Making the Most of Your Cookbook

Jessica Harlan by Jessica Harlan | August 16th, 2007 | No Comments
topic: Health & Wellness, Healthy Eating

Last time I checked, I had 78 cookbooks. This, by anyone’s count, is probably way too many, but when you consider that I rarely even cook from them, it seems like a particular extravagance. But the truth is, sometimes it’s much easier to search for a recipe online, or I get excited by what’s in the new issue of Cooking Light, so my cookbooks sit on the shelf, unopened.

But this week, sick of the usual suspects that have been appearing on the dinner table week after week, I decided to make three recipes I’ve never made before, all from cookbooks that I have been meaning to look through. Plus, I’ve been trying to get dinner ready earlier—by 7:15—-so that we could eat with our baby, Sadie, before putting her to bed.

For my first dish, I chose some recipes from my newest acquisition, Sara’s Secrets for Weeknight Meals by Sara Moulton. Moulton, who has had shows on the Food Network and is also executive chef for Gourmet magazine, has a keep-it-simple philosophy when it comes to cooking, and, as the name of her book would suggest, knows that many of us are time-pressed in the kitchen. I chose her recipe for Thanksgiving Hens because I’ve never made Cornish hens, and, with the actual Thanksgiving still 3 months away, the thought of her holiday-flavored stuffing sounded appealing. This recipe is one of the more ambitious in her cookbooks and, although the preparation wasn’t difficult, I probably spent nearly 2 hours in and out of the kitchen, putting everything on hold to bathe Sadie and finally sitting down to eat with my husband, Chip, around 8:30 p.m. So much for eating as a family—but Chip and I enjoyed a “grown-up” dinner with a glass of wine… no thrown sippy cups or smeared sweet potatoes.

For my next meal, I was a little more successful in getting everything ready to eat by 7:15 in time for Sadie to join us (was this because she was off with her daddy, leaving me uninterrupted in the kitchen?). I chose a recipe from Tyler Florence’s Real Kitchen, a book I like because of the chapter on easy meals for two. After all, most recipes I come across serve four, which means that I either have leftovers to deal with or, worse, Chip and I end up eating larger portions than we should because there’s so much food.

(I should digress here to say that I’m not a celebrity-chef groupie. I loathe Emeril, and Rachael Ray’s perkiness gets to me. But I bought Tyler Florence’s book on sight because I love the way it’s divided into occasions, like “Table for Two,” “One-Pot Wonders,” “Food for the Great Outdoors,” etc. And as it turns out, one of his recipes—for smashed broccoli—has become a favorite side dish of ours.)

The recipe I made was for Slow-Baked Salmon with Honey-Onion Marmalade. The recipe calls for asparagus to be roasted with the salmon, but asparagus was $3.99 a pound, so I opted for cheaper (and just as tasty) baby bok choy, which turned out just fine. I rounded out the meal with some frozen grits that I found in my fridge, which I livened up with a handful of grated cheddar cheese.

For the last night of my foray into my cookbooks, I turned to a book I’d picked up at my food co-op, Jacques Pépin’s Simple and Healthy Cooking. It’s an older book, from 1994, and has a somewhat dated feel, which might be because I never made a single recipe from it. Nonetheless, I decided to make Turkey Meat Loaf in Tomato-Mushroom Sauce. Once again, time got away from me and our dinner time came and went with the meatloaf resolutely in the oven… it turns out it not only needs to cook for 1 ¼ hours, but it also needs to rest for 20 to 30 minutes. We ate around 8:30…and learned that French chefs should probably not attempt to make meatloaf. It was somehow bland and overly oniony at the same time, and the tomato and mushroom sauce, although tasty, seemed out of place dribbled over the grey slab of meatloaf. Just give me my meatloaf with sticky-sweet ketchup glaze!

I’m vowing not to neglect my cookbook collection anymore. I’d forgotten how much I love paging through a beautifully illustrated book, daydreaming about the meals I can prepare. Even if they do take longer than my usual thrown-together dinners.

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