Cookbooks and Cooking

In today’s New York Times, Kim Severson writes that “Written Recipes Undergo a Makeover” which argues that in today’s modern cookbooks “instructions have shifted away from formulas toward deeper explanations of technique, offering context and lyricism in ways Fannie Farmer could not have imagined . . . they teach the reader to be a more intuitive cook, a cultural change that reflects a nation that is cooking better than it has in decades.”  (Editor’s Note, I will not embed any more links to New York Times articles, since readers inform me that you need to be a paid subscriber to open some of the links.)

While this is a well-balanced article – only if you read the entire article – the underlying proposition is that today’s modern cook requires and receives more information to help them become a “more intuitive chef.”  Indeed, Ms. Severson argues that today’s cookbooks are focused on stories that relate food to use and cooking techniques that allow home chefs to become more creative.

Does Ms. Severson’s proposition hold water?  Maybe, but observing popular cooking on TV or YouTube doesn’t make for inspired cooking anymore than learning the theory of brick-laying makes you a better bricklayer.   Consistently great cooking requires practice to refine techniques and to help the “inspired” chef think outside the box.

I’ll site just a few examples from my experience to illustrate the point:

  • I once watched Martha Stewart prepare a paella on one of her TV programs.  While I might call her preparation a fish and chicken rice stew, it lacked the subtlety of an authentic paella.    In short, it was a disaster and you didn’t need to taste it to know why.  Sure, there are hundreds of instructional videos on YouTube on how to make paella, but does anything taste like an authentic paella that Gwyneth Paltrow and Mario Batali had prepared at La Matandeta?:

  • I once watched an Iron Chef some years ago in which popular TV cooks, Giada De Laurentiis and Rachael Ray, were paired with Mario Batali and Bobby Flay.  To refer to Giada and Rachael as anymore than sous chefs in this exhibition would be an insult to most any serious chef.  And yet, these two  “inspired” chefs each have their own cooking program on TV and now teach technique to others.  Doesn’t make sense to me!
  • When I worked in the stationery industry, we would often buy “cookbooks” at the Gift Show in New York for resale at Christmas.  Sadly, we needed to judge the book by its cover (the title and sometimes the author), since the staged food photography and the recipes hadn’t yet been written.  And yet, these are the cookbooks from which future generations of chefs will draw their inspiration.  I think not!!

Having cooked for well over 50 years, I am not averse to inspiration but feel that every home chef that truly wants to feel more confident in the kitchen needs to practice, practice and practice.  Learning from “true” cooking experts is far better than watching popular TV programs.   For instance, my sister-in-law practiced making bread daily for well over 2 years, before she decided she had become proficient.  She insists that she is still learning.  Mind you, bread has only four ingredients:  flour, water, salt and a touch of yeast.

In any event, I have prepared a list of my 5 favorite cookbooks for those who want to jump-start the learning process.  For those interested in the “whys” of cooking, I would strongly recommend a subscription to Cook’s Illustrated.  (Editor’s Note:  Don’t bother with the cookbooks, but the bi-monthly magazine is very good!)

Don’t Mess with Texas Eating Habits

As a retired person, all I do most days is watch my dwindling 401K and play checkers with the neighbor’s dog (Editor’s Note:  The dog even lets me win once in a while).    For most Americans with arrested development, “Super Bowl Sunday” is the highlight of their year:  “The 1%” actually attend the game, while the other 99% watch it on TV.   I’ll certainly tune in to see how many times Katy Perry will change costumes during her 15 minute half-time appearance.

In order to address everyone’s eating disorder, we will be preparing Martha Stewart’s Turkey and Bean Chili which was featured in Gourmay a couple of year’s ago.   Sheila has decided that we will “skip the beans” since we have quite a few tamales left over from Christmas and that she will cut back on the molasses.   Makes sense to me, but then I wish I was in Texas celebrating the Super Bowl in style with my relatives.   The food pyramid in Texas is quite a bit different than the one recommended by the FDA.


Certainly, I can understand how Texans view the world somewhat differently than the folks on the East Coast, but most gunslingers don’t drink lattes at Starbucks either.

No Child Left BehindMind you, I am sensitive to eating disorders but feel that gluten-free and low-sodium diets have gotten a bit out of hand. Most Americans apparently agree with me as over 9 billion hamburgers were consumed last year – an increase of 3% over the previous year. The “Talking Heads” on CNBC are suggesting that McDonald’s recent stock-price slump indicates that Americans are developing “healthier eating habits.” Really??? How do you explain the insane stock price of Burger Shack IPO which debuted yesterday on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol SHAK.   Only the inspired leaders of Alpine, who benefitted by W’s “no child  left behind” policies could possibly argue that 63 burger joints should have a market valuation of near $2 billion.

Regardless of what you are eating on Super Bowl Sunday, enjoy!

Due to popular demand, I reprint Martha’s inspired recipe for Tex-Mex Turkey Chili (everything tastes better with Benton’s bacon):

Tex-Mex Turkey and Bean Chili

Ingredients (Serves 8)

  • 4 slices bacon (4 ounces), cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick strips.  Please order Benton’s bacon now!  Benton’s bacon is great for this type of recipe.
  • 3 pounds ground dark-meat (at least 7% fat) turkey
  • 4 onions, coarsely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 jalapeño chiles, minced (ribs and seeds removed for less heat, if desired)
  • 3 Tbs chili powder
  • 3 Tbs unsweetened cocoa powder (essential ingredient for dark rich chili)
  • 4 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 cans (28 ounces each) whole peeled tomatoes in puree
  • 2 Tbs un-sulfured molasses  (Editor’s Note:  Sheila with halve this for this Super Bowl)
  • 1 cup of water
  • Coarse salt
  • 3 cans (15 1/2 ounces each) pinto beans drained and rinsed (Editor’s Note:  Maybe eliminated or drastically reduced)
  • Assorted toppings, such as cheddar cheese, sour cream, pickled jalapeño slices and fresh cilantro


  1. Heat a Dutch oven or heavy 5-quart pot over medium heat.  Add bacon; cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 6 to 8 minutes.  Raise heat to high; add turkey.  Cook, stirring and breaking up meat with a spoon, until no longer pink, 8 to 10 minutes.
  2. Add onions, garlic and jalapeños; cook until soft, stirring often, about 6 minutes.  Stir in chili powder, cocoa, and cumin; cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  3. Break up tomatoes with kitchen shears or with your hands, and add them to the pot along with the puree.  Add molasses, the water and 4 tsps of salt; bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to a simmer; cook, partially covered for 30 minutes more.  Serve hot with assorted toppings as desired.

– See more at:

How to Peel Garlic

Taleggio Langston has shared his technique to peel garlic.  Actually, Martha got a head-start on the process, but  Gourmay readers are grateful to Langston for sharing his outstanding culinary abilities with our  Gringo readers.

P.S.  It’s amazing the skills you can pick up in prison for trading securities based on  Inside Information.  Women go to prison, but guys like Cohen buy a plea bargain for $1.8 billion.   Ummm….