Food — The one-note cook book

The one-note cook book


By Amy Diaz


Luckily, you can do a lot with one note


Fried Chicken, an American Story, By John T. Edge, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2004, 180 pages.


Apple Pie, an American Story, By John T. Edge, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2004, 137 pages.


S.O.U.P.S.: Seattle’s Own Undeniably Perfect Soups, By Michael Congdon, Sasquatch Books, 2004, 208 pages.


It’s easy to become obsessed with one thing.

Chocolate, basil, Spanish sheep’s milk cheese, garlic stuffed olives. You  buy many containers of these things and spend hours trying to find new ways to use these ingredients. Likewise, it takes very little effort to become obsessed with one dish. You try out every available recipe for brownies, for example, seeking new ways to make them, new flavors to add. You get the cakey recipe, the crispy recipe, the extra chocolatey recipe, the short-on-time recipe. You may even find yourself looking at other recipes and laughing — two ounces of chocolate, HA!, you say. Amateurs.

It’s at that point that you’ve reached the level of single-mindedness to full appreciate books such as John Edge’s studies of fried chicken and apple pie.

Each book includes, yes, a standard recipe for its item of choice as well as a variety of deviated recipes. And each of these recipes does, as you might expect, have something of a story to it. But the book does much more. It looks at the roots—apple pies are “as American as” because apple trees are plentiful and because with an influx of German immigrants beer began to outstretch hard cider as our drink of choice. The result? Lots of apples in search of new uses.

With each new variation of the food, we get even more stories about the origins.  Fried Chicken contains a whole chapter on Buffalo wings, some of the debates over which are as fierce as any historical battle.

Along the way we also get plenty of entertaining discussion from Edge about his own journeys in search of originators and authentic ingredients. The result isn’t just a cookbook but a fully-fleshed-out profile of culinary icons.

This is one approach to a food fixation.

The other approach is the one offered by Congdon whose book overflows with recipes for every kind of soup imaginable. Need stock? Congdon has recipes for chicken, fish and vegetable along with three variations on broth. He has four bean soups, two avocado soups and  surprising five soups that include cauliflower. Congdon’s recipes include all the standards—potato, cheese, minestrone, lentil, chicken noodle—as well as some more exotic sounding dishes. The recipes are broken down by season—so you get the perfect soups for summer (cold or fruit based), autumn (pureed or squash heavy soups), winter (cream soups, rich soups, stews) and spring (broth that is hearty but not heavy). The recipes offer a new appreciation for a relatively simple, easy-to-prepare, generally healthy food item. And they do so with the zeal of a person who obviously loves what he creates.

So how does Congdon celebrate spring?

French onion soup

1/4 cup unsalted butter

2 pounds yellow onions

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1 1/2 cups dry red wine

2 bay leaves

4 cups vegetable stock


Swiss or Gruyere cheese, grated

Melt butter in a pot over high heat. Add the onions and mix well to coat them completely with the melted butter. Cover and let cook for 15 to 30 minutes.

Combine the soy sauce, balsamic vinegar and red wine and set aside.

When the onions begin to stick to the bottom of the pot, have turned a dark golden brown and begin to smell sweeter (almost like burnt sugar) add the bay leaves and the soy mixture.

Scrape the bottom of the pot to deglaze the onions’ sugar, which will be sticking to it at this point. Mix well. Cover and reduce heat to medium Cook for five more minutes.

Add the stock to the onion mixture, mix well, cover and let cook until the soup begins to simmer.

To serve, ladle the soup into soup crocks and cover them with the croutons and a nice layer of cheese. Place the crocks under the broiler and broil until the cheese forms a nice golden brown crust on the top of the soup. Make sure to tell you guest the bowls are hot and to use oven mitts when handling them.

—Amy Diaz

2005 HippoPress LLC | Manchester, NH