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Chat with California Cook columnist Russ Parsons

Times Staff Writer

2007-10-11 13:10:18.0 Russ Parsons: Hey everyone, what's cooking?

2007-10-11 13:10:25.0 Ed Sails: Hi Russ. I wanted to thank you for your suggestion a few weeks ago about the marinated lamb in yogurt with onions that you suggested for my party. It was a big hit and disappeared very fast!

2007-10-11 13:11:06.0 Russ Parsons: No leftovers Ed? thanks for thinking of me! Seriously, I'm glad you liked it. It's always nice when stuff flies off the plate likethat.

2007-10-11 13:11:25.0 luv2chat: i was disappointed you didn't like waters' the art of simple cooking. what cookbooks DO you recommend? especially simple ones, cause i'm not a very adventurous cook yet-- want to get the basics down first.

2007-10-11 13:13:42.0 Russ Parsons: I was really disappointed in that book, too. I really wanted it to be a great instructional book. But once I started cooking from it, it was clear there was no way. If you like that style of cooking, I'd certainly recommend any of the other Chez Panisse books. They're not arranged as instructional, per se, but the food is very good and the instructions are very clear. I really like Lindsey Sheres Chez Panisse Dessert book (I'm not a baker and everything i cook fromit comes out great). Also the Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook is terrific. You would probably also like the Zuni Cafe cookbook by Judy Rodgers. The food is similar, but it is just so muchbetter written and so much clearer.

2007-10-11 13:13:50.0 Ed Sails: It was great....made the cubs\es just big enough to fit on a toothpick. Served them with a side of tzaztiki sauce. They disappeared as fast as they came off the grill!

2007-10-11 13:14:30.0 luv2chat: thank you, i'll try those!

2007-10-11 13:14:34.0 Russ Parsons: That's a good idea Ed, like mini ke-babs!

2007-10-11 13:14:38.0 luv2chat: do you think some great cooks just can't write cookbooks? like, the way they cook is so instinctive to them that they can't explain it?

2007-10-11 13:14:54.0 Russ Parsons: Just out of curiosity, what are the rest of your recommendations for cookbooks for someone who wants to learn how to cook --as opposed to someone who just wants a recipe collection.

2007-10-11 13:15:53.0 Ed Sails: I still go back to my copy of Julia Child's The French Chef. It seems her recipes always work.

2007-10-11 13:16:13.0 Russ Parsons: I think cooking and writing about cooking are two different abilities. Some folks have both. But it takes real concentration to turn off the "cook mode" of doing everything automatically, and go into the "writer mode" of noticing all of the details and recording them. I'm not sure what happened with the CP book, but there seemed to be a disconnect there.

2007-10-11 13:16:28.0 Administrator2: Hey Russ-- here's a question from the e-mailbag ( I'm curious to know some of your favorite Chez Panisse recipes. I've had equal amounts of success and failures from those books so knowing anything that you've found to be a success would be greatly appreciated.

2007-10-11 13:17:04.0 geof: Sounds to me like there are a lot of 'name brand' chefs and cookbook writers working to fill space, without a lot of inspiration or perhaps material to say anything new. I was glad to see you called that. The same has happened on TV. That's why the cooking is giving way to playing with food.

2007-10-11 13:17:37.0 Russ Parsons: Jeez, I really don't remember recipes all that often. I do know that the Almond torte (not tart) from the Chez Panisse Dessert book is one of my go-to desserts. I've made that probably hundreds of times and my wife and daughter would rather that I'd made it hundreds more.

2007-10-11 13:18:40.0 Russ Parsons: There is a certain amount of that Geof, but that hasn't been truewith the Chez Panisse books and so I have a hard time believing that this one was strictly a mercantile effort. My guess is that there must have been some difference in the team that put this one together and the team that had done the previous books. I don't know that; it's just a guess.

2007-10-11 13:19:47.0 Russ Parsons: I guess one of the points is that writing a recipe that is clear and instructive involves a lot more than just emptying out the scrapbook.

2007-10-11 13:19:52.0 luv2chat: hmm, i don't normally think of nut (almond or otherwise) flavors in desserts. what other nut-flavored desserts have you had success with?

2007-10-11 13:21:01.0 Russ Parsons: Boy, I really do love them. They pair so nicely with fresh fruit. I love walnut cakes. There's a pie filling called frangipane that everyone ought to have in their repertoire--it's basically nuts ground with eggs. You lay fruit in a tart shell, pour in the frangipane batter and bake it. It's really delicious.

2007-10-11 13:21:18.0 Russ Parsons: And hazelnut and chocolate tortes! I'm ready for winter, how about you?

2007-10-11 13:22:11.0 luv2chat: frangipane sounds GOOD!

2007-10-11 13:22:35.0 Administrator2: What are some of your go-to winter foods? Lots of soups...or what?

2007-10-11 13:22:54.0 Russ Parsons: ubet. forgive the plug, but there's a good recipe for a frangipane tart--i forget which fruit--in How to Pick a Peach.

2007-10-11 13:24:08.0 Russ Parsons: Yeah, I make lots of soups and pastas through the winter. Risottos, too. Meat-wise, I kind of switch from the grill to the roasting pan. We've got some friends coming this weekend and I think I'm going to roast one of those big fresh pork shoulders. Score the skin, cook it low and slow. The meat stays really moist and the skin crisps up like bacon. yum-o, as a noted writer once said.

2007-10-11 13:25:24.0 luv2chat: i'll look for that tart, thanks for the recommendation/plug!

2007-10-11 13:25:26.0 luv2chat: haha, noted writer, indeed

2007-10-11 13:25:41.0 Russ Parsons: should i have said philosopher?

2007-10-11 13:25:45.0 Ed Sails: How do you serve it? As pulled pork, with a sauce...or?

2007-10-11 13:26:08.0 luv2chat: how about "life coach"?

2007-10-11 13:26:25.0 Russ Parsons: No, serve it as a roast. Sliced. I take the skin off first, so it doesn't break down, then slice it like a roast and serve it with big sheets of crackling on top.

2007-10-11 13:26:36.0 Russ Parsons: yes, life coach definitely works.

2007-10-11 13:26:40.0 Ed Sails: sounds delicious!

2007-10-11 13:26:54.0 Russ Parsons: Hey ed, would i lie to you?

2007-10-11 13:27:24.0 Ed Sails: of course not! do you take the skin off after it's roasted?

2007-10-11 13:27:51.0 Russ Parsons: Yes, skin off after roasting, before carving. It will come off in sheets. You want big piece of it so thetexture comes through.

2007-10-11 13:29:01.0 Administrator2: Got any tips/tricks for polenta?

2007-10-11 13:29:06.0 Ed Sails: I will try it. I love roast pork like that. Do you use seasonings or marinades like the cuban roast pork?

2007-10-11 13:30:11.0 Russ Parsons: I don't use marinades, but i do use seasonings. I like to use a combination of black pepper, fennel seed and salt for one of them--it's like an italian porchetta. That roast is also good whenserved with a green sauce--basically parsley, cornichons, vinegar, olive oil, garlic .. something sharp.

2007-10-11 13:31:58.0 Russ Parsons: How many of you cook with persimmons?

2007-10-11 13:32:34.0 Ed Sails: Never tried it!

2007-10-11 13:33:37.0 Russ Parsons: Hmmm, not that many it seemslike. Try this: get the little fuyu persimmons--they're the ones that are hard whenthey're ripe--cut themin slices and then toss them with some lime juice. Add sugar and you have a great dessert; add cilantro and you've got a nice salad. They also look really pretty garnished with pomegranate seeds.

2007-10-11 13:34:36.0 Administrator2: Are fuyus readily available? Or where do you get them?

2007-10-11 13:34:50.0 Russ Parsons: For the hachiya persimmons--the ones that soften to jelly when they're ripe--just slice the skin in quarters and open them up like a flower. Stir some whipped cream flavored with whiskey or cognac into the pulp, and topthe whole thing with some chopped toasted walnuts.

2007-10-11 13:35:20.0 Russ Parsons: fuyus are really available. both at grocery stores and your neighbor's backyards. that's a very popular yard fruit in southern california.

2007-10-11 13:35:41.0 Ed Sails: are they in season now?

2007-10-11 13:36:45.0 Russ Parsons: Yes, fuyus and hachiyas are both in season now. Fuyus look kind of like orange heirloom tomatoes--they're slightly flattened. Hachiyas look like giant acorns. This year at thefarmers market, i've been seeing fuyus that are as big as hachiyas (they're usually much smaller).

2007-10-11 13:37:49.0 eve: Are there figs left at any of the farmers' market? Also, could you recommend a good cooking class in the city (not to become a professional chef, but just to be able to get more comfortable)?

2007-10-11 13:39:33.0 Russ Parsons: I've seen a few figs, but not many. It does seem like this was a short, light season for them. Certainly after last year when tehre were tons of them everywhere. As far as cooking classes go, I'm really not much of a help. I think the key is finding classes that are participatory rather than demonstration. You learn much more quickly when you're doing things yourself rather than watching someone and then trying to remember what they did when you get home. Does anyone have any advice?

2007-10-11 13:40:36.0 luv2chat: 'fraid not, but i'm interested too!

2007-10-11 13:40:46.0 Russ Parsons: Itdepends also on where yo ulive. I live in long beach and there's a good kitchen store called Prep that offers hands-on cooking classes. if you're in the south bay, you might want to check it out.

2007-10-11 13:41:36.0 luv2chat: how do you feel about sur la table? don't they have seminars?

2007-10-11 13:42:16.0 eve: I know Williams Sonoma does them too, but don't know if they're more demo-based

2007-10-11 13:42:59.0 Ed Sails: I just happened to be looking at that. Their website is It does look interesting, but I too am wondering if I will learn any more than watching your average TV cooking show.

2007-10-11 13:43:01.0 Russ Parsons: they do. i've taught there from time to time. they'revery good. but they tend to do demonstration classes. lots of people seem to take cooking classes as entertainment (kind of like live theater vs. TVFN). you can pick up good pointers from those, but if you really want to improve, it helps tohave someone who is watching you cook and helping, rather than vice versa.

2007-10-11 13:44:20.0 Russ Parsons: thinking back to when i was learning to cook, it was really important for me to, say, beat egg whites and have someone i could ask: is that far enough? nope, go back and do more. etc., until i really got it in my head and hands what that felt like.

2007-10-11 13:45:21.0 luv2chat: how difficult is it to make a good roux? is it something you can walk me through? i know it's the backbone of some stuff i'd like to try...

2007-10-11 13:48:24.0 Russ Parsons: It's not hard. my mom taught me and she was an awful cook. OK: the first thing is proportions. you want 2 tablespoons butter, 2 tablespoons flour to thicken 1 cup to milk to a thick sauce consistency. it will thicken 2 cups to a light cream soup. Melt the butter and when it is completely melted but still bubbling, whisk in the flour. it will make a kind of paste. cook this, stirring with a whisk, for 2-3 minutes, just long enough to pick up a little color (all of this hsould be over medium-low heat). there are two schools of thought as to adding liquid. some add cold liquid a little at a time, some add hot liquid all at once. To tell you the truth, I don't think it's critical. It is a lot cooler to add the cold a little at a time, because you can see how the flour/butter combination is thickening it. Then just keep adding liquid until you have the consistency you want. (liquid can be either stock, in which case the sauce is veloute, or milk, in which case it's bechamel.

2007-10-11 13:50:01.0 luv2chat: thanks, i really appreciate it. gonna print this out and keep it with my recipes!

2007-10-11 13:50:54.0 Russ Parsons: That's one of those things that after you've made it twice, you won't need the instructions anymore.

2007-10-11 13:50:58.0 luv2chat: i'm surprised your mom wasn't a good cook. did that make you want to learn?

2007-10-11 13:52:11.0 Russ Parsons: i think it was kind of coincidental. my mom was a terrific lady--she raised 4 kids in a military family--but cooking was not a priority. actually, she was a good seamstress and sewed a lot. i do remember that when i started learning to cook, it came as a shock that good food was so easy to make. i figured it must be nearly impossible given how much bad food i'd eaten!

2007-10-11 13:52:29.0 Administrator2: Do you have one, of a few, recipes of which you're proudest? Not *necessarily* your favorite...maybe an unusual combination of flavors that worked or a whim you followed that really paid off?

2007-10-11 13:54:35.0 Russ Parsons: For me, it's probably more like techniques. i'll probably always be best known as the guy who found that you didn't need to soak dried beans before cooking them. and i am really proud of some of the work i did on high-heat braising. that creates some really great dishes. but the ones i'm always most excited about are the ones i'm working on right now!

2007-10-11 13:55:07.0 luv2chat: haha, that's interesting! my mom is a fantastic cook-- so i kinda thought it was nearly impossible to cook, for the opposite reason!

2007-10-11 13:55:33.0 Russ Parsons: well, i guess the consistent thread is we can always blame our mothers.

2007-10-11 13:56:11.0 luv2chat: and i always do!

2007-10-11 13:56:22.0 Michael: Russ: I hope you're having a great day! Is there a reason why there are only transcripts for certain chats? I can't make it every week, but want to read what happens here every week!

2007-10-11 13:56:44.0 luv2chat: hey, thank you, russ-- lunch break is over, unfortunately. but this has been fun!

2007-10-11 13:57:18.0 Mia: Hello everyone!

2007-10-11 13:57:29.0 Russ Parsons: Thanks Michael! I think there are transcripts for all the chats, but I don't do them every week. Now I only do them when I've got a cover story in the paper so we have something to talk about. And hiya mia!

2007-10-11 13:59:47.0 Mia: Nice article today on Alice Waters new book! You may have saved me some $. I may have to buy yours instead!

2007-10-11 13:59:50.0 Russ Parsons: Well, it looks like things are slowing down. Let's do just a couple more questions. What's on your minds?

2007-10-11 14:00:15.0 Russ Parsons: Well, that's certainly not why i wrote it! i do wish it had been a better book.

2007-10-11 14:00:44.0 Administrator2: Michael, we always post the transcript for Russ' chat on the page about an hour after the chat finishes, and it stays there until it kinda falls off the bottom. :) The old transcripts don't die, though-- I'll look into getting them all posted in a centralized place so they'll be easier to find.

2007-10-11 14:01:11.0 Michael: Thanks! I really appreciate it.

2007-10-11 14:01:42.0 Michael: What have been the best cookbooks you've seen this year?

2007-10-11 14:01:49.0 orlando: hii

2007-10-11 14:01:55.0 Ed Sails: Someone had asked earlier about polenta. I made it for the first time 2 weeks ago and we love it. Any suggestions on how to get variety out of it?

2007-10-11 14:02:59.0 Russ Parsons: Oh, that's a tough one about the cookbooks. we're really heading into the cookbook season justnow. i will tell you there's a really remarkable book out called "My last meal" that's a coffee table book on great chefs and their last meals. It sounds like a really cheesy idea, but the woman is a terrific photographer. She really captured the personalities. and the answers are really revealing.

2007-10-11 14:03:11.0 Mia: I am working thru Mark Bittmans How to Cook Everything. It has a few polenta recipes.

2007-10-11 14:03:40.0 Russ Parsons: Polenta is another of my wintertime staples. It's terrific as a side dish, if you just fold in some butter and parmigiano. it's also good as a base for all kinds of stews.

2007-10-11 14:04:24.0 Ed Sails: I have heard there is "quick cooking" polenta available. What do you think about that?

2007-10-11 14:06:00.0 Russ Parsons: quick cooking polenta is really easy, but you never get the depth of flavor you do from real polenta. it's certainly good enough to fry, though (cook polenta, cool it on a board, cut it into pieces and fry it in butter). there's a really easy polenta recipe that is oven-baked that doesn't take that much stirring. I think it's in one of Paula Wolfert's books. and it's on the back of Golden Pheasant cornmeal bag (my favorite polentea corn).

2007-10-11 14:06:23.0 Michael: Thanks. Can you recommend a Korean food cookbook?

2007-10-11 14:07:04.0 Russ Parsons: here, i googled it: Polenta, 1 cupLuke warm water from tap, 3 1/4 cupsSalt, 1/4 teaspoon, or to tasteButterCeramic or Pyrex baking dish, 8-inch squarePreheat oven to 350 degrees F.Butter the baking pan, including the sides. Place polenta, water, and salt in the pan. Stir with a whisk until well blended. Bake uncoveredStir at the 15 minute point and even out the top surface. Omission of this step will result in bulging at edges and an uneven surface generally.Time is variable, perhaps 50 minutes. Polenta is done when it tastes done, and when a small measuring spoon will stand up straight in the polenta. The edges will pull away slightly from the baking dish.

2007-10-11 14:08:09.0 Ed Sails: And then you top it with the cheese and broil it?

2007-10-11 14:09:05.0 Russ Parsons: for korean cooking, there's a good book called "growing up in a korean kitchen" and another called Eating Korean" that's by Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee. both are good.

2007-10-11 14:09:18.0 Russ Parsons: no ed, polenta is usually served as a starch, more like mashed potatoes.

2007-10-11 14:10:22.0 Ed Sails: I see!

2007-10-11 14:10:53.0 Russ Parsons: the trick with really good polenta is getting the corn meal to toast a little. that gives the really deep flavor.

2007-10-11 14:11:34.0 Russ Parsons: OK Everybody, thanks for coming by! see you next time!

2007-10-11 14:12:05.0 Administrator2: If you missed any of today's chat, a transcript will be posted at later this afternoon-- enjoy!

2007-10-11 14:12:08.0 Ed Sails: Thanks Russ!

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