Sunday, June 8, 2014

Cook The Books June/July 2014 Selection: "The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen" by Jacques Pépin

I was off-the-rock (aka Hawaii) and back for meetings in my old stomping grounds of Seattle in 2004, having dinner at the house of one of my favorite and coolest foodie friends and former co-worker. She had just finished The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen by Jacques Pépin and offered up her copy, saying how much she liked it and how she thought I would enjoy it. Mary is the person who way-back-when introduced me to the perfection of crisp and bright green haricots verts (growing up at my house they were slightly mushy, olive-colored, and called green beans) and taught me the joys of creamed baby leeks and the swoon-worthy pairing of figs and dark chocolate. The week she moved to Seattle from San Francisco, she pulled a heavy pan and a container of aborio rice from her boxes and effortlessly stirred together a simple but amazing risotto (my first) while we drank wine and caught up in her mostly unpacked kitchen. Based on my experience, if it was food related and Mary said I was going to love it, it was pretty certain that I would.  

This proved true with The Apprentice. It's hard not to respect Jacques Pépin and be charmed by his warmth and amazed by the career he has had in his over half-century of cooking from his first apprenticeship in a restaurant at the age of 13. Now approaching the age of 79, Pépin is a prolific chef, teacher and author, writing over 20 cookbooks and hosting or co-hosting 13 different cooking shows over the years. In The Apprentice, Pépin, tells of growing up in France and working in his mother's kitchens, his time spent training and cooking in Paris, his move to the United States in 1959 and many stories of the kitchens and the people he worked with--including some of the greats like Craig Claiborne, Julia Child, and James Beard. 

Going through my stacks of hoarded books library, I came across my gifted copy and had the urge to re-read it and make it our June/July 2014 CTB selection. I hope you all find it as entertaining and engrossing as I do. (Hey, even Anthony Bourdain called it "an instant classic!"). I'm sure there will be plenty of cooking inspiration to be found with the inclusion of some of Pépin's favorite recipes in the book--not to mention the vast amount of recipes available in his plethora of cookbooks and online.

Submissions for this round of CTB are due Thursday, July 31, 2014. Anyone can join in the Cook the Books fun by reading and blogging about the book and cooking up a dish inspired by its contents. Let me know when your entry post is up by commenting on this post and/or sending me an email at:

New to Cook the Books? Check out our About and Guidelines pages or leave a question in the comments on this post. 

Bon appétit

Monday, June 2, 2014

A Roundup of Persian Cuisine Inspired by Funny in Farsi by Firoozeh Dumas

It's time to lay the virtual table with sumptuous and colorful linens for our Persian feast, inspired by our April/May 2014 book selection, Firoozeh Dumas' memoir Funny in Farsi. We had not yet explored the cuisine of Iran and its Persian heritage here at Cook the Books, so this account of the author's childhood experiences in Southern California as an Iranian-American gave us just the opportunity.

Join me now in sampling some of the blog posts and inspired dishes created by the Cook the Books participants:

Camilla at Culinary Adventures with Camilla reports that she loved the book so much she read it twice!  Here's a quote from Camilla's post:
I chuckled at her characterization of Berkeley. Having lived there for 5 years for college, I would agree with her assessment - Berkeley wasn't just any armpit, it was an armpit in need of a shave and a shower, an armpit full of well-read people.... Don't get me wrong, I love Berkeley. But her characterization is accurate. I think that's where her humor succeeds. She tells it like it is.
Camilla notes that Iranians use rhubarb to add sour elements to savory dishes and she followed up on this aspect with a beautiful Radish, Rhubarb and Strawberry Salad.

Over at Kahakai Kitchen, Cook the Books Cohost Deb relates her experiences with the Iranian family of one of her college roommates and offers her comments about our book selection, including this tidbit: 
If you have a family that you love but that sometimes embarrasses you, you have traveled or spent time in/with another culture or country, or even if you just grew up in America, you'll recognize and connect with the author's experiences and enjoy this book.   
  Deb's Persian-inspired contribution to our feast is a fragrant Chickpea and Herb Soup with Eggplant.

Debra of Eliot's Eats, our newest Cook the Books Cohost, shared many snippets from the book, including this humorous passage:
Asking my father to ask the waitress the definition of “sloppy Joe” or "Tater Tots” was no problem. His translations, however were highly suspect. Waitresses would spend several minutes responding to my father’s questions, and these responses, in turn, would be translated as “She doesn’t know.” Thanks to my father’s translations, we stayed away from hot dogs, catfish, and hush puppies, and no amount of caviar in the sea would have convinced us to try mud pie.  (8)
Debra wisely chose to bring a luscious dessert to our feast: Persian Ice Cream, perfumed with saffron and rosewater, paired with a slice of Chocolate Bundt Cake.

The writer behind Briciole, Simona, the final Cohost in our Cook the Books quartet, did not relish our featured book as much as others did, noting:
I expect a memoir to go beyond a series of vignettes and give the individual experience a universal flavor. This did not happen for me with Funny in Pharsi.
 Simona made a vibrantly-colored, Persian-inspired, Black Beluga Lentil and Vegetable Soup.

Alicia over at the Foodycat blog enjoyed the book, noting:
A warmly funny memoir of her life growing up as an Iranian immigrant to America, I found this a very pleasant read. Even the parts that had the potential to be quite painful were told with a kindness and generosity of spirit that I found really winning.
Foodycat  made an aromatic meal of Lamb and Sour Cherry Meatballs, Tomato Salad with Pomegranate Mayonnaise, Saffron Rice and Carrot Salad. How transporting!

Back at The Crispy Cook, I wrote about how I loved Dumas' descriptions of her lovable, dreamer dad, Kazem.
He is such an interesting mixture of intellect and childish enthusiasm. He was a petroleum engineer back in Abadan, Iran, and later earned a Fulbright Scholarship to continue his graduate education in the U.S. It was during his American sojourn that one of his professors took him on a road trip to Princeton where he met (and flummoxed) Albert Einstein. After launching into a endless monologue of his American experiences, Einstein was rendered somewhat speechless. Or perhaps he took a mental vacation to hone his Theory of Relativity during Kazem’s "year's allotment of conversation". 
Like Alicia, I also had Persian meatballs on my mind, though mine were spiced with cumin, coriander and sumac.
Next we have Delaware Girl Eats' reflections about the book:
As a lifelong East Coaster, California seems to be a world unto itself, so I could relate to the author’s lighthearted stories of her bewildered encounters with California traditions. Most of all, I enjoyed her stories about family food traditions.  I loved her depiction of the Persian kitchen, marked by the constant desire to feed the people you love, whether they are hungry or not.
A refreshing Shiraz Salad with Tomatoes and Cucumbers is her addition to our Persian feast.

To round things up, we have a Claudia's insights about the book from her blog Honey From Rock:
It was indeed funny, lively and insightful as well.  Moving to America at the age of 7, back in 1972, and popped right into public school, was an eye-opening experience for a small girl, especially for one who did not speak English. What she remembers from that first day - "The bathrooms were clean and the people were very, very kind."  But you have to read the whole story to appreciate.
Claudia made the dish Lamb in Pomegranate-Cardamom Sauce, which unhappily did not live up to expectations.

Our next Cook the Books selection will be The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen, by Jacques Pepin. Deb of Kahakai Kitchen will be our CTB host and deadlines for posts are due July 31, 2014. Come join us in reading, blogging and cooking up this great book!

-Rachel, The Crispy Cook