by Laura B. Weiss
Ditch the quinoa and get to know farro. It’s an ancient grain with a delicious nutty flavor. Here’s my post for NPR’s Kitchen Window on how to shop for and cook farro. Plus, some fabulous recipes.
Laura B. Weiss
It’s almost tomato season and I’m already planning to make some of my favorite recipes with the luscious summer fruit. Frankly, the one I love best is no recipe at all. Take one just-picked exquisitely ripe tomato from the local farmstand. Bring home. Rinse off. Lean over sink. Chomp into it. Accompany with plenty of napkins. Now you have one of the great eating treats of any season!
But there are times when I want to take the tomato one step further. And now I have the perfect cookbook for those endeavors—Tomatoes (UNC Press 2013) by author and food writer Miriam Rubin. One of the great pleasures of this compact cookbook is that Rubin, who’s from rural Southwestern, PA, is a lively and inventive writer. She starts out by taking you on a journey through the history of tomatoes. It turns out that the fruit hasn’t always been beloved. Though in the Bible tomatoes were dubbed “love apples,” the Greeks labeled them “mala insana,” or unhealthy fruit.
In Tomatoes, there are recipes for every conceivable use for fresh, store-bought and canned tomatoes. There are preparations for Bloody Marys, for a savory tomato pie, and even for a spiced tomato crumb cake. The other night, I prepared Baked-Garlic Cheese Grits with Tomato Crunch Topping and my family swooned. Among the other recipes in Tomatoes that I can’t wait to try are Very Classy Cream of Tomato Soup and Crispy-Crumbed Baked Tomatoes with Pecans and Parmesan (See recipe below).
Because Tomatoes is part of the UNC Press Savor the South® Series—other titles include Biscuits, Peaches and Pecans—Rubin examines tomatoes through the lens of southern culinary traditions.
So what makes a tomato southern?
“A tomato absolutely becomes southern when it’s sliced thick, salted well, given a righteous slathering of Duke’s [mayonnaise], slapped between two slices of floppy white bread, and eaten over the kitchen sink,” she explains in the book’s Introduction. Tomatoes are also southern when they’re stewed, fried or made into a conserve.
Rubin points out that tomatoes aren’t just for summertime. The sorry cardboard supermarket tomato of yore has been replaced by several varieties of tasty tomatoes (some organic) that are now available at local supermarkets year-round. Plus, canned tomatoes work just fine in many recipes, she says.
Crispy-Crumbed Baked Tomatoes with Pecans and Parmesan
From TOMATOES: a Savor the South® cookbook by Miriam Rubin. Copyright © 2013 by Miriam Rubin. Used by permission of the University of North Carolina Press. www.uncpress.unc.edu
These are gorgeous nestled alongside a grilled or baked fish or a juicy steak or as the star of a vegetable plate. Medium- sized round tomatoes or large Romas work best, but cut Romas lengthwise in half instead of crosswise. Good- quality supermarket tomatoes work nicely because baking intensifies their flavor. Don’t be tempted to use store- bought dry bread crumbs here. Making fresh ones is so simple: Tear the bread into rough 2- inch pieces and buzz it in the food processor.
Makes 8 side dish servings
Preheat the oven to 425°.
Arrange the tomatoes cut- side up in a baking dish just large enough to hold them. Mix 1⁄2 teaspoon of the salt and the pepper in a cup; sprinkle over the tomatoes.
Melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Brush a little butter over the cut side of each tomato, leaving some in the skillet. Bake the tomatoes, uncovered, until they are hot, begin to soften, and look juicy on top, 20–25 minutes.
Meanwhile, add the scallions and garlic to the butter remaining in the skillet. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the scallions are tender, about 2 minutes. Add the bread crumbs and cook, stirring, until lightly golden and crisp, 3–5 minutes.
Scrape into a medium bowl. Mix in the Parmesan, pecans, and remaining 1⁄4 teaspoon salt.
Spoon some of the crumb mixture atop each tomato half. Bake until the crumbs are browned and heated, 10–12 more minutes. Serve hot.
Photo: Muy Yum via Flickr.
By Laura B. Weiss
Of all the ice cream treats out there, ice cream sandwiches are my favorite. I only touched on them in my book, Ice Cream: A Global History, but Jennie Schacht the Bay Area cookbook author, gives the iconic treat its due in her new book, I Scream Sandwich!.
Lavishly (and deliciously) illustrated with color photos, Ice Cream Sandwich! is chock full of recipes I can’t wait to try. Two that top my list are the Better-Than-It, patterned after the San Francisco-based It’s-It company’s classic ice cream sandwich. In Schacht’s rendition, that means two oatmeal cookies dipped in chocolate, sandwiching vanilla bean frozen custard. The other is Good ‘n Nutty, toasted almond ice cream on Almond wafers. It just so happens that the Good Humor toasted almond bar was one of my childhood favorites.
For those with fear of ice-cream making, Schacht suggests that in many recipes you can substitute store-bought brands for making your own. Plus, her reassuring tone (you can’t mess these up!) and copious step-by-step instructions mean even the baking-averse can try these recipes.
By Laura B. Weiss
You’re trying to find a gift for a food-obsessed friend. Or you’re an experienced baker and you’d like to know which cookbook will take you to the next level.
The app is easy to use and sorts cookbooks (on a scale of 1-5) by skill level, by the level of recipe innovation, by its gift-giving potential, and by whether it’s a “keeper,” with recipes that you’ll return to as favorites again and again.
For example, Chang gives All About Braising by Molly Stevens a 5 in the “keeper’ category, calling it a “forever” cookbook. Meanwhile, The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook—you can try your hand at Lady Mary’s Crab Canapés—rates only a 1. “Here and gone (trendy and ephemeral”), sniffs Chang.
You can use CookShelf to sort cookbooks numerous ways, from Mother’s Day to Gluten-free. Each entry contains sample recipes, a note on how long the recipe will take, and a description of how readily ingredients can be located at your local supermarket.
Each cookbook rating is preceded by a summary of it’s pros and cons. Chang is a lively and knowledgeable writer and her intros are informative and engaging. If you want more, you can click on Chang’s full reviews in The Boston Globe.
A couple of quibbles with this otherwise outstanding app for both casual cooks and collectors. The design is a bit clunky and it would be useful when you sort through a category to have both the name of author as well as the title listed.
When Desserts in Jars: 50 Sweet Treats that Shine by blogger Shaina Olmanson landed in my mailbox, my first reaction, quite frankly, was to roll my eyes. Come on. Can’t we make really good desserts without relying on gimmicks like cakes on sticks and pies in jars?
But after sitting down with this new cookbook, I’m pretty much wowed. Published by the highly regarded Harvard Common Press, Desserts in Jars boasts gorgeous photos, and clearly written text. The recipes for cupcakes, frozen treat, pies and the like are straightforward and easy to follow. Read more on Huffington Post.