It’s kind of a self-serving gift. You give your mother a cookbook for Mother’s Day and who benefits, Mom or you?
Once upon a time cooking the family meal was just another bit of drudgery in Mom’s overworked day. Today cooking is considered a creative outlet, but with our busy schedules and hectic lives, we’re all looking for easy dishes that impress.
Last Sunday I attended the LA Times Festival of Books held at UCLA where on the Cooking Stage four new cookbooks and their famous chef/authors were highlighted. And was it an accident that all four books make the same promise? – you too can serve impressive, flavorful dishes without breaking a sweat.
First up, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, chefs/owners of Animal in Los Angeles and authors of “Two Dudes One Pan” (Clarkson Potter, $24.95). Note the subtitle: “Maximum flavor from a minimalist kitchen.”
Together they created a breakfast Mom would love for Mother’s Day or any day: Buttermilk Pancakes and Watermelon and Mizuna Salad with Feta.
Here’s a tip: Whisk the buttermilk with the eggs and melted butter, but after adding the flour, trade the whisk for a wooden spoon. “A whisk builds up the gluten,” cautioned Shook.
Watermelon teams with feta cheese for a sweet-salty pairing. “This is a derivative of an Israeli salad,” noted Shook. The Dudes substituted arugula for the mizuna. “If you can’t find an ingredient, adapt, overcome, look around and make decisions,” Shook advised.
“So many chefs send you on a wild goose chase looking for ingredients,” added Dotolo. “We don’t do that.”
Curtis Stone, host of TLC’s “Take Home Chef” – you know the one: he corners a girl in the supermarket and takes her home to surprise her husband or boyfriend with a cooked meal – couldn’t make cooking sound easier, hence the title of his new cookbook: “Relaxed Cooking with Curtis Stone” (Clarkson Potter, $32.50).
Totally unperturbed by the state some of his ingredients had taken in the hot sun, he sent his sous-chef backstage to “pilfer” whatever he could find and created a pasta dish on the spot. Now that’s relaxed!
“We use simple ingredients so you don’t have to run all over the place,” he said. “I’ll show you how simple this is, that someone who doesn’t cook can do them,” and he called his dad to the platform.
“You’re out of the will,” quipped Dad.
Named one of “People Magazine’s” sexiest men alive, the tall, blond Australian, who looks more like a surfer than a chef, charmed the (mostly female) audience. Teaching his dad to whack garlic with the back of a knife, he advised, “Put your garlic there and think of your ex-girlfriend.”
Sticky Chicken Drumsticks and Saffron Couscous were thrown together in a flash. He got such a big laugh burning the pine nuts, I wondered whether he did it deliberately.
Curtis Stone at the LA Times Festival of Books
One lucky girl got to help Stone make a Chocolate Mint Martini. The presentation was spectacular. You dip the rims of the martini glasses into vodka and then chocolate for a new twist on the salted Margarita glass.
To present the impromptu pasta, he used a roasting fork to twist the pasta and carefully placed the spiral on a plate. “I’m glad this happened,” Stone commented. “This one’s going in the next book, mate.”
“The Bon Appétit Fast Easy Fresh Cookbook” (Wiley, $34.95) by the magazine’s editor in chief, Barbara Fairchild offers 1,100 recipes which all claim to be “quick dishes for everynight cooking.” And to prove it, Fairchild and associate food editor, Janet McCracken, prepared four dishes from the book in 45 minutes.
“If it’s four o’clock and you don’t know what you want to cook for dinner, you can just dip into this book,” promised Fairchild. “Chicken seems to be the ‘go-to’ thing for most cooks. There are almost 90 recipes for chicken in this book.”
Most interesting to me was Farro Salad with Peas, Asparagus, and Feta, because I have never prepared farro before and would love to try.
Farro (also known as ‘emmer’) is a hearty, nutty-flavored grain with a long history dating back to biblical times. Egyptians at the time of the Pharaohs cultivated this wheat exclusively, and, although often incorrectly translated as spelt, emmer is mentioned by the rabbis as one of the five forbidden grains during Passover. You can find it in Italian markets or natural food stores.
By far the biggest crowd turned out for Food Network star Giada de Laurentiis, whose latest, “Giada’s Kitchen” (Clarkson Potter, $32.50), combines traditional Italian recipes from her illustrious family with lighter, updated twists on the classics.
Barbara Fairchild interviewed de Laurentiis, who was obviously thrilled to return to her alma mater, UCLA, where she had majored in anthropology. She recounted her experiences growing up in Rome and hanging around her grandfather’s gourmet shop. “He brought chefs he knew from Naples, and I cooked with them from the age of five,” she revealed.
Asked about the impact of Food Network, she said, “They make food accessible and find people who are passionate about it and can teach. For a long time people thought cooking was boring, hard work. Now people enjoy being in the kitchen.
“The trend is going towards more seasonal cooking with an emphasis on eating locally,” she said. “Italians have always done this. We have a lot to teach the rest of the country.”
Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Cooking Jewish: 532 Great Recipes from the Rabinowitz Family” and can be found on the web at www.cookingjewish.com.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.