(Ed.'s Note- Every Monday, Chicago's cookbook fan Jason Hissong writes Windy City Cooking, a column whose title says it all. Enjoy! -Max)
The Cook's Bookshelf
by Jason Hissong
19 October 2009
My friend Kate is an amazing woman. Gorgeous. Intelligent. Funny. Well read. She sings and plays guitar. And, she's one hell of a cook. Every time I visit her home there is one item that draws me in over and over again: her food bookshelf. I envy her food bookshelf. It's full of cookbooks and books about food, old and new alike. I want most of the books Kate has on her shelf. They look good. They smell good. I'm sure the recipes in them taste incredible with proper execution. And while her shelf is far more extensive than mine I find myself dipping again and again into my own food bookshelf.
Books are one of my other passions. Of all sorts. Fiction. Nonfiction. Shakespeare. The first issue of the zine my friend Robb self-publishes. Grammar books. My own filled notebooks. Graphic novels. They all get shelf space. My food books are the smallest, but probably second fastest growing, segment of my bookshelf.
So, what's it look like? What are the books that I have to which I keep going back?
Books About Food and Cooking:
The Elements of Cooking by Michael Ruhlman. Modeled after the classic Elements of Style, this book is worth a library checkout for the A-Z listing of cooking items, and worth the price of admission for the essays that proceed the listing. A fascinating and sophisticated read.
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. Everyone loves a badass and Bourdain is no exception. This book is both hilarious and enlightening as it provides a look into the back of the house restaurant culture.
How to Break an Egg by various. I only purchased this book because I found it for one dollar at Printer's Row or something. It's interesting but at the end of the day it's just a collection of single entries of work arounds or tips for the home cook. Not my favorite and the one I probably touch the least.
The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I don't even own this book anymore, as I gave it to Max. But I'm sure I will again someday. Pollan's book is completely mesmerizing as he delves into where we get our food and why those institutions exist and what we need to do going forward. Pollan back tracks three meals he consumes- a fast food meal, a truly organic meal, and a meal he hunted and gathered himself. A great read for anyone who thinks about food, at all.
Cookbooks: cookbooks are strange beasts. In some ways, they represent an unrealistic ideal of home cooking. In other ways, they are the epitome of picking and choosing things that make sense for the home cook. I love looking at cookbooks, even if I rarely cook anything directly from a cookbook.
Think Like a Chef by Tom Colicchio. I have a Man Crush on Tom Colicchio. He's a good looking dude. He's confident. He's rocketed to superstardom because of Top Chef. He's Bourdain back in the day trasplanted into the 21st Century sophisticated cool. And his book is completely pretentious. And I completely love it. It's the single book that has probably changed my thinking about how I cook more than any other. Colicchio's premise: I could provide a book of recipes and that would be fine. But if I teach you techniques and applications of how those techniques work, well, now you can go make your own dishes. This, too, I no longer have. It was in the same package as The Omnivore's Dilemma I sent to Max.
The Food You Want to Eat by Ted Allen. Allen is the one of the five men from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy that really came out of that experience ahead of his peers. He knows what he's talking about. This is also the book I've made more recipes from than any other, and the first cookbook I ever purchased for myself. The food is damn good.
How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman. Bittman is the essential minimalist. Unpretentious. Just simple food cooked well that tastes great. This is by far the largest book on my shelf and it's comprehensive. There are great recipes here, and Bittman's talent lies in taking a single dish and providing many variations that all work well from the same stem. I love that I have this book.
Molto Italiano and The Italian Grill by Mario Batali. These are the two books I've never made a single dish from. I don't know why. They're probably the most beautifully produced books, though. I love Batali. I think he's interesting and unique and I'm completely captivated every time I see him on television. The man knows his Italian food. I love that I have them, even if I rarely use them.
This says nothing of the books I want to read: Any Jamie Oliver or Tyler Florence cookbook. Heat. Salt. John Besh has a new cookbook that I want to get my mitts on. Ruth Reichl's Tender to the Bone. Pollan's other books. The list goes on and on. I'm very much looking forward to my next addition, whenever that may be.
What I've Cooked / What Others Have Cooked For Me / Where I Ate
On Monday I had the Baja Turkey Sandwich (the jalapeno mayo is my favorite part) from Au Bon Pain for lunch and a DiGiorno Supreme frozen pizza and my friend Andy's house for Monday Night Football.
Tuesday I had a Buffalo chicken burrito with guacamole from Burrito Beach for lunch. And here, I have to add: Buffalo chicken, as a flavor, is odd. It's one of those things that I think I like, but don't really love in any execution. What's it supposed to taste like? I have no clue. I created my own fried rice on Tuesday night. It was very simple: white rice cooked, carrots, cucumbers, mushrooms, garbanzo beans, and the last of a block of Parm, shredded and added at the end.
Wednesday I brought some leftover fried rice for lunch. For dinner I had a very nondescript, bland meal on the Spirit of Chicago. Steamed vegetables, mashed potatoes, chicken. It was for some work thing that turned out okay, even if I didn't want to go.
Thursday Potbelly beckoned me for lunch. A Wreck with everything except hot peppers. Thursday for dinner I finished the remainder of the fried rice I made.
Friday I delved into a chopped salad from Corner Bakery. In the evening I called in to Orange Garden for some comfort food. An order of potstickers and the shrimp curry.
Saturday I had the leftover shrimp curry for lunch and then at my friend Chuck's birthday party, he and his lovely wife Jackie provided Lou Malnati's pizza. Delicious.
Sunday I made French toast and bacon for Ashley. Then in the evening we went to Bar on Buena where I had the steak tacos.