from Alice Waters:
The Art of Simple Food
Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook
Chez Panisse Vegetables
Chez Panisse Fruit
Chez Panisse Pasta, Pizza & Calzone
from Mark Bittman:
How to Cook Everything
How to Cook Everything Vegetarian
The Best Recipes in the World
from Michael Pollan:
In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto
The Omnivore’s Dilemna: A Natural history of Four Meals
The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World
Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education
The Omnivore's Dilemma for Kids: The Secrets Behind What You Eat
More Books You Might Like
Salt To Taste by Marco Canora, the great chef at Hearth Restaurant in New York's East Village, where everything just tastes great.
Roasting, A Simple Art by Barbara Kafka. Back when I thought I could only fire up the grill or boil water, this book taught me how to use the oven. Barbara, thank you - and come on over anytime for roasted chicken or short ribs.
The Gift of Good Land: Further Essays Cultural and Agricultural, by Wendell Berry. I first read this farmer-philosopher in 1971 when his “Think Little” essay appeared in The Last Whole Earth Catalog. He wrote, "I can think of no better form of personal involvement in the cure of the environment than that of gardening." I still read him.
In alphabetical order: Mark Bittman. Michael Pollan. Alice Waters.
In chronological order, it all began for me with Alice Waters, the owner and original chef of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. Alice’s restaurant is among the best known in the U.S., but I’d never heard of it when a friend took me there in the early 1970s. It was a revelation: brilliantly fresh vegetables, fruits, fish, game. Everything was a better tasting version of itself than I’d ever had, and everything was, apparently, locally grown. (This was the first time a menu or waitperson told me where my food came from.) You cannot eat Better, or more healthily. If you visit, you’ll definitely eat Slower - each bite gets your full attention. The meal won’t qualify as Cheaper, but if you can afford it you’ll think it’s a great value. (The upstairs Cafe is a bit cheaper than the downstairs dining room and it offers a $25 fixed menu.) I’ll never be able to cook like Alice and her staff, but even I can get very good results by following many of the recipes in her books. It’s hard to go wrong with something like the Polenta Torta in The Art of Simple Food.
Over the years (and before buying my first cookbook), I learned I could get pretty good results by practicing minimal intervention with very good ingredients, usually just putting something on the grill, flipping it and getting it off before it was overcooked. Then I was led to believe I could do more and better when I started to read Mark Bittman’s straightforward and exceptionally well explained recipes. I now refer repeatedly to his three huge and encyclopedic works, beginning with How to Cook Everything. No matter what you want to try, he’s got a great and almost always simple recipe for it. Whether you’re figuring out what to do with the Swiss chard you just got from your CSA or how to make Stir-Fried Spicy Beef with Basil or 16 servings of cheese quesadillas in 15 minutes, Mark is your man. Special Bonus: Each of the books runs about 1000 pages, so if you buy two you’ve got a pair of 5-pound weights for your strength-training routine.
I always try to be thoughtful and deliberate about what I eat, and I’ll try every day to help you make sense of choosing the best stuff to eat Better Cheaper Slower. I would always recommend that you read a book or two by Michael Pollan, the most thoughtful guy writing in this subject area. He is smart and funny and always right on the money in his analyses of eating real food vs. “edible foodlike substances”. He explains comprehensively but concisely the “American paradox”: how and why Americans have become less healthy while worrying more and more about nutrition. Each of his great books is thought-provoking and fast-reading -- and each weighs in at less than a pound. Even if you don’t read much non-fiction, you owe it to yourself to read this guy. When you do, you’ll tell everyone you know about these books - and your friends will be borrowing them for years.
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The Chez Panisse Foundation supports a school curriculum and school lunch program where growing, cooking, and sharing food at the table gives students the knowledge and values to build a humane and sustainable future. I think you’ll find this to be fascinating and very worthwhile. You can read the whole story in Alice Waters’ The Edible Schoolyard.
The day before Thanksgiving, we’re trying to figure out what to serve to lighten up a feast of short ribs with fennel and garlic. I open up the NY Times and see Mark Bittman’s Fennel and Celery Salad recipe. He writes: “Fennel is among my favorite cold-weather staples. Oddly enough I like the pairing of fennel and celery... With little more than olive oil, loads of lemon juice, and pepper (and some Parmesan, why not?), they create just about as refreshing an uncooked dish as you can put on the table this time of year.” Of course, he was right.
“The 20th-century industrialization of agriculture has increased the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by the food system by an order of magnitude; chemical fertilizers (made from natural gas), pesticides (made from petroleum), farm machinery, modern food processing and packaging and transportation have together transformed a system that in 1940 produced 2.3 calories of food energy for every calorie of fossil-fuel energy it used into one that now takes 10 calories of fossil-fuel energy to produce a single calorie of modern supermarket food. Put another way, when we eat from the industrial-food system, we are eating oil and spewing greenhouse gases.” (from Michael Pollan’s “Farmer in Chief” in the October 2008 New York Times.)