The Gaza Kitchen

GK_2ndPrt__94234.1360079498.826.1280It was with an open mind and a touch of sadness that I read the riveting, and sometimes provocative, new cookbook, The Gaza Kitchen, written by Laila El-Haddad and Maggie Schmitt. I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. El-Haddad at her book party launch last month in New York at the sublime restaurant ilili - whose Lebanese cuisine is a distant cousin to the flavors, aromas, and politics found in the Gazan kitchen. Ms. El-Haddad, who is a social activist, blogger and author of Gaza Mom: Palestine, Politics, Parenting, and Everything In Between, felt like an old friend. After all, there was a time, long ago, when it was possible for Jews to have Palestinian friendships in the Old City of Jerusalem and share meals, and the culinary history, which has existed between us for thousands of years. Now there is a wall, both literal and metaphoric, that shields us from the realities of everyday existence in Gaza, where home kitchens are prey to the exigencies of conflict and deprivation: sporadic electricity, unaffordable ingredients that were once kitchen staples, and the rationing of food and fuel. While I know the food of Israel well, having served as the unofficial spokesperson for Israel's food and wine industry for years, and also as one of a delegation of "Four Women Chefs for Peace" on a culinary mission to Israel in 1996, I was fascinated to learn about the cuisine of Gaza, a tiny strip of land (25 miles long and 2-1/2 to 5 miles wide) sandwiched between the desert and the sea. What immediately jumped out was the presence of fresh dill and dried dill seed, the use of fiery hot chilies, and a totally new ingredient to me "red tahina."

Red tahina, made from roasted sesame seeds, is to Gaza what pesto is to Genoa. It is virtually impossible to get it anywhere and I have asked a friend from Israel to try to find some and bring it to me when she comes to New York at the end of the month. How to use it if you can't find it? The authors suggest adding a bit of dark sesame oil to the more familiar blond tahina to approximate the taste in several of the book's recipes.

The cuisine of Gaza is Palestinian (home to 2 million people) "with its own sense of regional diversity," according to author and historian, Nancy Harmon Jenkins, who wrote the forward to the book. In Gaza, she points out, stuffed grape leaves are uniquely flavored with allspice, cardamom, nutmeg and black pepper, and that chopped chilies, both red and green, and verdant fresh dill make Gazan falafel both personal and unusual.

Food there, no less than here, is a passionate subject. The cooks at home are always women while the cooks in restaurants and outdoor stalls are always men. But it is the zibdiya that unites them in the preparation of their lusty cuisine. According to the authors, "a zibdiya is the most precious kitchen item in every household in Gaza, rich or poor." It is simply a heavy unglazed clay bowl accompanied by a lemonwood pestle used for mashing, crushing, pounding and grinding. Made from the rich red clay of Gaza, in larger forms they are also used as cooking vessels.

Their cuisine may lie at the intersection of history, geography and economy, but in The Gaza Kitchen, one is made acutely aware of how geo-political struggles find themselves revealed in a single dish. It's hard not to swoon over the description of the "signature" dish of Gaza called sumagiyya, a sumac-enhanced meat stew cooked with green chard, chickpeas, dill, chilies, and red tahina, or not to be curious about fattit ajir, a spicy roasted watermelon salad tossed with tomatoes, torn bits of tasted Arab bread, and a lashing of hot chilies and yes, fresh dill. It is a repertoire of dishes that feel like a secret...but no longer.

Now only if there was a recipe for peace. One can always hope.

The Power of Packaging

Several months ago a prominent restaurant architect returned from a trip to Japan bringing us a small gift of green tea. He said, "I have no idea if this is any good, but I loved the packaging. I just had to give it to you." And so we examined the slender pouch of tea, the size of a small puffy envelope, sporting a beautiful water color of a Japanese woman with a flower in her hair. 2013-04-08-04072013122245PM.jpgThis diminutive offering, whose contents weigh less than an ounce, elicited powerful emotions. It evoked an unexpected feeling of calm and grace and provided a narrative of a faraway, almost magical place. I immediately thought of a book I read when I was a kid: The Hidden Persuaders. Written in 1957 by social critic and advertising guru Vance Packard it demonstrated the power of color, type, and imagery in the choices we make every day -- why we buy one product over another and what "hidden" factors drive our needs. I'm not at all suggesting that my desire for this particular green tea was a result of manipulated expectations, but I was aware, as I was after reading Packard's book as a teenager, the subliminal urge to learn more about GARASHA -- the brand name of the "extra choicest" green tea produced by Japan GreenTea Co., Ltd.

My interest was further piqued because tea shops these days are on the rise in the United States. Starbucks last year purchased the 300-store Teavana chain and is expanding it rapidly. And Talbott Tea was purchased by Jamba Juice. So something's in the air.

Established in 1969, the company is the leading tea trader of worldwide teas in Japan and the pioneer of Japan's herb and spice retail trade. In 1982, the company opened Japan's first herb and tea shop "Tea Boutique" in Tokyo, and they now manage four tea rooms in Japan.

With 90 employees, the company, whose president is Isamu Kitajima, has dozens of trading partners all over the world and imports and distributes in Japan rarefied products like Cerulean Seas Sea Salt (from California), Argan oil from Morocco, and Cafix from Germany -- a caffeine-free coffee made from herbs.

Interestingly, the name Garasha is the Japanese pronunciation of the Latin "Gratia." The name, which means grace, underlies the spirit of the company's ethos: a commitment to a healthy life by the grace, or gifts, (Garasha) of nature.

The traditional teas, in these compelling restored old tea packages, come in three styles. Genmaicha green tea is combined with roasted brown rice; Sencha green tea is steamed to prevent oxidation and results in a sweet and fragrant brew, and Hojicha green tea is roasted. Like the special art of pairing wine with food, each of the teas matches well with particular dishes. Given the well-documented health benefits of green tea these days, I may do a tea-and-food pairing exercise soon. Will let you know how that goes.

In the meantime, here is a lovely drink to try as warmer weather, and cherry blossoms, are soon to arrive. It comes from my book, Healthy 1-2-3, winner of the IACP Cookbook Award (and nominated for the James Beard Award). It is a recipe for iced green tea, stirred with stalks of lemongrass. Use Garasha's Sencha green tea, if you are lucky enough to find it.

ICED GREEN-LEMONGRASS TEA Green tea is known to be very healthful, full of antioxidants and other good things for your body. Lemongrass, a long pale green stalk, is a staple of Thai cooking and adds a mysterious, citrusy flavor. A squeeze of fresh lime is optional.

2 stalks lemongrass (plus more to use as "stirrers") 2 tablespoons honey 2 tablespoons Sencha green tea leaves

Tear off the rough outer leaves from the lemongrass and discard. Finely chop the remaining stalks, including the darker tops and place in a large saucepan. Add 5 cups water and the honey. Bring to a rapid boil. Lower the heat and simmer 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the tea. Cover the saucepan and steep for 10 minutes. Strain into a pitcher and discard the solids. Refrigerate until cold. Serve over ice. Serves 4

Purple Cupcake Day

Poster 2013If you eat a purple cupcake, there's a chance you can save a life. Such is the power of food. Since 2008, when Purple Day was created by eight-year-old Cassidy Megan of Nova Scotia, Canada, on March 26th, people the world over wear lavender in support of those battling the realities and consequences of epilepsy. Driven by her own struggles with seizures, Cassidy began the campaign in order to stimulate awareness and create an international community of support for those who are dealing with trauma associated with this disorder. The Anita Kaufmann Foundation, the global sponsor for Purple Day, reports that "epilepsy affects more than two million Americans and more than 65 million worldwide. One in 26 people in the United States alone will develop epilepsy at some point in their lifetime." Debra Josephs, the Executive Director of the nonprofit group, says that "many people living with epilepsy still face barriers dues to a lack of knowledge about the disorder." The goal of their four-year-old initiative, The Great Purple Cupcake Project, is to partner with individuals and organizations around the world to promote epilepsy awareness.

While not everyone may be driven to run a 5K race to support an organization, or walk 100 miles to raise funds for another, everyone is capable of buying a cupcake. Monies go directly to educational programs. These include a start-up called Heads Up for Vets, specifically created to help veterans who can develop post-traumatic epilepsy from sustained brain injuries. Many vets return home and experience difficulties but do not realize they are having seizures.

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This year, pastry shops and famous bakeries everywhere will make lavender-iced cupcakes to support the cause. It is their way of giving back and educating the public about a condition that affects so many. In New York, all the Fairway Markets are participating, as well as celebrity "Cake Boss" Buddy Valastro from the wildly popular Carlos Bakery in Hoboken; New York's Two Little Red Hens, hundreds of bakeries in New Jersey, and also pastry shops in Malaysia, Indonesia, Zambia, the UK, Australia, and India will join in. Who knew?

A joint resolution passed this March 21st by the New Jersey legislature requests Governor Chris Christie to designate March 26th "Purple Day" as the official epilepsy awareness day in New Jersey. The proclamation encourages private citizens, public officials, community-based organizations, governmental agencies, and businesses to wear purple on that day to show support for people living with the disorder. These proclamations are popping up around the U.S., including Pennsylvania, Colorado, Utah, Montana, and Ohio.

While Purple Day is specifically commemorated on March 26th, during the weeks of March 23rd and April 9th, local bakeries will be offering their own personal riffs on purple cupcakes and encourage their communities to participate. The mission is simple: to educate the public not to fear epilepsy and to learn the simple steps of what to do when someone has a seizure. Like any grass roots movement, individuals are also supporting this cause by baking purple cupcakes and selling them everywhere. When you buy a cupcake you get a seizure first-aid bookmark. It is claimed that one out of ten people will have a seizure and most people don't know what to do.

Painting your nails purple is also encouraged. OPI Products, Inc. a leading nail polish company is a supporter, and this year Purple Day will be the cause célèbre on AOL's homepage.

The Canadian Parliament, in June 2012, designated March 26th every year as Purple Day, encouraging Canadians to wear purple to show their support for people with epilepsy.

Why is all of this important? Because it tells us that the vision and passion of an eight-year old can change the world... one cupcake at a time.

For more information about epilepsy education, seizure first aid programs, and The Great Purple Cupcake Project, go to www.akfus.org.

The Most Sensual Diet

Photo Credit: Elena Paravantes The health benefits of the lusty Mediterranean diet have been touted for years but perhaps never as persuasively as in the recent New York Times article written by Gina Kolata. A regime of olive oil, fish, nuts, beans, vegetables, fruit, and wine (a glass a day), has been proven to reduce heart attacks and strokes among people at high risk for them in a statistically significant way in a study conducted by Dr. Ramon Estruch, a professor of medicine at the University of Barcelona. The magnitude of the findings was so illuminating that the study ended five years earlier than anticipated. The study affirmed that following a Mediterranean diet as described above had enormous benefits while, quite astonishingly, following a low-fat diet "was not shown in any rigorous way to be helpful." In addition to eating fish, fruits, vegetables, and legumes, the 7,447 participants in the study were also advised to reduce their intake of dairy, processed meats, and commercially processed sweets.

The Mediterranean plan is not so much about weight loss as it is a formula for living longer. It is also so much easier and enjoyable to maintain than many other diet plans which eliminate large swaths of fresh food groups. It is "inclusive" rather than extreme and faddish. This cuisine naturally exists in areas whose coastlines hug the Mediterranean, including Spain, Greece, Cyprus, parts of Italy and France, and many Middle Eastern countries. And it would behoove us all to take a look at Nancy Harmon Jenkins seminal book called "The Mediterranean Diet," written almost 20 years ago. It is as valid as ever and the most sensual way I know to take charge of your health every single day.

Interestingly, at the same time the results of this study are circling the globe, we are reading Michael Moss's new book, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. Mr. Moss is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter who implores us to fight back from the pernicious addictiveness of processed food created by big food companies. Moss demonstrates how food scientists use cutting-edge technology to calculate the "bliss point" of sugary drinks or enhance the "mouthfeel" of fat by altering its chemical composition. Personally I find a pile of fat asparagus grilled on rosemary branches and doused with extra-virgin olive oil far more enticing than any bag of chips or doodles. And a sweet ripe pear with a handful of walnuts (also in the news this week) make a pretty alluring alternative to Ring Dings.

Mixed-up Menu Trends

JB Every month or so I look forward to receiving the "events publication" from the James Beard House in New York City. Part booklet, part magazine, not only is it a gastronomic "look-see" into the minds of chefs and what they're thinking, but also a good indication of what may be cropping up on menus in your own zip code. Keeping in mind that cooking at the Beard House requires a certain amount of performance art and culinary high-wire acts, the offerings are complex and sometimes over-the-top. Yet, I'm fascinated by the ingredients I've never heard of (yes, I just admitted that), grateful for a new technique or idea, and sometimes baffled by some of the crazy-mixed up combinations.

Nonetheless, a read of the menus to be cooked by myriad chefs from all over the country provides an "instagram" sweep of America's culinary landscape. There's almost a dinner every day at the Beard House, with chefs telling their stories through the narrative of the menu, somewhere in the USA.

First, the ingredients: You'll be seeing mutton, geoduck, banana leaves, lamb tongues, mantequilla enojada (I must look this up), beef heart, gizzards, lotus leaf, finger limes, lotus root, barberries, nettles, cara cara oranges, red verjus, headcheese, shimeji mushrooms, green strawberries, buttermilk, sugar cane, scrapple, lamb neck.

A few new ideas: There's "lambcetta" (I imagine that's a riff on pancetta but who knows), white barbecue sauce, cold fried chicken torchon, cider aspic, black sesame panna cotta with yuzu, sweet chestnut-filled ravioli with warm English custard, brisket bourguignon (with lamb belly confit and quinoa).

Some nice menu language: Foraged mushrooms of the moment, fresh-churned butter, Chocolate Study=Soft, Crunchy, and Nutty.

Most curious? Coffee malt crème and soda bread parfait with frozen parsnips.

I am struck by the lack of cheese in the dishes or their presence on the menus. Instead most menus were chock-full of mystery words and only a handful showed a kind of elegant restraint. It was refreshing to see the word "fumet."

What does it all mean? Some of the wanton (not wonton!) creativity that began in the 1970s was expressed on menus in language that read like shopping lists, where every ingredient in a dish was revealed. The trend continues today. And while it is a way for chefs to differentiate themselves from others, the menus have a sense of gastronomic sameness -- with little sense of place, identity or ethnicity. This is merely an observation and not a judgment for it is what we have come to expect of our chefs and their menus. "Wow me," we say. And for the most part, this is what the chefs are doing. Frozen parsnips, anyone?

If you're lucky enough to be in New York in March or April, or anytime really, you should try one of the Beard House dinners. You'll be dropping into a wondrous food community and share a bit of the past... and the future.

Valentine's Day 2013

childrens-valentines-fortune-cookie-sayingsHappy Valentine's Day. I got my love of cooking from my beautiful Hungarian mother, Marion, who made meatloaf in the shape of a heart. Not until I was much older did I ever realize it didn't always come that way! Her secret to the meatloaf was putting a few small ice cubes into the mixture to keep it extra moist. More precious than gifts were the edible expressions of love she would prepare: my favorite comfort food -- cabbage and noodles or ultra-thin crepes known as palacsintas filled with jam. The tradition continues with my 16-year old daughter Shayna who helped me write my cookbook for teens "Eat Fresh Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs." The book, to our delight, was reviewed in the Science section in the New York Times, helping us spread the secret about healthy eating. There you will find another style of meatloaf -- made with sun-dried tomatoes, grated carrots and chives, but today I am sharing my mother's original recipe...complete with ice cubes and seasoned breadcrumbs. And while you might swoon from my intensely delicious and ridiculously simple chocolate mousse, you might also consider making palacsintas, thin Hungarian crepes, and fill them with scarlet red strawberry jam and dust with powdered sugar. It's a simple and sexy way to finish a Valentine's dinner. What to drink? Consider the selections in Wines for Valentines.  And just what do farmer's give their wives for Valentine's Day?  Hogs and kisses!  Enjoy the day.

A Heart-Shaped Meatloaf (adapted from Little Meals)

1-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter or olive oil 1 cup finely chopped onions 1-1/2 cup ground sirloin (or a combination of sirloin and chuck) 1/4 cup seasoned breadcrumbs 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard 5 tablespoons ketchup 1 clove garlic 1 egg yolk 2 tablespoons ice water plus 2 small ice cubes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Melt butter in a medium pan.  Add onion and cook until soft and lightly browned, about 10 minutes.  Set aside.  In a medium bowl put chopped meat, breadcrumbs, mustard, 3 tablespoons ketchup, and the cooked onions.  Mix lightly.  Add egg yolk, 1/2 teaspoon salt, black pepper to taste, and ice water and ice cubes.  Mix well with hands and form into a large heart shape that is 1-1/4 inches high.  Place on rimmed baking sheet.  Glaze top with an even coat of remaining ketchup.  Bake 35 minutes.  Serves 4 Palacsintas with Scarlet Jam & Powdered Sugar (adapted from Eat Fresh Food)) Use the best quality strawberry you can find or a variety by Tiptree called Little Scarlet.  You can also top the rolled crepes with fresh raspberries, lightly sugared.

1 cup whole milk 1 cup plus 2 tablespoon flour 2 tablespoons sugar 2 eggs 1 tablespoon melted butter 2 tablespoons cold butter 1/2 cup strawberry jam powdered sugar for dusting optional:  fresh raspberries

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.  Blend milk, flour, sugar, eggs, melted butter, and a large pinch of salt in a blender.  Process until smooth.  Melt 1 teaspoon butter in an 8-inch skillet until ti sizzles.  Coat bottom of pan with batter so that you have a very thin layer.  Let crepe brown lightly and turn over.  Cook 30 seconds.  While still in pan, put 1 tablespoon jam in a line down center of crepe and fold like a jelly roll, pressing down as you roll.  Remove to a baking sheet and keep warm in oven until you have made 8 crepes.  Serve 2 per person on large warm plates.  Dust with powdered sugar and garnish with raspberries, if desired.  Serves 4

Wines for Valentines

wineWhoever came up with that catchy phrase about 'the way to a person's heart is through their stomach' was mostly right. Add wine into the mix and you've really got it made. This is especially true when sipping these spectacular wines that come from premiere producers with stellar pedigrees. This fabulous list, made exclusively for me for you, was created by Carol Berman, founder of Class in a Glass and Take Home Sommelier. I've known her for years and have always trusted her smart picks. Romance begins at the table. Where it ends, you decide.SPARKLING CA'DEL BOSCO, PRESTIGE BRUT, FRANCIACORTA, LOMBARDY, ITALY Franciacorta wines are going to be the next big trend in the sparkling category. This amazing, elegant blend of Pinot Bianco and Chardonnay will make your heart beat faster! Average retail price $35.00

RAVENTOS I BLANC, BRUT ROSE 'DE NIT', CAVA, PENEDES, SPAIN Romantically pink and quite gregarious! It seduces sip-by-sip. Average retail price $23.00

WHITE CANTINA TERLAN, PINOT BIANCO RISERVA, VORBERG, ALTO ADIGE, ITALY, 2009 Voluptuous and insouciant. Average retail price $24.00

RED J.L.CHAVE, CÔTES DU RHONE, MON COEUR, 2010, FRANCE From one of the most masterful wine makers in the Rhone region, Chave's seductive, gripping blend of Syrah and Grenache, Mon Coeur is appropriately named (my heart). Average retail price: $22.00

DESSERT ALBA VINEYARD, RED RASPBERRY DESSERT WINE, MILFORD, NJ Valentine red in color and enticingly sweet, tart and lively! Average retail price: $16.99 (375ml)

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And here's a Valentine from me: A recipe for Insanely Simple Chocolate Mousse. Adapted from my book, Cooking 1-2-3, it is virtually fool proof, and good for fools in love.

Insanely Simple Chocolate Mousse

10 ounces best-quality semisweet chocolate 1/4 cup brewed espresso, at room temperature 5 extra-large egg whites

Chop chocolate into small pieces. Put in a heavy saucepan with espresso. Over very low heat, melt chocolate, stirring constantly until smooth; cool slightly. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat egg whites until stiff. Slowly add the slightly warm chocolate mixture, beating on low for a moment, then folding gently with a flexible rubber spatula until thoroughly incorporated. The whites will deflate dramatically but the mixture will become smooth and creamy. Do not over-mix. Spoon mousse into four wine glasses. Refrigerate several hours before serving. Serves 4

Tastes of the Month - A new month/new food

tastesofthemonthOn this last day of the first month of a new year, I did a quick review of the most delicious things I've had to eat (and drink.)  Hands down winner was the parsnip ravioli with coconut jewels and beet vinaigrette at Jean-Georges' restaurant Nougatine I told my guest that I didn't think I would encounter anything that felt more "French" or contemporary on my trip next month to Paris.  This dish had it all -- grace, ingenuity, beauty and mystery.  What exactly were those little clear icicles that quivered atop the diminutive ravioli (slightly sweet and earthy from its filling of pureed parsnip but balanced with primal acidity from the scarlet vinaigrette)?  The gems were solidified gems of coconut water.  Somehow it all worked magically together.  And few things are more sublime that his pristine salmon tartare on a oil-slicked tranche of yeasty grilled bread. Some chives, a squirt of lemon. How he does it I'm not sure but there at lunchtime there are $25 and $32 prix fixe menus.  Jean-Georges continues to be my hero. More great tastes included a 2002 Pommard from Jean Garaudet shared with our friends, travel and wine writer extraordinaire Gary Walther and Anna Sabat, in a private wine cellar located below the Chelsea Market.  What a treat to sit in the frigid air sipping true cellar temperature reds amidst thousands of cases of "other people's wines."  There was just a little nook and a table and chairs, a hanging lamp, and us.  We sipped and marveled at another two great wines, also supplied by Gary at the Old Homestead!  I haven't been there in decades. Two 1995 St. Emilion's tasted mighty good with what was one of the best rare burgers I've had in ages.  And...the bun is branded with a hot iron! The Clos de l'Oratoire and Chateau Canon-la-Gaffeliere (which tasted of boysenberry and tar) were incredibly vibrant and pleasing to drink.

And Park Slope's Stone Park Cafe, remains beloved since it's opening by Josh Foster and chef Josh Grinker.  What's not to love?  Black trumpet mushrooms on toast with tarragon creme anglaise and Petrossian salmon roe (yes, it was brilliant); Beet Salad "tarte tatin" with goat cheese, arugula, and caramelized balsamic vinegar; and their signature Berkshire Pork Shank with truffled whipped potatoes and winter vegetables.   Even the Stone Park Burger was first rate (I've been eating lots of burgers recently.) There's a great wine list, too, generously conceived by a savvy sommelier.

And while I go to few press events, I had a great time at Casa Pomona, located on the Upper West Side, where executive chef Jodi Bernhard concocts pintxos and pescados y mariscos and paella and frituras with the best of the new Spanish-inclined culinary wizards.  Great patatas bravas, wonderful mussels en escabeche, and a trio of croquetas (filled with chorizo and cheese; salt cod & potato, and fig & walnut.)  I would go again just for the grilled grass-fed hanger steak with swiss chard, oyster mushrooms and onion marmalade and happily look forward to a Monday night special of suckling pig for two.  Brava Jodi.

Other great tastes?  Billowy gnocchi with brussels sprouts and pork belly at Le Zie, an Indian feast (with dishes too numerous to mention) at the stunning Junoon, and a nice side dish of Brazilian kale at Coffee Shop. Here's to a delicious February.  Let me know what you're eating and drinking.

Cookbook Nirvana

conferenceNirvana – a place of bliss – is my word for a cookbook conference taking place in New York City next month.  If you are a lover of cookbooks, like I am -- a writer, or simply an avid user -- this may be just the weekend for you.   The conference promises a tantalizing array of panels (from “Give Us This Bread: Christianity in Cookbooks;”  “In the Night Kitchen: Why Write Cookbooks for Kids;” Trendspotting in the Food Space;” to “Publishers and Food Bloggers -- Creating a Productive Partnership”); distinguished guests (Amanda Hesser, Arthur Schwartz, Molly O’Neill, Mollie Katzen), and illuminating workshops (from “The Wild World of Self Publishing” to “The Way to Look: How To Do Research with Cookbooks”), all under one roof at the Roger Smith Hotel on Lexington Avenue.   And if that is not enough to whet one’s appetite, I’m told that the food served at last year’s conference, thanks to chef Daniel Mowles, was very good indeed. But cookbook aficionados do not live by food alone and judging by the erudition of this year’s panelists, the real sustenance is about ideas, culinary history, process, and politics.

According to the conference organizers the event is an “eclectic gathering of those who publish, write, edit, agent, research, or simply buy and use cookbooks.”  In other words, there is something for everyone -- even collectors, who might enjoy a panel entitled “Cookbooks as Works of Art.”

Andrew Smith, the conference founder, charmingly takes “credit (or blame),” for launching the idea last year.  He teaches food history and professional food writing at the New School for Social Research in New York, and is the author and/or editor of 23 books.  His latest works include American Tuna: The Rise and Fall of an Improbable Food, and Drinking History: 15 Turning Points in the Making of American Beverages.   And while he has never published an actual cookbook, Professor Smith uses them constantly in his own research and wanted to explore the vicissitudes of the field.  Because “cookbook publishing is changing so rapidly – self-publishing, printing on demand, blogging, online cookbooks, websites filled with recipes, and culinary apps,” Mr. Smith said that he didn’t understand what was underway – or where the genre was headed.  After talking with many cookbook writers and publishers, he concluded that no one else did either, “although many had insights and opinions.”   After last year’s triumphant conference, Mr. Smith felt his teaching and research methods had improved simply by attending the event and feeding off the vast culinary brain trust that had gathered.

To find out more about the conference, go to www.cookbookconf.com and save a place for yourself!  You’ll find me in the “Night Kitchen” – talking about the challenges of researching, writing and publishing books for children with moderator Laura Shapiro – one of the finest minds in the culinary world.

Why does this conference matter?  After all, we seem to have shifted from a cooking society to an eating society, so is there any real point to the annual tsunami of cookbooks being published?  My answer is without a doubt.  We are a nation obsessed with food, but the rules of the game are changing.

Eating Your Way Through 2013

nyeThis has been a year of great upheaval, transition and growth for the planet, and for many of you this week may be a time for personal reflection and resolution-making.  I, for one, have promised myself to meditate daily, spend more time with my family, shop more carefully, entertain more often, and eat more mindfully.  Some of that has to do with paying attention to the upcoming trends this year.  Although it may be goofy to say, (I mean the word gourmet is so retro), "budget gourmet" restaurants -- hipster places with cutting-edge food that 30-something's can afford -- are sprouting up faster than you can chew a mouthful of kale (which is everywhere.) "Farm-to-Bar" -- if you're looking for future flavors then sidle up to your nearest artisan boozerie.  You will find fruits, vegetables, fresh herbal syrups, zested citrus bitters -- all house-made -- lining the bar top and perfuming your drinks.  I now make my own chamomile vodka (from fresh chamomile flowers) every spring and store in it the freezer.  A smart bartender will invent his/her own signature/locavore V-8.

Ingredients you've never heard of: Tokyo turnips, satsumas, hiramasa, squailen, astice, puffed basil seeds, scallion ash.

Feasts for sharing:  Nose-to-tail dinners -- whole roasted pigs, lambs, etc. for a group of gorgers.  For example Momofuku's Korean "bo ssam" family-style format includes a dozen oysters, a whole roasted pork shoulder, kimchee and condiments. Price? $200.

Eating in your zip code: radical locavore-ism continues with niche marketing to vegivores (a new word for me thanks to Adam Platt of New York Magazine).

The ancient flavors of Jerusalem:  Check out the fabulous new cookbook "Jerusalem" by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, and the new "Middleterranean" cooking (a hybrid of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines) in restaurants such as New York's Taboon and Philadelphia's Zahav.

The culinary wizardry of young Asian chefs forging a new identity: check out Nancy Matsumoto's riveting article in the Atlantic.

Pop-ups keep popping up:  Restaurants, cookie stores, juice joints, snack bars, underground dining clubs in unexpected places.

Food as edible landscapes: check out my Chocolate Dirt piece in the Huff Post.

Prediction:  Congee (with lots of mix-ins and add-ons -- and not just for breakfast.)

If you're interested in the most ambitious and erudite trends list around, check out Michael Whiteman's prognostications at www.baumwhiteman.com.  (He's my husband but I'm really objective here.)  He, with his partner, the late Joe Baum, created some of the world's largest grossing and most magical restaurants (the Rainbow Room, Windows on the World, and the Big Kitchen -- the world's first fast food court.)  Michael was also the founding editor of Nation's Restaurant News -- still going strong.   He can nose a trend as deeply as a truffle pig can hunt in Perigord.

Merry, happy, healthy.  May the New Year be a fulfilling one.

Here's a healthy new recipe to get started:

Rigatoni with kale, chicken sausage & black olives

2 packed cups finely chopped kale leaves 12 ounces chicken sausage, removed from casing ¼ cup diced pitted kalamata or oil-cured black olives 12 grapes tomatoes, quartered Large pinch of red pepper flakes ½ cup chicken broth 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil 8 ounces uncooked penne rigati 1/3 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put kale, crumbled sausage, olives, tomatoes and pepper flakes in a large deep sauté pan with a cover. Pour chicken broth on top and drizzle olive oil over the mixture. Cover and bake 30 minutes. Meanwhile bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Cook pasta 10 minutes until tender. Drain well. Remove pan from oven. Place on burners over medium heat. Add pasta and toss. Add cheese and salt to taste. Stir and cook 1 to 2 minutes.  Optional: Dust with freshly grated lemon zest. Serves 4

Win a Signed Copy of Radically Simple: Brilliant Flavors with Breathtaking Ease!

radically-simple5Welcome to this year's holiday contest!  I encourage everyone to enter to win a signed copy of Radically Simple: Brilliant Flavors with Breathtaking Ease -- named one of the most important cookbooks of the past 25 years by Cooking Light magazine and voted one of the best cookbooks (2010) by the New York Times.  You will find the recipes most helpful this time of the year -- as each exemplifies delicious abundance without the burden.  Proof?  Every one of the book's 325 recipes' procedures is expressed in 140 words or less! Some of my holiday favorites?  Broccoli Soup with Lemon-Pistachio Butter, Riso in bianco with Shrimp Scampi, 500-degree Cod with Macadamia Butter & Radicchio,  Short Rigatoni with Cauliflower, Anchovies & Golden Raisins, Filet of Beef with Wasabi-Garlic Cream, Coconut-Espresso Creme Caramel, All Chocolate Velvet Tart.  My Walnut-Onion Muffins (baked in tiny tins) make a fabulous hors d'oeuvres to accompany champagne.

Do you have any radically simple holiday recipes you'd like to share?  Good luck!  Happy holidays.

HOW TO ENTER: Leave me a message  in the comment section below telling me your favorite holiday dish.

Bonus entries: 1) Share on Facebook and leave a separate comment here letting me know you've done so.

2) Share on Twitter and leave a separate comment here letting me know you've done so.

The contest is open until December 21st. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced here and on my Facebook page.

Who Needs Quinoa More Than You Do?

2012-11-30-quinoa.jpg A guest at our Thanksgiving Leftovers Dinner raved about a quinoa stuffing she'd made for her own family's annual feast the day before. I cringed a bit because few of us comprehend the dark side of our trendy infatuation with this ancient food from high in the arid Andes.

Quinoa is the only plant that's a source of a complete protein; it packs so many nutrients into so little space that NASA called it an ideal food for astronauts.

America's upper classes, relentlessly striving to eat themselves into good health, have latched onto quinoa as a "superfood," and are gobbling up tons of it. As a result, you have this gastronomic madness of stuffing an already protein-rich turkey with protein-rich quinoa, when stale bread or bulgur wheat or rice or corn would do just as well -- but with far less collateral damage to the citizens of Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru, where this stuff is grown.

Our quinoa craze may be enriching farmers who grow the stuff -- prices, by some estimates, have tripled in recent years -- and they now can afford mechanized farm equipment, solid houses and college education for their children. That's the good news. They send us quinoa, we send them money -- sounds like a perfect example of globalization. The bad news is that this boom is wrecking the diets of indigenous people who actually need to eat it, because they no longer can afford to purchase this life-sustaining vegetable. (We generally think of quinoa as a grain, but it's actually a seed of vegetable related to chard.) Even more ironic, the children of these prosperous growers now can afford junk food, so newly acquired wealth is impacting their diets, too.

There are reports that quinoa consumption among those who actually live on it is down by about a third in the years since we've "discovered" this 5,000-year-old seed, and that nutritionally at-risk natives of quinoa-growing countries now only can afford cheaper, less nourishing rice or, worse yet, processed food. It starts to sound like right here, where many Americans purchase cheap, nutritionally suspect processed food because they can't afford the real thing.

Minuscule quinoa seeds are cooked more or less like rice, and the result can be a substitute for any starchy component of a meal. You can use it as a cereal for breakfast or as a pilaf at dinner; you can make a tabbouleh-like salad for your kid's lunchbox or thicken a soup; you can use it instead of couscous or add it to your chicken curry. Much of it is labeled "organic" or "non-GMO" or "gluten-free" or "fair trade" -- adding a feel-good appeal to Americans who go soft in their legs when they see the word "sustainable" but who may be unaware that they're taking food from the mouths of children elsewhere.

What's more, the land used for quinoa crops is fragile and depends upon delicate balance between agriculture and herds of llamas, which help fertilize the area and whose large padded feet prevent erosion. These herds are being reduced to make room for more crops, which suggests that eventually they'll need artificial fertilizer to maintain production, undermining one of quinoa's fundamental market appeals.

So what should we do? None of what I've written means we should stop buying quinoa, because then we'd return the Andean farmers to their former states of poverty. Instead, it suggests to me that if we're cooking a meal that might require a nutritional boost -- especially if we're vegetarians or have celiac disease, or if we're outbound in a space capsule -- then quinoa starts to make some gastronomic sense. But if we've already got a wholesome meal in the oven, we don't need to overload it with superfluous "goodness" while removing disproportionate quantities of quinoa from countries where it is needed far more.

Perhaps this is a better feel-good approach.

A Radically Joyous Hanukkah

NEWEdible.Latke.hiresThis year Hanukkah is going to be a little different.  First of all I'm going to be a judge at a big deal latke competition with other Brooklyn foodies at BAM on December 10th.  I was honored to be asked by Liz Neumark, creator and impresario of Great Performances and owner of Katchkie Farms and Sylvia Center.  Everything she touches is magical and meaningful. I'm thrilled to be joining Leonard Lopate, Gabriella Gershenson from Saveur, and Lee Schrager from the New York Wine and Food Festival. We will be sampling 17 different kinds of latkes and you can join me!  Just reserve your spot by clicking here.  Even though I'm not a maven, Hanukkah has always been special.  My family was once featured in a cover story in Gourmet Magazine about my three-ingredient Hanukkah celebration at home.  This month, I have written a story about Hanukkah in my Cooking Light column called Radically Simple.  You can check out the recipes below.  And on December 14th, along with the true food maven Arthur Schwartz, I will be a judge at an applesauce! tasting at Park Slope's very cool synagogue Congregation Beth Elohim.  As most of you know, Hanukkah is a holiday filled with illuminating rituals:  Eight nights of candle-lighting and gifts, and foods fried in olive oil!   The former refers to the miracle that happened during the rededication of The Temple in Jerusalem in 165 BC, when a tiny bit of oil, enough to last only one night, lasted eight. The latter are edible expressions of the miracle:  Crispy potato pancakes, known as latkes, and jelly doughnuts (known as sufganiyot), traditionally top the list.  But this year, a few new dishes will grace our table at home: nuggets of cauliflower fried in olive oil and served with tahini & pomegranate seeds, and radically simple latkes made with three root vegetables. Every household prepares latkes differently but grating a little of one’s knuckle into the mixture is often a reality!  Once upon a time, latkes were made from potatoes only but this year, ours include sweet potatoes and parsnips, and a bit of exotic perfume provided by ground cumin.  Another twist?   Instead of ubiquitous applesauce as an accompaniment, I serve these crispy latkes with a dazzling beet puree meant for dipping or drizzling.

For dessert, there is no simpler offering than fleshy dried Calimyrna figs and Medjool dates served…frozen!  They taste like candy and are a delicious with morsels of bittersweet chocolate or gold-foiled Hanukkah gelt, to be eaten one-by-one. Come to the latke tasting!  Try my latke recipes in Cooking Light!  And enjoy.

Photo: Johnny Autry; Styling: Cindy Barr

Crispy Root Vegetable Latkes with Beet Puree Get the latkes going first, and while they cook, puree the sauce.

2 cups grated peeled sweet potato 2 cups grated peeled baking potato 1 cup grated peeling parsnip 3 ounces all-purpose flour (about 2/3 cup) 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided 2 large eggs 1 cup grated onion 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided 1 tablespoon chopped dill (optional) 1 cup chopped, peeled apple 3 tablespoons water 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt 1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper 1 (8-ounce) package precooked red beets, drained

1. Preheat oven to 325°.

2. Place first 3 ingredients on paper towels; squeeze until barely moist. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, cumin, 1/4 teaspoon salt, eggs, and onion in a bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until blended. Add potato mixture; beat with a mixer at low speed until combined.

3. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 2 teaspoons oil; swirl. Heap 3 tablespoons potato mixture into pan to form a patty; flatten slightly. Repeat procedure 5 times to form 6 patties. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook 6 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Place latkes on a baking sheet; keep warm in oven. Repeat procedure twice with remaining oil and potato mixture to yield 18 latkes total. Sprinkle latkes with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Garnish with dill, if desired.

4. Combine apple and remaining ingredients in a food processor; process until smooth. Serve with latkes. Serves 6

Photo: Johnny Autry; Styling: Cindy Barr

Fried Cauliflower with Tahini and Pomegranate Seeds Cilantro gives this a bright, zippy taste and lovely color; the leaves are especially festive when strewn with pomegranate arils over the cauliflower. Serve with hot sauce and cut lemons, if you wish.

1/3 cup cilantro leaves, packed 1/3 cup tahini (roasted sesame seed paste) 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 2 garlic cloves 6 tablespoons water 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 6 cups cauliflower florets (about 1 large head) 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 1/3 cup pomegranate arils

1. Preheat oven to 375°.

2. Combine first 4 ingredients in a food processor; process until smooth. Add 6 tablespoons water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until mixture is the consistency of a creamy salad dressing. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt; pulse to combine.

3. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add cauliflower; cook 10 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Place cauliflower on a jelly-roll pan lined with foil. Roast cauliflower at 375° for 18 minutes or until tender, turning once. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Add pomegranate arils; toss to combine. Serve with tahini mixture. Serves 6

A Happy Thanksgiving to All

It's been awhile since you've heard recipe news from me. As you know, I've been cooking and supervising hundreds of volunteers to continue feeding those-in-need from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. It is definitely a time to give thanks: For me personally, the thanks come from the opportunity to serve. The food maven himself, Arthur Schwartz, came to help yesterday and will be there in our satellite kitchen at Congregation Beth Elohim today. His tasks included peeling eggs (20 dozen of them!) and sautéing 30 pounds of onions until caramelized. They are for the homemade bread stuffing we will make for our pre-Thanksgiving meals. Our goal is 1500 sandwiches and 250 hot lunches - roast chicken, stuffing, mixed vegetables, cranberry sauce and "dinner" rolls. Fresh apple slices, too. Anne Hathaway and her new husband came to visit us at the shul the other day - they were heartened by the work that was taking place. That said, here are some of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes, for it is a time when simplicity might be most appreciated. I, too, will be preparing a Thanksgiving meal for a dozen or so of our family and friends, and then again on Saturday. And a nice invitation just came our way - a dinner of leftovers on Friday night at a neighbor's home. I adore leftovers more than you can imagine. In addition to the radically simple recipes below, you might enjoy my refreshing cranberry granita - yes, made from a wobbly block of leftover cranberry sauce - complete with its ridges.

Below you'll also find some wine suggestions from my favorite wine gal, Carol Berman (classinaglasswine.com), who says, "the Thanksgiving feast is filled with many flavors, which run from savory to sweet. I look to wines that simply harmonize with them and sway with the music of the meal. These are my Thanksgiving picks for 2012. Look for current vintages, although these all age gracefully and sell for less than $25.00."

Paumanok Vineyards, Riesling, North Fork, Long Island, NY Domaine des Terres Dorées, Beaujolais, L'Ancien, France Montinore Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Oregon Tenuta Pederzana, Lambrusco Grasparossa, Emilia Romagna, Italy

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Juicy Turkey Breast with Sausage, Fennel & Golden Raisins (adapted from Radically Simple)

This really elegant recipe is a cinch to make and looks like an elaborate French "ballontine." Have the butcher bone the breast, leaving the breast halves attached and the skin on. This is a perfect Thanksgiving recipe for six, but often I roast turkey thighs that are marinated in garlic, fresh thyme, rosemary and white wine so that we can all enjoy some dark meat, too. Stunning and simple.

12 scallions, white and green parts separated ¾ pound Italian sweet sausage, removed from casing ½ cup golden raisins 2 tablespoons fennel seed 3-pound boneless whole fresh turkey breast, with skin 2 tablespoon olive oil 2 cups chicken broth

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Arrange the scallion greens in a row on a broiler pan. Mince the white parts of the scallions and combine with the sausage, raisins and 1-1/2 tablespoons of the fennel seeds. Sprinkle the turkey (skin side down) with salt and pepper. Spoon a line of sausage mixture down the center. Starting at one long side, roll up tightly to enclose the filling. Tie with string at 1-inch intervals. Place the turkey on the scallions and brush with the oil. Sprinkle with the remaining fennel seeds and salt. Roast 1-1/2 hours, basting with 1 cup broth, until the stuffing reaches 155 degrees. Transfer turkey to a platter. Place the pan atop the burners. Add remaining broth. Boil, scraping up browned bits, 5 minutes; strain. Remove string from the turkey; thickly slice. Drizzle with the pan sauce. Serves 6

Jane Brody's Brussels Sprouts

Jane Brody, the personal health columnist for the New York Times since 1975, is my neighbor in Park Slope, Brooklyn. She is crazy about Brussels sprouts and gave me her recipe to include in my book, Radically Simple. It is her adaptation of a recipe from the Bear Café in Woodstock, New York. I love how recipes travel around.

½ cup pecan halves 1-1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed 2 tablespoons unsalted butter 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped 2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Toast the pecans in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until fragrant, 2 minutes. Set aside. Add the Brussels sprouts to the boiling water and cook 5 minutes. Drain well; cut each in half through the stem end. Heat the oil and butter in a large skillet. Add the onion and cook over high heat until golden, 5 minutes. Add the garlic and Brussels sprouts and cook until tender and browned in spots, 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl. Break the toasted pecans in half and sprinkle over the Brussels sprouts. Season with salt and pepper. Serves 4 to 6

Leftover- Cranberry Sauce- Granita

This is one of my favorite inventions! After (or before) Thanksgiving you can transform a can, or two, of jellied cranberry sauce into an amazing granita --- or sorbet. Garnish with fresh raspberries or pomegranate seeds. If you don't have an ice cream maker to make sorbet, you can prepare this as a granita by freezing the mixture and stirring it with a fork until slushy.

Grated zest and juice of 3 large lemons Grated zest and juice of 2 large oranges 2/3 cup sugar ¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract 16 ounces jellied cranberry sauce

Combine the lemon zest, ½ cup lemon juice, orange zest, and ½ cup orange juice in a medium saucepan. Add the sugar, vanilla and 2-1/2 cups water; bring to a boil. Spoon the cranberry sauce, in large pieces, into the saucepan. Bring to a boil and whisk until melted and smooth. Cool, and then chill well. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions. Serves 8

Why Bread is No Longer Rising

With time on my hands this week, worrying and wondering about loved ones in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, I was struck by a fascinating web post: That, as a country, we’re consuming sharply declining amounts of wheat products -- less bread and rolls, less wheat-based breakfast cereals, fewer English muffins and even fewer wheat tortillas.  Sales of bread loaves are down 11.3% over a recent five-year period -- and falling, even as our population grows. Given the vast numbers of Big Macs, Subway sandwiches and Domino's pizzas we buy every day, these data, from Food Navigator USA, seemed counterintuitive to me. Since our national waistlines aren't shrinking, we must be eating more of something else, so I began to wonder where the replacement calories are coming from. Three large trends reveal the answers: A change in how we shop for food; big ethnic shifts in eating habits away from meat-and-potato diets and an explosion of endless snacking.

Start with snacking: Granola bar sales were up 16 percent in the same period (and still rising), so that's one place where oats clearly is replacing wheat -- a packaged snack trumps a sandwich.

In addition, a recently released 2013 food and beverage forecast by international restaurant consultants Baum+Whiteman talks about the "snackification of America" -- noting that snacks now account for about one-in-five eating occasions, and that we've become a nation of serial munchers seeking foods that are portable. "If it fits in your car's cup holder, if you can eat it with one hand, or better yet, two fingers ... then it's being tested in (restaurant) chains' R&D kitchens," they say.

Another study, by Rabobank, noted that all packaged snack bar sales -- consisting mostly of energy, nutrition, granola/muesli, and fruit bars -- have almost doubled in the last ten years. These may sound "healthy" but by and large they're laden with sugar -- which tells me a bit more about where those extra calories are coming from.

Equally important, we've gradually been abandoning the archipelago of shelving in the center of our supermarkets, steering our shopping carts around the edges, where we find vivid fresh products as opposed to cardboard packages -- and this trend is accelerating among younger people (who've gotten the eat-better message) and among single people across the board. So it's down with Cheerios and Fruit Loops and up with carrots and broccoli, chicken and salmon.

The folks at ConAgra, where they sell grains by the carload, told the newsletter Food Navigator that supermarkets are "suffering from 50 shades of beige as ... we shift from a meat-and-potatoes European diet to a more modern, colorful, multi-textured, multi-flavored diet influenced by Asian and Latino food."

Aha! In addition to oats, we're buying more rice and more corn-based products because that's what Asians and Latinos like to eat -- and, nationally, we're increasingly thrilled with their flavors, aromas and spices. Less gravy, more salsa. More corn chips. Brilliant idea by Taco Bell to add Doritos flavorings to their taco shells. Will Burger King someday stuff crunchy corn nachos into their Whoppers in America -- just as they're doing right now in Taiwan?

Four other factors are at play. There's the artisan bread movement with bakers kneading not just wheat but all manner of grains to produce a denser product that's eaten more slowly (I think of my husband's weekly two-day ritual to bake one large sour and aromatic whole-grain rye bread studded with barley; it lasts a week). There's the growing anti-gluten brigade of people who, with celiac disease or not, believe they should avoid wheat for health reasons.

There's also been a swing among fast-casual chains (like Chipotle) toward serving food in bowls instead of wraps, and a rise in salad sales at fast food chains, all taking a dent out of bread consumption.

And finally there's the residual from last decade's anti-carbohydrate movement when white foods and sweet stuff were forsaken by carnivores hoping to trim their midsections.

As for me, I'll still slather my homemade jam on a slice of my husband's warm homemade bread. It's a far better snack than a granola bar any time of the day.

Cooking Light Bonanza

This month's double anniversary issue of Cooking Light magazine (November 2012) looked good enough to eat.  The headlines, scattered all over the chocolate-hued cover, were obviously meant to delight.  "The Best Fast Meals Ever," "Best Recipes of Our First 25 Years," "The Most Delicious Desserts" and more.  Hard not to fall in love. I write a column for Cooking Light called Radically Simple and in this edition are three stunning starters meant expressly for your Thanksgiving table.  There's a tri-colore salad (endive, watercress, radicchio) with an addictive bacon-cider-maple dressing; a creamy pumpkin-red pepper soup thickened with sweet potato and perfumed with five-spice powder and rosemary, and phyllo cups filled with ricotta, chèvre and fresh thyme.  Looks like you cooked all week.  Yet the recipes, in keeping with the column's intention, are radically simple to prepare. But this special issue has had me devouring each of its 296 pages and  inspiring me to cook so many OPR!  (Other People's Recipes!)  Want an idea?  There's Creamy Lobster Pappardelle, Cavatappi with Browned Brussels Sprouts and Buttery Breadcrumbs, Scallion Pancakes with Korean Dipping Sauce, Fiery Chicken Thighs with Persian Rice, Soy-Citrus Scallops with Soba Noodles, and Fresh Ginger Cake with Candied Citrus Glaze,

And I was totally wowed by the food of 13-year old Flynn McGarry, the culinary avatar to the mesmerizing talents of pianist Lang Lang when he was of a similar age.

To the list of most important Italian cookbooks of the last 25 years, however, I would stand up and add the delicious and encyclopedic tome Naples at Table, written by renowned Italian cooking expert, historian and teacher, Arthur Schwartz.

Best of all (and I love to learn new things every day), was a word I stumbled upon in the ingredient list for a winter citrus-and-escarole salad.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I had never heard the word before!  Pomegranate arils!   Apparently, it's a popular crossword puzzle word.  Look it up!

Here's my recipe for Creamy Pumpkin-Red Pepper Soup.  Enjoy. Creamy Pumpkin-Red Pepper Soup Hands-on time: 30 min. Total time: 60 min.

The soup can be topped with a variety of things: I love Parmigiano-Reggiano and rosemary, but savory sprinkles like chopped smoked almonds or toasted pecans would be lovely. This tastes even better the next day ... or the day after.

3 cups chopped peeled fresh pumpkin 2 1/2 cups chopped red bell pepper 1 1/2 cups chopped peeled sweet potato 1/4 cup chopped green onions 1 teaspoon five-spice powder 1 teaspoon ground cumin 2 teaspoons olive oil 1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic 3/8 teaspoon salt, divided 5 cups no-salt-added chicken stock (such as Swanson) 1 tablespoon unsalted butter 1 tablespoon rosemary leaves (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 2. Combine first 8 ingredients in a large bowl. Sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon salt; toss well. Place vegetable mixture in a single layer on a jelly-roll pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes or until tender, stirring once. 3. Combine vegetables, stock, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt in a large saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 5 minutes. Place half of vegetable mixture in a blender. Remove center piece of blender lid (to allow steam to escape); secure blender lid on blender. Place a clean towel over opening in blender lid (to avoid splatters). Process until smooth. Pour into a large bowl. Repeat procedure with remaining vegetable mixture. Stir in butter. Top with rosemary, if desired.

Serves 6

Two Radically Simple Recipes from JERUSALEM: A Cookbook

There isn't a recipe in Jerusalem, the new cookbook from London (by way of Jerusalem) writers Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi that doesn't intrigue me. Each speaks volumes about the flavors, tastes and foodways of this ancient city.  Some recipes are demanding and worthy of an afternoon of cooking, others are radically simple in the parlance I speak:  boasting an ineffable balance of ease, number of ingredients and time required.  Here are two of my favorites:

Swiss chard fritters with feta According to Yotam and Sami, "The intense green color of these fritters, originally Turkish, is paralleled by a wonderfully concentrated "green flavor" of chard and herbs.  They are a truly marvelous way to start a meal.  Spinach makes a good substitute for the chard; increase the quantity by 50% and just wilt it in a pan instead of boiling it.

14 ounces Swiss chard leaves, white stalks removed 1 ounce flat-leaf parsley 2/3 ounce cilantro 2/3 ounce dill 1-1/2 teaspoons grated nutmeg 1/2 teaspoon sugar 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour 2 cloves garlic, crushed 2 large free-range eggs 3 ounces feta cheese, in small pieces 4 tablespoons olive oil 1 lemon, cut into 4 wedges salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil, add the chard and simmer for 5 minutes.  Drain the leaves and squeeze until completely dry.  Place in a food processor with the herbs, nutmeg, sugar, flour, garlic, eggs, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and black pepper.  Blitz until smooth and then fold in the feta by hand.  Pour 1 tablespoon of the oil in a medium frying pan. Place over medium-high heat and spoon in a heaping tablespoon of the mixture. Press down to get make each fritter about 2-3/4 inches in diameter and 3/8 inch thick.  You should be able to fit about 3 fritters at a time.  Cook for 3 to 4 minutes in total, turning once, until they have taken on some color.  Transfer to paper towels, then keep each batch warm while you cook the remaining mixture, adding oil as needed.  Serve at once with the lemon wedges.  Serves 4 as a starter

Butternut squash & tahini spread According to Yotam and Sami, "This dip seems to be fantastically popular with anyone who tries it. There is something about the magical combination of tahini and pumpkin or squash that we always tend to come back to.  Serve as a starter with bread or as part of a meze selection.  Date syrup can be found in health food stores and Middle Eastern markets.

1 very large butternut squash (almost 2-1/2 pounds) and cut into large chunks (7 cups) 3 tablespoons olive oil 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 5 tablespoons light tahini paste 2 small cloves garlic, crushed 1/2 cup Greek yogurt 1 teaspoon mixed black and white sesame seeds 1-1/2 teaspoons date syrup 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro salt

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Spread the squash out in a medium roasting pan.  Pour over the olive oil and sprinkle on the cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Mix together well and cover pan tightly with foil.  Roast for 70 minutes, stirring once during cooking.  Remove from the oven and let cool.  Transfer the squash to a food processor, along with the tahini, yogurt and garlic.  Roughly pulse until combined into a rough paste, without the spread becoming smooth.  This can be done by hand using a fork or potato masher.  Spread the paste in a wavy pattern on a large flat plate.  Sprinkle with the sesame seeds, drizzle over the syrup and sprinkle with cilantro.  Serves 6 to 8

Come meet Yotam and Sami at Congregation Beth Elohim on Wednesday, October 24th.  I will be the host for the evening -- the interview begins at 7:30 p.m.  You can register here. Autographed books will be for sale.

For Illuminated Foodies and Cookbook Lovers: Come Join Me at "Brooklyn by the Book"

on Wednesday evening, October 24, 2012. I'm delighted to be part of a sparkling initiative created by two Brooklyn institutions -- Congregation Beth Elohim and Community Bookstore -- as they launch a new literary forum.  At "Brooklyn by the Book's" first food event, I will have the pleasure of interviewing the celebrated authors of JERUSALEM: A Cookbook and engage in a lively conversation about their gastronomic journey and culinary inspirations.  Hope to see you next week in Park Slope.  Share with all your Brooklyn friends! More information below (click to enlarge).

Rigatoni with Eggplant, Burst Tomatoes, and Basil-Pignoli Crunch

This is a wonderful time of year for this lusty pasta dish, surely one Cristforo Colombo might have enjoyed today.  I created a version of this dish for Bon Appetit last year but have made some adjustments since. Now I make it with mezzi rigatoni (a shorter version) and fresh buffalo mozzarella.  Any fresh mozzarella will do, and provola (smoked mozzarella) is also pretty divine.

Happy Columbus Day.  Enjoy the long weekend-- a great one for cooking.   To drink?  Try a high-end Barbera or re-discover Chianti.

1 unpeeled large eggplant (1-3/4 pounds), cut into 1/2 inch cubes 2 medium yellow peppers, cut into 1/2-inch squares 2 cups grape tomatoes 3 large garlic cloves 1/3 cup olive oil 2 cups packed fresh basil leaves 1 cup freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano 1/4 cup pine nuts 28-ounces whole tomatoes in juice 1 cup heavy cream 1 pound mezzi rigatoni 1 pound fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Lightly oil a large rimmed baking sheet and add eggplant and peppers.  Cut tomatoes in half and add to baking sheet.  Using a garlic press, squeeze 1 garlic clove onto vegetables. Drizzle with oil and toss. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast until vegetables are tender, stirring often, 35 to 40 minutes.  Combine 2/3 cup basil, 1/2 cup Parmesan, pine nuts, and 1 garlic clove in a processor. Blend just until crumbly and season with salt.  Blend tomatoes with juice, cream, 1-1/3 cups basil, and 1 garlic clove in processor until smooth.  Season with salt and pepper. Cook pasta in pot of boiling water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally; drain.  Return to pot.  Toss with vegetables, sauce and 1/2 cup Parmesan.  Transfer to a 13x2x9 inch baking dish.  Sprinkle with mozzarella and pint nut topping.  Bake 25 to 35 minutes.  Let stand 10 minutes and serve.  Serves 8

Seeing Stars and What They Mean: Michelin Magic

The Michelin Guide to restaurants has been around for more than 100 years and claims more gravitas, by sheer longevity, than most other dining guides. Recognition bestowed by this particular institution, known as the Red Guide, can make or break a restaurant -- "especially in France," said Rita Jammet, one of New York's celebrated foodies, at the New York awards celebration last night. Ms. Jammet and her husband, Andre, owned the iconic restaurant La Caravelle in New York. Chef Jammet's roots go back to his family's hotel, Le Bristol, considered one of the finest in France, where the prestige power of Michelin's stars, quite impressively, still charts the course of the French dining scene. Gaining a star, or two, can boost a restaurant's customer base and launch a chef onto the world scene; losing a star can result in profound loss of esteem and business. In Italy, there is generally a different story to tell by those well acquainted with authentic regional cuisine. Arthur Schwartz, author of Naples at Table and The Southern Italian Table, says that his colleagues there stay clear of Michelin-starred restaurants. "They are not Italian," he smiles, "they are French."

But here in New York, the stakes are not quite so high and there is American-style diversity scattered amongst the stars. Although the Michelin ratings still emphasize formality and presentation once indicated by the commandments of French dining, there are some newcomers on the scene. Jaipur-born chef Hemant Mathur was delighted that his restaurant Tulsi retained its one-star status from last year and continues his tradition of being the first Indian chef to receive any stars in New York during his tenure at Devi. He was also proud enough of his heritage to point out that there are two other Indian restaurants in New York deserving of Michelin stars: Junoon and Tamarind Tribeca. In London, where Indian cuisine is an integral part of their culinary landscape, there are only four Indian restaurants deserving of Michelin's attention. Chef Mathur said that Tulsi's star has brought more than a 25 percent increase in business and attention from diners the world over.

Diversity continues among the 2013 guide's shout-out to several Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Italian and Scandinavian restaurants.

Most agree that a Michelin nod can add great verve to the spirit of the chosen chef, their owners and their staff. Oceana's chef Ben Pollinger received his first Michelin star in 2007 and has retained it ever since. "It perfectly fits our business model," he says. "Our customers, both American and international, feel they will get their money's worth because the star is a symbol of excellence and prestige."

The attendees at the swank celebration last night at New York's Capitale on the Bowery, included tuxedoed chefs and chefs-in-whites. The former were sipping champagne in one hand and back-patting their colleagues with the other. It's always fun to see Jean-Georges Vongerichten glide around a room, or watch Eric Ripert sincerely connect with the public, or spot Daniel Boulud and television chef Alexandra Guarnaschelli full of Michelin bonhomie. Even restaurant guru, Drew Nieporent (co-owner of Nobu) was proud to report that his two-star restaurant Corton and chef Paul Liebrandt again received two-stars this year. The latter group that night, uber-chefs Michael White (Ai Fiori), Julien Jouhannaud (Adour), and Gavin Kaysen (Café Boulud), actually spent the evening cooking. There was Agnolotti with butternut squash puree, brown butter and sage; Guinea hen terrine with rutabaga and pickled mushrooms, and Salade de coquillages with perfectly cooked langoustines, coco bean and tomato pesto.

The Michelin guide, published in 23 countries, has three publications in the United States: New York, Chicago and San Francisco. The Los Angeles and Las Vegas guides have been halted. Would be interesting to know why.

The 2013 Michelin Guide is now available for sale on line and is considerably less ($18.99) than any main course in any Michelin-starred restaurant. Their mobile app is less ($.99/24 hours) than a cup of joe. Bon appétit.