I suppose that the reason grocery stores come out with cookbooks is to entice their customers to try new foods or new ways to prepare old foods. But grocery stores have all sorts of customers, and it cannot be easy both to lure the novice cook, while keeping the interest of the more experienced cook. I pulled three grocery store cookbooks from my shelves. One cookbook was from a local chain grocery and was a little better than what one might expect; one cookbook was from healthy food behemoth Whole Foods Market and was a real disappointment; the third cookbook was from San Francisco’s Bi-Rite Market, and, like Mary Poppins, was practically perfect in every way.
Busch’s is a local family owned chain of grocery stores in southeast Michigan. I would describe their stores as slightly upscale, but still mass-market. The cookbook, Busch’s Meal Solutions by Peggy de Parry, was published in 2003; I can now find no trace of this cookbook on the internet. I only know that it exists because I can hold it in my hand. The cookbook has been replaced by the recipe section on Busch’s website. The cookbook has a somewhat unprofessional self-published aura, but the recipes appear one to a page and are nicely formatted. Peggy de Parry, the author, is the former owner of the take-out food place, The Back Alley Gourmet, of which I was once quite fond, and so I was predisposed to like the recipes in this cookbook.
I am always willing to try a new cole slaw variation; furthermore, cole slaw recipes are almost always safe and hard to mess up. The recipe for “Southwest Coleslaw” (page 86) delivered; it was as good as any. There is no mayonnaise in this slaw, just lime juice and a small amount of oil, so it is even a more healthy slaw. The ingredients that lead to the descriptor “southwest” include jicama, cilantro, and jalapeño. [Go to the recipe.]
I had intended to make “Shiitake-Barley Soup” (page 54) in the slow cooker overnight, but only remembered it after I had lit the Shabbos candles, so my guests for lunch the next day did not get any hot soup. But since I had all the ingredients prepped, I made the soup on Sunday, even though my real interest in picking this recipe was to see how it held up to the long cooking. This is just a standard mushroom barley soup with shiitake mushrooms instead of more prosaic mushrooms; I actually combined the shiitakes with portobello mushrooms, as the shiitakes seemed a bit too delicate, especially if I was going to give this soup the overnight cook-to-death treatment. This was a good enough soup, but I still do not know if it would have survived the crock-pot.
Recipes like “Pantry Pasta with Tuna, Olives and Capers” (page 145) are very useful to have in one’s repertoire, and if one uses good tuna, a recipe like this can be very good indeed. I have recently discovered delicious Tonnino tuna at Hiller’s; this is expensive jarred tuna, but really good. In addition to tuna, this recipe uses anchovies, olives, capers, and tomatoes. I have made pasta recipes like this before, and I will no doubt make recipes similar to this in the future, because I know that I will enjoy them the first time around, and if there are leftovers, they will quickly disappear. In fact, this is the sort of food that I sometimes hide in the back of the refrigerator, hoping that no one else will find the leftovers.
Peggy offers “Mushroom Knishes” (page 106) as a Pesach recipe, although I do not think that these will make it to my seder; the taste to trouble ratio was not that high, and if we factor in the wimpy appearance of these patties, they are quite forgettable. Basically, these are mashed potato patties filled with mushrooms. The potatoes are held together with matzoh meal, potato starch, and egg whites. They are baked in the oven, although I think frying would have been preferable. Layered mashed potatoes and mushrooms in a baking dish would yield the same taste and be easier and probably more attractive, too. I should mention, though, that despite my critical appraisal of this dish, the few that were left over disappeared quickly; Danny and Alan seemed to really like them.
The Whole Foods Market (WFM), a little over a mile from our house, is my home away from home. I am there for some reason or another almost every day. People complain that this is an expensive store; I have found that although they sell expensive items, the prices on those items are not out of line with other stores in Ann Arbor. At WFM, I like to window shop the case of prepared foods, looking for ideas. When The Whole Foods Market Cookbook by Jack Petusevsky (and Whole Foods Market Team Members) appeared, I was hoping to find recipes for many of the prepared foods that I would gaze at through glass. There are no pictures in this book, so I could not visually compare the offerings in the book to the offerings at the store, but based on the written recipes, I do not think that the recipes in this book are the ones that WFM uses. I found no recipe that particularly excited me; the five recipes I tried were okay, but nothing special. Many Amazon reviewers have complained about the errors in this book; at one point WFM had a list of errata online, but I cannot find this now (here is a bad link).
“Mediterranean Tuna Salad” (page 125) is a kitchen sink type salad, with all sorts of ingredients mixed in with the tuna: artichoke hearts, red bell pepper, olives, onions, parsley, basil, garlic, oregano, lemon juice, and then a generous amount of mayonnaise to bind it all. This made a tuna salad that was just fine, but I actually think I prefer my default tuna salad, which is easier and cheaper: tuna with very finely chopped onion and celery, some sweet pickle relish, and mayonnaise.
I renamed “Essential Sea Vegetable Salad” (page 112) “Triton Salad” in honor of the race of Tritons in my new favorite board game, Small World. This salad consists of a lot of seaweed (or, as we now are supposed to say, sea vegetable) mixed with carrots and spinach. Despite getting this recipe from the Whole Foods Market Cookbook, I could not find the ingredients there, as recently our local WFM has quit selling most varieties of seaweed. Thus a trip to Plum Market was in order, also giving me a chance to load up on chocolate, yogurt, and wine, the items that Plum Market competitively prices. I like seaweed for its mild saltiness and its slippery texture (just the right side of slimy). The spinach did not hold up that well; perhaps a sturdier green such as kale would have been more appropriate.
The recipe for “Roasted Corn Poblano Chowder” (page 73) made a lot of soup that had a lot of ingredients floating around in it. When I offered this soup to Alan, he had just had some mouth surgery, so we blended it. For the ideal texture, the best thing to do might be fish out the solids and pulse them few times in the food processor, then add back to the liquids. But even without so adjusting the texture, I liked this soup. I used half a cup of half and half instead of the two cups of milk called for, which I do not think made a big difference other than decreasing the yield of this recipe by a cup and a half. [Go to the recipe.]
Where the name for “Eight-Layer Tortilla Pie” (page 144) came from is a mystery. To make this dish, you put down a tortilla, top with a layer of half a can of beans, cheese, and salsa, then repeat. However, to assemble this, the ingredients call for four tortillas (four layers?) and three cans of beans (and since half a can is used for each layer, six layers?). Someone is challenged by elementary counting. I assembled this using corn tortillas. It was dry; I think two jars of salsa would have been more successful than the one called for in the ingredients. But maybe this was just another error in counting.
The recipe for kasha varnishkes, or “Bow Tie Pasta with Kasha, Carmelized Onions, and Watercress” (page 182) was unremarkable except for the addition of watercress. As it happened, Whole Foods Market did not have any watercress, and although I had seen some at Plum Market, I was not making another trip out there for what struck me as a gratuitous ingredient. The recipe only called for a quarter cup of water cress, so I do not think that it would have affected the flavor of this dish significantly. I threw in a little parsley for the sake of having something green. Kasha varnishkes is not an exciting dish, and this version was not exciting. I used to make a version with mushrooms which was much better. Frank’s Red Hot perked this up some (we were out of sriracha).
The Bi-Rite Market of San Francisco underwent a metamorphosis when Sam Mogannon and his brother took it over from their father and uncle. Out went the cigarettes and malt liquor, in came the local organic produce and meat from humanely raised animals, and, as Sam acknowledges, up went the prices. In short, Bi-Rite morphed into my dream grocery store. Although gentrification of neighborhoods (in this case, San Francisco’s Mission District) is not always a positive force, I choose to believe (and truthfully, only because I love the Bi-Rite cookbook) that the transformation of Bi-Rite, and the store’s involvement in the local community are good for everyone.
The book, Bi-Rite Market’s Eat Good Food: A Grocer’s Guide to Shopping, Cooking & Creating Community Through Food by Sam Mogannam and Dabney Gough, is everything that a grocery store cookbook should be. There are chapters on every department of the grocery, specifically: grocery, deli, produce, butcher, dairy, cheese, bakery, and wine and beer. Each chapter has information on the products of that department: how to buy, store, and use. This is not not trivial information, and an experienced food person can learn a lot from reading this book. I must say, though, that I do take exception to the discussion of extra-virgin olive oil. Shay has brought my attention to the research indicating that extra virgin olive oil is not optimal for cooking, not only in terms of price but for various health concerns. Bi-Rite is, however, firmly EVOO all the way. The recipes look interesting, and the four that I tried were all very good. I like the photographs: the ones that accompany the recipes motivate the reader to try the recipe and give a very good idea of what the dish should look like. The photographs of the store and its products are attractive and enjoyable to browse through, even the pictures of dead fish and animal body parts.
Kale is a very popular green these days. I have several cookbooks devoted solely to kale that will be the subject of some future post. This popularity is well deserved: not only is kale healthy, but it is versatile and its taste is distinctive yet unobjectionable (and this, I think, is the highest praise that one can fairly give an unadorned green). “Lemony Kale Caesar Salad” (page 97) makes good use of kale, as kale is sturdy enough that not only can it be dressed (when used raw as a salad green) well ahead of time, but this is even preferable. Also, the kale held its own, tastewise, with the assertive Caesar dressing and its anchovies and mustard. (And be sure to say “Kale Caesar Salad” out loud to appreciate yet another reason that Caesar salad is well made with kale.)
Although I no longer hate red beets, I am not that fond of them: they have a yucky taste and turn everything pink. There are exceptions, but I am inclined to think that the only good red beet is a pickled red beet; the vinegar controls the yucky taste and the tendency to everything pink can be used to pickle and color hard boiled eggs. Yellow beets, though, are another story: the red beet taste I object to is gone, and the color stays where it should. Thus when I made “Roasted Beet Salad with Pickled Onions and Feta” (page 253) I used yellow, not red beets. This simple salad has beets, red onion, parsley, and feta cheese in an oil and vinegar dressing. These ingredients come together perfectly to yield a dish that not only tasted great but was beautiful to behold. [Go to the recipe.]
“Potato, Parsnip, and Celery Root Soup” (page 122) was a particularly good version of this type of soup: root vegetables puréed in vegetable broth with added cream. Alan commented several times that this soup was better than the puréed root vegetables that he made, conjecturing that it might be due to the added white wine. Perhaps it was the wine; perhaps the thyme or mustard; perhaps the lemon juice at the end of cooking; most likely all of these factors combined to make an excellent soup for a cold winter night.
“Butternut Squash and Potato Gratin with Fresh Sage” (page 104) was my least favorite Bi-Rite recipe, but it was still good and quite popular with my guests. Potatoes and butternut squash are cut into thin slices, layered with Parmesan cheese, covered in cream (which has been infused with sage and thyme), and cooked in the oven. I might have liked this dish better with more cheese.
Adapted from Peggy de Parry, Busch’s Meal Solutions
1 tablespoon salt
1 red bell pepper
1 jalapeño, minced
Juice of 2 limes
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons cumin seed
Shred the cabbage (I use the food processor) and mix with the salt. Let the cabbage sit for an hour or so, then rinse, squeeze, and drain. Grate the jicama, and finely chop the bell pepper and scallions; I do this in the food processor. Chop up a handful of cilantro (or just omit the cilantro if you are one of those people genetically indisposed to cilantro). Make a dressing by combining the lime juice, olive oil, garlic, and honey. Toast the cumin seeds. Now combine everything: the rinsed, drained, and squeezed cabbage, the other vegetables, the dressing, and the cumin seeds. To really mix this up you may want to use your hands.
Adapted from Jack Petusevsky, The Whole Foods Market Cookbook
3 poblano chilies
1 red bell pepper
2 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, peeled and chopped
¼ cup flour
6 cups vegetable broth
½ – 2 cups milk or half and half
1 16-ounce package frozen corn
Roast the peppers as follows. Put the poblano peppers and the red bell pepper under the broiler, turning as necessary, until the skin is blackened. Put the peppers in a paper bag for 15 minutes, then remove the skin and seeds, and chop the peppers.
Melt the butter in a large soup pot. Add the garlic, onion, and celery, and cook, stirring as needed, until the vegetables begin to soften. Add the flour, and cook and stir for 5 minutes. Stir as you slowly add the broth. Add the milk (or half and half), the corn, and the roasted peppers. Add some salt (start with 2 teaspoons), pepper, and cayenne. Simmer the soup for 30 minutes. If you like the soup as is, fine, but if you think the soup has too much stuff floating around, scoop ou the solid, pulse just a couple of times in the food processor, then add back to the liquid. Taste to see if you want more salt, pepper, or cayenne.
Yellow Beet Salad
Adapted from Sam Mogannam and Dabney Gough, Bi-Rite Market’s Eat Good Food
½ red onion, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons white wine or apple cider vinegar
1½ pounds yellow beets
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ teaspoon mustard
½ teaspoon honey
Parsley, chopped (several tablespoons)
2 – 4 ounces feta cheese, cut into small cubes or crumbled
Combine the onion, vinegar, and a pinch of salt; set aside while you roast the beets. To roast the beets, rinse them wrap them in aluminum foil and put them in a 350º oven; the oven may be hotter or colder, if you happen to be using the oven to cook something else. Leave the beets in the oven until they are cooked through, which you test by seeing how easily a sharp knife penetrates the beets (it should meet little resistance). How long this takes depends on the size of your beets; it could take between 30 minutes and over an hour.
When the beets are roasted, let them cool a little. When you can handle them, peel the beets and cube them. Set them aside until they cool. Mix together the olive oil, mustard, and honey. Once the beets have cooled, combine everything: the beets, the onion and its vinegar, the olive oil dressing, the parsley, and the cheese.