Archives for category: cookbooks

Dear Readers,

The cozy bedroom.

The cozy bedroom.

I did it! On January 5th I moved from my mother’s house in Kensington, California to Johnny’s rental house in San Leandro. I have been here the better part of a month. I have moved the bedroom furniture about fourteen times (hope I’m done now), mostly seeking places for shoes and a filing cabinet. My stereo isn’t hooked up yet (Johnny’s is) and my backup hard drive has gone missing. Fiona the cat has run away and returned twice: now I only let her out in the afternoon before she has been fed.

After three and a half weeks, the bedroom is close to organized. The kitchen and breakfast nook are further behind and there are still things in boxes and plenty of things in the garage and garden shed. The hold-up in the kitchen is storage space: I need a tall shallow shelf for my spices and I need a china cabinet or hutch of some sort: some of my china is sitting on a former bookshelf and another bookshelf has been pressed into service for cookbooks and dry goods, but my best china remains in boxes in Kensington along with a mixer, a blender and other things I have not been able to incorporate into my new kitchen.

Cookbooks, etc.

Cookbooks, etc.

Nevertheless I hit the ground cooking. I think the first meal I cooked for us here was a dish of broccoli-feta pasta. We have also had Thai green curry, chicken sausages and baked potatoes, plus Johnny’s special scrambled eggs with vegetables, which he once delivered to me in bed! At the end of the first week I made Johnny his favorite red beans and rice from his friend Mike Goodwin’s cookbook, Totally Hot. And so began a tradition of making a legume-based soup or stew every week: we can eat it for a few days and I can freeze any that we don’t eat. I also make other soups, including the butternut squash version of this soup.

Susan of Susan Eats London kindly sent me a box of ingredients, featuring lentils de Puy, the small green organically grown French lentils. First I tried them mixed with red lentils in a Green’s recipe for a curried soup which calls for yellow split peas — I had had this soup twice at a Chanukah party: it was memorable and I had been meaning to make it. The verdict: it was better made with yellow split peas and I need to replenish some of my Indian spices, including cardamom.

Then I solicited recipes on Facebook, confessing that, to me, lentils taste like dirt. I received a lot of the usual suggestions: cook them with potatoes, carrots and celery, etc. Some people mentioned lemon. Then I went to Smitten Kitchen, one of my favorite food blogs, and found a lentil and sausage and chard combination. Hmm.

I followed the recipe loosely, using two cups of lentils instead of one and incorporating a quart jar of stewed Sun Gold tomatoes from my  Berkeley Farmers’ Market pal, Tom Gattonelli. I used some Aidell’s sun-dried tomato chicken sausages and ladled each serving over leaves of wild arugula. I did enjoy the soup: the special ingredients ameliorated the dirt flavor and the soup got better and better as it sat. I did not, however, make Deb’s garlic oil garnish.

Baking supplies.

Baking supplies.

The star of the kitchen is a butcher block cart: I traded yet another bookcase to my friend Elaine for it and I use it everyday. Johnny likes to sit at it and eat, but I like to use it to chop and mince and slice. I have made two shelves below the cutting board into a baking pantry, containing my rolled oats, unbleached flour, cornmeal, sugars, baking soda, baking powder, nuts, rice, chocolate and dried fruit. The rolling pin and measuring spoons hang on small hooks and the biscuit cutters, pastry cutter and dry measuring cups fill the small drawer.

Earlier this week I visited Thrift Town, a short walk from the house and scored copper-plated storage canisters and a glass casserole dish without a lid. By fitting a pie plate over the top I had what I needed to cook baked beans, the legume recipe of the week, pinto beans layered with chopped onions and minced bacon, mustard sauce and molasses. Johnny loved them and I said, “They are really simple. Even Johnny could make them.” I told him he had done the hard work of chopping the onions and preparing the bacon, that the oven did most of the rest. Just like a New England housewife of old I used the slow oven to make an accompanying Indian pudding.

Cozy breakfast nook with canisters.

Cozy breakfast nook with canisters.

Next up? I have potato water sitting in the fridge crying for me to make a loaf of bread — did you know that the cooking water from potatoes is a terrific bread ingredient? —  and I have ripe Meyer lemons asking to be turned into a lemon sponge pie. Plus, the sour half and half has accumulated again. From this we make waffles, biscuits, cornbread and muffins: because I got a box of organic pumpkin puree from Grocery Outlet this week we’ll probably have pumpkin-walnut bread or muffins.

Meanwhile, I commute to Berkeley up to six days a week to sing at the BART stations and farmers’ market, do odd jobs for my friend Elaine, try to keep the cat happy and settle into my new cozy life with Johnny (which includes band rehearsals on weekends). San Leandro is sunnier than my Kensington yards so once I have pickaxed the hard pan in the backyard I will get some vegetables going — legumes, of course, so that their roots break up the clumped soil: I’m hoping for sugar snap peas and bush beans, perhaps red or white clover for the bees, too. And Elaine, who giveth all good things, has provided some iris and muscari bulbs so I’ll have to see if I can get them in the ground somewhere before I write the next post.

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Painting of cookbooks on bookshelves

Go-To Cookbooks 8″ x 8″ Gouache and Watercolor Pencil. Sharyn Dimmick

When I am not cooking or blogging or writing, I am singing or listening to music. I am departing for a few days for San Francisco’s jewel, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. But before I go, my friend Robin asked me a while back how I learned to cook. I learned in all of the usual ways: helping other people with kitchen tasks, asking for recipes, having conversations about food, watching food shows on T.V., cooking from books , recipe cards and newspaper columns, reading the food section, tasting food and trying to recreate it in my kitchen and, now, suddenly, from the brave new world of food blogs. But the first cookbook I ever consulted was my mother’s copy of

1)  Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook, Revised and Enlarged, published by McGraw-Hill. This is a classic old cookbook with useful sections on substituting ingredients. This edition (1956) is in a ring binder format and features basic recipes for simple foods: how to roast a turkey, bake cinnamon rolls, make an apple pie. All of the standards are here: corn bread, biscuits, waffles, cookies, baked custards. Hmm. I probably use this more for baking then cooking, but I still use it frequently. I was delighted to find my own copy in a used bookstore some years ago.

2)  Bittersweet by Alice Medrich taught me a lot about high cacao chocolates. I make her Tiger Cake (an olive oil marble cake) often with variations and her cacao nib whipped cream must be one of the best things on the planet. I also like her Marble Cheesecake made with quark that I get at the farmers’ market.

3)  Baking with the St. Paul Bread Club has yielded recipes for good breads. My top two are Finnish Cardamom Bread and Bittersweet Chocolate-Ginger Bread.

4)  The Cheese Board Collective Works taught me how to make homemade sourdough and to bake it by throwing ice cubes into a hot oven. I may have rusted out one of our ovens, but I learned how to make baguettes and wolverines (a whole wheat sourdough bun filled with dried fruit and walnuts). Day to day, I use their (non-sourdough) pizza dough recipe with all its tips for pulling the dough and their basic whole wheat bread recipe (which I cut with unbleached flour). The Cheese Board is a local treasure for area residents.

5)  Chez Panisse Desserts taught me all about fruit caramel and fruit curd variations. Thanks, Lindsey and Alice! Eating at Chez Panisse is a treat and this is the most accessible of their books.

6)  China Moon Cookbook. The late Barbara Tropp cooked wonderful new Chinese food and left this book behind for the rest of us. The book features homemade condiments and many recipes. I go there most often to make her cookies and the ginger ice cream with bittersweet chocolate sauce.

7)  Coffee by Charles and Violet Shafer. I keep this book around for the Oatmeal Bread recipe on page 105. Sweetened with maple syrup and made with a sponge method, it makes the best toast.

8)  Henry Chung’s Hunan Style Chinese Cookbook. I used to live in San Francisco and go to Hunan to eat Henry Chung’s Hot and Sour Chicken. Then a friend gave me the book so I could cook it at home, which I do — often. I also make use of Chung’s Chicken and Cucumber Salad and hot and sour dressing recipes.

9)  Ajanta: Regional Feasts of India by Lachu Moorjani. I covered this in my post on Indian Eggplant, but in case you missed it, Ajanta is another local treasure of a restaurant and Moorjani’s cookbook lets you recreate some of his recipes, especially if you get it with his spice box (and he always has a special deal going).

10) The Greens Cookbook by Deborah Madison and Edward Espe Brown. This is a great resource for vegetable stocks, such as their wild mushroom stock, and seasonal menus. I often flip to the index if I don’t have any inspiration for a given vegetable.

This is not a “Top Ten” List, but a list of books I use frequently and what I use them for. I’ll add more of my favorites in future posts. I’ll be back next week with a recipe, perhaps based on something wonderful I eat at the festival.

If you would like to share favorite cookbooks of yours, please use the comment section to tell us all about them.

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