Wednesday, June 21, 2006

On Cooking and Books

I have lately been experimenting more in the kitchen when Joe is around to eat whatever I cook that no one else will eat. After some good successes, I thought it would be neat to start a cookbook collection.

I already have the grandmother of them all, The Joy of Cooking, as well as a number of other cookbooks that I've been given or have salvaged. I bought a new cookbook, the Rachel Ray "365 Meals Per Year" or whatever the heck it is, after trying a few recipes and finding the Michael really enjoyed them (I had stolen them from other people's websites and Brian made one of the recipes in NC while we were down there)...

I am thinking of taking some cooking classes--I would love to experiment with flavors and ingredients I've never tried before, but don't really know where to start. So I'm looking around town and trying to find something that interests me. I'm hopeful to get some friends involved--while I appreciate that Michael is not the type who is going to stand in the kitchen and chop up vegetables while I stir something on the stove, and we sip wine together, nonetheless I have that image of myself as I grow older--me, a good friend, lots of fresh ingredients, cooking and enjoying ourselves together. Joe is a pretty good cooking partner, and I have a couple of other friends who enjoy cooking, so I think it shouldn't be a problem in the long run, once I've done my research.

I've tried some new recipes already this year. I made Chinese pot stickers for the first time ever, and had the fun of using those little wonton wrappers. They were FANTASTIC--in fact, when I got some from a Chinese restaurant a couple of weeks later, I really didn't like them as much as I enjoyed my own. Joe and I have been growing herbs out front, and I made quesadillas with my own fresh cilantro, and a shrimp pasta with my own fresh basil. The dill and fennel are growing nicely now, so I think we'll have some new things to experiment with as well.

Because I love reading, I kind of hope to find cookbooks that have to do with literature in a way. For Christmas this year, my sister bought me Jan Karon's The Mitford Cookbook and Kitchen Reader, a fantastic book chock-full of recipes inspired by her lovely Mitford series. So far, I've only made Esther's Orange Marmalade Cake, Father Tim's Ham and Father Tim's scalloped potatoes, but the recipes were absolutely to DIE for, and the passages from the books that were included truly did make you reminisce about your favorite parts of the books and inspire you to take your time and cook a true masterpiece. The book includes gorgeous pictures of the recipes, and for the most part, the ones I've made came out looking like the ones in the book (that orange marmalade cake is a true devil though--it cracks straight down the middle and no one except Jan's own bakers seem to have success with it coming out perfectly--but who cares, it tastes incredible)

Today I was at the Culpeper Library during my work day as I was waiting to see a client and came upon a book called "The Book Lover's Cookbook" by Shaunda Kennedy Wenger and Janet Kay Jensen. It is my next cook book purchase. Utterly fabulous. Wenger and Jensen, both chefs and avid readers, have pored over volumes from Little Women to The Importance of Being Earnest, found food-related passages and devised recipes for each. Book exerpts, quotes from authors, and book quotations from various novels are interspersed with the various recipes they helped to inspire. (One of my personal favorites was Scarlett O'Hara's Gone with the Wind vow "As God is my witness, I will never go hungry again!") In some cases, the authors have contributed the recipes (ie Jodi Picoult contributed a chicken and dumplings recipe she was given when she lived in an Amish community while researching a book).

Judy has also recommended a book to me for Lit Chicks entitled Recipe for a Book Club: A Monthly Guide for Hosting Your Own Reading Group: Menus & Recipes, Featured Authors, Suggested Readings, and Topical Questions. It has been compiles by Mary O'Hare and Rose Storey (do we think she made her name up?) This one builds menus around your chosen book (provided it's in there) and helps you run the whole meeting from start to finish. While we are doing well with all other aspects of our book club, I must confess that the dinner theme selections have been running rather dry lately. This book might also help me select a book for next year. I'm looking forward to getting my hands on it!

And finally, I was thrilled to get home this afternoon and discover that Judy had bought me a ticket to go to the Smithsonian's Resident Assistant Program's evening with Alton Brown, my favorite chef on the Food Network. I can hardly wait.

So that's all for now from my kitchen and library... The latest in my projects and goals... If you have any suggestions for literary cookbooks, I'd love to hear them!

1 pearl(s) of wisdom:

Brian said...

If you want to cook in a way that The General will love, I cannot recommend Alton Brown's "I'm Just Here For The Food" highly enough. His backgrounders are perhaps more technical than you'd like, but when you finish them, you'll have a very firm grasp of what's actually happening when you cook. Good stuff.