Kitchen Call: A cookbook by its cover
Everyone knows the wisdom about not choosing a book by its cover. But it doesn’t apply to a cookbook. A catchy title, an inviting food photo and an appealingly funny photo of the chef sells a book. Engraved leather? Totally impractical. It may look beautiful on the library shelf but deters a cook who wants to stain it with sauces, butter, oils, juices and other ingredients.
I think about covers when I take inventory of my cookbook collection. It sits on bookshelves, stacks up on end tables and coffee tables in nearly every room. Someone walking into my kitchen for first time will stop and gasp at the sight. But the day my wall-hung book cabinets collapsed, I decided that 500 was the limit. So twice a year, I cull the collection.
I’m always drawn to new ones. By their covers. I might like the titles that tell me what is on the inside, like “Paella” or “Tapas” by Penelope Casas. I like the colors on the cover or implied in the title, like Jeanne Kelley’s “Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes.”
I’m a sucker for a book with the word “kitchen” in the title. (Note the name of this column.) “Grandma’s Wartime Kitchen” is about cooking with food rationing during the world wars. That book segues perfectly into my next weakness. I like covers with historic atmosphere even when the recipes inside are impossible to cook because ingredients and equipment are outdated. The reprinted Fanny Farmer’s “Original Boston Cooking School Cookbook” (a real original is unattainable), or the cartoon-y cover and title on Peg Bracken’s “I Hate To Cook Book,” the pre-bra burning protest of the last “housewife.”
Some covers simply infer romance, like “Food of the Lost Generation,” a hazy watercolor wrapped around recipes dedicated to Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Picasso. And more contemporary romance, “From My Chateau Kitchen” by Ann Willan; “Irish Country Cooking” by Malachi McCormick; or “The Cook and the Gardner” by Amanda Hesser, who once cooked at Anne Willan’s chateau.
And last, some covers just need to display the name of a favorite restaurant, like “Bistro Cooking at Home,” which preserves memories of Hammersley’s bistro as the restaurant is closing its doors.
Makes enough for 4 hefty steaks
Adapted from “Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes” by Jeanne Kelley
A recipe originally for steaks with origins in Argentina. Not so bad on burgers either, especially good if you like spicy stuff. The trick is to never, ever, allow the garlic to brown.
Can be made 2 hours before using and letting it stand, covered, at room temperature.
1/4 cup chopped shallots
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 cup minced fresh thyme
Salt, pepper, to taste
Place shallots in a bowl; set aside.
Heat olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes, swirling gently and watching carefully just until garlic is tender, about 1 minute. Immediately pour this mixture over the chopped shallot.
Stir in the vinegar and 1 tablespoon water; let stand until cool. Stir in the parsley and thyme. Season with salt and pepper. The chimichurri can be prepared up to 2 hours ahead of use. Cover and let stand at room temperature.
Makes enough for 12 servings
Adapted from “Grandma’s Wartime Kitchen” by Joanne Lamb Hayes
Copied out into handwritten notebooks by homemakers during World War I, this recipe re-emerged during World War II. One ingredient, lard, is no longer kept around the kitchen, but it was a staple in every kitchen during those war years when butter was rationed. No matter, it turned out a pretty nice spice cake that kept well for the week on the pantry shelf.
1 pound raisins
2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 cups water
4 tablespoons lard or vegetable shortening
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 1-inch tube pan.
Bring raisins, brown sugar, water, lard, salt, cinnamon and cloves to a boil over medium heat in a large saucepan. Cook 5 minutes. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
Stir together flour and baking soda in another bowl. Fold flour mixture into cooled raisin mixture. Spoon into the greased pan; bake 45 to 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Cool 5 minutes in pan, then invert onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Linda Bassett is the author of “From Apple Pie to Pad Thai: Neighborhood Cooking North of Boston.” Reach her by e-mail at KitchenCall@aol.com. Read Linda’s blog at LindABCooks.wordpress.com. Follow Linda for quick recipes on Twitter at @Kitchencall.