Of the 150 or so cookbooks in my kitchen's library (I'm old school: I prefer my cooking instructions via Gutenberg rather than Jobs), I'm guessing that there are maybe 25 or 30 that are regularly pulled from the shelf. A half-dozen or so of those are referenced with some frequency. The rest? I'll crack them if I'm looking for inspiration, or give them a berth on my nightstand for bedtime reading, or recycle-and-replace with compelling new (or at least new to me) titles.
In the summer months, "The Herbal Kitchen" definitely belongs in that most-looked-at camp. In the seven years since Seattle chef Jerry Traunfeld published this beautiful and useful title (it's still in print), I've probably made a third of its recipes, some of them so often that I could prepare them from memory, including crostini topped with smoked trout and marjoram, smoked salmon stuffed eggs dressed with dill and chives, fettuccine tossed with herbs and ricotta, a rich basil-zucchini gratin, gin and tonics muddled with rosemary, a fizzy basil-lime soda and scallops served on a colorful summer succotash.
Traunfeld wrote the book near the tail end of his 17-year tenure at The Herbfarm, the extraordinary suburban Seattle farm/restaurant; since then, he has moved on to establish the critically acclaimed Poppy in that city's Capitol Hill neighborhood ("Traunfeld takes humble to haute levels," raved my pal Providence Cicero in the Seattle Times).
What I appreciate most about "The Herbal Kitchen" is that it's a home cook's book, not a restaurant chef's book. The recipes reflect Traunfeld's passion for garden-fresh herbs and vegetables, but he translates his expertise into layman's language and crafts workable, approachable recipes. Also, it's so seasonal that I'm tempted to carry the book along when I'm shopping the farmers' market.
Cooking from "The Herbal Kitchen" has been a learning experience, too. Like many cookbooks, Traunfeld devotes his first chapter to a brief herb tutorial, followed by some key techniques. Here's one that I found immediately useful: "When culinary school graduates first start working in my kitchen, they invariably want to chop herbs to dust," he writes. "Even many home cooks are inclined to finely mince fresh herbs, as if they shoulid look like the tiny flakes from jars of dried herbs. Easy does it! When you over-chop herbs they bruise and loose their identity. Unless you are making a pesto or puree, lean towards a coarser chop. Herbs can better express themselves in a dish if you can recognize them."
It has been ideal grilling weather this week, so I naturally turned to Traunfeld to tell me what to make for dinner. Easy: Chicken, marinated overnight in citrus, olive oil and herbs, served with a farmers market salad fortified with orzo. And it was easy. Rather than deal with a whole chicken -- which isn't exactly difficult, I know -- I bought the pieces I most prefer: drumsticks and thighs. The results were delicious, and the leftovers made for an excellent chicken salad.
As for the salad, I had picked up sweet corn and basil at the farmers market, so the rest was easy; I pulled it together while the grill was pre-heating (I sort-of skipped the refrigerate-for-an-hour instruction, although Traunfeld is right: it was even better the next day at lunch). I also cut the mixture of olive oil, vinegar and lemon juice in half (I was almost out of vinegar), and that worked well.
When we were clearing the table, all I could think was, 'Why don't we eat this way all year round?' And it got me thinking about my next "Herbal Kitchen" recipe: a lavender pound cake. I've already bookmarked page 242.
GRILLED CHICKEN WITH BEFORE AND AFTER MARINADE
Note: This recipe must be prepared in advance. From “The Herbal Kitchen” by Jerry Traunfeld (William Morrow, $34.95).
1 tbsp. lavender buds, fresh or dried
1 tbsp. thyme leaves
1 tbsp. savory leaves (or substitute rosemary)
Freshly grated zest of 1 lemon
2 tbsp. chopped shallots
2 tsp. kosher salt
¼ c. plus 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided
4 ½ lb. chicken, cut into 8 pieces without the back
In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine lavender, thyme, savory, lemon zest, shallots, salt, olive oil and 2 tablespoons lemon juice and pulse until mixture becomes a coarse puree. Spoon about 1/3 of marinade into a small container, stir in remaining 1 tablespoon lemon juice, cover and refrigerate until chicken is cooked. Toss chicken pieces with remaining 2/3 of marinade and refrigerate in a covered bowl or re-sealable freezer bag for at least 8 hours or as much as 24.
Start a charcoal fire in a kettle grill or preheat a gas grill to medium. When grill is hot, cook chicken, with grill lid down most of the time, until skin is well browned on both sides and meat is cooked through. Check chicken frequently, rotating it often and keeping it away from hot spits so that skin does not burn (breast pieces will likely cook faster, so remove them first to keep white meat from drying out, and continue to cook dark meat and wings until meat starts to pull away from bottom of drumsticks). Brush all chicken pieces with reserved marinade and serve warm or at room temperature.
CORN, ORZO AND BASIL SALAD
Serves 6 to 8.
Note: This recipe must be prepared in advance. From “The Herbal Kitchen.”
½ medium red onion, finely diced
¼ c. white wine vinegar
3 tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tsp. kosher salt
¾ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
4 ears sweet corn, shucked
8 oz. orzo pasta
¼ c. plus 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced into ¼-inch pieces
1 ½ c. torn leaves of sweet basil or lemon basil
In a large mixing bowl, combine onion, vinegar, lime juice, salt and pepper and reserve. On a large cutting board, hold ears of corn upright and cut off kernels, which should yield about 5 cups kernels. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add orzo, and when it is just tender, after about 8 minutes, add corn kernels and cook until water boils again. Drain into a colander and rinse with cold water. Stir olive oil into bowl with dressed onion. Toss in pasta and corn, red bell pepper and basil until evenly combined. Refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving.
The best way to spend Wednesday evening? Soaking up the dulcet tones of author and culinary anthropologist John T. Edge, in town for the night from Oxford, Miss., to talk up his latest title, “The Food Truck Cookbook” (Workman, $18.95).
The prolific Mr. Edge runs the University of Mississippi’s influential Southern Foodways Alliance, writes the monthly “United Tastes” feature for the New York Times, contributes to Saveur (his must-read piece, “BBQ Nation,” landed him the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award at last week’s James Beard Awards) and other food magazines and is the name behind a series of entertaining and deeply researched books exploring apple pie, fried chicken and other all-American food topics. The man knows his stuff, and his gracious southern accent and infectious guffaw are added bonuses.
The question-and-answer period (it’s free) starts at 7 p.m. at the Mill City Museum in Minneapolis, with a meet-and-greet (and book signing opportunity) to follow. As an added attraction, the Chef Shack -- one of the several dozen mobile kitchens profiled in the book -- will be cooking, from 6 to 8 p.m. Don’t miss it.
Get out your checkbook. The James Beard Foundation announced the results of its cookbook awards Friday — as well as broadcast and journalism awards (restaurants/chefs to be announced Monday night) — and the winning cookbooks could use a place on your shelf.
Cookbook of the Year: "Modernist Cuisine," by Nathan Myhrvold with Chris Young and Maxime Bilet.
Cookbook Hall of Fame: Laurie Colwin for "Home Cooking" and "More Home Cooking."
American Cooking: "A New Turn in the South: Southern Flavors Reinvented for Your Kitchen," by Hugh Acheson.
Baking and Dessert: "Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home," by Jeni Britton Bauer.
Beverage: "Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, with Cocktails, Recipes, & Formulas," by Brad Thomas Parsons.
Cooking from a Professional Point of View: "Modernist Cuisine," by Nathan Myhrvold with Chris Young and Maxime Bilet.
General Cooking: "Ruhlman’s Twenty," by Michael Ruhlman.
Focus on Health: "Super Natural Every Day: Well-Loved Recipes from My Natural Foods Kitchen," by Heidi Swanson.
International: "The Food of Morocco," by Paula Wolfert.
Photography: "Notes from a Kitchen: A Journey Inside Culinary Obsession," artist/photographer: Jeff Scott.
Reference and scholarship: "Turning the Tables: Restaurants and the Rise of the American Middle Class, 1880–1920," by Andrew P. Haley.
Single Subject: "All About Roasting," by Molly Stevens.
Writing and Literature: "Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef," by Gabrielle Hamilton. For an interview with her, read here.
On a local note, Andrew Zimmern won a Beard award in the category of "Television Program, On Location: Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern," on the Travel Channel.
The James Beard Foundation, founded in 1986, celebrates and preserves America’s culinary tradition.
For the winners in the broadcast, journalism and restaurant/chef awards, see www.jamesbeard.org.
In my Q&A with "The Homemade Pantry" author Alana Chernila, she discusses the story behind the irresistible-sounding Pop-Tarts (pictured, above, in a photo from the book, by Jennifer May) she devised for her two young daughters. Here's the recipe:
Makes 6 pastries.
Note: Fill with jam, Nutella or a mixture of 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon and 5 tablespoons sugar. Store pastries in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, and reheat in a toaster, or in a 375-degree oven for 5 minutes. Freeze unbaked in single layers on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and transfer to a freezer-safe container with layers of parchment paper; bake, as directed, when ready to serve. From “The Homemade Pantry” by Alana Chernila.
• 1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold
• 2 1/4 c. flour, plus extra for rolling dough
• 1/3 c. water
• 2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• 1 egg
• 1 tbsp. water
• 6 tbsp. filling (see Note)
• Powdered sugar or frosting (see recipe, below), for garnish
To prepare dough: Cut butter into 1/2-inch squares and combine with flour in bowl of a stand mixer. Using your hands, toss mixture to coat butter in flour. Place bowl in freezer. In a measuring cup, combine water, vinegar and salt and stir until salt dissolves. Place cup in freezer. Freeze both mixtures for 10 minutes. Take mixing bowl out of freezer and, using paddle attachment, blend on low speed until mixture starts to resemble texture of crumbly meal. Take measuring cup out of freezer and slowly pour liquid into flour-butter mixture. Dough will be crumbly at first; stop mixer when dough comes together into a ball, about 10 to 20 seconds. Turn dough out onto counter and press it into a large disc. Cut dough into 2 equal parts, wrap each piece in waxed paper and press into a disc. Refrigerate at least 2 hours, and up to 2 days.
To prepare pastries: When ready to roll dough, preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Lightly flour a work surface and a rolling pin. Remove dough from refrigerator and let rest on counter for 15 minutes. Unwrap a disc and roll into a 9x12-inch rectangle, cutting away any errant edges with a sharp knife. Cut rectangle into 6 smaller rectangles. Gently separate rectangles from work surface and lay them on prepared baking sheet with at least 2 inches between them. Using a pastry brush, paint each rectangle with beaten egg. Scoop 1 tablespoon of filling into each rectangle in a thin line down the center. Roll out second disc of pie pastry, repeating steps to create six rectangles. Lay new batch of rectangles over filled rectangles and seal by pressing a fork around the perimeter of each rectangle. Using a pastry brush, paint tops of each pastry with egg wash and poke several times with a fork. Bake until golden, about 20 to 25 minutes, rotating baking sheet once during baking. Remove from oven, cool for 2 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar (or ice with frosting, see recipe, below) before serving.
Makes about 11/2 cups.
Note: Refrigerate in a covered container for up to 1 week. Freeze in a covered container for up to 6 months. Adapted from “The Homemade Pantry.”
• 1/2 lb. cream cheese, at room temperature
• 6 tbsp. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
• 1/2 c. sifted powdered sugar
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
In a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment and on medium speed, beat cream cheese and butter until well-combined. Add powdered sugar in 2 tablespoon increments, tasting after each addition. When you have reached your desired sweetness, add salt and vanilla extract and continue beating until frosting is thick and smooth.
Timing is everything, right?
On the day when a colleague showered my cubicle with a few boxes of my personal dietary Kryptonite -- Girl Scouts Thin Mint cookies -- a cookbook landed in my mail box.
Wouldn't you know it? "The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook," by Savannah, Ga., bakers Cheryl Day and Griffith Day, contains a recipe for a soft, buttery and deeply chocolately homage to my beloved Thin Mints. "Just like the Girl Scouts bake," promised the recipe.
We'll see about that. The recipe was a little putzy (in the annals of cookie-baking jargon, that's one of my favorite words) but worth the effort. I enjoyed them; well, a version of them, anyway (see below). The critical reception among my cookie-loving co-workers fell almost uniformly along the lines of, "Better than Thin Mints." I don't know if I'd go that far -- sacrilege! -- but the recipe is definitely a keeper.
As is the book. It's beautifully photographed (the images of the retro-decorated bakery alone make me want to schedule a flight to the Georgia coast) and appropropriately conversational, and it's chock full of recipes I'm dying to try: Ham and cheese pastry puffs, buttermilk-cornmeal pancakes, plum tartlets, bacon-jam empanadas and rosemary-pecorino crackers.
But first, chocolate. The recipe calls for Dutch process cocoa, a darker, more fragrant product than its unsweetened counterpart. Dutch process cocoa has been altered with alkali, which assists in neutralizing cocoa's natural acidity. It's not widely available, but most major supermarkets stock at least one brand; I found the Van Cortlandt label at Lunds.
I tweaked the recipe in a few places. After tasting them with the chocolate coating and without (pictured, above), I preferred the latter; the former, while closer in spirit to the Thin Mint model, becomes the very definition of overkill. The chocolate coating was also taking forever to set, so I transferred the coated cookies to the refrigerator, where they set more evenly. That also reminded me: Aren't Thin Mints better when swiped from the freezer?
Also, when preparing the filling, the recipe called for four cups of powdered sugar. But when I was making it, the mixture became almost too thick to spread after adding just three cups, so the recipe below reflects that; even at three cups, I added a teaspoon of cream to get the filling to a more spreadable consistency. I skipped the green food coloring.
It's important to roll the dough as thin as possible. Once refrigerated, the dough holds its shape and cuts easily and cleanly.
The recipe calls for a 2- to 3-inch cookie cutter, but I went smaller, 1-1/2 inches; because this is an extremely rich cookie, less is definitely more. Even at that reduced size, I could barely finish one without hitting the butter-sugar wall.
Well, emphasis on the word barely.
CHOCOLATE MINT COOKIES
Makes about 2 dozen sandwich cookies.
Note: "I was always the queen of sales during during Girl Scout cookie season," writes co-author Cheryl Day in “The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook" (Artisan, $24.95). "My dad would take me to the back lot of Desilu Studios, where he worked, and I would go to town writing up orders. As it is for so many other people, my favorite Girl Scout cookie is the Thin Mint. Here's a grown-up version."
2 3/4 c. flour
1 1/4 c. Dutch process cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
2 c. powdered sugar
1/2 c. packed dark brown sugar
For cream filling:
1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tsp. peppermint extract
3 c. powdered sugar
1 or 2 drops green food coloring, optional
For chocolate coating:
1 3/4 c. semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter
To prepare cookies: Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. In a large bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder and salt and reserve. In bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed, cream together butter, vanilla extract, powdered sugar and dark brown sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low and add eggs, one at a time, beating until combined. Add flour mixture in thirds, beating until just combined and scraping down sides and bottom of bowl as necessary. Divide dough in half and place one half on each prepared cookie sheet. Place a piece of plastic wrap or another sheet of parchment paper on top of each one. Use a rolling pin to roll out dough to ¼-inch thickness. Wrap baking sheets in plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
When ready to bake, position a rack in lower third of oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove one sheet of dough at a time from refrigerator and transfer cookie dough and parchment paper to kitchen counter. Cut out cookies with a 2- to 3-inch round cookie cutter. Line baking sheet with fresh parchment paper and place cutout cookies, about 1 inch apart, on prepared baking sheet. Refrigerate cutout cookies for at least 15 minutes, while you cut out second sheet of cookies. Re-roll scraps of dough, re-refrigerate for at least 15 minutes and cut dough.
Bake cookies, one sheet at a time, until firm to the touch and the smell of chocolate has begun to fill the kitchen, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from oven and cool for 2 minutes before transferring cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.
To prepare cream filling: In bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed, cream together butter and peppermint extract until smooth. Gradually add powdered sugar, mixing until light and fluffy (if desired, add a drop or two of green food coloring, mixing until the mixture looks minty). Place a dollop of filling (about 1 tablespoon) on bottom of one cookie and place another cookie, right side up, on top. Repeat with remaining cookies.
To coat cookies: Using a double boiler over gently simmering water, combine chocolate chips and butter and stir frequently until they have completely melted. Remove bowl from heat. Set a wire rack on a baking sheet lined with wax or parchment paper. Using two forks, quickly dip each cookie into warm chocolate-butter mixture, turning to coat, then gently place the cookie on the wire rack (if chocolate begins to harden, return it to double boiler over simmering water and stir until it melts again). Let cookies stand until set, and store in an airtight container for up to 3 days at room temperature.
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