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In August we took the barge Anjodi along the Canal du Midi in the Languedoc region on Southern France. It’s the same barge that Rick Stein filmed his wonderful series Rick Stein’s French Odyssey. Any expectations we had before we arrive were completely dwarfed as it turned out to be one of the best vacations we have ever had. We were 2 families, each with teenagers 13 and 15, and the accommodations, the food, the wine and beverages, and the tours and activities were better than anything we could have hoped for.
When we arrived the Anjodi was moored in the pretty little village of Homps.
As we approached some of the many bridges on the canal it seemed as if the barge couldn’t possibly get through.
Much of the beautiful scenery we passed was of sprawling vineyards. We discovered that Languedoc-Roussillon is currently the world's largest wine-producing region. Production exceeds that of Bordeaux and Australia, and the region’s wine represents a third of the volume of all French output, about 34 percent.
The original tow paths still exist along the canal and are great for cycling. It was lovely to cycle ahead of the barge and wait to be picked up while sitting at a canal-side café. The canal is almost entirely lined with sycamore trees, put there to create shade and help prevent evaporation.
The Anjodi moored in the beautiful village of Le Somail.
Herbs are grown alongside the barge for use in the kitchen.
The Chateau de Perdiguier where we spend an afternoon tasting their wines. Their elegant Vin de Pays wines are based on Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Some of the regional wines we enjoyed on the trip. Frédéric Palacios, C Comme Ca Vin de Table, made from 100% Carignan Centenaire. A 2003 Domaine Perdiguier from the Chateau de Perdiguier. Limoux Aoc Toques et Clochers Océanique 2008 Chardonnay.
Our amazing Chef de Cuisine, Ken Williams. He did a spectacular job accommodating our party of 8 that included 2 vegetarians, 4 who required a kosher diet, and 2 omnivores. Ken is working on his book The Unknown Chef, and based on the food we sampled I think it will be an important part of any cookbook collection.
A bottle of Château Etang des Colombres Rose, Gris des Colombes, waits for us on the table while Ken prepares our evening barbeque next to the canal at Beziers.
A cheese stall at a nearby market.
The crew were constantly surprising us with special touches.
Some of the local charcuterie.
Local vegetables provide some spectacular colour.
Leaving the canal and entering the Etang du Thau, the large lagoon alongside the Mediteranean. Famous for it’s salt, the Etang de Thau is also an important region for supplying oysters and mussels.
Our incredible crew. From left to right. Ken Williams, our amazing Chef du Cuisine. Lauren Scott, our lovely Hostess and Chef du Cuisine on Ken’s night off. Our Captain, and very knowledgeable Sommelier, Julian Allsop. Benoit Pignard, our Matelot (First Mate). Jules, our entertaining and informative tour guide.
The sun rises over Sète on our last morning on the barge.
One of the dishes I made for our July 4th party was the Zuni Roast Chicken with Bread Salad from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rogers. I have a friend who has always raved about the recipe and every time our paths cross he asks if I have made it.
I got a fresh organic chicken from McCall’s Meat & Fish in in Los Feliz, Los Angeles. It’s so great having a local store like that rather than going to the supermarket, and it feels satisfying to support local small businesses that care about what they’re selling.
This is such a great Summer dish, perfect for sitting outside with friends while drinking your favorite chilled white wine.
I was clearing the kitchen and refrigerator of the usual over due foods, like wilted arugula, week old indian take-out, a yogurt hidden in the back that had expired in 2009, then I came across some very over ripe bananas that I almost threw away until I remembered I had recently been reminded that they are an excellent excuse for making Banana Bread.
The recipe I chose was Banana Bread from Baking Illustrated, however my daughters are not fans of walnuts so I used some dried cranberries instead and added some grated orange zest. The bread was not too dense like some I’ve had before, it was soft and moist with plenty of flavor. This is a great recipe.
I want to throw an Indian dinner party in a few weeks. I did this several years ago with somewhat disastrous results and ended up getting most of the food at the last minute from our local Indian Restaurant. As an Indian food novice I fooled myself into a culinary false sense of security by only reading the recipes a few days prior and thinking “no problem”, so I was completely unprepared for this style of cooking and the prep time required. This time I’m going to practice several of the dishes first so I can avoid similar stress and humiliation.
Panir Cheese. One of my family’s favorite dishes is Shahi Panir (Paneer). Panir cheese is very simply to make, all you need is milk and lemon juice (though my friend Aarti Bhardwaj suggested “you can alternatively use a pinch of powdered alum in boiling milk… lemon gives that tangy taste to paneer…”). I chose the recipe by Yamuna Devi in her book Lord Krishna’s Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking by Yamuna Devi.
Once the curd had separated from the whey I placed it into an improvised cheese press made from a spring-form cake mold, a plate, and a small salad bowl filled with pie weights. I think I put a little too much weight on the cheese as it turned out a little dense, but it was still a proud moment for me when I unwrapped it from the cheesecloth.
Kumquat Chutney. I love a good chutney and we have two Kumquat trees at the house so I decided to make an Indian relish from some of the fruit.
After searching the database I couldn’t actually find a recipe in any of the Indian cookbooks but did find one for Kumquat Chutney in Pintxos: Small Plates in the Basque Tradition by Gerald Hirigoyen & Lisa Weiss. Though the recipe is from Spain it included ingredients like ground coriander, cumin, fennel, cardamom, and chopped ginger, so I felt it was close enough to the region.
Like most relishes you just put all the ingredients together and cook them until you have a delicious and tangy chutney as an accompaniment to the food you’re serving. This one is a great recipe and will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator.
See. Hear. Taste. Touch. Smell. The moment you enter India it embraces all your senses and plays with them from one extreme to the other until you leave. This is a wonderfully unique place with so much beauty to offer, and the thing that always strikes me the most is the vibrant colour its people bring to their country. Our trip began with a brief stop in New Delhi where in addition to traditional fare we had a fantastic Italian meal at the Imperial Hotel. It was the last chance for our daughters to have pizza before heading to the Parmarth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh. We took the train to Dehradun, about a 6 hour trip, sampling the Chapati and Chai they offered to travelers, and then Rishikesh is about a 45 minute drive from there. The food at the Ashram is simple, healthy and tasty, and the portions are very generous. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner and there is never any concern for westerners who are worried about getting sick. It is prepared to Sattvic guidelines, which is food that’s considered pure and leads to clarity and equanimity of mind while also being beneficial to the body. They don’t use, and also ask you to refrain from consuming, onions and garlic since they fall into the Rajasic and Tamasic categories and are believed to increase ignorance and passion, and it's also not the kind of food you would offer to a Deity.
A typical plate of food from the ashram. Rice, Dahl, Rajmah (Beans), Subji (Cauliflower and Potatoes), Mung Bean Salad, Chapati (unleavened flatbread), and for dessert Jelabi (Sugar Donuts)
The Aarti ceremony at Parmarth is performed every night on the banks of Ganga.
The whole family meets with Swamiji before we leave Rishikesh. From Rishikesh, we traveled to Rajasthan to meet with Heifer International and their project partner Ibtada. Heifer’s goal is to work with communities around the world to end hunger and poverty and care for the earth. By giving families a hand-up, not just a hand-out, they empower them to turn lives of hunger and poverty into self-reliance and hope. Their partner Ibtada (an Urdu word that means “the beginning”) is a voluntary non-governmental organization in the area, working to make a dent on rural poverty and the problems attached to it. Along with BLT Helps, our non-profit sister company, and Heifer Intl/Ibtada, we were there to witness the progress of the Passing of the Gift program, and the positive effects on the women in these small villages in Rajasthan.
At the village of Mordi we were given a snack of Jaggery. Jaggery is concentrated sugar cane juice used all over Asia in both sweet and savory dishes, or simply as candy. In the Indian state of Rajasthan it also has a religious significance and is offered to Deity’s during worship.
In Rajasthan we stayed at the Sariska Palace Hotel, and though the food was very good the most memorable meal was the one served to us at the village of Bhuriyalli. Saraswati provided a lovely lunch of dahl, okra, raita, chapati and fresh vegetables. It was a slightly delicate situation as we wanted to avoid consuming anything that may interrupt our visit but at the same time didn’t want to offend our generous host. Fresh cooked hot food is fine but we had to avoid eating any of the raw vegetables and dairy.
A woman from the village of Bhuriyawali, Rajasthan, proudly holds some of the okra she grows in her kitchen garden. I've never cooked this vegetable but I was inspired to make Stir Fried Okra with Tomatoes, Onions, and Northern Spices from Indian Home Cooking by Suvir Saran & Stephanie Lyness.
So it took two days to make one Tiramisu. Yes, two days. I’m still trying to decipher why as most cookbooks estimate between 30 minutes to an hour if you’re using pre-made Savoiardi. I wanted to make the whole thing from scratch, including the ladyfingers, but come on, two days. It began with a desire to make something with my eldest daughter P since I had recently enjoyed making a Meyer Lemon Tart with her younger sister. P had suggested Tiramisu, something I haven’t prepared before, and I happily agreed.
Day 1. You can find the recipe for Tiramisu in many cookbooks, there are currently 19 in the database, and though the principles are the same they can vary a little by ingredients and a lot by construction, some directly in a wine goblet and the majority prepared in pie dishes or as a rectangular cake. We decided to stick with the classic ingredients but design our own version using a round spring form pan to build it in. We’d make the layers out of sponge cake and then use the ladyfingers around the outside. Excuse the pun but, piece of cake right? It was a day of frustration and turned out to be more of an education and practice session. I don't know what it was. Disorganization, selecting the wrong recipe to follow, or the baking planets just weren’t aligned. I chose the ladyfingers recipe from The Professional Pastry Chef by Bo Friberg (not in the database yet), and in hindsight I’m not sure why, maybe because it’s a big and impressive book but it’s baking on an industrial scale, and the ladyfingers turned out flat and the sponge cake dense and chewy. With the prep, baking and photography the day was getting long, and as P observed me struggling I wondered if she thought that making Tiramisu had to be this difficult. You can bake anything when you have time, vision, determination and an endless supply of eggs and flour, but I knew at that point it was only going to get worse if we continued.
Day 2. We began day two with a renewed sense of optimism. This time for the ladyfingers and the sponge cake we went straight for the Perfect Génoise from Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan. We stuck exactly to the recipe for the ladyfingers but for the sponge cake we added some whipped egg whites to the mixture for some added lightness to the layers. Both turned out perfect.
We cut the sponge cake out using a small plate and then began building the dessert (I went a little easy on the brandy and coffee since I didn't want to have buzzed and wired teens bouncing off the walls). For the mascarpone filling we used Mario Batali’s Tiramisu recipe in Molto Mario, which has a really rich and silky texture.
Despite the trials we had to go through to get there I think we were both happy with the final results. I’ll double check with her to see if she wants to make it again, but having learnt from the experience I feel a lot more prepared for the next time.
I love Donna Hay’s books but I'm probably not doing her justice by starting with such a simple recipe as this, Asparagus Tarts from her book Modern Classics Book 1. Her books are full of fantastic dishes, all perfectly explained and beautifully photographed and I would encourage anyone to add her books to their collection.
A couple of the ingredients I like to always have around are some frozen puff pastry and a nice big chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano (by the way, remember there are plenty of great ways to utilize leftover Parmigiano-Reggiano rinds in things like stocks, soups, and simmering them with fresh tomatoes for a pasta sauce. So don’t throw them away). When Po bought some fresh asparagus from the Hollywood Farmers Market these lovely little tarts popped into my mind. There really isn't much too them so try it out if you're looking for a quick and tasty snack.
The more fruit trees and herbs we plant around the house the more I love being able to step outside and grab some ingredients. An orange, a lemon, an avocado, a plum, and as many herbs as we have pots for. It's exciting to use our own homegrown produce. It makes me happy and inspires me to think more about making dishes based on what’s growing around me than what’s available at the market. Both of our daughters are aspiring cooks, in fact as young teenagers they have far more skills than I did at their age. The most I could probably do at 13 or 15 was baked beans on toast (tasted good though). I love that they have an interest in cooking and I wanted to get them involved in some of the posts for the site. One of the trees we planted last year was a Meyer lemon, and it has been very generous with its fruit, so Po and I decided to make the Meyer Lemon Tart with a Layer of Chocolate from Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzanne Goin. There are plenty of lemon tart recipes to be found but what makes this one special is the thin layer of chocolate between the crust and the filling.
Getting kids involved in cooking can be a lot of fun, particularly dessert recipes when there's plenty of opportunity for them to stick their fingers into mixtures and ingredients. And Po is not afraid to get her hands messy. Poking a finger here and there to taste as we go along, letting egg whites slip through her fingers so she can separate the yolk, and using the leftover pastry to make cookies.
The recipe is very well laid out and every step explained clearly, I've made this several times before and it's become part of my dessert repertoire. The first time I tried using Goin’s recipe for pâte sucrée I found that it came out too dry, crumbly and hard to work with (perhaps the eggs I used were not as big as the extra-large she suggests), so I reverted to the same pastry recipe from Julia Child. We went pretty extravagant with the chocolate, using a bar of Pierre Marcolini that my wife and I had picked up when we were in Belgium this last December. But I thought, “why not”, preparing food with my daughter is a special occasion and it deserves a little extravagance. The curd is easy but needs constant attention, stirring it until it's smooth and the consistency of pastry cream and then straining it onto the chocolate lined crust. Once it’s ready the tart looks beautiful and the curd has a lovely sheen to it. There were plenty of willing mouths that weekend since our other daughter P had several friends staying over. We served it with some vanilla flavored mascarpone cream. Thanks Po, I had fun and look forward to the next time.
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