Friday, April 17, 2009

Weekly Geeks 2009-14: What's Cookin'?

This is a picture of my cookbook collection.  Impressive, right?  See that little recipe box?  It's filled up with recipe cards...with actual recipes on them.  I probably use about 4 of them on a regular basis.  You're not as impressed anymore, are you?  I knew it.  The reason I wrote them all down in the first place is because in high school cooking class, we had to put together a recipe collection, and we had to have X number of recipes in order to pass.  So, I checked out a couple of books from the library and wrote down a bunch of recipes that I thought sounded good.  I'll probably never try most of them.

Here's a shot of what's behind the recipe box.

I have probably made a total of 20 recipes out of this entire collection.  Even less impressed now?  Yeah, I don't blame you.  Perhaps I'll have some new books available to give away on Boockmooch soon.

The Top Secret Recipes books (you can't really tell, but there are three) are books of brand-name knock-off recipes so you can make things like your own Arby's® sauce, Wendy's® Chili , Baily's Original Irish Cream®, or Oreo® cookies.  I've only tried the Arby's sauce one, and it's not bad-I like it with tater tots.  

The 1,000 Lowfat Recipes book came free with the How To Cook Everything book, and I don't think I've ever used it.  If anyone wants it, let me know.  You can have it.  My copy is a soft cover, and I think I might have gotten it free because the ISBN that is printed on the back cover appears to be wrong, just in case anybody cares.

The Family Circle Cookbook: New Tastes for New Times was the first cookbook that I actually bought once I considered myself grown up enough to need a cookbook.  I've tried a few recipes in it, and I think they've all been fine, but I don't like the format-it's a hard back binder, and the binder rings have gotten all off kilter, so you can't just easily flip through the pages; they just snag on that one snaggle-tooth binder piece or they fall off the rings.  Sitting down to flip through it for some menu ideas just sounds like a struggle instead of an enjoyable task.

On the flip side is InterCourses: an aphrodisiac cookbook.  This is a beautiful hard back book that is so much fun to sit down and flip through, not a struggle at all!  Apparently, there is now an updated version.  Both links offer the "Look Inside!" feature which gives you an idea of what's inside, but I thought I'd share these as well.  Ladies, what do you think?  (Sorry, gay men, you can chime in too.  I didn't mean to be exclusive.)
And who knew pine nuts were sexy?
This book is full of images like these, all tasteful, along with brief histories for each of the different foods featured (chocolate, chiles, grapes, honey, oysters, edible flowers are just a few) as well as artistically laid-out quotes from test-subject couples.  I think this would actually make a fine coffee table book as well.  Oh, have I ever used it?  Um...I don't remember, but I would still totally recommend it! 

The Good Housekeeping Cookbook belonged to my mom, and there is only one recipe in there that I ever make-Streamlined Lasagna.  I love it, it's easy, and it's totally a heart attack in a pan. This book is a gem, and even though I only use one recipe out of the 4,000 or so that appear to be in here, it is a keeper because A) it belonged to my mom and is a part of my childhood, B) it contains recipes for things like the Roast-Beef Hearty Party Salad which should look like this when properly prepared:

In case you can't tell, that is a giant bowl lined with roast beef which has been gracefully draped over the edges.  Awesome.  

and C) it contains advice like this under the Family Weight-Watching section:

"Don't give up in despair over teen-age food habits--those of the fashion-conscious young ladies who starve themselves, or those of either gender who eat the wrong foods in between and at meals, with gay abandon.  Be firm with youngsters in the first group; remind them they're preparing for marriage and motherhood.  A girl who enjoys being a girl, who looks like a girl and not like a clothes pole, stands the best chance of having a whirl." (p. 77) 

Ah, the '60s!

Finally, the book that actually does get used from time to time, Rachael Ray 30-Minute Meals 2.  Rachael Ray has kind of been my go-to girl for the past few years.  I see her make things on TV, and I think, Well, that looks pretty good; I think I could handle that.  So I go on line, find the recipe, and it actually turns out to be pretty good.  Inspired by this, I bought one of her books.  One of the things that I like about this book is that in the ingredients list, all of the actual ingredients (not their measurements or preparations) are highlighted in a different color, so it's easy to skim the recipe and see what you need.  I'll do it in the recipe below so you can see what I'm talking about.  It's kind of a little thing, but I like it.  One of the recipes from her book that is super easy and that I really like is You-Won't-Be-Single-For-Long Vodka Cream Pasta...

Huh.  I'm sensing a theme here-aphrodisiac foods, advice about how to get your daughter married off, recipes sure to hook a mate...'s the recipe:

You-Won't-Be-Single-For-Long Vodka Cream Pasta (p. 186)

Makes 4 Servings

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil (once around the pan)
1 tablespoon butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 shallots, minced
1 cup vodka
1 cup chicken stock
1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup heavy cream
12 ounces pasta, such as penne rigate 
20 leaves fresh basil, shredded or torn
Crusty bread

Put large pot of salted water on to boil.

Heat a large skillet over moderate heat.  Add oil, butter, garlic, and shallots.  Gently sauté garlic and shallots, 3 to 5 minutes to develop their sweetness.  Add vodka, 3 turns around the pan in a steady stream will equal about a cut.  Reduce vodka by half, 2 or 3 minutes.  Add chicken stock and tomatoes.  Bring sauce to a bubble, then reduce heat to simmer.  Season with salt and pepper.

While sauce simmers, cook pasta in salted boiling water  until al dente, a bit firm to the bite.  While pasta cooks, prepare your salad or other side dishes.

Stir cream into the vodka sauce.  When sauce returns to a bubble, remove from heat.  Drain pasta.  Toss hot pasta with sauce and basil leaves.  Serve immediately, along with crusty bread.

And, finally, what's a good meal without some good dessert to go with it?  Another book that I do actually use is my Cheesecake Extraordinaire:  More than 100 Sumptuous Recipes for the Ultimate Dessert.  I think a lot of people are intimidated by cheesecake, but it's really pretty easy to make, and this book has a great section at the beginning with lots of tips including how to avoid pitfalls like a cracked cake and how to modify your measurements for smaller or larger cakes.  I've used a few of these recipes, and they've all been good, but I think my favorite is the Super New York-Style Cheesecake with some Lemon Sauce on the side.  Yum! 

The book also contains what I believe is a very common-sense forward by Rusty Foltz, R.D., Cardiopulmonary Dietitian.  

In part, Rusty says:
You see, I firmly believe that there is no such thing as a 'fattening' food.  No food is solely responsible for anyone being overweight.  Obesity is a complex problem involving total caloric intake as well as total caloric output through activities and exercise.  You can maintain a desirable weight through the proper combination of both of these; this combination can include cheesecake. (p.ix)
I think this advice provides a solid platform from which to attack a dessert, especially when combined with some more advice from The Good Housekeeping Cookbook's Family Weight Watching section, which reads, "Don't hesitate to cut the pie, or dish out the dessert, into 10 or 12 portions instead of the customary bigger servings.  Use smaller plates, put a little bunch of grapes beside the slimmer-than-usual portion--and if the table talk is going along happily, most likely no one will even notice the difference." (p.77)  Good advice indeed!  Not only does that help keep one's waistline in check, but it helps make the food go further, which we all know is important. 


Meryl said...

I see you have "How to Grill"--one of my favorites! The grilled pizza is to die for if you haven't tried it yet!

Dreamybee said...

Ha! I don't think we've tried anything out of that one either. This gives us a good place to start though-thanks!