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The Piglet2013 / First Round, 2013

A Girl and Her Pig: Recipes and Stories

A Girl and Her Pig

April Bloomfield

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VS
Beginnings: My Way to Start a Meal

Beginnings

Chris Cosentino

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The Judgment

Adam_sachs

By Adam Sachs

Cosentino and Bloomfield are both known for muscular, meaty cooking that elevates all the lesser bits of the animal. In their new books, A Girl and Her Pig (Bloomfield) and Beginnings: My Way to Start a Meal (Cosentino), both pay tribute to Italian culinary traditions, filtered through personal experience and enthusiasms. And that’s basically where the similarities between these books end.

For one, Cosentino’s is explicitly not a full download of the chef’s worldview. It is a book of starters. Chapters and recipes are arranged by seasons, bookended by brief, not terribly useful primers on salumi and cheese. (On buying cheese: “If I like it, I buy it. It’s that simple!”) Vegetables are emphasized, a conscious contrast to the offal he’s known for. A gutsier title would have been A Shitload of Salads, but I can see how a marketing department might reject that. One complaint about the generally appetite-encouraging photography: page 72. The visual deal-killer for me here is the cheffly schmear, the poo-poo streak of blackened onion charcoal wiped across the plate. The skidmark style of saucing has gotten really old in restaurants and just has no place in a book for civilians.

Bloomfield’s book is, by contrast, a more enveloping affair. It is intimate and roaming. Growing up in blighted Birmingham, she meant to be a cop, we learn, but she got pissed at the pub and turned her application in too late. Cooking was a runner-up career choice, and lucky for us. There are sweet asides about her time at London’s River Cafe and a nice little chapter called “My Fussy Recipes” in which we are smartly instructed on the art and purpose of blanching and peeling tomatoes. There isn’t a ton of photography but what’s there is evocative and in some cases instructive: a two-page spread usefully illustrates the precise consistency of various sauces (lemon-caper, romesco, salsa verde, and more). 

Onto the cooking! It’s impossible to really compare a book of first courses to a book of bits of everything. Seeking parity, I decide to cook complementary dishes from each. This (at the time) being fall, I’m pretty much morally obligated to limit myself to Cosentino’s "Fall" chapter. This presents some issues. For instance, 14.2% of his fall recipes involve sprigs of Douglas fir, (okay, that’s only two recipes but I’m trying to be scientific here), and I’m not in the mood for Christmas tree. I rule out trying something called “Dirty Vegetables” on the basis that it is called “Dirty Vegetables.” The first recipe in the chapter is a drink: the Bloody Roman. I’m halfway through the lengthy shopping list—heirloom tomatoes, Red Boat fish sauce, Aleppo pepper, check, check, check—before I realize there's no vodka indicated. There is Anchor Steam beer and oysters. This is less a bloody variant, more a drinkable cioppino or maybe a seafood michelada. I track down Aleppo pepper at Dean & Deluca, I shuck the briny oysters myself, I pass my late-season heirlooms through the food mill. I do it all, short of investing in chile thread garnish. The result: beer and tomato juice are not, for me, ideal companions. My oysters do not float atop the drink as they do in the photo and I find myself searching the depths of the glass for them, wishing this was a tiny little shooter instead of an expensive pint.

Continuing with seafood and tomatoes, I turn to Bloomfield’s chapter “Meat Without Feet” and select a slow-cooked garlicky stew of octopus, tomato and butter beans. I make many mistakes. I use old beans and don’t soak them. I buy baby octopi that emit none of the octopus broth Bloomfield promises. Still, the whole thing works beautifully and is dead easy. I whip a batch of her Green Goddess dressing together, add the suggested bright green dollops to the stew and I am a hero to my dinner guests. I want to give a high-five, times eight, to my forgotten friend, the forgiving, chewy-crisp octopus. 

It’s a tighter race when we come to the Meatball Showdown. Cosentino’s Pork & Porcini Polpettini in a mushroom broth are fluffy but rich and remind me of canederli dumplings I had in the Dolomites. They too are easy, relatively fool-proof, and utterly satisfying but I have a quibble here too: an ingredient (Porcini Brodo) that leads me to a recipe in the back that itself contains two more recipes (Chicken and Pork Stock) is one soup step too many.

Bloomfield’s Lamb Meatballs with Yogurt, Eggs and Mint is a more complex assemblage but worth the effort of grinding your own lamb shoulder—especially if you don’t, as I did, make the near-fatal mistakes of overworking the meat and idiotically substituting panko for fresh breadcrumbs which result in a too-tight meatball. Still, the thing tasted good: the lamb and sweet spice of the tomato sauce giving ballast to the creamy contrast of yogurt and runny eggs added at the end. Finishing it with mint and cilantro is ingeniously elevating.

I try a couple of salads from Cosentino’s book because, as I said, there are a shitload of salads up in here. Apple, Dandelion & Hazelnuts didn’t do much for me. Occasionally you’d get all the right bits in your mouth at once and there was a certain harmony to it, but the apple cider vinaigrette tasted muddled and limp to me and I resented making a cup and a half of it for a salad that only serves six. I strayed into the "Winter" chapter for a salad of Treviso, Pomegranate & Pistachios. Visually arresting, it was better seen than savored; it was a promising notion that, with a little more tweaking, might grow up into a good idea.

The morning after I found myself returning to Bloomfield’s book, yearning for pig’s ear salad and eton mess. Here’s the basic thing: one of these cookbooks vibrated on my personal frequency and one didn’t. I’m sure Cosentino could make all these recipes sing, but I didn’t have great luck with them and didn’t feel drawn back to them.

For breakfast I made Bloomfield’s Baked Eggs with Anchovies and Cream. I liked her way with languid language (“chop the garlic with the rosemary until the mixture looks a bit like blue cheese”) and I liked the result even better: buttery, homey, salty, satisfying. I scraped the ramekin with crunchy grilled bread. The Girl and Her Pig makes me want to try pretty much everything between its covers -- and that’s why it handily dominated this showdown between worthy competitors.

And the winner is…

A Girl and Her Pig: Recipes and Stories

A Girl and Her Pig: Recipes and Stories

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Do you Agree? (35 comments)

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about 1 year ago MsMora

A Girl and Her Pig for sure. Delightful book by an even more delightful chef. April is a gifted cook with natural instincts. Yes, those lamb meatballs are that delicious. But don't miss making her oatmeal recipe. April's book vibrated on my personal as well, Adam. Nice job.

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about 1 year ago GregoryBPortland

I like the cover of Bloomfield's cookbook, but we're never going to come to a consensus about it, so moving right along, Adam Sachs rightly underlines the issues of chef cookbooks, particularly in regards to Consentino's exotic-ingredient-heavy recipes. I'm a firm believer that if you want that sort of food, go out to a restaurant. Our kitchens are loaded with all sorts of exotic things we'll never use again in a sweaty attempt to recreate these dishes. Besides, isn't that the chef's job? Good of Sachs to underline this.

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about 1 year ago sherwood

What a horrific cover to have on a cookbook! Would you wrap yourself in a dead dog or cat for the cover of a book. What the heck is wrong with people!

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about 1 year ago StevenHB

Oh, please! It's a cookbook. It's about eating dead animals, particularly pigs. It's a perfect cover for a book with that name.

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about 1 year ago sherwood

heartbreaking

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about 1 year ago sygyzy

I am penning a hippie cookbook and plan on fashioning a kale tuxedo for the cover.

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about 1 year ago mainecook61

Ah, the high-low style of reviewing, all the way down from a finished dish that is "ingeniously elevating" to "shitloads of salads," with a stop along the way to mention "the canederli dumplings I had in the Dolomites." It's hilarious, although I don't think it was meant to be.

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about 1 year ago krissi

I enjoy both books, but A Girl And Her Pig I Love!

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about 1 year ago garlic&lemon

I really appreciate that each reviewer (so far) has given each book a fair shake even when things about a certain book does not appeal to them. When I look at cookbooks in a bookstore, if I do not see a fair number of recipes I think I will like, I do not buy it, much less cook from it (obviously). In past Piglets, some reviewers have not actually cooked from the books they reviewed and many of us cried "foul!". I like that this year's reviewers have personal experiences to report on each book. I also believe that a reviewer can be a curmudgeon. Not all of us are gracious cooks or feel like eating outside our comfort zone on any given week. Having eaten at Salumi (Cosentino's stall in the Ferry Building in San Francisco),I can understand why these books were placed in the same bracket. And I think there is an East Coast bias in Mr. Sach's review. After all, Cosentino lives in the Bay Area; you want him to ignore all those stunning veggies? In the end, though, I can certainly follow why Mr. Sachs picked "A girl and her pig", and suspect that I might have made the same choice.

Chris_in_oslo

about 1 year ago Greenstuff

Chris is a trusted source on General Cooking

Good thoughts! But I thought you were going to say that it was East Coast-centric, because he rejected the Doug fir sprigs! (I confess to being a little baffled by the proliferation of piney tastes out there.) And a small note, Cosentino's place in the Ferry Building is called Boccalone. It's great.

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about 1 year ago garlic&lemon

Thanks for the correction,Greenstuff! That is older age catching up with me. Or maybe all that fat from the salami cones at Boccalone!

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about 1 year ago rosalind5

This review is snarky, at times, but it is also informed and funny. For truly pointless, stupid reviews - go to Amazon - where vegans/animals rights activists are out in force against "A girl and her pig" because there is a dead animal on the cover.

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about 1 year ago Jason Vendzules

I think The Tournament of Cookbooks is a brilliant idea. I follow and adore The Morning News' Tournament of Books and I think it makes even more sense when applied in this context. Simply put, there are many different ways to make a cookbook, with many different purposes. Some promise to give recipes that are used in your best restaurants, others promise to show you how your favorite chefs cook at home. Some compile 1000 recipes spanning decades, and others detail the recipes of a blogger in his/her kitchen. Too often in the reviews of these books, we focus on the photography and the quality of the food within. At the end of the day, what makes this different is that it doesn't promise to find the BEST COOKBOOK OF THE YEAR. Quite the opposite, the winner is bound to be an accident of circumstance depending on who reviewed it and their personal taste. Instead, it breeds a thoughtful anthology of smart people discussing what they think is important in a cookbook, and what they look for when making a cookbook purchase. Mr. Sachs does a brilliant job discussing his utilitarian method, and its one I appreciate. The book called to him, he wanted to cook more things from it and therefore it wins. Does that mean that Ms. Bloomsfield's book is objectively better? Of course not. But one gains an understanding of what makes a cookbook tick, at least in the opinion of Mr. Sachs.

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about 1 year ago petitbleu

A good review, and thorough. I can definitely appreciate where he's coming from and why he made the choice he did. I didn't find the review to be mean or dismissive--after all, he gave the books a fair shake, one appealed to him and seemed to result in better finished dishes, and the other didn't. He admits as much. Whether or not the judge is a professional or not doesn't matter much to me. He can cook, but he's not a chef. Both of these cookbooks sound like cheffy books, but one seemed better suited to the adventurous home cook--good to know. I also got a sense of the writing style of both authors, which I appreciate, as half the fun of some cookbooks is in the prose.

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about 1 year ago dymnyno

I think that we have to take account of the judges...some are real professionals who write review of cookbooks on a regular basis In this tournament we have some " guest" reviewers who have the passion but not the experience...we have to accept them all...that's the game!

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about 1 year ago gretcheninbrooklyn

This site has become my go-to for searching recipes, but all the "community" talk make me want to go cold turkey. A real "community" wouldn't need the advertising. Call a spade a spade.

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about 1 year ago bgavin

Huh?

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about 1 year ago ATG117

Great review. I really appreciate that the reviews this year are thorough, reasoned, and honest enough to give us readers a sense of the books and the reviewers.

Chris_and_karen_dr._winnie

about 1 year ago thepeche

Why the hell are you having a competition between cookbooks? This has to be a joke, right? A site that is known for building community is actively supporting tearing down authors and chefs in a false context. This isn’t thoughtful criticism you’re doing here. This is false comparison. And it is more than disappointing.

Mr. Sachs' pointless snark misses the mark and seems to suggest he is judging without even trying the recipe ("14.2% of his fall recipes involve sprigs of Douglas fir...and I’m not in the mood for Christmas tree." That's not funny or witty and seems like Mr. Sachs is just pointlessly shitting on Chef Cosentino). Flaccid attempts at humor aside, Mr. Sachs, from the opening paragraph, clearly states that these are not similar books.

So why the comparison? What is the value of this bracketed tournament? What is the point?

This isn't how people cook from books. We don't pit them against each other. We include them in our lives at the moments we need them most. There are times when Chef's Bloomfield's recipes speak to us, and there are times when we will want Chef Cosentino's Shitload of Salads.

What we don't need, however, is for food52 to continue on with a shitload of pointless competition.

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about 1 year ago nightkitchen

This is my favorite part of food52. I think the NCAA-style bracket is all in good fun and the reviews are usually just honest examinations of what's it like to cook from a certain book. It turns people on to a lot of good cookbooks, even when they lose. You just have to read between the lines sometimes.

Chris_and_karen_dr._winnie

about 1 year ago thepeche

@nightkitchen I'll trust that you're right that this is usually all in good fun. But this one wasn't. There was nothing fun about it. It was mean and dismissive.

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about 1 year ago chardrucks

Whoa. You sound as mean-spirited as you claim this competition and judge are. I'll tell you why we've been doing this tournament for 4 years: It's because we love cookbooks and believe your average review doesn't give you a sense of that personal relationship that a each of us has with a cookbook. It's subjective, of course it is. We want to celebrate great writing--that of our judges and that of those who wrote these cookbooks. Most of all, though, we want to celebrate these cookbooks. We take a lot of time and give a lot of thought to the 16 nominees, and, in our minds, they're all winners. We try to champion those cookbooks that we think have something original to share. We ask our judges not to think of each cookbook in comparison to the other as much as in competition with itself. If each cookbook puts forth a promise--a point of view, an philosophy about food, a story--then the question becomes how well did each live up to that promise. The one that does that more successfully, as per the judge, is the one that advances. We have the bracket system to make sure the final cookbook chosen has passed through a number of hands. If you don't like a judge's writing, then maybe don't follow him/her on twitter or read his/her book. But please, don't disparage an entire tournament you appear not to have any prior knowledge of. Thanks, Charlotte.

P.S. Thank you, @nightkitchen. You summed it up beautifully.

Chris_and_karen_dr._winnie

about 1 year ago thepeche

Charlotte, thanks for your response.

I have followed your tournament since last year and a couple of my friends are judges for it. I'm not as ignorant as I might appear. Stupid, sure. But not ignorant.

I love what you wrote about how you select books for the tournament. Really. Could you possibly explain to me how that love and celebration of an author's book is present in this review for Chef Cosentino? Was it the skidmark comment? Or the description of the primer that wasn't terribly useful? Something tells me the team at his publishing house weren't thrilled with the way you all show your love. I'd hate to see what you encourage from your reviewers when you hate a book.

I'm also confused as to your support of the reviewer's responsibility to judge a book fairly, but I'm not supposed to judge the fairness of a review or the appropriateness of your tournament. And if I do either of those, I'm mean.

With the risk of being called mean, let's apply your explanation of why you do tournament (which really is great) to this review. It utterly fails to live up to what you state is the intention of the tournament. Perhaps that's more the responsibility of an editor to help shape and guide. Was there an editor on this? Is this piece really what the tournament is all about?

But I'm mean. And stupid.

I'll just trust your intentions from now on and not judge what you actually publish.

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about 1 year ago ATG117

This is one of my favorite aspects of food52. Not everyone needs to love every cookbook and not everyone can buy every cookbook. I thus very much enjoy honest and reasoned reviews, from which I can decide what I agree or disagree with and whether the cookbook is for me. I understand that you may not like this competition, but I do not think your view is representative of many members of the food52 community.

Chris_and_karen_dr._winnie

about 1 year ago thepeche

So, this is how the food52 community shows love and celebrates cookbooks?

Chris_and_karen_dr._winnie

about 1 year ago thepeche

To follow your reasoning, what you really want from your reviews is to have a chef's plating techniques compared to shit streaks in underwear. This is the honesty you desire. This is food52.

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about 1 year ago MyNameOnFood

Loved Adam's personal journey through the cookbooks. Felt like a trial by fire experiential review and it really resonated with me. Now I am (finally) willing to shell my pennies out for this Bloomfield book! Simple prose and extraordinary recipes, perfect combo.

Chris_in_oslo

about 1 year ago Greenstuff

Chris is a trusted source on General Cooking

I like Boccalone. I always think of their slogan as "tasty salted piggy parts" (instead of pig parts). But today, it sounds like the girl with her pig beat the guy with a way with pig fair and square.

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about 1 year ago Elissa Altman

BRILLIANT review. Wonderful.

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about 1 year ago anntruelove

I love this competition and I really wish Adam Sachs was reviewing more cookbooks. I appreciate his no nonsense, bottom-line assessment of both cookbooks. I borrow a lot of cookbooks from the library, but hardly ever buy one out of fear of major disappointment. With reviews like this, I have high hopes The Piglet winner will be a cookbook that I will purchase, keep, and love for a long time.

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about 1 year ago cookinginvictoria

Very well said -- such a convincing, thorough and honest review. So happy to see A Girl and Her Pig advance to the next round. I too love all of April Bloomfield's recipes that I've tried from this book. It's one of my favorite cookbooks from last year.

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about 1 year ago ChefCitron

Agree! I loved the honest assessment of both books, recipes, photos, and overall vibrancy of the end-product food. Thoroughly enjoyed visual references, especially to a "skidmark"- haven't heard that word since my brother was a teenager! I confess that I bought Consentino's book after visiting Boccalone in SF, but was so disappointed in recipes, that I returned it (a rarity for me). Conversely, I bought Bloomfield’s book based purely on umpteen gushing reviews on various food blogs, and was not disappointed! Great review!

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about 1 year ago china millman

Wow! What a fabulously written judgement. It makes me love A Girl and Her Pig even more than I already did.

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about 1 year ago Isabelle Johnson

What Shalini said. Informative and stylish review.

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about 1 year ago Shalini

If I wasn't convinced before, I am now. I have to get The Girl And Her Pig. Lovely prose.