Casaubon's Book

What To Eat, Cookbook Edition

As the steam bath of summer abates and cool air moves in, as labor day weekend marks the end of swimming and time to start thinking about things like firewood and school, I find I regain enthusiasm about really cooking again.

During the summer, I’m often a tepidly enthusiastic cook – it is so easy to go out in the garden and mix greens and whatever is ripe with a hardboiled egg, some dried fruit or a bit of cheese and call that dinner. Sliced tomatoes with basil, barely cooked corn on the cob and something else quick – some grilled veggies tossed with pasta and homemade goat cheese or eggs or a quick grilled meat and hey, dinner’s done. When autumn begins, I want to cook – and eat – again.

I also want to read cookbooks again – during the summer I might pick up a cookbook to remind myself of an ingredient, but I don’t read them the way one reads a novel or a how-to book, dreaming and seeking inspiration and to be swept away. Once it cools off, though, cookbooks come home. I thought y’all might like to know what I’ve been reading.

Heather Shouse’s _Food Trucks_ is a collection of stories and recipes for food truck cuisine, and by necessity, there are a lot of quick and delicious ideas. The Beijing Hot noodles from Yue Kee in Philadelphia (we made them with ground lamb, not pork) and the Balsamic Onion Marmalade were both fantastic and quite easy. One note for those who, like us, don’t eat pork is that there is a ton of pork in this cookbook – nearly everything has it. I’m pretty accustomed to working around that,and good at making things taste pretty comparable, but if that’s not your style, you might not love it. I did, though. Plus, how can you not love a cookbook that includes recipes that you aren’t supposed to eat when sober?

Camilla Plum’s _The Scandinavian Kitchen_ is a gorgeous, sweep you away cookbook. I picked it up because come autumn, the cuisines of northern Europe are a good way to find new recipes for what’s available here in the cold weather – folks who live on cabbage and kale in the winter tend to use them well, and I wasn’t disappointed – the recipes are simple, delicious and appealing. The apple cake with potato crust is unusual – and fabulous. I wouldn’t want to eat creamed kale every day, but once in a great while, it is delightful, a showcase for real ingredients. I loved the sections on wild mushrooms, sausage making and wild meats as well – this is an excellent cookbook for northern folk.

How could I not be drawn to a cookbook called _The Kimchi Chronicles_, kimchi junkie that I am? For the most part I think I’m pretty comfortable with basic korean cooking, but I can never resist one more recipe – and Marja Vongerrichten’s book has a lot of interesting stuff in it – classic things, of course, but also American-korean fusion recipes that I really liked. Why did I never think of putting kimchi on hot dogs, especialy the homemade ones? The kimchi jiggae was better than the one I’ve been making, (again, pork alert, but not a problem to work around), and the mung bean pancakes (which I baked, rather than fried) were fabulous.

Karen Solomon’s _Can It, Bottle It, Smoke It_ is sequel to her delightful _Jam It, Pickle It, Cure it!_ which I enjoyed quite a lot, despite the fact that I think the self-conscious coolness of the whole thing gets a little heavy handed at times.Still, the woman has recipes for homemade nutella, the best homemade english muffins I’ve ever tried, and a carrot-almond jam that will be part of my permanent repetoir. Ok, I can forgive her for trying too hard to be hip and edgy.

All of the above are recent releases, but I’m also diving back into some old favorites you might want to look at yourself.

I inherited my copy of the ancient _Vermont Year Round_ cookbook by Louise Andrews Kent from a friend’s mother. In the 1960s Kent was “Mrs. Appleyard” in Vermont Life Magazine, writing dryly humourous recipe columns about Vermont food. It is an excellent reminder that Alice Waters hardly invented seasonal food – what Edna Lewis did for the American South, Mrs. Appleyard gently and quietly did for traditional New England cooking. Some of the recipes are pretty dated – I don’t think anyone serves “egg water lilies” anymore, but Venison meatloaf has an immediate utility to thousands of hunters, her boiled cider syrup is fabulous on pancakes and parsnip chowder is delicious. It is definitely a kind of cooking that doesn’t get much play anymore – even with the spate of Julia Child adoration, the slightly Frenchified English cooking that New England was famous for has mostly passed away. Sometimes this is good, but not always – I’d rather have a good Indian Pudding even than a Salty Pimp Ice Cream cone from The Big Gay Icecream Truck in NY City (although in a pinch I’d be happy to try both, thanks).

Also from another era (about 20 years ago, around the time that I began cooking for myself) Anya Von Bremzen and John Welchman’s _Please to the Table: A Russian Cookbook_ was dated about 30 seconds after it was published, given that many of the Eastern European nations who cuisines they covered were no longer Russian. At the same time, the food is not dated, merely delicious. Again, I have a tendency to turn back from middle-eastern and southeast asian food in summer, over to European and Indian in cooler weather. Ever since I made my first cabbage pie (in college), in which cabbage and dill cooked in butter were wrapped in pastry (ok, it isn’t good for you and I only make it once a year), I’ve been addicted to this cookbook. Sauerkraut dumplings, my favorite garlic-infused farmer’s cheese, and the very best winter borscht on the earth all come from this cookbook.

Around the same time, I bought Sarah Leah Chase’s _Cold Weather Cooking_, which has been a winter bible ever since. I’m actually on my second copy – I managed to wear the one I bought in college out. Right now we’re happy with her end of summer recipes – her Ribollita is terrific, as is her Calabrian Cauliflower salad. I’ve made her warm tomato pie so many times I can make it in my sleep, transforming slightly watery late-summer tomatoes into perfection. Pumpkin and pear bread pudding, variations on her black forest balls (chocolate cookies stuffed with pie cherries), her long-cooked beef stew and her garlic soup are all regulars at our family table at different times of year. It is just the cookbook to take you into winter, and make it look good.

Of more recent vintage is Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s _Beyond the Great Wall_ – I loved their _Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet_ and refer to it all summer, but as it begins to cool off, the cuisines of northern China, Tibet and Mongolia call to me. Hui Vegetable Soup and Kazakh-style Goat broth, chile-hot Green Soybeans with Star Anise, Jiaozi (fabulous dumplings – lots of work to make, but worth it on a cold winter’s day as a family project) and Lamb-sauced hot lettuce salad all start looking pretty damned good. One of my sons would ideally like to live on the dried-tofu batons with hot sesame dressing, and given that I make them with tons of greens, I’m ok with that.

What cookbooks will you be opening as it cools down?

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 Tegan
    September 5, 2011

    Oh man quite a few of those cookbooks sound amazing. I mostly troll the internets for ingredients. I have a long list of cabbage recipes compiled from last winter that are merely waiting for cabbage to make them with.

    But I also enjoy reading old cookbooks because they have such entertaining anecdotes and “science”. A great one from the 1920s has this line about how “scientists have discovered these things called VITAMINS…”

    I also LOVE breakfast cookbooks and will happily drool over those foods for hours at a time. I’m looking forward to going through Marian Cunninham’s Supper Book (which I think I picked up from you) to get some more ideas for nice easy tastiness.

    Hmm… I think a guarantee that I’ll be reading is a book entitled Pasta which not only covers technique for every form of pasta-like food but also gives recipes. Caramelized Vermicelli Cake or Dumplings Boiled in a Napkin in Soup (and sliced to serve) are both given equal shift.

    … yeah way to rambling, for which I apologize. :-P

  2. #2 Yvonne Rowse
    September 5, 2011

    My favourite cookbook is Rose Elliot’s ‘Cheap and Easy’. It’s a vegetarian cookbook for people living on a budget and just fab. I use it very regularly. That’s not to say I don’t have other cookbooks. In fact I have loads and loads. I must have two dozen cookbooks for posh vegetarian cooking. I leaf through them occasionally when people are coming to dinner. The rest of the time, ‘The Cranks Cookbook’ and Cheap and Easy alternate. I’ve bought both my children copies of both books too.
    C&E has recipes for four people and instructions for reducing the portion size for two or one and occasionally instructions to make enough for four and freeze or refrigerate because the item is so good. It also tends to one-pot cooking which is good as I’m inherently lazy and don’t love washing up.

  3. #3 Erica/Northwest Edible Life
    September 5, 2011

    I want to know if there are 47 hours in a day in your timezone. Assuming not, I want to know how you manage to do everything you do. Consistent, important writing and the research to back it up; a many of children; self-sufficient rural living with all the gardening and livestocking and preservation that entails…and apparently you have time to read kim chi cookbooks as well. You are an inspiration but – really – when do you sleep?

  4. #4 Coll
    September 6, 2011

    Hi, love your books especially Independence Days. Have you tried Flatbreads and Flavours by Alford and Duguid? Great curries and oh, my, the breads and crackers. For seasonal I like Simply In Season and for general older cookbooks The Harrowsmith cookbooks. For cooking from different lands Extending The Table.

  5. #5 Kate@LivingTheFrugalLife
    September 6, 2011

    Thanks for these title suggestions. I don’t think my library carries any of them, because I’m pretty familiar with the entire cookbook section there. But there’s always the inter-library loan!

    I don’t know that I turn to specific cookbooks for cooler weather cooking, so much as start sourcing more of our food from the freezer, which often means meat and frozen kale. We do more rice noodles in summer, wheat pasta in winter. Grilling in summer, roasting in winter. For the most part I try to buy broad-scale cookbooks, so I draw inspiration from various parts of them throughout the year. One cookbook that seems under-appreciated that I really like a lot is Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian – very wide variety of recipes suitable for different seasons and drawn from many different cuisines. And of course there are potatoes in fall and winter, so often it’s just a matter of building meals around those, which means Irish, German, and Eastern European recipes. Okay, I’m clearly rambling incoherently now. Time to stop.

  6. #6 Nicole
    September 6, 2011

    I have to admit I’m not big on cookbooks. Mostly I cook my foundation ingredient(s) and add complimentary ingredients and spices for flavor. Following someone else’s receipe feels like boxing with one arm. Not that I’m some kind of culinary whiz kid. Just stubborn.

    The seasons changing radically alters my eating, though. It’s almost time for nutty whole grains and breads, apples, sweet potatoes and winter squash, chili, broths simmered for hours and roasts.

    But for those pressed for time in their day, “The Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook” will broaden the horizons of your lowly rice cooker. And Fallon & Enig’s “Nourishing Traditions” has a lot that I think this group will appreciate, like fermentation and sprouting.

  7. #7 Kate from Iowa
    September 6, 2011

    Yay, another person who knows of carrot jam! You wouldn’t believe how many people look at me cross-eyed when I ask about such a “wierd” thing!

    I love cookbooks, I actually read them more than I do anything else with them, but I do pick up on a few interesting bits and pieced of information from time to time.

    I have just finished The Soup Bible by Debra Mayhew, which was really nice, I think that my favorite food may be soup, but it’s very difficult sometimes to find good recipies for cold soups to eat in the summer. I am currently chewing my way through Vegetable Love by Barbara Kafka, which is a bit hard to focus on sometimes, but is already proving to be worth it in many ways as I make my way through the bits where my eyes glaze over and I have to gnaw on it for a bit.

    I think after that one (which will be a while, since it’s roughly the size of a dictionary,) I’ll go back to my Joy and start looking at the stews and game meats sections. That or I may read up on techniques, I’m not sure.

    My biggest cookbook dissapointment this year was my Southern Living cookbook. I had heard absolute rave reviews about the thing, and when I opened it? Hundreds of recipies using coca-cola and Pilsbury biscuit dough. Not really even that great an assortment of recipies either, in the first section alone there were several recipes for mixed nuts that went something like this: “Roast nuts in butter. Add sugar. Add herb/spice x. Toss.”

    Not anything to rave about.

  8. #8 Tyler
    September 6, 2011

    Great list! I’ve never heard of “The Scandinavian Kitchen” but the recipes sound amazing. I’ve been in the mood for some hearty, cold-weather foods lately! I may have to modify the recipes a bit, though. We have a few heart issues in my family, and it sounds like creamed kale wouldn’t be easy on the arteries. We tend to use a lot of recipes out of “Heart Easy Cookbook” by Kac Young – http://www.hearteasy.com
    It has a lot of family favorites but toned down for healthier food!

  9. #9 Susan in NJ
    September 6, 2011

    Sharon, it’s very hard to find an affordable copy of Please to Table. Check out the pricing at Amazon or elsewhere. Sigh. I have a serious lust for this book.
    I like von Bremzen’s New Spanish Table and turn to it around this time of year. We also have a number of Thai, Japanese and Vietnamese cookbooks that we use for curries and soup (no names, I’m at work)

  10. #10 Brad K.
    September 6, 2011

    Um, mostly my Betty Crocker cookbook (my second), and my Mom’s old Ladies Home Journal (1959) cookbook — mostly for the recipe cards stuck in it, among them her fudge brownies and frosting, and the crushed vanilla wafers, walnuts, chocolate chips and orange juice balls (cookies? candy?) for Yule time.

    _Food Trucks_ and the Solomon books look interesting. I think I will check my library to see if they have any of them. Thanks!

  11. #11 Anna
    September 7, 2011

    _Recipes from the Root Cellar_ by Andrea Chesman. Lovely recipes using all the winter veggies. Very fitting seasonally/locally for the northeast.

  12. #12 stephanie
    September 10, 2011

    We already have a copy of the Russian cookbook so I didn’t pick it up yesterday when the book sale had it for $1. Perhaps I will go back since I didn’t realize it was out of print and it is a good book.