In a corner of our house, in a space that we affectionately call the “home office” — legitimized by an aging Mac, casually strewn paper clips, a non-functioning To Do list, and a seven-slot power bar full of battery chargers — there is a shelf full of recipe books. Not including the encyclopedic Larousse Gastronomique, Alain Ducasse’s monumental Le Grande Livre, The Joy of Cooking, the complete Time-Life Good Cooks series, and my own three-ring binder of accumulated keepers, the collection east to west measures just under six feet.
I know that sounds ridiculous — some of the books won’t even get a respectful glance — but by the time this story is published, I will have added more. We of the foodie persuasion love books about food and what we might do with it. Which is why we are thrilled to own the likes of a 1915 Mrs Beeton; M.F.K. Fisher’s Long Ago in France; a 1919 collection of St Francis Hotel Chef Victor Hirtzler’s recipes of San Francisco; a 1925 Fanny Farmer catering compendium; and a copy of Are You Hungry Tonight?, the pork-chops-and-cornmeal-mush recipes of the King himself. Face it. For some of us, accumulating cookbooks is an addiction, and no matter how many we have on our shelves, we’re always ready to buy or be gifted more.
Which makes people like Barbara-Jo McIntosh, who founded Books to Cooks in Vancouver 13 years ago, very happy, because people like me keep coming and coming again to her store. A widely-honoured food professional with experience as a restaurateur, author, and supporter of the Canadian West Coast culinary scene, Barbara-Jo says that while those of us who like cooking could do quite well with nought more than Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, we keep buying books because more than anything, they make us happy.
But what about those giant food books that are heavy with pictures and intimidating words? “Even if you’re just looking at pretty pictures, you’re learning something,” says Barbara-Jo. “They educate us. Not just about cooking, but about the ingredients of cooking, about cultures. Food is the beginning of understanding a culture.”
“For instance,” she continues, “I recently learned more about espelette pepper, grown in the Pyrenees, and very popular with chefs.” Now, along with mountains of books and some carefully chosen culinary items, she stocks a proprietary seasoning that combines espelette, maldon salt and thyme. Little treasures like this have made her Books to Cooks an always-active destination for the food world. And biggies like Bittman, Bourdain, Ramsay, LaGasse and others have also dropped by for book launchings and cooking demos.
She recommends Bittman’s great book because he keeps things simple, and people are encouraged to work with his recipes knowing that he too — not formally trained — had to figure things out as he went along.
“Yes, we could live with one good cookbook, but a nice collection begins to investigate more about the world of food — helps to satiate our appetite for the palate to explore something new.” And we treasure our collections. “You read a novel once or twice, and pass it on, or whatever. You only loan a cookbook if you’re prepared to let it go. Because you won’t get it back.”
With the endless resources of the web — Google came up with almost a billion recipe sources in a mere .10 seconds — and the fandangling that flows between Facebook friends and compounds exponentially into other social networking, it would hardly seem necessary to ever actually own a cookbook. But hard copy, our need to open a book and break its spine; or hold it open with a rolling pin and over time smear its favoured pages with flour, soya sauce, spilled milk, cookie dough or whatever, still seems to be a sensual extra that technology can never deliver.
All of this cookbook hoarding may be satisfying in a King Midas kind of way. But Barbara-Jo’s observations notwithstanding, the sad thing is that too often our books really do remain on shelves and coffee tables — not in the kitchen where they should be — helpful and often-used guides to the new culinary adventures they were written to inspire. We open them, smell the ink, check out the gorgeous pictures, and gasp at the good things we humans should be cooking. Then we say: “Must try this some day,” and return to our favorites, the very few books and recipes that we have lived with and loved, those we have committed to human hard-drive memory. These are the good ones, simply presented. Recipes that express themselves in cups, teaspoons, pinches, smidgins and dashes. Recipes that direct us to cream the butter and sugar, to preheat our ovens not to gas marks, but to well rounded and familiar Fahrenheit. To season to taste. Recipes that came from mom or Auntie Pearl — hand written on scraps of paper, the secrets that made them what they are carefully tucked along the margins. We use them often, and carefully archived, they will one day be welcomed by a new generation.
grilled salmon burgers
Spot prawns, sablefish, octopus, geoducks, sea urchins and fresh sardines may not yet be mainstream seafood in many parts of the land, but with about 40 other varieties that have been identified as sustainable, they are featured in the Ocean Wise Cookbook (Whitecap), a grand collection of 139 recipes that were gathered and edited by Vancouver writer Jane Mundy and released in the fall. From the collection, we’ve gone super simple, choosing Chef Michael Smith’s grilled wild salmon burgers — which are always better on a barbie. If barbecuing must wait for another season, by all means use your cast iron pan.
500 g skinless wild salmon fillets, cubed
1/2 cup cilantro
1/4 cup minced red onion
2 tbsp grated fresh ginger (peeled)
2 tsp soy sauce
4 hamburger buns
Your favourite hamburger toppings
Preheat your barbecue to its highest setting. Place the salmon, cilantro, red onion, ginger and soy sauce in a food processor and pulse until everything just comes together in a coarse mixture. Do not purée it; a rough chop is all it needs. Form the mixture into 4 large patties — it will seem loose, but as it cooks, it will firm up. Carefully place the patties on the grill and sear them until they are cooked through, about 4 minutes per side.
Cut 4 warmed or toasted hamburger buns in half. Slide each burger onto a bun and serve them alongside the toppings.
Potential pairings? Creemore Springs Premium Lager, Rosehall Run Pinot Noir Rosehall Vineyard (Ont.) or Nk’Mip Qwam Qwmt Pinot Noir (Okanagan Valley, BC).
chicken liver terrine
I must confess to having been a paté freak ever since the days in the early 70’s when I would sit in Thursdays — that was the name of the bar — in Montréal with a loaf of it, a jar of small, sweet gherkins and a red, probably plum, sauce. Whether or not there was bread, I can’t remember. But it was a coarse paté; you could see the lumps and taste masses of herbs and tons of garlic. You don’t forget things like that, especially in the first 12 or so hours! This recipe calls on several others, but ended up being mostly my own.
1 pound of chicken livers
(I use frozen and just before they thaw, cut them up like red ice cubes. It’s less yucky than having a great glob of fresh!)
1 cup shelled pistachios
1/2 pound ground, lean veal
1/2 cup cream
1/2 cup brandy
2 tbsp sherry
2 tbsp port
2 cloves finely chopped garlic
1 package of side bacon
Sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tbsp gelatin
1 cup water
1 cup stock
Chop the livers (with a knife) into small pieces. Coarsely chop the pistachios. Place livers into a large bowl, add the beaten eggs, the veal, the cream and all other ingredients except the bacon, bay leaves, thyme, gelatin mix, water and stock. Stir, then leave covered to marinate in the refrigerator overnight.
Line loaf tins — or terrines if you have them — with the bacon to form what will be the terrine’s covering. Ladle in the mixture to almost fill the containers and cover the tops with more bacon, and some fresh thyme.
Cover with foil and place the containers in a water bath in a pre-heated 425˚F oven. After an hour, top up with water and remove the foil cover.
Bake for another 45 minutes then remove from oven to cool. Sprinkle the gelatin onto 1/4 cup warm water and stir to dissolve.
Add 1/4 cup boiling water and stir again. Top up with more water to make a cup of liquid. Mix with the cup of stock and pour over the terrines to fill them.
Leave to set in the fridge overnight.
To remove the terrines, dip them for 10 or so seconds in warm water then turn them out onto a garnished plate.
Serve with small, sweet gherkins, plum sauce or some exotic fruit jam and French bread. With a nice cold white wine, of course!
barbara-jo’s rib-eye steak with roquefort and red pepper butter
Serves 1 to 2 people
As well as running Vancouver’s best food bookstore — see above — Barbara-Jo McIntosh has extended her talent into books of her own. Her latest, Cooking for Me and Sometimes You, describes in words and recipes a month spent in Paris, where she soaked up the city, and not only made some great meals, but added to a store of Parisienne memories. I carried it with me on a visit to Europe in the fall. Her frontispiece map led me along Avenue Bosquet to La Grande Épicerie — www.lagrandeepicerie.fr — where I drooled for hours on the best food Paris has to offer. Including rib-eye steaks.
1 large red pepper
1/4 lb butter
1/4 lb Roquefort cheese
To prepare the Roquefort and red pepper butter, heat oven to 400˚F. Cut 1 large red pepper in half, remove seeds, and place on baking sheet. Roast for 30 minutes. Peel the charred skin off the pepper and cut into chunks. Place in a food processor with 1/4 pound of butter (cut into 4 pieces) and 1/4 pound crumbled Roquefort cheese. Mix until smooth. Remove the mixture from the processor and place on a piece of plastic wrap on the counter. Form into a log, wrap and freeze until needed.
Rib eye steak
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp espelette salt
To prepare the steak, place a fry pan over medium-high heat. Heat 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil to a gentle bubble. Rub 1 tsp espelette salt — see above — and a grind of black pepper onto both sides of the steak and add to the hot pan. Sear the first side for about 1 minute or until the meat releases its grip and refuses to stick to the pan. Flip the steak and sear the second side for about 30 seconds. Place the pan with the steak into a pre-heated 400˚F oven and roast for 5 to 7 minutes, depending on the steak’s thickness and desired doneness. When the meat is done, remove steak from the pan to a plate. Cut a round of the prepared butter, about 1/2-inch thick, and place on top of the hot meat.
Barbara-Jo enjoyed her steak with steamed green beans and toasted almonds. (I would have searched for a Beaujolais at La Grande).
Friends and family tell me that more often than not, their recipe books are mostly idea books — libraries to browse in times of need. That said, sometimes available ingredients suggest what they may become, and no books are required. As with this meal, that began with a frozen breast of chicken.
1 boneless breast of chicken
1 tbsp curry powder
1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
1 head of cauliflower
1 cup frozen peas
1 400 ml can coconut milk
1 cup basmati rice
Slice the breast into one-inch cubes. In an oiled, pre-heated pan, brown the chicken pieces with salt, pepper and the curry powder. Tumble the chicken into a casserole dish.
Skin and slice the shallots; cut the peppers in half lengthways, remove the seeds and slice into strips. Cut the cauliflower into small florets.
Add a little more oil to the pan, and briefly stir-fry the shallots, peppers, cauliflower and peas with a pinch or two of salt.
Tumble the vegetables in with the chicken pieces and mix together. Deglaze the pan with the coconut milk and pour over the chicken and vegetables.
Preheat the oven to 350˚F, place the lid on the casserole dish and bake for an hour. Check taste and consistency. If necessary, add chicken stock or cream.
To serve, top the cooked rice with the curry. Garnish with finely-chopped parsley, and a good chutney on the side. Papadums? Those too. And to drink? Try something new from a local micro-brewery.
Very rich, but as with most rich dishes, also very delicious! Like wrapping yourself in a duvee in front of a fire on a cold day. It’s been in my binder of faves for years.
1/3 cup long grain rice (wash and soak in cold water for two hours)
1 cup milk
1/4 tsp salt
5 cups half and half cream
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp soaked raisins
2 tbsp slivered almonds
2 tbsp chopped pistachios
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1 tbsp rose water
Drain the rice and leave in the saucepan. Add the milk and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring. Reduce the heat to low and cover.
Simmer for 5 minutes, lifting the lid occasionally to stir.
Uncover, add the salt and pour in the half and half. Increase the heat to medium and bring slowly to near boiling, stirring occasionally.
Continue to cook, uncovered, stirring from time to time to prevent burning and until the mixture thickens. (This will take about an hour. Do something else while this is happening!)
Stir in the sugar and continue to cook, stirring fairly steadily until the mixture has the consistency of thick custard and drops slowly from the spoon. (At this stage the rice will have almost completely disintegrated.)
Stir in the raisins, almonds, pistachios and cardamom. Blend everything well and remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the rose water and spoon the pudding into a serving dish.
Serve warm or refrigerate and serve cold. You may wish to decorate the top with some slivered almonds. I usually grate on some nutmeg or cinnamon.
Grand Marnier works. And surely it’s time for another?