Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Cookbooks are Like Shoes

Cookbooks are like shoes. Last week I broke one of my rules (One of these days I’ll have to put together a list of my rules); I bought a pair of shoes without first clearing out a sorely neglected pair. Think of my joy when I went to my granddaughter’s Zumba (or whatever it is—looked like calisthenics set to music) recital and, as the price of admission, I got to donate old shoes. My bag overflowed and the labels on the soles of most of the shoes were still intact. Empty slots….I’d better go shopping.
Cookbooks are another story. My collection, over 200 last time I counted, has moved with me from a little house to a big house to a big condo to a little house to another condo to another house. I may never use some of them, but I really do know what lies between the covers.  My recent trip to the Miami Book Fair yielded about 20 pounds of cookbooks. No, I don’t have room for them, so they are piled up on a table in front of the TV. They are waiting for me so when I take a break to watch a recording of Glee or The Big Bang Theory, I’ll have something to do. Reading cookbooks has always been one of my favorite diversions.
People Food for Pets, or whatever it ends up being called, will be my first venture into actually writing my own cookbook, although the book of recipes I taught from while I ran my cooking school is, I’ve been told by many of my former students, their go to cookbook. Someone contacted me on Facebook and asked for a recipe for ruggelach that I had demonstrated so many years ago. No way did I recognize the person, but the ruggelach, I can still taste them.
I’ve been reading Dianne Jacobs’ Will Write for Food in which she mentions one of my often used recipes from long ago, Marcella Hazan’s pork cooked in milk. Marcella Hazan’s two classic Italian cookbooks have always been on my list of favorites. Paula Wolfert’s Couscous and other Good Foods from Morocco is another. Believe it or not, I was once crazy enough to make couscous from semolina flour. It was OK, but what a waste of time. This year she wrote a follow up that has been favorably reviewed, but I haven’t seen yet.
Cookbooks are fun to read and the pictures are really enticing, but, of all my 200, I actually use only a few recipes from only a few. The New Yorker in me and the fresh paper at my door every day led me to collect the New York Times cookbooks, and I still use them. Craig Claiborne’s International Cookbook has always been my first source for foreign cuisines. His recipe for Peking Duck brings back so many memories. Hanging the ducks to dry in my kitchen really fooled my Dobermans; I didn’t think they were dumb until they barked like crazy at the swinging ducks. 
Then there was the night when a friend called me in a panic to ask about sewing up the holes left after the wings were removed. Her problem was that her husband, a surgeon, insisted in using his best medical technique to sew up the ducks and she really was getting impatient. 
I could go on and on about the virtues of Craig Claiborne’s International Cookbook, but there are more New York Times cookbooks: Heritage, Original, Chinese, and another that Craig Claiborne wrote with Pierre Franey. How I miss those little 2 or 3 inch daily columns in the Times, so many of which are stuck between the pages; one of these days, I’ll shake out all the books and assemble them.
I have some more favorites: Beard on Bread, The Joy of Cooking, everything by Julia Childs, Diana Kennedy’s Mexican books, I know there are others…….which cookbooks are your favorites?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Oatmeal, My Newest Obsession

I have to admit that I’m guilty, guilty of food obsessions. I’ve been through handmade pancakes for Peking Duck, homemade sausage in real casings, ravioli in all forms made from fresh noodles and bread, bread, bread…you get the picture.
So how did this latest obsession come about? I concluded that the entire universe of healthy eating couldn’t be wrong about the benefits of eating oatmeal, so I set out to figure out how to make it somewhat palatable. And at the same time, I knew it could be canine-friendly.
The instant variety with all the pretty pictures on the boxes just wouldn’t work. Unfortunately, I am a strict follower of the “if it comes from a box with colorful pictures, I can’t eat it” rule. Shiny, colored pictures equal instant headaches in my world and surely must contain stuff that Mikey, my king canine, can’t eat.
On to more varieties. There are thick rolled, old-fashioned, quick oats, instant oats, and, in the shiny metal tin, the steel cut oatmeal that takes, perish the thought, half an hour to cook. After I went through them all, I had to try the John McCann's (not McCain) Irish oatmeal. The results can only be compared to the differences between Minute Rice and basmati or risotto. 

Minute Rice and converted rice fled the confines of my kitchen when I discovered the complex flavors of the varietals. Now I’m trying to decide how to use up the three pounds of five minute oats occupying valuable real estate in my pantry--oatmeal cookies and who knows what else.

The McCann oatmeal is different. It has bite. The others are as unreasonably mushy as overcooked pasta. Even my Jewish mother, 70 years ago understood the virtues of al dente. Isn’t it a shame that Italian restaurants still think they can save time by reheating pasta? In New York no one reheats pasta. In Miami, who knows?

We’ve been playing with our very slow cooking oatmeal, eating it with dried apricots, dried cranberries, nuts, grated apples, butter and brown sugar, raisins, and combinations of the above.

Even Mikey likes it. Of course, he can’t have the raisins or much sugar, but wow, with leftover meat stirred in, he couldn’t get enough of it. After a few days, even Mikey was willing to eat the oatmeal with very few accompaniments. 

Now I have to try it out on my granddaughter and her friends. How about oatmeal sundaes: chocolate chips, whipped cream, strawberries, raisins. I don’t even have to experiment. I know I can mainstream oatmeal if I present it right.

My only problem has been my husband. He thinks I’m trying to turn him into a horse, albeit a healthy one.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Ruggelach (Not for Pets--Just for You)

Someone found me on Facebook and asked for this recipe that dates back to my cooking school days from the 1970’s. If she remembered it from so long ago, I figured it might be worth taking the time to get it down on the screen. (No, this isn’t for your dog, sorry, Mikey.)

 The proportions for this recipe are small so it can be made in a food processor. If you want a larger recipe or have a large food processor, repeat it or double it.  I don’t remember where this recipe came from. I think the basics were from my mother, but the use of the cinnamon and sugar in place of flour to prevent the dough from sticking to the board was my idea. (I guess I didn’t care about calories then and I don’t now. If you are going to eat ruggelach, eat fewer pieces, but make sure they are worth eating.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

For the Dough:
·        1 C all purpose flour
·        ¼ pound (1 stick) butter (unsalted)
·        ¼ C cottage cheese

Process in a food processor just until a ball of dough forms on the blades. Don’t over process or you’ll end up with dough that is too elastic and tough. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until you are ready to use it.

1.  Golden raisins plumbed in apricot brandy and mixed with chopped nuts and cinnamon and sugar.
2.  Apricot or strawberry preserves mixed with flaked, dried coconut and chopped nuts.
Cut the dough into 2 or 3 pieces and roll each into a circle on a board sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. Brush it with melted butter. Sprinkle it with cinnamon and sugar, cut it into wedges like a pizza, spread one of the fillings to within ½ inch of the edge, roll each wedge from the perimeter to the center of the circle and place on a buttered baking sheet, point down. Brush with butter.

Bake at 375 degrees for about 25 minutes.

 Because there is sugar covering the baking sheets, there is potential for the sugar burning, so watch the ruggelach carefully. Burnt ruggelach are very disappointing.

Alternatively, you can roll the dough into a rectangle and use the strawberry filling to make mock strudel. Roll the strudel like a jellyroll, brush it with butter, score it, and bake it for about 30 minutes.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Someone thinks like me

I came across this blog entry and had to reply:
You sound like me. My bookshelves are stuffed with over 200 cookbooks and the collection keeps growing. Do I use them all? Of course not, but I know what each one contains, because I too read cookbooks like they are novels.
 Finally, after cooking for family and friends, I’ve decided it’s time to cook for my fuzzy son, Mikey. I’m working on a people-dog cookbook and having fun trying to adapt my tried and true recipes so their ingredients are all dog-safe.
 My cookbooks have a history; some of them are stuffed with clippings from the New York Times and tons of magazines, others with faded bindings as a result of years of living under skylights. There are the new ones that are still on my living room coffee table and old community cookbooks with crumbling plastic bindings. I may not remember the stories in the novels I read in the last month, but, somehow, I remember what’s in each cookbook.

Could I ever throw any of them away? I don’t think so because each one is a living thing, having lived through years of abuse on my kitchen counter and next to the sputtering frying pan. I’ve tried to resort to using cookbooks on my Kindle and recipes from the Internet, but they’re not the same. Cookbooks have to be fully dressed; they can’t be squeaky clean and simplistic.
I’m hoping my cookbook will be fun and practical and interesting. In its infancy, you can see it on my website:

To Smoke or Not to Smoke, What a Stupid Question

I found this link on my Facebook feed this morning and decided to mount my favorite, albeit very worn soapbox. Believe it or not, I have never, no, not ever, held a lit cigarette in my hand. No, I’m not some sort of angel, I just hated my mother for making me wash her stinky filthy ashtrays.

Watching old movies, the ones I love, the ones from the forties and fifties, I now understand, sort of, why my beautiful, savvy mother smoked. It was sexy and made her look smart and modern.

They even smoked in my very favorite Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the movie I watched three times a few months ago in preparation for a bridal shower that I was supposed to attend looking like Holly. The frustration factor of trying to turn my curly blond senior self into Audrey Hepburn would have been awful even thirty years ago, but…

Our super clean house (my crazy mother made me dust the furniture  the morning before we left for each vacation) really smelled bad but, fortunately, the smelly smoke doesn’t come through when I watch old movies. In addition to my mother’s cigarettes, Marlboro, I think, my father smoked cigars. Yuck. 

When my daughter Elisabeth was very small, I remember her saying to my mother as she smoked, “Nanny, you’re going to die tomorrow.” I guess I got through to her. Fortunately, none of my children smoked, so I may have gotten through to all of them. If you ask my son why he never took up drugs, his interesting answer “I was afraid of liking them.” 

My mother did eventually quit smoking cigarettes and my father quit smoking cigars. One day my brother in law, who was a pediatrician and lived two doors from my parents, arrived at my parents’ house and ceremoniously placed on my mother’s kitchen table a jar containing a lung from a patient who had died of lung cancer.  That was all it took.

The cigars took a bribe. My father quit smoking cigars after my mother gave up drinking scotch. 

It sounds like I grew up in a dysfunctional family. No, they weren’t drunks or addicts. My mother only drank at social events and wasn’t even a chain smoker. My father’s cigars only came out during his weekly card games. 

The cigar smell drove my mother so crazy that one night she collected every alarm clock she could find and set each one a minute apart, starting at 11 PM, hiding them in drawers, under pillows, under furniture, just enough to drive my father and his friends crazy. How long it took her to amass the ten or so alarm clocks, I have no idea, but the story made the rounds of our town for years.