December 2009

Cookin' With Coolio

Coolio, still best known for his 1995 hit song "Gangster's Paradise," has launched his own cookbook on the heels of the success of his online video cooking channel.  Styling himself the "ghetto gourmet," Coolio seems determined to become the next big name celebrity chef.  But does he have the chops?

I was struck by the simplicity of the ingredients that Coolio uses.  This is entirely true to real life, but it seemed like a major departure for celebrity cheffery, which is so often dependent upon bizarre ingredients, presumably in order to give the audience the impression that the chef is very rich, very dedicated, very skilled in the use of odd things, or all of the above.  

The Silver Palate Cookbook

I think of this as "the quintessentially 80s cookbook," which it really is, and all the more charming for it.  The 80s were a more innocent time, culinarily speaking, here in the States.  America was just getting used to the idea of haute cuisine.  Couple this with the unbridled financial enthusiasm of the Reagan era, and the aspirational Gordon Gekko culture of black lacquer furniture and Nagel prints, and what you end up with is a lot of A) quiche, and B) pesto.  Even the name of the cookbook seems to embody the 80s; "silver palate," which I guess is implying the fanciest and most discriminating taste in recipes.

Esther Howland, "The Economical Housekeeper"

Even for a historical text (The Economical Housekeeper was published in 1845) there is some seriously crackpot health stuff in this book.  For example, its injunction against eating bread fresh out of the oven.  We are told that this is safe for the young and healthy, but that older individuals must wait until the bread has finished off-gassing, lest they risk "doing harm to the digestive organs."  

The process of aging is called "ripening," and the book asserts that bread is up to five times more nutritious when it has properly ripened, compared to when it is fresh from the oven.  Not only is ripe bread healthier, we are informed, but it also "imparts a much greater degree of cheerfulness."

Love and Knishes: An An Irrepressible Guide to Jewish Cooking by Sara Kasdan


Sara Kasdan. Love and Knishes: An An Irrepressible Guide to Jewish Cooking. Alexander Books; 2nd rev. 1997.
ISBN: 1570900760.

Sara Kasdan's Love and Knishes first came out in 1956 as a slim paperback. It was an almost immediate hit with Jews and non-Jews alike who wanted to know how to make Matzah ball (knaydelach) soup, kreplach, and yes, both meat and potato knish. It's been reprinted many times since then, most recently, in 1997; I note that you can find used copies online as well as at bookstores, if you look. There's even a hardcover version, complete with Louis Slobodin's amusing illustrations.

This is a lovely basic primer of Jewish cooking American-style. It's practical, and wide-ranging. The basics are all here, including tsimmes and two kinds of kugel. It's a cookbook intended for those how have the basics down, and want to know how to make something without making a tsimmes of it.

Southern Sideboards Mississippi Junior Leagues of Jackson


Southern Sideboards.
Junior League of Jackson, MS. 2001.
ISBN: 0960688609.

This is one of my mother's favorite cookbooks,ception of a Southern Living cookbook, Southern Sideboards is about the best cross-sectional view of Southern American cooking possible. It's a collection of 950 recipes submitted by members of the Jackson, Mississippi Junior League. The recipes were collected, carefully tested (each recipe was tried by three cooks) and edited, then published. The first edition came out in 1978; it's been continuously in print ever since, which means it's been reprinted with some minor updates more than twenty times.

One of the reasons I love this cookbook is that it's so very very Southern, in that it has all the sorts of things you'd want to know about Southern family style cooking. It's also broad