My Top Four Cookbooks of the Past Year (and the dishes I crave the most)

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My love for cookbooks outweighs my love of well, regular books. This was not always so.

At least, if you walk into my room…that’s what you’ll see. And I’m sure once I move in to my new place, you will see them up front. Easy access. Arranged in no particular order. Probably on my night stand. In the kitchen. And on my coffee table.

I will probably have a few Cook’s Illustrated and the latest Lucky Peach magazine in the open air as well. Yes, I am a doofus.

I revisit cookbooks like most of you do with The Giver, and the Catcher and the Rye or Mere Christianity. I suppose that’s what they’re for. They are tools. Only, they have changed over the years. At least from what I used to remember about cookbooks.

If you look in some of my mom’s cabinets, you will find cookbooks from church. Usually a congregation compiles some of their favorite recipes from dinner on the grounds, or pot lucks and ice cream socials. “This is Rev. Waller’s favorite pecan pie..”

so on, and so forth.

Of course, there are the classics.
Rambauer’s “Joy of Cooking”.
Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”.
Getting a little older,
“Larousse Gastronomique”
and Auguste Escoffier’s “Guide to Modern Cookery”

Since food, and food culture are taking off in the states, there have been a lot of beauties to come off the shelves and into my admiring arms. I admit, I study them like textbooks. Only, these days, they can read like a good narrative. Each recipe gets an explanation, which I like. I enjoy diving into the minds of cooks, not just for the secrets in their dishes, but for the chord it strikes deep in their memory.

I’ve acquired many of them since diving deep into the culinary world, but there are four in particular that I’ve bought this past year that are of importance to me. Also note, many of these were not published in the past year, just the ones I’ve hit hard. **If this is boring, you can probably head straight down to the closing, and call it a day**

Joe Beef 1_Credit Tourisme Montreal, Pierre-Luc Dufour

 

The Art of Living According to Joe Beef: A Cookbook of Sorts
I love chefs David McMillan and Frederic Morin of Montreal.
I believe all industry professionals should own this book. The recipes are outrageous and decadent. Their story, and the early days of Joe Beef are enlightening as a person who wants their own place some day. They are kings of hospitality. They are hopeless romantics, collectors of vintage dining ware and stories, and strive to be excellent dining companions. I hope that one day, I will make it up there.
Dish I dream about: Lievre a la royale

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The Zuni Cafe Cookbook
I feel like if I would have met and/or worked for Judy Rogers, I would have fallen in love. She recently passed away, but the last time I was in San Francisco, I popped in here for a few small plates and a couple of very strong cocktails. It was nothing short of perfect, as the memory of my time still makes me feel all tingly. It’s a staple in the SF dining scene, as classic as it is relevant. Oysters. Fries. Roast chicken. It’s just too much. A warm and inviting homage to bay area cuisine, and fine, simple but exquisite cookery.
Dish I dream about: Zuni roast chicken and bread salad / oysters from the raw bar

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A Girl and Her Pig
April Bloomfield. Swoon. Women chefs are more intimidating to me than male chefs. I’ve worked for both and I can say they all work really, really hard. But, this isn’t as much about her being a woman, than it is her love for cooking. I’ve listened to her talk about cooking, and I’ve watched her cook. She loves eating. She’s hard on her cooks and is particular about getting a dish right. She makes me want to cook better. Her food is just sexy as hell, which in my eyes, makes her just as much. It’s satisfying, rich, and thoughtful. Her passion is addicting, and I hope that someday, I’ll still have the love that she carries for her food, cooks, farmers and purveyors.
Dish I dream about: chicken livers on toast / also: lemon caper dressing

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Le Pigeon: Cooking at the Dirty Bird
Gabriel Rucker and his team are champs. Gah, I know. I know. I suppose I had to make an homage to Portland. There were a lot of incredible cookbooks that have recently come out of Portland. I had the chance to eat there just once, for an anniversary. It’s one of those dinners that a poor couple saves up for and knows they’re going to get $150 tab and be perfectly okay with it. (Like we did.) The atmosphere is dark and candlelit. Open kitchen, beautiful service and the food is rich and sexy, as is the wine they pair so closely. This cookbook is so fun to look at. Beautiful plates, and really just a great story about a chef finding his sweet spot. It’s encouraging to see the community of cooks in a city and how they all found their niches, eventually. Le Pigeon is a shining example of people who always aim to use the best, and who cook beautiful, authentic, really fun food.
Dish I dream about: beef cheek bourguignon, pommes puree and glazed carrots

If I haven’t already made you insanely hungry for your lunch hour, then I must insist you acquire these and have fun with them. Everyone has the right to good food, not just the elite. It might take some time to get where you want to go, but these dishes weren’t built in a day. They take a lifetime, really. They build upon one another, just as we do.

So, I must ask, what is your favorite cookbook and what dish do you crave the most??

 

“Take a Right at the Oysters!” – To San Francisco, with Love.

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A few weeks ago, I needed to get out of town.

As in, I needed to go somewhere. Just for a couple of days.

I had these Southwest credit card miles burning a hole in my pocket. Not enough of them to make a big trip, but something smaller. I decided upon San Francisco. Tickets were dirt cheap roundtrip and I have friends there. So, I went.

And now, I want to write about it.

My friend Jamie picked me up from the Powell Bart station and I settled into his new flat to regain some post-flight composure. Flying into a big city is always a bit much to take in. I enjoy settling for a bit, if I can. Helps me to digest a place.

We decided to hit up Japantown where we ate some gigantic bowls of ramen and some lovely dumplings filled with cabbage and pork, which I could eat by the pound.
I then decided to wander. Looking through the windows at different izakayas, sushi joints, and a few Japanese toy stores. It was major sensory overload, but I enjoyed it.

I was sleepy, after one might be when finishing a big bowl of noodles in pork broth.

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I found myself bussing (read: walking a TON) to Sight Glass coffee roasters in Soma. I had been there last time and enjoyed it, so I knew it’d be worth my time. I ordered my tiny americano and a valrhona chocolate chip cookie. The process of nibbling and sipping. Small luxuries. But a luxury no doubt.

I wandered a bit longer, feeling in my belly that I needed food soon. Which I realized was how this trip was going to go down. I’d eat. Drink. Walk it off. Eat, drink. Walk some more. It was a rhythm I could get used to.

I met my friend Jamie at Mission Chinese Food and ordered salt cod fried rice, kung pao pastrami, and “Grandma’s Spicy Lamb Dumplings” which were just…sigh. Great.

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We took a taxi back to his place, and I met my hometown friend Will for a few drinks.

He took me up to where the opening scene of Full House took place. I was feelin’ pretty good at this point and decided to come down a steep hill on wet grass and completely ate it hard. I laid on my back and laughed. One of those moments where you realize life puts you in these sort of places for perspective.

The next day, I slept in a bit as one does in San Francisco. I grabbed a few eggs at a local diner and made my way to Valencia. Since I knew Ritual was down that way, I posted up there for a bit to caffeinate my bones. Because when I travel to a place, I am looking for three important things. Good coffee. Good bars. Good food. SF offers more than their fair share, but I needn’t complain.

My boss told me to go to Zuni’s Cafe, one of the major dining establishments of SF. I popped in for some oysters. (Kusshi Bay, Marin Miyagi & Beau Soleil, to be precise.) Three perfect oysters with a healthy squeeze of lemon, mixing with their own salty brine. One of earth’s more perfect foods, and that’s a truth. I also had this tiny salad consisting of anchovies, celery, parmigiano reggiano, lemon and olive oil that was so acidic and salty and great. Also, some shoestring fries and a couple of amazing gin cocktails. Professional and prompt service. I felt underdressed and was a little worried they thought I was some vagabond. Upon asking where the bathroom was, the waitress replied, “Take a right at the oysters!”

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Dressed down as I was, don’t worry, I left a good tip.

And then my night got a little more interesting. I follow the editor at large for Lucky Peach magazine. I’m not sure why. Anyways, I came across his picture of the Castro Theatre and along the letter board read this:

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I was giddy. In a way that I felt I was maybe supposed to be there at that time. I had no idea. Y’all can look up Rene Redzepi if you’d like. In short, his restaurant Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark has been the world’s best restaurant the past three years running. He’s forward thinking (so they say) and definitely one of the more inspiring chefs out there. I knew I’d never have the opportunity again, so I got a ticket.

A bit dramatic, as these things are from time to time, but I really loved it, as any passionate cook loves listening to another talk about struggle and shi**y dinner services.

But also the love of food and how he processes a lot of life through food.

I feel very similar. I’m never going to be as good as this guy, or the folks that stage in his kitchen. But, I sat there and dreamed big. Realizing I need to push myself harder and harder if I want to get better. In fact it’s the only way to get better. You have to try, and what I loved most was him saying how important it is to fail.

Sometimes, things just don’t work and you’ll need to pack your things and try again next time.

I guess maybe that’s a little universal.

My night moved on to more drinks with my buddy Will and his girlfriend, who is quite lovely, and who I met for the first time. They were excellent hosts, as was Jamie. Southern hospitality moves wherever southerners go, it seems. Thankful for those connections and know deep down my time wouldn’t have been the same without them.

But as always, it is nice to return home. Or at least to something similar to it. Clean, cold air. Big trees. A mountain or two in the distance. And then, to the kitchen I get to call home for the time being.

Where I am refreshed and inspired,

ready to push myself,

to dream,

and to fail.

Thank you San Francisco,

for allowing me to be me. 

 

 

**small update**
I’ve created a Facebook group for Southern Belly here.
I hope we can use it to dialogue more frequently, because sometimes, I just like talkin’ to y’all. 🙂

San Francisco [And No, We did NOT visit the Ghiardelli Factory.]

Food, Story, Vacation

We are lucky in that we get to do these things.

Travel. Eat good food. Catch up with friends. Rest.

We spent the past week in San Francisco after a few months of debating what would be most worth our money, considering we don’t have that much. We set a time and took off from work and called it our “eat-cation” because if we were going to spend time in one place, the food best be good.

I loved San Fran. It’s a foodie city. Lots of industry folks and some really affordable food. Lots of places to get hosed or high or whatever it is you like. Lots of cool side bars offering decent exposure to one of the many different neighborhoods that make up San Francisco.

We found us a sweet little spot in SoMa (South of Market St.) on the fringe of The Mission. The first night we ate at Mission Street Chinese in the form of a pop-up as the namesake Lung Shan Restaurant closes after lunch. Had a few really amazing dishes. Salt cod fried rice. Mongolian long beans which numbed our tongue it was so spicy — in a good way, of course. Also this rib tip dish that I can’t remember the name of. Had those cartilage-y bits too that were actually really nice.

The next day we hit up Sight Glass for coffee. Amazing. Pricey, but worth it if that’s your thing. Beautiful space full of laptops and cell phones, but that’s the cafe world, right?

My friend Noodles (Andrew is his real name…but we know him as Noodles. Or Noods. We go way back. Like when I had hair and wanted to be a computer programmer.) He treated us to breakfast at this little spot not too far from our hotel. Eggs, toast and hash browns. Nothin’ better when you got the coffee jitters.

Needed some more food in our bellies so we headed down the food carts on 11th and Division/Bryant — ate some really good Korean tacos (mostly a fan of the duck, but the others I would never complain!) – split a decent empanada and a pastrami sandwich – overkill, but in a good way.

That night we met a friend of mine from college and his partner at Dolores Park for some catch up time and devoured some pretty delicious sandwiches. One of which was the antithesis of my diet for the past 8 months. Bread stuffed with roast beef, turkey, pastrami (again, I know!), onion rings, fried jalapeno poppers, fried mozzarella sticks, tomato and guacamole. It was named the “Kryptonite” – it defeated me quickly. I maybe got 7 or 8 good bites in. Respectively so.

We walked a TON. True, the best way to get around San Fran is usin’ the ole’ legs. Well, public transportation is great in SF. We took the BART most of the time. You can pretty much get off anywhere and find something good within walking distance. Of course we got lost several times, but there’s something to be said about getting lost in a city. You discover lots of little things, like how I don’t actually like getting lost all that much. 🙂

Went to this bar called the Tempest and had a few pints with my buddy Will who’s been one of my good good friends since we were kids. He works as a camera guy for Mythbusters and is just an all around bad ass. So great to catch up in funky bars. Noods came later while we all determined that September 11th would be a great day to meet up at the Tempest and reminisce.

We spent one night on Tiburon Bay. Sort of an over-the-top luxury night. Figured we might be able to afford just one of those once and a while. It was so nice. Biggest and softest bed I’d ever laid on. Sweet view of the SF skyline. Got to see little boats come in and out while always asking myself, “People really live like this??”

Yes. Yes they do.

We ate decent tourist town pizza. Watched TV and lit a fire. A nice way to say good-bye to the Bay area.

On the way out, we drove back in to SF and forgot to bring cash for the FREAKING toll. A nice $25 dollar fine will be coming in the mail shortly. Buh. But, that was made up for by the great time we had in Chinatown with our friend Jamie. Chinatown was my favorite. It sets the bar for Chinatowns everywhere, that is, except in China. We found some ladies hand-making fortune cookies. Roasted ducks hanging in windows. Bakeries with black bean curd pastries and custards. So neat. Hannah was in custard heaven. We ate lunch at a clay pot place in a tiny room above one of the markets. It was delicious. Way too much food, but so fun.

We said our goodbyes and drove home through Yountville, where we stumbled upon Thomas Keller’s tiny empire of over-the-top goods. Most of which I will write about another time, because there were some deeper things that happened with this.

But I shall digress, as this piece is already far too long. I’m sure I’ve already lost your attention span. I will leave you only temporarily to say that our little vacation was brilliant and we were treated with such hospitality — both by the city and by our dear friends.

So glad to be back in Portland.

But then again, I always am.