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cookbooks!

Exactly one year ago the Dubious Citty Katt (that’s how the local press referred to her in print- honestly) twisted my arm to start this food blog.  I confidently said at that time that I’d share my favorite cookbooks.

For a year I’ve haven’t been sure how to do that, particularly since I learned as a child that we have to keep our  promises.  For one thing I have 3 or 4 bookshelves full of cookbooks.  Really big shelves.  (Please click on the photo if you don’t believe me).

Some books are large and colorful, some are sort of clinical;  but with most of them I would be happy to sink into a chair and just read it like a novel.  One of my favorite aunts proudly and happily admitted that very same thing to me one day in her kitchen (when I was in high school), where I was perpetually hanging out (and do not end sentences with prepositions please).  Everyone EVERYONE loved Aunt Jane’s cooking- and she taught me pie crust- along with my mom and grandmother.  Now, how will I describe my cookbook collection after all my big words.

About 130 a month guests come to this blog, which is amazing, Thank you for visiting.  And I finally figured out how to tell you about my cookbooks.  I describe this blog as a post-modern excursion into ‘food, Native foods, and omni-cuisine’ (or something like that). So I have created 12 completely arbitrary and capricious categories and I’ll list 2 examples of my favorite books in each one, also capricious and arbitrary.  I’ll try to do a cookbook gazette every once in a while until everyone tells me to stop (but please give me at least two chances.)  I hope you all get to look through some of them sometime.  There are more.

Native:

–Native Harvests, Barrie Kavach – a compact, clear volume that has a surprising degree of detail about pre-Contact food preparation practices

–Cuisine of the Water Gods, Patricia Quintana.  This is a beautifully produced book, not only rich in authentic cuisine and history, but a pleasure to read.

Colonial

–The Early American Cookbook, Dr. Kristie Lynn & Robert W. Pelton.  A gift-shop cookbook that has a wealth of surprising information about early cooking techniques.

–The Williamsburg ART OF COOKERY or, AccompliB’d Gentlewoman’s COMPANION:  Being a Collection of upwards of Five Hundred of the most Ancient & Approv’d Recipes in Virginia COOKERY*

[* a ‘B’ here indicates an S-tset, or Double SS, so this is not a misspelling]

Groundbreaking publications (19/20Centuries)

–Mrs. Beeton’s COOKERY BOOK.  Look it up for yourself, it’s revelatory.

–Classic American Cooking, Pearl Byrd Foster.  This woman is one of the fountainheads of modern American cuisine awareness.

Classic American

–James Beard’s American Cookery.  A cookbook that I never tire of reading.  He’ll tell you how to make Hangtown Fry, a maple glazed doughnut, or Scrapple without batting an eye, with sheer pride of American food traditions.

–Masters of American Cookery, ed. Betty Fussell.  Here is a recent and reliable look at the emerging consciousness of food in the US.

Comprehensive  Cuisine

— Joy of Cooking (aka Joy), Irma Rombauer, Marian Rombauer Becker, Ethan Becker.  There are many editions and iterations of this classic.  I have a double set of paperbacks, as well as a battered 1-volume version.  They all look like they have weathered a category 3 hurricane.

–Mastering, etc, Julia Child, Volumes I & II.  Ditto, category 4 hurricane.

Vegetarian

–Laurel’s Kitchen, Laurel Robertson, Carol Flinders, Bronwen Godfrey.  A brilliant, beloved, admired classic.

–The Farm Vegetarian Cookbook (Revised), ed. Louise Hagler.  A little-known, brilliant, beloved, admired classic.

Baking

–Beard on Bread, James Beard.  This is Beard at some of his best.  No wonder they named a national award after him.

–The Art of Baking, Paula Peck.  This volume deserves to be much more widely known and used by everyone.  This is where I learned how to make Genoise and Viennese specialties.

World Food

–Delightful Thai Cooking, Eng Tie Ang.  A very helpful and correct introduction to a favorite ethnic cuisine in the US and world food scene.

–Flavors of India, Madhur Jaffrey.  This is another one of my severely battered cookbooks.  It was a Christmas present from my parents many years ago, and I’m surprised the binding is still holding together.  This author has produced more fine books than I can count.

Reference

–Chilies to Chocolate:  Food the Americas Gave the World, Nelson Foster, Linda Cordell.  A brilliant analysis, critique and meditation on the role of Indigenous foods in world history.

–On Food and Cooking:  The Science & Lore of the Kitchen, Harold McGee.  One of the undisputed bibles of modern Gastronomy- the marriage of aesthetics, cuisine and science.

Desserts

–The Art of Viennese Pastry, Marcia Colman Morton.  This slim volume, written by the wife of a diplomat, harks back to the twilight of the Habsburgs, and a world before the onset of Post-modernity.

Gourmet’s Best Desserts, the ed.s of Gourmet

Food Writers

—Memories of My Life, Auguste Escoffier.  Brilliant European food history.

–As They Were, MFK Fisher.  Brilliant American food history.

Quirks

–The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book, Alice B. Toklas.  Don’t make the brownies.

–The Little House Cookbook, Barbara M. Walker.  A comprehensive walk through the food world of Laura Ingalls Wilder, well worth reading.

risotto with prosciutto, peas and mushrooms

That was yesterday evening!  OK, so there are a huge number of foods that I have never made in my life, which in each case means that I am waiting patiently until the right time, a special occasion or inspiration arrives–or I am possibly intimidated by trying to make a familiar/famous dish (you know, like osso bucco, Cherokee bean bread, paella, souffle, tamales in banana leaf, creme caramel, etc).

I have cooked lots of things over the years that I have been pleased with- bunches of recipes from Julia’s cookbooks, reproducing a correct, authentic red chili the way the Tohono O’odam ladies taught me one summer in California.  Cooking greens, making authentic old Moravian recipes (Christmas cakes, lovefeast buns, sugar cake) and even making homemade tofu from scratch with dry soybeans.

So Risotto, a simple seafood risotto, was what I finally worked up the nerve to cook last night.  It was mostly about 45 minutes of constant stirring of arborio rice in chicken broth, which is what all the recipes say, and it’s what you see on TV if you happen to catch someone on a cooking show making risotto.  It was very exciting to see the risotto take shape on top of my stove, and even though it was almost an hour of careful, nonstop stirring and cooking, it is worth the effort.

I got the inspiration because I was at the grocery store and I picked up a packet of arborio rice , which I have done dozens and dozens of times in the past.  But I looked at the price, realized it wouldn’t put a bad dent in my food budget after all, and then I got a small packet of frozen, mixed seafood for about three or four dollars.  All reasonably affordable.

Here’s how I made it:

4 cups stock (I used chicken)- heat it and keep it simmering the whole time.

12 oz by weight of arborio rice

2 Tbsp good olive oil

2 Tbsp butter

1 onion chopped

1 clove garlic minced into atoms

2 bay leaves

grating of the zest of 1/2 a fresh lemon

a grating of nutmeg

salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup of a white wine, or you can substitute a little apple or white grape juice with a  spoonful or 2  of cider-, or white-wine, vinegar if you don’t use alcohol.

big handful of chopped fresh parsley (probably 1/4 to 1/2 cup)

2 cups fresh or frozen peas

1/3 cup heavy cream (you can use half and half, or even milk if you want)

small bag (1 pound) frozen, previously uncooked, ready to stir-fry mixed seafood).  This will probably be a mixture of scallops, shrimp and calamari.

-a couple of good handfuls of grated or shredded good Parmesan cheese

Chop your onion (I used a medium onion) and let it sweat over medium heat in a very large heavy skillet with a couple of Tbsp of olive oil, along with the bay laurel, and a pinch of salt (that helps the onion cook) and quite a few grinds of black pepper, the lemon zest and the nutmeg.  Begin adding liquid, beginning with your wine or apple juice/vinegar, after you have added the garlic a few minutes into the process.  Add the 2 Tbsp of butter.

Stir everything well together and begin adding your hot stock to the rice.  You will now start stirring this dish almost without stopping for nearly the next 1/2 hour.  Maybe not quite that long.  But basically, you add the hot stock by the cupful or ladleful, and keep stirring gently over medium-low heat for a good 20-24 minutes.  Just turn on some good music, clear your thoughts and focus on making this gorgeous rice.  Why did I ever wait this long to make it??  Meanwhile heat another good heavy skillet to stir fry your seafood- the frozen product I had said that you can stir fry it in 3 minutes or under, right from the freezer.

During the last 4-5 minutes, add a couple cups of shelled green peas- tiny spring peas would be best, but any frozen pea will do the trick.  Now stirfry your seafood as you continue to stir the risotto.  Congratulations, you have now run out of hands to stir things with.  The only important thing to keep in mind with your seafood, above all, is not to overcook it- everything will turn to rubber and you will spend more time chewing your risotto than it took to cook.

After a few minutes, you can add the cooked seafood directly to the rice (there will be some cooking liquid that comes from the seafood- simply add the whole thing, along with a handful of Parmesan (maybe 1/4 cup to start) and a 1/3 cup of cream or milk.  Keep stirring, and finally when everything seems to be a big creamy, bubbling mass, throw in the parsley.  Correct seasoning, maybe add a little more Parmesan and you have made a simple, proper risotto.