Monday, May 4, 2015

Flexibility & Forgiveness

Spring Lasagna with Asparagus & Peas

Each day I remind clients of mine that "great can be the enemy of good." That to reach any goal we must embrace flexibility and forgiveness because like it or not, life is going to happen and mistakes are going to be made.  If you are flexible, and forgive yourself for straying away from your path, you can still reach your goals.  If you are rigid and punish yourself for your less-than-ideal choices you suddenly risk the path disappearing entirely.

I'm taking my own advice for a change!  I lost the path a bit with my cookbook blog project, but rather than give up, I'm just changing the rules and moving on!  I've been cooking, but getting to my computer to blog has been a challenge lately.  I admit, I got a bit frustrated, and felt like I was letting myself down, failing at the task, but then I realized...I could still reach my goal if I just took another path...

I never promised myself that I would write 55 blog posts this year (one from each cookbook I began with) but rather that I would cook 55 recipes and make decisions about whether or not the books got to stay in our collection as I moved through them.  So with this new enlightenment about my project, I'M BACK!!

Book #7: The Heart of the Plate - Mollie Katzen

My mom gave us this cookbook for Christmas a few years ago, and I'm not quite sure I've told her yet how much we love it!  The recipes are fantastic, easy to follow, delicious and pretty healthy overall. The Winter Lasagna recipe quickly became one of all time favorite recipes, and now I think we can add the Spring Lasagne to the list as well!

Mollie Katzen's website is also fantastic, and the recipe I made happens to be featured!


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The First Casualty

It didn't happen quite like I imagined...

I thought all along that the first book I had to get rid of (if there even was one) would come long into the project, when I'd scoured its pages multiple times and couldn't find a single thing that I wanted to cook. I was surprised this week to find another reason to get rid of a book, and it happened much sooner; "because it's just not a good fit."


We hardly ever eat red meat...and I'm a dietitian.  Owning a cookbook dedicated to burgers is kind of, how should I say, not exactly in keeping with a "practice what you preach" kind of lifestyle.   A book of burgers just doesn't make much sense on our shelf.  When, and if, some need arises that calls for us to make burgers at home I feel like some grass fed beef, a meat thermometer and the internet might serve us just fine.

I gave poor Burgers the benefit of the doubt.  I made the turkey burger recipe that looked relatively promising, and relatively healthy.  It was, "Meh." Uninspired to say the least.

I did make a white winter slaw to serve on the side that was quite a win! Big thanks to my friend Diana Cullum-Dugan for posting this recipe from Whole Foods on her Namaste Nutrition blog.

Perhaps a greater carnivore than I will be thrilled to find Burgers on the shelf at Goodwill.  Let us hope so.


Monday, February 23, 2015

Kinda What I Had in Mind

There are a few things that I'm famous for.  Among them: Reading the headline of a newspaper or magazine article and talking about it like I'm an expert, and having no clue how long something might take.  The latter applies in the kitchen especially and the former manifests itself in the form of: reading a list of ingredients and assuming I've "read the recipe."

With regard to last week's recipe from the cookbook of the week, well, I once again proved that I have indeed perfected these two things. I planned to make my dish Thursday night...then Friday night (once Thursday got away from me).  Then on Friday I actually read the recipe that I thought I was making...then Matt made chicken.

I purchased Gastronomy of Italy by Anna Del Conte when I was working at Via Matta.  At the time I bought it because I was eager.  Eager to learn about Italian food, eager to pass just one quiz, (yes, quiz during our pre-shift meeting), eager to pronounce "Brus 'ketta" correctly, eager to teach people the difference between branzino and branzini.  Also, I think it was in the sale bin at Barnes and Noble, but that's really not the point.  

A while after I bought the book, and long before I actually opened it, I saw a copy of it in "Chef's office" and felt proud that I had purchased it.  Like I was secretly part of some obscure book club.

I've made one recipe from this book before, Pizzoccheri, a buckwheat pasta dish with potatoes, cabbage and fontina cheese (though I remember using Taleggio because it's a favorite of mine) but the blog project dictates I must cook a new recipe from each of our books for the first time.  It's meant to be a bit of an adventure.  This one sure was!

Sometimes when you buy a cookbook, there's one recipe, THE recipe that looks absolutely beautiful, impossible, but beautiful.  It's often the one on the cover.  This book was one of those.  Page 85.
So, back to what I was saying about being famous...This monstrosity only has to cook for 20 minutes. I had all the ingredients, and I had 20 minutes.  Joke was on me.  The assumption is that prior to assembly and baking you have: made your tomato sauce, hard boiled some eggs, cooked your pasta and sautéed 2 lbs of thinly sliced eggplant.  Well...that wasn't gonna fly on a school night.  So the recipe of the week got put on hold until I could spend a proper amount of time in the kitchen (aka the entire afternoon on Sunday). But the finished product.  One part lasagne, one part terrine, one part pain in the ass.  Many, many parts delicious!  Yup, it came out this good!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Sometimes You Realize It's a Lemon...

In the winter of 2002 I found myself somewhere rather peculiar.  My big evening plans lead me to the dusty, cramped stockroom of a Williams Sonoma in the Westlake Mall in downtown Seattle, Washington.  I wasn't alone.  Myself and about 15 other people stood in a semi circle around a chirpy store manager surrounded by walls of KitchenAid mixers and "color of the year" rubber spatulas. Our host asked us rapid fire questions about our career aspirations and thoughts about teamwork.  And we took turns answering with our best "I'm dying to hand out gourmet hot chocolate samples" charm.

A quick peek around the room at my peers that evening, and I assessed that their career aspirations likely had something to do with wishing the .com bubble had never burst.  That, like myself, their "career aspirations" had something to do with not being in this very place. Nonetheless...there we stood, doing our best to smile and be witty.  To stand out in this unemployed bunch, desperate to land a part-time mall job at Christmastime.  All that blather can be boiled down to this...In 2002, you did not want to be looking for work in Seattle.

So there I stood. Excited to have finally landed an interview in the mall after being told I was over qualified to work at the candle store, (thank you Illuminations for that keen observation) didn't know enough people to edge my way into the local restaurant scene, (such as it was then) and my resumes lingered in the "circular files" of what felt like every office building in the city.  Excited indeed.  This was also my first group interview.  Turns out it was my last too.  As the questions kept coming, two things became more and more apparent to me.  One, everyone in the room was even more desperate for this job than I was, and I was pretty desperate, and two, I didn't fit in here.  While I had been filling my unemployed days literally building a couch, because we couldn't afford one, and wandering around my new city in awe of the strange post grunge, pre Fifty Shades mish mash of culture, these people had been cooking.  

The next question Mr. Enthusiastic Sales Guy asked really punched me in the gut.  "What is your favorite kitchen appliance?  And Why?"  Until this very moment, I had been holding my own.  After all this was a mall job.  How could standing around a cash register ringing up sales for flatware be any different than ringing up soaps? (Incidentally, something I had already done...thank you again Seattle). Apparently to get this coveted part-time, minimum wage job, you actually had to be passionate about the products, and they preferred you didn't fake it.  I was out.

"Take out menu."  That was my answer.  It was honest, albeit some might say insulting, but truly, in a "Jen Jasmin" kind of way, honest.  As the group picked up their jaws and Mr. Enthusiastic Sales Guy got his eyes back in his head and his underwear untwisted, I politely thanked everyone for their time and excused myself from the room.

As I've mentioned before...I really, really couldn't always cook.  Back then I would have had no business working in a store that sold gadgets and gizmos that at the time I couldn't even pronounce. You know what they say about hindsight.

If I had to, I'd land that job today.  (Fingers crossed history doesn't repeat itself that way.)  And I now have cabinets full of kitchen tools that I consider indispensable. None has consistently brought me more joy on a busy week though than my CrockPot, or "slow cooker" as we are supposed to call them now as to sound more upscale gourmet, and less 70's housewife. 

Thanks for reading this week as I strolled down memory lane.  This week's recipe came from The Italian Slow Cooker by Michele Scicolone. I haven't mentioned this before, but should, I don't intend to post the actual recipes I cook during this project unless I can already find them posted somewhere else online by the chef or author that they came from.  I've learned that writing a recipe is a true art, and feel that if you'd like to make something I've tried, you should give the creator proper credit and buy the book.

May I present you: Lemon Chicken and Potatoes

It may not look like the most beautiful dish (Crockpot meals rarely do) but it was flavorful and delicious!!!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Short and Sweet

It's late...and this post is likely to be a bit less inspired than I would prefer... but in the spirit of keeping's here, and that's what matters.

Super.  Bowl.  Sunday.   We planned to have a few usual suspects over to watch the game this year...not a party per se, just a small gathering, which to us means we make enough food to feed an army!  So there was that, and I had to pick a recipe for my project.

I was struggling to find a recipe of the week to try out, or rather a cookbook I wanted to pick when Matt suggested I make something from "THE COOKBOOK" to serve for our guests.  Seemed like a heavy idea, I didn't think I was ready, in fact, in the back of my mind, I was saving this book for the last post...oh, and I'm not a great baker...oh and now I have to serve this to guests.  No pressure.  But I went for it.  And I'm happy I did.
What's "THE COOKBOOK?"  Well, as I mentioned in the beginning, I've had this Hershey's cookbook for basically my entire life (the copyright is from 1989...which means I was about 10 when I got it) and have never made a single thing from it...until now.  May I present:  Chocolate Cream Filled Cupcakes.

In the spirit of honesty, it's important to confess that the "Cream Filled" part never really happened.  I might have neglected to read that the recipe required a proper piping bag...which I neglected to remember I don't own...BUT my chocolate cupcakes came out better than I could have hoped.  I topped them with an orange butter cream frosting and they were a hit!  Phew.

Now...what's next???

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Crying for Mashed Potatoes

Oh how I wish we had a Dean and Deluca in Boston.  I shopped in my first Dean and Deluca store on a trip to Washington DC in college, and the chain has had a special place in my heart ever since. Fresh pasta, gourmet prepared foods, Mariage Freres tea, imported cheeses, charcuterie, aisles of condiments all under one roof.  It's the kind of place that makes me giddy!  Naturally when I learned they had a cookbook, I had to have it. So I bought it.  And I put it on the shelf.  And there it sat.  Until this project I'd never made a single recipe from it...and I almost didn't.  

The Dean and Deluca cookbook is an anthology of recipes divided into sections.  In that way, it's rather typical. There are chapters for appetizers, soups and salads, fish dishes, beef dishes, chicken dishes etc. What makes it unique though, and truly special, is that each section has pages preceding the recipes that offer very useful information.  The pasta section, for example, offers a detailed history of pasta and very good directions of how to make fresh pasta. It even offers suggestions about what kinds of sauces traditionally suit which shapes of pasta best.  The vegetable section has descriptive paragraphs of a variety of unusual vegetables including information about how to prepare them, when they are in season, and how to shop for them.   The educational value of the book is invaluable, but when I started looking for a recipe for this project, I had a hard time finding one I wanted to make.  My rule for this project is that I have to get rid of any cookbook that I don't actually want to cook from...I was conflicted.  I couldn't imagine that Dean and Deluca would let me down. So I took another trip through the pages.  And this time, the opposite thing happened...I wanted to make almost everthing!  I finally settled on a beef dish that sounded exotic, and delicious.

I made this:

The book calls it "Carbonnade of Beef with Prunes."  I'll clarify for you though.  It should be called "Delicious Bowl of Meat That You'll Need to Serve with Something Else."  I got so caught up in the title of the dish I didn't even realize that what I was making was basically beef stew...but what I think of as beef stew is a one dish meal. It typically has beef (of course) but also veggies and potato cooked with it. This dish...not so much. It really was a bowl of meat. One thing I have learned so far about these cookbooks is that I very much value those that give you not only ideas for "dishes" but for "meals." A serving suggestion would have been nice "hey, you might want to make mashed potatoes and a big salad with this." There are so many great vegetable and potato recipes in this book, it would have been nice if it read..."serve this with ______ on page _____."  Thankfully I threw together a salad.  A favorite of mine...simple and delicious.
Arugula tossed with shaved red onion, shaved mushrooms, capers, shaved Parmesan cheese, a squeeze of olive oil, black pepper and a drizzle of truffle oil.  The acid paired nicely with the rich beef...but I couldn't stop thinking about how badly the dish needed a bed of mashed time Carbonnade, next time...

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Delicious Decisions

Choosing which of our 59 cookbooks would be the first in my project was a bit more difficult than I would have thought.  At first I figured I would just work through our shelves, zig zag if you will, until I reached the last book.  Then I contemplated making an alphabetical list to work from, but couldn't decide between alphabetical by author, or alphabetical by title.  Lastly I thought I might work in categories; dessert books, anthologies, theme books...but that seemed like it would get boring.

As I studied the shelves a few books presented themselves as duds, unopened for years, no sentimental value, no photos, not particularly interesting, so they found their way to Goodwill. I was left staring at 55 cookbooks and I did what felt right...I just picked the one that felt right.

We actually have a few favorite recipes that we make frequently from Michael Schlow's It's About Time.  Matt probably makes "Rigatoni with Soppressata and White Beans" once a month, at least, and we often make a chicken version of the book's "Veal Milanese."  I worked for Michael for several years at his first Italian restaurant, Via Matta, and many, many great things came out of those years of my life.  The recipes in his book are not only delicious, and well written for any home cook, but for me they also bring back great memories!

I was working for Chef Schlow in the years that he wrote this book and was actually helped develop the cocktail recipes for it.  I remember him talking about the many meanings the title of the book had for him and it only seemed fitting to start this project with a recipe from it because I feel like "It's about time that I did this!"

The purpose of this little endeavor is not to cook fan favorites, but to challenge myself to make at least one NEW recipe from each book we own, so for my first project I started big.  For a first course: "Maine Crab Tart" followed by "Soupe de Poissons."
Maine Crab Tart

The crab tart was surprisingly easy to put together and the "broken vinaigrette" was far more delicious than I could have imagined.  We wound up dipping bread in it for the whole meal.  The soup was equally simple to prepare, but felt like it was missing something...probably salt.  I used boxed fish stock instead of making my own which likely also made it a bit less magical. On the whole though I would call the meal a success! As you may recall, soup de poisson and I have not had the best of experiences this was a win in my book!
Soup de Poissons
Maine Crab Tart

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

New Project - The Cookbook Conundrum

Betty Crocker's Galaxy Cookies's been a while, and in the spirit of getting back to this business of blogging, I've decided to dive into a little project inspired by one of the real skeletons in my kitchen.  Cookbooks.  Fifty nine of them to be exact.  And that's not counting cooking/food magazines, printed recipes, pinned recipes, bookmarked recipes, recipe cards and/or recipe notebooks that I have collected over the years. You see, since long before I could boil water (literally) I've had an affection for, almost obsession with, cookbooks and recipes.  I think it began out of fond memories of my father and I watching cooking shows.  Not the Food Network-type shows of today, but the good old shows.  The ones you only found on PBS in the middle of the day on a Sunday.  The ones hosted by Julia, Yan, Justin Wilson and Jeff Smith.  My dad and I even had a funny accent we would do when talking about the Frugal Gourmet, which we did often.  I have no idea why, but we thought it was hysterical.

Somehow I began to augment watching cooking shows with my dad, to reading cookbooks in my spare time.  I had several "Cooking for Kids" types, but that didn't really cut it for me. I wanted more than simple recipes for Ants on a Log.  I thumbed through the pages of anything I could get my hands on, admired the photos, read the recipes and put them back on the shelf. And that's how I liked it.  I read everyone's cookbooks (and sometimes I still do!)  When I visited family members I hunted theirs out and buried myself in them. I remember my mother had an old Betty Crocker Cookbook and I poured over it so many times that the binder-held pages required those funny white sticker rings you use to reinforce ripped pages.  I've never made a single dish from that book.  But I can still see the photo of the "Galaxy cookies" in my head.  That recipe was a favorite of mine to admire.

At around the age of ten I asked, begged really, for my father to buy me The Hershey Chocolate Cookbook.  I eventually wore him down. It sits, in our kitchen today, on the "Cookbook Bookshelf" with fifty eight other cookbooks.  I've never made a recipe from it, nor many of the others.  The other day I got to thinking that it's a real shame that I often thumb through these treasures, but rarely refer to them when actually looking for something to cook, now that I can cook.  It's just far to easy to jump over to the computer, tablet, phone or other device and Google a recipe I want.  So I decided, this year, one of my 2015 resolutions would be to make a minimum of one recipe from EACH of the cookbooks I own.  Should I find one that truly contains zero recipes I wish to pursue (or have the culinary skills to make) then it's off to the second hand store with it to find a new home with someone who will give it a new life.  It's not going to be easy...but one day we'll move, and at least as Matt and I are packing the inevitably heavy boxes of cookbooks I'll be able to say that I use them all!  I'll be blogging about each book, and each dish I select. Stay tuned!