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    Summer Cookbooks

    I spend a good part of my summer cooking for friends and family, and am always looking for new ideas, which means it’s cookbook prime time. As someone who loves cookbooks (I used to take them to bed and read them like you would a novel) and is primarily self taught from the old greats, I still derive plenty of inspiration from the books that come out every year. Here are some of the standouts that I will be delving into all summer. Among them is Amy Pennington’s book, Urban Pantry full of clever recipes for using your kitchen to the max.

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    Urban Pantry: Tips & Recipes for a Thrifty, Sustainable & Seasonal Kitchen by Amy Pennington

    Photography by Della Chen

    Amy Pennington

    Amy Pennington runs an urban gardening business called GoGo Green that installs gardens for city dwellers. Her cookbook incorporates many tips on how to grow your own kitchen garden and teaches a kitchen economy for today’s urbanite - from how to stock the pantry, to what to plant when, to how to can and preserve a variety of foods for the winter months.

    Recipes and Tips from Urban Pantry
    by Amy Pennington


    Photography by Della Chen

    I am an urban farmer without a farm. It’s the ironic story of my life. While I grow food for people in their backyards, I have no garden space to call my own. With that, I have learned to be resourceful and grow a small abundance of food in containers, pots and any salvaged receptacle I can get my hands on. Over time, I have learned what plants do well and produce enough to harvest and what herbs give me the most bang for my buck in the kitchen.

    It’s never too late to start a small garden. No matter the season, there is always some small plant you can sow or pot up. When planting in pots, choose a potting soil mix. Regular dirt from the garden is a bit too heavy and won’t drain well. With more and more people getting down and dirty in gardens this year, here is a smart guide to provide you with a short and simple list of easy-to-grow edibles right now.


    Photography by Della Chen

    Lettuce – whether you opt for bibb, romaine or a cutting variety, lettuce is one of the quickest and easiest plants to grow. If you’re planning on starting today (and you should!), browse seed catalogs and select a variety that can withstand some heat – Little Gem (a romaine variety), Rogue d’Hiver (a cross between romaine and butterhead) and Oak Leaf (a loose lettuce, as opposed to a head lettuce) are all great choices. Sow seeds in a pale-colored long and shallow plastic container pot. Plastic containers will hold water a bit longer than clay pots and the light color will keep roots cool. Be sure to keep the seed bed moist until seeds germinate, which typically happens in 5 to 7 days.

    Mint – I use mint in the kitchen like it’s going out of style. It’s a fabulous herb to perk up grain salads, crush into a pesto for roasted meats or add to a fizzy summertime beverage. Mint is a considered a ‘runner’ – a plant that sends out horizontal root runners which produce stalks of mint. For this reason, its best kept in a pot. Choose a long shallow pot, so mint can run out and reproduce quickly. Most garden centers carry transplants of mint, or you can take a clipping from a neighbors’ garden. Mint is prolific and will catch on quickly!

    Borage – this tall prickly-stemmed flower is not only a gorgeous addition to a small garden, but a tasty one. Borage grows two to three feet tall on a sturdy stalk and sends out sparse but large leaves that are edible. Harvest young leaves for the best flavor – larger leaves have spiky hairs on them that turn some people off. The leaves are slightly cucumber in flavor, which always makes me crave a Pimms Cup cocktail. Flowers bloom a deep purple-blue and can be used as edible garnish, and they are great bee attractors. Plant borage in a deep pot, so roots have space to send out shoots and the plant can grow to maturity.

    Vegetable Scrap Stock

    Photography by Della Chen

    This vegetable stock is an excellent way to use up any random slices of veggies you have around the pantry. It also works well when you have a lot of vegetable “waste” from another recipe, like the peeled carrot skins. Use those skins in place of a whole carrot, as the peels also have a lot of flavor. This vegetable stock is not as rich as chicken stock, but it’s a nice option for vegetarians. Flavor is added by deglazing the pan with some vermouth or white wine. These proportions are flexible. The only thing you really need is some sort of allium, as they flavor the broth like no other vegetables can.

    Serves: Makes about 4 cups

    • Olive oil
    • 1 carrot, roughly chopped
    • 1 onion, roughly chopped
    • 1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
    • 1 clove garlic, smashed
    • Splash of vermouth or dry white wine
    • 1 fresh or dried bay leaf
    • Herb stalks
    • A few whole black peppercorns

    Cover the bottom of a large stockpot with olive oil and heat over medium-high. Add the carrot, onion, celery, and garlic. The trick here is to fight the urge to stir continuously. Instead, let the vegetables sit on the heat and caramelize, about 10 minutes. Splash vermouth in the pan, stirring to deglaze and scraping up all the brown bits from the bottom of the stockpot. Cover the vegetables with 2 inches of water. Add the bay leaf, herb stalks, and the peppercorns and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and cover, simmering for an hour. Set a fine-mesh strainer over a large mixing bowl and drain the stock from the solids. Compost solids. Put the stock in the fridge until cool. Once cooled, use within three days or store in plastic containers in the freezer for up to four months.

    Pantry Note: All frozen stocks follow the same rules. Cover the stock’s surface with a layer of plastic wrap before freezing, and store for up to four months.

    Water-Bath Canning 101

    This is a step-by-step guide to water-bath canning at home. There are a few options to choose from, but all work well. Be sure to set up your jars and workspace beforehand so you can establish a rhythm. Also, be mindful of the processing times given in each recipe.

    Cleaning Jars. Wash your jars and lids in hot soapy water and set them to dry completely on a rack or on a clean dish towel.

    Preparing Jars. Glass jars and lids do not need to be sterilized before use if your foodstuffs will be processed more than 10 minutes in a boiling water bath or pressure canner. If jar-processing time is 10 minutes or less, jars must be sterilized before filling.

    Do this by placing jars in a canning pot, filling with water, and bringing water to simmer. Hold jars in water until ready to use. Conversely, I always hold just-washed jars in a 225-degree oven until ready to use. This is not recommended by the USDA, but I’m still alive to give you the option.

    Filling the Jars. All canned goods will need headspace to allow for expansion of the food and to create a vacuum in cooling jars. As a general rule, leave 1/4 inch of headspace on all jams and jellies and 1/2 inch of headspace on all whole fruits. When using whole fruits, release air bubbles in just-filled jars by tapping the jar on the counter or by inserting a wooden chopstick or skewer into the jar and gently stirring the fruit. When placing lids and rings on canning jars, do not overtighten the rings. Secure just until rings have tension and feel snug. Overtightening will not allow air to vent from the jars—a crucial step in canning.

    Heating the Canning Pot. Fill your canning pot or a deep stockpot half full of water and heat to a low boil. Hold the liquid on a very low boil until ready to use.

    Filling the Canning Pot. If using a canning pot, place prepared jars of food on the rack in the canner. Do not stack, as you need to allow for circulation of water for proper sealing. Lower jars into the canning pot, and add enough water to cover the jar tops by an inch or more. Cover the pot and return to a boil. Processing times begin once the canning-pot water is brought back up to a boil. This can take as long as 15 minutes, so be sure to keep an eye on your pot and a timer nearby. You may also use a deep stockpot (best only in small-batch preserving) by lining the bottom of the pot with a dish towel and placing jars on top. This helps keep jars from clanging around on the bottom of the pot or tumbling over onto their sides. This form of canning is not universally recommended or endorsed by the USDA. I have seen plenty of farmers and European country folk use this old-school technique, and I’ve adapted their laissez-faire ways.

    Removing Sealed Jars. Using a jar lifter, or a set of kitchen tongs, remove jars from the canner when the processing time has elapsed. (Remember, processing times begin once the canning-pot water is brought back up to a boil.) Set jars aside on a folded towel to cool. Make sure you do not press on the tops and create an artificial seal. Knowing when jars are sealed. You’ll hear the sound of can tops popping shortly— a sign that a secure seal has been made. Once the jars are cool, check the seal by removing the outer ring and lifting the jar by holding only the lid. If it stays intact, you have successfully canned your food. If the seal is loose or broken, you may reprocess in the water bath within twenty-four hours. (Be sure to replace the lid and check the jar rim for cracks or nicks and replace if necessary.) Conversely, you can refrigerate the jar immediately and use within three weeks.

    Labeling and Storage. Once cool, label all jars with date and contents. Successfully sealed jars should be stored in a cool dark place, such as a cupboard. Officially, canned goods keep for up to a year, but I have let them go a bit longer with little effect.

    Simple Sour Cherries

    Photography by Della Chen

    I love love love pie cherries. They make the most exquisite tarts, jams, and more. They are not widely available, but it’s worth it to ask your local orchardist if he or she grows them or knows of anyone who does. Sour pie cherries are worth the extra couple of dollars a pound you’ll pay over the cost of sweet cherries. While a sweet cherry is perfect for eating fresh or soaking in brandy, sour pie cherries can’t be beat for all other desserts.

    I prefer to keep sugar use to a minimum. I like these cherries sweet but not too sweet. If you prefer a sugar-sweet cherry, add more sugar to your syrup. I raw-pack these cherries—I want them to be as whole and firm as possible when I open the jar. They float in the syrup unless you pack the jar densely by removing as much air as you can before and after filling the jar with syrup. For specific details on canning, follow the directions outlined in the “Water-Bath Canning 101”.

    • 5 pounds sour pie cherries, such as Montmorency, stemmed and pitted (reserve your pits!)

    Syrup

    • 6 1/2 cups water
    • 1 cup sugar

    Prepare jars for canning. In a large saucepan, bring the water and sugar to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and keep at a low simmer until you are ready to use the syrup. Pack the jars, adding the cherries until they reach the bottom-most ring on the top of the jar. On a folded-over dish towel (for padding), strongly tap the bottom of the jar on the counter to help pack down the cherries. They’ll compress at least 1/2 inch. Fill the jar again to the bottom ring and tap down again, compressing the cherries as much as possible without squeezing them down. Add a spoonful of cherry pits to the jar for flavor.

    Once the jars are full (with 1/2 inch of headspace), evenly distribute any cherry juice that has accumulated at the bottom of the cherry bowl. Using a ladle or a liquid measuring cup for ease, pour the hot syrup over the cherries, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Gently tap the bottom of the jar on the counter to release any air bubbles. Wipe the rims of the jars, using a damp clean towel, and place the lids and rings on the jars. Process in a water bath for 25 minutes.

    Remove the jars with tongs and let cool on the counter. When cooled, check for proper seals, remove the metal rings, and label with date and contents. Store in a cool, dark cupboard until ready to use, for up to a year.

    Pantry Note: You’ll likely have extra simple syrup left after your cherries are packed. Store this in a jar in the fridge for your next canning adventure. You’ll need 2 pints of sour cherries to fill a pie. I often add 1 pint plus another fruit when making a tart or pie, to extend the life of the cherries. Once open, these cherries will keep in the fridge for several weeks.

    Fizzy Berry Cream Soda
    (Summer Honey Drinks)

    This is a homemade spin on an Italian cream soda, using fresh berries. It’s made with kids in mind, but grown-ups won’t be able to stop themselves from drinking a glass. A perfect treat for a summer afternoon!

    Serves 2

    • ½ cup berries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries or blueberries work well
    • 1 tablespoon honey
    • 2 cups seltzer or carbonated water
    • ½ cup heavy cream

    In small bowl, place berries and add honey. Let sit for 20 to 30 minutes, until berries start to release their juice. Crush the berries with the back of a fork until they are broken down and jam-y. Fill two glasses with ices. Add equal amounts of the berry jam to each glass. Add about 1 cup seltzer to each glass. Pour equal amounts of cream into each glass and stir. Serve immediately, with a spoon or straw.

    Cardamom Cooler

    Cardamom has some heat – a spicy herb that cools you down on hot summer days. This drink is perfectly light and refreshing, a great afternoon cooler. If you prefer a cocktail, add a splash of bourbon. The woody sweetness pairs well with the cardamom.

    Makes 4 drinks

    • 15 green cardamom pods, crushed with the back of a knife or rolling pin
    • 2 cups water, boiling
    • ¼ cup honey
    • 2 cups seltzer or carbonated water
    • Bourbon, optional

    Place crushed cardamom pods into a muslin steeping bag, or mesh tea strainer. Add to boiling water, and let steep until the flavor is strong, about 30 to 45 minutes. Add honey and stir until dissolved. Fill four glasses with ice. Add ½ cup cardamom syrup to each glass. Add ½ cup seltzer to each glass. Stir and served. (For a boozy version, add about one ounce of bourbon.)

    Cookbooks and Books about Food:

    The Flavour Thesaurus
    by Niki Segnit

    For new cooks and old hands in the kitchen, this book is a must-have and a must-read. Not only are the flavor combinations and recipes offered useful, but Niki Segnit’s descriptions of each and every one are delightful to read. It’s a combination between a bedtime read and a kitchen companion. The American version will be available from Bloomsbury USA in November.

    Miss Dahl’s Voluptuous Delights
    by Sophie Dahl

    Filled to the brim with lush, hearty recipes for each season, Sophie Dahl’s book is also a delightful, captivating read, sprinkled with stories about her love affair with food and the ups and downs that it entails. She tells about childhood teas in London, meals with her grandmother Gee Gee, the horrors of eating at Boarding School, becoming a model and eating around the world, a raw food stint which turned out to be surprisingly fattening, and much, much more. Her stories, and the recipes that come along with them are written with loads of charm and a great sense of humor. There are also plenty of vegetarian-friendly recipes here.

    The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual
    by Frank Falcinelli, Frank Castronovo and Peter Meehan

    The summer season’s hippest cookbook is from Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo, the dons of the old-school and hip scene in the Lower East side and Brooklyn. Their restaurants serve up laid back and delicious southern Italian meals for masses of foodies that flock to their doors. The cookbook satisfies with easy recipes that recreate the Franks’ cooking style.

    A Cook’s Journey to Japan
    by Sarah Marx Feldner

    The author’s extended trip to Japan took her into the home kitchens of friends living across Japan, from the big cities to small towns and fishing villages. Her book presents the rather overlooked side of Japanese cooking – home cooking for the family. Each recipe has step-by-step photographs, which make the whole process much less intimidating, and even, easy.

    Food Rules
    by Michael Pollan

    With so many diets, trends and food strictures being thrown at us at every step of the way, what was once a simple question, is now truly a daily riddle: What to eat? Michael Pollan breaks it down in the simplest of ways, making unexpectedly enjoyable read out of a rule book.

    A Twist of the Wrist: Quick Flavorful Meals with Ingredients from Jars, Cans, Bags, and Boxes
    by Nancy Silverton

    This book is written with an understanding for the home-chef who wants a lush tasty meal without spending hours prepping for it. This is where the cans of beans, pre-cut potatoes, the pre-washed greens, the chilli-paste, sliced chorizo, marinated anchovies and more come in. The founder of La Brea Bakery, Nancy Silverton is one of the best chefs today. The book not only includes her recipes, but those of the big-time chefs she’s worked with along the way.

    Midnight Feasts
    by Charmain Ponnutharai

    Charmain Ponnutharai’s book is a compilation of notable foodies’ and chefs late night weakness recipes, ranging from cereal, to sandwiches, to spaghetti, to seafood. The book drips in charm with its midnight blue cover and simple pen and ink illustrations by Laurie Bellanca. Published in the UK, for now it’s available online with all proceeds going to the charity “Springboard for Children.”

    The Pleasures of Cooking for One
    by Judith Jones

    Judith Jones is the legendary senior editor at Knopf who brought us the classic books by legendary cooks like Julia Child, Claudia Roden and James Beard, among many others. Years of wisdom acquired in the kitchen are condensed into this small volume that teaches the ever so difficult task of cooking good, real meals, for one.

    Recipes from an Italian Summer
    from the Silver Spoon kitchen

    Brought to you by the authors of the Silver Spoon, this gorgeous volume is full of simple summer salads, pastas, and best of all, an entire section dedicated to grilling. The layout and photographs are gorgeous, and the recipes easy to prepare for a family dinner or better, an all-day lazy summer party.

    The goop collection

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