Flavors of Friuli – Review by Kerri Schuster

Little did I know when I picked up Elisabeth Antoine Crawford’s Flavors of Friuli that I’d be taking a mini-vacation in the middle of my summer break. Crawford’s beautifully photographed book is more than just a guide to cooking in the tradition of northeastern Italy. It’s a history and travel guide for the region. Divided into sections in line with the three main areas of this so-called “un-Italian” portion of Italy, the book offers a wide variety of recipes including hearty meats, delicate fishes, simple gnocchis and indulgent desserts. Each is inspired by the Austrian, Slavic, or Italian influences that make the region unique.

The author’s passion for this special place comes through even in the recipes themselves. Crawford takes instructions from chefs and books she discovered in her travels, sometimes needing to guess measurements and proportions along the way. Her diligence and time in preparing for the book have paid off as her directions are manageable for most home-cooks. The minimal ingredients allow the delicious flavors to stand on their own.

My own version of liptauer!

I tried a few of the recipes myself, beginning with the Insalata di Pere a Montasio (Pear and Montasio Salad). I was surprised to discover that the ingredients did not call for vinegar, but upon my first bite, I sensed that the outstanding flavors of this salad are in the arugula, pear, walnuts and cheese, not in the dressing. I also enjoyed the Liptauer (Austrian Style Cheese Spread), a tangy dip that took very little time to prepare and would make a delicious appetizer for company. A simple mix of gorgonzola and ricotta lightly flavored with mustard, capers, chives and parsley, the spread did not last long on our table.

Another reason that home-cooks will find Flavors of Friuli so enjoyable is Crawford’s frequent recommendations for additions and substitutions to her recipes. She acknowledges that some ingredients, especially the cheeses unique to the region, may be difficult to find in the United States. Therefore, she offers alternatives that are more readily available. In the Cavucin (Butternut Squash Purée), I was able to use pumpkins from my garden in place of butternut squash and ricotta salata in place of ricotta affumatica. The simple instructions will make most cooks feel comfortable improvising and experimenting.

At the end of the book, Crawford offers suggestions of restaurants, festivals, producers, museums and other sights for the prospective traveler. However, I look forward to even more evenings this summer at home at my own Friuli table.

Notes on Cooking: Review by Kerri Schuster

notes-on-cookingI’ve been getting loads of requests to do book reviews this summer, so I’m especially grateful to my wife, Kerri, for helping me keep apace this week!

“Food is never really finished until you talk about it.”
-Notes on Cooking

I consider myself a good cook.  I can read a recipe or improvise, and as long as I’m in the kitchen preparing meals for my friends and family, I’m happy.  When I’m not in the kitchen, I can often be found on my patio with a glass of wine, reading about food.  Therefore, I was excited to peruse Notes on Cooking:  A Short Guide to an Essential Craft by Lauren Braun Costello and Russell Reich.  This tight volume of indispensable instructions for making your way through the kitchen gives a no-nonsense approach to cooking for the novice or “seasoned” chef.

I have to admit, however, that I was slightly skeptical at the idea of being told what I can and cannot do in my own kitchen; therefore, I was glad to see the authors remind readers that cooking is a process best learned through trial and error.  Although these notes are voiced assertively, they also empower the cook to make his or her own choices in the kitchen.  This is most clear in note number 99:  “Don’t let a machine do your job.  You are the cook; it is your fire, your blade, you hands, your finesse that provide the meal’s soul.”

Although I read these notes in order from beginning to end over the course of a leisurely summer afternoon (and, yes, with a glass of wine), the authors suggest that the book can be read in any order and at any pace.  If you are planning a brunch, you may want to review the chapter on dairy and eggs.  Looking for the perfect cut of beef?  Turn to chapter XIII before you head out to the butcher.  The table of contents presents clear and concise descriptions of each note.

The afterword to the book begins by reminding us of how hectic life can be and that the kitchen can be a therapeutic place.  Sure, we all make mistakes when we cook.  My husband has been a kind critic of some of my worst disasters.  However, that square space between the stove, the pot rack, the refrigerator and the sink is the place that feels most like home to me.  If you don’t have years to learn your way around your own kitchen, Notes on Cooking is a good place to begin.