What shall we cook today? It seems that for most of us, a bit of our book obsession would carry over to the cookbook genre, so this week for Weekly Geeks, let's talk cookbooks! Here are some ideas to get you started:I have had an on-again, off-again relationship with cooking. When first married and living in New York City, I LOVED cooking. I enjoyed reading the monthly magazines (Bon Appetit and Gourmet were my favorites); I loved going to the local green grocer, bakery, pasta shop, etc and buying all the freshest ingredients; I frequently visited such food emporiums as Zabar's and Balducci's to expand my culinary education; I even took a couple of classes at the New School to hone such essential techniques as knife skills and basic baking; I was privileged to volunteer at the James Beard Foundation when it first opened. I thought nothing of working an 8 hour day and coming home to "relax" by preparing a 3 course dinner. At the time, my favorite cookbook author was Martha Stewart and I would pour over the lovely illustrations as I imagined entertaining my own guests at a holiday soiree.
--Describe your cookbook collection. How many cookbooks do you own? A lot? Just a few? None at all?
--Do you even buy cookbooks? Or do you gather family cookbook compilations and/or recipe files instead?
--Do you like to collect certain types of cookbooks? Say, from certain chefs? From places you visit? From a particular food group or style?
--When buying cookbooks, what do you look for? Does it need to have pictures? Spiral binding? A specific type of font?
--What is your favorite cookbook? Tell us the story behind it.
--Tell us about your most well-used cookbook. Is it different from your favorite cookbook? Or are they one and the same?
--Take a picture of your collection. How and where do you organize it?
--Share a recipe from one of your favorite cookbooks. Include a picture if you can.
The cookbooks that I used most often during this time period, and still do to this day, were the Silver Palatte Cookbooks by Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso. I enjoy the food descriptions and the unique blending of everyday ingredients with more exotic herbs and spices. To the naked eye, the cookbooks are a mess - with accidental spills, handmade notes, and dog-eared pages - but to me, each one of those spills brings back vivid memories of an exciting time in my life.
Another series of cookbooks that I used quite often at that time - and still enjoy - are those by Sarah Leah Chase: The Nantucket Open House Cookbook and Warm Weather Cooking. The recipes are wonderfully classic fare with a slight modern twist. What I love most about these two cookbooks, however, are not the recipes, but the eloquent descriptions that the author uses to describe each dish. These are truly cookbooks that I could sit down and read cover to cover --- not just skim to find a particular recipe.
Once kids came on the scene - the love of cooking waned. The day that I slaved over a dish of homemade maccaroni and cheese - only to have noses turned up and voices screaming, "It's not like the blue box" -- I realized that I needed to put aside gourmet cooking for a while. And so I did. My children never did enjoy casseroles (so....the crock pot meals were out), and didn't really enjoy adventures on their meal plate (although they seemed to relish it any other time of day). I found a few tried and true staples and stuck with them in order to maintain peace.
I have ALWAYS enjoyed baking, however, and that is something that no child ever turned up a nose. At one point I would bake muffins for my husband's bank branch office every Saturday: 3 dozen mini-muffins each of 3 different varieties. I had a repertoire of about 20 muffins that I would rotate. I continued that practice when we moved from Connecticut to Kansas and I joined a Bible Study group. I would usually make 6 dozen mini-muffins each of 2 different varieties. It was a lot of fun and allowed me to experiment with the creative side of my brain. I even did a little (very little) catering during this time in my life - concentrating on hors d'oeuvres and desserts - and of course, muffins.
Christmas cookies have always been a huge deal in our house. Until recently I would usually bake about 8-10 different kinds of cookies including chocolate truffles, pecan crescents, decorated sugar cookies, and gingerbread houses. All 3 of my children would aid in the preparation of Christmas cookies from the time they were about 15 months old. We started slow - with M&M cookies - and for every 3 M&Ms that went on a cookie, 1 went in the mouth. Soon, however, they would progress to decorating sugar cookies, and now my youngest has pretty much taken over as the official cookie baker in our household. Some parents play games with their children - I bake cookies.
I think cooking is something that I will probably return to once I am retired. I am such a singularly focused invidual, that it is just about all I can do to manage the lesson plans for the 6 different classes that I teach; we eat a lot of frozen food, tuna, and pasta. Once my school work is more under control, however, I do think I would like to return to the kitchen. I really do enjoy the entire process of cooking: the research for recipes - the shopping for ingredients - the chopping and mincing and mixing - and sometimes, even the clean up (if it isn't too late). I will still refer to my favorite recipe books (as mentioned above) - but these days I also use the All Recipes site quite a bit. I have yet to not find a recipe (or several dozen) for a dish that I want to prepare. I can save all recipes in an online file, and I can print them off as needed.