the lively characters of John Kennedy Toole. Nobles didn't just skim the novel, find a food item mentioned, and slap in a recipe.  She did extensive research into where, what, and how the food impacted the novel.

When Mrs. Riley eats canned food, Nobles finds a way to make it from scratch.

With the help of an old friend of Toole's, she was able to find the inspiration for the bakery, German's, home of Ignatius' donuts.

Alas, one can no longer find the almondy Dr. Nut, Ignatius's drink of choice, but she does have a photo of the squirrelly bottle.

There is even a chapter on "that whirlpool of despair,"as Toole would call Baton Rouge. 
This recipe is one of those. As Nobles tells us.

"When Ignatius was in Baton Rouge, which he famously called the "whirlpool of despair," he could have stopped for a meal at Bob and Jake's restaurant on Gov­ernment Street and sampled the hottest salad in town, Jake Staples' Sensation Salad. Created in the 1950s, this cheesy, garlicky salad grew to be so popular it became a regular menu item throughout South Louisiana, and it's still a fixture in many restaurants. Back in the 1950s–60s, iceberg lettuce was, of course, pretty much the only thing around. But go ahead and give iceberg a try; the salad needs this lettuce's crunch and heft to complement the bold dressing."
Sensation Salad

1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup canola oil
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1 teaspoon mashed or minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 large head iceberg lettuce, chopped
2/3 cup freshly grated Romano cheese

Combine olive oil, canola oil, lemon juice, vinegar, parsley, garlic, salt, and pepper in a pint jar, and shake well. For best flavor, refrigerate 24 hours. When ready to serve, toss let­tuce with dressing and cheese.
As a fan of iceberg lettuce, I highly approve. If you have spent many an hour with Ignatius Reilly, or have explored the literary side of New Orleans, A Confederacy of Dunces Cookbook is a must have.

09 January 2016

Cassoulet: A French Obsession

Today is National Cassoulet Day. You probably didn't even know there was such a thing and now you do.  Yes, it is too late to whip up a big batch cassoulet unless, perhaps, you live in D'Artagnan's basement.  Even then, you won't have enough time, but maybe there is a French restaurant near by.

I have always wondered, since cassoulet is so near and dear to the French countryside, why there was no book on cassoulet.  Thanks to Kate Hill, now there is. Cassoulet: A French Obsession gives a history of the dish, its ingredients, and how to assemble it. 

Kate Hill knows of what she speaks as she has been teaching people the mysteries of the cassoulet for many years at her cooking school Kitchen at  Camont.

So you missed National Cassoulet Day.  That doesn't mean you have to miss cassoulet.  Gear up and make your own.

Here is our recipe for the perfect cassoulet.


1. Brush up on your history and get a good recipe.  We recommend Kate Hill's Cassoulet, available at Blurb.

2. Get yourself a cassole. A proper cooking vessel for a cassoulet. The only place we know in the USA to get a proper cassole is from Clay Coyote Pottery.

3. Gather all the ingredients. Fine and dandy if you live in New York or Los Angeles, but what about those of us in the hollers of West Virginia?  D'Artagnan's has put together a cassoulet kit that can fill all your needs. It is one-stop cassoulet shopping.

4. Made a cassoulet, but are still obsessed?  Check out Kite Hill's Kitchen at Camont.

5. Be sure and invite me over!

Now here is wishing you and yours a very happy National Cassoulet Day.

08 January 2016

The Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning

For 28 years all manner of junk had washed up in Antarctica, so a small band of Canadians and Russians decide to give up their summer and clean it up. How hard can that be?  A parka, some trash bags, a Starbucks gift card...

Turns out, you need a bit more than that.

Wendy Trusler and Carol Devine lay out exactly how much more one might need for such and undertaking in The Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning.  Rather than just gather up a bunch of recipes which might have been quite entertaining, the pair embraced the the truly unique adventure and treated it as such.

Carol Devine was always fascinated with Antarctica. So much so that she helped found VIEW Foundation for Volunteer International Environmental Work.  The Russian Antarctic Expedition (RAE) offered to host a VIEW clean-up crew with the following caveat -- BYOC --Bring Your Own Cook. Carol called Wendy Trusler, whose resume included her work as a visual artist as well as  her experience catering in out of the way locations. It was a match made in heaven, if heaven was 40 below and covered in ice.

The pair brought modern ideas to their book but they couched it in the long admired tradition of the adventure narrative. The very beginning of the book juxtaposes Ernest Shackleton's  1914 ad for Men Wanted.  He offered a hazardous journey, low wages, bitter cold, months of darkness, a good chance of never returning, BUT some recognition if one were to return.

By 1995, VIEW offered a 12 day trip to clean up a research station, some sightseeing, putting debris in bags, lectures and cocktails. What a difference a few decades make!

While the actual details of the adventure were noticeably different, The Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning retains the feel and style of adventurous travel writings from the late nineteenth century. In addition to really nifty recipes, there are photos, both vintage and modern, diaries, maps, observations, and a drink or two.  One thing the VIEW gang had to deal with that Shackleton never thought of was feeding vegetarians. Trusler noted:
"Vladimir the Russian cook made his borscht using a meat stock. My version kept the vegetarian volunteers in camp happy and even got the thumbs up from the Russians. To make vegan Rosemary Maple Borscht just substitute olive oil for butter and hold back on the dollop of crème fraiche or sour cream."
Rosemary Maple Borscht

2 pounds beets (around 5 medium) // 3 medium potatoes // 2 tablespoons butter // olive oil // 2 onions // 2 cloves of garlic // 1 celery stalk // 2 large carrots // 1 small cabbage(about 5 cups chopped) // 1 tablespoon caraway seeds // 8 cups water // 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar // 3 tablespoons maple syrup // 1 can crushed tomatoes (28 ounces) // 1 tablespoons sea salt // pepper // fresh rosemary

Peel and cube the beets and potatoes and put them aside. Heat the butter in a large pot set over medium heat and add the beets and potatoes, tossing to coat them with butter. Reduce the heat and sauté, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon and being careful not to bruise or break the cubes. After about 5 minutes add enough water to cover the vegetables and gently simmer until tender, around 10 minutes.

While the beets and potatoes are cooking, mince the garlic and onions and chop the remaining vegetables. Put the caraway seeds into a large Dutch oven or stock pot and toast them over low heat, pushing them around the pan from time to tie so they don’t burn. When you begin to smell the aroma of the caraway add enough olive oil to generously coat the bottom of the pot. Stir in the onions, garlic and celery, sprinkle with salt and cook over medium heat until the vegetables are soft and translucent. Next mix in the carrots and cabbage and sauté for about 5 minutes before adding the remaining water. Bring briefly to a boil and reduce the heat before making the final additions.

Add the beets and potatoes in their cooking liquid, along with the vinegar, maple syrup, crushed tomatoes and a large sprig of fresh rosemary. Cover and simmer for at least 40 minutes to bring the flavors together. Season to taste and make adjustments to the thickness of the soup by adding water as you see fit. Garnish with rosemary and a dollop of crème fraiche or sour cream and sere with freshly baked bread.

Makes enough for ten to twelve people.

Cooking for small teams of volunteers on King George Island meant I had to scale back my recipes from my bush cook days, but only so far. I love that I can get a few meals from this soup. It keeps for five days and freezes well even if you aren’t in Antarctica.

The Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning is a wonderful mix of art, science and food. Now you, too, can cook like an adventurer, but without the ice and garbage!

06 January 2016

Field Peas to Foie Gras

If you have read this blog foe even a short time, you will know that we love French cookbooks and we love Southern cookbooks. When we get the opportunity to have them meld together, we are plum ecstatic! That was the way we felt when we saw Jennifer Booker's Field Peas to Foie Gras. Take a Southern girl with serious cooking chops, send her to a fancy French cooking school and you get a book like Field Peas to Foie Gras, comforting and homey with all the technical know-how to elevate the most simple ingredients.

The wild mushroom ragout gracing the cover of the cookbook would be at home on any Paris table, but open the book and you will find my favorite, fried chicken gizzards. Very few things in a cookbook make me happier than a recipe for gizzards!

When talking about the similarities between French cooking and Southern cooking one this stands out, seasonality. One gets a strong sense of farming seasons while reading this cookbook. The first section of the book takes us straight to the larder where putting up jams, and pickles is a way to preserve the summer bounty.

Like the title says, you will find recipes for fois gras and filed peas, and you will also find lemon chevre cheesecake and sweet potato pie, braised short ribs and smothered squirrel, and host of recipes that will seem familiar and daring and most of all tasty.  Interspersed with the lively recipes are stories of home and family. Let's be clear, cooking is a family affair and Jennifer Booker is quick to include family stories in her collection of recipes.

I know you, you always say everything is better with bacon, but Booker gives you instructions on how to make it yourself. She says:
Curing meat takes time and the right ingredients, one of which is Pink Curing Salt. This curing salt, also known as Prague Powder #1 and TCM, or tinted curing mix, is not to be confused with table salt. It is a mixture of sodium, nitrates, and nitrites that inhibit the growth of microorganisms that can cause food-borne illness. It is colored pink to help distinguish it from salt or sugar, and to blend better with the meats it’s being used to cure. Curing salts can be ordered on-line or acquired from a butcher. No matter what its name, curing salt should be used sparingly, and due to its high nitrate and nitrite levels, never eaten alone.

Black Pepper Bacon

¼ cup sea salt
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon ground bay leaf
1 teaspoon granulated onion
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
½ teaspoon ground thyme
2 teaspoons Pink Curing Salt, or Prague Powder #1
3 to 4 pounds fresh pork belly

Mix the salt, brown sugar, black pepper, bay leaf, onion, garlic, and thyme together and place in a large flat plastic container with a cover. Taste and adjust the seasoning before you add the Pink Curing Salt. Add the Pink Curing Salt and mix well.

Add the pork belly to the container and spread the cure mix over the entire pork belly, being sure to press the mix into all the cracks and crevices of the belly. Cover and refrigerate for 10 days, turning the pork belly after 5 days.

After day 10, remove the pork from the container and rinse with cold water; removing as much of the cure mix as possible. Discard the mix left in the container.

Pat the pork belly dry, place on a wire rack in a sheet pan, and refrigerate, uncovered, for 24 hours to form a pellicle, or sticky skin.

Preheat the grill or smoker to 300° F using a fire made of hickory wood and ?charcoal. Smoke the cured pork belly for 1 ½ hours per pound at 200° to 215° F, or until the internal temperature reaches 155° F.

Remove and let the bacon rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. Refrigerate the bacon before slicing to make it easier to cut.

Fry the bacon slices in a hot cast-iron skillet over medium heat for 5 minutes on each side, or until crisp.
If you are a true fan of bacon, go ahead, make it yourself. Grab a copy of Field Peas to Foie Gras and head into the kitchen with someone you love. I would start by making the Fried Gizzards, but that is just me.

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