Post 238

Cookbooks in My Cupboard:
Reflections and a Recipe for January

It’s time to deal with these cookbooks.

Do you have a ton of cookbooks too? Maybe you don’t. Maybe you are young and have always searched online for recipes when you’ve wanted them.

Or maybe you aren’t the recipe type.

Or maybe you’re not the cooking type.

Or maybe you’re not the eating type.

Do you use your cookbooks? Maybe you like buying them but you don’t read them, or maybe you read them but don’t cook with them.

There was a time when I didn’t own any cookbooks.

I started with the Company’s Coming series by Jean Paré. The recipes were simple and relied on a mix of fresh and pre-made ingredients like canned mushroom soup.

You have to start somewhere, and I was really quite happy with what I was able to make. I bought quite a few of those coil-bound cookbooks.

When I got Joy of Cooking, however, I was ready for it. I enjoyed trying out the recipes in there. It seemed so authoritative. That cookbook has a lot of versions, reflecting the different politics and power struggles behind the scenes. Some people say that the earlier versions were better than the later ones. I have a couple of versions, but I haven’t sat down to compare them, so for once I don’t have an opinion.

Right now my cookbooks are piled haphazardly and I figured that if I pulled them all out while blogging about it at the same time, then I could begin to organize them. When all was said and done, I’d have organized cookbooks and a blog post too.

So here’s what I’ve got right now, listed in order of weight, of course:

  • 3037 g: Larousse Gastronomique
  • 2925 g: The Cook’s Book, Jill Norman (editor)
  • 2834 g: The Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson
  • 2475 g: Cooking, James Peterson
  • 2424 g: The Way to Cook, Julia Child
  • 2412 g: The New Best Recipe, From the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated
  • 2360 g: The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, 3rd Edition
  • 2043 g: Baking, James Peterson
  • 1917 g: The America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book
  • 1903 g: More Best Recipes, From the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated
  • 1858 g: The America’s Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook
  • 1844 g: The Best Recipes in the World, Mark Bittman
  • 1699 g: The Best International Recipe, Editors of Cook’s Illustrated
  • 1687 g: Joy of Cooking, Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker & Ethan Becker, copyright 1997
  • 1654 g: Polish Heritage Cookery, Robert & Maria Strybel
  • 1583 g: The Complete Book of Korean Cooking, Young Jin Song
  • 1523 g: Italian Classics, The Editors of Cook’s Illustrated Magazine
  • 1472 g: The Quick Recipe, Editors of Cook’s Illustrated Magazine
  • 1392 g: Joy of Cooking 1975 Edition, Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker
  • 1378 g: The Best Make-Ahead Recipe, Editors of Cook’s Illustrated Magazine
  • 1338 g: American Cookery, James Beard
  • 1297 g: Restaurant Favorites at Home, Editors of Cook’s Illustrated Magazine
  • 1297 g: Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon
  • 1296 g: At Elizabeth David’s Table, Elizabeth David
  • 1185 g: Vitamix Whole Food Recipes
  • 1134 g: Food Cook Eat, Lulu Grimes
  • 1085 g: Korean Cooking, Young Jin Song
  • 1069 g: The Best 30-Minute Recipe, Editors of Cook’s Illustrated Magazine
  • 1063 g: The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean, Paula Wolfert
  • 1009 g: The New Cast Iron Skillet Cookbook, Ellen Brown
  • 947 g: America’s Test Kitchen, The Best Simple Recipes
  • 940 g: 365 Slow Cooker Suppers, Stephanie O’Dea
  • 939 g: 20-Minute Gourmet Menus, Minutemeals
  • 901 g: The Best Soups and Stews, From the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated
  • 883 g: The Best Vegetable Recipes, From the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated
  • 838 g: Quinoa 365, Patricia Green & Carolyn Hemming
  • 794 g: Elizabeth David Classics: Mediterranean Food, French Country Cooking, Summer Cooking
  • 747 g: French Provincial Cooking, Elizabeth David
  • 743 g: Authentic Recipes from Korea, Injoo Chun, Jaewoon Lee, Youngran Baek
  • 737 g: Authentic Recipes from Thailand, Sven Kraus, Laurent Ganguillet and Vira Sanguanwong
  • 735 g: Authentic Recipes from China, Kenneth Law, Lee Cheng Meng and Max Zhang
  • 689 g: More Make it Fast, Cook it Slow, Stephanie O’Dea
  • 657 g: Discovering Korean Cuisine, Allisa Park
  • 637 g: Mediterranean Cooking, Paula Wolfert
  • 545 g: 3 Ways to Dinner, Minutemeals
  • 425 g: Made From Scratch, America’s Test Kitchen
  • 334 g: The Korean KItchen, Copeland Marks
  • 296 g: Company’s Coming 4 Ingredient Recipes
  • 221 g: The Ideals Whole Grain Cookbook
  • 122 g: Lunchbox Love, Sally King

It’s too many cookbooks, I know.

Mind you, one of them isn’t a cookbook. The Oxford Companion to Food is more like a food encyclopedia, and I think I used it once. It was a gift from someone who knew I liked cooking.

So if you don’t count that one, I’ve got 49 cookbooks.

I spent several years in the Nourishing Traditions style of cooking. It’s a laborious approach where natural eating is the goal. On the plus side, it was very nice to have no fear of normal foods like butter and bacon and eggs and cheese and all that good stuff, at a time when everyone was petrified of fat. It served as an island of sorts, providing immunity from the changing waves of food fashion.

On the minus side, however, it’s demanding, requiring the cook to steer clear of anything but the most wholesome and pure ingredients. I used my Vitamix to pulverize the spelt grains into flour and I mixed this freshly-ground flour with yogurt made from milk that had not been homogenized. I bought my beef, llama, goat and sheep meat directly from the local rancher, and I was glad that the chickens who were laying the farm eggs hadn’t been ingesting soy. I made special trips to purchase raw milk. I found a brand of bacon made without nitrates (or celery salt). I bought coconut oil. I drank kombucha and snacked on beef jerky, organic apples and raw cheese that wasn’t dyed orange. I enjoyed what I bought and what I cooked, but I was very, very choosy, and of course I avoided almost all processed food.

Ah, that was then.

Things are different now.

Now I indulge.

The world is my oyster and I’m heeding that inscription on the pearl of great price. The tiny little gilt letters say:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?

And the gilt letters signal an end to guilt, to lies and food fears.

Hello peace of mind and hello food!

The ‘well-informed’ people of the world suffer a great deal of psychological distress when it comes to food. They hear, daily, of all the different foods that they are to avoid in order to stay healthy, and they hear, daily, of all the different foods that they need to consume in order to live longer and healthier lives.

Mothers worry about what to feed their children — is it better to avoid fat or sugar? Are artificial sweeteners to be avoided at all costs? Is juice okay? Should I make my own baby food? Have I irreparably damaged my child’s brain cells by microwaving her milk in a bottle containing BPA? Did I destroy my son’s healthy gut flora with all the antibiotics that he had in his toddler years? Should I make my own yogurt? Are my children eating enough fermented foods?

I am not ridiculing these mothers. I understand and I empathize. Who wouldn’t empathize with a mother trying to do her best to nourish her child? The decisions, in a world with so many mixed messages about food and nutrition and health, are often difficult, and parents are too often advised and even challenged by friends and relatives who have strong opinions about food and nutrition.

Pity the parents who are given unsolicited advice about what to feed their children. Pity the parents surrounded by those who secretly or openly sabotage their food-related plans for their children. How many stories have I heard! How many things I have seen!

In the name of concern for health, meddlesome individuals seek to impose their will. They view themselves as the authority and in their anger, they use food as the battleground to engage in conflict. They couch their comments in the context of concern, but it is too often the case that they simply want their own will to prevail. Their concern is for their own ego as the expert, and not for the happiness or well-being of you or your children. It’s a power trip for some, but hopefully you see that already, and I wish you the best as you ignore or otherwise deal with the noise.

The issues surrounding food are almost endless, with this being but one of many.

Food has always been a way to express both good and evil intentions. Those with good intentions provide food to others in order to nourish body, mind, heart and soul. It is a well-understood symbol of welcoming and care, and a good host looks forward to the enjoyment that he will give his guests with the food that he serves. Those with evil intentions use food in a multitude of ways to exclude or even to cause harm. I can think of so many examples of devilish food schemes; they range from the extremes of Holodomor to the spiteful pre-party planning which will deprive certain guests of enjoyment.

In Solzhenitsyn’s A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, the main character notices that one cook is fair — when he scoops the soup, he does it without checking which prison-camp worker is holding the bowl.

One of my ancestors had a stepmother who hid a pile of tasty white rice underneath a thin layer of dull brown rice for the boy she favoured, but reversed this for the boy she disliked.

But sometimes the games are about spoiling someone’s weight loss efforts. Some people tempt dieters with treats in order to derail them. The games related to food are endless and unbelievably complicated.

I don’t play games like that, and neither does my dog.

Her food games are simple.

She likes the Catch the Cheese Slice Game, and she likes the Chomp the Cookie Game and she likes the Lick the Ice Cream Tub Game.

Her favorite game, however, is the Drive-Through Game, because it ends with a cheeseburger.

(No pickles, please.)


It’s all good.

My two favorite cookbooks these days are both from the America’s Test Kitchen folks. One book is called The Best Make-Ahead Recipe and the other is called The Best 30-Minute Recipe.

Cookbooks are about trust. I expect a cookbook to give me enough information to ensure that my results will be successful. I still remember the time I followed a recipe in Mark Bittman’s cookbook, listed above, and I wound up with burnt cabbage at the bottom of the pot, and when I followed his recipe for roasted nuts, things didn’t work out well either. Vague instructions are, in my opinion, a recipe for disappointment, and I’ve been reluctant to invest any more time in making recipes from that cookbook. I was surprised to find that I still owned it, but I see that my collection is more of a time capsule of cooking phases than a collection of favorites.

One of my favorite things about the America’s Test Kitchen series is that the writing is so good. Check this out, for instance:

Heady with smoky pork and bittersweet molasses, Boston baked beans are an example of a side dish that actually gains in flavour when made at least a day ahead of time. A close reading of recipes — and there are thousands out there — made it clear that authentic Boston baked beans are not about fancy seasonings; they are about developing intense flavour by means of the judicious employment of canonical ingredients (beans, pork, molasses, mustard, and sometimes onion) and slow cooking. Tasters quickly rejected recipes with lengthy lists of untraditional ingredients and short cooking times.

The most important item on the shopping list is, of course, beans, the classic choice being standard dry white beans in one of three sizes: small white beans, midsize navy or pea beans, or large great Northern beans. While the latter two choices were adequate, tasters preferred the small white beans for their dense, creamy texture and their ability to remain firm and intact over the course of a long simmer. (The two larger sizes tended to split.)

See what I mean? Five stars just for using the word “canonical.” Look at this: “the judicious employment of canonical ingredients…” It’s so incredibly serious that it’s funny.

That’s a page-turner if you ask me.

I’ll bring you several paragraphs ahead to the happy ending:

While pleased with the texture and flavor, we still wanted a thicker sauce — soupy beans were not acceptable. We discovered that it was not simply a matter of reducing the volume of water, however, as this led to unevenly cooked beans. We had been cooking the beans start to finish covered with a lid, which prevented the cooking liquid from reducing effectively. When we removed the lid for the last hour in the oven, we got the results we were looking for — the sauce had reduced to a syrupy, intensified state that perfectly napped the beans.

That’s not the recipe itself, of course. It’s the story of the development of the Boston baked beans recipe, which follows immediately afterwards on page 71 of the book (The Best Make-Ahead Recipe).

I still have a copy of my October 2009 correspondence with Abbey Becker, editorial assistant with Cook’s Illustrated. I asked her if it would be okay to share the recipes with friends when they asked. She said yes and I was glad.

So I’ll give you one now.

Hmm. Which one do you want?

I have 62,489 grams (137.76 pounds) worth of cookbooks plus one food encyclopedia. If you want it, I probably have it.

Let’s see.

Alright. It’s January, so how about a slow-cooker stew? Here’s my favorite.

I see from my pencilled-in notes that it took me about 90 minutes to assemble this once, and another time I did it in 50. In other words, don’t be surprised if it takes a while to get this all set up.

An internet search will give you various beef stew recipes from America’s Test Kitchen (they have a few versions), but I’ll type in the one I’ve got, verbatim.

Slow-Cooker Beef Stew
Serves 6 to 8

You’ll need 18-inch heavy-duty aluminum foil or a large oven-ready foil bag to make the vegetable packet. If you’re going to be away from your slow cooker for more than 10 hours, cutting the vegetables into larger, 1 1/2- to 2-inch pieces will help them retain their texture. Feel free to add a pound of parsnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks, to the foil packet along with the carrots and potatoes. The stew will thicken further as it sits; add broth or water to thin to the desired consistency before serving.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 medium onions, minced
1/4 cup tomato paste
6 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 tablespoons)
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 cups low-sodium beef broth
1 (5-pound) boneless beef chuck-eye roast, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons Minute tapioca
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 red potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 pound carrots, cut into 1-inch chunks
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves (do not use dried)
2 cups frozen peas, thawed
Ground black pepper

1.Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering but not smoking. Add the onions, tomato paste, garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook until the onions are softened and lightly browned, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the chicken broth, scraping up any browned bits.

2.Transfer the onion mixture to the slow cooker insert and stir in the beef broth, meat, soy sauce, tapioca, and bay leaves until even combined. Toss the potatoes, carrots, 1 teaspoon of the thyme, and the remaining 1 tablespoon oil together and season with salt and pepper. Following the illustrations below, wrap the vegetables in a foil packet. Set the vegetable packet on top of the stew in the slow cooker insert.

3.Cover and cook on low until the meat is tender, 9 to 11 hours. (Alternatively, cover and cook on high for 5 to 7 hours.)

4. Transfer the vegetable packet to a plate. Let the stew settle for 5 minutes then gently tilt the slow cooker insert and degrease as much fat as possible off the surface of the stew using a large flat spoon. [I don’t do that.] Remove and discard the bay leaves. Carefully open the foil packet (watch for steam), then stir the vegetables along with any accumulated juices into the stew. Stir in the remaining 1 teaspoon thyme and the peas and let stand until the peas are heated through, about 5 minutes longer. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

I haven’t included the illustration mentioned in step 2, which shows how to shape the foil ”hobo pack,” but I think you can manage to wrap the veggies in the foil and crimp the edges to make it secure.

I do have, however, a photo of the cookbooks looking all tidy and cozy and as canonical as can be. They’re all there; I don’t have the heart to exile any just yet.