And what goes better with a fast cars metaphor than a road trip playlist? We’ll play some carefully selected* tunes while cooking from the book, and then we’ll talk about all of it. (*Or maybe totally rando. We’ll see.)
I’m purposely avoiding the word “review” here, as I feel neither capable nor qualified to do so. Music criticism in particular has a language in which I'm not conversant, despite my lifelong love of all sorts of tunage. Instead I’m going to share my experience using the cookbook (pictures, yummy-appeal of recipes, ease of use, etc.) and listening to the music (overall sound/feel, favorite tracks, etc.)
Chef Larry Forgione has been called the “Godfather of American Cuisine” and is credited with pioneering the Farm to Table movement. His NYC restaurant An American Place earned many stars and glowing reviews during the ‘80s, prior to him co-founding American Spoon Foods, a purveyor of high quality, small-batch, locally sourced foods based in America’s Heartland (specifically Michigan). The eponymous cookbook came out in 1996 and a second restaurant bearing the American Place name opened in St. Louis in 2004.
I received the cookbook in 2006 as a gift from the St. Louis hotel which housed the restaurant. I was in town conducting a site visit for work, as the destination was being considered for a future convention. It’s not uncommon to be wined and dined during these site inspections – never a factor in the final selection decision, but a nice opportunity to experience the local hospitality nevertheless. I was hoping for a dinner invitation at the restaurant, but despite a few blatant hints to my account manager/host it wasn’t offered. The cookbook with a ribbon around it showed up at my hotel room instead. I’ve scanned through the book often but have never cooked a recipe from it … until now.
Please enjoy a few tracks from the album while you read on.
The Ks came to dinner one wintry Saturday evening while the New Year was still young. After a mild December it had finally turned quite cold, fireplace weather in fact, so we obliged. Many years ago Ilise’s sister gave us a package of briquettes that create psychedelic-looking flames when tossed on the fire. Gorgeous greens and blues and purples kaleidoscoping upward. Well, that first package from Leslie was depleted long ago but she turned us on to something good (ignited the spark? lit our fire?) and now we’ve almost always got a few groovy briquettes at the ready. They were put to good use that evening, our little group falling silent from time to time, just gazing into those hypnotic flames.
It’s a wonder we ever left the living room at all, but hunger called and so we decamped for the kitchen and a simple meal of soup & salad, cheese & bread. And more wine, of course.
Curried Turkey Soup (from Simply Recipes blog) and Wilted Winter Greens Salad (from the featured cookbook). Assorted cheeses, bread and crackers. The Ks brought a Dutch pastry called Banket for dessert, tasty little pillows of flaky, almondy goodness handmade by Kathleen from an old family recipe.
The soup had great flavor – a familiar turkey-vegetable base, yes, but there are granny smith apples adding a tart/sweet surprise to balance out the curry spices that’ll make you sit up and take notice. Rice also adds richness and texture to the soup. I will definitely make this soup again. Seems pretty adaptable in terms of scaling quantities up or down, and making substitutions within reason.
AJ Note: I would probably increase the amount of curry powder a little bit next time. Based on some of the recipe blog comments I used an immersion blender to puree the soup prior to adding the turkey meat. I probably won’t do that again unless the rice gets added afterwards. If not blending, be sure to do the veggies in very small dice.
Why did I pick such a simple dish to try as salad, which maybe doesn’t show off the cookbook’s point of view to full advantage? One, it fit with my simple menu, and two, I think that the salad, with its permission -- nay, direction! -- to select any number of greens and herbs based solely on availability, freshness and whim is in fact the perfect representation of Chef Forgione’s approach to fresh market cuisine.
This cookbook will enter a more regular rotation in my kitchen. Although some of the meat dishes lean towards venison, partridge and the like, which I’ll probably never cook, and there are a few old-timey dishes such as Soft Belly Broils on Toast and Old-Fashioned Apple and Quince Duff, which I’ll probably never cook either, there still remain a bunch of tasty sounding recipes. The book could use a few more pictures, but overall I’ll give it a solid B score.
The music will also receive a B score and many future listens. Robert Plant and Led Zep have been no strangers to criticism (and some litigation) for cultural appropriation, lifting hooks and entire songs from the African-American blues tradition without proper accreditation. I know that this is wrong-wrong-wrong, but I can never cut RP and LZ out of my musical heart. I grew up cruising the mean streets of New Jersey in my friend Sharon’s baby blue Sunbird with the Led Zeppelin tunes cranked up to 11. Stairway to Heaven was sung in earnest, never ironically. And while the RP-Alison Krauss country-tinged collaboration released in 2007 inspires a more modest volume (let’s say 6), I enjoyed it too.
In this outing, the band deftly applies African and Middle-Eastern instrumentation on several songs (Pocketful of Golden, Embrace Another Fall, House of Love) and blues/bluegrass/Americana stylings on others (Maggie’s Baby, Poor Howard, Arbaden). They even bring the fuzzy guitars and get loud on a couple tracks (appropriately enough, Turn it Up is a good example). Teenage Me is thrilled to hear references to my LZ faves Kashmir and In the Evening. Give this one a listen.
So I think it's time to wrap up this road test and park the car in the garage. But don't worry, we'll be hitting the streets before too long with another Cookbook Test Drive and roadtrip playlist.
Adapted only slightly from An American Place, Celebrating the Flavors of America by Larry Forgione
Ingredients for the Salad:
- ½ medium or 1 small daikon radish, peeled, trimmed and cut into 2-inch julienne
- 3 to 4 cups assorted winter greens, such as tender kale, white chicory, romaine, and/or turnip or beet greens, washed, dried and large leaves torn into pieces (AJ note: I used romaine, beet greens, and Tuscan kale)
Ingredients for the Vinaigrette: (AJ note: I doubled the original quantities cuz I like lots of dressing, and the extra is nice drizzled over chicken breasts, pork tenderloin or just another salad)
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon prepared mustard
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon minced shallot
- 2 tablespoons cream sherry
- ½ cup olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs such as tarragon, chervil, basil, or oregano (AJ note: I used oregano, basil and rosemary)
- Combine the daikon with the greens/lettuce in a large bowl.
- In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, garlic, shallot, and sherry and heat over low heat until warm. Gradually whisk in the oil and continue whisking until the vinaigrette is hot. Season with salt and pepper and add the herbs. Remove from heat and keep warm.
- Toss the salad with 2 to 3 tablespoons of the warm vinaigrette.