Sunday, October 23, 2011

8 Things to Love About and Learn From Melissa Clark (aka A Good Appetite)

A few Fridays ago I had the pleasure of attending Melissa Clark's pre-release book party at The Brooklyn Kitchen for her brand new cookbook Cook This Now. Melissa has written tons of cookbooks, many with highly-regarded chefs and television celebrities, but this is one that is all hers (In The Kitchen With A Good Appetite is on my Christmas List). The book is a fresh journey through the 12 months of the year, emphasizing the great local produce the seasons provide. Her year begins just where mine does - January (my birthday is January 1st so its the start of my year in every way possible). Some people might think this is an odd time to start a cookbook based on the seasons, thinking March or April when the growing season begins would be a wiser time (as Animal, Vegetable, Miracle does), but Melissa introduces us to Cook This Now with farmer's stomping their feet at the cold January farmer's market. She tells us the winter market is for the "hard core," then makes a spot on comparison of the winter market to a "small town," populated by people you get familiar with and learn their quirks, versus the "big city" of the summer market when everyone is hustling and bustling with little time for small talk. Its a great way to start. Clark beautifully shows the bounty of Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall. 

It is rather recently that I came to be such a great fan of Melissa Clark. Her name is one I've heard plenty in the past few years, previously always tied with The New York Times. Now she stands entirely on her own for me. After making her fast, fresh ratatouille for the Slow Food $5 Challenge I was hooked. She has great kitchen tips, mouth-watering recipes and when you read her writing it feels like she is talking to you as a friend. 

All that being said, I want to share 8 things to love about and learn from Melissa. Her book party at The Brooklyn Kitchen/The Meat Hook was an impromptu cooking class and chat with the attendees. I came away from the evening ready to wake up and head to the Union Square Greenmarket the next morning and get in the kitchen right after. May she inspire you as much as she inspires me. 

1) Learn: A gorgeous cookbook doesn't need to be filled with glossy pages with a photo for every recipe. Cook This Now is lovely; the pages are a natural pale color (not bleach white), the font is fun and expressive, and the two sections of photos are breath-taking. This isn't an extra-heavy $40-50 cookbook and I love it even more for these facts. 

2) Love: The Recipes section of Gilt Taste because it is replete with Melissa's recipe that use Gilt Taste's amazing products. Check it out, especially that Honey Roasted Duck.
(While you're there be sure to read Jonathan Dixon's piece Miles Davis' Chili)

3) Learn: All of Paula Deen's sons books were written by/with Melissa and some of Paula's, too. Melissa told us a little story about visiting Paula at her home and about the mix of high-low cooking in her kitchen. While making dinner with Paula, Melissa helped her learn about some of the greens that were growing right in her backyard garden that they enjoyed in a salad. 

Melissa's Crostini
4) Love: Taste as you go-- with the same spoon you are using. During the book party Melissa prepared delicious snacks from her book, crostini, brussels sprouts, and pork meatballs. She did what any good chef does and tasted as she went along. What I enjoyed is that she did it naturally, using the same spoon she had used to stir whatever she was mixing. The Sunday after the party I was at the StarChefs conference and noticed other chefs tasting with the same spoon they used to mix, as well. This is not to embarrass Melissa or make you think it is unsanitary- it is to show that even though great cookbook authors and chefs may seem to have a cooking style way different from your at home cooking style, they are more like 'us' than we imagine- and that's something to love.

5) Learn: To try new things and re-think your scraps. One of the delicious bites in Melissa's book that she prepared at the party was Roasted Pepper and Celery Leaf Crostini (Page 260, photo above). She roasted the red peppers herself (by not peeling them she saves time making them at home), toasted slices of baguette and rubbed them with garlic (we even tested out this Todd Coleman/Saveur video that had been going around earlier that day for peeling a whole head of garlic in 10 seconds- it works!) and topped the appetizers with chopped celery leaf, capers and anchovies. She recommends using celery leaf as an herb, which can give a lot of bright, celery scented flavor to dishes. When I was at the Greenmarket the next day I even noticed celery tops being sold in bunches as an herb! Melissa also kindly asked everyone if they liked anchovies and capers, knowing they are things enough people are not keen on; no one objected to either. I had never tried anchovies but I was willing to given the opportunity. I was pleasantly surprised to find that they are not fishy and rather creamy and mild-flavored (a little bristly though). The book is filled with recipes that encourage you to try something you might always pass over at the market and see if you like it.

6) Love: Even though her mom is a great chef, Dahlia, Melissa's daughter, won't eat plenty of the things she cooks. The recipes in Cook This Now have very thoughtfully written headers. She will often call attention to the things Dahlia loves and the others she won't touch. A favorite that has been floating around the blogosphere is her Carroty Mac and Cheese (page 307). It is a great recipe that adds nutrients with carrots and saves time by cooking the shredded carrot with the pasta and not making a traditional bĂ©chamel. As she says: "The tiny orange shreds look so much like the Cheddar that your kids might not even notice they are there. Dahlia certainly hasn't, and while I've never lied to her about their inclusion, I might have left out the word carrot in the dish description-- accidentally, of course." Here is the recipe on Three Many Cooks: Carroty Mac and Cheese.  
Seasoning Meatballs

7) Learn: What a "crumb coat" is - "Crumbs are the enemy of frosting." This video on the New York Times Dining section shows Melissa frosting a cake and battling crumbs along the way. Also, meet her sweet daughter Dahlia.

8) Love: "What Else?" and "A Dish By Another Name." Each recipe comes with a list of tips, advice and little tricks in the "What Else" section that follows the instructions. It is an area of rich content and if you love her Kitchen Hip Tips, you will want to read through all of these sections and write down your favorites. Though the cover says 120 recipes, she extends that  number in the "A Dish By Another Name" section that follows "What Else." Melissa shares slight variations on the given recipe that change a few ingredients or steps and make a whole new dish. 

In all, Cook This Now just makes me an even bigger fan of Melissa Clark. I'm glad to finally be uncovering all her work and kitchen savoir-faire. This is already my second post about her within the past month, so you can likely expect more in the future. 
Follow Melissa on Twitter: @goodappetite
Her website: Melissa Clark
Spend sometime with her on the New York Times: A Good Appetite
Tour her Kitchen at Home: Kitchen Tour with Melissa Clark on thekitchn

1 comment:

Amanda said...

Nice intro to a book I am unfamiliar with, thanks. I will keep an eye out for it on Australian book shelves and add it to my own (already groaning) kitchen shelves.