Counter Intelligence

Favorite Food Books:Blogger and Freelance Writer, Amanda McClements

Posted in General Interest, Recipes by melissamccart on December 22, 2008

Metrocurean and writer extraordinaire Amanda McClements lists her favorite books, only one of which I’ve read.  More to add to my list:

1. Bill Neal’s Southern Cooking. When I was growing up in Chapel Hill, Bill Neal’s restaurant Crook’s Corner defined Southern cooking and gave it new respect and national recognition. The shrimp and grits are legendary. The late chef’s book is full of great Southern classics like spoon bread, Hoppin’ John and fried chicken with country gravy. The one recipe I probably won’t make anytime soon: possum with sweet potatoes.

2. The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook. Twenty years after Bill Neal’s book put Southern cooking in the spotlight, the Lee brothers did it again. I love reading it as much for the stories and history as the recipes.

3. Quick Vegetarian Pleasures. This was one of the first cookbooks my mom gave me when I went to college (though neither of us are vegetarian). It’s my go-to for meatless meal inspiration. The vegetable curry is super easy and really flavorful.

4. I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence. This spoof cookbook by Amy Sedaris is absolutely hilarious. The best piece of advice: don’t cook in wizard sleeves. A great gift for friends with a good sense of humor.


Holiday Menus from the ’50’s

Posted in Recipes by melissamccart on December 22, 2008

I’m booked to cook for Christmas dinner, featuring pork for the main. My father wants a brined bourbon and molasses deal, but that doesn’t seem very Christmasy. So I decided to look through Gourmet’s archives and came up with this terrific menu list from the ’50s.

In my brainstorming, I have liked this pork recipe,  Mario’s nine herb salad (mint, rosemary, parsley, thyme, oregano, basil, chives, spinach, lemon juice, olive oil); some kind of fennel (braised in white wine or as a gratin); glazed parsnips and carrots, gougeres, crispy potatoes from this month’s Gourmet, and chestnuts. Since they’re  everywhere,  I was thinking of this puree:

 Purée dc Marrons (Chestnut Purée)

With a sharp knife cut a slit or small cross in the rounded tops of 2 pounds of chestnuts and cook the chestnuts in a hot oven (425° F.) or under the broiler flame for 8 to 10 minutes. When the nuts are cool enough to handle, remove the shells and the skin beneath the shells. Put the chestnuts in a saucepan with enough salted water to cover and add 2 or 3 stalks of celery. Bring the water to a boil and simmer the nuts for 30 minutes, or until tender. Cool the nuts in the liquid.

Remove the chestnuts from the liquid and press them through a fine sieve. Reheat the purée with butter and cream, using 1 tablespoon each of butter and heavy cream for each cup of purée. Correct the seasoning with salt.

 I have no idea if  this menu works, or what to do for grazing food early on. And if my dad’s heart is set on bourbon and molasses, I’ll go with it and start over. . . .

What are you most excited about on your holiday menu?

Five on Food: Articles from the Wednesday Dining Pages

Posted in District of Columbia, Recipes, Regional by melissamccart on December 17, 2008

1) In Successful Paris Restaurant, Jewish Roots. New York Times. I wish we had one of these: “It is one of the smallest restaurants in this city, with 16 seats at tiny tables and no frills, not even flowers. Each night Mr. Rose cooks a set menu of four courses for 42 euros, about $58, nearly unheard of for a meal of its caliber.”

2) Dinner for a Dozen. Washington Post. David Hagedorn’s terrific Chef on Call, featuring Michael Mina and Ris Lacoste.

3)  Time to Clean Out, Restock Bar. Los Angeles Times.” Updating your bar is a bit like updating your wardrobe. If you’ve got most of the basics covered, you can fill in with a few key, stylish, well-made items that fit your taste and budget.” Good idea, though a bit sprawling.

4) A Holiday Dinner That’s Rich in Inspiration. San Francisco Chronicle. Go I-talian for Christmas dinner.

5) Make It Snappy. Boston Globe. Delicious bites for holiday entertaining, such as eggs on eggs.

Favorite Food Books: Bonnie Benwick, Washington Post Food and Dining

Posted in District of Columbia, Recipes by melissamccart on December 12, 2008

Bonnie Benwick recommends these food books from the past year:

1. It’s just a thin paperback, but Lorna Sass’s “Whole Grains for Busy People” really hits all the right notes. It makes the grains user-friendly in a new way, with the author’s rating system and recommendations on brands she likes.

2. Anne Mendelson’s “Milk” because she’s such a lovely writer and it’s such a well balanced single-subject book. With good recipes!

It’s a tie for 3rd place between….

3. David Tanis’ “A Platter of Figs” because the Chez Panisse chef knows how to build a nice menu’s worth of seasonal food. There’s a range of simple to complex recipes within each menu, too, which shows he understands the nature of how much a home cook is willing or has time to do for any particular dinner.

3a. Eric Ripert’s and Christine Muhlke’s “On the Line: Inside the World of Le Bernardin” is a very thorough, well-researched bio of the restaurant and how Ripert operates, giving full credit to his forebears. It’s fascinating to know which brand of olive oil is used, etc. As for the recipes…. They look like they’d be lovely to do in a more robust economy.


Favorite Food Books: Joe Yonan, Washington Post Food and Dining

Posted in District of Columbia, Recipes by melissamccart on December 12, 2008

Washington Post Food and Dining Editor Joe Yonan names two of his favorites of 2008.

1.”The Big Fat Duck Cookbook.” Quite simply the most stunningly designed food book that I have seen. I could look at the center-spread design, a tripped-out photo illustration of Heston Blumenthal’s brain combined with the table of contents, all day.

2. “A Day at elBulli.” Much more the picture of a restaurant told through journalistic photography than mere cookbook. With all the over-the-top photography we’ve seen of those wild El Bulli dishes, this is refreshingly messy. And there are captivating details on every page.

3. Now for something completely different: “Jacques Pepin: More Fast Food, My Way,” the companion book to the new TV series. Because he’s Jacques, and if he tells me to make a pear tart on a flour tortilla, I do it, and I love it.

Favorite Food Books: April Fulton, Blogger and Freelance Food Writer

Posted in District of Columbia, Recipes by melissamccart on December 12, 2008

April Fulton, blogger and freelancer food writer for Bethesda Magazine, Capitol File, NPR and the Washington Post among others, recommends:

1.  “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” An oldie but goodie. Julia Child teaches the basics the right way, plus tips on variations for classic sauces and roasts – great for anyone who has never been to culinary school but wants to understand the fundamentals of cooking and not just trendy combos.

2. My new favorite for entertaining is Jose Andres new “Made in Spain.” Gorgeous photos and bold flavors. Plus it has Andres’ witticisms that would come across as phony if uttered by anyone else, like, “It is a well-known fact that I make the best gin and tonics in the world.”

Favorite Food Books:Warren Rojas, Northern Virginia Magazine Food and Wine

Posted in District of Columbia, Recipes by melissamccart on December 11, 2008

Northern Virginia Magazine’s Warren Rojas suggests books for every age and skill level.

1. Time-Life’s “The Good Cook ” series (youth). I snatched up the entire set at a yard/estate sale during college and used them to firm up my cooking fundamentals (my parents had taught me to cook by feel/sight/taste; time life filled in the gaps).

2. Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything” (adult). My go-to for the past decade, bittman’s pragmatic instructions and on-the-fly substitutions taught me the value of improvisation in everyday cooking.

3. “The River Cottage Meat Book” (current muse). Fearnley-Whittingstall’s thought-provoking prose is dutifully matched by the gorgeous photos and diversity of cuisines.

4. My everest: “CIA’s Professional Chef .” This tome is so chunky/the text so dense that I feel dumb just thumbing through it.

Favorite Food Books: Todd Kliman, Washingtonian Food and Dining

Posted in District of Columbia, Recipes by melissamccart on December 11, 2008

Washingtonian editor Todd Kliman offers these as among his favorites:
1) “Madame Wu’s Chinese Cooking” by Silvia Wu. My mom’s copy of this small, tidy book was much-stained and beat-up. It became my introduction to learning how to make Cantonese chicken and chicken corn soup. Still essential. Madame Wu had a place in Hollywood in the ’70s, and I loved the picture of her on the back cover with Cary Grant. He was so tanned, he looked like he’d been fried. 
Tom Colicchio’s “Think Like a Chef.”  I don’t watch “Top Chef,” and I don’t care if Colicchio is now more famous for being on TV than for being a good chef. The book preceded the show. I like it because it’s more about learning to cook, than about learning to cook a particular dish. (I even used it, once, at Howard University in a course I was teaching — to illustrate the idea that sometimes process matters more than result.) I seldom follow any recipe to the letter — if I do, I don’t feel as though I’m really cooking; I’m following — and this book is geared towards people like me, fairly-accomplished and generally free-wheeling home cooks.

Favorite Food Books: Erin Hartigan, Daily Candy

Posted in District of Columbia, Recipes by melissamccart on December 11, 2008

Erin Hartigan, editor of Washington, DC’s Daily Candy,  loves “hunting through newspapers and blogs for new recipes,” she says. “I surround myself with an ever-expanding collection of cookbooks, both old and new. I love to cook ethnic foods using obscure ingredients that I uncover on hunts through Indian and Thai markets.” Here are her cookbook recommendations:
1. I love Marcus Samuelsson’s “The Soul of a New Cuisine,” which offers an ambitious collection of African dishes, ranging from easy seafood dishes to fusion stews. His recipe for egg salad is a perpetual craving and the beautiful photographs always kick my travel fever into high gear.
2.  Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid are my favorite cookbook authors. They travel throughout Asia and collect stories, photos and (of course) recipes as they go. They have several books worthy of a spot on the coffee table, but my favorite is “Mangoes and Curry Leaves” for its wide-ranging assortment of recipes. Favorites are stir-fried pea tendrils and cumin-laced beef patties.

Favorite Food Books: Jane Black, Washington Post Food and Dining

Posted in District of Columbia, Recipes by melissamccart on December 11, 2008

Here are Jane Black’s favorites for the moment:


1.  Nancy Silverton’s “Twist of the Wrist.”  I know I shouldn’t love a book that recommends using things from jars and cans but this is Nancy Silverton’s no-cooking, which means a) there’s some cooking and b) the cans and jars are things like sardines and saba.
2. Paula Wolfert’s  “Slow Mediterranean Kitchen.” A gorgeous creative blend of Middle Eastern, Italian and Spanish cooking. The recipes can be time consuming but are not technically difficult and all result in gorgeous layered flavors. Perfect for entertaining.