Cooking on the road last year with limited utensils and proper facilities challenged me to rely on my creative-side in the kitchen. Composing meals often times resembled a quick-fire-challenge on Top Chef where you have to turn out a tasty meal while dealing with some major handicap. In my case, those handicaps were generally: no oven, tiny spaces, limited ingredient choice (in rural areas), no internet to verify amounts, or missing utensils (like can openers). Fortunately, my sherpa husband tolerated carrying my pots, pans, knives and spices to every new location. Given these circumstances, I had to create recipes within the realms of my living situation. Cookbooks were useless as I didn’t have time to put together my perfect pantry of homemade pickled ginger and canned tomatoes. And I certainly didn’t have the luxury of obtaining ethnic or less well-known ingredients that we would have in a metropolitan city.
Now that I’m home and have access to a legitimate kitchen; having reunited with my sous vide, amongst other gadgets of comfort, I’ve been as consumed with cookbooks as a teenage girl to the Twilight Series. This is a new phase for me as I have always used online resources to form my own recipe with the ingredients I feel like in the moment. I’m now trying a new approach of finding respected chefs on the West Coast and following their recipes to a tee so that I can extract new techniques and discover new flavors. Below I’ve listed some of the books I’ve explored:
A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus– Chef Rene Erickson
*I bought the Kindle version which is the ideal solution for limited storage space and a wonderful way to bookmark pages without destroying them. Not to mention they are $10-$15 cheaper than paper or hard back…
Author: Rene is one of my favorite restauranteurs in Seattle. She owns The Boat Street Cafe, Walrus and the Carpenter & The Whale Wins. The Whale Wins is in my top three all time favorite restaurants in Seattle. Her cooking is brilliant!
Book: The recipes are grouped by season, putting together sets of events that may occur during those months. For example, for Winter she has: “Wintry Brunch”, “A Holiday Supper”, “New Year’s Party”. She won me over a little more when I saw her Spring section has “Lummi Island Spot Prawn Dinner”. The best part about this book is the intro where she talks about who she is, her restaurants and her approach to cooking. Her philosophies on food resonate with my Northwest state-of-mind by starting with the freshest local ingredients. She insists on making most elements in recipes from scratch. This may sound intimidating but once you see how easy it is to pickle, make your own mustard, cheese, ice cream etc… you start asking yourself why you haven’t been doing this all along. Then once you taste the final product you’ll start to question what exactly is being served to you in the stores when these items are loaded full of preservatives.
Bar Tartine– Nicolaus Balla and Cortney Burns
*Again, I bought the Kindle version.
Authors– Nicolaus and Cortney are the brilliant minds behind the famous Bar Tartine restaurant in the Mission of San Francisco. I discovered this restaurant on a recent trip to San Francisco and, admittedly, became a Twitter groupie immediately. Similar to Rene, they make everything in-house, combining flavors that pop and sustenance that satisfies.
Book: The Table of Contents is dedicated to developing skills: drying, making oils, vinegars, spices, fruits, dairy, the list goes on… These techniques take up more than half the book and after a while you question whether you bought a cookbook or a survival guide of the fittest pantry. So I decided to skip forward to the recipes and reference these techniques when applicable. At first the dishes are difficult to envision. For example, as I scan the desserts, I can’t say I crave “Rye Porridge with Hazelnut Custard, Apricot & Flax” or “Steamed Parsnip Cake with Cider, Kefir, Honey & Bee Pollen” because I’ve never had those combos before. Still having memories of my delicious brunch at Bar Tartine, I decided to just jump in. I started off with a recipe that had components in the title with which I was familiar ” Hazelnut Butter and Strawberry Jam Cookies”. My trusted foodie friends raved about these cookies so much that I was encouraged to push on. My next attempt was the “Sweet Potato Salad with Avocado, Feta & Pickled Green Walnuts” which got the accolade from my husband as being the “strangest” salad but maybe the “best” salad he’s ever had. So slowly I’m gaining confidence and learning a ton about flavor combinations and ingredients I never knew existed. That’s what cooking is all about… challenging yourself.
The Paley’s Place Cookbook- Vital and Kimberley Paly
Authors: Vital and Kimberly went to all the right schools (French Culinary Institute), got all the right culinary experience (NYC) and traveled to all the right places (France) before getting the inspiration to open Paley’s in Portland. They moved to Oregon because it reminded them of France, “where ingredients are stars”. They wanted to focus on eating local, highlighting the flavors of the Northwest. I’ve been to their Portland restaurant and they do use fresh ingredients, select a variety of stinky French cheese and use all the right key words on a menu to attract diners like myself. Unfortunately for them, there are San Francisco-caliber restaurants popping up monthly in Portland who continually raise “the bar”.
Book: It’s worth pointing out that this cookbook was published in 2008. It has a more traditional layout of “appetizers, soups, pasta, meat, vegetables, desserts…”. If you’ve seen the movie “Chef”, the recipes remind me of all the old-school food trends they mock in the film, like the molten lava cake. In this book’s defense, these food trends were in their prime 5 years ago and probably considered avant-guard when this book was published. This book offers safe recipes that most dinner guests will enjoy. So even though it’s not innovative like Bar Tartine, I’ll probably end up using it more than the others.
Edible Seattle- Jill Lightner
Background– For those not familiar with it, Edible Seattle, is an informative magazine published every two months. Its publications are dedicated to everything local and community-based. Jill Lightner has been the editor since it began in 2008. Edible Communities, Inc received the 2011 Jame’s Beard Foundation Publication of the Year Award in Journalism.
Book– The cookbook is a compilation of “delightful, unpretentious recipes”. Couldn’t have put it better myself.. I love how the book emphasizes community, referencing Pike Place vendors or telling the story of local farmers.
The recipes are straight forward and “Edible Tips” are provided frequently, giving more information about the ingredients or fun Washington facts. The layout has a simlar approach to Paley’s in that it is easy to find recipes by course “starters, side dishes, mains, desserts”.
The Northwest Essentials Cookbook – Greg Atkinson
Author– Greg is most famous for his time spent as executive chef at Canlis (until 2002) and is, now, actively writing and instructing at the Seattle Culinary Academy.
Book– In terms of recipes, this cookbook has all the basics, with no frills, but the primary reason to let this book take up space on the shelf is the wealth of knowledge on Northwest ingredients that it provides. The “salmon varieties” section goes over the 5 main varieties available, where to get it, when to get it and how to fillet it; followed by a few recipes. It’s particularly useful when breaking down shellfish varieties.