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 here...like "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 potatoes...next 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 together...so 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
So...it'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!