In WITF's Kitchen with Chef Donna Desfor

Cookbook Review: The Essential James Beard Cookbook

Written by Donna Marie Desfor, Culinary Consultant and Chef | Nov 23, 2012 1:46 PM

The Essential James Beard Cookbook: 450 Recipes That Shaped the Tradition of American Cooking, by James Beard; edited by Rick Rodgers with John Ferrone


Facts: St. Martin’s Press; 358 pages, $35.00 (or Amazon at $23.10.)
Recipes: 450
Give ToFood enthusiasts and culinary students; cookbook collectors; young couples learning to entertain.

Review provided courtesy:  The Spice & Tea Exchange

The Review:
Julia Child said, “[i]n the beginning, there was James Beard.”  For many, that sentiment holds true.  Along with Julia, James Beard was one of the most influential chefs and food writers in America, championing both French cooking and the preservation and maintenance of great local food traditions to average home cooks.  But what he mostly did is embodied in his newest book The Essential James Beard Cookbook: 450 Recipes That Shaped the Tradition of American Cooking where he captures the essence, technique and flavor of most of the foods we know and love and cook in our homes and for our friends. 

Perhaps it is Beard’s insatiable curiosity about food and culture, or how food evolved over the four-decade span of his cookbook writing that make this book a triumph, or maybe it’s just that his recipes and format changed depending on the venue.  Each are clearly reflected in the selection of recipes and Beard’s narrative form – the formula relayed as if he were speaking directly to the reader.  Throughout this books and its 19 chapters, which follow the very progression of a smart cotemporary meal service and preparation, it’s Beard’s voice that teaches you how to cook, and gives you confidence to break away from the recipe and having taught you the virtues of simplicity and the excitement of discovery from everything you cook. 

Partnering with The Spice & Tea Exchange, The James Beard House and St. Martin’s Press delight in helping all readers further their exploration by providing the opportunity to win a copy of The Essential James Beard Cookbook: 450 Recipes That Shaped the Tradition of American Cooking by commenting on any of The Essential James Beard Cookbook posts between now and December 1st (full details here).  Each time we post a recipe you’ll get a glimpse of the essence of Beard – his storytelling through his recipes, and an understanding of why the recipe selected helped to change the way we cook in America today.  And then, The Spice & Tea Exchange, with permission from The Beard House and St. Martin’s Press, modernizes the recipe with a contemporary flavor profile update, using modern day gourmet seasonings and spices, hand-crafted spice and herb blends, infused sugars and, of course, sea salts and pepper blends unlike the type Beard or any of his contemporaries had in their pantry.

When Beard died in the mid-eighties, he could not have known that the food revolution that was his life would continue on for decades.  But he surely knew that America was coming into its own in the kitchen and tha in the 21st Century cooking and eating and talking about it would connect young and old, celebrity chefs and novice bloggers, sports fans and video gamers, races and generders and classes and kinds as we sit at the American Table and celebrate real food, food for flavor and food for fun.  James Beard would have expected nothing less, and his cookbook, The Essential James Beard Cookbook: 450 Recipes That Shaped the Tradition of American Cooking provides us a vehicle to do just that.

To make efficient use of The Essential James Beard Cookbook: 450 Recipes That Shaped the Tradition of American Cooking cookbook, The Spice & Tea Exchange recommends:
Stock up on: Classic seasonings:  Sea Salts such as Brazilian Atlantic, La Baleine French Sea Salt, and finishing salts such as Cyprus Flake, Murray River, and Fleur de Sel.  Peppercorns to season, including Black, Green, and WhiteClassic pantry seasoning and spice staples like ginger, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, and herbs such as thyme, sage, basil, and rosemary, etc.   

Working the Pantry:  Breaking from tradition requires a strong sense of understanding where Beard was going with flavor.  Stock up on blends that are rooted in traditional flavor profiles such as Florida Sunshine and Pirate’s Bite for seasoning; experiment with blends and rubs, such as Signature Blend, Chef Donna’s Adoro Blend, Tuscany Blend, and Herbes de Provence.  Then stretch your curiousity with Chef’s Choice Steak rub, or the interesting flavors of Espresso Steak rub and Vik’s Garlic FixTailgater’s, Blood Mary Mix, and Crazy Chicken, not to mention our Cultural Blends for Beard’s foray into different cuisines.  As you gain in confidence, keep plenty of bay leaves, allspice, cumin, chili powder, paprika, clove and kibbled mushrooms, Beer Powder, Worcestershire Powder, and Burgundy Wine Powder to use as flavor builders.

From The Essential James Beard Cookbook: 450 Recipes That Shaped the Tradition of American Cooking
Compound Butters
The following basic butters here are useful for canapés and sandwiches, and they fill a need very often for snacks and sauces. [Editor:  They are also useful to have in the freezer to put on top of hot grilled steaks, chops, chicken breasts, and fish fillets, or to flavor boiled or steamed vegetables.]

Chutney Butter
Cream 8 tablespoons(1 stick) softened unsalted butter and add 2 tablespoons of finely chopped chutney.  This is improved by the addition of a little curry powder; the amount has to be lieft to your own taste.  [Editor:  About ½ teaspoon of curry powder would tint the butter a vibrant orange-yellow and give it a brilliant flavor, too.  Melt a pat on grilled chicken or pork chops.]

The Spice & Tea Exchange suggests Indian Yellow Curry with its fresh blend of fresh pepper, fenugreek, turmeric, garlic, coriander, chili, cumin, mustard, ginger, cloves, mace, fennel, celery seed, bay leaf, cardamom, cinnamon.  For a deliciously different take, try Thai Red Curry, a spicy red curry blend with fresh pepper, cumin seed, onion, garlic, coriander, lemongrass, cilantro, paprika, sea salt, chili flakes, ginger.

Garlic Butter
Crush several cloves of garlic through a garlic press and cream with 8 tablespoons (1 stick) of unsalted butter and ½ teaspoon of salt.  This is a matter of “stop and go,” for you know better than I your capacity for garlic flavor.  So, let your own taste guide you.

The Spice & Tea Exchange suggests substituting about 1 ½ teaspoons of Vik’s Garlic Fix, and a few grinds of Florida Sunshine.  Let the flavors meld in the refrigerator for about 2 hours.  Bring to room temperature before serving.  Note:  you can pulverize the Vik’s Garlic Fix to a fine grind if you prefer.  A Universal Mill is perfect for this application.

Try this recipe from The Spice & Tea Exchange in addition to the several other Compound Butter Recipes offered in The Essential James Beard Cookbook: 450 Recipes That Shaped the Tradition of American Cooking.

Recipe:  Backwoods Bacon & Bourbon Compound Butter
Makes 1 cup

This recipe uses the intensely smoky and super-flavored Backwoods Hickory Rub from The Spice & Tea Exchange.  Blended with fresh pepper, smoked sea salt, garlic, onion, smoked paprika, cracked brown mustard, hickory powder, soy sauce powder, brown sugar, this melds so perfectly with the hearty flavors of the bacon, the complexity of a good bourbon, and then the hint of sweet from the apple cider.  The resulting compound butter is perfect as a finish to beef, pork, and a great flavorful fat to use as a base when you sauté fish.

2 or 3 slices bacon, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoon bourbon1 tablespoon apple cider
½ to 1 teaspoon Backwoods Hickory Rub
2 teaspoon dark brown sugar
1 cup homemade butter, at room temperature\

Cook bacon in a small skillet over medium-low heat about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to render out the fat; let your bacon crisp, but do not over brown it.  Remove pan from heat and whisk in the bourbon, apple cider, Backwoods Hickory Rub, and brown sugar.  Return to heat and cook until everything is well-combined and bacon pieces well coated.  Remove from heat and let cool about 10 minutes.

Place your home made butter in the bowl of a food processor and add in bacon mixture.  Pulse to combine, scraping down sides as necessary.  Note:  you can use a stand mixer with paddle attachment.  The resulting butter will have chunkier pieces of bacon than with the food processor.

Turn out the butter mixture onto a sheet of parchment paper or waxed paper.  Fold the paper over the butter mixture, form into a log and roll to desired thickness (for finishing dishes I like logs about 2-inches in diameter).  Twist ends and tie with butcher’s twine.  Return to refrigerator until firm.  Slice off pieces of compound butter as needed, or wrap in heavy duty aluminum foil and freeze for up to 4 months.

Published in In witfs Kitchen with Chef Donna Desfor

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