Is one of your intentions for the new year to cook more often, or to simply get more creative in the kitchen? My hand is up for the second one (I cook every day, but lately I’ve been relying on meals that lean toward the utilitarian). Despite owning what could possibly be described as too many cookbooks, a few new ones have wormed their way into my collection, and I like them enough to recommend them.
Whole-grain breads at home
Have you wanted to try your hand at sourdough-bread baking, but felt like the process was a little too science-lab? “Sourdough on the Rise: How To Confidently Make Whole Grain Sourdough Breads at Home,” the latest book by Seattle author Cynthia Lair, will give you the nudge you need to just go for it. I saw Lair speak about homemade fermented foods at a conference a few years ago, and left wanting to make my own sourdough starter, stat. This book has almost the same effect, with her encouraging, knowledgeable, humorous voice shining through.
You’ll get gentle guidance and clear instructions — with photos — on how to get your starter started, then pages and pages of recipes for what to do with that starter and what to serve with it. Have an extra starter on your hands? Yogurt sourdough flapjacks are just the thing. Want to expand your experimentation with home fermentation? Try the gingered crimson beet kraut recipe. You’ll also find chutneys and jams, soups and vegetable dishes, and some very inventive sandwiches. As for the bread itself, you’ll learn how to make beautiful round boules, as well as pitas, naan, English muffins, focaccia, tortillas, biscuits, injera (Ethiopian flatbread) and more.
I recently chatted with Lair about the benefits of home fermentation, and asked her what obstacles she sees. “One of the things is that makes people shy away from DIY fermented foods is that they’re afraid of cleanliness,” she said. “But everything on your hands and in your house is part of creating the flavor of your fermented food.”
It’s true. As she points out in the book, your starter adapts and changes to the environment in your home. So if you’ve ever contemplated buying a “genuine” San Francisco sourdough starter, keep in mind that before long, it will no longer be a San Francisco starter — it will be your starter.
Beyond sheet-pan dinners
“Whole In One: Complete, Healthy Meals in A Single Pot, Sheet Pan or Skillet,” the latest book by New York registered dietitian Ellie Krieger, host of “Ellie’s Real Good Food” on public television, continues her theme of hitting “the ‘sweet spot’ where delicious and healthy meet.” This time, she takes on meals that require only one cooking vessel. And she’s serious about this—in her introduction, she points out that many “one-pot” cookbooks cheat by, say, using cooked pasta as an ingredient.
“Whole in One” is an omnivore’s delight, with recipes featuring both plant- and animal-based proteins. If one of your goals is to include more fish and seafood — recommendations are to eat 8 ounces per week, or up to 12 ounces for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding — there’s a whole chapter full of delicious inspiration.
I frequently cross paths with Ellie at nutrition conferences, and from chatting with her about her books, I know how meticulously she tests her recipes, which I think we can all agree is important! In my house, the chickpea and farro stew, Greek-style chicken (with potatoes, peppers, olives and feta) and hummus with spiced ground beef and pine nuts were hits. My copy of the book is littered with Post-it marking more recipes on my “to make ASAP” list.
Spicing things up
“Mastering Spice: Recipe and Techniques to Transform Your Everyday Cooking,” by chef Lior Lev Sercarz, owner and spice blender of La Boîte in New York City, made a number of top cookbook lists this fall, but I didn’t know that when I clicked “buy now.” I was sold by this beautiful book’s premise of teaching home cooks to exponentially expand their culinary repertoires by mixing and matching spice blends.
Sercarz offers practical tips for getting organized to start cooking, then tells you everything you need to know about buying, storing and using spices. (In case you’re curious, he says that while spices never spoil, it’s best to use them within one year of purchase, whether they’re whole or preground.) We’re fortunate in Seattle to have so many good sources for spices. There’s MarketSpice, World Spice Merchants, Big John’s PFI, plus any number of grocers — including PCC Community Markets — that offer robust bulk spice sections.
It’s worth noting that Sercarz included recipes from his home kitchen — he cooks nightly for his wife and two young sons — employing a mix of “fast” techniques (for when you need to get dinner on the table ASAP) and “slow” techniques (for when you have the time to let something braise or simmer for hours).
The recipes are structured to allow for playing with flavors while nailing down techniques. Each recipe features a main spice blend, but flip the page and you’ll find a handful of variations that swap out spices or other flavor-rich ingredients. (You’ll never look at deviled eggs the same way again.) A handy index, with thumbnail photos of each main dish, lets you see all recipe variations at a glance. If upping your intake of vegetables, pulses (beans and lentils) or seafood is on your mental “to do” list, but making them taste great is one of your stumbling blocks, this book has your back. Time to start cooking!
“Sourdough on the Rise: How To Confidently Make Whole Grain Sourdough Breads at Home” by Cynthia Lair, Sasquatch Books, 192 pp., $19.95
“Whole In One: Complete, Healthy Meals in A Single Pot, Sheet Pan or Skillet” by Ellie Krieger, De Capo Lifelong Books, 256 pp., $30
“Mastering Spice: Recipe and Techniques to Transform Your Everyday Cooking,” by Lior Lev Sercarz, Clarkson Potter, 272 pp., $35