August 6, 2009
During the heat wave last week, I spent some time in the air-conditioned book store looking at all the new cookbooks. I'm an addict - there is something a bout a new cookbook that I love love love - I have plenty of them already, but I'm alway s still excited about adding a new one to my collection. Cookbooks, when they are well done, are not just a bunch of recipes: they have a personality. If a recipe was all I was after, there is not a recipe in existence that I couldn't get off of the web somewhere - you just have to know what you're looking for. A cookbook, on the other hand, invites you into some one's kitchen to experience their life and family through food. I have many different styles of cookbook in my collection, and I spend time looking through them all - some have a picture on every page showing a mouth watering dish, some are just text (but these have personality just the same - I guess it's the collection and the way it is presented). The latest addition to my collection (you didn't think I could spend the better part of a hot afternoon in the bookstore without actually buying one, did you?) has more personality than many of my other cook books put together. familymeals by Maria Helm Sinskey. What gives it so much personality? I think layout has a lot to do with it - lots of family pictures, beautiful colors, a feeling of natural, homey comfort foods. I like the voice that Maria speaks in - she obviously feels strongly about local and organic foods, but she isn't preachy about it. She also promotes family and friends in the kitchen - which is something I really believe in as well, although it doesn't happen as often as I would like (I usually end up alone in the kitchen fixing dinner, for example. I always have help for baking and other snack-making, however.) I also love the selection of foods - it is the kind of food I grew up on - very American (I think, I'm not really familiar with labels) and comforting - and not afraid of a little butter and cream (which is both good and bad, in my book...). I also love that she has little "Try this at home" pages that show you how to make homemade ricotta cheese (I'm definitely going to do this) and raspberry jam. Ok, that being said - I've only tried a few recipes so far, and I'm not sure what I think. I made the pint-sized peach cobblers for a BBQ last weekend - Picky and her friend helped to cut out biscuit shapes to put on the tops, but Picky wouldn't touch them when they finally came around (she was too busy eating my homemade frozen yogurt - I'll share this recipe soon). I thought it was pretty good, but a little bland - but then, I've never actually had a peach cobbler before. I'm sure that these things all depend on the natural flavor of the fruit - peaches have a very mild flavor anyway, and so I'm sure a peach cobbler is supposed to be subtle. It was a bit too subtle for me - although everyone else seemed to enjoy it, and they certainly looked really cute. I wonder if nectarines would have a little more of the flavor I'm looking for?
The other recipe I tried was the macaroni and cheese. Everyone has a recipe for this, and you would think they wouldn't be all that different - but the little things sometimes make a very big difference. I noticed first off that this recipe called for much less macaroni that I was used to (1/2 a pound), and my initial thought was: "Great! who wants 3 days worth of macaroni and cheese? My butt will thank me!" But then I noticed that the sauce part looked about the same as recipes that call for way more macaroni - in other words, "This is gonna be saucy!" Well, ok, I was willing to give it a try anyway, I was sure that, for macaroni and cheese, saucy was good. I still felt compelled to modify the recipe, however - it called for whole milk (I used 1 %), and heavy cr eam (I skipped this), and also 2 more tablespoons of butter than I actually used. Plus I put a bread crumb/cheese topping on it that it didn't call for, because that's Picky 's favorite part. It was adorable in the little ramekins (I usually make mac and cheese in a lasagna pan, for maximum crunchy topping). Anyway, even with my subtractions (and addition) IT WAS STILL CREAMY! And super saucy. Which was good, but I couldn't help but wonder at the calories loaded into that little ramekin. Not only that, I am always surprised at how much time it takes to make macaroni and cheese. I always find myself whisking the milk and flour for much longer than I want to. Maybe we get spoiled with instant mac and cheese, and we start to think of it as a "quick food", and so when we really make it from scratch, it takes more effort than we've anticipated. Or maybe not "we", maybe just "me". I don't know. Anyway, although it wa s delicious, I'm wondering if I couldn't really simplify the whole macaroni and cheese thing, although not to the point of instant. What if I take the cheese custard recipe, and add some cooked macaroni? I think I'm going to have to try this - because making a cheese custard is a snap, that takes 5 minutes to assemble.
But don't think I've given up on my new cookbook! I'm still looking forward to making my own ricotta, smoking salmon, and trying a few recipes that Picky chose to see if she'll really eat them, like crispy shrimp with real lemony mayo, and ham, tomato, and cheese panini. I'll let you know how it goes.