June 4, 2009

Anyone Can Cook

Happy Cooking Resources
My criteria for utilizing cookbooks includes how often I can flip a cookbook open and find something quick, simple, nutritious, and seasonal. Recipes and prep work should be intuitive and straightforward, and involve common kitchen tools and gadgets. The quality of a cookbook is directly proportional to the training of the author. Chefs and cooks with culinary backgrounds (with an approach to daily cooking in a home kitchen) tend to have great skills and tips that turn out a solid dish time and time again.

These are some of my favorites that I've accumulated over several years that truly never fail me. And as a cook, not a chef, that is supreme.

1. Deborah Madison's: Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
Simply a best buy: intuitive, smart, straightforward and utilizes common whole foods. Madison's book is a go-to book time and time again. It is like a glossary, encyclopedia, and fine recipe collection in one book. Divided into several sections, the inside covers include definitions, oven temperatures, and commonly used ingredients. There is an entire section devoted to the preparation and introduction to vegetables A-Z. Madison is not condescending in her choices for writing a vegetarian cookbook, she presents these as solid recipes that can stand on their own, and invites the reader (novice cook or experienced) to take her word for it. Madison was all about local and seasonal foods long before the local slow foods movement hit the US. She is an inspiration and her approach to cooking, diet and food is built around consuming whole unprocessed foods with enjoyment.
Her recipes and approach make sense because if you cook everyday and consume meals at home and with friends and family most of the time, there is really no need to focus on low-fat ingredients and substitutes. So much of our intake is surrounded by elimination, reduction, or maximization (fat-free, diet, low-sodium, natural, contains whole grains, contains 7 vitamins and minerals) we refuse celebrating foods and food traditions or we feel guilty for their preparation techniques because so much of our intake is outsourced, but we feel little rage at consuming so many meals away from home, and out of our control. So, sorry for the rant, but I would recommend this book if you are interested in celebrating the culture of just having an excellent food culture.

2. Angela Shelf Medearis's The Ethnic Vegetarian
I wish this cookbook had pictures. If she every publishes this cookbook with photos, I will happily re-purchase. If you like and appreciate any types of ethnic cooking - buy, borrow, or check-out (from the library) this great cookbook. It contains recipes of traditional and modern African-American recipes from Africa, America, and the Caribbean. It is simply one of the best ever cookbooks (thanks ehcov!). Here is a list of how the cookbook is divided:
  • African Vegetarian Recipes
  • Afro-Carribbean Vegetarian Recipes
  • African and Native American Vegetarian Recipes
  • Creole and Cajun Vegetarian Recipes
  • Southern Vegetarian Recipes
  • Modern African-American Vegetarian Recipes
  • Menus
The Senegalese Tofu and Yellow Rice are on a near weekly rotation. But here are some of my other favorites:
African-Style Curry Powder, Jerk Seasoning, Sierra Leone Jollof Rice, Okra and Corn Etouffee, Dirty Rice, North Carolina Collard Soup, Cheese Grits, Hopping John, Soul Sushi, and Bean Burgers.

3. Mahanandi Food Blog online here: http://www.nandyala.org/mahanandi/
Mahanandi's or Indira's photography skills make her recipes jump off the page. The majority of her posts were written while living in/near Seattle or the Pacific Northwest and she has recently relocated to the Houston area. She brings enthusiasm and culture to the cooking blogosphere by highlighting traditional Indian (south?) foods and showcasing North American foods. Her hybridization of east meets west produces amazing recipes and photos. If you visit the link I posted here, it will take you to her original website, with a link and post to her new website. Both are lovely and I'm happy to see her many new posts. Ingredients are easily searchable and organized, she reviews cookbooks on their ease of use and their authenticity, and features many family and friends artwork, gifts, or comments. She is a gifted cook and I feel lucky that I stumbled upon her website 2 years ago.

4. Good Eats by Alton Brown (Food TV)
In college as part of the bachelor's degree in Human Nutrition and Foods, required coursework were 2 semesters of Food Science with accompanying labs. The once per week, 3 hour lab began with a quiz and a TV show, uh, Food TV's Good Eats. Six years ago, I had little patience to view TV during lab and felt that it was a waste of tuition money. Regardless of how I felt then, Good Eats taps into one huge thing: Food Science. I felt that it was in important reason to feature it on this post. Food Science is essentially the chemical and physical properties of any food or liquid. The classes and labs taught food chemistry, food science, and essentially cooking.

We learned anything and everything. Our coursework referenced Food TV (Good Eats) and Cook's Illustrated. More importantly the coursework focused on measuring techniques, heating and equipment, food selection and sensory evaluation, food microbiology and safety, and mixing techniques. We learned about carbohydrates in food, starches and sauces, flours and flour mixtures (baking, mixing, etc) - lessons focused on proteins in food (basically how to prepare meat, poultry, fish and dried beans) to properties of milk, cheese and eggs. In the labs we carried out experiments in fermentation where we brewed a lager beer and an ale; preservation where we canned & pickled vegetables (refrigerator pickles) to slicing, dicing and chopping with correct knife techniques that we learned online and in the lab kitchens to blanching, marinating and breading anything that grows under the sun.

I am continuously impressed with Alton Brown's Good Eats show topics and production. Alton Brown is a food science guru. He explores the literal side of cooking with its associated food science and is ingenuous in presenting topics to a TV audience.

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