martedì 18 agosto 2009

The Manga Cookbook

I purchased this book as a gift for my friend's daughter who is in love with all things manga and wants to learn to cook some Japanese food. It is called The Manga Cookbook by the Manga University Culinary Institute (if that actually exists) 158 pages and before I gave it to her, I'd figure I'd post some info about it here.
Honestly, I am tempted to keep it but since many of the recipes I already know quite well, I will not. There are a few tips which I did not know about so it was a pleasure to read.

The book is quite cute being presented in comic book form. The beginning pages have colored fotos and then the book becomes a comic paperback book format. Very effective.
There are recipes for preparing fruit and even how to hold and use chopsticks. They have even included a glossary at the beginning so you can understand the ingredients.
The recipe lists includes everything from setting the table, appetizers, and second course dishes like chicken Teriyaki and Yakitori. There is even a recipe and full explaination on how to make sweet bean paste, sushi and miso soup. There is also a section on how to make and pack two different bentos - with full info on how to cut the food to shapes to form a little train and a garden.
I was surprised to find an actual recipe and instructions on how to make your own Udon noodles.

I like the suggestion to put the dough in a baggy and "remove your shoes...and step on it softly for 15 minutes". Cute way of kneading noodle dough.

It makes lots of safety suggestions for young people learning how to use kitchen knives.
Overall the price is very much worth it. I picked it up on a discount from an Italian Internet book store but cover price is $14.95. As usual, on Amazon, it's discounted and you can actually check out the content of the book. It makes a nice gift for a young person who wants to try something new. And it's not so bad for someone older who thought they knew all the tricks.

mercoledì 5 agosto 2009

Medieval Food

My sister Karen bought me a book a while ago during one of our visits to a museum here in Florence. The book is by Christopher Hibbert and called The Rise and Fall of the House of Medici which can be found on Amazon for a decent price.

I have yet to finish the book since it is not quite as fun as many historical novels but it is interesting especially if you have been to Florence or know any Florentine vernacular. It is great fun to finally understand where alot of strange customs were born and why some survive today. It's like reading a "hidden Florence" book that explains so many cultural differences not just between Italians and non but between Florentines and non.

In any case, there is an excerpt about food that was amazing since today's Florentine cooking doesn't at all reflect the creativity that the Medicis enjoyed.

"...evening meal of garlic-flavoured pasta, ravioli in broth, liver sausage or black pudding, goat's milk cheese, fruit and wine, with occasional pigeon or a piece of meat, usually lamb, on a Sunday. For the richer merchants, of course, there was more exotic fare. Excessive indulgence was forbidden by sumptuary laws; but, as with clothes, the laws were flagrantly disregarding and the most was made of every loophole. If the main course was to consist of no more than "roast with pie", well then, everything that could possibly be desired was tossed into the pie, from pork and ham to eggs, dates and almonds. An honoured guest of a well-to-do citizen might be offered first of all a melon, then ravioli, tortellini or lasagne, then a berlingozzo, a cake made of flour, eggs and surgar, then a few slices of boiled capon, roast chicken and guinea fowl, followed by spiced veal, or pork jelly, thruses, tench, pike, eel or trout, boiled kid, pigeon, partridge, turtle-dove or peacock. For vegetables there was usually a choice of broad beans, onions, spinach, carrots, leeks, peas and beetroot. Finally there might be rice cooked in milk of almonds and served with sugar and honey, or pinocchiato, a pudding made out of pine kernals, or little jellies made of almond-milk, coloured with saffron and modelled in the shape of animals or human figres. Everything was strongly flavoured. A chicken minestra would be spiced with ginger and pounded almonds, as well as cinnamon and cloves, and sprinkled with cheese or even sugar. Into a fish pie would go olive oil, orange and lemon juice, pepper, salt, cloves, parsley, nutmegs, saffron, dates, raisins, powdered bay leaves and marjoram. The red sauce known as savore sanguino contained not only meat, wine, raisins, cinnamon and sandal, but also sumac which is now used only for tanning."

The amazing thing is that if you ask about many recipes, they have been lost through the ages.
I know of one book published by a chef who actually has a restaurant here and cooks renaissance and medieval florentine. It's called the Pentola D'Oro and his book is called the same although I think it would be difficult to find outside of Italy. I went there a long time ago and Chef Alessi served up tagliatelle al raffano - meaning pasta with horse-radish !! I had never even seen a horse-radish let alone think about using it in a pasta sauce. It was almost impossibile to eat. But really nice.

It's too bad that so much of this cooking has been lost on modern day florentines. I guess some things, like the Medici, where destined to die out.