Cookbooks I Love: My Calabria: Rustic Family Cooking from Italy’s Undiscovered South.

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It is hard to believe that the authoritative book My Calabria: Rustic Family Cooking from Italy’s Undiscovered South is a first book for author Rosetta Constantino, a Calabrian native from the village of Verbicaro.

Rosetta now lives in the San Franciso area, and has collaborated with food writer Janet Fletcher on this lovely, soul-satisfying book. Like many  cookbooks that guide us on an exploration of  the culture and place as well as the food and cuisine, My Calabria introduces us to the cucina povera of this rural region of southern Italy. With a friendly style and the knowledge of a local, Rosetta introduces us to tidbits of culture, local festivals, important regional foodstuffs, and a way of life that is sharply focused on kitchen tasks, food, and seasonally prepared dishes.

I discovered a wonderful review of My Calabria on the blog: The Travelers Lunchbox. This delightful food and travel blog is written by Melissa Kronenthal, a talented writer and photographer. (Sadly, but hopefully temporarily, Melissa seems to have stopped posting to her blogs. This has been one of my favorite blogs and I am a big fan of Melissa’s work.)

Click on this link to read Melissa’s entire review of My Calabria.

http://www.travelerslunchbox.com/journal/2010/12/6/my-calabria.html

I am quoting a portion of what she wrote here: “The heart of this book, though, is its recipes. It’s by no means a comprehensive work nor does it try to be; instead Rosetta has distilled the collection to reflect what makes Calabrian food different and unique, and to explain the what, why and how so that we can really understand the food. Above all her recipes introduce us to the simplicity of Calabrian food and the tremendous respect placed on both quality and thrift. Vegetables are celebrated in dozens of different forms, including fried, stuffed, marinated and folded inside pitta, the local cheeseless double-crusted pizza; animal parts you or I might throw away here feature in succulent dishes like braciole di cotenne, braised pork-skin rolls; and nothing but flour, water and a deft technique are used to make dromësat, a couscous-like specialty of the ancient Arbëresh community. The building blocks of Calabrian cuisine are well-covered too, things like the local hot fennel sausage, home-canned tomato sauce and rustic, chewy pane calabrese.”

This earthy recipe is very southern Italian in feeling, and the preparation of the tomatoes, olives and capers is something akin to combinations that my Grandmother used over the year with various fish dishes. The green olives and the salt-packed capers are both essential to the flavor and spirit of this dish – please do not substitute black olives or capers packed in vinegar.

Pesce Spada Alla Ghiotta

( Swordfish with Olives and Capers )

This dish matches meaty swordfish steaks with a rustic, briny sauce of tomatoes, olives and capers.

  • 4 swordfish steaks, about 6 ounces each and 3/8 ” thick, skin removed
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups whole peeled canned tomatoes, drained and minced
  • 1/2 cup large green olives (such as cerignola), pitted and roughly chopped
  • 3 tablespoons sals-packed capers, soaked and drained
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red chile flakes
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1. Season swordfish with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a 12″ skillet over high heat. Working in two batches, add swordfish and cook, flipping once, until golden brown and medium rare, about 3 minutes. Transfer swordfish to plate, leaving oil in skillet.

2. Reduce heat to medium; add garlic and cook, stirring, until soft, about 3 minutes. Add tomatoes, olives, capers, and the chile flakes and cook, stirring, until tomatoes soften and release some of their juices, about 5 minutes.

3. Return swordfish steaks to skillet, nestling them in the sauce, and all parsley and lemon juice; cook until fish is cooked through. To serve, transfer swordfish to platter and spoon sauce over top.

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Cookbooks I Love: Rustica A Return to Spanish Home Cooking

Rustica: A Return to Spanish Home Cooking by Frank Camorra and Richard Cornish
( Chronicle Books, 2011).

Simply put, I love everything about this book. The cover makes me swoon, and the artwork, layout and design, the feel of the paper, the stories, the recipe selections, the photographs, and the tone of the overall content gets my blood racing.

Do I know the authors? No, but I wish I did.

Have I been to Spain? No, but I am ready.Co-author Frank Camorra wrote the cookbook MoVida, which I also own. I like that book and the style is similar, but something about the design and the presentation is a little too blunt for me.

In  Rustica: A Return to Spanish Home Cooking  Frank’s food is simple and the tone of the book is confident. Vignettes about culture, stories and information about ingredients and foodstuffs, and lush, dreamy photographs (kudos to photographer Alan Benson ) of Spanish life that roam time and place add to the appeal. The book captures the essence of food and place in a charming, warm way. And it comes neatly wrapped in a down-to-earth yet seductive volume that is hard to put down.

I like the idea behind the book, too. Frank journeyed through his native land and found more than 120 savory and sweet recipes from people in villages across Spain. He tailored these recipes which showcase the everyday foods that Spanish people eat. Not the fancy cutting edge foods that have become world-famous, but the dishes that are the foundations of Spanish food, the bedrock of traditions on which Spanish cooking is based.

The recipes feature centuries-old traditions,  super-spicy and divinely mellow dishes, charcoal-fired meats, vegetables dishes, seafood and fish specialties and simple sweet desserts in chapters titled:  In the Kitchen Garden; Sherry, Salt & Fish; The Jamon Phenomenon; Red Food; Preserving Food; Catalan Traditions; The Green Coast; The Basque Kitchen; Cooking with Fire; and Andalusia – The Moors Great Legacy

In the introduction Frank writes: ” …...this is probably why the food in this book is the simplest form of  Spanish food – food that was particularly popular at a time when Spain was poor and had to be prepared in a manner determined by poverty. But poverty meant resourcefulness in feeding the family. …….I also wanted to make a note of the ‘ old school’ techniques used across the nation.”

In an era of foams and molecular gastronomy, this is a return to the past and the roots of the cuisine. Co-author Richard Cornish is a television producer and food writer. Perhaps it is his influence that tamed the MoVida beast and gave it charm and charisma. His bio on the back of the book says this about him: “ He writes about the connection between the land, producer, chef and consumer and its significance to food diversity and taste.”

Amen. Together, these authors have created a humble tone, with a human element, and delicious recipes, which is compelling stuff. The cover design is printed on the book itself; there is no additional dust jacket to come between the hands of the cook and the book.

Adobo De Pollo / Chicken Skewers Marinated with Smoked Paprika and Oregano

This recipe features smoked paprika and is inspired by the skewers of grilled meat served at summer agricultural fairs – ferrias.

  • 2 & 1/2 lbs skinless chicken thigh meat, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 2 tablespoons smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds, roasted and ground
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1. Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator overnight.

2. Thread the chicken meat onto 12 metal skewers. Heat a charcoal grill or grill pan to high. Cook the chicken skewers for 5 minutes, or until cooked through, turning regularly. Allow to cool slightly, then serve.

Cookbooks: Nigel Slater

Tender: A cook and his vegetable patch ( Ten Speed Press 2011 )  is the latest book by Nigel Slater, author of The Kitchen Diaries: A Year in the Kitchen with Nigel Slater, and Toast; The Story of a Boy’s Hunger . He is one of my favorite English food writers. In fact, I am always drawn to English food writers (Elizabeth David, Patience Grey, Jane Grigson, Tamasin Day Lewis) because of their reassuring tone and engaging,  conversational voice.

These writers view food through a different lens than other food writers. To them, food and cooking is not static, or a black and white formulaic topic, but a subject so beguiling that it merits thoughtful consideration. The best of the lot don’t just teach us how to cook but share with us their vision about food and cooking: they muse, debate, decide, select, and present us with situations that gives us the confidence to realize that, yes, I can cook like this, too. This approach shows us that after one has learned the basics of good cooking, that the need to follow recipes exactly-to-the-letter is less valuable than learning to develop one’s instincts in the kitchen.

Nigel Slater’s writing is very welcoming. For him, the process of selecting the foods and ingredients at market, and ready-ing himself to cook, and the steps involved in constructing and then cooking the dish are an important part of his engagement with the food. I think that under his influence, all cooks can find some area in the kitchen that they could pay more attention to.

His voice is personal, and spoken in an intimate and joyful way from writer to reader, cook to cook. His musings consider numerous variables: he wants the reader to find these details as  important as he does. For example, from the  March 7th notation in The Kitchen Diaries he writes: “I have no idea what I had in mind when I bought the two lamb chops that are now sitting on the kitchen worktop. Actually they are leg steaks and there’s enough for two. Whatever it was, the flash of inspiration  must have got lost on the way home. In the fridge are mixed salad leaves – arugula, baby spinach, and some baby chard – and a bunch of mint. I might be able to rescue a few leaves from the bunch of basil that has got to close to the back of the fridge and burned on the ice. There is also the unusual stuff in the fridge and cupboards. I put the chops into a bowl with a couple of tablespoons of light soy sauce and a crushed garlic clove and let then sit for twenty minutes. I get the broiler hot and chick the chops on it, a couple of minutes on each side. Whilst the meat is cooking, I toss the salad leaves into a bowl. Then I knock up a dressing consisting of a couple of small, hot red chili peppers, finely chopped, the juice of half a ripe lime, a tablespoon of dark soy, a handful of shredded mint leaves and a wee bit of sugar. I slice the lamb into pencil-thin strips, and while it is still hot, toss it with the salad and dressing, then divide it between two plates. The mixture of sizzling meat, mellow, salty soy and sharp lime juice is startling, especially with the green leaves that have softened slightly where they have touched the lamb. The few juices left on our plates are stunning, and we mop them up with crispy white rolls.”

This is not a traditional recipe but it shows us that thinking about food and how to combine simple ingredients at hand easily creates a tasty dish that shows off the main element of the dish – the lamb.  It is the personal voice, spoken in an intimate and joyful way from writer to reader, cook to cook, which makes the reader pay attention to details they failed to notice before. He never mentions that the food is good – we know it is because of the words he chooses to describe the lusciousness of the moment. The casual mention of the greens that have softened slightly where they have touched the lamb is but a tiny detail, yet it is a significant one, noticed and appreciate by a passionate and observant eater.

Slater has (and shares) a deeply-rooted connection to things ‘real’ that drives his relationship with food. His books ( as well those of other English, Irish and Scottish writers ) contain a lot of  detail, and they have a special way of discussing the ‘this and that’ kitchen topic – be it butchery, cheese choices, seasonal fruits, etc, that includes the reader in the discourse and process. It is as if we are guests in their kitchen and are privy to some of their private thoughts and kitchen notes. It’s a bit more right- side of the brain, subjective thinking and writing rather than left-side of the brain, objectivity.

We are given lots of explanations, too, in casual discourse, because details are important to these writers. Information might be about where the meat came from, how the animal was slaughtered, what farm raised it, the pros and cons of which vegetables to consider using in a seasonal vegetable casserole, the merits of different varieties of heirloom beans, the glories of farmhouse cider, old-time farming techniques, etc.   All of this matters and is fodder for discussion and consideration.

Tender: A Cook and his vegetable patch has a different focus but is equally compelling. It is the kind of book that makes me want to mess about in my garden and then cook whatever there is that is ready to be picked on that day. Digging about like that in the vegetable garden yields seasonal food at it’s freshest and most flavorful; those with the confidence to put it all together in a tasty dish for dinner that evening have really learned to savor the moments when vegetables are at their seasonal best.

Listen to what he says in the introduction to Tender: ” Vegetables beckon and intrigue me in a way no fish or piece of meat ever could. The beauty of a single lettuce, its inner leaves tight and crisp, the outer ones opened up like those of a cottage garden rose; the glowing saffron flesh of a cracked pumpkin; the curling tendrils of a pea plant; a bunch of long, white-tipped radishes; a bag of assorted tomatoes in shades of scarlet, green, and orange is something I like to take time over.”

I think the key to his genius is in the last sentence:  ‘……is something I like to take time over’.  His gift to us is his vision and his sensibilities, and the ability that he has to convey his thoughts in lovely prose. He makes us stop, slow-down and want to look, feel, taste and appreciate our food and foodstuffs for their unique qualities. His words are every bit as savory as his recipes, and I think he belongs in the same category of food writer as  MFK Fisher and Elizabeth David.

This is a stolen snippet that appears on Nigel Slaters website: ” Author, columnist and broadcaster, he remains very much an amateur cook. Nigel is not a chef and has no restaurant or commercial connections. His food is understated, handcrafted home cooking that is easy to accomplish and without a trace of what he affectionately calls ‘celebrity cheffery’. He is not fond of fussy food and prefers simple suppers made with care and thought. He believes that making something good to eat for your self or for others can lift the spirits in the way little else can. “

I for one will always have a place on my bookshelf for more of his books.

Books for Serious Cooks


Call me old-fashioned. I love to cook, eat, read about food, think about food and dine at the table with companionable friends and colleagues. I have worked with food and food-products my entire adult life and food & travel has become an un-separable part of who I am. What I learn about foods, cultures and cuisines I share with my customers.

It’s no surprise to find out that I also love cookbooks and rely on them for inspiration and cultural footing in the kitchen. To me, the best food writers use their knowledge to bring their readers to a place of understanding about the how’s and why’s of certain foods and authentic cuisines. These authors breathe life into the pages of their books by educating readers to the subtleties and regional diversity that exists within x, y or z cuisine.Some of the books that I treasure never made the top ten list, but they are jewels of wisdom and insight to me.

I also look for well-crafted ideas and good writing. And a distinctive voice of authority. Cookbook authors must be a kindly friend, a travel guide, a personal chef and the family member who loves to cook and wants to feed us well, all rolled into one. It’s a big job !

Cookbooks are like good fiction or a captivating movie: they hold my attention, paint a vivid picture for me of the author’s world and seduce me to want to eat that food, travel to that place, and sit at their table. Perhaps I feel this way because I am always a bit envious of food writers who come from family of spirited good cooks, and who are in possession of a treasure trove of beloved family recipes. Although my grandmother left Italy as a young woman to make a life in American with my grandfather, recipes did not come attached to my birth certificate.

My mother was the youngest of 13 kids, so perhaps by the time she was a young adult, my grandmother was worn out in the kitchen. Whatever the reason, my grandmother did not teach her how to cook. During her teens, her sisters and brothers married and one by one moved out to start their families. To be honest, none of my relatives was known for serving interesting Italian food when I was growing up, and no one really talked much about food, either. Family get-togethers did not focus on food; in fact, the food was pretty standard Italian-American fare.

My grandparents both came from southern Italy, so when I look at vivid, enticing cookbooks such as Nate Appleman and Shelly Lindgren’s A-16: Food & Wine or Maria Pignatelli Ferrante’s Puglia: A Culinary Memoir,  Nancy Harmon Jenkins The Flavors of Puglia, or Rosetta Costantino’s  My Calabria: Rustic Family Cooking from Italy’s Undiscovered South, I marvel at what I missed.

I did not begin to learn about the diversity and regional differences in Italian food until I was in college, and met my friend Alvira. She was like me, Italian, and grew up in a small town very close to our school. Her parents would often come to visit, and her mother always brought homemade foods and treats that we  feasted on after she left. When we had a car at our disposal, we would go to her home for the weekend. I knew that her mother did not speak much English –  there were many Italian women in her community and she kept house for her family, so she felt no need to learn – but she had recipes from home that she prepared as she would have back in Italy. She was a wonderful cook, and being around her introduced me to Italian foods and food customs that my own family did not have to share. She was exotic and fascinating to me, and I admired her for how she chose to live her life in a foreign country and for the attention she lavished on food and importance that she place on it.

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to hear magazine editor Dorothy Kalins speak about the direction of cookbook publishing in the USA. Her main point was that HOME COOKING IS COMING BACK. The reasons for this are many, but include thoughts like ROCK STAR CHEFS AND THEIR BOOKS INTIMIDATE PEOPLE WHO WANT TO LEARN TO COOK.

I was thrilled to hear Dorothy’s statements about the return of home-style cooking for many reasons. First, some of our friends or relatives of friends are among the best cooks that I know, and they don’t consider themselves chefs. They love food and cooking, and take the time to construct interesting menus, purchase good, sound meats, veggies and other ingredients for the dishes they will cook, and then spend whatever time is required in the kitchen preparing the meal. Most of our friends have entered our lives through the doors of our specialty food store or are food-writer colleagues. I am spoiled by the quality of food that we enjoy at the tables of others and that we cook in our own kitchen, so we are fortunate.

We live in a time of juxtaposing realities. Larger-than-life chefs and expensive restaurants are still on a roll, and it seems that the more cutting-edge or experimental the restaurant, the more clamor there is to dine there. And pay exorbitant prices for the experience. Pop-up restaurants are a good example, too, as many want to connect with the next ‘in’ thing. But at the same time, roaming food trucks, with simple but delicious, stand-up-to-eat-it ethnic foods or BBQ are equally popular. I understand the appeal of both experiences, and care less if I sit or stand as long as the food is worth the wait.

When I eat out, I always look for small little restaurants – the places that you find that you only want to tell your best friends about. Mom & Pop places with a soul or an edge that work hard to treat their customers to a delicious, well-prepared meal. There are more of these types of restaurant in the US now that ever before as more graduates of cooking schools eschew the corporate food world for the opportunity to follow their own vision.

I’m a traditionalist when it comes to food, food philosophy, and food culture. I think that eating with the seasons has always made sense. I like the natural appearance of foods, and am happiest when I can recognize what is sitting on my plate. I don’t need tall food or want plated food served to me in a bowl. Eating out doesn’t always make me happy, and I know enough to see through the hoopla.

So, to my delight I recently discovered an article written by Chef Sara Jenkins that ran in The Atlantic.com titled: Why Home-Style Cooking Will Always Beat Restaurant-Style. And I applauded her statements when I read it. Her point is this: ‘“I’m perturbed that people have gotten so turned around that they think restaurant food is the best food, and that the highest level of cooking is to cook restaurant-style in the home. Even in the finest restaurants, restaurant food, while delicious and deserving of its place and entertainment and theatrics, is really not the best food of all.” And she goes on to explain why she believes that this is so, which I urge you to read for yourself.

I like that Dorothy Kalins said that home cooking is coming back, and that Sara is a defender of home-style cooking. I take these statements to mean that ‘real food’ is coming back, and that there is a discernible shift away from molecular gastronomy and recipes that call for un-findable ingredients and elaborated cooking procedures.

Perhaps home cooking or a return to traditional foods is trending back again. The list of cookbooks published this year ( and the end of last year, too ) features an abundance of titles from talented cookbook writers with defined platforms and well-honed areas of expertise. Fewer of them are chefs, and there are fewer high-minded restaurant books, too, than published in 2009/2010.

Selecting cookbooks to sell is not easy. It’s difficult to please everyone, and the quantity of published works is staggering. But as a specialty foods retailer my job is to narrow down, focus, select the best, and defend my choices. So I use the same criteria for selecting books for my store that I do when purchasing books for my own collection.

As a rule of thumb, I like serious books. I avoid cookbooks by food celebrities and always pass on cookbooks written by celebrities who have elbowed their way into the food world on their name and glamour. I don’t sell fad diet books or books about the latest momentary health craze; books by writers who look as if they need a good meal or who are prissy, or snarky; books that are cutey or written by someone with trumped-up credentials; and tedious books featuring dull-sounding food.

There is still so much to learn and appreciate about the foods of the world – I like to make every meal count!

Click here for the current list of book for sale at Cooks Shop Here: http://www.cooksshophere.com/products/Product_Info/cookbooks.htm



My ‘New’ Green Tea Book

Green Tea: 50 Hot Drinks, Cool Quenchers & Sweet & Savory Treats

A lovely woman who produces a food radio program telephoned me recently to set up an interview about my ‘new’ book on cooking with green tea. She caught me off guard because I don’t have a new book on cooking with green tea. Then I realized she was referring to a book that I wrote in 2006 titled: Green Tea: 50 Hot Drinks, Cool Quenchers and Sweet and Savory Treats ( Harvard Common Press, 2006).

We got it straightened out, had a laugh, and fortunately she still wanted to have the interview.

After this, I started to think about my book and the idea of cooking with tea. Back in 2006, cooking with tea or using tea as in ingredient in cooking and baking was an unfamiliar concept here in the US, and it did not resonate with most. Its not that it wasn’t a good idea – it was and still is a great idea – but only a few short years ago the conversation about tea was vastly different than it is today.

Back then, tea drinking had not yet reached the widespread popularity that it has now, and education about premium tea from traditional places of origin was still in its infancy. Spreading the word about the different classes of tea (green, white, yellow, oolong, black and Pu-erh) was challenging for those of us in the tea business as black tea was the most commonly drunk tea at that time, and the only tea that many people were familiar with.

Fortunately, my book sold well and is still in print –yea!- but I have come to realize that the subject of cooking with tea ( and my book ) was ahead of its time. For Green Tea I developed original recipes in these categories: hot and iced green teas, smoothies, green tea cocktails, savory dishes and sweet endings, and often when I would describe to someone back then what my book was about they would look at me as if I had holes in my head.

In fact, even in Taiwan, where I gave a presentation at an annual tea meeting to a room full of tea growers on the idea of cooking with tea, and where there are dishes that utilize oolong tea in the preparation, many there looked at me as if I had holes in my head, too.

But today, just five years later, the idea of cooking with tea, or using tea as a culinary ingredient, has caught on. Not like wildfire, but with enough traction to be included in various tea conversations and for others to pursue the topic.

Cynthia Gold, the Tea Sommelier at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel, has co-authored a book with Lise Stern titled: Culinary Tea: More Than 150 Recipes Steeped in Tradition from Around the World ( Running Press, 2010). This delightful book explores the concept in depth, and provides much guidance for those looking to experiment with all classes of tea in their cooking.

Some restaurants, too, feature tea as an ingredient in various savory dishes and cocktails. Green tea in particular is showing up pretty regularly in sweets and desserts. But I fear such desserts will suffer from over-exposure and incompetent hands, and become culinary outcasts in the same vein as tiramisu, molten chocolate cake, and anything kiwi.

I am reprinting (with permission of my publisher) one of my favorite cocktail recipes from Green Tea: 50 Hot Drinks, Cool Quenchers and Sweet and Savory Treats.

Tropical Sky
( serves 2 )

  • 12 ice cubes
  • 3 ounces chilled green tea
  • 1 cup chilled pomegranate juice
  • 3 ounces gin
  • 1 tablespoon amaretto
  • Maraschino cherries, lemon wedges and orange wedges for garnish

1. Put 4 ice cubes, the green tea, pomegranate juice, gin, and amaretto into a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously for 1 minute.

2. Divide the remaining 8 ice cubes between 2 old-fashioned glasses. Make a skewer for each glass by threading 1 cherry, 1 lemon wedge, and 1 orange wedge onto a decorative cocktail pick. Strain the cocktail into the glasses and drape a fruit skewer across the top of each glass. Serve immediately.

Mexican Food Products from Susana Trilling

I am very excited to have Seasons of My Heart food products from Susana Trilling. Susana is a chef, founder of Seasons of My Heart Cooking School in Oaxaca, Mexico, and author of the vibrant cookbook Seasons of My Heart: A Culinary Journey through Oaxaca, Mexico ( Ballantine Books, 1999)

Susana’s book is a companion guide to her 13-show PBS series in which she shares her deep passion and anthropological knowledge of this fascinating region whose cuisine remains virtually untouched by influences from the outside world. Oaxaca invites a deep appreciation of Mexican culture, and Susana is a gracious ambassador for the region she loves so much.

Susana Trilling

 Those of you who have visited Mexico know that the local markets are wonderful places, and taking the time to stroll around and absorb all you see is a fragrant, colorful sensory event. Spices, foods, fruits, candies, crafts, clay cookware and simple, charming clay dishes and bowls, embroideries and weavings offer serious temptations.

In southern Mexico, in the markets of Oaxaca and the neighboring villages, you will also see quantities of chile-based seasoning pastes – mole* – for sale in rich earth tones of red, brown, and nearly black. The flavors of these moles are as extraordinary as the colors are vivid, and the tastes of each mole will be different one to another.

But each is unique and essential to the traditional cuisine of Oaxaca. Choosing just one mole is never an option when shopping in these vibrant markets!

Mole lovers know that these tasty and essential pastes traditionally take a day or longer to make and require a very long list of ingredients to obtain the proper flavors: fruits, nuts, spices, chocolate and chiles. The flavor of a specific mole is dependent on particular chiles which can be difficult or impossible to find in the USA.

If you rather not spend a day or more in your kitchen making mole from scratch, you can use Susana’s moles to create delicious, authentic tasting dishes for your family and friends.  Susana has created three of the most famous of these mole pastes – Oaxacan Mole Negro (Black Mole), Mole Coloradito, and Mole Rojo (Red Mole) that are made with the right chilies, all natural ingredients and no fillers.  All that is required is that the mole be reconstituted into a sauce and served with a generous portion of chicken, turkey, pork (or a combination of the three). And only you will know that you have Susana at your side!

Another not-to-be-missed item is Susana’s Chintestle (Smoked Chile Paste), something that I now cannot live without! I first tasted this product several years ago when I met Susana at a food conference but there was no way to purchase this product for resale at the time. Believe me, I have thought about this flavorful smoked chile paste more than a few times in the years since!

Lastly, we also have Susana’s chile jellies ( three types…red, green and yellow….which are excellent toppings for soft goat cheese for quick and tasty summer snacks on the patio…with a Margarita, perhaps ?  ) and coarse and crunchy Mexican sea salt to flavor your favorite dishes .

*Chile pepper expert, food historian, magazine editor and cookbook author Dave Dewitt has this to say about mole: “Perhaps the most famous Mexican chile dishes are the moles. The word ‘mole’, from the Náhuatl molli, means “mixture,” as in guacamole, a mixture of vegetables (guaca). Some sources say that the word is taken from the Spanish verb moler, meaning to grind. Whatever its precise origin, the word used by itself embraces a vast number of sauces utilizing every imaginable combination of meats, vegetables, spices, and flavorings–sometimes up to three dozen different ingredients. Not only are there many ingredients, there are dozens of variations on mole–red moles, green moles, brown moles, fiery moles, and even mild moles”.

Please visit our website to read more about these items and to purchase:
http://www.cooksshophere.com/products/pantry/mexican-ingred.htm

Treasures from the Qianlong Garden in the Forbidden City

Students of Chinese art, culture, history and lovers of magnificent, exquisitely rendered objects should be aware of  a very impressive but fleeting exhibition currently on view at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA.  I recently had the opportunity to spend a day lingering over this glorious exhibition ( and some of the rest of the museum as well ) and highly recommend it to anyone able to make the trip to Salem.

The exhibition is The Emperor’s Private Paradise: Treasures from the Forbidden City and it is a first-hand look at “ninety objects of ceremony and leisure” – furnishings, screens and panels, murals, jades, cloisonne and other priceless possessions – that once belonged to the Qianlong Emperor ( r. 1736-1796).

In advance of his retirement, the emperor commissioned the construction of a private compound and garden within the Forbidden City, complete with reception halls, study rooms and shrines for his personal enjoyment and relaxation.

The Qianlong Emperor was one of the richest and most powerful men in the world in his day, and he outfit his private rooms with objects made from the most precious materials by the best skilled artists and craftsmen. It is these personal objects of the Qianlong Emperor that are on exhibit at the PEM.

According to a press release from the PEM, the Qianlong Emperor was “a connoisseur, scholar and devout Buddhist. He created a luxurious garden compound to serve throughout his retirement as a secluded place of contemplation, repose and entertainment.”

Nancy Berlinger, curator of Chinese art at the PEM, is quoted as saying ” the treasures are from a part of the forbidden City that’s so different from the rest of the Forbidden City. These objects were made for a context that’s about being contemplative. It’s not about being big, official, national, a victorious ruler or emperor. It’s about being a scholar, and Confucian and a Buddhist.”

The majority of buildings in the Forbidden City ( some 179 acres houses 980 buildings ) have been shuttered since the last emperor left the Forbidden City in 1924 and have never been opened to or visited since by the public. The Qianlong Gardens ( also known as the Tranquility and Longevity Palace Garden ) is now part of a decade-long, multi-million dollar conservation initiative being undertaken by the World Monuments Fund and the Palace Museum in Beijing.

So, what better thing to do with such valuable objects than to pack them up and send them ‘on the road’ and out of harms way, so to speak. Which is exactly why the treasures are making a tour of the USA before returning to their rightful place in the renovated buildings in the Qianlong Garden. (Just thinking about how these objects are moved, packed, insured and coddled before, during and after shipment is a process that I would love to see documented on film).

Not only is it a thrill to see workmanship such as this on the highest level of achievement, but I felt a tremendous amount of  awe viewing these masterpieces because they have never before been seen by ‘the general public’.

In fact, except for a handful of Asian art experts, conservation workers, government officials and museum staff,  visitors in the USA who view these objects at the three chosen museums will be seeing these treasures for the first time, even before they have been  exhibited in China.

The decision to bring the story of the restoration of the Forbidden City and the Qianlong Emperor’s treasures to the American people first was made by the Chinese government and the Palace Museum in the spirit of cultural awareness, education and cooperation among  museums.

These objects will travel only to three museums in the USA ( PEM in Salem, the Met in NYC and the Milwaukee Art Museum ) before returning to China.

In recent years the PEM has also received much praise for one of their permanent exhibits – the Chinese house known as Yin Yu Tang. This is a wealthy merchants house in the Chinese vernacular style built in the early 1800’s in the rural village of Huang Cun in Anhui Province.

After nearly 200 years of continuous family living, the house was no longer lived in by any of the original family members. It was dis-assembled, brought to Salem, and carefully re-constructed on the museum grounds. One visits the old house, which is furnished as it might have been when people lived there, and an audio tour allows the voices of family members to escort visitors thru the rooms with stories and bits of history.

There is nothing like this authentic Chinese house anywhere in the USA, and the juxtaposition of the simple life of the family who occupied Yin Tu Tang and the sublime treasures from the private quarters of the Qianlong Emperor makes a striking study in contrasts of individual status, living environments and material possessions.

The mission of a world-class museum is to expose visitors to a kaleidoscope of wonders about culture, tradition, the history of people, places, wildlife and things on earth. The PEM should be applauded for the exemplary work that they have put into bringing these diverse and compelling aspects of China to its visitors.

The PEM website is worth a visit, also – there is much to see and learn. Visitors to the museum can also purchase advance tickets for viewing these two exhibits online.

The Emperor’s Private Paradise: Treasures from the Forbidden City’, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts, September 14 – January 9 2011.  www.pem.org