Cookbooks I Have Known and Loved

Image courtesy of The Graphics Fairy

I read cookbooks the way others read novels. In fact, I can’t remember the last novel that I read. That’s how long it’s been.

But give me a good cookbook and I will be happily amused for hours. And if I find a recipe that aligns with what I have on hand, you will, too. Here’s a glimpse of the ones that live on my bookshelf in no particular order:

French Country Cooking and A Kitchen in France by Mimi Thorrison. The recipes are easy to follow, even if they run on the complex side (the blanquette recipe is a bit complicated, but she did a great job of breaking it down into smaller steps, for example).  Both books are visually stunning thanks to her husband’s photography. Plus, the back story of the house where they live and run a pop-up restaurant in the former is about as French as you can get.

More with Less, written by Doris Janzen Longacre, is a collection of recipes submitted by members of the Mennonite Church. The recipes are basic but delicious and include suggestions to avoid wasting food.

Chocolate and Zucchini by Clotilde Dusoulier contains the recipe for my go-to completely bombproof yogurt cake. It’s the first cake kids learn how to make and can be tweaked with berries or citrus or used as the base for a Victoria sponge. Also check out her recipe for mustard chicken stew.

Indian Every Day by Anjum Anand provides lighter spins on Indian food. Her spinach and chicken will give you new reasons to get up in the morning.

The New Nordic Diet by Trina Hahnnaman put the emphasis on seafood and grains and lower fat ingredients. The cod and shrimp stew and apple crumble will make you forget how healthy you are eating. And try the shower buns. Yum.

Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells contains my go-to recipes for pesto and pie crust. I love the illustrations in here as well: a combination of lovely line drawings and vintage photos from Parisian bistros.

And my all time favorite for sentimental reasons:

A just past WWII edition of The Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer. My parents received it as a wedding present in 1946. It’s falling apart and has to be stored in a plastic bag to keep it together. No matter. I still use her sugar cookie recipe when called upon to make something. Both my parents made notes in the margins and tucked recipes clipped from print publications or handwritten by the grandmas between its covers.

What are yours, Gentle Readers?

 

Confessions

Bless me, my friends. I do occasionally buy frozen entrees and salad dressing.

Done gasping? Let me continue. 

I get dressing from Annie’s. It’s organic, mostly, and doesn’t have a ton of preservatives or other chemicals that make it taste like Love Canal. There are just days when mixing together the oil, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper is too intimidating, kitchen gadgets or no.

I get Amy’s Organics entrees. Clearly labeled, reasonable at Target of all places, and Meijer’s, too, if you live in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. 

For veg burgers, which I have tried at home, I get Sunshine Burgers. They’re based on sunflower seed protein. I usually make a salad with them, or a wrap with a no-grain or gluten free tortilla. 

I must confess as well…I love shopping at Whole Foods. Yes, I know a lot of their items can be had much cheaper at other places. But there’s something seductive about the aroma of incense and soap wafting from the Lifestyle section. There’s something about sales associates who actually seem happy to see you and walk with you to the desired aisle. And samples. I shopped at Fresh Fields, their precursor in my area, so there’s a little nostalgia involved. I’m always a little surprised when I don’t see my associates from an environmental group I volunteered for strolling the aisles. I get some of our protein food from them, such as ground turkey. It’s grown really hard to find ground turkey that hasn’t been subjected to the addition of those unnamed “natural flavorings.” The bison and grassfed beef are competitively priced, surprisingly. I usually get those from my organic produce lady, but there are times I get caught. I get some extra and freeze.

On the dog front, no, I don’t make Oakley treats, except for his bedtime snack of pumpkin and goat keifer sorbet (mix, scoop into single serving containers, freeze) or hensickles (frozen chicken broth in single serving containers). I get some from a local company called Pawdukes. I make kale chips for him. Yes, he eats kale. Go figure. 

While homecooked is best, it’s comforting to know there are backups out there.

 

The “Mythbusters” Culinary Academy: A Father’s Day Tribute

The nightly ritual chez moi involves watching at least part of an episode of “Mythbusters” on Netflix. If you haven’t seen it, the hosts of the show, Jamie and Adam along with their colleagues explore myths and legends to see if they have any scientific validity. They’ve made a lead balloon that flew; they’ve launched a plane from a conveyer belt of sorts. 

Even when the myth they’re testing gets “busted,” or found to be invalid, they keep experimenting to find out what would have to happen to achieve the intended effect. Such as building a human analog with the necessary plumbing to see if it were true that relieving one’s self on an electrified rail would result in electrocution. 

When I learned to cook at my father’s elbow, it wasn’t that different. 

When Dad was a year younger than me, he had the first in a series of heart attacks that landed him on disability eighteen months later. The legacy of a high stress job as a biochemist combined with years smoking, being sedentary, and letting his weight get out of hand lead to all of it. He wound up on a raft load of medications that didn’t seem to work that well, except for the nitro tabs that relieved his angina. 

And then there was the question of salt-free cooking. Salt works its magic not just by enhancing flavors, but by facilitating chemical reactions such as those in baking. 

Somewhere in that year and a half, my mother passed on. We–Dad, my brother, and I–had to learn how to cook, and do so quickly to save ourselves from my well meaning but culinary challenged paternal grandmother who moved in with us to help out. My sister had already been launched and was a good cook in her own right, so she was spared the horror of American chop suey (a melange of hamburger, cooked elbow macaroni, and tomato sauce. Nothing else. Yes, it was that bad, and the lack of salt made it worse). (However, to Gram’s credit, she had been a highly respected elementary school teacher. She just never quite got the cooking thing down very well. Except for Jell-o. She made the best cherry walnut Jell-o.)

Forgive the digression. So Dad ran out to our local friendly bookstore and bought every cookbook covering beginning cooking and living salt-free. With the same determination and curiosity that Jamie and Adam use in debunking urban legends, he went about debunking the notion that salt-free food was inherently nasty.  

Successes were many. The soup I still weep for; the tomato sauce recipe I still use; his homemade bread; grilling all worked pretty well thanks to the judicious addition of extra herbs, garlic, and lemon juice or a splash of wine.

The flops: anything involving reduced sodium baking powder until he realized that the conversion table was all wrong and it took a tablespoon of it to give the cornbread the needed loft; the first loaves of bread that could have made doorstops. Like Jamie and Adam, he used his scientific knowledge to recalculate and reach the intended effect.

And the totally unintended: a batch of yeast dough that went completely berserk and kept growing, even in the refrigerator.

So we grew into good cooks. And it was a lot more fun learning science that way than in the classroom. “Put the baking powder in. Now put in the vinegar. See, that’s what happens when you mix acid with alkaline. Don’t ever do it with anything stronger.” 

I kept my curiosity contained to the kitchen, thankfully. If Google had been around then, and I’d had some of the friends I have now, there would likely be a crater someplace that we might know something about. Or pleading the Fifth over.

So I keep channeling my curiosity into cuisine. Especially now that I have the restrictions on grains and dairy. It’s fun to approach the new lessons as I did as a ten year old in Dad’s kitchen. 

And sometimes, if I can really still my mind, I can sense his presence.