Living in New York City, and with a wife who runs the boutique cooking school Cooking by the Book, I am inclined to view the city as the food capital of the world. For her events here, Suzen has a daily parade of ingredients from the best purveyors in the city. Yesterday, the menu was Thai and we had papaya all over our counters. Tonight, it’s Italian and there are bags of pasty awaiting their fate in boiling water.
Now, other cities do come to mind as food capitals. Paris, of course. Tokyo. Shanghai. Oxford, Mississippi.
Oh, yes, Oxford. After all, that is where John Currence, a James Beard Award winning chef, has created a network of four restaurants over the past 20 years: Snackbar, Lamar Lunge, Big Bad Breakfast, and Boure. It’s American food, Southern food and world-class food.
John has now taken to print with Pickles, Pigs and Whiskey. His nominees for the three food groups that count. Suzen and I are fortunate to receive new cookbooks every week. We love the surprises that greet us from these new pages, and we do go through each book pages by page. Stickies edge out from the margin as mark the 5 or 10 or 20 ideas that seem wonderful.
Once in a while, you get a book like Pickles, Pigs and Whiskey. A book where just about every one of the 130+ recipes deserves that sticky that says, “Try me. Try me now.” If you are bored with your cooking, if you want something new, really new, spectacularly new, then this book is for you. New ideas, new concepts, and new treats page by page.
I think John would love to cook with me and Suzen. His Manifesto at the start says that cooking should being with three things:
- Mood: enjoy yourself
- Beverage: cook with drink in hand
- Music: let the air be filled with both notes and aromas
And John does tend to be outspoken. He tells you to only cook with the best ingredients, such as homemade bread. Or, as John puts it: “Our crap food is killing us.”
This is the definitive anti-crap cookbook. The titles alone entice, as you’ll see in examples below.
Most importantly, this is a Sunday afternoon cookbook. The recipes are not “1-2-3” simple, the ingredient list can be long, and John can suggest that things take time. You might be able to make good food fast. But great food takes time. This book is filled with great recipes.
For example, his Deadliest Sin Champagne Punch include a Citrus Strawberry Shrub as one of the ingredients. That book title says Pickles, so here you will fine ideas for soy-pickled shiitakes and pickled grapes. You can make your own Worcestershire sauce, with 17 ingredients including jalapeno and tamarind paste.
There’s duck comfit with peach relish and coco-cola brined fried chicken thighs. It’s a Southern cookbook, so you do find fried catfish, but topped with roasted jalapeno tartar sauce. You can mate that with Peanut Butter Cake.
You’ve probably had Bananas Foster. You’ve never had Bananas Foster Bread Pudding with Brown Sugar-Rum Sauce and Candied Pecan ”Soil” made with pecans, brown sugar, cayenne, and paprika.
This is a book you want to own, read, savor and find delight in. It’s the perfect example that there are no bounds to culinary imagination and excellence.
The press release for the brand new Better Homes and Gardens Baking begins with “Whether novice or pro,…”
That is the perfect summary for this very accomplished all-in-one baking tome. Baking is an encyclopedia covering literally every aspect of home baking. It’s the size of an encyclopedia too: over 520 oversized pages, 350+ recipes, and 600+ photos. I’m fond of cookbooks rich with photos. While a recipe title may entice me, a photo will seduce me. There is seduction aplenty in Baking.
The pathways of our daily lives have guideposts that are important and often icons. When I go out on the street in the morning, I can turn north and see the Empire State Building. For better navigation, I use my iPhone with that perfect design. As the cars zip by, I may see a Thunderbird and recall the heyday of the “real” Thunderbird. Do any of you remember 77 Sunset Strip from 1961?
In our kitchen, we have icons. One certainly is the Better Homes and Garden Cookbook. “Where’s that recipe?” Suzen will ask me. “Purple book, two rows up and over from Better Homes,” I will answer. Even unopened, the red-and-white checkerboard cover is our kitchen compass.
Baking has the potential to be that fundamental a cookbook. It’s strange actually to page through it — which I did — and just see the perspective about contemporary American baking. Compared to cookbooks of two or three generations ago, Baking has an amazing spectrum of recipes. And a very different perspective on what people will be baking at home.
There are 17 chapters including:
- Bars and Brownies
- Decorated Cakes
- Holiday Baking
The difference between “old” and “new” baking attitudes is easily seen in comparing those first two chapters: Cookies versus Bars and Brownies. The cookie chapter is good but slim. I suppose that is a reflection that we all bake cookies less than we did — I know that I more frequently go for something “big” instead of wafer thin. If you want richness and goo, you hit that bars and brownies collection that includes:
- Cream Cheese Marbled Brownies
- Best-Ever Bourbon Brownies
- Triple Chocolate and Espresso Brownies
- Dulce de Leche Marshmallow Fluff Brownies
- Fudgy Saucepan Brownies
If you think those titles sound interesting, you should see the full page photos. Lickable.
Other chapters offer new ideas that are certain to intrigue:
- Chocolate-Walnut Bread Pudding with Coffee-Kahlua Cream Sauce
- Brown Sugar-Bacon Monkey Bread
- Potato-Bacon Batter Bread with Caramelized Onions
- Chile-Cheddar Casserole Bread
- Rustic Chocolate Tart
- Butterscotch Cream Pie
The casserole breads, for example, are ones that a novice can undertake but that any pro will be proud of. These are literally new bread ideas that would make a full warm meal on a crisp fall night.
Baking is filled with hints, ideas, suggestions for recipe options to “make it your own,” and of course many instructional photos. The recipe for Fudgy Saucepan Brownies is a mini-course in brownies, telling you the impact of changing the proportion of ingredients and how, in this case, you don’t want to do that “toothpick in the center” test for doneness.
There’s a wealth of detail in Baking, but gracefully packaged. You won’t be overwhelmed by Baking. But you will be awed.