April’s Bibliobites group focused on the Italian-inspired cooking of Nigella Lawson. Lawson is homegrown chef with no formal training. She has worked as an English journalist, broadcaster, television personality, and food writer. She is known for her flirtatious way of presenting recipes and has affectionately been dubbed the “Queen of food porn.” Our group members had a chance to look at two of her cookbooks: Nigellissima and Nigella Kitchen
Of the two books Nigellissima was by far the favorite, as it was more conversational, the recipes were straightforward and the photographs were appealing. Yet those great full page photographs did not inspire us to immediately begin cooking. Many shared that if it hadn’t been for the book club they would have moved on to a different cookbook. When we did try a recipe though, we were often pleased. After our group shared their experiences, others were inspired to check the book out again to try new recipes. Nigella Lawson intentionally crafted simple recipes to accommodate a busy lifestyle. Her friendly writing style and her practical cooking hints empowered the cooks to adjust a recipe when needed or desired. Once we got cooking we found many recipes that were keepers.
Not as many tried cooking from Nigella Kitchen as it was a larger text-filled compendium of recipes without the great photographs. It was difficult to get inspired by this book.
Here are comments on the recipes we tried from Nigellissima:
Pork Loin with Parma ham & oregano – pg 62 Very good cold
Meatzza – pg 72 Nigella posted that this was the most requested recipe from the book and it was a favorite in our group also.
Roast chicken with bell peppers and olives – pg96 Excellent
Tagliata for two – pg 70 “This only took 15 minutes and was really, really good.”
Shortcut Sausage Meatballs pg. 75 – Simple but not inspiring. Tasted better on the second day.
Curly edged pasta with lamb ragu – pg 9 –Pasta was expensive but good. Well-Liked.
Farro risotto with mushrooms – pg 44-47 (2 tried) Very good – a lot easier to make than regular risotto. It does not require constant attention and the farro has a nice nutty flavor.
Gnocchi Gratin – pg 131 – Some felt it was heavy – others suggested gnocchi is best when it is fresh
Quick Calabrian lasagna – pg 16 Liked a lot – but it is an unusual lasagna – using the strained tomatoes gave it a fresher taste.
Mini macaroni & cheese All’Italiana – p.15 Made with a twist on the traditional roux- grated cheese is mixed with constarch and then whisked into chicken broth. A real time-saver.
Do not make ahead – as the pasta will absorb all the liquid – and you will have to reconstitute with scalded milk or cream…
Broccolini with parmesan & lemon – pg 123 – Simple but tasty
Green pasta with blue cheese – pg 10 Very good
Gorgonzola &cannellini dip with a tricolore flourish – pg. 200 – This was fine but not one that we would repeat.
Sicilian cauliflower salad – pg 124 (2 liked)
Spinach baked with ricotta and nutmeg pg 115 – Mixed reviews – one person liked it a lot and even ate leftovers cold ( like a quiche ) — another found it bland.
Roast red onions with basil pg. 112 – Onions were tasty but the amount of basil was overwhelming.
Parmesan shortbreads – pg. 204 – Very buttery with a nice bite of Parmesan – but heavy on the calories…
Chocolate olive cake – pg 186 – Two people brought this for sampling. Some thought it needed something else. Suggestions were: raspberry sauce, coffee in lieu of water in the recipe- and of course everything is better with ice cream. Others thought it was good as is – not too sweet and very satisfying chocolate ending.
Yogurt Carton Cake – pg 182 – Yum! A big hit. Good for children – it has a lovely texture, almost velvety because of the cornstarch – you can really taste the lemon zest. Would be a great base for strawberry shortcake.
Recipes tried from Nigella Kitchen were:
Butternut, arugula and pine nut salad. — Pg 94 –A nice side salad for a meat meal. Nigella suggests leaving the peel on – our recommendation is that it would have been better without.
Chicken with Greek herb sauce – pg 102. The chicken is a simple cut up roasted chicken. The Greek sauce (Tzatziki) is excellent and a recipe keeper.
Irish oaten rolls – pg 86. – Quick and easy – baked for 15 minutes. Froze well and makes a great snack on the go.
Swedish summer cake – pg 264
Places to find more about Nigella Lawson and her recipes on the web::
Pinterest pins: https://www.pinterest.com/nigellalawson/ you can access some of the recipes mentioned above by following links from Nigella Lawson’s Pinterest site.
QUESTION: What are some suggestions for kids who like to cook?
My son 11 soon to be 12 is an excellent cook! Very adventurous you might say. Fearless about eating or cooking new things. He is frustrated with the lack of healthy cooking sites geared towards kids like him. Any suggestions for websites, books, or YouTube type “channels”?
Things he’s made, on his own: crockpot sweet & sour chicken, Chinese dinner (bok choy, peapods, tofu/chicken, onions, garlic etc., and rice), peanut butter, endless smoothies, salad(s), baked items, homemade dressings, beef jerkey, tunafish delish!, bread, fish, etc.
Thank you for your thoughts/comments.
ANSWERS: Andrea and Debbie both answered this question. Be sure to read to the end.
It’s great that your son is so interested in cooking and is an adventurous eater! There are an overwhelming number of excellent cookbooks, websites, and food blogs, and it can take some time to find the ones that really speak to you. Since I work in the Children’s department, I looked through our collection to find some titles that may be of interest. Try:
Honest Pretzels by Mollie Katzen. This book, written by the founder of the Moosewood restaurant, contains healthy , delicious vegetarian recipes.
There’s a Chef In My Soup. Celebrity chef Emeril LaGasse has written a fun collection of recipes from appetizers to desserts for kids.
Sweet Eats by Rose Dunnington, a mouthwatering collection of baked treats to make at home.
The Math Chef by Joan D’Amico reminds us that cooking is a math activity, but mostly is about making good stuff to eat!
Funny Food by Bill and Claire Wurtzel, while not a cookbook per se, will give you some creative ideas on putting some personality into your breakfast, and the photos will definitely make you smile!
I like to bake, so one website I enjoy is King Arthur Flour. There’s lots of great recipes and loads of information about baking. King Arthur is based in Norwich, VT and the store there makes for a fun little road trip (about 2 hours from Chelmsford). I also highly recommend Cooks Illustrated, but….content is not free. You can become a member for $34.95/year. Cook’s provides obsessively detailed information about food and cooking, along with videos, online cooking lessons, equipment tests and reviews, and of course recipes.
Debbie found these great resources:
Some good books at our library are:
Real food real fast, Sam Stern, J641.5/Ster
ChopChop, The Kids’ Guide to cooking real food with your Family, Sally Sampson, J641.5/Sam
Honest Pretzels : and 64 other amazing recipes for cooks ages 8 and up , Molly Katzen, J641.5/Katz
We also have the magazine, ChopChop, in the Children’s Section. It’s a fun cooking magazine for kids.
Other recommended cookbooks available through interlibrary loan are;
Mayo Clinic Kids’ Cookbook, Mayo Clinic
One World Kids Cookbook, Sean Mendez
Superfood Smoothies, Julie Morris
Some websites that you may want to look at:
Kids Health Recipes and cooking
Food Network – family and Kids
Cooking with Kids
Two websites from PBS: Kitchen Explorers and Hey Kids Lets Cook
Kids can Cook YouTube Channel
Food Network has a Kid-oriented cooking show, called Rachael Vs. Guy: Kids Cook-Off and Fox Network has MasterChef Junior.
QUESTION: I am confused about the difference between a biga, a poolish and a pate fermentee – how are they used in baking bread and are they easy for the home cook to try?
ANSWER by Debbie:
This was a very interesting question to research. Thank you for asking. A wide array of methods to help jump-start your bread’s rising (fermentation) process fall under the heading of preferments , something that happens before the first major fermenting (rising) of your bread dough.
Poolish (often attributed to Polish origin) and biga are overnight starters, both utilizing domestic yeast (as well as wild). Poolish is a wet starter, made from flour, water, and a touch of yeast (about 1/16 teaspoon).
A biga- the Italian name for a starter, can be either wet or dry. Like the poolish, it begins with flour, water, and a tiny bit of yeast. It can develop overnight , or for up to three days.
A pate fermentee is fermented relatively slowly, so it has time to develop a complex flavor that comes through in the bread.
Although biga serves the same basic purpose as poolish or pate fermentee, it differs in a couple of important ways from the French-style starters. Flour milled from wheat grown in northern Italy contained less protein and developed less gluten during kneading than French flour. To build doughs that would be able to rise into breads with structural integrity, Italian bakers had to use a very firm, dry starter, biga. Biga ferments for a long time, allowing the protein in the flour to develop as much strength as possible. Italian bakers used to use a high proportion of biga (up to 90 percent) in their dough to give their breads strength and structure as well as to raise them. Poolish or pate fermentee is typically no more than 45 percent of dough recipes.
For the home cook, how do you know which, if any, of these preferments to use? When you’re just getting started, rely on your recipe; if it calls for a particular preferment, use it. Once you’ve become acquainted with the various types, use the one that fits your schedule, and that you feel produces the best flavor and texture in your bread.
The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion 641.815/King
Baking – 350 recipes and techniques, 1500 photographs, one baking education, James Peterson, 641.815/Pete
Local Breads, Daniel Leader, 641.815/Lead
Tartine Bread, Chad Robertson, 641.815/Robe
The third meeting of both our morning and evening Bibliobites group found many of us leaving our comfort zones and trying new things. Bread baking is not part of every cook’s repertoire and some of us found it intimidating. “Why is that so?” asked a new member who joined us on Thursday night to share his expertise and experience. He owned and worked at a bakery in the North End and also taught classes at the Le Cordon Bleu – (He also brought sourdough flax seed bread and wonderful baguettes featuring masa harina plus an amazing braided bread sculpture to share with group members.)
Group members explained that bread baking seemed more hit or miss than other cooking projects. One loaf will not rise, one will be perfect, and one will not taste as good as the last time. It is unpredictable and it can take up your whole day. If the results are less than stellar, it isn’t an experience you are apt to repeat.
But it is the practice that makes it perfect. The feel of the dough, the correct kneading techniques, how to know when the dough has doubled in bulk, recognizing when a dough could use an extra turn – this is all knowledge that comes with trial and error. So we encourage everyone to practice, again and again and fill your homes with the heavenly aroma of warm, baked bread. And if you bake too much bread, you can always start bringing it to the library – the staff will be happy to eat it up!
Initial conversation in the evening group centered on the time-honored tradition of creating bread before the advent of commercial yeast. There are many traditional techniques methods that aid in the dough rising – Italians use the biga – Polish the poolish and the French are fond of the pate fermentee. Sourdough starters such as what they use in the famous Boudin bakery in San Francisco are so valuable that they are sometimes kept in a large vault. When the original Boudin bakery was affected by the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906, Louise Boudin saved the original “mother dough” by placing it in a bucket. We talked about the value of using a Banneton for shaping and molding when making a sourdough bread and the importance of using the right amount of salt in a bread recipe. It was mentioned that the Italian make a Tuscan bread pane toscano or pane sciapo that is traditionally made without salt as a staple for the poor.
We also discussed what and when our first attempt at baking bread was – One of us recalled using Beard on Bread to make a classic French-style loaf – another remembers a Pillsbury prize-winner with poppy seeds, cheese and onion (could it be this recipe? http://www.pillsbury.com/recipes/onion-lovers-twist/157a24ea-3505-467e-9bc9-7529725aec84) and another member recalled a Portuguese sweet bread made with cinnamon as her first attempt.
Here are the books we took a look at along with some comments in red:
From the basics:
- Beard on Bread by James Beard
Becky’s favorite bridal gift to give, a real primer
To ethnic breads:
- The Italian Baker by Carol Field
The whole wheat bread did not rise on the second rise but still tasted good with soup.
To artisan loaves:
To cooking flat breads –
- Flatbreads and Flavors: a Baker’s Atlas by Jeffrey Alford
The reviewer enjoyed learning how to make flatbreads and about the many different cultures where flatbreads are cooked. Also enjoyable were the side dishes suggested to go along with the breads.
To cooking gluten free breads:
- Gluten-Free Baking Classics by Annalise Roberts.
- Gluten-Free on a shoestring Bakes Bread by Nicole Hunn
- The gluten-free gourmet bakes bread: more than 200 wheat-free recipes Bette Hagman
- Healthy Bread in five minutes” by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francoi
Gluten free bread baking requires special flours and has a different texture from wheat breads. The breads tried were tasty. The person who baked the gluten-free loaf found in “Healthy Bread in five minutes” was pleased with her loaf and thought you might not notice the difference if you didn’t know it was gluten free. She also tried the basic recipe in this book which makes enough dough for four loaves which can be stored in the refrigerator for 2 weeks. The first loaf she made was good and as the flavor changes as it ages, she has promised to tell us how the next loaves turn out. Hint: you can store the batter in plastic bags in the refrigerator so it doesn’t take up so much room.
To quick breads:
Some of us pulled out our old favorite cookbooks :
The best find was:
- The Carriage House Cookbook compiled by the Chelmsford Library staff in 1979 as a fund raiser. (Available only in the history room at the Chelmsford Library. )
The highly recommended recipe for Julie’s Irish Soda Bread will be posted in the comment section of this blog, along with Dorothy’s beer bread and any recipe you would like to add.
Some bread baking websites, stores and resources mentioned were:
For Middle Eastern Products:
Armenian market and Bakery in Watertown
Olive Tree at 1270 Westford St. Lowell (near Drum hill) a local source
Ken Haedrich’s website on pie making including lots of how-to videos
National Honey Board, for tips on storing and substituting honey in recipes.
Penzey’s spices catalog. for unusual spices
The second meeting of our two Bibliobites groups discussed Smitten Kitchen by Deb Perelman.
People in general enjoyed the book, and we were impressed with how many recipes people made from it. Many seemed to enjoy the author’s way of writing (with the long head-notes), though some thought it was a bit much. One complaint was that using a recipe involved a lot of page flipping—everyone wanted to have a recipe on a 2-page spread. Some also thought the red typeface on some pages was difficult to read. Consensus seemed to be that the book could have been a bit better designed to be more user-friendly, but the food photographs were gorgeous. Some people thought the recipes had too much butter or cream in them, and a few wished there had been nutrition information included.
Some recipes that people made and liked: Mushroom Bourguignon, Chocolate Silk Pie, Feta-Scallion Frittata, Grilled Emmentaler on Rye with Caramelized Onions, Squash Galette, Leek Fritters, Cinnamon toast French toast, Gingerbread spice Dutch baby, Whole wheat raspberry ricotta scones, Almond date breakfast bars, Short Ribs with Beer and Balsamic, Chocolate Chip Brioche, Mustard Milanese chicken, sesame spiced turkey meatballs, Mom’s apple cake, the French onion toasts and the Fruit Crisp – (made with apples and pears instead of apricots.)
Recipes that were disliked: Whole Lemon Bars (hard to make, didn’t taste good), Broccoli Salad (OK but nothing to swoon over, similar to other broccoli salads).
The Pancetta, White bean and Swiss chard pot pies felt like they took all day to prepare. There was too much chopping but the crust was amazing – it dripped butter onto the pan and was more like eating a croissant than a pie crust. The filling was not worth the effort but the crust is definitely recommended.
The Rhubarb Hamantaschen was tried by one member, she used a berry jam instead of the rhubarb but felt that the dough was almost unusable till she and her son added another 4 tablespoons of butter to the dough. The Buttered Popcorn cookies were addictive but not inspiring – they might be better with a drizzle of chocolate . One problem with the recipe was that it made too much popcorn. As it had the perfect proportion of butter and salt – one member had to eat the extra. L
One group discussed the value of having a good potato masher – some used food mills for great potatoes, some liked ricers and others liked a good old fashioned hand-masher. One member wished she could find a twisted wire kind that her grandmother had used – they don’t seem to make that type anymore. Could it perhaps have looked like this?
We also talked about how useful an immersion blender is, safety using mandolins – and we remembered the precursor to the mandolin or food processor — the vego-matic.
Vegetarian dishes were creative and interesting – we wondered if that was because Deb Perelman was a vegetarian for so long.
In a general discussion of websites that people liked to use to find recipes, the following were mentioned: King Arthur Flour – http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/?%3futm_source=kaf&utm_medium=redirect
and Cook’s Illustrated – https://www.cooksillustrated.com/recipes ( a subscription is needed to have access to everything.)
Cooking and eating fans met this past week for the premiere of our evening and morning sessions of the Bibliobites Cookbook Club. The featured book “The Splendid Table’s How to Cook Supper” by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift was enjoyed by all. The book is both a primer for weekday cooking – providing quick, delicious and nutritious recipes – and a commentary on how we eat, cook and shop these days. Short essays and foodie tips are interspersed with easy-to-follow recipes, designed to inspire your weekday cooking without taking up a lot of your precious time. Our group members thought that the recipes and variations were interesting and a good jumping off point for creative cooking. Some thought recipes were too basic. Critiques of the book included frustration with the changing font size and colors -”I felt like the book was shouting at me, at times!” and a desire for the “Building the Library” – (additional cookbook suggestions) feature to be compiled at the end of the book.
Recipes that we tried included the Dark and Moist Gingerbread with Apples and Candied Ginger –(yummy – even when one chef forgot the egg), the Little French Fudge Cakes –(like a warm brownie, be careful not to over bake for that fudgy texture) – Pineapple-Ginger Sorbet (quick and delicious) and Oven-roasted Chicken Cacciatora – the original and lemon-oregano versions (a snap to put together and very flavorful.)
Our discussions ranged from how our supper menus have changed over time – to what our favorite comfort foods are – to what we planned to make for supper that night. Members also shared the tips they gleaned from the cookbook and added a few suggestions of their own – these included:
- Massage your kale to break up the fibrous texture
- Prosciutto is not cooked but dried.
- Olive oil doesn’t age like wine so buy it young
- Small heads of radicchio are not early ones but old heads with the dead leaves peeled off
- Soak raw onions in ice water for 20-30 minutes before using- they will cause less heartburn
- To make frozen shrimp more flavorful and less mushy, cook a halved lime in water for 10 min, then add frozen shrimp and bring to boil, remove from heat, partially cover for 15 minutes – shrimp will taste fresher
- Instead of the flat of your knife, use a rock to smash garlic
- Save all of your old parmesan-reggiano cheese rinds – freeze and add to spaghetti sauces and soups for more flavor
- Salt beans at the end not during cooking otherwise they get mealy
- It is best to heavily salt your pasta water so it tastes like the ocean – do not salt after cooking – save a cup of the pasta water to thicken your pasta sauces
- Brown eggs come from chickens with red earlobes, white eggs come from chickens with white earlobes – (raise your hand if you knew that chicken had earlobes…)
- Opened tamarind concentrate lasts for a year in the fridge – no need to toss it after a few weeks.
- Cacciatora is not the name of the chicken dish but the name of the “hunter’s salami” that you use in the recipe.
- Store yeast and spices in the freezer for longer shelf life
Favorite recipes shared and unusual foods we would like to try:
Bakeries, Restaurants and Markets mentioned:
Mirabella’s in Tewksbury – http://mirabellabakery.com/
Burton’s Grill – http://site.burtonsgrill.com/
Tuscan Kitchen in Salem, NH – (also an Italian market) – http://www.tuscanbrands.com/kitchen/
Idylwilde Farms – http://idylwildefarm.com/
Global Flavors – http://www.globalflavorsnashua.com/
Food and Fashion – http://www.foodandfashionofindia.com/Food_%26_Fashion_of_India/Homepage.html
Sai Baba http://saibabamarket.com/
Olive Tree Market – http://www.yelp.com/biz/olive-tree-lowell
M & H Oriental Food Supermarket, Summer Street, Chelmsford
Also worth exploring:
http://www.vinegarman.com/ – all things vinegar
http://www.penzeys.com/ – specialty spices by jar or bulk
http://www.peteandjensbackyardbirds.com/ – fresh local eggs
http://www.localharvest.org/search.jsp?map=1&lat=42.62328&lon=-71.36472&scale=9&ty=6&zip=01824/ - Local CSAs
The next meetings are February 27th at 7 PM and February 28th at 11 AM – February’s featured book is The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman – pass the word along to your friends!
Have you read Melt: the art of macaroni and cheese, by Stephanie Stiavetti & Garrett McCord yet? It was recently added to the library’s collection, and here’s a review from the publisher:
A cookbook that reinvents the American classic, macaroni and cheese, with gourmet ingredients, handcrafted artisan cheeses, and unique flavor combinations.
MELT: THE ART OF MACARONI AND CHEESE is the first book to marry the American standard, macaroni and cheese, with handcrafted artisan cheeses and a wide array of pastas, producing dishes that are both classic and chic. Home cooks of all levels will be encouraged to incorporate fresh, simple ingredients into the everyday comfort food they know and love. Featuring such unexpected and delicious combinations as Beecher’s Flagship Cheddar with Avocado, Lime, and Shell Pasta; Drunken Goat, Fennel, Edamame, Mint, and Rotini; and Pumpkin Stuffed with Fontina, Italian Sausage, and Macaroni, MELT takes mac and cheese out of the box and elevates it to a level that will delight even the most sophisticated palates.
With gorgeous color photography throughout, MELT is a compendium of inventive recipes that will add a fresh twist to the family dinner or play a starring role at your next dinner party.