Tamar Adler, Author of An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace
“There is a prevailing theory that we need to know much more than we do in order to feed ourselves well. It isn’t true."
The opening lines of Tamar's first book, An Everlasting Meal, speak to the heart of natural, resourceful cooking and eating that often gets muddled in this age of shiny tools and instant meals. She shares simple, but no less valuable, lessons in beautifully crafted essays that let you know she's equally adept with words as she is with ingredients. Having trained in the kitchens of Chez Panisse and Prune, Tamar provides thoughtful recipes (which don't often read like traditional recipes) that yield tremendously satisfying results, for both stomach and soul.
Read on to find out what irks Tamar in the kitchen and for your chance to win a signed copy of her amazing book!
Please tell us a bit about your writing process and if you can draw any comparisons between cooking and writing.
Something that's true of my writing is that I find that when things are just beginning, they're really tender, like small children, and I don't think they're ready to be thrown into the world. I'm not sure there's a correlate to that in cooking. Except that I can say, for me, that I don't particularly like making a lot of decisions before I'm in the middle of cooking something. That is to say that when people ask me how much salt I add to something, or how I'm going to finish something, or even sometimes what the finished dish is, I can't often answer. I add salt by tasting, like most cooks who haven't been beaten down by the cult of the recipe. Sometimes it's only when I've roasted broccoli, or cooked beans, or roasted a chicken that I decide that I want to make a broccoli bread salad, or make a chili oil for the chicken. So, in those cases, I suppose the idea of the finished dish is a little like the early stages of writing something.
That said, I don't have very intense expectations for what I cook. I just want it to taste good. When it comes to writing, I am meticulous. Every word matters, every comma matters, the rhythm of sentences read out loud matters. The nicest compliments I've gotten about An Everlasting Meal were the ones that said that parts of it read like poetry. One of my friends tried to get me to stop fretting about my fish chapter while I was working on the first draft by reminding me that I was writing a book on cooking, not a poem. But rhythm, diction, and cadence always matter to me, regardless of what I'm writing about, or for what. I've tried to rein that in a little as I've been asked to write blog posts and do written interviews because I could spend days on something people will skim in under a minute, if that.
As a professional cook, you must have some tricks up your sleeve. What is just one for all our readers, amateur, avid and everything in between?
Taste, taste, taste. And let yourself make changes if it doesn't taste right. Lemon helps everything, so does olive oil. If it tastes dull, make a little herby salsa, and breathe deeply.
Any tips to navigate the green market this season?
Go early. No, I would say to let yourself eat the most labor intensive vegetables raw. This can even go for artichokes, which can be de-leaf-ed and then sliced thinly for a salad. For everything else, buy a big, huge bag, and then put it on the table for everyone to help themselves to -- there's nothing wrong with having everyone snap and eat their own peas, or favas. And if you want to cook whatever it is, at least get help in the preparing.
You've worked in some incredible kitchens. Can you share with us a memorable war story?
I resist the current characterization of kitchens as mega-tough places. I tend to think of anyone who dramatizes the intensity of professional cooking as someone who just handles stress badly. I did have a rather mortifying experience one day in the prep kitchen at Chez Panisse when the chef that day -- cheffing duties are split between two people, with one working each half of the week to keep from burning out -- tasting these incredibly labor intensive tomato-potato tians I'd just made -- two massive ones, each with layers and layers of peeled, mandolined potatoes, thinly sliced incredibly ripe, salted, drained tomatoes, fresh herbs, oil -- and declaring them inedibly salty. I was saved by the fact that the second chef was in that day for a meeting, tasted them to confirm or deny, because deciding that would have meant either starting over or changing the menu, and deciding that they weren't at all, but only quite savory, as cooked, caramelized tomatoes can be.
Who is your biggest food inspiration?
Fergus Henderson; my old boss [at Chez Panisse], Cal Peternell; my brother, John Adler.
Favorite kitchen utensils or gadgets?
Mortar and pestle. Everything needs pounding.
Where do you shop for kitchen supplies?
I can't remember the last time I bought a kitchen supply. I like a Japanese knife store called Hida in Berkeley, and when I'm there I buy a little paring knife, if mine is lost, which is often is. My kitchen utensils are old. I was just given a nice blender for appearing on a panel, and it's so new and shiny I've been scared to use it.
What are some of your favorite restaurants?
What are some of your most trusted cookbooks?
What is your biggest kitchen pet peeve?
I really dislike when people leave something out after using it. I can't bear when someone has used jam or honey and then left it out, or left out the rest of the milk after using a little for coffee. It's so easy to put things away.
Whose pantry would you like to raid?
Alice [Waters]'s! She has the most wonderful utensils and ingredients and everything.
Adapted from Tamar Adler's An Everlasting Meal
3 pounds meat from a tougher part of a happily raised animal
2 tablespoons olive oil
up to 1 cup clean vegetable scraps: onion, celery, carrot, fennel. If you've got no scraps, use pieces from whole vegetables
a bundle of parsley stems, sprigs of thyme, and a bay leaf
optional: 1/2 teaspoon spices such as fennel seed, cumin, and/or coriander
8 cups stock, heated if you've got time
2 cups white or red wine or beer (or a nice rosé, in today's case), or a combination of any and the liquid from a can of tomatoes
Between a day and three hours before you want to cook the meat, salt it heavily.
If the meat has been refrigerated, bring it to room temperature two hours before you want to cook it.
Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Heat the oil in a pot big enough to hold the meat plus all the liquid. Add the vegetable scraps and herbs to the pot. If you're using the spices, add them, too. Once the vegetables have begun to soften, add the meat, stock, and wine-beer combination, and bring almost to a boil. Lower to a simmer, cover tightly, and let cook for 3 to 4 hour in the oven (or a low simmer on the stove top) until the meat is tender enough to fall apart when it's pressed with the side of a wooden spoon. Check the pot more frequently if you're cooking different cuts of meat. Smaller pieces of meat will get fully cooked before larger or denser ones. When any is completely tender, remove it.
Strain the vegetabley liquid through a strainer. Discard the vegetables and taste the liquid. If it's too salty, add a little stock or water or some tomato paste. If you're eating the meat immediately, once it's cool enough to handle, cut it into slices or pull it into large pieces. Skim whatever fat you can off the braising liquid. Serve the meat with a little of its liquid on warm polenta, boiled vegetables, or beans.
If you have time, refrigerate the meat in its liquid overnight or for a few days. Fat will harden on its surface. Remove it and save it to cook vegetables in. Slice or tear the meat, reheat it in a little liquid, and serve as above.
*In today's application, Tamar suggests serving the beef at room temperature with olive-hazelnut tapenade, which can easily be made by finely chopping olives, pounding a little garlic with salt, adding red wine vinegar and toasted hazelnuts, and mixing in a good amount of olive oil.
Thank you, Tamar, for fitting us into your busy schedule and letting us peek into your pantry! You can read more about Tamar on her website. She writes for The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Gilt Taste, Fine Cooking, and The New Republic, among other publications.
Those in New York City-area are also invited to an event this Thursday, June 28, at Bubby's Tribeca, 120 Hudson Street. There is a free panel, whose speakers include Tamar, Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, Ruth Reichl, Jack Hitt, Gerry Marzorati, and Ron Silver, on the influence of MFK Fisher, at 6pm. There is a ticketed dinner at 7:30pm. More information on Bubby's site.
*Don't forget to leave a comment below for a chance to nab your very own SIGNED, paperback copy of An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace. You have until next Thursday, July 5, at 11:59pm/EST. We will choose the winner at random and announce the lucky winner the following day - good luck! :)
*Photos by Christine Han Photography for Pantry Confidential. All photos on Pantry Confidential are original and copyrighted. Please credit and link back to our site when using our images, thank you.