Thursday, July 25, 2013

Two new books celebrate love of food

            If you love reading about food, in addition to cooking it up, there are two wonderful new — and local — books on the subject.
            Elizabeth M. Williams, founder and president of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans, celebrates the city with an examination of its cuisine, relationship with the residents and individual restaurants and signature food dishes in “New Orleans: A Food Biography.” Williams discusses the unique history of the Crescent City, how immigration affected cuisine and traditions and how the environment created the foods we enjoy, in addition to much more.
            There’s information on the city’s grocery stores, companies that package products for the national markets, restaurants and their history, drinks and bars and food personalities, to name a few. If you ever wanted to learn of the city’s food history in an easy-to-decipher book, this one’s for you.
            Food writer Julia Reed, who lives in New Orleans, has traveled the world and enjoyed its food. She relates these experiences — along with personal stories — in “ButMama Always Put Vodka in her Sangria! Adventures in Eating, Drinking and MakingMerry.” Even though Reed takes readers to all corners of the world, her Southern roots show through, making this an enjoyable book that’s emphasizes our love affair with food no matter where we travel — and so much more.
            Every chapter has a theme and is followed by recipes. Here’s one from the chapter, “Summer on a Plate.” The following recipe by vegetarian chef Deborah Madison incorporates marinated mushrooms in a fresh summer salad. Reed insists that mushrooms should always be marinated first and equates raw mushrooms in a salad to tasting Styrofoam. Good thinking there.

Deborah Madison’s Fennel, Mushroom and Parmesan Salad
From “But Mama Always Put Vodka in her Sangria!”
1 garlic clove
1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt
2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 strips of lemon peel, minced
1/8 teaspoon of fennel seeds, crushed under a spoon or in a mortar
4-5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
8 ounces large, firm white mushrooms, wiped clean
Freshly ground black pepper
1 fennel bulb
1 tablespoon fennel greens, chopped
3 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano, shaved into paper-thin slices
            Directions: Pound the garlic and the salt in a mortar until smooth. Stir in lemon juice, lemon peel, fennel seeds and olive oil.
            Thinly slice the mushrooms. Dress them with a few tablespoons of the vinaigrette, and season them with plenty of pepper. Lay a piece of plastic wrap directly over them to keep them from browning and set aside for about an hour to marinate.
            Trim the fennel bulb and cut into quarters. Remove most of the core, then slice it lengthwise, very thinly, leaving the pieces joined together. Dress it with most of the remaining vinaigrette and half the herbs, and season with salt and pepper. Add the rest of the herbs to the mushrooms.
            Layer the mushrooms, cheese, and fennel on each plate and spoon the remaining vinaigrette over the top.

Cheré Coen is a Lafayette freelance travel and food writer. She is author of “Exploring Cajun Country: A Tour of Historic Acadiana” and the upcoming “Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana,” both by The History Press.