Our May Top Pick in Cookbooks is Fabio's Italian Kitchen by Fabio Viviani, an "old world, old school" celebration of Italian tradition. Fabio's personal story of becoming a chef is great, and so are the 150 recipes. Writes Cooking columnist Sybil Pratt, "Fabio is favoloso!"
Preheat the oven to 375?F.
Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot and cook the carrots, onion, and celery until soft and starting to caramelize, about 15 minutes.
While the vegetables sauté, make the meatballs. Mix the beef, eggs, breadcrumbs, Parmesan, salt, and pepper in a mixing bowl. Form into 1?2-inch balls and set on a baking sheet. Bake for 12–15 minutes.
Add the spinach to the sautéing vegetables and let it wilt. Then add the chicken stock to the vegetables and cook over high heat until it is somewhat reduced. Add the pasta to cook, and when the meatballs are ready, add them to the pot, too.
Boil 5 minutes and season with salt and pepper.
Family Table: Favorite Staff Meals from Our Restaurants to Your Home by Michael Romano and Karen Stabiner is our Top Pick in Cookbooks for April! Well-fed workers make happy workers, so before preparing delicious meals for hungry patrons, restaurant staff often partake in a "family meal." Family Table collects 150 easy, affordable "family meal" recipes, peppered with behind-the-scenes stories.
Bring the stock to a simmer in a large saucepan over medium heat, then reduce the heat and keep at a bare simmer.
Warm the oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the rice, stir to coat, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the wine and stir until it is absorbed by the rice. Add a ladleful of the stock and cook, stirring, until it has been absorbed by the rice. Continue adding stock a ladleful at a time and stirring until most of the stock has been absorbed and the rice is al dente, 20 to 25 minutes.
Stir in the peas, thyme, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste and cook, stirring, for 1 minute to warm the peas. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the grated cheese and the butter, if using, and serve.
Family Table: Favorite Staff Meals from Our Restaurants to Your Home by Michael Romano and Karen Stabiner is our Top Pick in Cookbooks for April, and it brings together 150 easy, affordable recipes from restaurants' "family meals"—what the staff eats before they serve you. Cooking columnist Sybil Pratt promises this cookbook brings "pizzazz and new pleasures."
Food carts all over New York City feature chicken or lamb seasoned with a Middle Eastern spice mix, seared on a griddle, and then stuffed into warm pitas or served over rice. Because the carts often stay open for business well past midnight, it was probably inevitable that a cook, inspired by his late-night snack, would create a similar version for family meal. The key is to use a heavy cast-iron skillet over high heat—and to give the pieces of chicken some breathing room, because if they’re crowded, they’ll steam instead of browning.
Just like its street-corner predecessor, this chicken is short on looks but long on flavor. Some of the pieces of chicken will char, some will brown. Then mix them with lime juice, salt, and sugar and let them sit briefly, and the spices will combine with the juices to form a delicious seasoning. Serve like the original, in warm pitas or over rice.
For the spice paste
Add the chicken pieces to the spice paste and stir well to coat. Refrigerate, covered with plastic wrap, for at least 1 hour, or up to 4 hours.
About 30 minutes before you are ready to cook, remove the chicken from the refrigerator.
Mix the lime juice with the salt and sugar in a large bowl, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar.
TO COOK THE CHICKEN: In a 12-inch cast-iron skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Working in batches, cook the chicken, loosening and turning the pieces as they brown, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer the cooked chicken to the lime juice mixture and toss to coat. Once all the chicken is cooked, let sit for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, so that the lime juice mingles with the spice coating to make a sauce.
Remove the chicken from the lime juice mixture and serve.
Our March 2013 Top Pick in Cookbooks is The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen by Matt Lee and Ted Lee, and it's the ultimate cookbook to help bring the divine flavors of the Lowcountry to any kitchen.
This recipe is a Charleston institution—the Cheese Spread from the hallowed Henry’s.
Time: 10 minutes
When Henry Hasselmeyer and his son-in-law, Walter Shaffer (pronounced SHAFF-er), opened Henry’s, a beer parlor at 54 North Market Street, in 1932, they served only beer and deviled crabs (see page 153), baked up by Hasselmeyer’s wife in their home on Ashley Avenue and delivered to the establishment on cookie sheets in a long black Packard. By the 1940s, Henry’s had evolved into Charleston’s most ambitious restaurant, with waiters in white jackets, steaks trucked in from the Kansas City butcher Pfaelzer Brothers, and the house’s own fanciful turns on local fish and shellfish: seafood à la Wando (named for a river north of Charleston), flounder à la Gherardi (named, it is variously said, for a rear admiral of the U.S. Navy who served in the Civil War, or for his son, a prominent engineer, who might have been a patron). Of all the elegant touches at Henry’s, which survived until 1985, when the family sold it, our favorite was the iced crudité dish set down on every table at the start of the meal. The plate, a simple steel oval, cradled celery, radishes, green cocktail olives, and an astonishingly good cheese spread. Some have likened this dip to pimento cheese, but it may have been more awesome, with the creamy-fiery thing of p.c., but torqued up by horseradish to a picklish, sinus-clearing intensity. It arrived on the table with little fanfare— it appeared nowhere on the menu (see Henry’s Menu, page 123)—but left a deep impression on people who loved Henry’s. This latter category included Albert Goldman, the late Elvis biographer, rock-and-roll critic, and frequent contributor to High Times—“the voice of the marijuana community”—who praised the cheese spread in his hilariously florid story about Charleston in a 1973 issue of Travel & Leisure. Walter Shaffer’s son, Henry, who graduated from the Citadel in 1950 and supervised the kitchen at Henry’s for several years in the fifties, loaned us the restaurant’s original recipe, typed on an old typewriter, calibrated for a commercial quantity. We’ve adapted it here for household use, although once you taste it, you may think we’re high for ratcheting down the quantity. It’s a fabulous spread for asparagus spears, radishes, carrot sticks, and crackers, to name a few. Or stir it into grits or fold it into an omelet!
The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen by Matt Lee and Ted Lee is our Top Pick in Cookbooks! If you've ever had the pleasure of visiting Charleston, South Carolina, you know how good the food is. Writes Cooking columnist Sybil Pratt, "Good food, even great food, isn’t 'trendy' here, it’s an integral and celebrated part of Lowcountry life."
Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
The old Lowcountry cookbooks have dozens of recipes for different ways you can make rice a base for various sauces and stews. There are rice waffles and rice breads, rice cakes and rice croquettes. When we ran across the croquettes in Mrs. Samuel G. Stoney’s Carolina Rice Cookbook (1901), we immediately thought of arancini—addictive fried rice balls often served with tomato sauce as an appetizer or a snack in Italy. We don’t know for sure whether rice croquettes ever came into contact with the tomato sauce from an earlier Lowcountry cookbook, Sarah Rutledge’s 1847 The Carolina Housewife.
What? You’re thinking, Italian tomato sauce in the South? In the nineteenth century?
Sì, sì. In fact, the archives at Middleton Place has the very copy of The Carolina Housewife owned by Paolina Bentivoglio Middleton, the Italian woman who married Sarah Rutledge’s cousin, Arthur Middleton (grandson of the Arthur who signed the Declaration of Independence), in Rome in 1841. The book contains annotations throughout, written in Paolina Middleton’s own hand, and in the margin of the recipe on page 90 for “Tomato Sauce” are the words, Mio recetto. We—and more important, Barbara Doyle, the archivist at Middleton Place—are fairly certain that this means the recipe was contributed to Sarah Rutledge’s cookbook by her cousin.
In any event, the rice croquettes found in the old books tend to be rather monastic affairs of egg and milk and not much else, so we find they take well to the cross-cultural dressing up. Here, we’ve torqued the seasoning of the rice balls themselves with country ham and scallions; and the garlicky, spicy sauce (which cooks in the time it takes to form and fry the rice croquettes) is the perfect dunk for the croquettes. Or, if you prefer, you can pour the sauce over them the way you would meatballs. Leave out the country ham, and you have a knockout vegetarian dish.
Buon appetito, y’all!
2. Make the croquettes: Preheat the oven to 225ºF.
3. In a large bowl, mix the rice, ham, scallions, and cream cheese until thoroughly combined. Season the mixture to taste with salt and black pepper. Beat one of the eggs well, add it to the bowl, and stir gently with a spatula until evenly coated.
4. Using wet hands, form the rice mixture into Ping-Pongsize balls. Beat the remaining egg in a small bowl with the milk. Put the bread crumbs in a shallow bowl. Dip the balls in the egg and then roll in the crumbs until evenly coated.
5. Pour the oil into a 4-quart (or larger) Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot to a depth of about 1½ inches. Turn the heat to medium high, and when the oil reaches 350ºF on a frying thermometer, fry the rice balls in batches, about six at a time, turning them in the oil as they brown, for about 3 minutes total. Transfer as finished to the oven, placed on a heat-proof plate lined with a paper towel. When all the rice balls have been fried, serve with the warm tomato sauce.
Our February issue's Top Pick in Cookbooks imparts tips, tricks and guidance to help you "become an accomplished creator of Chinese home cooking." Fuchsia Dunlop's Every Grain of Rice helps make a daunting cuisine "definitely doable."
The only tricky bit, if you’re not used to it, is shucking the oysters, for which it’s best to use a special oyster knife. To shuck, hold each oyster in a wet kitchen towel, with the hinge end poking out of the cloth. Ease the knife gently into the hinge to find the sweet spot of least resistance, then force it in. Twist the knife to force the two shells apart, then run it around the inside of the top part of the shell to allow you to remove the lid. It’s best to ask someone to show you how to do this if you haven’t tried it before.
If you make this dish with good oysters and free-range eggs, it’ll be better than any oyster omelette you’ll taste in a restaurant. Make it for a special brunch for someone you love, or serve it with rice as part of a Chinese meal.
Beat the eggs, then beat in the flour mixture with salt and pepper to taste.
Add the oil to a seasoned wok over a high flame and swirl it around. Pour in the eggs and swirl the mixture around the base of the wok. Scatter the oysters evenly over the egg mixture and reduce the heat to medium. Tip the wok and use a wok scoop or ladle to allow some of the liquid egg that pools in the center to escape towards the hot metal surface.
When the omelette is golden underneath, scatter with the spring onion greens, then flip to cook the other side. When this side, too, is golden, transfer to a plate and serve.
Mary Burton's new romantic suspense The Seventh Victim is our Top Pick in Romance for February! Romance columnist Christie Ridgway promises it "will keep readers up all night."
Lara Church was the only surviving victim of a Seattle serial killer. Now, the killer is back, and it looks like he's found her in Texas—and Texas Ranger James Beck is determined to keep her safe. If you love books that turn up the sexual tension with plenty of danger, this one's for you.
Read our 7 questions interview with Burton, where we talked about the romantic suspense genre, sexy scenes, her career and more.
Also, read on for an excerpt from The Seventh Victim, when Lara Church and Texas Ranger James Beck meet for the first time (read more here):
In the distance he heard a dog bark. Judging by the animal’s deep timbre, it was big and running in Beck’s direction. Absently, he moved his hand to the gun on his hip. Nice places like this could turn nasty or even deadly in the blink of an eye.
The dog’s barking grew louder. Tightening his hand on the gun’s grip, he scanned the wooded area around the cabin until his gaze settled on a path that cut into the woods. In a flash, a large black and tan shepherd emerged from the woods, its hair standing on end. The animal glared at Beck, barking and growling. The animal was a beauty, but he’d shoot if it attacked.
Seconds later a woman emerged from the woods. She carried a shotgun in her hands and the instant she saw Beck she raised the barrel.
Beck didn’t hesitate. He drew his gun and pointed it directly at the women. “Texas Ranger. Drop the gun now!”
The woman stared at him, her gaze a blend of surprise and wariness.
“Put. The. Gun. Down.” Each word was sharpened to a fine point.
She lowered the tip of the barrel a fraction but didn’t release the gun. “How do I know you’re a Texas Ranger?”
The Texas Ranger uniform was easily recognizable to anyone who’d been in Texas more than five minutes. But that discussion came after she released the weapon. “Put the gun down, now.” He all but shouted the command over the dog’s barking. “Now!”
Carefully, she laid the barrel down and took a step back as if she was ready to bolt into the woods. The dog bared its teeth, but she made no move to calm the animal. She might have surrendered the gun, but the dog remained a threat.
He braced his feet. “If your dog lunges at me, I will shoot him.”
Her gaze flickered quickly between the dog and his gun. She understood he’d meant it. “Okay.” She looped her fingers through the dog’s collar and ordered him to heel close at her side.
“You and the dog step back.”
“Do it!” He glanced at the shotgun, knowing he’d not breathe a sigh of relief until he had it in hand.
“I am not turning around.” Her raspy voice stutter- stepped with panic. “I want to see your badge.”
He studied her. If this was Lara Church and she’d survived the Strangler, fear would be a logical response. “Step away from the gun.”
She drew in a breath and moved back with the dog. He picked up the shotgun and holstered his gun. Slowly, he pulled his badge from his breast pocket and held it up to her.
“Sergeant James Beck,” he said.
He opened the break-action shotgun and found two shells in the double-barreled chamber. The safety was off. He removed the shells. “You always greet people with a shotgun?” He glanced from her to the growling dog.
“When I’m alone, yes. And it is registered, and I am on my land, so I’m well within my rights to carry a weapon.”
As he held her rifle, he glared at her and the barking shepherd. “You know how to shoot it?”
Blue eyes held his. “I sure do.”
Will you check this one out?
Never thought of cooking Chinese food at home? You're not alone, but Every Grain of Rice by Fuchsia Dunlop may change that tune. Cooking columnist Sybil Pratt writes, "Chinese cooking can be elegant, complex and daunting. . . . Over the centuries, Chinese home cooks have learned to cook and eat in a frugal, healthy way, making vegetables and grains sing with flavor while using meat, poultry and fish sparingly."
It's our Top Pick in Cookbooks for February, and it's an excellent excuse to try your hand at a brand new cuisine—or to perfect a favorite!
The dish is traditionally made with ground beef, although many cooks now use pork. This vegetarian version is equally sumptuous. Vegetarians find it addictive: one friend of mine has been cooking it every week since I first taught her the recipe some 10 years ago. In Sichuan, they use garlic leaves (suan miao) rather than baby leeks, but as they are hard to find, tender young leeks make a good substitute, as do spring onion greens. You can also use the green sprouts that emerge from onions or garlic bulbs if you forget about them for a while (as I often do). This dish is best made with the tenderest tofu that will hold its shape when cut into cubes.
Heat a wok over a high flame. Pour in the cooking oil and swirl it around. Reduce the heat to medium, add the chilli bean paste and stir-fry until the oil is a rich red color and smells delicious. Next add the black beans and ground chillies (if using) and stir-fry for a few seconds more until you can smell them too. Then do the same with the ginger and garlic. Take care not to overheat the seasonings; you want a thick, fragrant sauce and the secret of this is to let them sizzle gently, allowing the oil to coax out their flavors and aromas.
Remove the tofu from the hot water with a perforated spoon, shaking off excess water, and lay it gently in the wok. Push the tofu tenderly with the back of your ladle or wok scoop to mix it into the sauce without breaking up the cubes. Add the stock or water, the white pepper and salt to taste and mix gently, again using the back of your scoop so you don’t damage the tofu.
Bring to a boil, then simmer for a few minutes to allow the tofu to absorb the flavors of the seasonings. Add the leek slices (if using) and nudge them into the sauce. When they are just tender, add a little of the flour-and-water mixture and stir gently as the liquid thickens. Repeat once or twice more, until the sauce clings to the seasonings and tofu (don’t add more than you need). If you are using spring onions rather than leeks, add them now and nudge them gently into the sauce.
Pour the tofu into a deep bowl. Sprinkle with the ground roasted Sichuan pepper and serve.
A lot of our Top Picks in Cookbooks come from professionally trained chefs, but few come from foodies as obsessed with perfection as The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman. Writes Cooking columnist Sybril Pratt, "If Deb is an unknown quantity, her chatty, reassuring style, her practical take on what to serve when and her irrepressible enthusiasm will win you over."
What finally led me here was, innocently enough, a basket of boring-looking lemon-poppy seed muffins at a bakery one morning; they got me wondering when poppy seeds would come untethered from lemon’s grasp. Poppy seeds are delightful on their own—faintly nutty bordering on fruity—but they also play well with fruit that is richer in flavor and texture than lemon. Inspired, I went home and, a short while later, finally pulled a muffin out of the oven I’d change nothing about. Poppy seeds, plums, browned butter, brown sugar, and sour cream form a muffin that’s rich with flavor, dense with fruit, and yet restrained enough to still feel like breakfast food. Seven rounds and six months in, I bet somewhere my editor is breathing a sigh of relief.
Whisk the egg with both sugars in the bottom of a large bowl. Stir in the melted butter, then the sour cream. In a separate bowl, mix together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and poppy seeds, and then stir them into the sour-cream mixture until it is just combined and still a bit lumpy. Fold in the plums.
Divide batter among prepared muffin cups. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until the tops are golden and a tester inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Rest muffins in the pan on a cooling rack for 2 minutes, then remove them from the tin to cool them completely.
Generally, I think muffins are best on the first day, but these surprise me by being twice as moist, with even more developed flavors, on day two. They’re just a little less crisp on top after being in an airtight container overnight.
You don’t create seven muffin recipes in a year without learning a few things. I found that you could dial back the sugar in most recipes quite a bit and not miss much (though, if you find that you do, a dusting of powdered sugar or a powdered-sugar–lemon-juice glaze works well here); that a little whole-wheat flour went a long way to keep muffins squarely in the breakfast department; that you can almost always replace sour cream with buttermilk or yogurt, but I like sour cream best. Thick batters—batters almost like cookie dough—keep fruit from sinking, and the best muffins have more fruit inside than seems, well, seemly. And, finally, in almost any muffin recipe, olive oil can replace butter, but people like you more when you use butter—and if you brown that butter first, you might have trouble getting them to leave.
The January Top Pick in Romance is the newest in Jayne Ann Krentz's Dark Legacy series, the "imaginative and exciting" psychic romance Dream Eyes.
This sizzling paranormal adventure stars psychic counselor Gwen Frazier, who heads to a small town in Oregon when her slain mentor starts communicating. Psychic investigator Judson Coppersmith joins to help, and sparks fly.
We chatted with author Krentz in a 7 questions interview about favorite scenes, writing and psychic powers. We love her spunk, but maybe she could put her hypothetical psychic powers to better use. . . .
Are you a Krentz fan? She also writes under the names Amanda Quick and Jayne Castle. Do you have a favorite?