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?