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.

Although this book contains no recipes, we had a few e-mail exchanges about recipe testing. When I’d mentioned that I had met a newbie cookbook author who expressed surprise that she had to test some of the recipes…up to three times!” we had a virtual laugh, and Ed said something that stuck with me: You can’t “know” a recipe until you make it many times – as many times as it takes to get it right. Which is why we have favorite recipes that we return to over-and-over, because we know that recipe. It’s that kind of insight that made me enjoy 50 Foods, which Ed said represented almost a lifetime of research, learning, and experience. And it shows.

cooked

Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan

I’ve often been reluctant to pick up a book by Michael Pollan, fearing that I’m going to get reprimanded for how or what I eat. (We have social media for that, now.) When I finally read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I found his writing highly engaging, as well as educational, without any hint of high-handedness. Then, a few months ago, I was at an airport scoping out a book for the plane, and saw Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. Even though I was skeptical that it was going to be a little heavy an airplane read, I picked it up.

I was glad I didn’t pick up the US Weekly or In Touch Weekly (as much as I wanted to keep abreast of what the Kardashians were up to), because right off the bat, I was engaged with the book, which talks about how techniques of cooking have evolved and how they’ve integrated into our culture. Divided into four sections; Fire, Water, Air, and Earth, each topic is handled by Pollan’s explorations into how we cook using these four transformative techniques.

In Fire, as someone who has eaten – and written about – some excellent barbecue, i was interested to read his take on why everyone thinks their barbecue (or insert bagels, coffee, etc.) are the best of their genre. And how tribal true American bbq is (long cooked foods, over fire), and how it’s as close to basic cooking as we can get. Water focuses on braising, Air explores the wonders (and difficulties) of making a great loaf of bread (I plan on tackling his recipe shortly…stayed tuned — maybe!), and finally, Earth talks about fermentation, and how different cultures use, trap, exploit, and enjoy, various foods that are precariously close to rotten.

There are a lot of great ideas and discussions in this book, presented reasonably and with an open mind. I was especially intrigued by his thoughts on the DIY movement in America, since it’s a massive circling back to our roots. One of his conclusions about the DIY movement is that it connects us to so many things – bacteria, nature, land, and other people. I once bought a tub of organic yogurt, and when I opened it, it was still liquid, which somehow delighted me. Ditto with tasting some of the new bean-to-bar chocolates in America. Some have flaws, which often pique my interest: often things that are handmade are more appealing than something that is without distinctions (or flaws). I’ll take a blemish, or a distinctively different flavor, in something that’s unexpected, over something that is mass-produced.

Michael Pollen also offers theories about why odors that we find repugnant, such as worn gym socks and barnyard droppings, when found in cheese, inspire rapture. And umami, which is abundant in ketchup (and in soy sauce and fish sauce), probably explains much of their popularity around the world. Reading this book taught me a lot about how we’ve evolved, and how we’ve developed as cooks. And will likely to continue doing so. (Especially me, if I finally tackle that bread!)

duck duck goose

Duck, Duck, Goose: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking Waterfowl, Both Farmed and Wild by Hank Shaw

Years ago, I was cooking with some comrades from Chez Panisse in France, and we had decided that sautéed duck breasts would be a good main course to serve for a special meal. The chef, Jean-Pierre Moullé, chimed in with, “In France, duck breasts are not special. They are everyday fare.” And indeed, duck legs, thighs, tenders, and breasts, are easily available in any supermarket.

However in America, duck is still something reserved for special occasions, which is a shame because it makes such a wonderful meal. The meat has a gamey, savory flavor, with the portionability and ease of cooking, that is part of the appeal of chicken. Duck also lends itself beautifully to long braising, which usually improves its flavor, so it’s the perfect food for entertaining. If you’d like to explore cooking duck, or goose, I can’t say I’ve seen a better book than Duck, Duck, Goose. To be honest, it’s not a topic that I’ve given that much thought about, since I tend to make the same preparations (long braises) of duck over and over.

But I’m intrigued by dishes like Duck Chili, Chinese Char Siu Barbecued Duck (shown with a beautiful spicy-sweet glaze), Red-Cooked Duck with soy, ginger and Shaoxing wine, French Duck Wing Soup (because I never know that to do with all those duck wings…), and the classic Salmis of Duck, which Hank Shaw describes as “an ancient French dish” where duck gets roasted in a very hot oven, and served with croutons toasted in duck fat. Why haven’t I had this dish before?

If you don’t know much about duck, there’s plenty of helpful, easy-to-understand information about the different types of duck (and geese, of course), including varieties, species, and where to get it, with step-by-step instructions and photos on how to cut up duck, so you can get going on that salmis yourself.

in search of the perfect loaf

In Search of the Perfect Loaf by Samuel Fromartz

I met Samuel Fromartz when I was in search of the perfect loaf. I was trying out a very popular recipe that was going around the internet a few years, and not having much luck. I didn’t like the taste. And while the technique was interesting, I found the results lacking. Through the wonders of the internet, I found myself in touch with Sam. We had some great conversations about bread-making, and how I could improve the loaf I was trying to master. And although I decided to go back to buying me bread from the experts (ie: my local boulanger), I was happy to make his acquaintance.

I met Sam in person when he came to Paris, to work at Boulangerie Delmontel, getting up at 3am to start the daily bread baking with the head baker. Sam isn’t a professional baker, but a writer, who found himself suddenly unemployed. He was making bread as a hobby so pitched an idea to a burgeoning travel magazine, to come to Paris to learn to make baguettes in a French bakery. They bought the idea, and off he went on his explorations, which he chronicled in his book, In Search of the Perfect Loaf.

I had some of his bread at a fête in Washington, DC last spring, where he lives, and his loaves rivaled (and surpassed) some of the bread I’ve had in France. I’ve got his recipe for Emmer Flatbread bookmarked, and he gave my Socca recipe an American twist (don’t tell the people in Provence!), but I enjoyed simply following his journey to becoming a bread maker, and traveling around the country (and France) to learn from professional bread bakers, in his search for the perfect loaf.

Hungry for paris

Hungry for Paris by Alexander Lobrano

Paris is constantly changing and although the magazines and journalists list the hot spots, no one is “on the ground” in Paris more than Alec Lobrano. Alec claims in the book to go out “5 nights a week” and for full-disclosure, on occasion, I’ve been fortunate to join him. I actually met him after I read the first edition of Hungry for Paris, and as much as I enjoy his writing, he’s a great dinner companion. But the next best thing is reading his stories about Paris dining. (And frankly, I can’t join him in eating out five nights a week.)

In the all-new, completely revised edition of Hungry for Paris, he’s added dozens of new restaurants, and crossed a few off his lists. Alec seems to find what makes a restaurant work, calling one place out for its “forgettable decor,” but lavishing praise for the food, noting that it “might serve as a model for what the Parisian café genus could and should become.” Another place is noted as not being a place for “cutting edge dining” but a great spot for “first-rate old-fashioned comfort food,” which visitors are invariably in search of, when dining out in Paris.

The book isn’t just a list of restaurants, but each of the hundred-and-nine entries gets its due with the story behind the restaurant, explaining why it’s included, or how he found the place, or what to expect when dining there. It’s not just “order this, avoid that,” but written so you actually feel like you are dining out with Alec. The book is arranged by neighborhoods, with each entry ending with “In a Word,” which encapsulates the essence of the restaurant, and the chef, and “Don’t Miss,” which gives you guidance what to look for when you go. This book will certainly make you hungry for Paris. But even if you aren’t in the Paris, his tales of French dining will seduce you into feeling like you are here, sitting in your favorite bistro or sharing a carafe of wine with a witty friend at a neighborhood hotspot.

egg

Egg: A Culinary Exploration of the World’s Most Versatile Ingredient by Michael Ruhlman

I’ve used more eggs than any normal person could count. remember when I arrived in France, and was writing my The Perfect Scoop, supermarket cashiers would be stunned by l’américain who’d unload six or seven cartons of eggs at a time. I know eggs like the back of my hand, but found lots more information in Michael Rhulman’s latest treatise on what some call the perfect food; the egg.

Everything you could want to know about eggs is in Egg: A Culinary Exploration of the World’s Most Versatile Ingredient. Divided by chapters, including Cooked in Shell, and Cooked Out of Shell, Egg is a compendium of recipes that just the yolks, and others that feature dishes that only use the whites. But Michael doesn’t just gives recipes, but talks about the hows and whys eggs work the way they do in recipes, with his usual opinionated candor. If you’re the kind of person that wants to know what eggs do in a dish, and how they work when you fry, fold, blend, or whip them, the answers are all here.

There’s a towering quiche, his famous aged eggnog, French buttercreams, popovers, and œufs en Meurette, the famous French dish of eggs gently poached in red wine, all of which exploit the power and wonders of the incredible egg.


Books listed are linked to Amazon, where I’m an affiliate. They are also available at your local bookseller, as well as Barnes & Noble and IndieBound, online.


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38 comments

  • C Wilson
    September 22, 2014 1:17pm

    You are such a source of inspiration. I so enjoy your writing, humor, and what I learn from you. And you are a machine, meant in a positive way… I fear I may have all of these books stacked up in my house soon. First on the list, Duck, Duck, Goose. Thank you.

    • September 22, 2014 5:21pm
      David Lebovitz

      It’s a very interesting book. I like duck but never paid too much attention to it. I often braised or pan-fried it. I loved all the suggestions in Hank’s book, as well as the information about how to prepare it. Some people aren’t all that familiar with it, but it deserves wider recognition, in my opinion.

  • Elise Fleming
    September 22, 2014 1:28pm

    Regarding chocolate in wine, do go and try the wine chocolate at the York Cocoa House in York, England. It’s based on a recipe from the early 1700s and is sublime! It bears no resemblance to the insipid, pale-colored “chocolate wine” marketed in bottles, but is dark, thick, and served hot. Even Ed Behr might change his mind about what this chocolate does to this wine.

    • September 22, 2014 5:20pm
      David Lebovitz

      Most red wines have a lot of tannins, which chocolate has as well, so they can compete with each other, rather than enhance. But of course, taste is subjective and people should eat what they like : ) It’s just nice to get more opinions and ideas for tasting. I love Banyuls or Port with chocolate – actually, I like (almost anything) with chocolate!

  • September 22, 2014 2:07pm

    As a voracious reader, I am always in the search of a good book. And if it’s about food, that’s even better! I am particularly excited about the last one. Michael Ruhlman’s books are always a treasure-trove of information, and I couldn’t be happier he’s now taken on one of the world’s most important sources of sustenance, eggs. Thanks for this!

  • September 22, 2014 3:04pm

    I just ordered “In search of the perfect loaf” based on your recommendation. I am a nearly life long (40 of my 59 years) bread baker…the last 4 years mostly high moisture no knead. Currently, I’m working on flatbread so your note about the flatbread recipe as well as the reviews on Amazon had me pulling the buy trigger!

    • September 22, 2014 5:18pm
      David Lebovitz

      One thing good about the internet, is that most authors have blogs or websites, so you can get more information about them and see how they write, and sometimes, samples of their books. I do want to try that flatbread!

  • Lyn
    September 22, 2014 3:13pm

    I was wondering the other day why some honeys crystallize….must read Ed’s 50 Foods book, thanks. Have you read Ann Mah’s Mastering the Art of French Eating? Fascinating book and I learned a great deal — now, of course, I’m dying to take the first plane available and travel around the French countryside!

  • September 22, 2014 3:54pm

    This was fun to read. Have you been interested in any new cookbooks lately? Would love to read a review of those too.

  • September 22, 2014 4:23pm

    In ONE point we really have the same addiction – books, books, books. I don’t know how many other interests are shared between us but although my eye-sight is waning I came back from UK some time ago with something like 150-180 new and old (English) books in the trunk. I tend to buy them, new or 2nd hand and have them sent to my friends and then I pick them up when visiting by car…. I shall delight in going through your pile of cookery books soon and am confident that none of them will displace YOUR Paris kitchen on my bedside table soon (unless I could get my hands on What Katie ate…). Thank you for being such a terrific ‘sharer’ with such a generous heart, David. So appreciated!

  • September 22, 2014 4:24pm

    Talking about books…..my husband and I just finished The Sweet Life In Paris and loved it. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your book., it made me laugh out loud a dozen times. I made your recipe for the tomato bread salad twice.

  • susan luraschi
    September 22, 2014 4:30pm

    Edward Behr is my Mr in-depth-detail, my Food God. I devour every issue of his magazine. He is almost French in his thoroughness.

  • Leticia
    September 22, 2014 4:33pm

    Fantastic! I have to get Duck, Duck, Goose! Just bracing ourselves for another New England winter, good recipes for duck (and goose) are welcome.

  • witloof
    September 22, 2014 4:56pm

    Thank you for saying out loud what I have always thought: no knead bread is tasteless. I made it a couple of times, tried as hard as I could to like it, ate a slice or two, and then lost interest.

  • September 22, 2014 5:15pm

    Excellent info. – must order 50 Foods, Cooked, and Perfect Loaf for sure. Then I’ll need to find the time to read them; always a challenge!

  • September 22, 2014 5:34pm

    Grazie for the book roundup.

    For bread, have you looked into what Richard Bertinet does with bread? I’ve used his technique for years with excellent results. And he’s a good ‘bloke’ to boot.

  • September 22, 2014 6:06pm

    I’m off to buy “In Search of the Perfect Loaf” after reading this!

  • Tammi
    September 22, 2014 6:06pm

    Great list of books. I’ve just received for my birthday My Paris Kitchen and although I have just started it, am loving it so thank you.

  • September 22, 2014 8:17pm

    Thank you for this. I’m an avid cookbook reader and love to see what the masters are reading! Definitely going to buy the 50 Foods as I love your description that I “can learn something with every sentence that you read”. Yay! Thanks for this.

  • September 22, 2014 9:39pm

    You can’t “know” a recipe until you make it many times – as many times as it takes to get it right. Which is why we have favorite recipes that we return to over-and-over, because we know that recipe.

    Until you buy a new cooker, and nothing works any more! I am in that awkward state just now – the burners all seem too hot, I can’t get them down low enough, and my favourite recipes aren’t quite working just now. They will, as I get used to it, but right now…. misery and indigestion!

  • September 22, 2014 10:04pm

    Being married to a chef, we have more cookbooks than I could ever need. However, the last one by Michael Ruhlman looks really interesting. Maybe my husband “needs” it so I can read it. :-) Thanks for the reviews. I always enjoy reading your blog.

  • September 22, 2014 10:15pm

    Thanks for mentioning my book :-)

    I would point out that while the emmer flat bread is probably the easiest recipe in the book, the toughest part of it will be getting emmer. I am actually not sure I’ve seen it in France, as spelt (épeutre) and einkorn (petit épeutre) seem more common. In the US, whole emmer grain is often sold as farro. However, I’ve found emmer flour here and there is the US. Let me know what you find out about procuring the flour in Paris.

  • September 22, 2014 11:14pm

    Our food writer liked “Duck, Duck, Goose.” Here’s her take on his recipe for Duck Bulgogi: http://www.gloucestertimes.com/news/lifestyles/article_c538a04c-66a5-543a-8288-b253e5073d32.html

  • Linda Kaufman
    September 23, 2014 9:07am

    speaking of Eggs and Ducks, do you know why you can’t buy duck eggs in France ?

    • September 23, 2014 5:39pm
      David Lebovitz

      You can, but generally you need to go to the countryside – or perhaps a producers (producteurs) market, with the actual farmers there. I’ve seen them, but rarely.

  • September 23, 2014 9:39am

    I never cooked duck much less ate in NY but here it’s almost as common or more so than chicken like at last weekend’s Sud-Ouest fete on quai Montebello.. One needs a proper introduction in France.
    Must get Duck Duck Goose!

  • Nicolette
    September 23, 2014 7:04pm

    I moved two years ago and one of the most heart wrenching decisions I had to make was which books were going to make the move with me. It was like deciding which child one loved better. The rest were either donated to the local library or given to friends which made it a bit easier knowing someone else would treasure it. Recently, I had a bit of a ‘flood’ problem, and when the maintenance crew were helping me unload my book shelves they remarked; “You must love to cook” having seem all my cookbooks–and I thought to myself this is only the tip of the iceberg –there were more upstairs and all those great books which were given away. By the way, I want to assure you that ALL your books made the move with me! I am still one of those people who like to turn the pages instead of clicking on a keyboard! I think that makes me what the French would say, ‘ a woman of a certain age’!

  • September 23, 2014 8:17pm

    re obtaining Emmer in the U.S. – I didn’t even know what it was…probably still do not :)! – BUT, I did find this online source:

    http://www.bluebirdgrainfarms.com/retail-products.html

    They call it Emmer-Farro.

    • MsMora
      September 24, 2014 3:00am

      Highly recommend Blue Bird farro. Much better than many of the Italian imports. Living in Portland OR it is always fresh and fantastically delicious as they are in WA. Search it out in your city or buy direct. You won’t be disappointed.

  • Benc
    September 23, 2014 10:36pm

    David’s Book Club. Learn it well!

    Here’s an event about the book – with Ed.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XLKkFFHzVfE

  • September 24, 2014 4:15am

    Adding Duck, Duck, Goose to my Amazon buy list!

  • manouche
    September 24, 2014 7:48am

    Hi – chicken eggs, duck eggs, quail eggs and sometimes goose eggs are always available at the egg stand at the Bastille Market on Sunday mornings. They might be there on Thursday, too, but I can only vouch for Sundays.

  • Jan Baker
    September 24, 2014 10:22pm

    Hi David,
    I enjoy your website and your books. I’ve just purchased My Paris Kitchen, and I am marking recipes to make- wonderful!
    On page 335 you have a recipe for shallot marmalade. Can it be canned in a water bath canner? Shallots are big, fat and affordable right now at my local farmstand, and I would like to make some of this marmalade for gifts this winter…but, of course, I don’t want to kill anybody.

    I hope to hear from you, and thank you again for your books and websites.

    Jan

    • September 25, 2014 10:02am
      David Lebovitz

      I’ve not canned it but it does keep for quite a while (months) in the refrigerator. For check the USDA guidelines for canning on tips and techniques.

  • GBannis
    September 25, 2014 8:56am

    A few thoughts:

    Port has always been my wine of choice for chocolate eating.

    Michael Pollan’s book wouldn’t sell as well if he named it “Processed” instead of “Cooked,” even though they’re the same thing.

    Char siu duck? I’m there.

  • September 25, 2014 8:11pm

    No duck eggs at Asian supermarkets in Paris?

  • LWood
    September 30, 2014 5:05am

    About a year ago, I was lucky enough to get to attend a dinner at a farm-to-table restaurant with Hank Shaw (who was promoting his new book) – 6 courses of duck and goose (ending with a maple/pumpkin bar made with duck egg and duck fat). Also enjoying his delightful book, Hunt, Gather, Cook and foraging this past weekend for paw paw in southern Michigan. It seems like there is never enough time to read and cook and garden… thanks for the good suggestions.

  • Michael Fleming
    October 1, 2014 11:07am

    I am buying your latest book as a treat for my birthday. Great to see the mention of Banyuls a worthy indulgence.

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