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JEFF KOEHLER

  • writer
  • photographer
  • cook
  • traveler
August 23rd, 2010

Best Food Writing 2010

I am pleased to share that my essay on the glories of fresh sardines, written for the literary magazine Tin House, has been selected for inclusion in Best Food Writing 2010. I will be sharing space with some of my favorite authors, including Colman Andrews, Calvin Trillin, Ruth Reichl, Alice Waters, and Frank Bruni.

The official blurb says:

A new edition of the authoritative and appealing anthology, comprised of the finest culinary prose from the past year’s books, magazines, newspapers, newsletters, and Web sites. With food writing and blogging on the rise, there’s no shortage of treats on the buffet to choose from, including selections from both established food writers and new stars on everything from noted gastronomes to how to fry an egg, from erudite culinary history to delectable memoirs. Evocative, provocative, sensuous, and just plain funny, it’s a tasty sampler platter to dip into time and again.

Best Food Writing 2010 features top-notch writers like Colman Andrews, Calvin Trillin, Ruth Reichl, Alice Waters, Frank Bruni, and many others.

The book will be published in October. Pre-order it here.

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April 21st, 2010

New Moroccan Cookbook

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I am pleased to announce that I have just signed a contract with my publisher—Chronicle Books in San Francisco—for a new book on the rich, sensual, and sophisticated cooking of Morocco. My fourth cookbook for Chronicle, it will slide into the long deadline of The Country Cooking of Spain I am currently working on.

The book will contain around 80 recipes, a lengthy introduction on the foods, people, history, and geography of the country, and an extremely detailed glossary of Moroccan ingredients. As well, it will have 100 images from around the country capturing it diversity. I will be taking these on my travels as well as shooting the finished plated food shots. The book is slated to be published in 2012.

Although one can speak of a singular, unified “Moroccan cuisine,” each region has its own dishes and cooking styles that reflect a distinct geographic location, climate, and history. The goal is to get beyond the classical Fez- and Marrakesh-style cooking that fills most Moroccan cookbooks, and traveling to places that will offer other angles on what exactly “Moroccan cooking” means—from the Rif Mountains to Laâyoune, from coastal Asilah and Safi to the date-filled oasis of Zagora, from rustic Berber cooking of the High Atlas to the Spanish influences in the far north, from the dizzyingly complex flavors to Fez to simpler ones of the nomads in Sahara… Morocco, it seems, has it all.

Such scope means extensive travels around the country. I have traveled quite broadly in the country over the past decade but for this project I am aiming at 8 to 10 days a month “in country” focusing on a region at a time. These trips have begun and will continue into next spring.

I will be adding a page to this site soon with more details on the book, notes on my travels and updates on the books’ progress, and perhaps even a recipe or two that I am working on. Check back here from time to time.

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February 3rd, 2010

Tajines in the Daily Beast

A posting in today’s Daily Beast on Moroccan tajines.

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February 1st, 2010

Liquid Gold

I have an article on that Spanish liquid gold, olive oil, in the current issue of Virtuoso Life magazine. Click here to see it in eBook form.

It opens like this…

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January 11th, 2010

Some photos taken at the legendary Paris bookshop Shakespeare and Company by Lauren Goldenberg just before Christmas. It was a cold and wet night, but the evening was intimate, in the softly lit upstairs room among used books. Notre Dame glowed out the window just across the river. A most magical place to read. And a perfect place to launch Rice Pasta Couscous in Europe!

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December 23rd, 2009

France 24 interview

Click here to watch the clip of my live France 24 interview that took place in the Paris studios on Monday, December 21rst. It was a fun but intense lead in to the reading at Shakespeare and Company bookstore in the evening.

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December 18th, 2009

Appearing on France 24 TV channel

On Dec 21rst at 12:45 Paris time I will be a guest on France 24’s daily English-language culture program to talk about Rice Pasta Couscous.

France 24 is the French version of CNN International and the BBC World Service - available around the world and online. The show will be rebroadcast six times during the day and available online.

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November 21st, 2009

Award Nomination

Rice Pasta Couscous has been nominated for a Gourmand World Cookbook Award.

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November 21st, 2009

An interview on Mmm… that’s good!

An interview with San Francisco chef, cooking teacher, and cookbook author (a couple of titles for Williams-Sonoma plus an upcoming book on eggs), Jodi Liano:

Jeff Koehler on Rice, Pasta, Couscous and more….

Last week I was lucky to attend a book signing with my friend Jeff Koehler. His latest book, “Rice, Pasta, Couscous” is simply stunning. Full of photos, stories, and recipes that let you live vicariously through his travels around the Mediterranean, the book will motivate you to put a few new things on your table this season. Imagine serving Couscous with Winter Vegetables beside your Thanksgiving turkey or Arroz con Leche at a holiday brunch. Having cooked many things from the book already I can tell you it is fantastic.

 

I had a chance to chat with Jeff, a fellow northwest native, about loving Dungeness crab, getting kids to try new things, and a whole lot more. Here’s what he had to say.

How does a boy from the great Northwest land himself in Spain writing about local food?

Landing came long before writing. When I was doing my post-graduate work in London I shared a residence hall kitchen with a woman from Barcelona. When she returned to Spain to do her PhD, I followed. And stayed. That was 1996. We married not long after. When I started writing about local food here, some four years after arriving, I was well integrated into its seasonal rhythms and markets, its traditions (most notably, a weekly family paella at my in-laws’). I loved how interrelated food and culture were; to write about one is to write about the other. And I found that I could use food to tell just about any story.

A weekly paella?

It’s lovely, baroque even, a wide flat pan of golden rice flavored by fish and shellfish. It’s the most important meal of the week. Everything, it seems, passes through that lunch – advice, plans, film recommendations, meeting new boyfriends and girlfriends.

Big announcements – engagements, pregnancies, major moves – though are not made while eating the paella. At that moment, the rice, and my mother-in-law, are the protagonists. The big news comes after, with the fruit. When you see the bowl or oranges and pears you have about ten minutes before the coffee to blurt it out.

One thing I love about “Rice, Pasta, Couscous” is the collection of stories. This is a book where the headnotes are almost as fantastic as the recipes.

In the theatre, stage instructions are as important as dialogue. There needs to be context. Every recipe has roots, and the headnotes try to get to that. In many cases that means telling its story.

When you go to a small town and try to research the local flavors, where do you start and how do your stories come to life?

Basically ask a lot of questions. Just keep asking, jotting down place names. Repetitions will begin to emerge. Go to those.

Markets are a good start. Want to learn about local ways of preparing fish? Start by asking the fishmongers. Want to know about where to eat good fish? Ask those same fishmongers. And waiters. And, even better, chefs – ask a chef where s/he eats on the nights the restaurant closes and you’ll eat well. Balin eats every Sunday evening at La Bella Rosin in a tiny, unfashionable Piedmontese hill town. Some of the best meals of my life have been here.

It sounds so random.

Actually, it’s usually not. I start the questions before traveling. I do lots of leg work, researching, asking around, asking people I know have been there, or have family there, or who I met on previous trips. My favorite sentence is, “My cousin lives there!”

The first time I went to the Tunisian island of Djerba I had a single name: “Chef Haouari.” But no phone number, no address, not even a city. It took me three days to track him down. I arrived at his little restaurant just before it closed for the night. He was leaving for a conference at the Culinary Institute of America in St Helena, of all places, very early in the morning, and we had half an hour to chat. But I returned the following winter, spent the better part a week with him and his family, and wrote about it for Gourmet magazine. He’s in the book, too – a story about him, a recipe. And his influences run throughout. Of everyone I met on my trips to Tunisia I learned the most about its cuisine and traditions from him. What I am saying is that it often pays off, the leg work, the asking, the perseverance. Let yourself be passed around.

You talk often about dishes your kids love to eat. Here in the States, introducing kids to new flavors and foods has actually become trendy (odd, I know). Any advice for parents out there who are trying to expand the things their kids like to eat?

It starts with the parents. They need to be open to new flavors or dishes, too.

You have to accept that not everybody likes everything. We all taste in different ways. And some things are an acquired taste. (Who liked coffee the first time? Beer? Wild mushrooms?) It’s a balance, then, between making – firmly encouraging? – a kid taste and being flexibile.

For instance, say that you prepare the Tunisian lamb couscous with raisins and nuts in Rice Pasta Couscous and your kid just doesn’t want the raisins or even the lamb. If you force the point that kid probably won’t eat anything. But if s/he can remove the raisins and avoid the lamb yet eats the couscous – infused with those flavors, mind – then you’ve moved a big step ahead.

Any other dishes for kids you recommend?

Anything that they can help make. I don’t mean drizzle the oil over the salad. I mean kneading the pasta dough and cleaning the lobster and rubbing any clumps out of the couscous. Tactile things.

Risotto is a great dish to built on. Most kids like white rice. So make a creamy risotto with plenty of butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. From there keep adding ingredients. Asparagus (keep them crunchy, blanched only for a few minutes). Mushrooms. Scallops. Let them pick off the stuff they don’t like after trying it. But as I said about couscous, it will have those flavors.

As an ex-pat living in Spain, which foods do you crave from back home?

Great Asian restaurants – on my first night in San Francisco this autumn I went for Korean barbeque. I grew up north of Seattle and miss Dungeness crab. But I get my fill on summer visits. My parents live on the beach and we crab every day during the season. I also miss grilling meat on the barbeque – I am forbidden to grill anything on my Barcelona terrace. Smoking out your neighbors is considered completely antisocial.


You’re stranded on a deserted Mediterranean island and can take one of these three things, which do you choose: rice, pasta, or couscous?

Rice! It is the most versatile of the three, and can be combined with other ingredients at every level of sophistication and seasonality. Just in the Mediterranean there are many ways of preparing rice - Spanish rice dishes, creamy risottos, pilafs, stuffed rice dishes (from mussels to eggplant), sweet ones… I love rice puddings, creamy and sweet and scented with cinnamon and citrus peels, especially now as the weather cools.

Mmm… that sounds good. Would you share a recipe for rice pudding with us?

Sure! Rice Pasta Couscous includes a number of rice puddings from around the region, but my favorite is a Spanish one in my first book, “La Paella: Authentic Rice Dishes from Spain’s Mediterranean Coast”. Let’s say it’s the original one in our house. Enjoy!

Arroz con leche

2/3 cup short or medium grain rice
4 cups whole milk
1 stick cinnamon
Peel of 1?2 orange, the white pith scraped away
Peel of 1?2 lemon, the white pith scraped away
2/3 cup sugar
Ground cinnamon for dusting (optional)

Directions

Put the rice in a 2-quart saucepan and barely cover with cold water. Bring to a brisk boil over high heat, and then immediately remove from the heat. Drain the rice in a colander, but do not rinse. Set aside.

In the same saucepan, over medium-high heat, bring the milk to a boil with the cinnamon and citrus peels. Once bubbles break the surface, return the rice to the pan and then add the sugar, stirring to break up any clumps of rice and dissolve the sugar.

Reduce the heat and simmer, partly covered, for about 40 minutes, or until most of the milk is absorbed and the rice is still chewy. Stir occasionally to prevent the rice from burning or clumping, and to prevent a thick skin from forming on the surface.

Have 4 flan or dessert cups ready.

Discard the cinnamon stick and citrus peels. Divide the pudding among the bowls with a ladle. Let cool and then refrigerate for at least 1 hour. If desired, dust the surface of each with ground cinnamon immediately before serving.

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November 1st, 2009

Cookstr’s Top Comfort Foods for Fall

My rice pudding recipe came in at #8 in Cookstr’s list of 10 comfort foods for fall, along with Julia Child’s Homemade Mashed Potatoes (#2) and Marion Cunningham’s French Toast (#10).

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All text and images are ©Jeff Koehler 2007-2009 and cannot be used without his written permission.