This week I picked a recipe from Nigella Lawson’s cookbook How to Eat: The Pleasure and Principles of Good Food. I’ve had this cookbook for more than a few years, (a card stuffed in the back of the book says it was a birthday gift from my folks in 2004). It’s hard to focus on the cookbook, though, with Mrs. Lawson’s eyes staring through me from the cover:
Stop peering into my soul, Nigella!
It looks like the most recent version of the cookbook has a different, less Mrs. Robinson-esque cover to it, which is probably a good thing. The book is structured around complete meals, and while I appreciate that sort of approach to cooking, it makes it a difficult book to use, since rarely do I have the time or foresight to make several dishes consecutively (or simultaneously). In addition, her tendency to use a lot of game and seafood that are not easily available at the local grocery store make a lot of these recipes inaccessible. And for someone whose cooking persona is that she cooks with passion, a lot of the recipes sadly seem to fall into the the stereotype of bland British food.
This soup (pg. 144), however, was good and came together quickly. Not a ton of flavors involved – mostly just butternut squash, onion and vegetable stock, topped with some Parmesan cheese. But that simplicity works well for a cold-weather, quick weeknight meal (never mind that March in Texas is hardly cold weather). The whole thing came together in about 45 minutes, and only half of that was prep time or time spent standing in front of the stove. I added some Italian parsley we had sitting around the kitchen, and it worked fine but didn’t contribute as much to the flavor as I would have liked – another herb like sage or basil would have been a better choice.
That's me on the left doing my worst Alton Brown impression.
My brother got me this cookbook several years ago just when I was really starting to get into food. It is a fantastic cookbook for beginners or anyone with an interest in the science of cooking. The book is divided into different methods of cooking food rather than the foods themselves, so you learn about searing, poaching, braising, roasting, grilling, etc. all from an elemental standpoint. He explains many things, such as why it’s important to let meat rest after it cooks, why certain fats are more useful and better for you than others, when to use indirect heat vs. direct heat; all of which in the end help you to be a better chef overall. He’s also really funny, like when he tells you to stock your kitchen with welding gloves because potholders are for sissies.
Did I mention this cookbook comes with removable magnets that teach you the different cuts of meat? They’re a little flimsy, I wouldn’t really trust them to keep much on your fridge, but they’ll tell you where to find a sirloin steak on your cow.
I adapted these recipes to my liking. Alton Brown’s Cast-Iron Duck (p.33) obviously calls for duck breast instead of chicken thighs, and I completely intended on doing that, but Central Market didn’t come through on the duck breast, which probably would have been super expensive anyway. I opted instead to get the $3/lb chicken thighs, because I knew those would have a lot of flavor, and I’m sure Alton Brown also understands the science of saving money.
For my first birthday after Karin and I started dating, she got me this cookbook along with a very nice wok, the latter of which promptly got put into storage when we moved in together – how many woks does a household need on hand at any given moment? For us, that answer is one. From the text of the cookbook, this seems like it was written for a British audience – measurements in metric units, cilantro called coriander, etc. The book is a mix of stir-fry recipes from various cultures – Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, and is divided into different types of meat, seafood, tofu and vegetables, with an appendix listing basic recipes for several curry pastes and sauces. Seems like it is out of print now, based upon the lack of availability on numerous book-selling websites. Which is a shame, since the book has some very clear & concise recipes and some of the nicest full-page food photography I’ve seen in a cookbook. Plus it’s sturdy despite being a paperback, which is sort of rare even for cookbooks.
The Thai red curry recipe (pg. 33) I picked sounded good and looked tasty in the picture, but I also picked it since we have some red curry paste in the back of the fridge (used to make this originally) that wasn’t getting any younger and, well, I’ve been in an eggplant frame-of-mind for the last few weeks.
Note: I made the recipe as written below, but next time I plan to brown the beef before adding the curry paste – the way the recipe suggests led to the beef being very spicy, everything else being significantly milder, and some of the curry paste getting a bit burnt. Browning the beef first would spread the heat throughout the dish and keep the curry paste from sitting too long in the hot wok before you add the coconut milk and water in step 2.
Jacob’s sister Naomi got him Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey and Lebanon by Claudia Roden for his birthday one year. It’s a beautiful cookbook full of lush photographs, just look at the colors on the cover. Is that a good looking eggplant or what?
Arabesque is divided into three main sections, I bet you can guess what they are. I chose two recipes from the Morocco section to make this time, but I am excited about featuring more recipes from the Turkey and Lebanon sections in the future.
The recipes I selected were Sweet Potato Salad (p52) and Cod Steaks in Tomato Sauce with Ginger and Black Olives (p81). In place of the cod steaks I used monkfish tail because it was cheaper, similar in firmness and looks like some sort of prehistoric sea zombie. When the fish guy described to me what monkfish looks like, I knew I had to eat it.
Who wants cod when you could eat this monster?
Most of the ingredients in Arabesque are easy to find, although many of the recipes call for preserved lemons, which I haven’t been able to find yet. The book has a helpful introduction that walks you through making them, which looks like a very simple process, but takes about a month of pickling-time to accomplish. It’s on my list of things to do.