10 Days of Cookbooks | Girl in the Kitchen
Mon Sep 19 2011
Illustration: Christine Berrie
Confession: I have a tendency to talk to cookbook authors. And not in, like, a sane way, such as over the phone for an interview. More like this: Say you were peeking in my kitchen window at 4am last week the night (er, morning) I was making the peanut nougat from Momofuku Milk Bar. I was probably yelling, "Christina, are you for real?!" to, umm, no one.
So imagine how exciting it was for Little Insane Me to test out a cookbook written by someone I can actually speak to—whose phone number I have in my cell phone! Unfortunately, I'm not talking about Stephanie Izard, the chef-owner of Girl & the Goat, whose first cookbook, Girl in the Kitchen, comes out October 5. I'm talking about my colleague, TOC Senior Food & Drink Correspondent Heather Shouse, who is the book's co-author. And though this book is all about Stephanie—the subtitle is "How A Top Chef Cooks, Thinks, Shops, Eats and Drinks"—the approach of the book can't help but remind me of Heather. Heather's the kind of person who, if you casually mention that you're going to dinner that night at, say, Tank Noodle, will tell you what and how to order, where the closest good liquor store is and exactly what beer would go best with your meal. I wouldn't have believed that Heather and Stephanie—or anyone for that matter—would be able to pack that level of guidance into a book, but in Girl in the Kitchen, they've done just that, annotating each recipe with the type of details that answer questions before you even think to ask them. Every ingredient I had a question about was explained. Every recipe ended with genuinely helpful notes about how to (or not to) prepare the components in advance. Every dish comes with a suggestion for what to drink with it. And best of all, many of the recipes are introduced with hilarious stories that had me laughing out loud.
That said, the recipes still seemed...hard. Heather seemed surprised when I told her this, and she suggested I make one of the soups or a side. I needed to prove her wrong, so I made the Halibut with Pork-and-Peanut Ragu and Cilantro Vinagrette. I started with the cilantro vinaigrette, which basically involved this: Chuck some cilantro into the blender with mustard, white balsamic vinegar, olive oil and a couple other things, and hold a button. I use the word chuck literally: I honestly didn't even separate the cilantro leaves; I just threw the whole stems in there. The result was this super-vibrant green sauce that kind of astonishingly didn't hit me over the head with cilantro and that I promised myself I must make again and again because, seriously, how many leftover bundles of cilantro have I left for dead in my refrigerator after using a couple sprigs for a recipe?
The sauce is the counterpart to two other components: a ground-pork ragu and seared halibut. The hardest part of these recipes is probably shopping for them (unless you have sambal oelek, tamarind concentrate and miso paste in your pantry, in which case, are you actually Stephanie Izard?); after that, the recipes come together in minutes, and the results are impressive and unusual. As it turns out, the best part of cooking from Girl in the Kitchen was that I never had to call Heather at all—or even communicate with a phantom her. Except for once, when the instructions said to cook the fish in a non-stick pan, which I do not have: "Sorry, Heather!"