A New Cookbook Icon: “Twelve Recipes” by Cal Peternell

As I was reading “Twelve Recipes” by Cal Peternell, chef at Alice Waters’ famed Chez Panisse, lacking a father figure became an even more perceptible limp in my upbringing. Here was a father who was packing up kitchen gear for his son before he went away to college, useful items such as a knife, cutting board, measuring cups and spoon. When my father left me at the age of 7, he took the child-sized, baby blue golf clubs with him. I wished I had a father who took such care in my welfare but who also wanted me to cook as exceptionally as he did, using recipes he created or knew like the back of his hand, passing them down to his progeny.

The premise of the book was to give his son the tools to create great dinners for himself and for his friends. However, as a finished product he created a well-written story on how to take care of yourself in the great big world.

Cal Peternell: Photo by Ed Anderson

That’s what cooking is for me, it’s the ultimate in self-care. It’s like going to the gym, getting your car washed, and seeing the dentist bi-annually. It’s a time-honored rite of passage and I really felt the love of Peternell for his children in his writing.

Most of the recipes are fairly basic such as his recipes for “salsa verde” using olive oil, parsley, salt and garlic. Then making that into a traditional gremolata (exempting the oil) with anecdotes about how his family dry herbs: “Some kids have to wash the car; my kids have to wash the parsley, and here’s how: fill a big bowl with cold water and dip the whole bunch of parsley in, swishing it around like you mean it. Lift it, give it a preliminary shake, and then drip as little as possible on the floor as you walk quickly outside. Swing the bunch by the stems, flick it like a whip, spritz the sidewalk, the yard, the dog, the world. Bunches of basil, cilantro, or mint can be taken on the same ride. Set the bunch on a towel to dry for 5 minutes — herbs chop up nicer and fluffier and don’t clump when they are not wet.” Who doesn’t want a father who wants to spritz the sidewalk?

But it was his cake recipes that really sold me.I’ve now made two of them, Cake-Cake and the Pan Cake. The Pan Cake is so easy it’s like why would you ever think of a mix? It’s not too sweet and best part, you can use one pan! Seriously, no bowl, everything is mixed in the cake pan you are going to bake in.  With a good dollop of crème fraiche, homemade whipped cream or ice cream (if you have the ice cream contraption), it’s so simple to make for a daily treat or to impress dinner guests at the end of a meal.  This recipe should be as standard as boiling water, scrambling eggs and buttering toast.

Ingredients (adapted from Cal Peternell’s “Twelve Recipes”):

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 cup sugar

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa (the recipe says 1/8 but I wanted it a little more bittersweet).

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon finely ground coffee (optional…I also use 3 for more of a coffee/ cocoa taste)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon red or white vinegar

1 cup water

1/3 cup vegetable oil

Let’s make this puppy:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the all the dry ingredients in an ungreased 8 – 9 inch round cake pan and stir with a whisk. Make a crater in the center, adding all wet ingredients together. Whisk until all the dry goods are fully incorporated. Put in the oven for about 30 minutes but check for doneness at around 20. Insert a toothpick into the center to make sure it’s fully cooked.