Sunday, September 5, 2010

Cooking Local with Local Cookbooks

The Strand is in the same building as Om Yoga where I go to yoga 5 or 6 times a week. It takes everything I have to not go in and buy a cookbook every time I am there.

They have a huge selection with a lot of used copies so you can always get a deal. Even the new books are discounted so you always feel like you are getting a bargain, which is probably one of the reasons this New York institution is so popular. It also seems like it provides vital cash to a lot of folks as they buy used books. I've never seen the lines of people waiting outside with books they want to get cash for be so consistently long.

Anyway, I noticed on my last trip into the Strand three books that are all from local downtown establishments that I thought worth mentioning; for what it's worth I've only bought one of the three (leave it to the diabetic to decide that it is the book about desserts that should be his first purchase).

97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement takes it's name from street address of the Tenement Museum here on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and the 5 families that lived there to explore how immigrant Americans ate (the families were Irish, Jewish and Italian). It is, as you would expect, an old tenement restored to it's humble origins. The book is a historical archaeological dig that explores breakfast, lunch and dinner of the families who lived here. I'm really glad the author, Jane Ziegelman, includes recipes. Although they are few and far between, they give someone like me who is interested in this history an extra hook to buy the book in a way that if it didn't include them I might not run out and buy it.

The NYT has an excerpt from 97 Orchard which is very helpful as is their review.

Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion and Cooking Manual

A thick book filled with recipes and tips on how to make your favorite traditional Italian fare. I believe Frankies Spuntino got its start in Brooklyn, but it was their Clinton Street restaurant that first caught my eye. Done in old fashioned New York style with tin ceilings and Edison light bulbs everywhere, I like the simple mix and match menu with lots of great plates for grazing; a selection of local cheeses, charcuterie, a bowl of olives and a glass of wine can be your meal if you don't feel like a salad, sandwich or pasta. I'm a fan of their sister adjoining coffee shop Cafe Pedlar where they serve excellent Stumptown coffee and a wonderful all-day breakfast.
The Sweet Life: Desserts from Chanterelle by Kate Zuckerman. Chanterelle was a New York City dining institution: a bastion of quiet elegance, sophistication and excellent food. It had been in business for 30 years and then suddenly closed. I remember when I first walked by Chanterelle while they were still in Soho and before they moved to their big space in Tribeca. I would gaze into the small, high ceilinged and rather austere room with the formal French chairs and linen covered tables and swoon over the exquisitely hand written menu. Chanterelle epitomized, to me, how the other half lived. It just oozed understated elegance and money.

In the end it took me many years before I got to eat there and even then it was only for lunch... but it was a very memorable lunch.

So it was very exciting for me to see this cookbook written by their pastry chef. The funny thing is that even though the tone seems so fancy, the recipes in the book are very simple with a big section on cookies and really simple sorbets. I can't wait to make the famous dark chocolate sorbet; I just have to figure out what to use as a substitute for the corn syrup in the recipe. See, you spend hundreds of dollars on a fancy meal and they were feeding you GMO corn products in your dessert. I'm not sure why that bugs me so much, but it does. In a way I suppose to me good food is about purity of ingredients, and corn syrup as we have known it for the last 30-some years isn't an ingredient, it's a corporate food product and I have yet in all my years of cooking found a recipe that needed it. Pecan pie tastes way better with maple syrup in it and Lyle's Syrup works as a perfect substitute and is readily available in grocery stores.

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