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Cookbooks by the Cartload

January 4, 2007 By:
Ethel Hofman, JE Feature
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We've partied, dined (and probably overeaten) and now it's time to unwind. What better way than to curl up with a good book, and read about food. Here are some of the volumes I found intriguing this year.

· My Life in France -- This is Julia Child's life story as told to her grandnephew Paul Prud'Homme. There are the captivating years in France, where she fell in love with her husband, Paul, along with the country's cuisine and culture, and where she found her "true calling."

This tall, outspoken young woman from Pasadena, Calif., didn't speak a word of French but she was determined enough to be able to chat with purveyors in local markets. Eager to learn more, she enrolled in the famed Cordon Bleu cooking school where against all odds (American wives were looked upon as flippant and air-headed), she managed to get her degree in the culinary arts.

Along with two fellow gourmettes, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, Julia devoted herself to creating a one-of-a-kind teaching book. This became the now legendary Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which marked the beginning of America's appreciation of fine French food cooked at home.

· The United States of Arugula: How We Became a Gourmet Nation by David Kamp -- Over the past 50 years, there has been a dramatic change in the way Americans relate to food. We've undergone a revolution, becoming more taste-savvy and sophisticated. We've traveled and had more food options than ever before.

In this engrossing read, David Kamp chronicles the rapid shifts in culinary taste with a rollicking behind the scenes look at the American food world. Irreverent stories are told about the visionaries who changed the way we eat, the way we shop, cook and think about food.

The book features a cast of stars, among them James Beard, the heavyweight (literally, at 300 pounds) food lover from Oregon, who found that his best hope lay in a food career rather than in acting or as an opera singer. There's Craig Claiborne, his buddy, who fumbled his way into creating contemporary food journalism, avidly pursuing recipes from home cooks from different ethnic backgrounds.

There's also Alice Waters, the fierce Berkeley counterculturist, who experimented with fresh, seasonal and local foods as a political mission -- and met her match in Jeremiah Towers, the ambitious chef she hired. We meet Joel Dean and Giorgio DeLuca who started up a Soho gourmet shop that introduced the nation to high-end imported foods and prepared dishes.

· Intuitive Cooking by Joanne Saltzman -- This book draws on the author's experiences running the School of Natural Cookery, which she founded in 1983. Rather than a traditional cookbook with recipes, various ingredients are described and explored: textures, flavors and appearances. Cooking methods are explained in detail, including pressure cooking and steaming.

At one point, Saltzman describes "recipe sketches" to demonstrate how cooking's been used to communicate culinary ideas from one person to another. Methods are given for the preparation of natural food items such as mung beans, tempeh, adzuki (an ancient bean used in many Asian dishes), and the herbs and spices that accompany them.

Readers are encouraged to rely on their intuition and connection with food rather than with recipes. The author notes that "dishes originate from inside a cook ... people who browse through recipes to get ideas are accessing this language."

· The Joy of Eating, edited by Jill Foulston -- Foulston edited women's fiction at Virago Modern Classics. She says in her introduction: "I couldn't help noticing how often food became part of the story ... in women's writing, food is not just a necessity ... it's like a snack kept in a handbag or stored in an office desk."

This led her to produce an anthology that concentrates on international food writing by women. Lovers of good food and food writing are familiar with Jane Grigson, Julia Child, Anne Willan and Food Network celebrities like Rachel Ray and Emeril LaGasse. But it was women like Hannah Glasse, who wrote The Art of Cookery in 1747, and "Aunt Babette," whose Cookbook of 1889 was a "Jewish" collection of non-kosher recipes, who made a real mark.

In The Joy of Eating, we are offered Amanda Hesser's confessions of taking fine, gourmet comfort foods on a plane to numb her fear of flying. We read how Beatrix Potter wove one of her most malicious stories around the roly-poly pudding. And Maria Corelli tells of how she hid in a grotto in Southern Italy during World War II and recorded her dreams about food.

· Sensational Snacks by Barbara Beery -- Beery is the founder and owner of Batter Up Kids, a children's cooking school in Austin, Texas. She knows how much they love to cook -- she's been teaching them for more than 15 years. Now she's taken her classroom lessons and fashioned a fun and practical cookbook kids can use.

Young ones can follow step-by-step instructions to create snacks that are as fun to make as they are to eat. The recipes are easy to follow and there are full-color photos on every page. A cloth chef's apron also comes with every copy.

Recipes have been given witty names that will appeal to every child: Polar Bear Pickles, Flying Frog Pudding and Igloo Ice Pops, to name just a few.

· Heirloom Baking with the Brass Sisters -- Compiled and written by Marilynn and Sheila Brass, this is a collection of more than 100 years of recipes. They have been gathered from family cookbooks, journals, recipes found on scraps of paper and from their grandmother's kitchen.

Among them are more than 150 "found" dessert recipes from the late 1800s to the 1980s, culled from all over America, like Winnie McCarthy's Irish Bread and a Cuban Flan. The scrumptious desserts are showcased in full-color photographs -- all of which proved to be enough to encourage me to make at least one of these desserts for my next dinner party.

Chocolate Fudge Pie

(Dairy)

From Heirloom Baking With the Brass Sisters, this pie makes its own crust.

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 oz. bitter chocolate, melted and cooled
1 tsp. vanilla

Set the oven rack in the middle position. Preheat the oven to 325°.

Cut a wax paper or parchment paper liner to fit the bottom of a 9-inch ovenproof glass pie plate. Spray with vegetable spray, insert the liner and spray again to coat the liner. Set aside.

Sift the flour and salt.

Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add eggs, one at a time. Beat until thoroughly mixed. Add the dry ingredients. Add chocolate and vanilla and mix well.

Pour the batter into the pie plate. Bake approximately 30 minutes or until tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Pie will have cracks on top. Cool. Pie may collapse slightly while cooling. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature with vanilla or chocolate ice cream. Store loosely covered with wax paper in the refrigerator.

Serves 8.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 262; protein, 2 g; carbohydrates, 26 g; fat, 8 g; cholesterol, 38 mg; sodium, 141 mg.

Ethel G. Hofman, author of Mackerel at Midnight, is a past president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals.

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