Whether you love chili and tacos, streusel and schnitzel, or turmeric and kichiri, food authors at the Texas Book Festival have something you’ll like.
The annual literary affair kicks off this weekend with more than 100 authors from all over the world. The Central Market Cooking Tent will house many of the cookbook authors, but some of the biggest names, including Marcus Samuelsson, Padma Lakshmi and Diana Kennedy, will be packing rooms inside the Capitol and First United Methodist Church.
Although longtime “Top Chef” host Lakshmi likely is the most recognizable name to the general public, Samuelsson’s book might be the most anticipated in the cookbook world. The Ethiopian-born, Swedish-raised, New York-based chef has written a number of cookbooks about the distinct medley of flavors he uses and his philosophy about cooking, but this newest book — “The Red Rooster Cookbook: The Story of Food and Hustle in Harlem” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $37.50) — is about the restaurant at the heart of his culinary universe.
Red Rooster opened in Harlem in 2010, followed a few years later by Ginny’s Supper Club, a live music venue underneath Red Rooster that draws musicians of nearly all genres and tourists and longtime neighborhood residents alike. Samuelsson’s book is as much a tribute to the pillars of that community as a guide to learning to cook like him, and he’ll talk about some of those folks and his own evolution as a chef in a chat with Austin-based food writer Paula Disbrowe at 4:15 p.m. Saturday at First United Methodist Church on the west side of the Capitol.
Lakshmi’s latest project is noteworthy because it’s not a cookbook, and even though it’s touted as a book inspired by her many years traveling around the world, it doesn’t center on her celebrity. The text-heavy book lives up to its name — “The Encyclopedia of Spices and Herbs: An Essential Guide to the Flavors of the World” (Ecco, $39.99) — with a somewhat comprehensive guide to spices from all over the globe, with an emphasis on ingredients that Lakshmi grew up eating in India and, later, California and New York. You won’t find any recipes, but you will find historical, geographical and culinary notes on individual herbs and spices, as well as spice blends. She’ll chat with local cooking instructor Shefaly Ravula at 1 p.m. Saturday at First United Methodist Church.
“Top Chef” will probably come up in a 2 p.m. Sunday session with the James Beard-winning chef John Currence, who was a contestant on “Top Chef Masters” and is the author of a new book, “Big Bad Breakfast: The Most Important Book of the Day” (Ten Speed Press, $30). He’ll be chatting with local food writer Melanie Haupt about getting burned on national TV (you can read his version of the story with his recipe for hominy “risotto”) and all the ways you can have a big, beautiful Southern breakfast, anytime, anywhere.
I’m excited to interview Jenny Rosenstrach and Luisa Weiss, who are online friends, longtime food bloggers and fierce advocates for home cooking. At 12:15 p.m. Sunday in Capitol Extension Room E2.026, we’ll talk about recipe development, cookbook writing, finding the energy to cook (and write) at the end of a long day and the current state of new food media.
Rosenstrach, author of “How to Celebrate Everything: Recipes and Rituals for Birthdays, Holidays, Family Dinners, and Every Day In Between” (Ballantine, $30) has a standalone session in the Central Market Cooking tent at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, and Weiss will talk about her new book, “Classic German Baking: The Very Best Recipes from Traditional Favorites, from Pfeffernüsse to Streuselkuchen” (Ten Speed Press, $35), at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
Everyone has a mom or aunty who knows “the best” way to make collards, so I knew we’d have controversy when I skipped the ham hock or salt pork and made them lush with a lot of spiced butter. I love it! That kind of argument makes for the liveliest dinner table conversation.
— Marcus Samuelsson
1 cup (8 oz.) spiced butter (recipe below)
1 onion, chopped
2 Thai bird chilies, minced, or 1/2 tsp. hot red pepper flakes
2 lb. collard greens, stemmed and chopped
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
Coarse kosher salt
Melt the spiced butter in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and chilies and sauté until the onion has softened, about 5 minutes. Add the collards and stir in the vinegar, brown sugar, and salt to taste and bring to a simmer. Turn the heat down to low, cover, and simmer until the greens are very tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Serve hot or warm. Serves 6 to 8.
Samuelsson and his kitchen crew use this spiced butter in lots of dishes, including the collards. The recipe calls for ajwain, a tiny pod with a complex, bitter flavor and a thymelike aroma that is found in Indian cooking. You can buy it at Indian markets or online from kalustyans.com, penzeys.com and thespicehouse.com.
8 sticks (2 lb.) unsalted butter
2 minced garlic cloves
2 minced shallots
2-inch piece ginger (peeled, sliced and smashed)
1 1/2 Tbsp. coriander seeds
1 Tbsp. cumin seeds
1 1/2 tsp. fenugreek
1 1/2 tsp. ajwain
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
Melt unsalted butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add remaining ingredients. Simmer very gently for 30 minutes to infuse the flavors. Keep an eye on this; you don’t want the milk solids to brown. Skim off all the foam and any floating seeds and let the butter sit for about 10 minutes for the milk solids to settle on the bottom.
Carefully pour the spiced butter through a sieve lined with a few layers of cheesecloth into a container, leaving the solids behind. Let it cool, then cover and refrigerate. It will keep for months. Makes about 3 cups.
— From “The Red Rooster Cookbook: The Story of Food and Hustle in Harlem” by Marcus Samuelsson (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $37.50)
Italian Sausage, Spinach, Hominy ‘Risotto’
When I was a contestant on the TV show Top Chef Masters, a couple of know-it-all clowns (i.e., the judges) kicked me off for making what they admitted was a perfectly cooked risotto. What’s more, during the judging, they expressed how difficult cooking quality risotto actually was, much less for a hundred people, which was my task. They then turned around, called it unambitious and told me to “pack my knives.” So maybe I carry a bit of a chip on my shoulder.
As a result, I make risotto out of everything I can now. I learned my technique from my mentor Fernando Saracchi, native of Reggio Emilia, who told me, “This is how my grandmother taught me to cook the risotto. From now on, you will cook it like this, or you don’t cook it at all!” I slow-cook all sorts of grains to extract the creamy starches from them and finish with a generous amount of cold butter and Parmesan cheese to emulate the porridgelike delicacy of middle Italy. Bulgur, pearled barley, millet and buckwheat have all seen this treatment at my hands.
Hominy is also particularly good and just kills it for brunch. The meaty bite of slow-cooked hominy and all of the wonderful starch that can be coaxed from it is as luxurious as you could want. It takes a little bit of concentration, and you really have to tend to the pan, but persevere and you, too, can be humiliated on national TV for making something “perfect.”
— John Currence
2 Tbsp. olive oil
3/4 cup sliced spicy raw Italian sausage
1/2 cup sliced yellow onion
1/4 cup diced fennel bulb
1/2 cup chopped tomato
Salt and black pepper
3/4 cup firmly packed fresh spinach
1 Tbsp. sliced fresh sage
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
3 Tbsp. brandy
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 1/2 cups cooked hominy (rinsed well, if canned)
1/4 cup cold butter, cut into cubes
5 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
Warm the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat for 45 seconds. Add the sausage and cook until lightly browned on both sides, about 3 minutes. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels.
In the same pan, add the onion and fennel and sauté until the onion begins to turn transparent, about 1 minute. Add the tomato, season with salt and black pepper, and sauté until the tomato begins to soften, about 1 minute. Add the spinach and cook, stirring, until the spinach begins to wilt, about 1 minute. Stir in the sage and red pepper flakes.
Return the sausage to the pan, turn the heat to high and deglaze with the brandy. (If you are cooking over a flame, the brandy will likely ignite. Just swirl the pan and allow the flame to burn out.) Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Toss in the hominy and allow to simmer until the cooking liquid almost evaporates, about 2 minutes. Add the cold butter, turn the heat to low and swirl it around the pan until it’s fully absorbed by the “risotto.” You can continue cooking this until it is soft, adding a little extra chicken stock as you go to keep it moist, or you can serve it with the hominy more al dente. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the Parmesan and season with salt and black pepper. Spoon into two bowls and serve immediately.
— From “Big Bad Breakfast: The Most Important Book of the Day” by John Currence (Ten Speed Press, $30)
Sour Cherry Streusel Cake
While many fruit- and streusel-topped cakes in Germany are made with yeasted doughs, this one — known as kirschstreuselkuchen in German — is made with cherries and a regular cake batter, which is richer and sweeter than a puffy yeasted dough.
It pairs particularly well with fruit that’s on the tart side, such as freshly picked blueberries. But as I discovered when developing the recipe, it is even better when made with sour cherries. I like to use jarred or canned sour cherries in sugar water, but instead of discarding the liquid, I thicken it with a bit of cornstarch, just enough so that it holds its shape somewhat, and then spread that mixture all over the thick and creamy batter. On top goes a mess of streusel that has been seasoned ever so slightly with cinnamon, which brings a bit of warmth and depth to the sweet-tart topping.
In the oven, the cherry juice thickens further and bubbles, while the cake rises high and the streusel becomes crunchy and crisp. Warm from the oven, the cake is incredibly good, but what I might love even more is how good it is on day two, day three and even day four. The streusel solidifies slightly, getting pleasingly chewy, and the cherry topping keeps the cake moist. I can’t guarantee that you’ll ever be able to keep the cake around for four days, but should it happen, you’ll be happy to know that it tastes just as good then, too.
Look for canned or jarred sour cherries at Eastern European markets. This cake is also delicious made with fresh or frozen blueberries, quartered Italian prune plums or sugared rhubarb. If you’re using fresh fruit, leave out the cornstarch and skip the step for making the topping. Simply cover the cake with the fruit (cut into bite-size pieces and sprinkled with sugar if need be), and then top with the streusel and bake.
— Luisa Weiss
For the streusel:
7 Tbsp. unsalted high-fat, European-style butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup, scooped and leveled, plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
Pinch of ground cinnamon
For the cherry topping:
1 (24-oz.) jar or can pitted sour cherries in sugar water
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
For the batter:
15 1/2 Tbsp. unsalted high-fat, European-style butter, softened
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
3/4 tsp. vanilla extract
2 1/3 cups, scooped and leveled, plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. whole milk
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9-inch-by-13-inch metal or glass baking pan with parchment paper, letting the sides hang over the edges to function as a sling after baking.
To make the streusel: Cut the butter into cubes and place in a large bowl. Add the sugar, flour, salt and cinnamon. Work together with your fingertips until the mixture is well combined and crumbly, with both lima bean- and pea-size clumps. Place in the refrigerator until ready to use.
To make the cherry topping: Drain all of the liquid from the cherries into a small saucepan, reserving the cherries and the liquid. Place 3 tablespoons of the liquid in a small bowl, and bring the remaining liquid in the saucepan to a boil over medium-high heat. While you’re bringing the liquid to a boil, whisk the cornstarch into the bowl of reserved juice until no lumps remain. When the cherry juice in the pot starts boiling, whisk the cornstarch slurry into the pot. The juice will almost immediately start to thicken and gel. Remove the pot from the heat and continue to whisk until the mixture is smooth. Fold the reserved cherries into the hot, thickened juice and set aside to cool.
To make the batter: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the flat beater attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Then beat in the vanilla extract. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat the flour mixture into the butter mixture, scrape down the sides, and then beat in the milk. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.
Distribute the cherries and thickened juice evenly all over the cake batter. Remove the bowl of streusel from the refrigerator, work through it with your fingers to break up any large clumps, and distribute the streusel evenly over the cherries. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the streusel is light golden.
Remove the pan from the oven and let cool on a rack. The cake can be served slightly warm or at room temperature. The cake will keep at room temperature, loosely wrapped in plastic wrap, for several days.
— From “Classic German Baking: The Very Best Recipes for Traditional Favorites, from Pfeffernüsse to Streuselkuchen” by Luisa Weiss (Ten Speed Press, $35)
Your cookbook favorites
In a few weeks, I’ll share some of the best books for gifting this holiday season, but I’d love to hear from you about what authors you’re looking forward to hearing at the festival or your favorite cookbooks of the year so far. Write me at email@example.com or call 512-912-2504 with your recommendations.