I have a little bit of a cookbook problem. You see, when we moved to our current home, we dedicated a reasonable sized bookcase to the cookbooks. It had four shelves, was about two and a half feet wide, and seemed perfectly fine. Until I started putting my cookbooks on it. There was a little overflow, a few cookbooks I put on another shelf, some books that I recategorized as “travel books.” But the problem only got worse. It’s not that I buy a ton of cookbooks — I mean, I do buy a few, sometimes to cook with, sometimes as a souvenir when I’m traveling, sometimes because I really can’t resist a used book sale. But I also receive cookbooks as gifts. And cookbooks have a way of finding their way into my house in other ways too. As a result, I have several cookbooks that are more for recreational reading than actual cooking, per se, and several more that never really see the light of day (but do look so ornamental on that bookcase. And the surrounding bookcases as well.) The point is, I have a lot of cookbooks, and while I don’t mind this, my husband seems to think my collection is a bit … excessive. So you know a new cookbook is good when he comes up to me and says “You know, that cookbook really fills a niche that I think was missing from your cookbook collection.” This cookbook isn’t only endorsed by me, it’s endorsed by him, and that is a rare thing indeed, when it comes to cookbooks. The cookbook in question is, of course, The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook by Jaden Hair. People who are up on the food blogging community will recognize Jaden from her popular blog, Steamy Kitchen, and if you’ve met her in person or seen her on TV, you know that she has a lot of personal charisma and energy (Full disclosure — I met Jaden at the 2009 Blogher Food Conference, and I received a complimentary copy of the book through the conference after party), but even if you’ve never heard of Jaden Hair, this is a book you’ll want in your kitchen. [...]
It has been hot as blazes in Los Angeles, and the thing about Los Angeles is it does hot extremely well. 3 digit temperatures, brush fires — a heat wave turns the City of Angels from a reasonably convincing rendition of paradise (OK, in some places) to a reasonably convincing rendition of hell.
So I think it’s time for another piece in the travel series, because when L.A. gets like this, I would certainly love to be anywhere but here. And I find myself (as I often do) dreaming of sea breezes and warm water and golden sand — in short — Hawaii. [...]
When people think of comfort food, they usually return to their childhood, and foods of the nursery. Macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, chicken noodle soup. The food of my childhood, while delicious, was not in the same vein. My mother was a child of California, and the 1970′s and 1980′s saw the rise of California cooking and a focus on health food. While I did have occasional macaroni and cheese, the foods I remember most vividly from early childhood are grilled steak, fresh cantaloupe, Caesar salad. Oatmeal cookies and Crystal Light lemonade on hot summer days by the swimming pool. Chocolate chip cookies made with whole wheat flour and raw sugar. Lamb steaks with red wine and garlic. These are the foods that evoke childhood for me, but I would classify them as staples more than “comfort food”. Although I do occasionally, in times of distress, turn to foods of my California childhood, namely whole wheat toast, either buttered or spread with soft avocado and salt and pepper, as an adult, I have had to create my own idea of comfort food, and the world is a different place than it was in 1978. What’s more comforting than a steaming bowl of pho? Or a dish of perfectly puckered soup dumplings? Or some green corn tamales, dripping with melted cheese? When I want quick comfort at home, though, I turn to okonomiyaki. I first encountered okonomiyaki on a cold day in New York. I had heard about a tiny place in the East Village that made octopus balls, and being interested in any curiosity, I sought it out. It was tucked on a side street, and miniscule – even in NYC, my closet was bigger than this place, which consisted of a counter (for ordering, there was no room to sit) and a galley style kitchen. The menu was equally tiny, consisting of the sought out octopus balls, or takoyaki, and okonomiyaki. The takoyaki were good, but it was the okonomiyaki that really caught my eye. Referred to variously as Japanese pizza or a pancake, it’s a common street food in Osaka whose name roughly translates to “As you like it.” There are some basic ingredients that don’t vary, but additional ingredients can vary widely from seafood to cheese. The okonomiyaki I make at home is really a few fresh staples that I always have around, plus a few traditional Japanese toppings which are inexpensive and store almost indefinitely, and it comes together easily and quickly — the perfect thing for a Wednesday night dinner. [...]
Ah, the poor crockpot. It is used, nay, embraced all winter, when it churns out a steady stream of warming soups, hearty stews and stick-to-your-ribs casseroles. Then, come summertime and hot weather, the lonely crockpot is summarily dismissed, banished to the cupboard below the stairs with the spiders. “No!” it cries, “Wait! It doesn’t have to be like this! I can be summery! I am more eco-friendly than the grill! I don’t heat up your kitchen like an oven! Save me!” But you remain deaf to its piteous cries, and turn your back on the crockpot.
Until now. Look, I know where you’re coming from. Nobody wants to eat pot roast with gravy in July. But the crock pot should not be so easily dismissed. Just because it’s daylight until 10 pm doesn’t mean you don’t want to come home and have dinner waiting. And any appliance that doesn’t heat up the kitchen should be put into play in the summer. The key, of course, is to look to cuisines from tropical countries, where warm weather is the norm. You’re still making a stew or a casserole, but it seems, somehow, more fitting. Take this Thai pork with peanut sauce. I might not make this during a heat wave, but for a normal summer dinner, a crockpot may be just the ticket. [...]
I have a rich fantasy life, and I’m not ashamed to say that a large part of it revolves around the kitchen. In my fantasy life, I have a huge sunny kitchen, and a window sill filled with fresh herb plants. I can start dinner every day at 2 pm, and cook delicious food slowly from scratch out of healthy ingredients while singing folk songs and having a lovely and delicious conversation with my obedient child who is coloring happily at our enormous farmhouse kitchen table while I cook. Oh, and the dishes magically wash themselves. (Hey – I said it was a fantasy). Sadly, reality often intrudes. My kitchen is neither large nor sunny, my herbs live outside (well tended by my lovely husband), my child is more likely to be coloring on the table than coloring at the table and conversation is often punctuated with shrieks (her new trick) or “Up pee! C, D, E.” (She often conflates the alphabet with saying “up, please”.) I’m rarely home on a weeknight before seven, at which point it is imperative that I have a tickle fest with the Nuni (hey, I didn’t say reality was all bad) and by the time I actually make it into the kitchen I just want to get dinner on the table as quickly as possible. Fortunately, with this particular dish (which is frequently featured on the menu chez nous), I don’t have to give up delicious food cooked from scratch out of healthy ingredients. I can even sing, but to be frank, my repertoire usually features “She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain.” [...]