O Joy

Like many people, one of my first two cookbooks–a gift from my grandmother, inscribed to me, so personally meaningful to me–was Joy of Cooking. This was back in the mid-70s, so it was the last version pre-major-revision, and it still has instructions on dealing with small game like squirrels and raccoons, as well as a significant section on freezing and canning. I don’t use it as much as I once did, but it still provides a lot of basic information about specific foods and specific techniques. (For years, I read the description about how to make croissants, and didn’t quite believe it. Is that really how you do it, I wondered? And then I got a job making thousands of croissants a week, and, yes, it’s really how you do it.)

My second cookbook was the first Moosewood Cookbook. I was in college, at a party at the dean of students’, and there was a spinach cheese pie. I asked the food service person about it, and he told me where the recipe was from, and I promptly went out and bought the book. I have at least a half a dozen Moosewood cookbooks, and it is one of my life dreams to go the restaurant to eat. My personal favorite is the Moosewood Low-Fat Cookbook; it is absolutely chock full of fabulous recipes, and it doesn’t rely on the wads of oil and cheese that are in some of the other books. It also has a lot of different flavor profiles in it, from many parts of the world, which is useful for figuring out what you like. It’s actually one of my favorite cookbooks of any kind.

That said, for all of the cooking I do, you’d think I’d have (and use) a lot more cookbooks than I actually do. I tend to lean on a few favorites, if I use a cookbook at all, and I supplement all of the cookbooks with online browsing (epicurious.com, because it has a lot of recipes from Gourmet and Bon Appetit; the King Arthur baking site). When it comes time to actually apply heat to ingredients, however, at this point I am just as likely to make it up as anything else. I still like the cookbooks, though, because they often provide guidance on a particular technique, ingredient, and/or flavor profile, which helps me not make the same things over and over. I will still sit and browse through my favorites, on occasion, just to jog my memory about what’s in them.

All the cookbooks in the world can’t help with the Turnip Problem, however. Specifically, I have a refrigerator drawer full of the damn things. They keep forEVER, so I can’t secretly wait until they rot, and then throw them out, and, just to make things fun, I’m getting more of them next week, as the first CSA delivery is Thursday. The first share will have carrots, cabbage, onions, garlic, a jar of tomatoes, and the aforementioned turnips. I think what I’m going to try is some kind of curried turnips, perhaps with a little coconut cream, and probably onions, garlic, and carrots as well. (I still have onions, garlic, and carrots from the last of the fall share.) Normally I’d add some beans, too, but beans AND brassicas is a prescription for, as they say, intestinal distress.

This morning I used the last of a stale loaf of dried-cranberry-swirled whole wheat bread to make French toast (some roasted pineapple and blueberry compote in the fridge helped round that out), the leftovers of which will be breakfast a couple of days this coming week. To make blueberry compote: dump a bunch of frozen blueberries–300-500 grams, or a bag of frozen from the store, or even fresh if that’s what you have–in a saucepan, with a little lemon juice or grated lemon rind or even preserved (in simple syrup) lemon rind if you have it, and a little swirl of honey, and cook it on low heat for a half hour or so until it simmers and reduces. It won’t be as thick as jelly while it’s still hot, and you can make it as thin or as thick as you like, but it will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks before getting moldy, and it’s fabulous on top of pancakes or french toast, in crepes, or in oatmeal. It would probably work with peanut butter, too.

This afternoon I’m mixing up another batch of crackers. I bought sesame seeds the other day and will make the recipe as written, more or less. Tonight’s dinner starts with a recipe I found in a sample issue of the Cooks Illustrated spinoff–something like Country Home Cooking, or Cooks Country, or something. (I’m too lazy to go look it up.) It’s simple as anything, and it’s a great way to use cabbage–which you may remember is also in my fridge. I have since modified the recipe a bit.

Chop and start cooking some onion; I like to leave it in thin slices rather than chopped for this recipe, but whatever suits you. (And I nearly always cook my veggies in a combination of olive oil and a little butter; I like the flavor of butter, but the olive oil has a higher smoke point and is somewhat healthier, so the combo is a perfect compromise.) When the onion has started to caramelize, add some garlic if you like it, cook it a minute or two more, then add some chopped up venison ring bologna, leftover ham, sausage, whatever. You can completely do this without meat–the original recipe did not have meat in it–but it’s also fabulous with the ring bologna. I would not use ground meat, though.

Add a tablespoon of good spicy mustard–again, whatever kind is to your taste and/or in your fridge–and some thyme if you have it. (I rarely do, and so just leave it out when it’s not around.) Also add a half cup of beer; the recipe calls for a light-bodied lager. You can use anything here, too, though I strongly recommend you avoid anything that’s very hoppy; an IPA, for example, is likely to make the whole dish too bitter, even for us hops-lovers. While the onion was cooking, you were coring and thinly slicing the cabbage; after the beer mixture cooks for a minute or two, put in the cabbage and cook it covered for ten minutes or so. The recipe also calls for two teaspoons of cider vinegar, but I bet I’ve left that out a bunch of times, too. With a hunk of crusty bread or a pretzel roll, it makes a really nice winter dinner, and the leftovers make good lunch fare, too.

The other thing I’m starting today is some pretzel rolls, using a combination of the recipes in the King Arthur Whole Grain Baking book, a version of Peter Reinhart’s soft pretzels I found online, and the formula I got from the bakery. I will use at least half whole wheat flour, possibly all whole wheat, and I will make rolls rather than pretzels.

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