It is summer now, a time when the days are long and the kids will soon be out of school. The grill, steel behemoth beckoning with gasoline pheromones, is in heat. Do not neglect her. But nor should you lavish all attention upon her, layering over the heat meat on meat on meat. Summer season also means cookbook season and this season, a slew of new titles offers the ways and means to turn vegetables into delicious things your kids will want to eat. (And yeah, there’s one burger book, because c’mon.)
As an inverse to Tolstoy, all unwieldy cookbooks are the same but each wieldy cookbooks are weirdly wieldy in their own way. Some are too long. Some are too onanistic. Some are way recherché. Some are dumb as shit. When it comes to cookbooks one can actually use, as a general rule, nothing should take more than an hour to prepare. (Look, there’s great value in chef monographs too but more as inspirational objets d’art than objets d’utilisation.) Ingredients should be gettable, if not at a bodega (or whatever you call a bodega) then at a standard supermarket or, ideally, a farmer’s market. Though, if not, Amazon Prime delivery exists.
Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables by Joshua McFadden
We think there are four seasons. Japanese kaiseki chefs identify seventy-two. Joshua McFadden, formerly the chef at Ava Gene’s in Portland, OR and now at Tusk, settles on six. Seems about right. There are many things to recommend the book to a casual chef. The recipes are easy-to-prepare, few rely on labor-intensive mise-en-place, many are inventive, and all are delicious.
True to the name, the focus here is on vegetables in their prime. Summer — accounts for three of the six seasons — offers McFadden a chance to vamp on beets, carrots, potatoes, string beans, corn, and tomatoes. Oh, the tomatoes. As an indication of his thoroughness, McFadden offers eight recipes for them from the Spanish-inspired tomato-rubbed grilled bread with whipped ricotta to a far out tomato, melon, and hot chile salad with burrata.
But, by far, what endears the book to me is an early section called “Go-To Recipes.” These recipes aren’t full-fledged recipes but rather often called-upon elements. You’ll find things like compounded butter, a cacio e pepe butter, and a hot AF alla diavola butter McFadden suggests freezing in a log and portioning out when needed. It’s a nifty trick, already used a score of times, that immediately turns everything from workaday to seemingly special.
Dinner: Changing the Game by Melissa Clark
For ten years, flame-headed writer Melissa Clark has toiled in the trenches of the easy-to-make recipes of the New York Times. Yeah, she’s published books before too, including a bunch with the Deen family, but this one, a handsome, hardcover with a soft touch, is by far her best.
The basic premise of Dinner: Changing The Game is fuck piles of things. As she writes in the introduction, these recipes are “a path out of the tyranny of the perfectly composed plate with three distinct elements in separate little piles.” Instead, the book’s more than 200 recipes can be made pretty much at one time, in one pot or pan or what have you. Take for example a stand out recipe like her Turkish lamb chops with sumac, tahini, and dill. The most labor-intensive part of the dish was grinding up a handful of spices which, let’s face it, is no labor at all. But the result is so much more the sum of its parts. And this is really the most useful and profound lesson of Ms. Clark’s Dinner. For so long we’ve associated deliciousness with difficult preparation. The kind of short-cuts and well-thought out recipes Clark offers —hard-learned wisdom for she is an obsessive tester — proves that that dichotomy exists only in our mind.
Shake Shack by Randy Garutti & Mark Rosati
When my kids refuse to eat anything, we go to Shake Shack, Danny Meyer’s fast-casual kinda virtuous totally delicious burger joint. (I mean, as virtuous as a burger joint can be.) The chain is fast expanding. It went public in 2015 with a value of $1.6 billion.
But you might not always be within tantrum distance. So it’s good news that a Shake Shack cookbook just came out. There are a lot of non-recipe stories here. Danny Meyer is intoxicated with his own virtue and intelligence (as he well should be) and the making of Shake Shack takes a hagiographic tone.
In these pages, you’ll also find the secrets to what makes the Shack’s hot dogs so fucking delicious. Though he is too young to put this into words, my son loves the dog’s snap and its griddle-browned surface. It is hard to achieve but extremely important when your child only eats Shake Shack hot dogs.
Beyond the choice of hot dog — here revealed as Vienna Beef — the trick is in the application of pressure upon the grill via a double spatula technique. (That’s one spatula pushing another.) This, it turns out, is the same trick that makes the Shack Burger so wonderfully crispy. “The first 30 seconds are crucial,” write Shake Shack CEO Randy Garutti and Chief Culinary Officer Mark Rosati, “that’s when you smash the meat to make the most evenly browned burger.” Also, chilling the meat before freezing — if you’re grinding your own — is also key.
Vegan: The CookBook by Jean Christian Jury
I grew up in terror of veganism. For years, my mother subjected my sister and I to small soy bricks of tofu doused in soy sauce with sesame seeds, proudly crowing, “This is vegan!” It was disgusting. I cowered and snuck cheese steaks late at night. When it comes to my own family, I don’t say vegan aloud ever. But sometimes we cook that way. There are nearly 500 recipes in this book, by long-time vegan chef Jean Christian Jury. The trick of vegan cooking is to craft recipes so naturally vegan they don’t seem to be at all. Does that make sense? In other words, the recipes themselves are built that their veganism is almost incidental. From creamy hummus to fruit curries to paprika-rich Budapest stews, Jury’s recipes are exceedingly simple to prepare (that’s the beauty of veganism, btw). Look, is this an everyday cookbook? Probably not. But it’s probably the easiest way to introduce virtue into your kids diet without them freaking the fuck out.