Monday, June 16, 2008

The Gastronomic Hedonist's Library

These days I’ll take just about any feel-good opportunity I can, short of shady exchanges with the “local businessmen.” I’m pretty innocent in my pursuit of pleasure. In fact, in this very moment, keeping me company while I write to you, dear reader, is a cup of decaf green tea, a little tupperware bowl of my favorite new granola doused in milk, and a handful of grapes leftover from yesterday’s snack. Thanks to the edible company, I’m feeling reasonably well, considering the crushingly bad results I just got out of my experiment. Science is being mean to me these days!

But there are few things that make me happier than my cookbook collection. Talking about those books might be one of them. In the interest of hedonic pleasure, I decided to meme myself, which sounds like something terribly unpleasant, but it’s quite the contrary. I’m giving a book report on my favorite books!

1) Total Number of Cookbooks I Own

Twenty-six. And five binders filled with recipes I clipped, printed, received, or invented. Plus assorted cooking magazines that I have yet to prune for recipes before passing them along.

2) Last Cookbook(s) I Bought

Onions: A Celebration of the Onion through Recipes, Lore, and History by Mara Reid Rogers. This book literally had my name all over it. Okay, maybe not literally. But I did find it at the funky used bookstore near my apartment, and I couldn’t say no to a book that’s all about onions. After I bought it, I got distracted by other books, but I intend to return to it ASAP. If I read this book on the el train, do you think I’ll get funny looks from other passengers?

3) Last Cookbook(s) I Read

I’m not going to count the onion book here because I’ve only read a few pages. Lately, I’ve been flipping through Real Vegetarian Thai by Nancie McDermott. I love this cookbook for McDermott’s gorgeous prose and lush remembrances of her time in Thailand. Plus I want to learn how to make a totally kick-ass pad thai.

4) Five Cookbooks that Mean a Lot to Me

Passionate Vegetarian and Dairy Hollow House Soup and Bread, both by Crescent Dragonwagon. These books taught me oodles about cooking. I love ‘em.

Mollie Katzen’s Sunlight Café. This book, along with Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy by Walter C. Willett (not a cookbook but an excellent book about nutrition written for a popular audience), changed the way I think about food. Sunlight Café is a breakfast book that I use for any meal of the day. I love the ricotta muffins, the yeasted flatbread, and the extra-crunchy granola. The hot chocolate is tasty too.

Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home by the Moosewood Collective. Inspiring, down-to-earth, and utterly delicious, this book is full of amazing, interesting recipes. It’s one of my very favorite cookbooks, and I use it a lot these days.

The Chicago Diner Cookbook by Chef Jo A. Kaucher. The Chicago Diner is a Chicago institution, serving delicious vegetarian and vegan meals right in the heart of Wrigleyville and Boys’ Town. I’ve had many a meal there with friends, and it remains one of my favorite things about Chicago. The cookbook was given to me by my dear friend Shawn Marie, who is an amazing cook. I was introduced to the wonder of fresh cilantro by SM, and I always think of her fondly whenever I pluck fringey, fragrant leaves from stems of cilantro. The Chicago Diner Cookbook has a fabulous cilantro-lime vinaigrette, which I love on green salads, shredded carrots, and pureed with white beans to make a gorgeous bean dip.

5) Which Three People Would You Most Like to See Answer These Questions?

Out of sheer curiosity, I’d love to know what these folks would say. I’ll limit my list to fellow bloggers.

Nick. Mostly because I want to know if he’s cooked anything out of The Ultimate Peanut Butter Book. Is it really the last word on peanut butter?

Tina. Because I’m really curious to know if she owns any cookbooks! Is the Internet her cookbook?

Crescent. For two reasons. One: I bet this set of questions is especially challenging for a professional cookbook author (oh, what a dreamy job!). Two: How can I not be curious about what my favorite cookbook author would say about her favorite cookbooks?

And finally, as a note of gratitude, thanks to Molly for indirect permission to indulge myself on cookbook-chat. Orangette, you’re still one of my favorites.

The Chicago Diner’s Cilantro-Lime Vinaigrette
Adapted from “Cilantro-Lime Vinaigrette” in The Chicago Diner Cookbook
Makes about ¾ cup

I adore this vinaigrette. It’s becoming a summer staple in my kitchen, the sort of dressing that tastes best in hot weather. It’s tangy yet plenty sweet from a generous spoonful of sugar, and it’s utterly refreshing. I find this dressing turns out best if I add the salt and pepper by taste (rather than by amount as instructed in the original recipe), so I assume the same will be true for you as well.

As I mention above, this dressing is super versatile. Use it on green salads, shredded vegetables, or in bean dishes for extra flavor. Plays well with others, this vinaigrette does.

4 tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice (about the amount you get from two limes)
6 tbsp. mild vegetable oil (I like canola oil here)
1 tbsp. turbinado sugar or other granulated sugar
2 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste

Add all the ingredients except the salt and pepper to a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake like mad to blend everything together. Taste. Add salt and pepper to taste, shake again, and taste. Repeat seasoning, shaking, and tasting until the dressing tastes just right to you. Store in the refrigerator in the lidded jar and use as you like.


Anonymous said...

Haha! I do own cookbooks! I also get a lot of emails with recipes, so I'm constantly saving and printing out recipes from the internet... at least once a day! :)

Rosiecat24 said...

Tina, cookbooks are the best! But I agree with you: the Internet is a great (and free!) source for new recipes that take up very little space compared to bulky cookbooks. I also like the cooking community that food-blogging nurtures.

Anonymous said...

Me Meme!

Here you go, Rosiecat---

1) Total Number of Cookbooks I Own

Frightening number. I just counted those on one shelf of twelve shelves of cookbooks in my reference library... 23! So multiply that 12 by 23 --- plus another two shelves downstairs --- not counting all I gave away or sold when I moved acros country. Scary! But I'm down to only two or three binders, and I no longer subscribe to any cooking magazines because they accumulated and made me feel guilty for NOT pruning them!

2) Last Cookbook(s) I Bought

Let's see... Well, I don't buy many books, cook or otherwise, because I can either take them for the library or (sometimes) get review copies. I did get two food-related research books (because I mark 'em up and make notes): Beans, A History (by Ken Albala) and 1491, by Charles Mann.

3) Last Cookbook(s) I Read

The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook... wonderful cookbook. Love it because, like me, they are both Yankees and Southerners, and they are bold about their preferences and idiosyncrasies... for instance, they love and defend lard and other porcine food stuffs, but they also, respectfully, offer many recipes for vegetarians. Also: Rhagavan Iyer's massive labor of love 660 Curries

4) Five Cookbooks that Mean a Lot to Me

(First, thanks so much for your kind words on Passionate Vegetarian and Dairy Hollow House Soup and Bread... to say nothing of explaining 'meme' to me).

M.F. K. Fischer's cookbooks, particularly "How to Cook a Wolf" (written during WWII) because through her I GOT that one could use food as a lens through which to view the world. and I loved her sensual, anecdotal, funny style. I also love Patience Gray's "Honey from a Rock", again because it is such extraordinary, shimmery writing, and takes such simple ingredients (beans, greens) and makes you see them with new eyes, and taste them in a wholly new way.

Shirley Corriher's Cook Wise. I know and adore her, and he food science is so clear, unpretentious, and enlightening.

Curried Favors, by Maya Kaimal, because it was one of the first cookbooks to cover South Indian food (which I much prefer), because every single recipe works ( she worked at Good Housekeeping, and they teach recipe testing thoroughly) and because of its beautiful lay-out and design. Oh, and most of the recipes are simpler than many Indian cookbooks.

Hmmm... Toss up, maybe, between Olive Trees and Honey, and Everyday Greens... in both cases, I can't look at 'em without wanting to try something.

5) Which Three People Would You Most Like to See Answer These Questions?

Hmmm... Rose, I guess I just don't quite think this way. I'd be more interested in what would you serve at a dinner party in each season? Or, what dessert / side veg / entree / breakfast do you eat most often? Or, what are your favorite seasonings? (Mine: garlic, chiles, cilantro, lemon, vanilla, cardamom, nutmeg, anise) (off the top of my head).

Rosiecat24 said...

Crescent, you totally rock! Thank you for such a thoughtful response to my meme. I love how you mutated the last question to make it more interesting. I'm going to mull over THOSE questions and see what bubbles to the surface of my thoughts.

I need to head to the library myself to peruse all the wonderful-sounding books you described in your answers. I've said it before and I'll say it again: cookbooks are the best. Again, thank you and happy cooking!