Tuesday, November 22, 2011

GIVEAWAY! Les Petits Macaron: Trials In the Kitchen

Last month I spent a bit of time thinking about what my next giveaway would be. Naturally, another book was a given, but which one to choose? Recently I have been churning through books at lightning speed and allowing myself a weekly stock up at Kitchen Arts & Letters. Finally I thought since you know how much I love macarons and because I would be going to the Les Petits Macarons book party this month-- a signed copy of the beautifully designed and comprehensive book would be parfait! So here we are. 

My initial plan was to quickly turn out some amazing, homemade macarons and show them off to all of you in the same week that I bought the book. As plans of macaron-makers worldwide tends to go, that's not what worked out. Making macarons is a bit of a challenge because there are so many factors at play each time you make them, especially if you don't follow the directions of your recipe (like not bothering to age your egg whites or let them sit out at room temperature for 2 hours before whipping). The most successful macaron baking sessions come when you really know your cooking tools, especially your oven. This past week I have learned that my oven heats unevenly as well as inconsistently. Not impossible to work with for macarons, but definitely more difficult. I have also found some joys this week, like how decadent and sexy (yes, sexy!) French-style buttercream is. The keys to baking macarons at home are knowing your oven, following the recipe, exercising patience and remembering no matter how ugly your macs turn out, they are still probably going to be delicious! Now I shall tell you The Story of Les Trois Macarons with the giveaway details at the end:

Monday, November 21, 2011

Les Petits Macarons: The Book Party!

On an uncharacteristically balmy November night under the glow of a nigh full moon a party was held to celebrate a new book on one of my favorite topics: macarons. We gathered in a candlelit room filled with the heady scent of freshly baked breads and pasties at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) to give Les Petits Macarons by Chef-instructor Kathryn Gordon and Anne E McBride a proper welcome to the world of cookbooks. Though the book came out October 4th I was waiting to buy my copy and have it signed by the authors at the party. The invitation promised plenty of macarons and champagne- which was just what I got! Since its release the book has been receiving some high praise for superior comprehensiveness. As a macaron book connoisseur I must say I agree with this proclamation. I have a handful of books which are all good in their own right but this book is the most extensive in its exploration of the macaron in addition to being visually stunning. 

Not only do you get the detailed basics on how to make almond (that is to say unflavored) shells in the French, Italian, Swiss and "Kathryn's Easiest French Macaron" styles you also get a variety of ways to flavor the shells for both sweet and savory macs. Think your basic vanilla and rose but also ancho chile, saffron and wasabi. The variety doesn't stop with the shells either. The many filling choices include the typical buttercreams, ganaches, caramels and jams but also a chai flavored ganache, popcorn pastry cream, oatmeal cookie buttercream, a few ice milks, then things like chile-pineapple-kumquat marmalade and S'mores! Finally the amazing savory fillings: hummus, tomato confit, chicken mole and even foie gras with black currant gastrique, and more! This is the ultimate macaron lover's cookbook! The combinations are endless and exciting. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Four Kitchens: Traveling the World with Lauren Shockey

Over the last few months of summer Lauren Shockey's Four Kitchens kept popping up on my radar- on my favorite blogs, in tweets, as giveaways, etc. Who was this young woman, just a couple years older than me, who I kept hearing about? Turns out Four Kitchens is the first book from a great new writer in our food-loving midst. Even though I had read a few posts about the book and some excerpts I wasn't sold on the book at first. Since there was no promise it'd be a homerun, not coming from a well-known and seasoned writer, I didn't buy Shockey's book right away. 

Luckily Lauren was one of the authors at the Freerange Reads event I attended at the beginning of September, throwing out a second line for me to catch. After she read us her stomach-churning experience eating dog meat in Hanoi I was effectively hooked and knew I would enjoy her book. But she didn't fully reel me in until last month's book launch party for Kathleen Flinn. At the September event I was able to hear the quality of her reading, but at the book party she was able to speak candidly to a small audience in a discussion about home cooking. After that I knew it would be worth my time to spend 300-pages or so with Lauren. So that was the night I bought the book and jumped right into it after finishing the books I had already queued up at the beginning of the month: Flinn's The Kitchen Counter Cooking School and Ruth Reichl's Comfort Me With Apples.

The comparison to Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love and Four Kitchens has been made a few times, for valid reasons. Both are memoirs about women who travel alone to multiple countries with set goals in mind, eating along the way and ending with a final revelation. As Lauren said at the Flinn event her book is really just 'Eat, Eat, Eat, Eat- and wasn't that everyone's favorite part of the book anyway!?' Her journey to four countries and her work in four different restaurants is very interesting. As a chef-loving nation, getting into the kitchens anywhere is always a bit foreign and exciting for us. To get an insider's peek at one of the nation's most interesting kitchens, the molecularly focused wd~50, in addition to kitchens across the globe makes Shockey's story captivating to a broad audience; to lover's of Bourdain as much as those who loved reading (and watching) Gilbert's trek. 

After completing her degree at the French Culinary Institute and while working on a Masters in Food Studies at NYU Lauren comes up with her plan to be a stage (aka unpaid kitchen worker) in kitchens in New York (because that's where she's from), Hanoi (because Vietnamese cuisine fascinates her), Tel Aviv (because she is Jewish) and Paris (because of its gastronomic importance). 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Confidence in the Kitchen: Kat Flinn's Kitchen Counter Cooking School

When I heard Kathleen (Kat) Flinn was working on her second book I was very excited. Her first book, The Sharper Your Knife The Less You Cry, moved me to tears and made me laugh as I read over her astute descriptions of Paris and school at Le Cordon Bleu. After finishing Sharper I was hungry for more of her work. I had connected with her emotionally from reading Sharper at a time when I was particularly vulnerable to missing Paris, having returned from my semester abroad just the year before. Whatever she would be offering next, I knew I would be reading. What I found is a great book that tells a good story, teaches basic kitchen skills and above all encourages fearlessness in the kitchen, just as Julia Child would.

After completing her degree at Le Cordon Bleu, Flinn kept hearing the same question over and over: "Where is your restaurant?" At a few points throughout the book Flinn mentions being in the "foodie bubble-" a place where people can mention somewhat obscure foods (namely, ramps) and be understood by fellow members of the bubble. When I read that people asked repeatedly about restaurant work I found myself, a foodie bubble member, wondering why? In this day and age when the food industry extends so far beyond restaurants, why would so many people still think finishing culinary school equals a restaurant career? 

In The Kitchen Counter Cooking School we see one of the many paths that can start with culinary school. We begin with a little grocery store voyeurism. On a shopping trip at the grocery store Flinn spots a cart full of packaged foods- pasta sides, ready-to-make rice and jars of gravy without any unprocessed, whole food in sight. After finding the owner of the cart, Flinn offers some advice and to take the shopper around the store showing her some kitchen basics that would replace some of her packaged foods. Flinn even buys the woman a copy of her book and makes margin notes on the recipes for her to keep and use at home. The woman is receptive, and grateful, and the experience stays with Kat.