Saturday, May 30, 2015

New Cookbooks -- Two Takes on Genius

I have just read two very interesting cookbooks: Bar Tartine: Techniques and Recipes, by Nicolaus Balla and Courtney Burns, and Kristen Miglore's Food52 Genius Recipes: 100 Recipes That Will Change the Way You Cook. Both are good reads, but they could not be more different. The former is a fascinating study of techniques and how they can be put to use to create interesting innovative food, but most of the techniques are beyond the space, resources and time of even sophisticated home cooks. I doubt that I will make more than a handful of dishes from it. Food52 Genius Recipes, in contrast, is a compendium of great recipes: out of the 130 or so recipes (some extras are set out in the margins) I want to make about 100 -- really! -- and probably will actually get around to 50. This is a book to cook from.

One great plus for both books is that measurements are given in US volumes but also in metric weights. Food52 Genius Recipes goes a step further and gives oven temperatures in both Fahrenheit and Celsius, so I can use the copy I bring to Paris without the pesky need for conversions.

Bar Tartine

Founded by rockstar baker Chad Robertson, of Tartine Bakery fame, and his wife Liz in San Francisco's Mission District, Bar Tartine has a cult following and turns out unique food reflecting influences from all around the world, but mostly Asian and Hungarian, reflecting the backgrounds and eclecticism of chefs Balla and Burns.

The first half of this beautifully photographed book is a fascinating explanation of many techniques that Balla and Burns employ at Bar Tartine: fermenting, preserving, dehydrating, pickling and preserving. For the restaurant this results in a reserve of pure and wonderful homemade products that are used in the recipes, many of which are set forth in the second half of the book.

But this is not an easy book to cook from, because the recipes call for the ingredients covered in the techniques portion of the book. For example, "Rooster Boil" prepares a big old chicken with, among other things, onion brine, homemade sweet paprika, charred arbol chiles, burnt bread powder, homemade chicken broth (at last something I have), home-dried tomatoes and dried zucchini. Similarly, the brilliant sounding "Sunchoke Custard with Sunflower Greens" incorporates kombu dashi (again, something not hard to make), sunchoke oil, mushroom reduction, homemade hot paprika, poached sunflower seeds, and sprouted amaranth seeds. You can use store-bought substitutes for some of these, of course, but then you won't have a dish that is what the real Bar Tartine is about. It is clear why the book is subtiled "Techniques and Recipes" rather than the reverse.

So I will be putting Bar Tartine on the shelf and wistfully thinking about how nice it would be to have an enormous pantry to store the ingredients from the first half of the book and to have a small restaurant to put them to use in the recipes from the second half.

Food52 Genius Recipes

This book is a whole 'nother story. Also lavishly and instructively photographed, it contains more than 100 recipes nearly all of which are appealing and accessible to a home cook. Many are classics by eminent earlier (Julia Child, James Beard, Marcella Hazan) and current chefs, and many are destined to become classics. Before I bought the book I had made Marcella Hazan's "Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onions," Union Square Cafe's "Bar Nuts," Dorie Greenspan's "Marie-Hélène's Apple Cake," Jim Lahey's life-changing "No-Knead Bread," Marian Burros's iconic "Purple Plum Torte" and a variation of Claudia Roden's "Orange and Almond Cake," all to great effect. Since buying the book, I have made "Classic Guacaomole" from Roberto Santibañez (wonderful!) and Daniel Patterson's ingenious and easy (and good) "Poached Scrambled Eggs." Tomorrow I plan to make Rose Levy Beranbaum's "Blueberry Pie" with some Bobby Jay modifications, and next week I am going to try José Pizarro's "Salt-Crusted Potatoes with Cilantro Mojo." That will bring me to ten recipes from this book. Get the idea?

And who wouldn't want to try Roger Vergé's intriguing "Fried Eggs with Wine Vinegar," a new take on "English Porridge from April Bloomfield, Edna Lewis's "Shrimp Grits" or Roy Finamore's "Broccoli Cooked Forever"? This is a random sample.

As you can see, I LOVE this book, and plan to buy 10 copies to give as gifts when I'm invited to dinner (or not).

In sum, two ways to appreciate genius. One -- Bar Tartine: Techniques and Recipes -- worth reading for fun and inspiration, the other -- Food52 Genius Recipes -- worth reading, too, but also for mapping out your next year of cooking.

Bobby Jay

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