Wednesday, October 22, 2008

And I Think Very Fondly of Food

Well. I come to you with a sheepish smile and an apology.

I have no recipe for you today. I tried, I really did. I made meatballs with smoked paprika on Monday night and I nearly convinced myself that they were a success. And looking back, I now see that the flavor of the meatballs hid behind the full skirts of the 2006 Peter Kemmer Pinot Nero that we were drinking that night. The meatballs looked good, but the wine was inherently better in taste. A chorus girl next to an opera singer, that's what we had.

The next day, I ate a few leftover meatballs for lunch and that's when I saw through the stage makeup and frou. They were kind of meh, to be exact.

Plus, you know what? Meatballs do not photograph well at all.

So I'm not going to foist that recipe upon you.

Instead, I want to ask you a question (or two). If you could keep only five of your cookbooks, which ones would you keep and why?

The latest volume of The Art of Eating poses this question. If you are not familiar with AoE, it is a literary, geographical read about food and I have been enjoying its quarterly publications for about a year. Edward Behr, the publisher of AoE and the author of this particular piece, found that his selection of nine skewed toward the cuisines of France and Italy. He writes:
The cooking of Provence is so much home cooking, and the Mediterranean flavors are so much an antidote to the northern place where I live, that this is the everyday food I'd like to eat for most of the rest of my life.
Because Mr. Behr presumably hopes to sell as many subscriptions to AoE as possible, I tactfully will refrain from listing his selections, interesting as they are.

Instead, I'll give you mine, a list of five:

1. The Foster's Market Cookbook: Recipes for Morning, Noon and Night, by Sara Foster
2. Christina's Cookbook: Recipes and Stores from a Northwest Island Kitchen, by Christina Orchid
3. The New Basics Cookbook, by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins
4. How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman
5. The Food You Crave, by Ellie Krieger

The first two cookbooks are firmly rooted in geography. Foster's Market is located in Durham, North Carolina and offers excellent New South cooking. Christina's is a restaurant on San Juan Island in the Pacific Northwest offering micro-local food. I like to open a cookbook and feel like I can understand a place better through its dishes and ingredients. When I read these two cookbooks, I feel rooted in their time and their place.

The New Basics and How to Cook Everything are favorites of mine for their breadth. These two have the recipe you need, no matter what you're cooking. The New Basics was published in the mid-eighties and reflects some of the affectations of the time. However, I find that it has aged well and the recipes are reliable. How to Cook Everything is one of the cookbooks that helped me dip a toe into the waters of cooking. I refer to it frequently and compare recipes that I find online with ones in Bittman's book to help me evaluate whether an online find is likely to be a success.

Finally, The Food You Crave might be dismissed by snobs as mere offspring of the Food Network, but let me tell you, I love this cookbook. Ellie Krieger, a registered dietitian, offers low-fat, low-sugar recipes that are utterly satisfying and she does so without using "diet" products such as Splenda. I do not think of her cookbook as a volume of diet food; I think of it as good, hearty eating.

Those are my five. How about you?

* With thanks to Ogden Nash for the title of this post. It comes from "The Clean Plater."

The photographs in this post were taken at the Wilmington, North Carolina Farmer's Market in September.

6 comments:

Foodycat said...

That is a really tough question! Let me get back to you.

muddywaters said...

I love this question, but I'm with foodycat. Mark Bittman's book would make my list, but I'll have to think about what else I would include. This question will be my homework for my drive home today.

I'm still enjoying your blog. I enjoy reading your writing. Your blog and Simmertilldone.com might contain some of the best writing I've encountered. I

I think, you should checkout Simmertilldone.com. You two will really hit it off.

take care,
muddywaters

Aggie said...

I'm really not sure...definitely Martha Stewart Baking Handbook b/c there's just so much to it...The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook b/c it's one of my first and favorites...I'll have to think some more about this...

I'll have to check out that Ellie Krieger book, I try to cook healthy daily and really don't like to use diet products such as Splenda...I've never looked at her cookbook and rarely watch her show, but I think I should! Good post!

Cheryl said...

First of all, what is in the little green baskets in your first photo? I feel like a complete doofus but I can't tell what they are.

Second of all, I, too, made meatballs last night and they weren't blog-worthy either. At least you had consolation in the form of a beautiful wine. Not me. Just lots of dirty dishes.

Third, I just took a look at my cookbook shelf (well, shelves) and became completely overwhelmed at the thought of choosing 5 favorites. It's like Sophie's Choice! (OK, it's not, but you get my point.)

muddywaters said...

OK. After much reflection, these are my five books:

Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything: I find myself turning to this book often. It's just a great reference books, and I love how it offers variations on each recipe.

The King Arthur Flour Company's Baker's Company: This book is invaluable. It covers everything from cookies to fine pastries. I couldn't live without this book.

America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook: This is a hipper version of the old red and white plaid Better Homes and Garden's three-ringed cookbook. This book would be the book I'd give to a beginning cook.

A Cowboy in the Kitchen by Grady Spears and Robb Walsh: I love down-to-earth food with layers of flavor. This book fits the bill.

At this time, I can't decide on my 5th book. I'm leaning towards The Best of America's Test Kitchen or A Gracious Plenty by John T. Edge.

I'm a cookbook junkie, and I'm always on the prowl for new cookboooks. I'll need to checkout your suggestions.

Have a great weekend,
muddywaters

Sarah said...

Foodycat: Hard to decide, isn't it?

Muddy Waters: This is the nicest compliment I have received; thank you so much! And yes, I have been reading Simmertilldone and love it!

Aggie: Thank you! Those are two good cookbooks. Definitely check out Ellie's cookbook; it's a really great source of "good food" (as opposed to scary, fake diet foods).

Cheryl: They are Scuppernog grapes and that photo documents my first experience with them. They are large, sweet grapes that have four little seeds. I would squeeze the grape out of its skin, then aim the seeds at my husband!

Muddy Waters: You are the second person to mention the King Arthur Cookbook to me recently and I've decided that I need to check it out. The Cowboy in the Kitchen cookbook caught my attention, too, since I'm a native Texan. Thanks for introducing me to these new books!