I, like many people, have control issues when it comes to ice cream. When I was a kid and I tasted Blue Bell’s Cookies & Cream for the first time, it was over for me. My mom would wonder in awe at how a gallon of the stuff could disappear from our freezer in a matter of days. Now that I’m an adult, I mostly refrain from having ice cream in the house because I understand the power of my addiction. But, then again…YOLO, am I right? So I thought a good compromise would be to start making my own ice cream at home. The quality would be better, I would find it more rewarding, and hopefully seeing with my own eyes all the effort (and appalling amount of heavy cream) that goes into making it, I might be able to refrain from eating an entire quart in one sitting. Maybe.
Ah, slow cooker meals. I love them so, so much. By the time you come home from work your house smells amazing, dinner is more or less ready, and you’ve forgotten all the work you did 8 hours ago before you started the slow cooker. The trouble is that since slow cookers do save time, a lot of recipes for them rely heavily on shortcuts from processed foods, like canned soups, jarred salsa, ketchup, barbeque sauce, blahhhh. I was determined to find a cookbook with a fresher approach to slow cooking. So I checked a good looking one out from my library, Slow Cooking by Antony Worrall Thompson. Continue reading
“In America you can have a challah everyday.”
– a Yiddish lullaby found in Joan Nathan’s Jewish Cooking in America
Jacob and I recently made a big exciting addition to our kitchen: a lovely cherry-red Kitchen Aid Mixer. I thought that baking a fresh challah would be a nice way to break it in, so I turned to our cookbook shelf to figure out where to start: Joan Nathan’s Jewish Cooking in America. After all, I was in America, and I wanted to do some Jewish cooking, so why would I look anywhere else?
Picking up where we left off with Cherry Pie: Part 1, this recipe from The Complete Book of Pastry goes through the steps to make a beautiful lattice crust cherry pie like the one pictured above. You could make it for friends for a 4th of July BBQ, like I did! Or just make it for yourself because you deserve your very own personal cherry pie.
In introducing this recipe, Bernard Clayton, Jr. sweetly describes a cherry pie is so special to him: “It was the first pastry my bride made, served and received with love.” If that doesn’t warm your heart then you’re probably dead on the inside, and also I don’t think you’d like this cookbook.
I made a cherry pie a few weeks ago, with cherries I picked with my bare hands. Hands that would soon be stained red with the blood of a thousand cherries! Making the pie was quite a process, so I’m splitting this entry into two parts: Crust & Cherry Pie.
I was introduced to cherry picking in June by my friend Hannah, who every season drives an hour north to visit a favorite cherry farm in Antioch, CA where you can pick and pay by the pound. It was so much fun! Hannah, another friend Jessica, and I all spent a few hours moving from tree to tree, filling our buckets, sampling the cherries warmed by the afternoon sun as we went along. Before I knew it, I had 15 pounds of cherries in my bucket. The next step was to find something to do with them.
You should know something about my sister: you have to be careful what you say you don’t like around her, because chances are, she will find a way to give you whatever it is you don’t like the next time she has the opportunity. She has a mischievous sense of humor that delights in seeing confusion and sometimes terror on your face upon opening a gift. For example, she once gave me a pair of sweatpants for Christmas with the Greek letters of a sorority across the butt, knowing that I am completely not the type to ever be in sorority OR wear sweatpants with anything whatsoever written on the butt. She thought it was hilarious though, and in truth, it was.
So a few years back when we were driving together through the eye of the crappy chain restaurant storm that is downtown Grapevine, I should have just kept my mouth shut. But I saw a Luby’s and I decided to mention to my sister how gross I thought Luby’s was. So of course, for Christmas that year, she gifted me this little gem:
The best part of the gift was the inscription my sister placed inside the cover (I’m sure just her clever way to make sure I didn’t immediately sell it to Half Price), “Please remember the cafeteria genre of food: never to be left out, always to cause reaction.” Well put. Bodily reactions, she probably means.
This cookbook is amazing in so many was, and now I realize it’s perfectly suited to this cookbook challenge. My favorite parts of the book are the saccharine quotes sprinkled throughout the book: “I fell in love with my girlfriend over a Lu Ann platter one evening. She said, ‘I love the macaroni & cheese here.’ Then I said, ‘I love YOU!'” — Steven Landry, Austin, TX. Way to go, Steve. Stay classy.
A few other good things about this cookbook:
1. The photos somehow make the food look really good. If you’re into food porn, on pages 95 & 96 you’ll get a full blown spread of some really sexy mac & cheese. I was even considering making that recipe until I read on that the only cheese it contains is 3 cups American. Call me a snob, call me a Bolshevik, call me what you will, but I refuse to put American in my mac & cheese.
2. The servings are all for 6-8 people. So if you’re planning to have a bunch of old folks over for lunch, this is the cookbook for you!
I should mention that most of my friends grew up in Texas, and for them Luby’s is the epitome of comfort food and childhood memories. Jacob and I were planning on having about 6-8 people over to eat brisket last weekend, so I thought, what the heck, I’ll pick a recipe from the Luby’s cookbook, it will be a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. Herein lies the challenge… what recipe to choose? They all just looked so….. unappetizing to me. So I’ll admit that I took a cop out and chose to make this jalapeño cornbread. I’m sorry, you guys. I took on this cookbook challenge knowing that it would force me out of my food comfort zone, but I’m struggling a little bit with it. We’ll get there if you stick with me, I promise.
The cornbread was fantastic, of course, as are probably most of the things in this cookbook if I could just get over my snobbery. I personally don’t care for Luby’s, but I guess it’s one of those things that make Texas Texas, so I wouldn’t ever want it to go away. I’m glad that there’s a place for cute old people to go every day and talk about what’s on the menu. And spoiler alert: What’s on the menu is condensed soups, American cheese, and butter. Lots of butter.
[Thanks, Kristin! I’ll be sure to cook you up something real nice from this cookbook in a few months when I’m out in California.]
I know I already recently covered a recipe from Plenty, but consider this a bonus! I highly recommend this salad to all my friends with unruly herb gardens, as this recipe calls for a ton of fresh herbs.
I was so excited to find orange blossom water at Fiesta, the best grocery store for those hard to find ingredients. I also noticed they had gigantic jars of preserved lemons, which I really could have used in my Arabesque recipe from a few weeks ago! Were we not planning to move in a few weeks, I would have bought a jar, but hauling them across the country seems silly when I’m sure there are plenty of places to find them in the Bay Area.
The orange blossom water in the dressing is what really makes this salad. That, on top of the fragrant blend of herbs will really perk you up. For me, the smell takes me back to when I worked at an Indian hair removal salon in Soho. After threading you, they’d apply orange blossom water to your face. I think it has some astringent properties, but I always enjoyed that the lovely smell would help you forget that you just had all the hair on your face ripped out by the follicle. These days I think I’d rather just enjoy this salad from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty.
I first encountered Yotam Ottolenghi when Heidi Swanson featured his recipe for Eggplant and Mango with Soba Noodles on her blog. Two things you should know about me: 1) I am absolutely crazy for eggplant. 2) I am absolutely crazy about putting fruit in savory dishes. So eggplant and mango in a dish together? Sold! I tried it, I loved it, and I knew I had to learn more about this Ottolenghi character. (By the way, his Eggplant & Mango recipe is on pg. 112 of Plenty.)
What else can I say about this cookbook? He has an entire chapter devoted to eggplant. His blurbs about each recipe are short and entertaining. I should probably mention that while he is not a vegetarian, all of the recipes in this cookbook are vegetarian, but all can certainly be tweaked to differing tastes. In his introduction he talks a bit about why he writes a vegetarian column despite the fact that he eats meat, and people’s different motivations for choosing more pragmatic diets.
For this recipe, Ottolenghi asks Italians to forgive him for swapping cilantro for the traditional basil in this dish. I had a lot of the eggplant and salsa leftover after making this recipe, and so the next day I layered them with some mozzarella on good bread spread with pesto, and the cilantro and basil complemented each other very well.
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.
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.
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.