Saveur magazine takes its travelogue approach to its first cookbook in a decade, "The New Comfort Food."
For its first cookbook in a decade, Saveur magazine has reached back into its considerable library to produce an entertaining, visually striking and thoroughly practical around-the-world excursion into comfort food. Saveur editor-in-chief (and "Top Chef Masters" talking head) James Oseland shares the details.
Q So why does this book belong in our cookbook libraries?
A One of the things that we happily accomplished with the book -- and it isn't the next Escoffier, nor should it be -- is that it's designed, for lack of a better word, to turn you on. If you're not sure what you're going to cook tonight, you can take a random spill through the book, and I can guarantee that you will be inspired to want to cook something out of it. And that's something that feels really good, I've got to say.
Q What's the "new" in the title all about?
A Our collective idea of what constitutes comfort food is changing right before our eyes, even though we as Americans haven't been paying attention. It's just happening. It's no longer just the meatloaf, the fried chicken and the mashed potatoes that Americans automatically identify with comfort food. In a kind of casual and wonderful way, comfort food is reflecting the very global way we as Americans now eat.
Q Can you share an example?
A Suddenly we're now aware of Tom Yum Goong, that classic, intensively sour-hot lemongrass and lime leaf soup; it has become a comfort food in the American vernacular.
Q Judging from the book, I'm guessing we're alike in that we share an appreciation for the brief, concisely written recipe. True?
A There is a beauty to the concise recipe, yes. Recipes are a blueprint, a starting point. I might interpret a recipe in one way, and you might in another way, even if the language seems fairly black-and-white. One of the things that connects this assemblage of 100-plus recipes is that they are all pretty easy to make. They don't require a crazy quilt of ingredients, or multiple trips to multiple markets. You're creating very direct, immediately satisfying food that's easy on the palate and doesn't require great leaps of poetic imagination to figure out. It's very clear, right away, if something is a comfort food recipe. We knew at once, for example, that red velvet cake, or Katharine Hepburn's Brownies, were comfort foods, and something calling for Liederkranz cheese was not.
Q What would you make for dinner tonight?
A I'm one of those unorthodox people who thinks it's OK to turn on the oven when it's hot outside. But when it's warm, we don't want to spend too much time in the kitchen, so I'd make the Lemony Roast Chicken. It's from Evan Kleiman, the wonderful chef from Los Angeles. Her restaurant, the Angeli Caffe, has been around for decades. The recipe is almost absurdly simple. You cut the chicken into eight pieces, add olive oil, rosemary, garlic and a lemon. You throw it in the oven and in less than an hour you have one of the most splendid meals imaginable. It makes fabulous leftovers, so fabulous that I'd double the recipe so that you don't have to turn the oven back on. I'd serve it with the Thai-style Green Beans with Chile and Basil. The recipe calls for nam prik pao, the Thai roasted chile paste, but really any jarred Asian chile paste will do. And it also calls for Thai basil leaves, but any basil will do the trick. It's a very simple and deeply satisfying stir fry that will be a gorgeous accompaniment to the chicken, along with a loaf of crusty bread.
Q I took one look at the meatballs and wanted to make them, immediately. I mean, shouldn't all meatballs contain prosciutto, pancetta and ricotta?
A Those meatballs are awesome. They're from [Saveur executive editor] Dana Bowen. It's an old family recipe, and it's absurdly delicious. We have them here at the office for staff meals.
Q Speaking of food porn, the photo of the buttermilk flapjacks started me daydreaming about weekend mornings at the lake, and I don't even own a cabin.
A The recipe is from Robie's Country Store & Deli in Hooksett, N.H. I've never been, but it's a wonderful-sounding place, and those pancakes are a total dream: light, fluffy and insanely good.
Q Anything you care to share about "Top Chef Masters"?
A I've enjoyed doing it. The last season was particularly pleasurable, such a sweet experience. What can I say? It's a dream job. You're eating what is for the most part extraordinarily good food, cooked by some of the greatest chefs in the country. What's wrong with that? Nothing.
Rick Nelson • 612-673-4575
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