Where Has the Time Gone?

Do you ever have those days when you’re really excited that you finally have the energy to get things done, and you plan on updating your food blog and taking gorgeous pictures of your latests culinary creations, and then something manages to come along and screw everything up? My something is a “winter storm watch,” even though we officially ended winter last Wednesday. Thanks, Chicago.

I had planned to write about sardines. I recently learned that I love them and that you shouldn’t believe all of the horrible things people say about them. But I think I should save that for another day, because I wasn’t able to take any nice pictures of sardines in the gloomy light, and I don’t own any professional style photography lights. So here is picture of my lunch, whole wheat sourdough bread, edamame hummus, cherry tomatoes and cucumber.

lunch

I have disappeared from this blog for the past three months because, as I warned in the last post, I’m currently gestating another human being. He is nearly six months along now and baking up pretty nicely. In three and a half months, I’m going to have a little one  to call my own. Everything in my life is now in flux.

I moved to Hyde Park, aka “The President’s ‘Hood.” The move ended my torturous commute and I am happy to report that I walk to work every morning with a spring in my step. I still live in a teeny tiny apartment. But it’s not a big adjustment as I’m no stranger to small spaces.

007

Today I was on a super nesting binge and not only scrubbed my apartment from top to bottom, but also got around to doing a little decorating.

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Here’s my tiny kitchen. See what I have to work with? I’m determine to make the best of the space I do have, but I’m pretty limited with what I can cook in this toy sized kitchenette. Someday, I might actually have a real kitchen, but for now, this is it.

And with that, I shall take my leave. My little plum is starting to kick furiously and I really should finish up my lunch. Until next time!

The Last Lazy Christmas

Well, a very Merry Christmas to you!

I’ve taken a break from blogging, not because I haven’t been cooking, but because I recently found out I’m pregnant and I’ve had to deal with a lot of life changes in the last few weeks. I’m over halfway through the first trimester, getting ready to move across town so I don’t have to endure the 90minute commute to work and generally feeling like I have wayyyy too much on my plate.

So that’s my excuse.

By this time next year, if all goes well (fingers crossed) I will have a five month old baby to dress up in a Santa suit. So this is the last lazy Christmas,  the last year that me and Chris can have a leisurely holiday with limited stress and no pressure to buy gifts and participate in all the holiday hokum. I love the holidays, but I don’t love having to spend hundreds of dollars on gifts for everyone just because it’s a certain time of year. You know?

My favorite gifts to give and to receive are edibles, or anything pertaining to cooking. Christmas, for me, has always been about food. I don’t come from a privileged background. I am a master of enjoying simple pleasures.
           
My husband knows that the way to my heart is through my stomach. I’ll take a couple of cookbooks over diamonds any day. So I was happy to find these under the Christmas tree this year.

This Christmas, we’re lounging with our hot cocoa and not taking things too seriously. I did try a new recipe. Marinated mushrooms! I can’t tell you how much money I have spent at the antipasto bar, shelling out $8.99 a pound for olives and marinated mushrooms. Last night, as a Christmas Eve appetizer, I finally made these and they were amazing. I will never ever buy them from the store again.

Marinated Mushrooms

1 lb white button mushrooms, washed.

2 bay leaves

2 tsp oregano

1 Tblsp olive oil

1/2 tsp crushed black pepper

1-2 Tblsp chopped garlic (I go nuts with the garlic, you can tone it down if you want)

The juice and zest of two lemons

2 Tblsp red wine vinegar

1-2 tsp course sea salt

Trim the mushrooms, make sure you have washed them thoroughly and removed all of the grit. In a saucepan, over medium heat, warm the olive oil and add the lemon zest, bay leaves and oregano. Heat through for a minute or so. Add the mushrooms, and all remaining ingredients. Boil for 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat once mushrooms are cooked through (larger mushrooms may take longer), and cool in refrigerator.

These taste amazing the next day. I like mine extra tart. Add a pinch more salt if they’re too sour.


Definitely addictive. I might have to make a 2lb batch next time.

Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

I honestly don’t know when I will be able to post again, but let’s hope I find the energy to keep it up.

Herb Crusted Pork Loin

 

 

I’ve been cooking a lot of meat lately for someone who was, only until recently, vegetarian. Last weekend I roasted a whole chicken for the first time in my adult life, it was surprisingly fun and the chicken turned out amazing. The other night I had lamb kabob, and a few nights back I made sirloin steaks with pepper sauce.

All of this meat eating has me thinking. A few years ago, I was staunchly vegan and couldn’t image returning to a meat centered diet.  But, little by little, one slippery slope led to another and now I’m roasting chickens on the weekend and ordering up lamb kabob. In some ways, I feel like I’ve come full circle. I was once a person who ate meat without thinking much about where it came from or what happened to the animal it came from, and now I’m a person who eats meat fully conscious and aware of its origin. I never would have arrived at this point without my in-between vegan phase.

I love being in the kitchen, and I adore  learning about cooking techniques, cuisine, and culture. As a vegetarian, I really felt like I was missing out. I hated having to turn down food offered to me in the spirit of hospitality, and I hated feeling like other people thought I was judging their food choices (when actually, I was).

So tonight, I made a pork loin rubbed with rosemary salt and garlic, served with fingerling potatoes and leeks and drizzled with a porcini mushroom merlot sauce. Doesn’t that sound good? Here’s how you do it:

The first step: prepare the rub. Take a few teaspoons of kosher salt, a sprig or two of fresh rosemary and a clove of garlic. Strip the rosemary leaves off the stalk. Mince the rosemary and garlic into the salt until fine.

 

Now, rub the rosemary garlic salt into the pork loin. Sprinkle with fresh ground pepper. Pre-heat your oven to 375 and set the pork loin aside.

Slice two small leeks lengthwise down the middle, make sure to rinse thoroughly and remove any grit. Now, chop into 1/2″ slices. Sautee leeks in butter (I always eyeball it), until just tender.

Scrub your fingerling potatoes well and put in a 9×9 glass baking dish. Add leeks stir. Add carrots and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Put pork loin and potatoes in the oven. They should cook at the same time. The pork loin will take 25-30mins per pound. I have a tiny oven that doesn’t heat very well, so my cooking time was more like 35-40mins per pound. To check for doneness, you can use a meat thermometer (180 for pork), or slice into it, the meat will go from pink to white when it’s done and the juices run clear. Make sure to let the loin rest for about 15mins after cooking.

For the Merlot Sauce, rehydrate 1/4cup dried porcini mushrooms in hot water for 10-15mins. Discard most of the water, save about 1-2Tbsp. In a sauce pan, heat 2 Tblsp butter on medium high, add in one shallot, minced. Before butter browns, add 1/2 cup merlot. Let the wine reduce, about 5mins. Add 1/4 cup cream or half and half. Stir constantly so the cream won’t burn. Cook to desired thickness, I take it off the heat after 5-10mins and it will continue to thicken as it cools.

This was my first dish using porcini mushrooms. There really is no other mushroom that tastes like a porcini. They had a slightly smoky, almost bacon-like flavor that paired perfectly with the pork loin.

And oh, that pork loin. The herb rub turned into the perfect crust, and the delicate, moist meat practically melted on our tongues. I had to stop Chris from trying to eat the entire loin in one sitting!

I know that for my health and for the welfare of animals, I can’t eat these kinds of meals every day, but what a wonderful weekend treat. This would make a fantastic dinner for entertaining or a romantic dinner for two. I’m already looking forward to the leftovers.

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Old Milwaukee

I promise, this post will not be about crummy beer (not to say that if you truly like Old Milwaukee, you’re a bad person. It just means we can’t be friends).

I have resided in the Midwest for a little over three years and  have seen remarkably little of the surrounding area outside of Chicago. There are two main reasons for this, first, Chicago is a massive city with plenty of nooks and crannies to explore, and second, I am poor. My bus/train pass gets me around town easily, but the combined facts that I don’ t know how to drive and I have limited funds means that I can really only travel by bus or train. Chris had to go abroad for school this summer, so finances were strapped. But I still wanted my vacation, darnit. So, we packed up and decided to check out the next city over.

I’m a pretty big beer enthusiast and since it espouses itself as, “the brewing capital of the US,” I had to see for myself if Milwaukee lived up to the claim. Then, there’s the fantastic art museum and the comfort of knowing that we would still be on the shores of my beloved Lake Michigan.

I have to be honest here and say that I didn’t take to Milwaukee  at first. My initial impression was of a smaller, less interesting version of Chicago. Chris said I was being unfair, that I couldn’t compare Milwaukee to Chicago, that I should compare Milwaukee to Cleveland (a place I have never even visited). However, by day two I had taken a shine to her and found myself having a good time knocking back the beer flights.

From the time our Amtrak pulled into the station, I had beer flights on the mind. I wasn’t there to check out the big breweries that made Milwaukee famous like Miller and Pabst. I really don’t enjoy those beers and I don’t waste my time drinking them.  Me and Chris have had many a conversation about American vs. European breweries. We’re both of the opinion that American breweries are a watered down version of a craft Europeans mastered in the 12th century. American microbrews in particular tend to be showy, robust, hoppy, one could say “masculine” even, while their European counterparts have perfected smooth, drinkable beers with subtle flavors. It’s almost like the American microbrews are the bratty, brassy, college guys and the European beers are the more mature, reliable professor types, but I digress. What I’m saying is, we weren’t in Milwaukee to drink Miller. We were there for the small craft brews and luckily, we found them.

The shockingly beautiful entryway to the Milwaukee Art Museum, our first stop on our trip.

We love art almost as much as we love beer.

It looks like it’s about to take off and fly away.

Outside the Milwaukee Art Museum .

Whenever I visit a new art museum (and I visit a lot of art museums), I hunt around for the singular Dutch still life. I usually only find one or two paintings for my viewing pleasure. I wish there was an entire museum devoted to paintings of food (note to self: open an art museum devoted entirely to paintings of food). Don’t you just want to just start pulling apart that crab in wild abandon?

I’ve been a fan of Wayne Thiebaud’s paintings of pies, cakes, candy counters and the like since I was in high school going through my Pop Art phase. How delightful to see him represented in Milwaukee. All I can say is, “yum.”

I want you to imagine lifting this Nautilis cup to your lips and tipping back a velvety, sweet Bordeaux.

We ended up not visiting Usingers, a local sausage maker, but I did love seeing it off in the distance.

One of the highlights of our Milwaukee excursion,  The Old German Beer Hall. Outside of Munich, this just might be the most authentic German beer hall in the states. Decorated with deer antlers, old tapestries and paintings of Bavaria, they serve sausage and kraut with the beer  and the walls are lined with numbered tankards belonging to the locals. Most importantly, this place sits next to a strip of German bars and restaurants. The Old German section of town is what Milwaukee’s all about.

Chris enjoyed this GIANT Hofbrau.

Fried cod at St. Paul Fish Company in the Milwaukee Public Market. I had to say, it was some of the freshest fried fish I’ve ever had. Too often, fried fish comes overcooked and chewy, but these filets were soft, and flaky in a tasty beer batter.

Chris enjoyed this amazing lobster roll at St. Paul Fish Market.  Incredibly good, with big hunks of lobster and only $13.

A Rococo style building. Many of the older buildings in downtown Milwaukee represent the Turn-of-the-Century obsession with European design.

This summer selection beer flight at Milwaukee Ale House slaked our thirst. All of these beers are brewed in-house. Since I tend to favor ales over lagers and smooth witbiers over hoppy pale ales, my favorites were the dunkel-weizen and their straight up, unfiltered weiss beer. All of the beers we tasted here had big, robust flavors.

Mussels in Pernot at Cafe Benelux. They had over 30 beers on tap, and a large variety of Belgian ales.

A superb beer flight at Cafe Benelux in the historic Third Ward. They had 30 beers on tap, mostly Belgian ales. There two main types of beer drinkers, lager drinkers and ale drinkers. I’m an ale drinker. Most of the big American breweries do lager. From that very premise surmises my problem with most American beer.

The last meal I had in Milwaukee, BBQ at Smoke Shack. We passed this place on our  first day and I knew we had to stop in before we left. It literally looks like a little shack, but as soon as you walk past and smell the intoxicating aroma of charred meat, and hear the blues music blasting over their speakers, you can’t pass it up. I ordered a slab of ribs with fried okra and corn bread. The corn bread was as sweet as cake.

Served fresh from the smoker and dry rubbed, we found four different sauces on the table, ranging from tangy and hot to smoky sweet. This was a serious BBQ experience. As someone who only recently reverted to meat eating after years of vegetarianism (that story, I will save for another time) this meal exploded with meaty goodness. The German influence on Milwaukee cuisine means that meat reigns here, as it does in most of the Midwest. For Midwestern BBQ, Smoke Shack gets it right.

When in Milwaukee, have a Schlitz. This was actually the first time I had Schlitz and I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t bad for a cheaper beer, it had a malty flavor and a smooth, nutty finish. It actually paired really well with the BBQ.

That’s it for my exciting Milwaukee trip. I didn’t cover all of the ground completely, we did have a fancy, heavy German dinner at Mader’s, a classic Milwaukee restaurant in the Old German part of downtown.  I didn’t take pictures because it wasn’t the kind of place to take pictures. We also went on a tour of the Pabst mansion, a beautiful, turn-of-the-century landmark of opulent European design. I would say that three days is perfect for seeing what Milwaukee has to offer. If you’re into German food and beer, it’s worth the trip.

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Summer Days in Chicago

The following pictures sum up my summer in Chicago this year. I’m spending almost every weekend out and about, mostly at the lakefront and Lincoln Park. Enjoy!

Ah, Lake Michigan.

The gardens at the Lincoln Park Conservatory.

Where’s the Southern Mac & Cheese Truck when you need it? I saw this parked in Wicker Park. It’s a looong trek to Wicker Park from my home in Rogers Park, so I’ll probably never get to enjoy Mac & Cheese from this food truck. Sadness.

Smoked lake perch salad. A particularly good brunch item at Old Town Social.

My husband, at Old Town Social. Early enough for coffee, never too early for beer.

I’m turning into one of those people who photographs flowers. Chicago has done that to me. There are too many amazing gardens in this city.

Some well-fed koi.

We’ll try and remember these days once winter sets in. Summer in Chicago rocks.

The Case of the Blue Garlic

So last night, I was cooking up some chicken tenders with my favorite, lemons and capers, but when I pulled them out of the oven to check on their progress I was greeted with this:

You’ll have to excuse the fuzzy, poorly lit photo because I grabbed my crummy point-and-shoot as soon as I saw that blue stuff sprinkled all over the chicken. And just what is the blue stuff? Well, that’s garlic. Why it turned bright blue, I had no idea.  Actually, I freaked out a bit at first. I frantically checked over the kitchen for the source of the coloring. I checked my hands for ink stains, I made sure there weren’t any volatile chemicals lying around (actually, there are no volatile chemicals in my house at all, since I insist on biodegradable cleaning products, etc). I know that copper can turn foods blue or green, but I don’t own any copper pots or pans. Finally, when I couldn’t find any explanation I took to the internets.

It turns out that immature garlic contains sulfur compounds that can react with minute amounts of copper (including small amounts found in water), or acids that cause the blue/green coloration. So, the lemon juice and pickled capers in my dish were the culprits, coupled with the fact that the garlic I used was still a little purple, indicating it was very “young” garlic. The good news is that the reaction is completely safe and the garlic is still edible.

Blue Garlic Chicken

16oz boneless, skinless chicken tenders

1 large lemon

2 tsp capers

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 onion

2 tsp olive oil

2 cloves of young garlic (well, if you want your garlic to turn blue)

Pre-heat oven to 400F. In a skillet, heat oil on medium high until hot. Slice onion and add to pan to caramelize, about 10mins. Cover a 9×9 glass baking dish with the caramelized onions. Add chicken tenders to the skillet and brown on both sides, about 1-2mins each side. Add chicken to glass dish and squeeze lemon juice over the chicken. Slice lemon slices and lay on top. Sprinkle with garlic and capers. Bake for 15-2omins. If you’re lucky, your garlic will turn bright blue.

Dazzle your dinner guests! Impress your family!

BTW, the chicken turned out great. I served it on a bed of salad and the blue garlic had no ill effects.

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Lemony

Three weeks zoomed by and my husband’s back from his stay in Italy. I am genuinely jealous that, yet again, he got to enjoy a stay in Europe while I sat around at home, bored out of my mind. That’s life as the wife of a poor Ph.D. student. I do have to say that I lost weight while he was gone. For some reason I find myself relentlessly eating when my husband’s around. It might just be his bad influence, or his enthusiasm for snacking, but I found it rather easy to be satiated with my three, low-calorie meals each day and glasses of water.

Speaking of water, my favorite drink this summer has been water with ice and lemon.  When I think about all of the calories I packed on guzzling beer, wine, soda, or sugary coffee drinks, I shudder. Hundreds of empty calories settling around my waist in a sad, spare tire have finally started to melt away with the help of sit-ups and lots and lots of agua. Oh, and of course, VEGGIES. I’ve written about my love of beets before, but I have to include another beet recipe I just discovered.

I came up with the idea of combining lemons and beets from simply opening the fridge door and seeing the two sitting side by side.  The sweetness of the beets pairs with the tangy lemon juice and the ginger adds just a little kick.  I included the fresh thyme to round out the flavors.

 

Chilled Lemony Beet Soup

About 1 lb  (16oz) of cooked beets, sliced

1/4 cup chopped red onion

1 cup water (or stock)

1tblsp olive oil

The juice of 1 large lemon

1-2 tsp fresh ginger, grated

1 tblsp fresh thyme or rosemary, minced

1 tsp sea salt

Chopped chives to garnish

Add water/stock and lemon juice to a blender, add beets and onions and blend until smooth, about 2mins.

What you get is a shockingly red no-cook soup that’s both filling and low calorie, not to mention stunningly beautiful.

The licorice-y, minty flavor of pumpernickel rye enhances the earthy flavors of beet and onion.

 

 

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Savory Chickpea Pancakes

I’m kind of a connoisseur when it comes to pancakes. Pancakes have been a Saturday morning staple since I was about ten years old and learned to make them on my own. If I had to name my top comfort food, it would be blueberry pancakes smothered in butter and  maple syrup. Who could resist? Alas, my love of carb-y, starchy goodness had led to a spare tire. I recently dropped 15lbs (and counting!) by vigilantly counting calories and eating a low-glycemic diet. That means no more sugary pancakes for the time being.

I live nearby a wonderful Indian/Pakistani grocery on Devon Avenue, here in Chicago. It is everything a market should be, primarily fresh fruit and vegetables with only a few spare shelves of dry goods and plenty of bulk grains, flours and spices. Every week I feel like I’m going on an adventure and discovering new and wonderful foods. This week I was inspired by some beautiful oyster mushrooms and peppers and decided to make savory chickpea pancakes.

Almost too beautiful to eat.

Chickpea flour, also known as gram flour or besan, is made from dried, ground chickpeas and has been used in Southeast Asian cooking for centuries. It’s high in protein, with a deep, nutty umami flavor it makes a wonderful substitute for grain flour. It’s also completely gluten-free for people who are watching their gluten intake.

Savory Chickpea Pancakes

1 1/4 cup Chickpea flour

1 cup water

1 small egg (optional)

2 Tblsp oil

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp tumeric

1/2 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp fresh ginger, grated

1/2 tsp black pepper

Oyster mushrooms (about 1/2lb or 8oz)

1/2 red bell pepper, chopped small

1 large scallion, diced

1 small garlic clove, minced

Mix the spices with the chickpea flour. Add water and egg and beat until smooth. Set aside.

On medium heat, saute vegetables in butter, gee or a little oil for 3-5 minutes until tender crisp. If you are making these cakes for breakfast or brunch, this step can easily be done the night before. If you dice everything up small enough, the vegetables can be added directly to the batter without pre-cooking, however, I find that it makes for a less watery batter if you cook off some of the water in the vegetables first.

Many recipes for chickpea pancakes do not call for an egg. I find that it makes the cakes fluffy and adds flavor. If you do not want to add egg, simply make sure to let your water/flour mixture sit for about 15mins to thicken.

Add veggies to batter. In a hot, well-oiled skillet, add small dollop of batter. The batter will be somewhat thin, so make sure to not pour in too much. Cook for about 2-3 mins on each side.  (makes about 5-6 small pancakes)

This was my first time making these pancakes and they were so delicious I didn’t miss the sugar! I have a stack of them in the fridge for a quick snack or lunch. Here’s to losing the next 15lbs. I’ll be fitting into my old skinny jeans in no time.

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Summer Kale Salad

I’m starting to think I should just convert this blog to “salads only,” since I seem to only write about salads.

Sorry, guys.

As was previously mentioned, my tiny, third floor apartment overheats in the summer, so I’m keeping the oven off as much as possible. Plus, I’ve been going kind of nuts at the Farmer’s Market.

 My husband, Chris, flew off to Italy yesterday and he’s traipsing around Rome right now, as we speak, taking in the breathtaking sights in that ancient city. He’s there for a conference, but I can’t afford to join him and turn it into a vacation. So, I’m by lonesome for the next three weeks. I’m envious and a little sad, however three weeks to myself sounds kind of nice.

 

Me and my darling husband diverge on matters of taste, health and nutrition. He’s all about hotdogs, hamburgers, pizza and simple carbs in general, and I’m all quinoa, tofu, kombucha and complex carbs. One time, I tried to make him taste my favorite breakfast, warm Grape-nuts cereal with a faint drizzle of honey, and do you know what he said? He said, “It tastes like wood pulp.”

Then he went and ate a pizza.

 Meanwhile, I recently dropped 15lbs by eating low-carb vegetarian meals, cutting down on eating bread and upping my exercise routine. I’m hoping to drop some more while he’s away. In fact, this morning, the first morning as a lone girl in the city, I had a salad for breakfast. FOR BREAKFAST. It was amazing. You’ll find the recipe below, but here’s the gist: I took some kale, steamed it, chilled it and then took a grapefruit, cut it up, added blueberries and smoked almonds and made a simple dressing. Wow. I could feel the vitamins working their magic after the first bite.

Simple Summer Kale Salad

1 head of kale

1 grapefruit

½ cup fresh blueberries

¼ cup smoked almonds

 Dressing:

Juice of 1 lemon

1-2 Tblsp olive oil

pinch salt and pepper

 Soak the kale in a tub of cold water for 20-30mins. This will loosen any grit stuck in the curly leaves. Rinse. Remove the thick stem in the middle of each kale leaf and chop the kale roughly. Steam in a large pot, on medium heat until just tender, about 3-5mins. Put the kale in the refrigerator until chilled. Cut the grapefruit into sections and combine with remaining ingredients. Toss with dressing and enjoy.

 

 

I love fresh salads, not only are they nutritious but it’s much easier to throw together a salad than to deal with prepping and cooking times.

It’s going to be a lazy summer around here. I’m okay with that. 

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The Best Cookbooks in the World

Summer has finally come to the Midwest. I’ve been so busy enjoying the sunshine that I haven’t been doing much writing or cooking. Summer is a fleeting time in Chicago, it’s a brief respite  between frosts. I have every intention of spending my sunny weekends enjoying the parks and beaches, lounging on decks and patios with ice cold lager beer and artisanal foodstuffs.  My tiny kitchenette  fills the apartment with radiating heat,  so I keep the cooking and baking to a minimum from June through August. Summer is all about sandwiches and salads and feasting on the bounty of produce from neighboring fruit and vegetable markets.

So I thought I’d take a break to talk about books.

I guess you could say I’m a bit of a bibliophile. I am on intimate terms with books. I’ve studied them, I’ve collected them,  there was a time in my life when I hoped to write them. I am endlessly fascinated by the written word.  When I want to know something, I seek out expert advice. I ask the people who know what they’re talking about. I try and get my hands on the most definitive source.

When I was in college, I frequented my school library constantly. I was there for study and leisure. It was while perusing books on sewing and handicrafts, that I fell in love with the cook book shelf. It was a small section, of a shelf in a  remote corner of the library containing  mostly outdated and out-of-print cooking manuals, but it was here that I found the best cookbooks in the world, the TimeLife Foods of the World collection.

Never before and rarely since has a collection of cookbooks delved so thoroughly into the culture, history, poltics and artistry of international foodways. Stunning photographs? Check. Artfully crafted essays by big name food writers like Julia Child, M.F.K. Fisher and James Beard? Check. Well-written and easy to follow recipes? Check.

First published in 1968 and stretching into the early 1970s, Foods of the World encompassed a vast and never-before explored landscape of cuisine. The series ended at twenty seven volumes in length, covering everything from African Cuisine to The British Isles, Polynesia to Germany.  I remember first reading “The Cooking of Scandinavia,” when I was reading about my Danish heritage. It was in those pages that I first learned about sürstromming and smørrebrødThe essays, written as personal travelogues by the various staff writers and cooking personalities of the day, shared intimate, first hand experiences of the cuisines and  cultures from which they sprang. The Cooking of Scandinavia includes amazing recipes and descriptions of ingredients and meals, but also provides lush descriptions of the countryside, discussions about and with the local people who interact with the writer, and anecdotes of meals shared on native soil.

Time-Life Foods of the World The Cooking of Scandinavia cover

I collected my first three volumes from a second hand store shortly after discovering the series at the library.  They were: The Cooking of Provincial France, American Cooking: Creole and Acadian,  and  American Cooking: The Eastern Heartland. I read and re-read those three volumes until I could practically recite them. The photographs from the Provincial France volume still make my heart skip a beat.

Photo by Mark Kauffman, Time-Life

Today I own ten volumes from the series and I keep an eagle-eye out for them whenever I’m thrifting. The books are out of print, but they are found in abundance at garage sales and second-hand stores. My favorite pasttime is to wake up on a Saturday morning, brew a pot of coffee and sit with my Foods of the World. No matter how many times I read them I seem to find new and interesting bits of food history. While the books are incredibly diverse in scope, they do have their downfalls. There are moments when they truly represent  the late Sixties, a time when being culturally sensitive wasn’t really on the radar and when the term  “politically correct” didn’t exist. For instance, in the volume on New England, the writer calls Native Americans “primitive farmers” who subsisted on, “lowly beans and squash.” Yeesh. Interestingly, out of the 27 volumes, eight of them are dedicated to “American Cooking” with no other country given the kind of detail and scope as the good ol’ USofA.

Sausages from The Cooking of Germany

Still, while the books might not be entirely subjective, they do preserve in amber  a vanishing landscape of foodways. What I love about Foods of the World is how they capture a changing world. They focus on homemade, traditional foods that were, at the time, quickly being supplanted by pre-packaged convenience foods. The writers lovingly detail how to make the perfect french souffle, how to properly lard game, how to make head cheese in the traditional Ukranian method. They feature essays on the rustic housewives of Germany who knead dough for several hours each day, the shepherds of Sweden who make their own special cheeses, the Itamae of Japan who study for ten years to prepare perfect sushi.

From The Cooking of Japan

The world has certainly changed since the initial publication of Foods of the World, but its encyclopedic breadth still covers impressive ground. The focus on traditional preparations makes the series a timeless treasure. If you ever happen upon them in a shop or online, don’t hesitate to snatch them up. I recently found six volumes at a thrift store in Chicago and was charged $1.65 for the whole lot, easily one of the best investments I’ve ever made.

Foods of the World. American Cooking: New England Cover

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