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Inspirations in Ink: Food 52 Genius Recipes

Food 52 Genius Recipes

The internet hosts a wealth of high quality recipes and other content about food, for free. And yet, a steady stream of cookbooks are published, season after season, year after year. Cookbooks are sometimes entirely new content, but some repeat, in hard-copy form, content already available on the web. This raises the question of: When is it worthwhile to add a cookbook to your bookshelf?

As an avid home and collector of cookbooks, I’ve thought about this question often. I’ve noticed that many recent cookbooks are filled with enticing photographs to accompany the recipes and text. This food porn elevates the books to “coffee table book” status and serve as food’s answer to “armchair travel”, allowing the reader to salivate and satisfy a hunger without ever entering the kitchen.

When in browsing mode, to me it feels more relaxing, leisurely, and even practical when turning the pages of a book in my lap and inserting scraps of papers to mark dishes I’d like to make than clicking and bookmarking web pages for the same purpose.

Books also benefit from structure and the application of less instantaneous editing. Books launched from or derived from websites or blogs improve the original by taking a big step back to reflect and distill the content down to its essence and organizing the information into a cohesive whole.

Food 52 Genius Recipes by Kristen Miglore is a shining example of all the reasons that a book is worth adding to your collection.

I’m a huge fan of Food 52. I even occasionally follow Kristen Miglore’s Genius Recipes column on the Food 52 website. With the sheer volume of new posts on just this one website, I find I can’t keep up with it all. The book is not just a collection of the columns in bound form. About half of the recipes in the book were featured in the on-line column, but the other half are newly identified genius recipes. Yet genius recipes are not original recipes, developed by the author, amplifying the question of why this book when the content is already available from other sources.

Taken as a whole, this book is not simply a compendium of great recipes as identified by the author. Miglore’s criteria for a genius recipe start with a great recipe, but each one offers a new twist, sometimes a combination of ingredient combinations but more often an unexpected technique. For each recipe, Miglore offers an extensive head explaining why she considers this recipe to be “genius”. In addition, each recipe is accompanied by at least one gorgeous photo by James Ransom, in the spare, elegant style you’ve become accustomed to if you visit the Food 52 site.

Many of the recipes she has identified as genius are ones I’ve previously discovered on my own and wholehearted agree with. Marcella Hazan’s Tomato sauce with butter & onion has been a favorite in my house for more than a decade. And I make Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread almost every week.

Others are new revelations. I made three recipes that were new to me though there are so many other recipes in the book that I can’t wait to try.

Daniel Patterson’s Poached Scrambled Eggs quickly boil eggs for 40-seconds in salted water with no added fat. This one was fast and magical to watch. I think I under-salted the water as they were a little bland. Patricia Wells’ Green lentil salad was simplicity itself and made a wonderful accompaniment to grilled fish or chicken and eaten on its own for lunch. My favorite so fair is Roberto Santibañez’ Classic Guacamole where you pound the onions to a paste with cilantro and jalapeño and fold this into diced avocado for the purest taste. I’ve made the guacamole several times in recent weeks.

This book is a winner, and I heartily recommend it!

A Plateful of Happiness Rating: 5 plates (out of 5)

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. The opinions expressed are my own.

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Inspirations in Ink: The Soup Club Cookbook

SoupClubCoverI love the serendipitous pleasure of coming across a cookbook that I’ve never heard of, one that grabs me and pulls me in. Such is the case with The Soup Club Cookbook by Courtney Allison, Tina Carr, Caroline Laskow, and Julie Peacock. From the cover depicting Weck canning jars filled with soup, to the explanation of what’s a Soup Club and how to start one, to the recipes inside, there so much to love about this book.

The authors, four friends and neighbors in New York City, formed a Soup Club, an ingenious idea where they each take turns making and delivering soup to the others. This idea allows them to share their love of food and cooking. For the cook of the week, it gives her the pleasure of sharing food from her own kitchen, and for the others, they can count on enjoying a home-cooked meal with minimal effort.

The authors lay out the basics for novices, like how to stock your pantry and how to make assorted homemade broths to serve as the foundation for the other recipes. Even an experienced cook will learn things. The tips on cooking large quantities of soup are helpful reminders as well.

In addition to recipes for simple vegetable, fish, beef, and chicken broths, you’ll find a variety of innovative soup toppers to try. At the top of my list are the Grilled Cheese Croutons and flavored Crème Fraîche.

Coming from four different home cooks with different backgrounds and tastes, the recipes cover a wide range of flavor profiles. The soups are grouped into sections based on the style of soup.

  • The first group of recipes is for “Soups of Assembly” which start with broth and transform to a meal with the addition of other ingredients to create a “composed” soup, such as “faux” ramen and pho.
  • Moving along to bean soups, you’ll find new (to me) variations on the standards of split pea (green or yellow), lentil, and black bean soups. I’m looking forward to trying the Spanish Chickpea and Spinach Soup.
  • If you prefer smooth, pureed soups, the “Purees” section offer recipes using whatever vegetables happen to be in season. I’m glad it’s almost spring because the Roasted Asparagus Soup looks especially good.
  • Hearty soups are chunkier. Recipes cover the agricultural cycle, from a creamless winter corn chowder to a summery zucchini soup with salsa flavors. The Senegalese Peanut Soup is the recipe that most intrigues me from this section.
  • Summer seems a little closer when browsing the recipes for “Chilled” soups. For now, I’ll have to just imagine enjoying a refreshing bowl of Gazpacho (tomato, green, or watermelon).
  • The book includes a handful of “Fish” soups, most notably a Thai Fish Curry.
  • While most of the book leans towards vegetarian recipes, it is not a vegetarian cookbook. A section of “Meat” soups will satisfy the carnivores in your household with a bowl of comfort. The Filipino Healing Soup, with a full pound of ginger, is marked with a bookmark.

Each soup recipe includes suggested tips on how to package for delivery and finishing instructions for the recipient. Most of the recipes include accompanying garnishes to be added at serving time, and a few require some additions for ingredients that are best added at the last minute.

The spirit of the book wants you to share your soup, but the recipes can be reduced for single household quantities. I successfully quartered the Sun-Dried Tomato Soup, using oven-dried tomatoes and chopped basil that I’d stashed in the freezer over the summer.

As a bonus, the back half of the book gives recipes for soup accompaniments including salads and salad dressings, breads, snacks, side dishes, and even a few main dishes. As with the soup recipes, the collection of non-soup recipes make shareable quantities, so also lend themselves to casual party or potluck fare. All of the recipes are straightforward, yet interesting. In many cases, variations are suggested so you can make the recipe your own.

The different authors’ voices intertwine in the recipe headers and margin notes as the four friends talk about their recipes, their cooking strategies, and the Soup Club. Their commentary makes me want to be their friend, hanging out with them, eating, cooking, and just talking about food. In addition to the engaging text and appetizing photos, the hand-drawn illustrations made me smile.

I find the concept of the Soup Club to be appealing because I love to share the food I cook. At the moment, I can’t think of enough friends that would commit to participating. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen in the future. (Local friends, let me know if this is something you’d enjoy doing with me.)

If you already like soup or want to be motivated to make more of it, this book is for you. if you belong to a CSA with its steady supply of fresh seasonal vegetables, this book will help you answer the question of what to do with “all of that…” — you fill in the blank.

I can honestly say that, with exception of one recipe that contains shredded coconut (which I could omit), every recipe in the book appeals to me and is something I would possibly make for myself.  I’ll let the seasons be my guide as I continue to sample the recipes in this book, using the freshest ingredients as their harvest time cycles by.

A Plateful of Happiness Rating: 4.5 plates (out of 5)

Disclosure: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. The opinions expressed are my own.