Archive for the ‘Cookbooks’ Category

Sometimes you pick up a book that changes everything. Sometimes you indulge in the feeling of the smooth cover under the palm of your hand. Sometimes you read the first page, and fall in love.

I think people often take for granted the skill of writing a cookbook. I also think everyone thinks they can write a cookbook. Anyone can publish anything these days, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Just because you can cook, doesn’t mean you have the ability to write about it. And make me want to actually read it. I have cookbooks that I don’t ever look at. Cookbooks that I’ve never made one simple little recipe out of. Not that anything’s wrong with the recipes, I guess, but they just don’t intrigue me.

I like a cookbook that I can sit down with on the couch and read like a novel. Something that peaks my interest so much I don’t want to put it down. It takes more than ingredients and instructions to make a cookbook, just as it takes more than some food and a few tools to make dinner. There’s skill involved in both cooking and writing, and Tartine Bread delivers both.

I’d been meaning to get this book for quite some time, but as usual there’s more things to pay for than what I have to pay with so it got pushed to the back burner. But I recently graduated from culinary school (yay!) and hence received a gift card. So with this gift card I bought Vegan Pie in the Sky, The Flavor Bible and, of course, Tartine Bread.

Bread is something that seems to mystify most people. How can you take three simple ingredients and make such vastly different products with them? Why does it turn out different every time it’s made? And who actually has time to make their own bread?

I’m not a fabulous bread baker by any means, but I’m not mystified by it either. I love bread. And I also love making bread. I achieve fairly good results with typical sandwich breads, flat breads, ciabatta, focaccia, etc, but I’ve yet to create that dark, thick crusted, moist chewy crumb, gaping pocket filled bread that you find in artisan bakeries. But this will hopefully not be the case for long.

Chad Robertson, the writer of this book and baker/ proprietor of Tartine Bakery in San Francisco, did the entire world a favor when he published this book. Seriously. Many bread baking books don’t really enable the home baker to achieve the same results as one would in a commercial kitchen. But this was Chad’s aim, to create a method that would work for anyone in any oven, even my rink-dink piece of %#*@ oven.

Chad spent the last twenty years studying, testing, baking, eating, breathing bread. That type of dedication should be admired by everyone, but especially anyone who’s ever dabbled in bread baking. Bread baking isn’t a quick task. You can just throw some flours together, toss in some yeast and add a little water and find out in an hour if it turned out alright. It’s quite time consuming and extreme patience and a profound love are definitely a necessity.

The book explains everything, from the tools you’ll need and the process involved in making and maintaining a wild yeast starter, to baking and subsequently eating the bread. There are also recipes for things like bruschetta, panzanella, gazpacho and affogato. And what’s really genius is his idea of making bread to be ready for dinner, not breakfast. Professional bread bakers typically have horrid hours because everyone wants to buy bread in the morning. Why? I don’t know because honestly most people don’t really need their bread until lunch or dinner. As a baker, I think the dinner thing an excellent idea. 🙂

But what really makes the book, aside from his excellent writing style, are the pictures. Lets face it, we all like books with pictures in them. Especially food books. I’ve actually put cookbooks back on the shelf because there weren’t enough pictures. People want to see what they are about to create. And with bread making it’s even more important to be able to see what exactly it is that you’re supposed to be doing, or how it’s supposed to look when all is said and done.

Chad’s friend and early apprentice Eric Wolfinger did the photos for the book and they are simply phenomenal. Even if you have no interest in making bread, it’s worth it to buy this thing just to look at the photographs. They are really quite beautiful.

I’ve never had to opportunity to visit the Tartine Bakery in San Fran, but hopefully one day not too awfully far away I’ll be able to enjoy bread of a similar quality from my own oven. I plan on getting my starter going in the next day or so, and I’ll let you know how it goes. Until then, try not to drool on your keyboard as you peruse pictures from this book. 🙂

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On Saturday my husband and I took a little mini vacation and drove out to Hood River, OR. Hood River is a sleepy little tourist town kind of place about an hour and a half from Portland known for its superb wind surfing and kite boarding (we didn’t do either however).

What we did do is take it easy, have a few pints, taste a couple wines and relax at our home for the weekend called Hood River BnB. We thought about saving a few pennies and staying at your average motel, but a bed and breakfast sounded so much better; and we think it was worth the extra $$. Jane and Jim who own and run the four room B&B are very friendly, hospitable and overall delightful.

We stayed in the Sky room which was rather large, had light blue walls, lots of windows for all that sunshine to come through and a beautiful bathroom complete with jacuzzi tub. And here’s the view from the back patio at the Hood River BnB – I think I could handle waking up to this for a few more days.

On Sunday we took a little walkabout around town. We “hiked” along Indian Creek Trail, had a pint at Big Horse Ales and even stopped to smell the flowers.

And then we found our way into a small, local book store. My husband loves books so we always wind up in a book shoppe when we go places. I’m not sure where he darts off to every time but my radar unfailingly leads me straight to the cooking section. I’m not sure why either as I have about six cookbooks but that I’ve yet to make one recipe out of… Oh well. This time I found an extraordinary book called A World of Cake.

If you haven’t already figured it out, I’m quite fond of cake. Growing up I couldn’t wait for birthdays to come around just so I could have a piece of cake. The corner piece of course. With all the frosting I could manage to get on  my plate. Yes, it’s a miracle I don’t weigh 500 lbs. Though I’m all growed up, I still love cake. I’d go as far as to say that’s my favorite dessert. So when I saw this book I was totally intrigued.

Actually, I thumbed through the entire thing, put it back on the shelf because I told myself I’d wait until I got home and find it cheaper online. Within about 2 hours I managed to talk myself into buying it so back into the store we went. Honestly, I could have found it way cheaper online, but I think it’s worth the $$ I paid. Plus it has a vacation memory attached to it now (which makes everything better).

There are so many interesting, creative and positively yummy recipes in this book! It even has a brief history of cake and holidays around the world and their regional cake counterparts. I can’t wait to make the Marta Rocha Torte from Brazil, the Ube Cake from the Philippines and the Arrollado con Dulce de Leche from Argentina (amongst the many others). None of these recipes are vegan though, so now my only hurdle is to figure out how to sub out 10 egg yolks and heavy whipping cream. =)

If you have any interest in other cultures and their cuisine, I would say that this book is an absolute must! And if you just like cake, you should probably go pick it up as well; I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Hopefully I’ll have photos and a blog post soon of one of these sumptuous cakes!

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