Sunday, February 26, 2006

Use a recipe?

Sorry, friends. Where have the last three weeks gone? Here in my kitchen I've been using these February days to dust off some old cookbooks and get to work in the kitchen. I'll admit it, I have a tiny little problem with collecting cookbooks. I have dozens and dozens of books and can't stop myself from getting more. I don't actually cook from most of these books, mind you, but I do use them as a barometer of current food trends and as inspiration. As my mother wrote in a recent card she sent, thanking me for the gift (yes, OK, it was a cookbook) I gave her for her birthday, "the reading is as much fun as the cooking." Indeed.

But lately I've been feeling a little guilty about all of the books that pile up next to my bed, patiently waiting for their turn. And while I can make a decent meal for myself without consulting any of them, I have to admit that my repertoire was getting a bit stale. So in the last three weeks I finally tried out a whole host of new recipes. I began with the stuck-pot rice recipes that Mark Bittman wrote for the Times (see my post about Indian food for the link)--except that I didn't have all of the required ingredients for either of his recipes, so I made a little amalgam of the two, using the basic technique he describes and adding some toasted almonds and currants because, well, why not?

Then we had some friends over for supper, and I pulled out the Zuni Cafe cookbook and actually followed a recipe for roast chicken, accompanied by a fine bread salad. Since one of the guests was a vegetarian I dusted off my copy of the Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook and made a fine little twice-baked green garlic souffle. Except that I couldn't find any green garlic (why aren't the farmer's markets ever on the days you really need them?) so I made a leek-scallion-plain old garlic twice baked souffle. Decent stuff.

Buoyed by the new things coming off my stove, I then made some vanilla bean cake, using a recipe from Amanda Hesser's Cooking for Mr. Latte (ugh) by way of Rene Becker, the owner of Hi-Rise Bakery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I dream about this vanilla cake, and not having the opportunity to eat it at least once a week is a significant drawback of living in San Francisco. Though I've had the recipe clipped and ready to use for some time now, I was afraid it wouldn't taste as good as the original and discouraged because it requires 5 whole vanilla beans--an expensive proposition. But it does make two loaves, and now one is happily resting in the freezer, awaiting our next brunch invitation.

Tonight, because I bought some fresh ricotta at the local Italian deli and had no plans for it other than eating it straight from the container, I made some ricotta gnocchi. Despite my slavish attention to the recipe (another from Zuni Cafe) these little puppies were, to put it mildly, rather tempramental. While I was at the stove making them, my beloved Sarah was practicing the music for her weekly choir rehearsal. She mumbled her way through the music while I fumbled my way through the gnocchi, each of us cursing from time to time before finally figuring it out. In Sarah's case this meant replaying the same bars over and over on her practice CD--in mine, I decided it was time to deviate from the recipe and add a little flour to the mixture.

So these last weeks, my silence, have all been a result of an old dog being taught some new tricks. Accept my apologies--and let me know when you're coming to dinner. I'll make something from one of these books.


matthewnwood said...

I too deviated from a recipe this weekend. I was jonesing (sp?, even a word?) for Sables but the "recipe" from Silver Spoon I was using didn't call for a drop of water & they weren't coming together. So I added some orange zest & a little water, then dipped 'em in bittersweet chocolate. Yummm.

Jessica Battilana said...

Matthew, you should try the recipe for sables that I included in my previous post, French Breakfast. Foolproof!