NZF Writers & Readers: Samin Nosrat – Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat

Cassie Richards reviews an event featuring Samin Nosrat, author of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, at the NZ Festival Writers & Readers Festival on Saturday, 10 March.

Samin_Nosrat_Salt_Fat_Acid_Heat_WR.2e16d0ba.fill-300x250It was nearing lunchtime as an eager audience gathered in the Michael Fowler Centre’s Renouf foyer to hear Californian chef Samin Nosrat in conversation with Marianne Elliott. It’s just as well, because more than a few of us were going to leave the session with an urgent hunger after hearing Samin talking about her wonderful, illuminating book Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, and her culinary journeys. A blend of food writing and cookbook, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is Samin’s gift to all of us who wonder how we can get our food to taste like it does in the restaurants – and even experienced cooks are sure to learn a thing or two. As it turns out, the secret to excellent cooking lies in four basic elements that Samin is confident we can all master.

Marianne is a great choice to interview Samin, and her questions throughout the session are thoughtful and engaging. As well as having practiced as a human rights lawyer, writing and teaching yoga, she is also one of the people behind Miramar’s La Boca Loca restaurant, which serves organic Mexican cuisine.

After introducing her, Marianne asks Samin to begin with a reading from the book, so that we can all hear her beautiful prose (fortuitously, she was a literature student before she was a chef). I don’t think this is merely food writing – what Samin has written is a delicious literary degustation on not only how to cook well, but how to cook with presence of mind, with passion and with love. ‘Sometimes I’m just helping you know what you know,’ she said – intuition is a large part of her ethos, as well as plenty of tasting.

Samin crackles with vivacious energy as she speaks, and her laugh is infectious in all the right ways. This is a person who has truly found her calling in life. Mine can’t be the only stomach in the audience rumbling as she describes the feta and cucumber sandwiches her mother would feed her as a child at the beach, perfectly sating her hunger after a swim in the Pacific Ocean, or her ‘conveyor belt chicken’, so named because a husband of a friend said he wished he had a conveyor belt of it to his mouth.

Samin describes for us her first visit to a ‘fancy restaurant’, which she and her boyfriend saved up for over several months. The place they chose was Chez Panisse in San Francisco, owned by Alice Waters. Samin describes Chez Panisse as a ‘museum of the senses’. Fine dining was a foreign concept to her, and she hadn’t known eating in a restaurant could be like that – the lighting just right, the smell of the room just right, the waitstaff anticipating your needs before you even knew yourself what they were. The experience was a total epiphany for her, and soon afterwards she applied for and got a front-of-house job at Chez Panisse.

As honoured as she felt to be allowed to vacuum the dining room of such an establishment (which had been named the top restaurant in the country), it wasn’t long before she was pestering the chefs to let her volunteer in the kitchen. Soon she was assisting in food prep, and drinking in every moment. It was here that she first observed the things that would go on to bring her to this room today.

She recounts the patterns that she started to see – meat being salted at certain times before cooking, different fats used for cooking different things, various acids being added to ‘brighten’ a dish, the way the chefs intuitively knew at which temperature to cook something to perfection. When she pointed out these things, the chefs acted as if she was stating the obvious, but ‘I knew I was seeing something that was not being reflected in cookbooks,’ she said.

Of course, it was a long road to Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat being published, and initially she didn’t think it was a book she would be able to write. Her love for food took her cooking all over the world in the intervening years, and eventually back to San Francisco. After meeting Michael Pollan through his food journalism course, she began to teach him how to cook, and he encouraged her to turn her concept into a class and teach it before trying to write a book. She did just that, teaching a four-part course for four years. Initially, recipes weren’t going to be a part of the book, because one of her aims was to encourage improvisation, but her students were always asking for them.

Two more years were spent writing the book proposal, and the book was rewritten four times as she found her way to her voice. Along the way, she recruited a favourite illustrator, Wendy McNaughton, to provide the pictorial accompaniments – she knew that the book and its message didn’t work with too-perfect food photography. Samin described her collaboration with Wendy, who she taught how to cook so she could understand the book, and Wendy in turn helped her to simplify and refine her ideas. The resulting illustrations are fantastic and helpful, and make the book even more special.

After some audience questions, including if she had considered adding a section on sugar to the book (‘I already had salt and fat, which are totally reviled,’ she quipped), we left feeling invigorated by Samin’s energy and passion, and definitely ready for lunch. Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is a joy to read and learn from, and I know I’ll have my copy around for a long time.

Reviewed by Cassie Richards on behalf of Booksellers NZ.

 

 

 

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Book review: Cooked by Michael Pollan

cv_cookedThis book is in bookstores now

I really enjoyed In Defence of Food by Michael Pollan, so was excited to have the opportunity to review Pollan’s latest offering, Cooked. I wasn’t disappointed.

Cooked explores how humankind has turned raw materials – animals, plants and their seeds – into food that is more nourishing than the original form, through the mechanisms of the elements of earth, air, fire and water. Pollan posits that the story of applying these elements to our food is the story of the evolution of human culture – and that we’ve now gone so far by outsourcing so much of our food preparation to corporations, that we’re at risk of going backwards.

Continuing in the vein of In Defence of Food, where Pollan asked the reader to eat food rather than food-like substances, Pollan puts forward a case for getting back to basics and cooking from scratch. If you care about food and where it comes from, it’s a compelling message.

For me the highlight was the quarter of the book that is devoted to the element of air; it’s really about how bread is made, and has resulted in my purchase of stoneground flour (much more nutritious than standard milling, according to Pollan) and having a go at making my own sourdough starter with just flour and water and whatever wild yeasts the air delivers. I’m a confident bread maker but have always used commercial yeast, something I’m less keen on doing after reading Cooked.

When making bread without commercial yeast success is definitely not guaranteed, and a lot of love goes into the loaf. My first loaf is baking in the oven as I write and after more than a week of nurturing the starter and 24 hours of raising and proofing, it smells better than any loaf I’ve made before. Even if this loaf doesn’t work I’ll persevere, I’m reluctant to buy a plastic-wrapped loaf again.

first natural sourdough loaf

Rachel’s first natural sourdough loaf

As part of Pollan’s exploration of the four elements, he met expert practitioners working with each medium – these recounts were entertaining and thought provoking (and, in the case of the large scale bread manufacturer, a bit disturbing), and made a nice counterpoint for Pollan’s references to current research and his experiments in his own kitchen.

Food Channel junkies will get a kick out of the fire section, as it deals with “proper” Southern US barbeque, and anti-bacterial product manufacturers will not be adding Pollan to their Christmas card lists after reading the earth quarter. And the section on water, which is about long, slow cooking, is mouth-watering as we head into a New Zealand winter.

This is an extremely well-researched and hopefully provocative book. If you’re someone who loves good food and want to know more about it, I recommend you read it.

P.S. My loaf of bread didn’t rise as much as I hoped, but it was absolutely delicious!

Inside first sourdough loaf

Rachel’s first natural sourdough loaf – in making the bread she used a recipe from ‘River Cottage Every Day’, rather than the recipe from ‘Cooked’.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Cooked
by Michael Pollan
Published by Allen Lane
ISBN 9781846148033

Lauraine Jacobs – Everlasting Feast at #AWRF

cv_everlasting_feastAuckland Writers and Readers Festival, Friday 17 May, 4pm

Launched just three weeks ago, Lauraine Jacobs’ new book Everlasting Feast is the best kind of food memoir, one with lush food photography (by Elizabeth Clarkson) and some of her signature recipes. (All the flowers in the book are from Lauraine’s own garden.)

Lauraine Jacobs wrote for Cuisine magazine for many years and now writes for The Listener. In her new book, Lauraine tells colourful stories from her rich career in food and food writing in a way which is both educational and lively.

Lauraine has previously published ten recipe books and so felt with this book it was time to do something a bit different, to bring her love of story-telling together with her passion for food. Through close telling of her own journey with food, Lauraine explores the country’s journey in food since the 1950s. In this session, Lauraine spoke engagingly about both the national and international food scenes with a wry sense of humour and a sharp intelligence.

The book covers Lauraine’s life from a five-year old Brownie and is a very Auckland book, featuring the various places around the city where Lauraine has lived and worked. Lauraine has encountered many notable food writers in her career, especially through her involvement with the International Association of Culinary Professionals, which she first joined, then eventually chaired. Through the Association she met Julia Childs, who she said was a spirited raconteur who would often still be telling stories in the bar at 1am, a woman who truly earned her legendary title and who bought real cooking back to America in an era of Betty Crocker packet foods and tuna casseroles made with cans of Campbell’s soup.

Lauraine spoke passionately about the importance of starting our cooking from fresh, seasonal produce. In her book she writes in depth about her favourite ingredients: lemons, herbs, butter and salt.

She said her favourite quick meal is fresh fish with salad, which is a lovely fusion of those four ingredients – the lemon and butter enliven the fish, the salad is bought to life with lemon, herbs and salt. Lauraine somewhat controversially declared that ‘most New Zealand butter is rancid on the shelf’, that the paper packaging does not adequately keep it fresh and that for years she has bought Danish butter because it is cultured butter and as such tastes fresher. The local exception to this being Louis Road Creamery butter, which has caused her to buy local butter again. According to Lauraine, the best way to treat butter is to cut it into small cubes at the time of purchase, wrap them in foil, freeze and take out as required. She also believes that our local olive oils are better than most imports.

When asked by a member of the audience for what she considered one of her signature dishes, she chose her Red Salad (shown above) a salad developed for a special Christmas issue of Cuisine magazine, which she believes to be one of her most successful recipes. This recipe features in the new book. 

When asked what the next trend would be in food, and she spoke hilariously about cake trends “Cupcakes are dead. Macarons have now been over done. Whoopie Pies never gained traction. Next up is the artisanal eclair.” She recently travelled to San Francisco and encountered beautiful eclairs there made with rich chocolate ganache and paper-thin pieces of dark chocolate as an embellishment. Apparently, the eclair is also on the rise in Paris, so we can expect to see them appearing in New Zealand cafes soon.

cv_the_constance_spry_cookery_bookLauraine was also asked what her ‘Desert Island Cookbook’ would be and she cited Constance Spry’s 60 year old The Constance Spry Cookery Book because it contains solid recipes for everything from casseroles to jams, but a more recent book which has inspired her is the Ottolenghi: The Cookbook.

According to Lauraine, one of the biggest changes in New Zealand food is how often we shop for ingredients now, the
notion of ‘the weekly shop’ is dying and people are shopping at
supermarkets on average four times a week now.

cv_ottolenghiI really enjoy people with strong opinions plainly spoken, and Lauraine Jacobs delivered on this front. She is clearly a deeply intelligent person, with both an artistic flair for beautiful food and the analytical, forward thinking mind of someone who is always looking to the future of the food industry, how it might improve and change. This was an excellent, educational session and the hour flew by in an instant.

Further recommendations from Lauraine’s session:

Written by Helen Lehndorf. 

Thank you to Auckland Writers & Readers Festival for providing Helen’s ticket to this event.

Everlasting Feast
by Lauraine Jacobs
Published by Random House
ISBN 9781775532538

The Constance Spry Cookery Book
by Constance Spry and Rosemary Hume
Published by Grub Street
ISBN 9781908117175

Ottolenghi: The Cookbook
by Yotam Ottolenghi
Published by Ebury Press
ISBN 9780091922344

Book review: Preserving with Aunt Daisy by Barbara Basham

cv_preserving_with_Aunt_DaisyThis book is in stores from today.

Last year I got into jam making in a big way – I even entered the local Jam Off competition with an apricot cardamom jam. I realised that jam making was a great way of conducting food experiments and I lapped up details of jam making technique and flavours. I love giving gifts of jam – and found that I really loved receiving in return jam that friends themselves made.

I’m too young to have memories of Aunt Daisy in person but I do understand the impact she had on cooking and keeping women connected through her radio programme. It was therefore a pleasure to get the opportunity to read a book of her recipes compiled by her late daughter and with proceeds going to a medical charitable trust.

I feel that the book is aimed at the experienced preserver rather than the keen beginner. While the book notes that the recipes are all tested by Aunt Daisy – they are from a time when women were considered to have a fairly decent repertoire of cooking skills and so sometimes the recipes have that assumption built in to them.

blackberry-jelly

Emma’s Blackberry and Apple Jelly

The reader’s ability to determine setting point of jam is important – particularly because a couple of recipes state overlong cooking times (Blackberry and Apple Jelly needs boiling for about five minutes, rather than 45 minutes). Yet sometimes the long cooking time is necessary, such as in the very delicious Tomato Sauce recipe – you need to boil out the liquid so you don’t have a watery sauce.

The author has added sections on basic jam and preserve making so you can read some of the theory before you start.

tomato-sauce-during-cooking

Emma’s Tomato Sauce cooking down

finished-tomato-sauce

Tomato sauce bottled and ready to use.

The thing I find most special about this book is how comprehensively ‘Kiwi’ it is – the recipes cover the fruit and vegetables that you will find in New Zealand gardens – including at least five ‘green tomato’ recipes for those summers where the weather just isn’t hot enough for gorgeous red tomatoes!

Recipes for rarer fruits/ berries like mulberries, laurel berries, gooseberries and chokos are included. There are recipes suitable for all seasons.

The final preserving section provides a bonus – this isn’t just a jam/ preserved fruit book – but one that includes preserving fish, making bacon and even mutton ham. There is even an interesting tip on how to store lemons for a long time. For me it gave an insight into a time when food wasn’t as readily available, and the creativity of the home cook. As a bonus, beautiful stickers to decorate preserving jars are included. They fit the classic, homespun feel of the book (there are some beautiful photos of the recipes).

Overall, I’d recommend this book for anyone who regularly preserves food, and wants some inspiration for more interesting projects.

Recipes I made:
• Tomato Sauce – amazing, with a warm heat from the spices, but not overly spicy
• Blackberry and Apple Jelly – this is always a beautiful jam, fantastic in cake or on scones.
• Preserved pears – tinned pears are a favourite dessert for my children and I found a wild pear tree that obligingly provided a number of pears! These look so beautiful in their jars.
• Tomato pulp – you need a serious amount of tomatoes if you are making tomato sauce or preserving tomato pulp.
• Preserved rhubarb – beautifully coloured liquid and fruit as a result.

preserved-rhubarb

Emma’s beautiful preserved rhubarb

Reviewed by Emma Wong-Ming who also blogs as Make-do Mum.

Preserving with Aunt Daisy
by Barbara Basham
Published by Hodder Moa
ISBN 9781869713065

Book Review: Fuss-Free Suppers, by Jenny Kay and Elinor Storkey

This book is in bookstores now.

When I was growing up, my mother used to tell me that the hardest thing about cooking for a family of four was not the actual cooking, but deciding what to have for tea in the first place. As a parent working full-time, I know now how right she was. Jenny Kay and Elinor Storkey offer solutions to that problem with Fuss-Free Suppers, designed to provide quick and relatively easy inspiration when takeaways or beans on toast are beckoning.

This is a South African book, with some of the recipes having being published previously in the Angela Day column in The Star, so some of the terms and ingredients may be unfamiliar to New Zealanders. Don’t let it put you off though, I quickly worked out that brinjal is aubergine, and Wikipedia taught me that bobotie is a traditional South African dish, usually made with spiced mince and an egg topping, although a lentil version is offered here.

Generally all the ingredients will be familiar and easily accessible to New Zealand cooks with a well-stocked supermarket, with the possible exception of hake, which is generally caught in New Zealand as a by-catch to hoki – if buying from a fish shop and it’s not available, ask what a good substitute might be; it’s described as having moist, white flesh.

The book has a helpful “what to keep in your pantry” section at the beginning, so that you have everything on hand to get creating. Recipes are divided by meat type or vegetarian, with pizza and pasta having its own section.

Most recipes have their own photograph, and the food styling is much more “decent home cook” than Michelin-starred chef, which is helpful when you’re time poor and low on ideas – the food looks accessible, rather than intimidating. Having cooked the lentil cottage pie and the chicken breasts stuffed with goat’s cheese and herbs, I can attest to the tastiness and ease of preparation.

I’m inclined to use this book for last minute weeknight dinners, and it sits alongside Alison Holst and Donna Hay on my cookbook shelf for those nights when I simply can’t think of what to cook that we haven’t already had a few times in the last month. If that sounds a bit like you too, I recommend it as a useful addition to your kitchen arsenal.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Fuss-Free Suppers
by Jenny Kay and Elinor Storke
Published by Struik Lifestyle, Capetown (New Holland)
ISBN 9781431700073

Book review (part one): The World’s Best Street Food

The World’s Best Street Food is in bookshops now.

Somehow I missed out on my OE; in high school I was an exchange student (to Saginaw, MI, USA) but following that it was Art School, university, work work work.

I also grew up as an unadventurous eater although I’ve since seen the error of my ways and regularly scarf down chilli and curries and olives and feijoas and avocados and other things I’d never heard of before leaving home.

Opening Lonely Planet’s new title The World’s Best Street Food  was like taking the round-the-world trip I’ve never had. It was exciting flipping through pages of exotic foods, learning about places I’d never been and imagining myself in the hustle bustle of the marketplace or making small talk with street vendors.

But any old monkey can be excited by pretty pictures and delicious looking food so I thought I’d better stump up and cook something. This is the first of my attempts …

For my first cook up I went with Spinach and Cheese Gozleme (a savoury traditional Turkish hand made and hand rolled pastry) that I thought would work well with tomato soup for a dinner.

How much flour?
The World’s Best Street Food is handy in that it gives you a guide of skill-level required for each recipe and a glossary, but for me it’s failing is that it doesn’t tell you how many portions something will make.

I’m not actually running my own vending cart so when the recipe called for over five cups of flour I balked. Some quick calculations (and notations onto the book for next time) and I’d knocked the recipe back to half, which was a much more reasonable amount.

Make your own adjustments - unless you're running a street food business

The recipe and it’s method were super-easy to follow and while I don’t often bake bread (or cook for that matter) it was easy to follow. I do recall some light kneading (the one thing that stops me making bread more often) but it’s nothing strenuous.

It was pretty easy to make a nice, good-looking dough.

The thing I liked about the recipe – and you’ll appreciate if you’re a busy person – is that the dough needs to rise, which allows the perfect amount of time to wash some dishes or to cook other things if you’re making this as part of dinner.

Once the dough was ready to work with (it rose exactly as the recipe said it would) it was onto rolling and filling. One thing I HATE is when dough sticks all over the bench and makes a giant mess. I countered this by using a little extra flour (as the recipe suggested) as well as oiling my hands before pulling it out of the bowl.

Half way through rolling and stuffing

I’d recommend paying attention to how well rolled out your gomeze are because the thinner the better once you get to cooking. Spinach and feta was a fine combination but this recipe (for a little less of a street food flavour) would equally lend itself to using whatever you have in the fridge.

Sadly I was a very bad reviewer and didn’t take a photo of the finished product (it was delicious).

What can you use this recipe for?
I found that this recipe in The World’s Best Street Food lent itself well to my everyday life. In fact, one of the selling points of this book is that it recommends common ingredients that can replace some of the more exotic ones if you can’t find them.

I thought this would be a great upgrade on toasted sandwiches, would be a good use of leftovers from the fridge and would also – if you made mini versions – be great party food.

Overall?
9/10 for this recipe. It was delicious (the leftovers the next day were equally good) and easy to follow. My only gripe was that a) the quantities were HUGE and b) I had no idea what the end product should look like.

The World’s Best Street Food
by Tom Parker Bowles et al
Published by Lonely Planet
ISBN 9781742205939

Reviewed by Emma McCleary, Web Editor at Booksellers NZ