Thursday, May 29, 2008

back to the books

I recently read an entry from a fellow blogger who was shocked to find she had 30 cookbooks. It got me thinking about how many cook books I had. It couldn’t be that many!

So this weekend, after a trip to the U and 14th Market, I was looking online for a recipe that included swiss chard (I got beautiful bunches of it at the market, along with bacon, strawberries) and it occurred to me that there was probably a great recipe in one of my books. I started thumbing through a few and suddenly stopped. I counted – one, two, three, fifteen, twenty seven…I stood in awe. I have exactly 30 cook books!

Is this excessive? It’s a question worth considering. Collecting cookbooks isn’t necessarily an expensive hobby, but in the 600 square feet of our DC condo, it’s sometime’s an untidy one. I started this blog as a way to journal my experiences with recipes cooked from the books I own and love. It’s morphed into many things for me, but this fact resounds- I love to read and I love to feed. So on Saturday, my hunt for online recipes was over - it was a day to pull those dusty books off the top of my cabinets and get cooking.

I started off with a simple pecan pie, created from the pages of Better Homes and Gardens. This is an easy recipe for a personal favorite, reminiscent of my college days on North Carolina. And what better accompaniment to one southern classic than another? Fried chicken was calling my name.

A bridesmaid’s dress was calling simultaneously. So in an attempt to squeeze into it this weekend, I opted for a healthier version- BHG’s oven fried chicken. It came out just as juicy and flavorful as its deep-fried counterpart.

After a visit with BHG, I noticed The Joy of Cooking was looking a little lonely. Its pages are worn and its novelty is well past, but its relevancy and beauty will never dull in my mind.

Originally published in 1931, The Joy of Cooking stands out on my shelf as one of the most complete, thorough, lovely cook books of our time. Any question I’ve ever had about ingredients, procedures or substitutions has been answered by a flip of its pages. It didn’t take long for me to settle on their classic risotto recipe, to which I added spinach and some of that fresh bacon I purchased from the market. Gregg said it was just as good as the risotto at Floriana, which we recently devoured and adored. He’s a good husband.

All of this reading and cooking done, and there was still swiss chard. I found a lot of options, but had my heart set on a simple soup, so I created a variation of a soup found in The Minimalist Cooks Dinner, by Mark Bittman. Using the swiss chard (finally) the leftover bacon, some white beans and shallots, I created a simple soup with a sweet and savory broth. It was tinted pink, to boot.

So here’s my challenge to you- dust off your cookbooks. Open them up. Create. It’s easy to rely on sites like allrecipes, epicurious, and chow, but it’s uniquely satisfying to turn to an old favorite for a new recipe. You’ll be surprised just how many you haven’t tried.

Risotto, adapted from The Joy of Cooking

Heat 3 tablespoons of clarified butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 shallots, minced; cook until soft and clear. You could also add some minced garlic and/or onion.

In a separate pot, simmer 8 to 10 cups of chicken stock over medium heat. (I ended up using only 8 cups of the stock, but it’s better to have extra prepared.)

In the pot with the butter and shallots, stir in 2 cups of Arborio rice. Stir until the rice is coated completely in the butter.

Add the chicken stock, 1 cup at a time, and simmer and stir continuously until absorbed. The rice should become creamy and not stiff.

Stir in 1 cup of parmesan cheese, several cups of raw spinach and chopped, cooked bacon…or any other add-ins you’d like.


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Margaret said...

I probably have around 30 cookbooks, too! I've seen bloggers saying they have over 100 though, so I definitely don't feel any sort of impropriety. It is simply a treasure trove of inspiration and go-to resources at my fingertips!
This is the first I've seen of your blog, and I definitely resonated with the book/ cook pairing. That is perhaps why we lvoe cookbooks so much! :-)