Monday, January 19, 2009

Cookbooks. And a recipe. And a few other things.

Yes, it's a recipe! I know, I haven't posted one of these in quite a while; I'm actually considering putting a page on my new website for them all, or would that be lame? What do you think?

Anyway. Most of the recipes I've posted have been my own inventions. This one isn't. It's taken from Nigella Lawson's "How to Eat", which is one of my absolute favorite cookbooks in the world ever. Certainly out of all the cookbooks I own, this one is my favorite that was written after about 1980.

Okay, I started to put this little rant in parentheses but decided it was too long to be parenthetical. I buy most of my cookbooks from used bookstores, or especially from antique/antiquarian bookstores, for one simple reason. Good recipes.

The thing is, most modern cookbooks aren't written for people who enjoy cooking or who cook on a regular basis. They're just not. They're written--so it seems to me--for people who enjoy reading and eating more than cooking; for those who enjoy "food porn"; for those who cook once a week, an elaborate Saturday or Sunday lunch or brunch.

I like those books, I do. I own a few and love to look through them. But they are not practical at all. I am a stay-home Mom, as you guys know. I cook dinner for four people at least five nights a week (usually six, but we do have the occasional Leftovers Night, or fish & chips craving, or whatever, so I'm saying five even though it's usually six or seven). When you cook dinner for four people, six nights a week, you do not have the time to spend on these ten-step recipes every night. Nor do you have the money for some of the ingredients in those books. Nor, especially, is there a snowball's chance in Hell that your four- and seven-year-old daughters are going to even consider eating anything served on a bed of crispy-fried frissee lettuce, with capers, and bearnaise sauce, and whatever else. Seriously. I love those cookbooks. But I cannot actually cook from them; I do not have the money or the equipment or time, and I need to cook food that my children will actually eat.

Older cookbooks were written for housewives who had to cook for their families and their picky children. The recipes in them are less expensive. They use more common ingredients; no hunting around for passionfruit or beef marrow. No dirtying dozens of pots and pans. And that's what I need.

I also feel that modern cookbooks are waaaay too full of salads and desserts. You know, I know how to make a salad, and I rarely make or eat dessert. I don't need those recipes, I need main courses. Actual food. Not thirty different salads that are really all the same; it's a freaking salad, you know?

And that's one reason I love Nigella's book. I love her, frankly. I love how the book reads more like a novel than a cookbook. (Funnily enough the few negative Amazon reviews are from people who don't like this; they just want recipes and pictures.) It's like a little wander through someone's culinary life, and it's a lot of fun. And while I admit some of the recipes don't appeal to me, some of them do, and are delicious (although I do wish she would stop putting chiles in everything as I cannot take spicy food with my delicate stomach.)

Anyway. This is for gooey chocolate puddings. And they are fantastic. I made them New Year's Eve. This is the kind of recipe I love because it looks really complex and sophisticated when you serve it; it's like a little chocolate cake still all melty in the center. And I could never figure out how that works, and now I know.

Preheat oven to 400F; turn it on at least half an hour before you want to cook the puddings so it will be nice and evenly hot.

4 1/2 oz high quality chocolate, chopped. (4 1/2 oz is 125g; see what measurement the chocolate bar uses. I'd make sure the chocolate is at least 70% cocoa solids. Also, I used "Mayan dark" chocolate, with spices, do you know the kind I mean? It has a little cinnamon and stuff. It was really good, but plain choc would be fine.)

8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter (I only had salted and it was fine, so I wouldn't worry about that too much)

3 large eggs

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

In a saucepan (or double-boiler, if you're fancy) melt the butter and chocolate together slowly, stirring fairly often.

In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and flour until just blended. It will be this weird sort of translucent yellowy goo. Slowly whisk in the chocolate mixture; set aside.

Butter four 1-cup ramekins (I used my special heart-shaped Le Creuset Xmas gift remekins! Oh joy! I felt *very* grown-up and special) and flour them. Pour the misture into the ramekins--mine were filled just over halfway--and set them on a baking sheet, in the middle of the oven, for 10-12 minutes, until the tops are firm and cracking slightly and the edges are set. I'd actually give them maybe a minute more; oven temps vary a little so keep an eye on them.

Serve immediately, with cream. I'm not usually a fan of simply pouring cream over things--I used single cream, which is like half-and-half I think, but you could use whipping cream too. It doesn't need to be whipped (though you can, I didn't), just pour some of it over after you've taken the first couple of bites.

The thing is, these are *very* gooey and *very* hot inside, and *very* chocolatey. So the cream is cool, and actually does provide a little relief from the strong chocolate flavor, so it adds a nice contrast. So I would definitely have the cream. I liked it much better with than without, and so did the hubs. Loooovely.

A few more things:

Friday night I was hanging out on Twitter, wishing AW was up (I've heard it's back now but haven't had time to go check yet), and I got into a fun little chat with Colleen Lindsay, who is probably one of the most--if not the most--successful new agents to, um, start agenting, in the past few years. She's with Fine Print, an excellent agency, and is the living embodiment of my "A new agent at an established agency is a good bet" dictum. Anyway. I thought Colleen was a nice, friendly sort, until she practically throttled me and pushed my face in a muddy puddle until I agreed to allow her to set up a Facebook page for me. I gave in.

So now I have a Facebook page. Which some of you already know because I Friended you. If I didn't friend you, it's because I did not know you were there, so please don't hesitate to friend me if you want.

I'm actually really enjoying Facebook so far. Much more adult than MySpace, which you all know I loathe. We'll see if it becomes a major timesuck; so far I've been doing okay.

A terrifying thing happened Saturday night. No, really. Hubs went to his Mum's on Friday to discuss some things with her. He came back Saturday; I picked him up at the train station at 7 pm. It was dark. It was pouring down rain. It was horrendously windy.

Unlike pretty much every other town in England, our train station is miles away. You have to take a separate highway to get to and from it. It's a four-lane highway, two lanes on each side, with a metal dividing rail between, and it is a very hilly, very wind-y road with lots of twists and turns. No lights, of course. That would make it safer and we can't have that.

So. We are headed Westbound, in the left-hand lane (which is the outside lane here, remember.) Toodly-doo, along we go, chatting, when we turn a corner, go about half a mile, and a car passes us going Eastbound.

Eastbound. In the Westbound lane. On a dark and windy night, on a twisty narrow road.

(Another fun feature of this road, as with so many roads in the Southwest, is there are no exits for miles. You get on, and you are not getting off for a while.)

So of course we take a second or two to wonder if we actually saw what we think we did. Another second or so to freak out because we could have all just been in a head-on collision at 70 mph. And we dial 999 to report it. We would have liked to have turned around and followed along with them (on the correct side of the road) blaring our horn or something to try and warn people, but again, it is impossible to exit or turn around anywhere on these roads. And that probably would not have been particularly safe either.

One really cool thing they do here is, if you call to report a crime or incident or whatever, they are legally required to update you on it. Which is a tremendous violation of privacy, but is still really cool. We arrived home, still freaking out, and waited.

Fifteen minutes later the phone rang. It was the police. There had been a massive car accident.

Luckily, she said no one was killed or even injured very seriously. And she said thanks to us they already had police etc. on the road, on the way, when the call came in. So we were at least able to help.

The driver was apparently very elderly.

Just awful. Very scary. And I believe it is entirely possible that had there been street lights the accident could have been prevented. Seriously, getting onto the highway here at night is like being in a submarine plunging into black water; the lights stop at the top of the exit ramps, and you're on your own. It's incredibly dangerous.

But the important thing is no one was killed.

See? I told you it was terrifying.

But on a brighter note...there's an Inauguration tomorrow! I love Inaguration Day. I always watch them--I always love to watch them. I don't care who's being inagurated, I just watch and take pride in the whole system. That we elect a President. That we swear that President in with great ceremony and pride. That we are solemn and joyful at the same time. It's fantastic. It makes me proud, and it usually makes me cry a little, and I just love it and I'm very excited. So who's going to be watching with me? (Assuming I get to watch of course; I don't know if CNN or Fox will be covering it, and those are the only news we have access to that might show the whole thing. So fingers crossed. I haven't missed watching an Inauguration in...oh, gosh...since Reagan's first, so this is a Big Deal to me.)


kirsten saell said...

Hey, D, thanks for friending me. If you want to stay my friend, you won't watch The Video. *ahem*

Totally concur with your cookbook rant. What the eff do I want with saffron and truffle oil? Gimme 1 meat, 1 starch, 2 veg, and make it stuff my kids will eat. There ya go. And I don't do dessert, either.

That must have been freaky, passing that car! Lucky you guys aren't in Canada--if you were, that elderly person would have probably been driving in the fast lane. Of course, they wouldn't have been going, you know, fast, or anything...

Charles Gramlich said...

My favorite part of recipes is when someone else makes them for me. I do cook, but usually I just fix things that don't have to be mixed in certain concentrations. Unless it's "add water."

BernardL said...

Food porn... LOL!

December/Stacia said...

Lol, Kirsten, I pretty much never watch online videos, so no worries there. :-)

No shit! Truffle oil. Come on, man. I just need regular dinner recipes, you know? Stuff I can actually make without buying ingredients from five specialty stores, and that my picky girls will eat. Hey, if you're interested I created a really nice ground beef recipe not too long ago, and best of all it's incredibly inexpensive. I just brown the beef with onion powder, a little Worcestershire and a little soy, and whatever other spices-a little rosemary, A-1 sauce, whatever. I buy a package of those brown n serve dinner rolls and cook them halfway, then split them open, throw some beef into each, press them sort-of-closed, and finish cooking them. Pour gravy over them and serve. You can literally make this for a couple of bucks; the bread is filling so you only need like 1/2 pound of beef. I serve it with fries; they're lazy hamburgers". :-)

LOL, Charles! Yes, you and my husband seem to have gone to the same culinary school. :-)

Hee, Bernard. It's not my phrase, I admit, but it is so descriptive. :-)

writtenwyrdd said...

I had that same wrong-way on a divided highway experience once, myself. Late at night, during a rain storm, and it was a high speed pursuit! Good thing I was in the right-hand lane and they weren't! And I was also questioning whether I had somehow lost track of whether or not the road was divided.

By the way, I've nominated you for a Kreativ Blogger Award. See my blog for details.

laughingwolf said...

i'm with you on the recipes... usually, if i can't pronounce an ingredient, i don't bother

been cooking since i was about 6, no one has died, yet, though a few times two of my three kids have said it was too spicy!

thx for these hints

Robyn said...

I am a total casserole girl. I heart one-pot wonders.

The inauguration was so inspiring. I loved Rick Warren's prayer and the President's speech.

Chris Howard said...

Cool! I posted my "pizza dough recipe for writers" a few days ago. A few more of these and we can start our own cookbook. Who's with me?