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Six Books I’ve Been Enjoying

Stacks and stack of books are piled up here and there, in every possible space around my apartment. I can’t help it — I love books! I’ve got books on my nightstand, there are three stacks on my coffee table (and two precariously high stacks next to the sofa), and, of course, several on my kitchen counter with recipes that I’ve bookmarked. It’s not possible to write about all of them – that post would be as long as a whole book – but here are a few that I found especially interesting.

50 foods

50 Foods: The Essentials of Good Taste by Ed Behr

I haven’t read 50 Foods: The Essentials of Good Taste cover-to-cover, which is actually fine, since the book is a collection of chapters that you can easily flip through and invariably land on something fascinating and enlightening. Ed Behr is the editor of The Art of Eating, a well-written newsletter, and when I moved to Paris. I’d brought along one particular issue, with an in-depth article about a croissant-maker in the 14th. The writing and descriptions were so good, they made me anxious to try his croissants. (Of course, as always seems the case with me, the day I went there was a fermeture exceptionelle. And I never crossed town to go back.)

50 Foods is one of those books that you can learn something with every sentence that you read. So you can open to a chapter and learn why some honeys crystallize and why others remain liquids (and what big manufacturers do to prevent it from happening). Why the best goat milk cheeses are not available in the winter months. How the preparation of rice various from culture to culture – especially how Asians treat it differently than Italians. And how the normally technique-obsessed French don’t give rice any special treatment at all.

Chocolate gets its due, with a discussion of how it’s made, what’s the most satisfying way to eat it, and what wines go well with it. I agree with Ed’s proclamation that “Chocolate destroys most wines.” And while red wine is a popular, go-to choice for many, I share his feeling that chocolate needs a wine made from sweeter grapes, and Banyuls, a fortified wine from the south of France, and sometimes Madiera, which support and accompany the flavors in chocolate better than tannic reds.

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Five Books on French Cuisine

The Whole Fromage

The Whole Fromage

Look, I like cheese a lot. But didn’t think I could get into an entire book on the subject. And as I read the first few paragraphs of The Whole Fromage, my suspicions were almost confirmed and I was considering putting it down because, like cheese (which I’m surrounded by on a daily basis – and I’m not complaining!), a well-edited selection is usually my preferred way to enjoy it. Fortunately I kept going and found myself completely absorbed in the book on les fromage, the subject of Kathe Lison’s obsession. And her book is a series of interesting essays as she traveled around France, visiting cheese producers, from the mountains of the Jura to the caves of Roquefort.

It’s hard to write about cheese because the scents and flavors that come to mind, used to describe the taste and smell of les fromages, aren’t often very appealing; barnyards, cattle pens, rotting milk, and the laundry bin in men’s locker rooms after the big game, often come to mind. But Kathe Lison visited some of the most intriguing cheese regions in France – from Langres to Beaufort, and recounts her visits cheese caves, curd tastings, meetings with artisan cheese producers, and an occasional brush with a cranky character or two.

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Food Photography for Bloggers: Interview with Matt Armendariz

Matt Armendariz is one of my favorite people and my biggest regret it that we live about 6000 miles apart. We’ve had fun trips to Provence and Mexico together, and he even invented a cocktail after me. Although I have to clarify that I invented it, but he gave it wings – and a name. But no one can take credit for the beautiful photography on his site except him. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to spend a few vacations with him, and we’ve also pulled up at the same table more times that I can count (and I’m not complaining!)

MattArmendariz

Matt is a self-taught photographer who made a name for himself by shooting light-filled photos of food, amazing portraits, and working with national magazines, major retail stores, and cookbook authors. He’s also been really helpful giving advice to a number of non-professionals (like me) about photography, and his advice is always spot-on and he’s especially good at explaining things that even I can understand. So I’m thrilled that he’s finally written it all up for everyone to benefit from in his book, Food Photography for Bloggers.

chocolate chip cookies 2 chocolate chip cookies

In addition to gorgeous photography (and a few not-so-gorgeous ones to help you see that you see how a subtle change can turn a mediocre photo into something sensational), there are tips about how to shoot food – and chefs – in restaurants, how you can get the best shot by moving the food you’re shooting to find the right light (which isn’t necessarily where we think it is, I learned from teh book), and a chapter on equipment subtitled “Using What Ya Got!” focusing on how to get better shots without buying any additional equipment. I loved reading and seeing in action how just by changing an angle or your perspective, you can dramatically improve the shot, and make the food look extra-enticing.

roasted chicken picture roast chicken

I wanted to ask Matt a few questions to share with you. So here we go…

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Yeasted Plum Tart

plum tart

I’ve gotta say, I’ve taken a few dings for not presenting only the best parts of life in a foreign city. People may, or may not, want to hear about dealing with cranky cashiers, rigid administrators, or worse, paper-thin bath towels, instead wanting a perfect story of life in an apartment with a balcony, and watching sunsets every night over chilled glasses of Champagne, toasting yet another day in paradise. Invariably, however, almost all those “love letter-style” books end with the author moving back home in the final chapter or epilogue. And I always wish I’d hear the real story about why they stayed, or why they left.

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Ready for Dessert – Now in Paperback!

I’m thrilled that my latest book, Ready for Dessert has just been released in a softcover edition!

The book has the same recipes as the hardcover edition of Ready for Dessert (all recipes are in standard and metric measurements) and the icing on the cake is that there are more photographs from talented photographer Maren Caruso were added.

chocolate chip cookies

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Masterpieces of French Cuisine

Masterpieces of French Cuisine

When I moved to France a number of years ago, the hardest things to part with were my cookbooks. (And San Francisco burritos.) Some I shipped ahead – which, as readers of my Paris book know, I’m still waiting for today. Some got boxed and put in storage, and the rest were sold or given away. One of my favorite books of all time was brought to my attention by a woman who ate in the kitchen at Chez Panisse a few times a week. Back then, it wasn’t trendy to be seated where the cooks were working, which are now called “chefs tables” and they’ve become so popular that restaurants actually put tables frequently in the kitchens and guests can reserve them. She just preferred to be back in the kitchen with us, rather than with the rest of the diners.

breton broiled lobster

Since we all liked her a lot, and not just because she regularly brought us in French pastries and Belgian chocolates, but because she was a lot of fun. She held court at that table for perhaps a decade and she even entered through the kitchen door when dining with us because she wanted to be “part of the gang.” She loved to eat everything, especially lobster and frais des bois (or anything with butter, really), but she had a soft spot for pastries and her table was next to where I worked, so I spent a lot of time talking about food with her. Knowing I liked cookbooks, one day she brought me in a copy of a large-format cookbook from her collection to read – Masterpieces of French Cuisine.

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Favorite Cookbooks of 2011

cookbook pile up

As 2011 draws to a close, I look at the stack of books that I’ve collected on my bookshelf (and piled up on my floor…and beside my bed, and stacked in my kitchen…) and wonder how I’m going to cook and bake from them all. I just can’t help it, though—I love cookbooks. And these are the books that I couldn’t resist tackling in 2011, although a few are filled with bookmarks intended for future dinners and desserts, and blog posts. Some are traditional books bound with nice paper, filled with recipes, others are food-related books; memoirs and remembrances. And there are a few entries I’ve chosen that push the boundaries of traditional text, electronically and otherwise.

This year, I found myself drawn to cookbooks with a story to tell, not just mere collections of recipes. Books with a distinct point of view by an author, and essays which took me beyond the page and into their lives, which veered in some rather compelling directions. A few of the books were chef’s memoirs, which I did include even though they don’t have recipes. But something about them added to the canon of cookery books I have and referenced cooking in ways I wasn’t expecting.

Because I live abroad and have limited storage space (and deliveries can be a challenge), I wasn’t able to procure all the books that I wanted to. But this year saw a big uptick in publishers – and readers – jumping onto the e-book bandwagon. While not everyone wants to cook from a computer screen, one advantage is that foreign cookbooks, or out-of-print titles, may have new lives and can downloaded anywhere in the world within seconds.

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Merguez Corn Dogs

Corn dogs

When I moved to Paris, one of the kind people who took me under their wing (as in, the kind that takes you out to Ikea), said to me – “You’re not a real Parisian until you’ve had a merguez sandwich stuffed with frites inside, at 3am.”

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