New cookbooks: Jaden Hair's 'Steamy Kitchen' and Cathleen Ryan's 'Brandywine Book of Food'

Times Food Critic

Glossy pages of drool-worthy dishes, meticulous ingredient lists and step-by-step instructions — in time for the holiday season. Two bay area women have just unveiled new cookbooks, but that's about all Jaden Hair and Cathleen Ryan have in common. Their road to cooking expertise took decidedly different routes.

Three years ago, Jaden Hair moved with her husband and two young sons from California to the Tampa Bay area. As a way to keep track of the recipes her mother would recite over the phone, in 2007 she started a blog called Steamy Kitchen, mostly simple Asian recipes she was whipping up for weeknight family dinners. What caught the eye of foodies around the country were the gorgeous "food porn" pictures Hair managed to snap just before her kids dug in. Those photos paired with her irreverent writing style made her a blogging superstar. What followed were writing gigs at Creative Loafing and the Tampa Tribune and eventually The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook (Tuttle Publishing, $27.95). An auspicious trajectory for a self-taught home cook.

Cathleen Ryan, on the other hand, is a professional pastry chef, honing her chops in world-famous kitchens like Le Bec Fin and Inn at Little Washington. She's an avid farm-to-table advocate, currently an instructor at Jacobson Culinary Arts Academy in Tarpon Springs and culinary adviser at Gateway Farms in Clearwater. She has also been the woman behind the sweet temptations at Cafe Ponte in Clearwater and Bailey's in Tampa. For a time, she turned her attentions to the culinary gems along the Brandywine River, which flows through Pennsylvania and Delaware, a focus that resulted in The Brandywine Book of Food (Storm Coast Press, $45).

Both books are dense with color photos, though Ryan's efforts are more in service of painting a portrait of an idyllic setting. With text by Roger Morris and photos by Ella Morris, both residents of Landenberg, Pa., it's a travelogue of sorts, one that touches down in the kitchens of quaint inns and restaurants to get a taste of the local goods.

Ryan's work is to record and interpret local dishes for the home cook. Buttermilk-Battered Soft Shell Crabs With Local Sweet Corn Basil Cream, Freshwater Trout With Smoked Ham or even an unusual Fennel Panna Cotta — it's a range of homey country cooking to cutting-edge sophisticated, and Ryan does an eloquent job of guiding readers with clear instructions and unfussy ingredients. In essence, it's a window into some of the area's most celebrated kitchens, like the fabled Talula's Table in Kennett Square, Pa., a local-product market by day and one of the country's most coveted dinner destinations at night (there's only one table, reservations a year in advance).

Jaden Hair's eye is on a single table, too, but that table is her own. Sliding gracefully from Korean to Chinese to Japanese, she explicates the traditional ingredients and techniques of each in straightforward recipes that often take less than 30 minutes to prepare. She uses lemongrass and coconut milk, miso and tofu, and thanks to increasingly bounteous international grocery aisles, nothing in the book requires a specialty market field trip.

The photography is every bit as appealing as her Steamy Kitchen blog, but publisher Tuttle has chosen a jam-packed approach to text and fonts that takes away from the stylish simplicity of Hair's vision. A little more white space might have made the pad Thai or jewel-green baby bok choy pop off the page. No matter, her recipes, with a focus on healthy eating (lots of soy, meat used more sparingly as an accent), are a lovely road map for the adventurous home cook.

Laura Reiley can be reached at lreiley@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2293. Her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, is at blogs.tampabay.com/dining.

. IF YOU GO

Meet the author

Cathleen Ryan will sign copies of The Brandywine Book of Food at 7 p.m. Thursday at Jacobson Culinary Arts Academy, 1411 Gulf Road, Tarpon Springs. An auction of 100 student-made gingerbread houses will follow.

>>easy

Thai Coconut Chicken Curry

4 ounces Thai curry paste

4 cups coconut milk, divided

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 teaspoon sugar

3 fresh Kaffir lime leaves, torn (optional)

6 ounces skinless, boneless chicken, cut into thin, bite-sized pieces

1 (8-ounce) can sliced bamboo shoots

1 (15-ounce) can baby corn, cut into half lengthwise

½ red onion, sliced

½ cup loosely packed fresh Thai basil or sweet Italian basil leaves

Add the curry paste to a medium pot and turn the heat to medium-low. As the pot heats up, the curry paste will begin to fry, release its oils and become fragrant. It's best to keep the heat fairly low as you are doing this, otherwise you may burn the curry paste. When the pot is hot and the curry paste is fragrant, pour in half of the coconut milk and turn the heat to high. Whisk until the curry paste has dissolved into the coconut milk. Pour in the remaining coconut milk, fish sauce, sugar and Kaffir lime leaves. Bring the curry to a gentle boil and then add the chicken slices, bamboo shoots, baby corn and red onion. Stir well and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes, until chicken has been cooked through. Turn off the heat, stir in the basil and serve with steamed jasmine rice.

Serves 4.

Source: The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook (Tuttle Publishing, 2009)

>>moderate

Leek and Fresh Herb Tart

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup cracked wheat

1 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup vegetable shortening

6 tablespoons cold water

1 tablespoon olive oil

5 cloves garlic, chopped

5 medium leeks, rinsed and sliced thin

¼ cup each fresh rosemary, oregano and sage

Sift the flour into a medium bowl. Add the cracked wheat, salt and shortening. Cut with a pastry cutter or two knives until it resembles coarse cornmeal. Make a well in the center and add water, kneading until dough forms a ball. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate at least 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Roll dough out on lightly floured surface to about 1/8-inch thickness. Line a 9- to 10-inch tart pan with dough. Do not leave a thick edge; finish it simply with the tines of a fork. Prick the bottom and sides with a fork and bake for 10 to 15 minutes. Set aside to cool, leaving the oven on. In a heavy saucepan, heat the olive oil and saute the garlic until golden. Add the leeks and cook over medium-low heat until soft and rings have separated. Toss in the fresh herbs. Spoon the filling into the tart shell and bake for 10 to 12 minutes.

Serves 8.

Source: The Brandywine Book of Food (Storm Coast Press)

New cookbooks: Jaden Hair's 'Steamy Kitchen' and Cathleen Ryan's 'Brandywine Book of Food' 12/15/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 15, 2009 3:30am]

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