A holiday feast of books that digest well ... and a recipe that will change your life

[image-1]One of my favorite smells in the world is baking bread, so I was naturally attracted to My Bread (W.W. Norton, $29.95) by Jim Lahey.  I’m proud of my cooking (don’t forget the life-altering recipe at the end of this column), but have done little baking, other than the occasional birthday cake. This book has been fun to mess with because there are so many things to try – carrot bread, apple bread, beer bread – that this can get you through the winter with a different recipe a day. No reruns.

My Bread is a selection of the Gourmet Cookbook Club and it reminds me of two things – how sad it is that Gourmet no longer exists as a magazine (it's going to stay around and some sort of Internet "brand") and that its great editor, Ruth Reichel, wrote a wonderful memoir of life in the world of food, Garlic and Sapphires (Penguin, $16). I once did a piece on Memphis barbecue that required me to eat ribs four meals a day for four days in a row. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Reichel’s book is hilarious with a lot of good inside baseball. It’s a good stocking stuffer for the foodie in your life.

If you have a big-ass stocking, I suggest stuffing it with Secret Ingredients (The Modern Library, $18), David Remnick’s wonderful, wonderful (think Johnny Mathis) collection of food writing from The New Yorker.[image-2]

This contains classics of gastronomical journalism, including Calvin Trillin’s  history of the Buffalo chicken wing and John McPhee’s journeys with Euell Gibbons to find something to eat in the forest. My favorite is “A Really Big Lunch,” Jim Harrison’s tale of mid-day gluttony.

This book is a feast of good stories. Here are just a few contributors: Woody Allen, Nora Ephron, John Cheever, M.F.K. Fisher, S.J. Perelman, Steve Martin, Malcolm Gladwell, A.J. Liebling, Don DeLillo, Susan Orlean, and so many others.

And don’t forget the cartoons. Some of them date from the magazine’s James Thurber and E.B. White era. All are hilarious.

Secret Ingredients is not just the best book about food I’ve ever seen; it’s also a model anthology. It’s still available in hardcover, but depending on budget, this Modern Library paperback might be the wisest $16 you spend this holiday season.

Another good food book  is The Gastronomy of Marriage (Random House,  $15) by Michelle Maisto. I’ve always thought it would be interesting to write an autobiography through the prism of cars that we’ve owned. It also contains recipes for Chinese dishes.

This looks at life and marriage through a series of meal memoirs as a couple falls in love across the dining table, gets married and enjoys the musical feast of a shared life.

A classic "food book" (and much more) for all Floridians: Oranges (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $14) by John McPhee.

And when the holidays are over, You: On a Diet (The Free Press, $25) by Michael Roizen and Mehmet Oz, with the invaluable collaboration of my talented University of Florida colleague Ted Spiker.

OK, as promised (drum roll!), my holiday gift to you:

My Nuclear Green-Bean Casserole

Get four big-ass cans of green beans. Get the regular American cut. Squared off. None of this tapered-off French-cut shit. Don't even think about fresh beans. They'd be wasted.

[image-3]You will also need about two mahonga cans of fried onions, two curds of sour cream, 4-6 cans of cream of mushroom soup (depends on your taste) and about six cups of sprinkle cheese. (I suggest medium, but if you want it sharp, suit yourself.)

Set aside one of those cans of onions. Drain the green beans and throw the rest of the crap into a disposable aluminum pan. Trust me: You don't want to cook this bitch in anything you're going to have to clean.

So mess the stuff up. Use a wooden spoon and poke that shit all around together. Get it together in a mixture the approximate shade of the wall paint in military housing, circa 1964. Try to avoid surprising pockets of sour cream or cheese here and there. Mix it up good. To make sure that you spend the appropriate amount of time mixing this shit, allow yourself to consume one beer as you mix. DO NOT SLAM THE BEER. Take your time. Sip it. So no Mad Dog 64 for this. Needs to be a sipping beer, like Bass Ale. If you spill a bit into the casserole dish, don't freak. It adds to the flavor.

Smooth it out. Use the back of the wooden spoon like a paint brush. The casserole dish is now your palette. Go all Van Gogh on the motherfucker.[image-4]

Once this is done, spread the last can of fried onions on top. Bake it at 350 degrees for an hour, or until you start to smell the onions burning. A few burned onions are OK, but it'd suck if you had a kitchen fire on account of this. I disavow all knowledge of this recipe in case of lawsuits.

 This will change your life.

 Happy holidays and bon appetit, dudes and dudettes!

William McKeen is chairman of the University of Florida’s Department of Journalism and author of several books, including the acclaimed Hunter S. Thompson biography Outlaw Journalistnow available in paperback.

‘Tis the season for many things, and I bet one of them is over-eating.

If you’re going to be a glutton, do it right – and get some food for thought while you’re at it.  Feast on some great food books.

Some are cookbooks and some are books about food. Stay tuned to the end of this column and you will get a recipe for a dish that will change the world as we know it. It is my holiday gift to you.

As a teacher, I get all kinds of excuses. My favorite one was “I couldn’t make it to class because a transmission fell on my head.” And it was true.

I thought I’d have to use the classic dog-ate-my-review-copy excuse when my pooch wolfed down most of the UPS parcel containing Love Soup (W.W. Norton, $22.95) by Anna Thomas.

In vegetarian cookbook circles, Anna Thomas is the Shakespeare of the form.  Even Alanis Morissette, who once played God in a movie, hangs with Thomas. Here’s an online cooking experience courtesy of the Huffington Post.

But as an animal-flesh-eating swine, I didn’t see myself as the ideal person to review the book, since I’m not part of the target audience. So I gave the gnawed-up copy to my friend Angela, a vegetarian whose commitment is beyond reproach. The publisher kindly provided me with a non-chewed copy and I passed that on to Angela as well, so she could work on the recipes she missed because the dog ate them.

I have nothing but praise to report from the Bill’s Book Blog test kitchen. Angela is a tough, discriminating audience, but she thinks Love Soup is one of the best cookbooks she’s used. Angela is a gourmet and an engineer, so you know her endorsement means a lot. Weight Watchers Inc. has also given Love Soup its seal of approval.

As Dear Ol' Mom used to say, “If you can read, you can cook.” Even those of you who are intuitive little-of-this-little-of-that cooks might enjoy trying something new.

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