Looking Through a Glass Onion (Cookbook)


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In this job, I get to interact with a lot of chefs. Some are kind, others are surly. But every now and then I get to meet someone who really seems to have a spark in their soul when they talk about their food. When I first spoke to Sarah O'Kelley of The Glass Onion in Charleston, I just really liked her joie de vivre. After speaking to her about her casual restaurant specializing in Lowcountry and Southern cooking, and receiving a few recipes from her, I mentioned that I really like her writing voice and asked if she'd ever considered writing a cookbook.

"Funny you should mention that," she replied, and last week I received a copy of Glass Onion Classics. Along with her partners in the restaurant, Charles Vincent and Chris Stewart, Chef O'Kelley has put together an entertaining cookbook of recipes from The Glass Onion filled with simple instructions, tips and tricks from the kitchen, and stories of their backgrounds as chefs in Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.

Fierce advocates for the use of local, all-natural ingredients, the chefs also included profiles of some of their favorite purveyors and lists of vendors to source those few items that might not be easily available locally to home cooks. The recipes are clearly written with an eye toward using tools and staples that should be at hand in most readers' kitchens. There's no sous vide or molecular gastronomy in this book; everything can be cooked with an electric stove using a minimum of gadgets.

I discovered many tips and tricks that seem like they should have been obvious, but which had never occurred to me. Instead of having a dedicated grinder for spices like some chi chi chefs suggest, why not just grind up a cracker or some neutral-tasting cereal to keep your next cup of coffee from tasting like peppercorns? Why have I been mincing garlic cloves with a big old chef's knife when I could have just been using my Microplane to process a clove? So what if it might take an extra clove or two to produce enough garlic without grating my knuckles? It's still better than that jarred garlic — and how often do you really finish off a head of garlic before it starts to grow green sprouts?

Most of the recipes are only one or two pages long and all of them can be prepared quickly, although some do require longer cooking times to ensure a proper melding of flavors. You can't rush a good chicken stock, and besides, Chef Sarah promises that it will make your house smell "like the coziest place on earth." Unlike some other famous cookbooks that are growing dusty on my shelf (cough, cough, Keller) none of these meals will surprise you halfway through with an instruction to "allow to rest for at least 72 hours before moving to the next step." That sort of thing has waylaid more than one planned Sunday supper at my house.If you are pressed for time, the chefs at The Glass Onion are not above suggesting that you substitute a grocery rotisserie chicken to make their Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya. In fact, some of their Cajun and Creole recipes look like the best meals in the whole book. Chef O'Kelley cut her teeth in Emeril Lagasse's kitchen, so you know that she can add some BAM! to a meal. Chef Stewart developed his Lowcountry expertise working in famous Charleston restaurants like SNOB and FIG, so it is not surprising how well these two chefs' love of seafood and piquant spices dovetail so nicely.

Featured recipes include Jennie Ruth's Deviled Eggs, which are named after Chef Stewart's grandmother and adorn the cover of the book. A traditional Country Captain and Summertime Shrimp and Grits also look like dishes that would impress any visitors to your table. Bakers can also find a lot to love in this cookbook: plenty of recipes for cakes, pies, tarts, cookies and the world famous bread pudding that The Glass Onion has served since the day that they opened their doors in 2008.

The book is available now at Amazon.com, or soon you'll be able to order it directly from the restaurant's website.

If you'd like an amuse bouche before you invest in the whole deal, Chef O'Kelley was gracious enough to allow me to excerpt her recipe for their Housemade Pickles. Print this out and set it aside for next summer when your CSA basket overfloweth with cukes. Or better yet, just buy the whole book!

My partner Chris refers to these as "Holy Crap Those Are Good Pickles." These pickles really are outstanding, and on top of that they are super easy to make. You should make these all summer long when local cucumbers are dirt cheap and delicious. At the GO we serve them as a side, and we also puree them for homemade pickle relish. The have just the perfect amount of sweetness to seduce the palate without overwhelming it.

Housemade Pickles

10 cups sliced cucumbers, peeled on 3 sides and sliced ¾-inch thick (about 5 medium cucumbers)
1 cup thinly sliced sweet onion (about ½ medium onion)
3/4 cup thinly sliced red bell pepper (about 1/2 medium pepper)
1/4 cup sliced carrot, peeled and thinly sliced into rounds (about 1 small carrot)
½ cup kosher salt
4 cups cider vinegar
4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon mustard seed
½ teaspoon celery seed
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

Combine cucumbers, onion, pepper, carrot, and salt in a large bowl or storage container. Let sit for one hour. Rinse thoroughly with cold water. Return to a large bowl or storage container.

Combine remaining ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil. Pour liquid over vegetables, cover, and refrigerate. Refrigerate overnight before serving.

YIELD: About 2 quarts


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