At Home for the holidays

Give a cookbook that will actually get used

At Home by Gavin Kaysen and Nick Fauchald, Spoon Thief Publishing, 2022. $35.

Five years ago, I attended a book-signing for the highly acclaimed Noma Guide to Fermentation. Noma is a three-Michelin-star restaurant in Copenhagen, considered by many to be one of the world's best. In his presentation prior to the book signing, Noma's chef, Rene Redzepi, criticized the restaurant's two previous cookbooks: Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine, and Noma 2.0: Vegetable, Forest, Ocean. Both are impressive tomes, but the recipes are complex, require obscure ingredients, and are totally inaccessible for home cooks. He remarked: "We've sold thousands, and no one who owns one has ever tried a recipe." I must confess that my Noma volumes reside in a corner of my bookcase next to my copies of The French Laundry Cookbook, Alinea, Fäviken, and A Day at elBulli, all unused and in mint condition.

There's a big difference between a cookbook whose goal is to impress, yet confuses and overwhelms the reader and one that helps the reader grow to become a better cook. If you want to give a gift to someone who is interested in improving home cooking skills, I highly recommend At Home by Gavin Kaysen. Unlike the volumes that are collecting dust on the corner of my bookshelf, At Home exists to educate rather than impress. Though its recipes are impressive, they are relatively easy to prepare and will look and taste like a meal from a high-end restaurant. I don't want to spoil anybody's surprise, but all the interested home cooks on my shopping list will be getting a copy of At Home for Christmas.

Gavin Kaysen is a James Beard award-winning chef based in Minneapolis, where I had the privilege of working for him for a year when his restaurants started reopening at the end of the COVID pandemic. During the shutdown, Chef Kaysen started "GK at Home," online cooking classes that originated in his home kitchen. The Zoom classes included an option of purchasing all the ingredients needed for preparing the meal, which provided work for his chefs, who would otherwise have been furloughed. His first class had 130 participants. By his third class, the number grew to over 1,000.

The success of this project prompted Kaysen to write and self-publish At Home, which features 112 recipes that he developed while teaching nearly 40 online cooking classes. "I've always loved teaching others how to cook, but it wasn't until I began livestreaming classes in 2020 that I learned how much beyond basic culinary techniques I have to offer. At Home is an extension of these classes." The experience of interacting online with home cooks, answering their questions and walking them through unfamiliar procedures, showed Kaysen where extra help was needed. At Home addresses these common issues and serves as an effective tutorial.

Each recipe includes step-by-step photography as well as tips and insights that Kaysen has collected during his years of running fine-dining kitchens and cooking with some of the world's best chefs. Good cooking shouldn't be overly difficult; it's simply a matter of knowing what the steps are and paying attention as you work your way through them. Kaysen shows you how to organize your workspace and workflow like you would in a professional restaurant kitchen. He emphasizes cleaning as you go. On more than one occasion he had to kindly remind me: "A messy station is a messy mind."

At Home features a mix of recipes, ranging from his family favorites passed down from his grandmother to dishes that Kaysen has developed over his years working in high-end restaurants. He credits his grandmother, Dorothy, for instilling in him his love of cooking and this collection of recipes merges his Midwestern roots with his classic French training. The recipes are organized by the season, and range from such French classics as Coq au vin and Cassoulet to Midwest classics such as Grandmother Dorothy's Chicken and Dumplings.

At Home is a cookbook you'll use. My copy is already christened with my greasy fingerprints.

Dorothy's Chicken and Dumplings

From At Home

This is one of the first dishes Kaysen's grandmother taught him how to make. It's a good dish to make for dinner parties because it can be made ahead. Serves 4

Ingredients

For the dumplings:

1 cup all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking powder 1 teaspoon fine sea salt 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper ¾ cup buttermilk

For the stew:

¼ cup avocado oil (or canola oil) 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs and breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes fine sea salt Freshly ground black pepper 1 cup white pearl onions, peeled and halved 1 small carrot, peeled and diced 1 small rutabaga, peeled and diced 2 tablespoons unsalted butter ¼ cup all-purpose flour 1-quart chicken stock ¼ cup sour cream ¼ cup finely chopped parsley

Preparation

For the dumplings: In a bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, salt and pepper. Make a well in the dry mixture. Slowly drizzle in buttermilk and stir gently with a fork; the batter should stick together but remain a bit wet. Use your hands to gather batter together into a dough. Cover with a wet towel and set aside.

For the stew: In a 4-quart Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Working in batches to avoid overcrowding, sear chicken on all sides until browned but not cooked through, about 5 minutes. Add onion, carrot and rutabaga, and season with salt. Cook until lightly browned, about 4 minutes.

Reduce heat and add butter and flour. Cook until flour is lightly browned and has a nutty fragrance, about 2 minutes. Add chicken stock and scrape the bottom of the pan to deglaze. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, season with salt and pepper, and cook for 10 minutes. Bring heat up to a gentle boil, add sour cream and whisk to combine.

Scoop a dollop of dumpling batter into the pot so it rests atop the liquid; repeat with the remaining batter. Cover, reduce heat to low, and cook for 5 minutes. Flip each dumpling, replace the lid, and cook 3 to 5 minutes longer. Dumplings will turn a shade whiter when finished. Season stew to taste with salt.

To serve, divide stew among bowls, sprinkle with parsley, and enjoy.

Peter Glatz

After the passing of his wife, Julianne (former Illinois Times food columnist), Peter Glatz decided to retire from a 40-year career as a dentist to reinvent himself as a chef at the age of 66. In his short culinary career, he has worked at Chicago’s Michelin-starred Elizabeth Restaurant, Oklahoma City’s Nonesuch...

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