Tuesday, February 22, 2011


I am often asked what my favorite cookware is, and I have to answer as my sainted father always instructed me not to – with a question. What do you want to cook? A roasting pan does not contain a decent stock, and, whilst you may sauté in a sauce pot, it is not a good sauté pan. So what do you want to cook?

My every-day, go-to pans are made of French rolled steel. They started life as white steel pans, and they are now black as night. The cure is deep and heavy, and soap never touches them lest that cure be destroyed. They occupy a place of honor on the pot rack, and to my jealous eye, they are as beautiful as polished copper.

These pans are the French versions of cast iron, and they serve much of the same role served by cast iron in American cuisine. Steel, like iron, absorbs heat and redistributes it evenly. It can take ferociously high temperatures, either on the stove top or in the oven, and, like iron, it is entirely induction friendly.

Many modern cooks are skeptical about steel, thinking that, while it may be fine for pan-cooking a steak, its use with delicate items such as eggs and fish must be limited. Not so. Steel pans develop a cure that renders them virtually non-stick. It is true that a knob of butter is necessary before executing a perfect omelet, but with a little practice, these can be used for the most refined of preparations.

These are my favorite sauté pans. They are well made with robust steel welds. They are indelicate in feel and appearance – there are no silicon handle protectors here, just broad steel handles that get hot as the hinges of Hades if left over high heat. They hearken back to the days of Marie-Antoine Carême, iron stoves and brick ovens. These are the serious implements of high cuisine.

These used to be cheap, and, when compared to copper, they still are. If you can find them packed in mineral oil and plastic, they will be exceptionally ugly coming out of the box, and they will cost half of what they will through the gourmet store. Either way, however, they are bargains. Once you have two or three of these in your possession, you will feel as though you can take on the world. Of cuisine.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Book Review: Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book

Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book
Jennifer Dorland Darling, ed.
Ring Bound, 608 pages
Publisher: Wiley (August 23, 2010)
ISBN-10: 0470556862
Rating (1 to 5 *): ***

I love cook books. I grew up in a house full of them. My sainted mother collected them and I do too. Many in my collection are mainly for reading – representatives of a distant past. Yes, I do cook from one or another periodically, but, for the most part, they are for my amusement. Then there are the cook books that are filthy and dog-eared. Cook books that get pulled off the shelf three times a week to look up little things. Cook books that get used. In Mom’s kitchen a red and white plaid 1940s edition of the Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book was the go-to guide on all things. I know, others prefer the tonier Joy of Cooking or Betty Crocker, but I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the simple three-ring binder that was the Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book.

Now in its 12th edition since 1930, it still has the feel of the old one. The price? Phenomenal. See, some smart cookie over at Better Homes and Gardens (BHG) came up with the sweet marketing idea of producing a Bridal Edition and a Breast Cancer Awareness Edition as well as the normally fairly expensive standard edition. The price tag is typically around $29.95. Imagine my joy when I found a slightly smaller format version on the bargain book table at Border’s for $12.95! I could not pass it up.

The ring-bound format serves a couple of functions. Originally, BHG magazine printed recipe pages that you could add to your cook book, if you so desired. I do not know if they still do so, but it is not something that particularly interests me. Secondly, and more importantly, the book lies perfectly flat and open on the kitchen counter. This is huge. When you are referring to a cake recipe, for example, you can double and triple check proportions without having to find the recipe every time because the book flipped pages whilst you were mixing.

The content of the 12th edition seems familiar, and much of it is, but it has changed a good deal since Mom’s edition. I do not have the old one in hand to spot check, but I do recall the mulled cider recipe from the old version had a bit of orange and lemon juice added at the end, and the new version does not have that. On the other hand, the new book does seem to consider health benefits a bit more than the old one did, including nutritional information on each recipe with fat and calories included. No, it is not a diet book, but it has the ready information to integrate into your healthy eating plan.

The recipes are fun, but the real value of this book is the reference material. There are equivalency charts for converting measurements, discussions of the characteristics of different slow cookers and microwaves and the basics of grilling. No, this is not the Bible of classic cuisine, but it is a handy reference for just about anyone. The original BHG Cook Book was aimed at depression era housewives who learned a bit of cooking from their mothers, then were sent out to raise families of six on a shoestring budget. The new book has evolved from that, but it still has that practical backbone. I am sorry to say that it has lost something in abandoning some of the depression era recipes, but it has likely broadened its market. This is not a book that was created for the Food Network era, but it has made strides towards embracing that audience whilst not leaving its originally intended audience behind.

Would I snag this at full price? Probably not. Off the bargain table, however, it is not to be missed!

From the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, p. 339
Winter Pot Roast

Prep: 30 minutes  Cook: 2 hours  Makes: 6 to 8 servings

1 2 ½ to 3 pound boneless beef chuck arm or shoulder pot roast
1 tablespoon cooking oil
1 14 ounce can beef broth
1 tablespoon finely shredded lemon peel
2 teaspoons dried oregano, crushed
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
6 to 8 medium carrots and/or parsnips, peeled and cut into 1 ½ inch pieces
1 large onion, cut into wedges
1 cup pitted dried plums (prunes), halved
½ cup dried apricots, halved
1/3 cup cold water
¼ cup all purpose flour
3 to 4 cups hot cooked noodles

1.    Trim fat from meat. In a 4 to 6 quart Dutch oven brown meat in hot oil. Combine broth, lemon peel, oregano, garlic, salt and pepper. Pour over meat. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 1 ½ hours.

2.    Add carrots, onion, plums, and apricots. Return to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, 30 to 40 minutes more or until meat is tender. Transfer meat, vegetables and fruit to a platter, reserving juices in Dutch oven; keep warm.

3.    For gravy, measure juices; skim fat. If necessary, add enough water to juices to equal 2 ½ cups. Return to Dutch oven. Stir cold water into flour until smooth. Stir into juices. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir for 1 minute more. Season to taste. Serve with meat, vegetables, fruit, and noodles.

Oven Directions: Trim fat from meat. Brown roast as directed above. Combine the broth, lemon peel, oregano, garlic, salt, and pepper. Pour over roast. Bake, covered, in a 325°F oven for 1 ½ hours. Add carrots, onion, plums, and apricots. Cover and bake for 30 to 40 minutes more or until tender. Transfer meat, vegetables, and fruit to a platter, reserving juices; keep warm. Prepare gravy in a saucepan and serve as directed above.

Nutrition Facts per serving: 604 cal., 23g total fat (8 g sat. fat), 140 mg chol., 476 mg sodium, 58 g carbo., 7 g fiber, 42 g pro.
Daily values: 335% vit. A, 15% vit. C, 8% calcium, 41% iron
Exchanges: 1 Vegetable, 1 ½ Fruit, 2 Starch, 5 Lean Meat, 1 Fat

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Book Review: The New Sonoma Diet

The New Sonoma Diet: Trimmer Waist, More Energy in Just 10 Days
By Dr. Connie Guttersen RD, PhD
Hardcover, 400 pages
Publisher: Sterling; 1 edition (January 4, 2011)
ISBN-10: 1402781186
Rating (1 to 5 *): *****

I have said it before, and it bears repeating, I despise diet books. They are hideous things aimed at people who hate the food they eat and who hate themselves for eating it.  I love food and I do not need to reprioritize food in my life. At its best food is art, and I am a connoisseur. The food recommended by diets is horrid, contrived to make dieters despise the food that they eat. It is not for me. But The New Sonoma Diet is different.

Much of the overweight problem in the United States today is directly related to the view of food as nothing more than fuel. Many of us do not consider the labor and love that went into making what we eat, we view it simply as coal to be shoveled into our furnaces. The diet subculture does not change this view – quite to the contrary, it reinforces it, then tells us how wicked we are for shoveling in too much fuel. In order to accommodate the need to moderate that fuel intake, they (the smart money-makers in the diet marketing industry) provide pre-packaged frozen foods, akin to the Swanson Hungry-Man meals that we have supposedly been glutting ourselves with up to now. 

The New Sonoma Diet does not do that. As discussed before, much of the Sonoma Diet concept has to do with fresh, seasonal food, prepared with love and care. It is the new and expanded version of The Sonoma Diet Plan, reviewed here about a year ago, despite the title, this is not a “diet” book in the traditional sense. This is a book about healthy eating, aimed at devout foodies. This book is for people who love to eat and love to cook. In fact, if the original Sonoma Diet Plan had any failing it was that you really had to plan your meals. There were no shortcuts – everything was about fresh produce and high quality proteins and taking the time to cook them. Lunch on day two depended upon having leftover grilled flank steak from day one, and you had to keep a healthy stock of fresh herbs on hand.

I, for one, love to cook, but I have lots to do in my life and often do not have the time to stand in the kitchen for an hour preparing good quality fresh food, so my darling wife and I often fudged, applying the principles of The Sonoma Diet, but not getting the variety of produce that Dr. Guttersen recommends.

The New Sonoma Diet has solved this problem. The diet is unchanged, and the principles remain the same as in the earlier work, but now, in addition to the wonderful recipes and menus from the original book, there is a selection of more convenient and easy to use recipes. She has also expanded on her section of valuable power foods. Ultimately, The New Sonoma Diet is not so much a recipe book, though there are a number of excellent recipes included in it, as it is a book on how to eat. It leverages the wisdom of Mediterranean eating habits, and applies them to the modern American eater. To benefit from this book, you do not need to eat her Nectarine, Arugula and Goat Cheese Salad (p. 286), though you may be sorely tempted, but you simply need to understand how to balance your plate, what to eat a quantity of, and when to stop. This is not a diet that relies on denial. Quite the contrary, when using Dr. Guttersen’s recipes and her recommended menus, my wife and I never felt hungry or deprived.

The tag-line on this book describes it the best: “A Simple, Healthy, More Delicious Way to Live.” And it truly is a way to live. So get out to the farmers’ market and have a field day, then come home and eat like a king! You will feel better immediately.

Spanish Roast Pork Tenderloin with Chickpeas and Spinach
The New Sonoma Diet, p. 260
Start to Finish: 1 hour
Yield: 4 servings

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound pork tenderloin in Spanish Marinade (recipe follows)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup onions, chopped
1 tablespoon garlic, chopped
1 ½ teaspoons Spanish paprika
1 can chickpeas, drained; reserve liquid
1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half or chopped tomatoes
4 cups baby spinach
Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 400° F.
  2. Heat a sauté pan over medium heat. Add extra-virgin olive oil and pork tenderloin. Cook until lightly browned. Turn tenderloin over and move to the side of the pan.
  3. Add onions to the side of the pan where the pork had browned. Add 1 tablespoon of the bean liquid. Add garlic and paprika to the onions and stir. Let pork continue to brown. Once brown, remove pork from pan. Add chickpeas to onions; stir to coat. Place pork on top of chickpeas and place in hot oven. Roast for 15 – 20 minutes, or until the pork is 143° F (turn at 8 minutes).
  4.  Remove pork from pan and let rest in a warm spot. Sprinkle cherry tomatoes on top of chickpeas. Place in oven and roast for 10 minutes until slightly dried. Stir in the spinach and 1 tablespoon chickpea liquid. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Slice pork ¼ inch thick on the bias.
  5. To serve, place 1 cup of chickpea mixture on the plate and top with 4 ounces of sliced pork.
Nutritional Facts per Serving: 450 calories, 35 g protein, 19 g fat (3.5 g saturated fat), 39 g carbohydrate, 11 g fiber, 60 mg cholesterol, 350 mg sodium, 6 glycemic load)

Spanish Marinade for Pork Loin or Chicken Breasts
The New Sonoma Diet, p. 179

1 teaspoon garlic, mashed to a paste
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon ground cumin, roasted
¼ teaspoon ground coriander, roasted
1 teaspoon Spanish paprika, smoked or plain
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon lemon juice and zest
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Mix ingredients together
  2. Place in a leakproof container or resealable bag, such as a Ziploc bag. Add pork or chicken. Let sit for 15 minutes to overnight. Grill or sauté the meat.