Market to Table

THE E-BOOK IS HERE

Market to Table: The Cookbook has been launched as an e-book. What a lot of lessons I’ve learned in bringing together five year’s worth of blog recipes and nine episodes of the eponymous television series.

First, the link to the e-book. Run, walk, or stroll, but do not hesitate to go to the Lulu Bookstore website and buy an easy to read online version of the complete and illustrated e-book. It is also available Apple’s iBooks, and soon on Barnes & Noble nook, amazon kindle, and kobo.

Like most self-taught cooks, and probably all cookbook writers, I’ve amassed a significant collection of cookbooks. I cull the unread ones from time to time, so the bookcase in the kitchen doesn’t overflow. Sometimes, there will be books I bought meaning to experiment with and after a couple of failures, just give up. From others, I make one dish and repeat it over and over, but don’t venture beyond. There’s no rhyme or reason for this. Partly inertia, partly a reluctance to commit to really experimental cooking. I like my comfort zone and I write about comfort food. Mostly, I adhere to my late father-in-law’s principle of ‘not eating anywhere I haven’t eaten before,’ which I translate as not cooking anything I haven’t eaten before. I get my ideas from eating food and if I like it I try to find out how best to cook it, through lots of research and experimentation. By the time you read about it, I will have made all my mistakes and I hope you will benefit from them.

I’ve been reading Man Booker Prize-winning author Julian Barnes brilliant and humorous little book, The Pedant in the Kitchen (Atlantic 2003), and feeling guilty that I might have misled some faithful readers of  this blog. Barnes has some choice criticisms for cookbook writers and in case I might fit his profile of villainy and since the offering below is the very last recipe to be included in the new e-book Market to Table: The Cookbook, I thought I would take a moment to make some pathetic excuses for the way the book has turned out.

The Pedant “just wants to cook tasty, nutritious food; he just wants not to poison his friends; he just wants to slowly expand his repertoire.” Me too. But then he goes into a litany of the faults of writers, who in trying to make their recipes approachable, serve only to confuse. I hope that in the book I have not committed this sin. I have tried to be consistent with measurements and temperatures. Unlike Nigel Slater, whose Kitchen Diaries I read like novels, I do not suggest “a handful of berries” as a sensible measure. How big is a hand? I have large hands. Does Slater?

The recipes published in my blogs include an estimated ‘preparation time,’ another of Barnes’ gripes. It never works. Everyone peels potatoes, chops onions or pulls the pin bones from salmon at a different speed, and gets better and quicker with practice. I have learnt from the error of my ways and excluded them in the e-book, although a rigorous formatting rule forces me to include them in the blog if I want to offer the printable option as an aid to readers.

I don’t cook from pictures as I know very well that most illustrations are the result of hours of patience and styling in a studio kitchen. Possibly even a little trickery. Just saying. Nothing the average reader cooks will look like that. Nothing I cook will end up like that.

It’s all about the picture

All the pictures in the book (and the blogs) have been taken in my kitchen or at the table, often while patient guests waited to dig in. “Please, don’t mind me. Do start. I’ll just be a moment,” I cry, fiddling with tabletop photofloods and complicated lenses. So, I’ve learned to set up the lighting and check the focus with an empty plate in advance and got the actual photo moment down to seconds. There’s no retouching, no styling, no fluffing, beyond what I can myself create when plating. Immediately after the lights are turned off and we return to the calm of candle light, I sit down and consume that which I have lovingly cooked and then photographed.

Slater, quotes Barnes, claims the same thing, saying his illustrations are “totally natural, not set up or contrived in the typical way of food photography.” But then Barnes complains that although “these pictures haven’t been fiddled with, yet the food they depict still suppurates with glamour compared to anything the average punter turns out.” You be the judge. I claim that you can turn out food exactly the same as my humble efforts, simply by following my instructions. Please enjoy.

Here’s one last culinary story, which I have squeezed into the e-book at the last minute.

Inukshuk crew

On an expedition to film inukshuks in the Artic, I spent a couple of weeks in a chartered open boat, camping on the shore and living off the land with an Inuit crew and a couple of hardened production types, André and Nick. (Yes, I know the proper inuktitut language plural of inukshuk is inukshuit, but hey, we’re two thousand miles further south now and anyway, the documentary won awards.) I recall we had duck, barbecued on an open fire and eaten almost raw, fish galore and one day an absolute plethora of huge scallops.

Stranded in a cove by a nasty rain squall which threatened to swamp our overloaded boat, our captain, who happened to be the mayor of the local village, radioed his cousin who was nearby in a much larger fishing boat. We unloaded all the shooting gear and the spare cans of fuel which were weighing us down and we southerners opted to ride back to base in the warm comfort of a boat with a cabin, while our hardy crew toughed it out in our wake.

The Arctic in July: Nick and André shooting in icy conditions

Turns out the cousin had been out with an expert on loan from the Newfoundland fisheries, doing tests to establish the viability of a local scallop harvest. I never learned the result of the experiment, but they had ended the day with literally buckets of juicy scallops. Back at the village’s meagre motel, where we slept in dormitories with complete strangers, the kitchen was closed. The only staff member on duty kindly opened it up for us. I found some cooking oil and the Newfie and I fried heaping platters for everyone. Less than four hours from sea to pan, they were mouth wateringly tender and tasty beyond belief.

Starters can come in many sizes and shapes, but for sheer luxury and excellence, its hard to beat a single large fresh pan fried scallop, garnished with a small spoonful of fresh salmon caviar and a sprig of parsley. Other appropriate garnishes would be fresh dill, a dollop of tartare sauce, or a swirl of truffle aioli on the plate. If one looks ungenerous, then give them two smaller ones. Your choice. Or give them one tiny one and call it an amuse bouche. Honestly, this dish can easily be prepared in the few minutes between calling your guests to the table and doing serious kitchen work on the mains.

PAN FRIED SCALLOPS

  • Servings: 1
  • Print

Shopping list

  • 1 or 2 scallops per person
  • Olive oil
  • Butter

Garnish

  • 1 tsp salmon roe caviar per person
  • Parsley

Preparation and cooking

  1. Heat equal quantities of oil and butter (the oil will keep the butter from burning) in a frying pan until they are smoking hot.
  2. Wash and dry the fresh scallops, then place them with tongs into the hot fats.
  3. After no more than 3 mins, turn them over and cook for another 3 mins, until both sides are browned.
  4. Lift them out with the tongs and drain them on a thick paper towel.
  5. Serve on a small plate, with the salmon roe caviar and parsley for garnish and serve at once.

The draft cookbook contained no photographs, but the ebook is nicely illustrated. The featured image is my favourite from the whole book.

All nine episodes of the television series are available on YouTube.

Featured image: Chicken pot pie. My favourite, and completely un-re-touched, photograph from Market to Table: The Cookbook, available now as an e-book.

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