Monday, January 24, 2011
12-Month Cookbook Challenge
I have this odd addiction to cookbooks.
Much like craft supplies, I love the possibilities that cookbooks present. Just leafing through the glossy pages, I can imagine myself sitting down to the perfect provincial French supper or mastering a centuries-old Romanian recipe.
Take this seductive gastronomical fantasy, and couple it with my obsession with printed words in general, and you’ll see why I have stacks of cookbooks and beautiful cooking magazines. There’s only one problem…I rarely make ANYTHING out of them.
I hate to admit it, but I kind of suck at meal planning. I’m an impulsive chef. I have a few key dishes I always have ingredients for, and the rest I make up as I go along. I may think as far ahead as a couple days, but in the end, I rarely take the time to go through my books, make a proper list, and give myself enough time to shop, chop, and cook.
This year is the year that changes! At least, a little bit. I’ve set for myself a 12-month cookbook challenge, where I will plan and make a new dish every month from my neglected cookbooks and magazines.
I started with a cookbook I had long been admiring, but had never been able to get it together enough to use: My French Kitchen: A Book of Treasured Recipes by Joanne Harris & Fran Warde. Harris is a novelist, and as many of her titles can attest (Chocolat, Five Quarters of the Orange), food plays a huge part in her writing.
The dishes presented are surprisingly simple, calling for fresh vegetables, herbs, and good cuts of meat. There’s nothing too exotic or difficult (aside from the hard-to-find slab bacon), just a bit of time and a lot of chopping required.
This weekend I whipped up the Lentil and Toulouse Sausage Casserole. I did have the proper green lentilles du Puy on hand, though I could not find genuine Toulouse sausage at my nearby stores (and didn’t have time to take the bus to the Berkeley Bowl). So, I made a last minute substitution: turkey Kielbasa. Yes, cringe-worthy to many, but for me, it worked out just fine.
I’d never had French lentils before. I’m used to lentils being cooked to a paste, so to see the little legumes holding their shape so beautifully was a nice surprise. The taste was earthy yet herby, and perfectly warming on a cold January night. It was almost better the next day, once the flavors had a chance to “marry” a bit in the fridge.
I already think I know what book in next in the queue, but Valentine’s Day may change that up a bit if we decide to eat in. V-day is always a good excuse to get creative in the kitchen. Especially with desserts.