Thursday, January 03, 2008

Just like the poltergeist...

We-re ba-ack!

The League is up and running again, blogging for your delight and edification five days a week (and posting interviews at weekends!)

And I'm back too.

I was thinking earlier about cookbooks and such, and cooking in general. I love cookbooks. I read them like literature, and they're the only books whose pages I dog-ear (so if I'm looking for something to cook one night I don't have to page through recipes that don't interest me.)

But I tend to dislike modern cookbooks (with one exception, which I'll get to later.) Most modern cookbooks are for hobbyists; people who have money to spend on exotic ingredients and cook once a week, or do a special brunch sometimes, or whatever. All attractive and often looks great, but not very practical for someone who has to get dinner on the table at least six nights a week (assuming the hubs takes pity and we go to McD's or something once.)

(Actually, "takes pity" sounds bad, because I genuinely enjoy cooking. I just don't always want to do it by the end of the week.)

I simply don't have the time or the inclination to faff about the kitchen for hours julienning vegetables or infusing things (unless it's a special occasion, in which case I am happy to faff), and we certainly can't afford to buy a whole shelf full of exotic foods.

That's why I like old cookbooks.

In Ft. Lauderdale there was a used bookshop that had a whole section of old cookbooks, mostly from the 50s, 60s, and 70s, and I used to clean that place out when I went. They usually only cost a couple of dollars each at the most, and are great. Fun to read (I have recipes for sweetebreads and whole roast suckling pig, y'all, right at my fingertips). They have a lot of basic information that's useful--a lot of these books assume you're a SAHM looking to branch out or looking for new ideas, so it's all non-fussy and with detailed instructions. Lots of casseroles. Lots of stuff you can freeze (I hardly ever do, but you get the point). I have a pasta cookbook from the mid-70s that is one of my favorites of all time, though it's missing two pages which irks me. Best of all for someone with a sensitive stomach like mine, there is very little emphasis placed on "International" (which usually means spicy) cuisine.

I have an "Antoinette Pope School" cookbook that uses MSG in almost every recipe (I omit it) and explains how to can foods and make jelly (I have never tried it, nor will I. Are you kidding? Me, with my pathological fear of food-borne bacteria?) I have an entire cookbook of fish recipes--good ones, with fish you can get at any supermarket instead of exotic ones you have to find a fishmonger for. I believe I literally have recipes for just about anything. Steak tartare? Got it. Tripe? Got it. Brains? Head cheese? Oh, yeah.

I also adore those cheap pamphlet-y cookbooks you can buy at the checkout lane in grocery stores. "Cooking With Beer" is my favorite (like I wouldn't buy a cookbook titled that) but I have some fun Halloween ones and local cuisine-type ones too.

I use those all the time. My modern books? Not so much. Except Nigella Lawson's "How to Eat", although I usually have to adapt her recipes because she's overly fond of peppers (to which I am violently allergic) and spices like cumin which I just plain don't like.

I actually started writing a cookbook once. It's got about thirty recipes in it but I never finished--I keep telling myself I need to keep going, so I can offer it as a free download or something. That's one of the reasons I post recipes at the Overflow blog, too, just in case someone cares. Nobody seems to, but that doesn't stop me! Oh no!

What do you cook from, if you cook? Do you like to cook? Got any recipes to share? How do you feel about modern cookbooks? Have any cooking tips? Bring 'em on!


Demon Hunter said...

To be honest, December, I don't use cookbooks. I live in the South and call up friends or older relatives for some great recipes. Plus, both my parents cooked in my house, so I've got a plethora of recipes from them.

One of the best cookbooks I've seen though is Maya Angelou's cookbook. That woman knows her recipes. What do you want a recipes for? What kind of dish? I know quite a few. Try me. :*)

Mark said...

Here's a sure fire crowd pleaser, since you seem to be opening up a Ladies Home Journal atmosphere here.

Curried Squash Soup

1 large butternut squash
8-10 strips of bacon (thick cut, preferably)
1 stick of butter
1 large onion
1 Lg Can of chicken Stock (about 6 cups)
1 Tbsp curry powder
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 TBSp sugar

Preheat oven to 325.
Cut squash in half lengthwise, scoop out seeds and discard, and place in roasting pan (you may need to cut slivers from the bottom of each to keep them from rocking). In cavities, place equal portions of the butter, and then cover completely with strips of bacon. Roast until bacon is crisp and squash is soft all the way through (could take up to 2 hours, but smells good while your writing your next masterpiece).

Remove bacon and set aside for later use.

In a large soup pot, pour off the butter from the squash, and a bit of the bacon grease from the roasting pan. Chop onion fine and sweat over medium low heat. Once the onions are opaque, add the curry powder and stir, then the scooped flesh from the squash (skinning is a bit tricky but you'll get the hang of it), the chicken stock and sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer (about twenty minutes), stirring occasionally.

Turn off fire and puree in a food processor, return to pan, add cream, stir to blend. Serve with crumbled bacon on top.

You'll notice there is no salt. The bacon adds all the salt this soup will ever need (something about the roasting process), plus there's salt in the butter. Trust me.

That's it. Takes some time and lots of steps but it's so good you'll slap your mom for it.



I like Paula Deen because she'll throw in a can of Campbell's cream of mushroom when a proper chef would want you to handpick some exotic fungus, milk Farmer Brown's finest cow to acquire fresh cream, and brew your own mushroom cream stock. She is well suited to my utter lack of pretention in the kitchen. Roll your own puff pastry? Screw that. Pillsbury refrigerated crescents, y'all.

I think there should be a rule that every recipe in a cookbook has to come with a picture. I never seem to try the ones that are just words on the page, so three-fourths of every book is pretty much wasted on me.

Charles Gramlich said...

That's a good point about modern cookbooks, that they're mostly for dabblers. I hadn't thought of that before.

Bernita said...

I have a small collection of old cookbooks.
I used to make my own bread, pickles, jams, jellies, ketchup, etc. Unfortunately my husband likes plain food, as in meat 'n potatoes.

BernardL said...

My kids growing up wouldn't touch anything not PLAIN. If it didn't come out of a box or a bag, they hated it. Fresh fruits, carrot sticks, and celery with peanut butter was the only thing standing between them and scurvy. :) Sorry, D, I got nothin'.

pacatrue said...

I'm a cookbook fan, but I think I have different tastes. I've never bought the kind of contemporary cookbooks you are discussing, so we are similar there, but I love to buy various regional and ethnic cuisines - Korean, Thai, Chinese, French, etc. Then I use Fanny Farmer and Joy of Cooking for all the basics.

And of course I have December Quinn's recipe for chicken and dumplings.

pacatrue said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
December/Stacia said...

Oh, I just like recipes, DH! Love recipes, love cookbooks. I have tons I've never made but will one day, sigh...

Thanks, Mark! I will definitely try that one, especially as it's so cold out. Mmm, warm soup.

Oh, I never make my own pastry, Kerry. I'm no good at pastry. But Paula Deen lost me when she rolled out dumpling dough, cut it in strips, and boiled it uncovered. Terrible.

You know, Charles, it wasn't until I commented about it to a friend earlier that it hit me! I couldn't figure out why the old books appealed to me so much more, and that's why.

You can do a lot with meat n potatoes, though, Bernita! I'm in awe that you baked break and put up preserves. I've never been brave enough to attempt it and I don't think I ever will be. :-)

Lol, Bernard, I'm still a fan of PLAIN. I'm very picky. I wouldn't even eat the stuff your kids would!

And you never said if you tried that recipe, Paca! I'm still waiting. :-)
I like reading some of those books, but most of the food I simply can't take, sadly.
Don't the recipes in Joy of Cooking bug you a bit though? I like their "About" sections but they always want me to have too many ingredients and too much equipment.

Anonymous said...

I love to cook and do most of the cooking in my house. I don't really have any recipes to share as I rarely use them -I just shoot from the hip and often have to split the dish because I like spicy and The Warden likes bland -and I do mean bland, no salt no nothin'. Yuck. -V95

Robyn said...

I love watching the Top Chef and Iron Chef shows, but honestly- who would want to eat that food?

Rachael Ray's 30 Minute Meals has some good recipes, though they've always taken me more like 45. I just can't watch her show. If I hear "EVOO" one more time I'll look for a convenient bridge to throw myself off of.

December/Stacia said...

I do that a lot too, V95, inventing things or messing about, but I do start with recipes sometimes and still like reading them anyway. I'm dorky that way. :-)
Gotta have my salt, though, hee.

Oh, Robyn, the hubs has this obsessive lusty hatred for Rachael Ray. She's only just started airing here but I used to watch her in the States and he would grit his teeth the whole time, while admitting under duress there was something appealing about her.

Camille Alexa said...

I'm strangely intrigued by your cookbook idea, December! Are you going to make it theme-y? And don't these things sell really well?

Roasted in the Fires of Hell: a Demon-lover's Guide to Hot Dishes

Anonymous said...

I like to cook, especially when it gets cold out. But lately th hubs has been waking me up to "Will cook cook me some breakfast" and he always means a big full breakfast and gets grumpy if I just want to make a egg and cheese omelet or a bowl of oatmeal. Oh, and he never cooks either. It ruins my fun. After years of that frufru cooking I found They send me bimonthly magazines and weekly email with recipes for free. sure they say to use their products, but you don't have to. And they do focus on more simple food.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I wanted to mention that has a special theme right now of how to sneak more vitamins and such into your everyday meals.they make eating good look and sound so simple.

kirsten saell said...

I was a professional cook at a high end restaurant and I got all my creativity out then. Almost never used an actual recipe--in a pro kitchen everything but sauces and pastry is mostly done by eye and on the fly. Chantrelle mushroom and hazelnut soup anyone? How about Haida Eggs Bennedict with smoked salmon instead of back bacon? Perfectly grilled mahi mahi with roast fennel and marinated stawberry tomatoes? All wasted on me.

Meat, potatoes, gravy. That's where it's at. Best recipe I've recently come across was a curry-apple glazed barbeque pork tenderloin. Easy peasy. Frozen apple juice concentrate and curry boiled down to a glaze, brushed over a well brined pork tender. Grill it to medium well, let it sit for five minutes and carve. Don't even need a recipe, really. Those are the best meals.

Sarah Richardson (one of my fave celeb designers) has a motto that works in the kitchen, too. Clean, fresh, simple. And a little butter never hurt anyone.

December/Stacia said...

Lol, Camille! Actually it was originally meant for me and my kids, a sort of "Family collection" kind of cookbook, but since I mention cooking a few times in the Demons books I figured it might be fun. (The new site wll have a couple of recipes from the book, actually, as Megan is quite a good cook.) That's a really fun idea, though!

Oooh, I'll check that out, Michele, thanks! I admit I love food product websites for the recipes. Jello has a really good one for desserts, as does Bisquik.
My husband cooks tuna casserole. That's it. Nothing else. But I never make breakfast (once a month or so he convinces me to make him fried egg sandwiches, but aside from that, no.) I'm not a breakfast girl, never have been.

Wow, Kirsten! I could never be a chef--I love to cook but all that pressure is just not for me. I don't use recipes often, but I love to read them and modify them for myself. After the first time or two I don't need them anymore--I can make the dish on my own, my own way.
And I agree. Meat, potatoes, gravy is one of the best meals ever, and still my dining-out preference.

Anonymous said...

Gah! You just reminded me that I forgot to bring my 70s fondue cookbook with me (sending via interoffice to a co-worker who got a fondue set for Christmas).

I love cooking. In fact, for New Years, The Man and I made a 5 course dinner for ourselves. Some of the recipes were from books, some were made up.

I love cookbooks. The older ones that I have use too many cans and boxes of things for my taste, but they're still fun reading. Moosewood is one of my all time faves, and Fanny Farmer. If you want to get the girls cooking try Kitchens for Kids by Jennifer Low. Best ever for little people. All the recipes are small and so simple it's amazing (and can be eaten in one night if you cook after they're in bed...seriously, 9 cupcakes, 14 shortbead cookies, 4 little tiny lemon puddings, evidence easily consumed).


December/Stacia said...

OOOH, a 70s fondue cookbook! Awesome!

I HAVE to get that little people cookbook. Foods the kids don't know you have are the best, aren't they?

Angie said...

I'm more into techniques than specific recipes. I like learning how to do some technique that I can adapt to a lot of different uses. Like when I learned to make roux sauce -- you can do just about anything with a roux once you've got it, and I don't even measure when I make it. Versatile and bullet-proof, there you go.

(My favorite TV food guy is Alton Brown, because he emphasizes technique rather than just giving you a Recipe Of The Week.)

I have a few favorite recipes I use, from three or four cookbooks, but most of the time I'm a seat-of-the-pants cook.