The Piglet2012 / Quarterfinal Round, 2012

Super Natural Every Day: Well-loved Recipes from My Natural Foods Kitchen

Super Natural Every Day

Heidi Swanson

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Momofuku Milk Bar

Momofuku Milk Bar

Christina Tosi

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Judged by: Carla Hall

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Carla Hall discovered her love for food while modeling in Europe. After graduating L'Academie de Cuisine, Carla worked as sous chef at the Henley Park Hotel, and Executive Chef at both The State Plaza Hotel and The Washington Club. America fell in love with Carla’s heartfelt approach as she cooked her way into the finals on season five of the award?winning Bravo show Top Chef, and again in season eight on Top Chef All-Stars. Today Carla continues to cook from the heart and balances her Southern traditions, classic French training, and holistic approach to food as one of five hosts on The Chew, ABC's newest daytime talk show, and as the creator and owner of Alchemy by Carla Hall, an artisan cookie company headquartered in Washington, DC.

The Judgment

Cookbooks these days can be a lot like novels. You become invested in the author and the way their story reads. You want to understand why they make the things they make and get into their heads about their inspiration for their dishes. At least I do.

If you ask me if I'm sweet or savory, I would have to say sweet, being from the South. Call it an oxymoron perhaps, but I actually don't like overly sweet sweets. Take it another step further: if you ask me if I'm salty or acidic, I'd say acidic but with a balance of salt. Both cookbooks that I read played into my personal delights.

When I was reading Momofuku Milk Bar by Christina Tosi, I was totally sucked in by page 33 and smiling broadly by the idea of her "familiar and comforting" approach. Clearly she knows me, or perhaps I'm just a magnet for this sort of thing. Everything in the book reminded me of something I loved as a child or something I was told I couldn't have, but risked punishment by sneaking it anyway. Most of the recipes have a familiar flavor profile and texture, yet put together in a completely different and exciting way. Others are just combinations that make you think "Now why didn't I think of that?" I was impressed by the fact that the desserts didn't look over-handled and perfect. They had character. That to me was one of the comforting parts. The thing that made me feel like I could look like the baby on page 103 with cake on his face, forget that I'm at least 45 years older, was something as simple as the Cereal Milk series of recipes and the flavored crumbs. OOOOOH. I wanted to run, not walk, to the store and make them right away. I was envisioning all kinds of applications, some of which I realized Christina had laid out later on in the book. I loved the way many of the recipes were building blocks for other creations. You were left feeling inspired — like you could make your own creation with Christina leading the way.

I am not one of those people who think healthy is synonymous with nasty. I actually feel quite the contrary. I love proving people wrong about what they think they don't like, surprising them with a combination of grains, veggies and spices that make their eyes roll to the back of their head. While I'm not a vegetarian myself I'm often mistaken for one, and I'm usually the one who is thinking about the vegetarian more than the meat eater. In Super Natural Every Day, Heidi's message was clear — let me show you how great you can eat while staying healthy. The recipes excited me with bold and strong spice combinations. Heidi was true to her word and gave us recipes that are a balance of quick weeknight meals and more intricate weekend dishes. Whether quickly whipped up or highly anticipated after of hours of stewing, the recipes are memorable. Everything I made was full-flavored and delicious. It was forgotten that the food was doing great things for my body as well.

I made the following delicious recipes from Momofuku Milk Bar: Turkey, Swiss, and Mustard Croissants, Compost Cookies, and of course, Milk Crumb. I would have made Cereal Milk, but I ran out of time. I found that many of the recipes, not just the ones I tried, are more for the professional chef or the serious cook as they are quite involved. And some of the ingredients, such as pistachio paste or mini butternut squash chips, are easily accessible when you're ordering from a restaurant purveyor, but not necessarily in even a specialty grocery store. However, I checked online and just about anything can be shipped right to your door. From Heidi's book, I made the Ravioli Salad, the Kale Salad and the Green Lentil Soup. If I wasn't shopping at a health food or primarily a whole foods/natural store, I may have had problems sourcing certain ingredients such as farro. But just like the pistachio paste, it could be shipped directly to your doorstep. I chose to prepare both sets of recipes either because I was intrigued by the idea of the recipe or my taste buds were piqued by the spices used. I wasn't the least bit disappointed in any of the recipes.

After much thought, testing, eating, and a lot of back and forth in my head, I'm going to go with my food memories and choose Momofuku Milk Bar by Christina Tosi to advance to the next round. It was hard for me to neglect how much her passion jumped through the pages and how creative she is...and there you have it.

And the winner is…

Momofuku Milk Bar

Momofuku Milk Bar

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Do you Agree? (10 comments)

user avatar 23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar

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Although I don't agree with Hall's judgment, what I find even more dissatisfying is Hall's inattention to the cookbooks and their form and execution as cookbooks. I much prefer Nigella Lawson's careful consideration of each book she reviewed. A reviewer needs to demonstrate an understanding of each book, as well as give the final judgment. I feel like Hall needed to give us more than just saying that Tosi is more passionate and creative. She doesn't explain why she believes this about Tosi.

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It's hard to understand why books are selected to be pitted against each other. To my mind, Milk an Jeni's Splendid are more alike than these two.

23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar

"I'm going to go with my food memories"

When I read her delight at the beginning of her article, and she waxed poetic on her food memories, and childhood, I thought, Oh, Oh. And in the end, I was right in my concern. I have to debate anyone critiquing, and judging a contest of cookbooks based on that criteria.

While both books have merit, they are not compatible to compare, as others have pointed out, apples to oranges. There are other compatible books to use in comparisons out there. I hope the other book, by Ms. Swanson, gets a second chance too. And perhaps a judge with a more objective perspective?

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Wonderful review, Carla! Your passion jumped off the page for me! Thanks for a well prepared, well written review. Wishing you continued success!

I have both books, and agree that comparing them is like comparing apples and oranges! But, they are both lovely, inspiring books! Loving the Piglet!

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I have close to three hundreds cookbooks and immediately picked up MIlk when it was first published. I didn't buy it primarily because of some of the ingredients it called for and for its nested recipes. Not that I am afraid of challenges nor that I'm reluctant to buy one off ingredients. (My kitchen has already achieved critical mass in terms of ingredients and equipment.) I would much rather cook from Supernatural Every Day which has already given me several dishes that I've added to my rotation. The wild rice casserole with its Gruyere and tarragon topping has become one of my comfort dishes. Simple, healthy, delicious. The baked oatmeal is also wonderful. I hope Heidi gets a second chance!

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Hmmm...wouldn't it be more helpful to contrast two books that take a similar approach? this seems like judging between Japanese and French cuisine? Which is better?
I use Heidi's recipes on an everyday basis to incorporate healthy whole grains in new ways. It sounds like Milk would be great for hat holiday calorie splurge when you have time to invest. Apples and oranges...

23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar

Totally agree--this is a weird match-up.

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I'm with you all the way on this. Absurd little Piglet.

89628f77 ebe9 4d15 8db7 477daec6bcb0  mcs

Super Natural Every Day was my pick to win the Piglet. if I had to do my brackets over again, I'd still pick it. Each recipe I try, I want to make over and over again - and I do.

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Now the choice is getting difficult.