Sunday, March 31, 2013

Put Your Cookbooks to Good Use with This Fun Challenge

Time to dust off your old cookbooks and find inspiration from their time-weathered pages. You may even surprise yourself.

Challenges transform. They zap life into stagnant energy, shake up the status quo, and make us look at the world a little bit differently. Take Sunday morning. The rousing aroma of coffee and early light streaming through the turquoise curtains woke us up. We were ready to embrace the day. As Paul sipped, he stared quietly at the cookbook-lined shelves and thought, “Geez, when was the last time I looked at that one.” So he turned to Steve and said, “Hey, we should implement some kind of challenge whereby, every time we need to turn to a recipe this month, we have to peruse one or more of these books to come up with something.” “Sounds great,” was Steve’s reply. So Paul geekily scribbled down the names of each book on a piece of notecard, spread them out and offered them up to Steve to choose one. Then another. Then a third. The three books that would inspire us for the rest of the month were as follows:

Culinary Artistry by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page (Wiley 1996). The precursor to The Flavor Bible, their wildly popular compendium of flavor pairings, Culinary Artistry is also chockablock full of great advice on how to pair flavors. You look up an ingredient, say artichokes, and discover, in varying degrees of compatibility, what other foods and flavors go well with these springtime veggies (the best ones are anchovies, garlic, hollandaise sauce, lemon, and vinaigrette). It also offers favorite recipes culled by top chefs from that era.

Cooking for Company by the Food Editors of Farm Journal (Doubleday 1968). These are simple recipes you’d expect from that era. Lots of margarine, shortening, and other processed foods ramp up the nostalgia. It’s for the housewife who wants little fuss so she can still get all her morning and afternoon chores done before the kids get home from school and daddy parks his tractor. On one page you’ll be tempted to make Lima Beans with Cheese (“Try Gruyère instead of the Cheddar or Swiss for a flavor change”). On another, Party Pork Rolls, made with both fresh and smoked ham.

The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book (1954). Recipes told as stories; stories told with recipes. What exactly is this book by Gertrude Stein’s lover, best known for her hash brownie (“Haschich Fudge”) recipe? Whatever you decide, its entertaining, filled with little tips to help you produce the most gastronomically appealing dish possible, whether you’re whipping up a sauce mousseline for some seasonal asparagus, or baking your recent catch of shad, with mushrooms and parsley, in a winy, butter cream sauce. But getting back to the Haschich Fudge, who doesn’t love a recipe that includes the following headnote:
Euphoria and brilliant storms of laughter; ecstatic reveries and extensions of one’s personality on several simultaneous planes are to be complacently expected.

Tuna salad can be so boring, but not with the addition of the Best-Ever Salad Dressing.

Steve took to the challenge immediately, combining inspiration from the TUNA entry in Culinary Artistry with Cooking for Company’s recipe for Best-Ever Salad Dressing. The mashup goes something like this:

Best-Ever Salad Dressing
(adapted from Cooking for Company by the Food Editors of Farm Journal (Doubleday 1968))

2 cups mayonnaise
1 1/2 teaspoon anchovy paste, or mashed anchovies
8 ounces honey french dressing (recipe below from Cooking for Company)

Combine a little mayonnaise with anchovy paste to blend thoroughly. Stir in remaining mayonnaise and other ingredients.

Makes 2 3/4 cups.

Honey French Dressing
(adapted from Cooking for Company by the Food Editors of Farm Journal (Doubleday 1968))

1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
1 cup canola oil

In a small bowl, mix salt, pepper and dry mustard; stir in vinegar and honey. Slowly add the salad oil while beating with a mixer. I used an immersion blender. makes about 1 1/3 cups.

Best-Ever Tuna Salad
(created by Steve Schul, Cocktail Buzz)

1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon thyme
1 can tuna, drained
1/2 pound dry pasta, cooked and drained
3 carrots, thinly sliced
2 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 cup peas (cook, if fresh or thaw, if frozen)
3/4–1 cup of Best-Bever Salad Dressing (recipe above from Cooking for Company)

Combine ingredients and adjust seasoning to taste. Serve over a bed of lettuces.

❤ ❤ ❤

With a lone sweet potato waiting patiently to be transformed, Paul opted for a recipe for Sweet Potato Biscuits in Cooking for Company to go with the leftover Spiced Pork Loin that had been the inspiration for the last few evenings’ dinners. They came out the color of sunflowers, and were a little fluffy, a little crumbly, and, when drizzled with a little honey and lightly swiped with creamy butter, more than perked up the spiced pork.

Sweet Potato Biscuits
(adapted from Cooking for Company by the Food Editors of Farm Journal (Doubleday 1968))

2 cups unbleached flour
4 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup shortening
1 cup cooked, mashed sweet potatoes (1 regular-sized potato should do the trick)
up to 3 tablespoons whole milk

Preheat oven to 400˚F. Sift together dry ingredients. Cut in shortening. Blend in sweet potatoes. Add enough milk to make a soft dough (this will depend on moisture in potatoes, so add one tablespoon at a time). Knead lightly, folding it several times to create layers (do not overwork dough). Roll 3/4" thick on lightly floured surface. Cut with floured 2" cutter. Place on ungreased baking sheet and bake in hot oven for 20 minutes, or until the biscuits have browned.

Makes about 15–20 biscuits, depending on diameter of cutter.

❤ ❤ ❤

We’re still reading the Toklas book and are finding fun recipes on every page. Now it’s your turn. Dust off those cookbooks and find inspiration now.

photo © Steve Schul, Cocktail Buzz

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