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In the Stacks: New cookbooks

Posted: October 24, 2012 - 11:06pm

One thing I love about living in Juneau is that, with the exception of a few “salad days” here and there, it’s always time for a good soup, stew, or to bake some bread. But I really enjoy cooking in the fall — I have time to take advantage of all those beautiful winter squashes and new-crop root veggies with their long cooking times. Here are few of our new cookbooks to get us all in the mood.

“Lard,” by the editors of Grit magazine.

Lard, a staple of American kitchens for generations, is coming back into favor as new research shines the light on disregarded science showing no link between intake of fats and blood cholesterol/body fat (Why? See Gary Taubes’ “Good Calories, Bad Calories”). While this book gives great ideas for biscuits, fried chicken, and tortillas that taste like your grandmother’s, you’ll also find homemade noodles, meatballs, sugar cookies, pumpkin bars, and many more delectable recipes. The writers gently suggest that home-rendered lard is far superior to store-bought homogenized lard, and provide the most essential recipe in the book: how to render lard. Should you be disinclined to do it yourself, though, there is a list of online and resources for buying real lard.

“Charred and Scruffed,” by Adam Perry Lang and Peter Kaminsky.

Lang, a traditionally-trained chef, has turned his knowledge of kitchen chemistry to the barbecue, where he rejects a lot of tried-and-true methods. He believes barbecue should be moved around a lot, that the best flavors are created by roughing the food up a bit to create nooks and crannies for flavors to build. And he applies his techniques to meats, seafoods, and veggies alike in this easy to follow cookbook. Man Steak, Smoked Brisket with Chimichurri Crust, and Smoked Pork Shoulder are just a few pieces that fall under his spell. Lang also addresses the co-stars of the meals, with sections on creamy dishes like Scruffed Carbonara Potatoes, crunchy salads, pickled vegetables, and crispy fried bits. He also includes a chapter on what he calls “spackles” – highly concentrated dabs of mango, cranberry, tomato, or artichoke with seasonings that he describes as “powerful uppercuts” of flavor. Studded with mouthwatering photos, this would even make a great gift for the griller in your family.

“Salty Snacks,” by Cynthia Nims.

Feeling like an outsider when she read most snack cookbooks because of her opposite-of-a-sweet tooth, Nims has taken matters into her own hands and written a compendium of her favorite savory snack foods. They range from the near-ubiquitious toasted nuts (with her own twists) to the wondrous-sounding Salted Popcorn Meringues, Sesame Chicken Bites, Semolina Waffles, Parmesan Thumbprint Cookies, and Salami Chips. You’ll find snacks with hints of other cultures, like Puffed Rice Squares with Curry and Coconut, and Cucumber and Radish Tzatziki, and old standbys with new flavors, such as Deviled Ham with Pickled Peppers. Lovely photos make this even more difficult to put down — unless it’s to reach for ingredients and start cooking.

“Flour Water Salt Yeast,” by Ken Forkish.

This lovely, accessible book aims to teach beginners how to bake bread that will rival artisanal bakeries and will also show more experienced bakers some of the trick of the trade that will bring better results. Forkish (perhaps he should have been a chef) believes that it is vital for bakers to become familiar with the feel of the dough through hand-kneading and also considers time an important ingredient. In addition to the ingredients list (always running from flour to water to salt to yeast in order to make recipes easy to compare), he also lists a sample schedule of mixing, shaping, and baking, which makes it easy to visually how homemade bread will fit into your life. Measurements are given in both weight and volume (though he recommends using weight for consistent results) and because he’s a fan of both and focaccia and pizza, he notes which doughs are appropriate for those uses. Generally, Forkish’s recipes use preheated, covered, Dutch ovens for baking in order to mimic the steam ovens that professionals use, but for pizzas and focaccias, he recommends pizza stones, sheet pans, or iron skillets. Don’t give into the sense of intimidation that can come with such densely-packed information: Forkish has structured this book very well, just start with the basics and have fun.

•••

Poet Emily Wall is coming to the library for two different events: first, tomorrow evening at the Downtown Library, she’ll be doing a poetry reading at 7 p.m. And then on Saturday, Oct. 27, from 10 to 1 p.m., she’ll be conducting a writing workshop with food as a starting place for metaphor in poetry and prose. You are invited to bring a favorite recipe or a dish to share. No registration necessary.

For information about upcoming programs, or to place a hold, visit www.juneau.org/library or call 586-5249.

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