A few of my *other* favorite books
Posted September 5, 2015on:
I’ve been catching up my reading lately, which means I need to catch up on my review writing the rest of this weekend. But, there is this other type of book that I purchase obsessively. Books I find myself going back to again, and again, reading for the pleasure of them. What kind of book am I talking about? Cookbooks!
Husband and I got started on a copy of Joy of Cooking. You can tell how much I’ve used that cookbook by how destroyed the binding is, and how stained the pages are. It’s got some great recipes, and some priceless how-to’s for prepping cuts of meat, cooking turkeys, things to do with random vegetables, easy cookies. It was a great starting point . . . but as the years went on we wanted something, how shall I say, more interesting?
Read on, for a short tour of my favorite cookbooks out of our collection. Cooking is better when the book holding the recipe is an enjoyable book all by itself, no?
My growing collection of Claudia Roden books. If you see her name on a cookbook, buy it. Seriously. My mom gifted me with a copy of “The Book of Jewish Food”, and my fate was sealed as a devotee of Roden’s conversational recipe style. “Everything Tastes Better Outdoors” is all picnic foods,”The Book of Jewish Food” is a world-wide recipe tour of Jewish Communities from India to North Africa to France and “A Book of Middle Eastern Food” is basically 100% deliciousness. One of these cookbooks is usually sitting on the kitchen table, because I just enjoy reading them, just to read them. you know?
I’m not sure how “traditional” this book is, but the photos are gorgeous, the recipes are easy and call for ingredients I can get at the local grocery, and everything we’ve made out of it was delicious (except for the Roasted Turnips. not exactly not-delicious, but we learned the hard way that my husband is allergic to turnips). We make stews all winter long, and the stews in the book are of the “dump in a pot, cook it till it’s hot” variety, and there is some kind of magic involved because 8 ingredients can’t possibly taste that amazing. Bonus = you can get a version of this at just about any Barnes and Noble. look on the sale rack.
And speaking of stews, one of our favorites comes out of Curry Cuisine. This book has chapters that focus on different countries and regions, such as Pakistan, Japan, Vietnam and the Carribean, discussing local ingredients, cultural influences, and of course recipes and drool worthy photos. Some of you are probably thinking “Curry = Indian food that’s too spicy for me to eat”. The word Curry is an anglicized version of a Tamil word that means “sauce”. To be a curry, the dish should be meat and/or veggies that are cooked with spices, and may or may not have a gravy. So yeah, just about anything can be a curry. One of our recent favorite recipes, Curry Rice, comes from this cookbook. It’s a Japanese mild curry, and the way I explain to people is “A beef stew with Japanese and Asian spices that’s served over rice”. I’d love to blog that recipe sometime, complete with badly lit photos.
Sorta, kinda, maybe influenced by Japanese cooking, Wagamana is a restaurant in Britain. I think there is one in Boston now too. I gripe a lot about this cookbook (see page 27 for the finishing sauce. Makes 3 cups of sauce, will stay good for one week in the refrigerator. How the hell am i going to use 3 cups of this sweet and sour sauce when the actual recipe I’m making only calls for 3 Tbsp?), but this is the cookbook that showed me Ramen could be a real meal. If your memories of Ramen noodles include a microwave in a cramped college dorm, this cookbook is the cure. Not only are the Ramen recipes in here ridiculously yummy, they come together crazy fast. They all pretty much boil down to: Roast or grill the meat. While that is cooking, cook the noodles for 3 minutes and then drain them in the sink. Bring broth to a boil, add veggies, turn off the heat. Put noodles in bowl. Put sliced meat in bowl. ladle broth over. garnish with herbs, or a hard boiled egg, or hot sauce, or whatever you want. SO GOOD.
You know what goes great with Ramen and rice? Pickles. You know what is hella fun to make, tastes crazy good, uses up all that random produce in your crisper drawer, and doesn’t require a canning set up? Asian pickles. pickled cukes and celery, kimchi, ginger and vinegar carrots, hot pepper everything. I heart me some twangy, funky pickles, and this book shows you how to pickle and ferment just about anything. even foods I’ve never heard of. Some of these recipes are more than I’m looking for right now (7 months to make hot sauce? I’ll just buy a jar, thanks), but i do have a bowl of soy cucumbers pickling themselves away in the fridge right now, so there’s that.
Huh, we’re on an Asian (or at least Asian inspired) kick, aren’t we? I do not know how this tradition started, but for the last 5 or 6 (or 8? i have no idea) years, hubby and I have celebrated New Years Eve by cooking up a boatload of pork dumplings. We end up with like 70 of them, eat about 40, get upset stomachs from all the oil, and then throw the rest in the freezer. SO GOOD. I wanted to explore more dumpling recipes, and chef Lee Anne Wong to the rescue. We’ve only had this book a few months, so have only had the chance to try a few recipes. Winners all. and I’ve got the sweet potato dumplings in the freezer to prove it. She starts with traditional dumplings and dim sum, and by the end of the book is exploring all sorts of crazy fusion dumplings. If we ever figure out how to use a bamboo steamer, steamed pork buns here I come.
Changing gears, here’s my Bread Bible. This ain’t for lightweight bakers (That’s a pun by the way. the book weighs about 15 pounds!). Beranbaum goes into the science and chemistry (cool!) and every single possible detail of bread baking, chemical reactions, how to form loaves, what is actually happening when your bread bakes and how much your risen dough should weigh. I have never weighed my risen dough, and i never know when it has exactly doubled. She’s got more details than I need, but the bread is fucking amazeballs. Her recipe for Pita Bread is surprisingly easy, and is the only Pita recipe I’ve come across that consistently works. If you follow the intensely detailed recipes, and can plan for 24 hour rise times, your neighbors will knock your door down for the amazing bread they can smell down the street. The sourdough chapter? Still scares the shit out of me.
Well, that’s a glimpse into my collection of my other favorite books.
As much as I love cookbook (the ideas! the photos!) I don’t always use a recipe. Often I find recipes cumbersome and not a good use of my time on a busy weeknight. I am a huge fan of “concocting”. I know how to make a basic spice rub. I know how to saute veggies. I know how to make a basic lentil dal, how to put a salad together, how to make a basic cobbler, how to make a fancy panini, how to make roasted garlic potatoes, how to make pesto. Some of this and some of that and a pot of rice or a big salad, and we’re set for dinner. Often times formal recipes are for the weekend, when i have time to fuss about and buy weird ingredients. But once I have that recipe down? (Chili Beef Ramen, I’m looking at you!), I can make whatever changes to fit my own tastes, and suddenly it’s something I can whip up on a weeknight. Nice how it works out that way!