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i was having trouble with recipes this weekend. nothing was inspiring me — probably all the stress from the last few weeks kicking in. so i turned to my new cookbook, since we’ve had WAY too many leftovers from the past few cooking bouts and i haven’t tried most of them yet.

solo suppers

so, from left to right we have salmon & sauteed mushroom quiche which i invented (recipe after the jump), oven-roasted potatoes with red pepper flakes based on nigella’s garlic potatoes, and the fritatta recipe from solo suppers (which i promise to post when i get a minute)! plus, as you can see above, some store-bought breads and rolls to flesh things out a bit. oh, and i also made a boboli pizza with herbed gouda, fresh mozzerella, and pepperoni for snacking and lunch. and so far, we’re good to go! i have two more quick recipes waiting in the wings though, just in case a night comes when we don’t feel like any of this. but i feel pretty good about it — we’re not big eaters, i’ve come to realize, we’re big snackers. so a few dishes for dinner go a long way, as long as there are diversions when it comes to lunch and snacks!

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hear hear! i don’t know who jonathan beecher field is, but i have to agree with this article:

In the age of the Internet, the value of “Joy” — or books like it — lies not with what they include, but in what they exclude. For the cook who wants to make a familiar dish, or who is faced with a new ingredient, the current problem is not a lack of recipes, but a surfeit of them…

All of this suggests that ink-and-paper cookbooks will survive the recipe database and the food blog explosion. This is good news, but should not be surprising. A good cookbook is more than a collection of recipes. The ones I cherish — Judy Rodgers’ “Zuni Cafe Cookbook” and Fergus Henderson’s “The Whole Beast” come to mind — offer a comprehensive approach to thinking about food from a distinct perspective. Even in the realm of general cookbooks, there are personalities…

A particular copy of a particular cookbook provides a lasting physical link between a cook, or generations of cooks, and the meals they feed their families and friends. Many of my favorite cookbooks open naturally to my favorite recipes, because those are the pages that are splashed and stained from duty on the counter, propped open with a pot lid. Better still, a conscientious cook will produce the kind of annotations you won’t find online. When I’m home for the holidays, I like to thumb through the blue “New York Times Cookbook” that remains the cornerstone of my mother’s kitchen. Her annotations are as interesting as the recipes themselves, not just for what they say about the recipes, but also for what they say about her…

The success of the new “Joy” suggests that entering (your ingredient or dish here) + recipe into a search engine is for the brave man or woman with lots of free time. The materiality of cooking and the immateriality of the Internet make for an uneasy pair . . . If you heed the advice of some stranger to marinate flank steak in Sunny Delight, you are, quite literally, on your own. With “Joy,” you have the safe feeling of being under the watchful eye of a septuagenarian.

as part of this “food blog explosion”, i completely agree. i stopped using because of this very issue. grouprecipes will probably end up that way as well, but i live in hope at the moment. and my newest cookbook already flips open to a couple of recipes (and has a few stains as well).

long live the cookbook! and all books, for that matter. i love books and hope they never ever go away.

Solo Suppersa couple weeks ago, i asked for suggestions for a good new cookbook to order. jasmine and clotilde both gave me some excellent suggestions, but in the end i ended up going with one that i’d never heard of before mostly because the concept fit my needs. more than i need a ton of recipes, i need somewhere to start learning how to understand food, how it behaves, what happens when you cook it this way verses this other way, flavor matching, etc etc, all combined with small serving size recipes.

these, let me tell you, are so hard to find! it seems like every cookbook i look at that has the information i want has recipes for serving a family of 5. or, the books with smaller serving sizes are incredibly unappealing — they have novelty recipes (generally supposed to be “sexy”, since apparently lingerie is no longer enough of an aphrodisiac, oh no, now i have to cook aphrodisiac foods IN lingerie and buy expensive wine and take out a third mortgage to afford said ingredients and wine in order to have a romantic evening) and no practical tips whatsoever.

believe you me, i know. i spent lots of time trolling through table of contents, user reviews, and recommendations at various book sources online, not to mention going down to the bookstore and flipping through their (affordable) stock.

so when i finally found Solo Suppers, i was pretty freaking excited! from the table of contents, i liked the look of the sections — i could not resist the idea of an Eggs & Cheese section. from the snippet of introduction text online, it appeared to be not only sensibly laid out, but have sensible tips and sensible (read: affordable) ingredients that don’t involve food that may or may not actually be aphrodisiacs and cooking in lingerie. and i know, i know, it’s only meant to make meals for one, but i figure i can either a) make two or b) inflate the recipe a bit. we don’t tend to eat large portion sizes anyway.

and now that it’s actually (finally!) come in the mail, i’m thrilled to have it.

one of the very first sections? keeping wine fresh! how useful is that? she’s got a “conversion chart” for leftovers (reheat techniques, or recreation tips), and just looking through the first section (sauces) i discovered that each sauce is accompanied with techniques for using it that are not limited to what to serve it on — oh no. thin it out, thicken it up, freeze it, fridge it, simmer it — the suggestions just keep on coming.

in conclusion: i love joyce goldstein‘s Solo Suppers. in case you hadn’t noticed.

Learning to Cook with Marion Cunninghami hate to say it, but the hard honest truth is, i think i may already have found a better kitchen reference than julia’s. i know, i know! i was so excited! and i still am!

but marion may have stolen my heart away. Learning to Cook with Marion Cunningham was the other book i picked up at the library. not only is it gorgeous (giant pictures, glossy pages, an amazingly easy-to-read layout) but it’s got recipes and hints galore, and not just about sauces.

for example, the most eye-opening, why-didn’t-i-think-of-that tidbit i’ve ever encountered in a beginner’s cookbook:

I often hear this complaint from home cooks: “I don’t mind cooking but I hate the mess afterwards.” … When I was teaching children how to cook, the first lesson they learned was: “Wash your hands and fill a big friendly bowl with sudsy hot water.” Well, the lesson wasn’t just for children. I wouldn’t be without that bowl of sudsy water in my sink.

It’s so simple. As you are going along, just drop every utensil and pot you’ve used into that bowl. Then, when everything has soaked a few minutes, wash it up, rinse, and let drain while you continue your cooking.

oh. my. god.

either i am ridiculously stupid/inexperienced, or she is a freaking genius.

this book, i will DEFINITELY be buying.

it seems like everyone has heard of julia child. even before i knew who she was, i had heard of her — my mother and her brothers would do julia child impersonations for us at family cook-outs when i was little, which invariably had us snorting up milk.

the last time i went to the library, i took a quick look through the cooking section. lo and behold, i saw it — julia’s kitchen wisdom: essential techniques and recipes from a lifetime of cooking.

doesn’t that sound useful?

turns out, it is! it’s got a base recipe for pretty much everything ever (quiche, roasted chicken, muffins, crepes, all the sauces) not to mention the writing had me giggling. it’s not exactly that she makes jokes, but her prose varies from the ultimate in proper to the ultimately casual and frank. (i will post examples later, i don’t have it in front of me right now).

i’m thinking that i will have to add this to my “buy this cookbook” list. or i could copy out all the base recipes, but that doesn’t sound like much fun. either way, this is THE kitchen reference for basic cooking, in my limited experience. if you know of a better one, i’d love to hear about it!