Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Books That Make Us Hungry: In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite
It's been a while since we chatted about a book that was making us hungry, but Melissa Clark's new cookbook, In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite, is worthy of note. When I asked to get a copy of the book from the publisher, I figured it would be a typical, but tasty of course, cookbook. What I didn't realize was that Clark has written the book we'd planned to write. Dammit!
So I was prepared not to like the book or Clark. But instead we had a lovely chat on the phone AND I love her book! A food columnist with the New York Times, Clark peppers her food escapades with recipes and memorable anecdotes. Sometimes they are about her life and her family’s; other times they focus on food trends and ideas. It’s a chatty, down-to-earth style that immediately makes her recipes seem equally accessible.
The book’s chapter titles—titles like Things with Cheese, There’s Always Room for Pie (and Tarts) and My Sweet Tooth and Me—further reflect Clark’s down-home approach. She opens each one with a memory before moving on to recipes and more stories for each one. The chapter My Mother’s Sandwich Theory of Life, for instance, describes her mother’s premise: “Good sandwiches are like interesting people, unpredictable and filled with surprises,” writes Clark, “Each bite should be a little different; otherwise it gets boring. It’s like a conversation. If you can anticipate the next sentence, why bother? If you know exactly what the next bite of a sandwich will taste like, why eat it?”So true, don't you think?
Clark moves on to her favorite sandwich recipes, opening each with her own recollections. The recipe for pan bagnat, a traditional tuna and vegetable sandwich hailing from Nice, France, is prefaced by a tale of her family’s yearly trek to France for the summer where they essentially ate their way around the country. (Not what was happening in my family, I can tell you, where the Jersey shore was the annual option, not exactly a place known for its culinary wonders.) When her mother made this flattened sandwich, she relied on Clark or her sister to sit on the well-wrapped sandwich to mash it down to just the right consistency of olive oil and vinegar mixing. Today, Clark relies on a filled kettle placed on top of a baking pan to achieve the flatness she desires, but I just loved picturing a squirming little girl schmooshing a sandwich.
Switching a kettle for a butt is no biggie for Clark because she is the consummate relaxed cook. No capers for that soft-shell crab sandwich? No problem. Use the jar of caperberries sitting in the fridge instead. I love that about her and her cooking.
By the time I was done with In the Kitchen, I felt as if Clark is a friend, someone I could easily chat with at a party or over a meal. Oh, and I also had a 150 tasty recipes to try.
Now, dear readers, here's the good news! You, too, can have this fabulous cookbook. Just leave a comment below and we'll be picking a reader at random on Friday to have a copy mailed to them. It's Free! Free! Free!
In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite, 150 Recipes & Stories About the Food You Love, by Melissa Clark, Hyperion Books, 444 pages, $27.50.