Starting a Food Library, Part II


The other request I had was from a friend who is trying to eat healthier, eat more fresh and local foods, and learn to cook. Oh, and is a big fan of the Pioneer Woman. And Jamie Oliver. Kind of a mashup of the two.

I had to phone a friend on this one, since I was aware of the Pioneer Woman but not familiar. The description I got back was:

A summary of the Pioneer Woman? Hmm, where to start! She’s girly, down-to-earth, with a very, very full life.  She wears a lot of hats
(sometimes simultaneously) and has a deep enjoyment of the simple pleasures of life (a sleeping dog, silly, dirty kids, a truly
delicious meal, the pond at sunrise).  I think her hobbies really reflect that, too–capturing precious moments in time, and sharing
them with the world.  She cooks because she has to, really, but she hasn’t let that stop her from doing the exact same thing with cooking
– capturing her deep enjoyment of creating good food–not fancy food, but good home cooked meals that warm the soul–that other people will enjoy too. AND teaching them how to do it.  I identify with that a lot.  She’s the genuine article, too, not afraid to admit her flaws and with the enviable ability to laugh at them.

Immediately I think of Alice Waters. She started the whole fresh local foods movement at Chez Panisse in California. I got her book Simple Foods back at my birthday, but have held off from diving in yet. (There’s a stack of books I haven’t read yet waiting, and history shows that if I start too many cookbooks at once, I tend to stop reading all of them. So, one at a time.) The thing about Waters is that she’s really invested in the idea of local and organic. While I have almost exclusively found farmer’s market fare to be better tasting than the supermarkets, keeping a pantry stocked on local and organic alone isn’t always feasible. Go with what you’ve got, cook it yourself, and you’ll be better off than you were.

Same as last post, anything by Mark Bittman should be good to have on hand. There’s a reason he’s known as The Minimalist at the NY Times. Plus, he’s got a great podcast to watch – I’ve gotten more than a few inspirations from it in the past.

Finally, look at Appetite by Nigel Slater. Nigel is a food writer in the UK, and his writing style is very approachable and easy to read. (Side note – same goes for Michael Ruhlman.) The main reason I bought Appetite (almost ten years ago, wow!) is that his measurements are natural and imprecise. Think “a handful of chopped onion” rather than “3/4 cup of diced onion”. That takes the focus away from doing things just right, fretting over exact measurements, and more on what’s actually happening in the pan or pot.

Oh – and an honorable mention to pretty much anything by the Cook’s Illustrated folks. The magazine is excellent, and they have a number of collected “Best Of XYZ” volumes. This falls very much in the “go here and do this” camp – they’ve taken a fairly scientific approach to their recipes and can describe in pretty exact detail what to do and when. It’s not always the simplest of cooking (although sometimes it is), but it’s a good way to get comfortable in the kitchen.